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The Day Our Worlds Collided

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

My heart sank deeply. A friend from the past posted photos of her son, Conner’s, memorial. I had recently lost my son, Hayden, and life as I knew it had shattered into a million tiny pieces. It's difficult to grasp the magnitude of a mother’s grief. The last few months had been a blur….grief is debilitating. Thank god I have long term friendships and a loving family to help support those of us left behind: my husband and my two sons, Harrison & Dexter. We couldn't have survived this without them. I was three months into this unbearable grief and I knew how strong the pain was. I wanted to be there for Karen.


We were acquaintances back in our Hollywood days. We had friends in common. As actors, our paths also crossed on sets, auditions & on one exceptional evening, while performing on the American Music Awards with Alice Cooper. The two of us enjoyed a good laugh when our sexy dance outfits forced the producer, the iconic Dick Clark, to blush three shades of red and say shyly “Ladies, you need more clothing”. He was right, we did! Alice had approved the costumes, but the show was airing during NBC’s ‘family primetime’. The wardrobe person quickly added another layer to our rock video outfits and somehow, during the performance, I found myself sitting in the lap of Little Richard! It was a memorable evening for sure. One you never forget!


Years later, I decided to leave the tv & film industry in order to focus on being a mom. My husband and I moved our family to the suburbs of northern Los Angeles. The schools were great and we found our dream home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Then, through a crazy set of circumstances, I discovered a hidden passion for skincare and became a licensed Esthetician. Starting my small business, Skin Evolution, was an easy transition for me. Being on tv & film sets introduced me to the best Estheticians in the world! Anytime I was working on a commercial or tv show, I would quietly slip away from set and hunker down in the makeup trailer to talk shop about skin, beauty products and the latest trends. It was fascinating.


Karen had also moved on from acting and opened a beautiful yoga studio in North Hollywood. (Yoganoho.com )


Karen & I both were ‘livin’ the dream’...raising families, running businesses and managing busy households. Our kids had reached young adulthood and were heading off to college, to jobs, relationships, and toward independence. It's so hard but every parent must come to that critical point of bravely stepping back and letting their children launch. It takes enormous courage to watch them become young adults, especially in this day and age. Conner, was majoring in Literature & Writing at Pepperdine University & Hayden had a well paying job in Malibu and had fallen in love. Sometimes I think about how innocent our lives were this time last year. These two happy families…buzzing along, living busy lives in Los Angeles! We could have never imagined the tragic circumstances that would make our paths cross again.

Reaching out to Karen was important because my early grief was so, well…strange and lonely. Once the initial shock started to fade,(it never completely goes away) I began to seek professional help, which was very difficult. I was shocked. In Los Angeles county alone, there are thousands of Therapists, Life Coaches, Pastors and support groups for every need imaginable to mankind. I searched and made calls for days and could not find the help I needed in the most ‘woke’ city in the country. I find that there is an outdated idea of what the bereaved need. There is also some kind of unspoken law that we are supposed to be helped to ‘get through it’. In other words, get OVER it. I needed help to understand how to live IN it. Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is very hard to accurately describe this wild beast but it has many layers: It’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and also kicks you in the ass when you least expect it. It knocks down your door and takes you as a prisoner. It is a sucker punch to the gut from which you can never get air. Grief over a child is an emotional tsunami wave that wrecks your reality. I believe Karen said it best:


“Losing a child is a soul stab”. - Karen Russell


I invited her to the Cottage for a soothing facial. We shared stories about losing our boys. Talking with someone who ‘gets it’ helps. Grief can be extremely lonely and I sometimes feel like a shadow of my old self. Karen & I shared similar thoughts: “The pain of losing him is always around me” “I just can’t believe he’s gone”, “Is this God’s plan???” “How am I to get through this?” We shared our concerns about the siblings left behind. In the middle of a Mothers grief, she must somehow find the strength to support the children left behind. Conner left behind a younger brother and Hayden left his twin brother, Dexter and older brother, Harrison.


Losing a sibling is a soul stab.


We talked about Conner & Hayden’s personalities, lives & interests. It was so moving to see her eyes sparkle when she described Conner’s love of writing poetry and her plan to publish his work in order to honor him. I talked about Hayden's love of 3D Printing, his relationship and his well hidden nerdy side. Just for the record: It's healing for us to talk about our loved ones. People in grief like to say the name of the deceased because it pulls a feeling of love into the room and it is so sacred to us. Just sayin’.


