Good grief is right. Good grief, as in, “Good grief, why has it taken me the better half of 9 months to sit down and write again?” Or, “Good grief, could more things have happened to us this year?” But in the literal sense, a “good grief” is healing through loss, which I myself and those I love have experienced more times than once this year. Even as I’m sitting here writing this, I am stricken with grief of yet another close friend who was taken from us far too soon.
I didn’t quite know where to start, so I’ll just start from the beginning. Fair warning, it’s a five-parter and a little heavy, so get settled in for a long read. Oh and don’t worry, I’ll get back to writing fluff pieces about fashion, beauty, and my crazy mama stories soon enough.
Part 1: A Hopeful Outlook
As I looked forward to 2016, I couldn’t help but feel positive for so many reasons – Grant had started working on a new CBS show doing something he loved, Garrett had just turned two and we decided to start trying for a second baby, I had started to hit my groove again at work and my blog was taking off – what’s there not to look forward to? But that’s just it – life has shown me so many times just how fragile our illusion of it is. My late father always told me “Cammeo, all you can do is try not to get too low with the lows, or too high with the highs.” I thought he just meant not to get my hopes up about things, but what he was trying to teach me was a huge life lesson. There will always be ups and downs in life, and you can only prepare yourself mentally to handle them if you appreciate and value what’s important – and to him I know he meant family. So we finally booked our trip back home to Texas which we hadn’t done in three years – I made the conscious decision to put aside everything (work, my blog, social media, everything) and just focus on family for the holidays. We all trucked it over to Louisiana where my brother-in-law has a beautiful home, and it just filled my heart so much to see Grant’s family get to enjoy spending quality time with Garrett for the first time probably since he was born. And we couldn’t have had a better Christmas.
But I kid you not, the minute it turned the new year – it was like the hourglass ran out. My small digital team at the magazine had literally imploded (translation – three people on a team of five quit), leaving myself and a brand new colleague of mine to fend for ourselves. Grant got an email (an email!), saying that the funding for the show he’d just started advising on had been cut, and they didn’t know if or when they’d be able to bring him back on. My mom, who had the best set up making enough money on the weekend so that she could help watch Garrett for us during the week – also got laid off. After going through a very emotional chemical pregnancy (I didn’t even know those existed), and being so certain that I was pregnant after months of trying, I couldn’t help but feel deflated looking at yet another “negative” pregnancy test. Truth be told, I put away all the tests since then and realized it just wasn’t the right time.
Then, out of the blue one morning at work, I received a message on Facebook that my close friend and former co-worker Christina (or Stina to those who knew her well), had been found dead in her apartment the night before. I was devastated and confused. She had been like a little sister to me, since we bonded over our Italian roots, yet I had no idea she was struggling with depression. Sadly, she’s not the first friend or family member of mine to battle depression. So I immediately felt overwhelmed with guilt – pouring over the last few exchanges we had with each other to see if there were any signs, or what stupid insensitive thing I might have said. I then remembered how I’d made some lame excuse (I think I was 9 months pregnant with Garrett at the time), to not be able to meet up the last time she was in LA. Then over a year later I randomly reached out telling her how Grant was now working with the producer on her favorite show “Criminal Minds” and of course made some false promises to connect her with him (she was a talented up-and-coming actress). I tried to find comfort in speaking with my former coworkers who were still close with her, and we all admitted to having the same confused, guilt-ridden reaction. Needless to say, all of the bottled up emotions I’d been feeling for the past month came to a head & I felt utterly blindsided by it all.
Part 2: Highs & Lows
But just as fast as January crashed down, February propelled us into an upward spiral of possibility. Instead of blaming the unforeseen circumstances at work for my current situation – I decided to finally put myself out there and present a new business plan to our publisher of the magazine. Even though things could not have been more up in the air, I felt that it was important for me to feel like I’d left nothing on the table and genuinely had a good idea that I was actually passionate about. In a nutshell, I wanted to marry what I loved doing, which was writing (see last post “The New Kit on The Block“), and help grow an influencer network for both new and existing clients of the magazine to partner with for sponsored content on LAmag.com. Long story short, it was received with open arms, and all I had to do was stick it out for a few more months – piece of cake.
In the meantime, Grant randomly got a call from one of his former colleagues working private security asking if he was interested in helping head up Ted Cruz’s campaign security detail. It required him to travel for 2-3 weeks straight with only 1-2 weeks at home in between for as long as the campaign went on. By now we all know what happened there – but for the time it lasted, my husband had a front row seat to one of the craziest elections in history. It wasn’t the first high-profile client whose life was placed in my husband’s hands, but it was definitely one of the most intense security situations one could ever imagine. I even had a dear friend politely suggest he wear full body armor – which probably wouldn’t have been that over the top. While all the other candidates elected to have the Secret Service at their side, Cruz chose to keep his own personal security team – which just goes to show you what a bad*^*% Grant really is (I kid, I kid. No, but seriously, he is). Not a day went by that he or I didn’t get someone reaching out saying they’d just seen him on CNN, GMA, Fox, etc., and Garrett got used to saying “Daddy’s on TV!” (see proof below).
We were coasting into spring – Grant was given even more responsibility as security team leader for Cruz, I was on the brink of getting my business plan approved by corporate, and I was working on some exciting blog projects that finally made me feel like I’d hit my stride. But then I felt a sense of deja vu, and heard my dad’s voice repeating “remember, don’t get too high with the highs.” And as I opened my eyes one morning to a message on Facebook from my dad’s cousin in Australia – my heart just sank. Her sister, and my dear cousin Gabriella had passed away that morning, and in her words “I was so lucky to be there with her for her final moment. I am overwhelmed with grief, cause she was so young and always so funny, but as the world is a little darker today, heaven just got a whole lot brighter.” Of course you always want to know what happened, but all I could say was how saddened I was and what a beautiful soul Gabriella was. I first met Gabri when my best friend Emily and I spent the summer with my family in Sydney after our college graduation. We bonded so quickly and her love for life was incredibly contagious. Yet, she was also one of those people who just got a hard hand dealt in life – having just lost her fiance, she had a lot of inner turmoil which eventually as her sister said “her demons were just too strong for her to fight.” I couldn’t help but think of my friend Christina who I mentioned we also lost far too young, and how swiftly our loved ones can be taken from us. My heart still aches for her teenage daughter, and for the rest of our family that she left behind. The first thing I did to find comfort was to look back at photos from my trip – I’m finding this to be crucial in the healing process by keeping our memories alive.
Part 3: The Shake-Up
With all the travel that Grant’s new role entailed, I was feeling the need even more than ever to be home with Garrett. On top of that, my mom had been applying for jobs for months and finally landed the one she wanted – the only catch was that it required several weeks of training. Well as you can imagine, when you’re trying to lobby for a promotion with a great more responsibility at work – it’s not the best situation to be in. So I did what I had to do, which if we’re being completely honest – it’s what my heart had been trying to guide me to all along. I resigned. I walked into my boss’s office with a list in my head of the 5 reasons I was ready to regurgitate and left her office in a puddle of my own tears (and some of hers too mixed in between). It took days for us to finally have a real conversation where she admitted to being in denial and distraught over losing me on her team, and I cried (again) explaining what a struggle it has been for us over the past year and how torn I had been over making this decision, and that we actually were considering moving back home to Texas in a month or so. Then suddenly, she got it. She shared some really encouraging words that she had heard from a friend in a similar situation – the good Lord has already chosen our path and sometimes when we are faced with a choice that isn’t the right one, he makes so sure to keep that door closed as tight as possible. We both agreed that this was the right path, rather than my current career I’d been pushing for so hard with the magazine, and that everything was going to work out as planned. A huge weight had been finally lifted, and I felt then that I could finally move forward.