If there’s anything I can do…


Okay, I’m going on a little rant…just hear me out! When Hayden passed, the outpouring of love was huge. It was overwhelming and beautiful when close to 400 people attended his memorial. This is when I realized how awkward and helpless people feel around a grieving family. So many well meaning people bumbled uncomfortably to our family: “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” This is a standard ‘grief script’ and seems harmless enough.


Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, brought attention to this statement in her powerful book on grief, Option B. Written after the unexpected tragic loss of her husband, the author helps us to understand how ‘‘if there's anything I can do” puts the responsibility back onto the aggrieved. It's true. When people said it to me, it made me feel helpless. I understood that it came from a place of sincerity, but I just didn't know what I needed at the time. In Option B it says that it’s more helpful to take action by doing something for the family. This doesn't necessarily mean the traditional food bombing. It can be as simple as walking the family dog. I am so grateful for the people who just took action when I didn't know what I needed!


Karen & I sat and had tea in the Cottage until late into the afternoon.


“I wish I could talk to him,” I said, tears welling.


“You can. On a soul level. We’re soul mamas now.” she said.



Karen was officially my new favorite old friend.



We agreed to go to a grief group for parents called Compassionate Friends where we were warmly received with nods of knowingness from the group of parents. We were obviously the new kids on the block because most of the parents had lost their children 15 to 20 years prior. I’ll admit - I was pretty judge-y. (“Why are these people still here??”) I slowly realized they were volunteers kindly offering their time and energy to us pale wide-eyed newcomers and I am extremely grateful for their service.I had been given books on grief, visited many websites & am still on a waitlist for a Zoom Grief Group that never happened. Four months in and I still had no support until I found Compassionate Friends. I've gotta be real here: people who’ve lost a child are the only ones who get it. There is no degree for this. You can go to the most highly educated and empathetic therapists in the world and they can't help you unless they've been through it.


I have a friend who lost her daughter 12 years ago and she reached out to offer tools to help survive this living nightmare. Still in the fog of the early stages of losing Hayden, I will always remember Kristy sliding a stack of grief books across the table at Coffee Bean and softly saying, “Read what you need and then pass them on. Even if it's only a page or two…take what you need and….I never want them back”. She was right. I could only take tiny amounts. The common theme in all of the books was “You will never get over this!” Yeah. Tell me something I don't know. Affective grief books are difficult to find. It's a crap shoot. I found most reading material made things worse.


What did help was Kristy's invitation to do Pilates in her studio. I immediately noticed the gut wrenching depression was lighter on days that I got on the reformer. Exercise has been proven to decrease depression, but there is more to this. Kristy understands when tears come up, mid workout, (and they do). There is no judgment or awkward moments when I’m with her. No matter what, she knows what to say (or not say). Sometimes we even get a little angry together! These sessions have been one of the keys to saving my sanity. On some days, it is the only thing that drags me out of bed rather than curling up in a ball with a blanket over my head. I thank God for Kristy every day.



After going to the Compassionate Friends, Karen and I went to iHop for burgers and fries. I told her about my Pilates experience and how being active had been helping. Karen told me that the facial I had given her had improved her day. It’s the little things…


“I think we’re onto something”. Karen said, looking me straight in the eye and eating a french fry.


“I think you’re right.”


We talked about how a facial, a Sound Bath or an ayurvedic cooking class and other healthy activities could help bereaved parents. Grief over the loss of a child is for a lifetime. Taking charge of your new reality requires an enormous amount of mental, emotional, spiritual & physical strength. You find yourself doing things you would never have done a year ago. That’s because once you lose a child, you are never the same person again.


This is why Karen and I started Soul Mamas.


Not to be cliche, but it takes a village to live through this hell. Lately, the topic of Self Care is fashionable in magazines, newsfeeds & trendy blogs…but Self Care inside the life of parental grief is more than a trend. It is a necessity. It is oxygen for the soul and nourishment for your broken heart. We are both journaling throughout this grief storm and creating a unique list of simple ideas and gentle remedies to help to ease the pain of loss and to create more balance in your new reality and ours.


Through Soul Mamas, we hold our boys, Conner and Hayden, in our hearts every step of the way. There is a sweetness to this calling…It is divine in nature. With sincere and humble hearts we accept this mission to help the broken hearted pick up the pieces and walk toward wholeness again. Take our hands and we’ll take this journey with you.


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