And it was a good thing, because forward was the only choice we had. Grant had just left for Indiana to accompany Cruz at the tail end of the primaries, when the rumors he’d heard came true – Cruz announced he was dropping out of the race. We always knew it was going to be a “fly by the seat of your pants” kinda situation every week, waiting to see how the election unfolded. We just thought we had more time. More time to figure out if we were moving or staying. More time to say goodbye to friends and my poor Mom who had moved to LA to help us, and who I now had to break the news to. Granted, I’d subtly been planting the seed about our move for months, but suddenly it felt like it was all really going to happen and I started to cry. I cried for my son who I always envisioned growing up as a SoCal kid, and for not being old enough for us to explain that we were about to upend his world for no real reason. I cried for my husband because he truly had found something that made him happy and a cause worth fighting for, just for it to be snatched out from under him so abruptly with no real promise of what’s to come. I cried for my mom because even though she has no problem expressing her emotions, she was holding them back to be strong for me and I felt like I was letting her down by leaving her and taking away essentially the one thing in the world that’s made her happy since my dad passed away. I cried (again) for my boss and marketing team who had been like family to me the past five years, and for my sweet “little brother” and lone digital team member who I’d developed such a close bond with in such a short time. And then, it was like the well dried up and my mind was telling me – you gotta pull yourself together and get packing, literally. We put our notice in with our apt managers who had also been like family to us, which is rare to find in a big city where tenants are a dime a dozen, and booked the POD (or so we thought, more on that below).
Part 4: Move Schmove
How’s the saying go – “If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”? Well, the move was proving to be just too easy. I had successfully boxed up everything in less than two weeks, the hubs miraculously jam packed everything into our moving POD, and we booked a killer deal on mine and Garrett’s one-way ticket back home. And then the wake up call happened – or rather, didn’t happen. We never got the call the night before from PODS confirming the pick-up window for our container. So the next morning as I’m calming my nerves about flying on my own with Garrett for the first time (we had decided it would work best for Grant to do the drive from California to Texas sans a crazy toddler, and wife ha), I decide to give PODS a call to make sure everything was squared away before Grant left town the next day. The very indifferent person on the other end of the phone kept trying to tell me that we had never actually booked a day for it to be picked up. Let’s just say – you don’t tell an Italian they’re wrong when they’re not. I put Grant on the phone to speak with a manager who could not have been any less helpful, but had agreed to listen to the recorded conversation where I explicitly stated today was the day it was to picked up because we didn’t want to leave it in the alley of our apt complex after we had already left town. I was distraught to say the least, aaaaand then the guilt came. I completely blamed myself even though I knew it wasn’t my fault – why do we do that to ourselves?!? I was rattled like an earthquake and luckily my mom was there to understand my emotional state, even if I didn’t – and just said she knew how hard it was making a big move like this and I’m allowed to feel emotional leaving the place we’ve lived for the past 7 years. Here are some shots from our last days in LA.
Against all odds, Garrett proved to be the best little travel partner and ended up sleeping the whole flight. Of course the weekend we choose to fly back home is the same week Houston had been hit with devastating floods. Luckily we flew in to Dallas, where we literally circled the storm, and this mama who is deathly afraid of turbulence didn’t feel a thing (thanks dad for that one, I needed it). The next day as we’re chowing down at The Daily Special, the best little breakfast spot in all of Alvarado, Texas, I get a call from Grant. He had been backing out of his friend Mike’s garage, and because we (ahem, I) had packed up the jeep so tight he couldn’t see out of it, he ended up scraping the entire passenger side door. I reassured him that it wasn’t a big deal and that I was just surprised I wasn’t the one to do it. If it’s one thing that going through a crap year will give you – is perspective. And that’s a good thing, cuz not 5 min goes by and Grant calls me yet again but this time it sounded serious and all he said was “have you checked your email?…Well no, why? I said.” He just got off the phone with our apt managers who informed him that our POD (yep, the same one that was supposed to get picked up the day before), had been broken into over night and he was headed over to determine the damage.
My stomach was in my throat for the next 5 min while I waited for him to assess what had actually been stolen. My mind raced trying to imagine what someone so low would want to steal – a stereo system, a couch, a TV? And I stopped right there – a TV! I suddenly remembered that we had packed into one of those TV boxes with our flat screen, the one piece of artwork my dad had left me that he’d painted himself. I frantically told Grant to check if the TV box was there. He couldn’t find it, and so I started to have a panic attack in the parking lot of The Daily Special. Because out of all our belongings, that was the one thing that couldn’t be replaced – and I began sobbing. Grant pleaded for me to hang up and let him look around more, and that there was a chance it still could be there – but all my being told me it wasn’t. Sure enough, he was right. And get this, the idiots not only left the TV box and pretty much all our electronics, but the only things he could tell that were taken were – my snowboard (which I had been trying to pawn off on FB the week before), a lamp, a sub-woofer, and the last part he was really hesitant to tell me. Because we didn’t have any more room in the Jeep and had run out of boxes, I had just laid more than half my closet on a chair near the front of the POD, and they had taken all but a handful of my clothes which had been strewn down the alleyway. You might be surprised by this, cuz I know Grant was, but I honestly couldn’t care less. “It’s just clothes” said the fashion blogger and aspiring stylist. But I meant it, and still do – we were all safe, and at the end of the day it can be replaced. Plus, I’d been cleaning out my closet for the better half of three years, and was getting uber-frustrated with myself for not being able to get rid of more things. Well, that took care of that, ha. My sweet sister-in-law, who has a knack for turning lemons into lemonade, gave me the bright idea for a future blog post – “How to Build Back Your Wardrobe After Half of it is Stolen in a Move” (ok, I’ll work on the title, but you get the idea).
Part 5: The Dust Settles
After waiting out the floodwaters in Dallas at my father-in-law’s, we finally made the drive to Houston where my mother-in-law had been anxiously waiting for our arrival. She had so graciously offered for us to stay at her townhouse until we found jobs and got more settled. Although people probably thought we were crazy to move in with family (my own mom even knew better when she moved to LA – either that, or she knew we couldn’t have possibly squeezed one more thing or person into our modest one bedroom), living with anyone just takes adjustment. More than anything, we all just wanted what was best for Garrett and for the first time he actually had his own room and big-boy bed. Then Grant’s sister so graciously saved a spot for Garrett at the preschool where she’s a Director – yah, that’s just a little different from a 2 year waiting list for a preschool in LA that you can’t even afford in the first place. The weeks leading up to his first day were filled with mixed emotions – would he be able to handle 5 hours away from us, or rather, would I? The night before I was a ball of nerves, and even said to Grant as we lay in bed “Well, we need to hurry up and have another baby, because this ones all grown up and graduating from college” which as you can imagine was met with a lot of laughter. Then my mom texted to remind me that I couldn’t cry when I dropped him off like she did with me, ha. So my strategy was to get all the crying out before we left the house in the morning – to which Grant reminded me “It’s only 5 hours, you can do this”, and he was right. When we got there Garrett walked right in, gave me a lame sideways hug (ok, I’ll take it), and Grant’s sis reassured me she’d text me after lunch to let me know how he was doing. Then a crazy thing happened – I suddenly felt at ease and actually excited to have a whole day to hang out like adults again. We went to Target (naturally), then caught a matinee after a rousing game of air hockey (mama won), and an arcade car race that left us both nauseous (dad won). Mid-way through the movie we got a text saying that Garrett was doing AWESOME, no tears and was doing everything like he was supposed to. I honestly have to say that I’ve never felt prouder. It’s so hard to explain that sense of pride you feel when your child overcomes their fears and exceeds your expectations. I know what you’re thinking my child-less friends, it’s only preschool ha, but it’s such a cool feeling to see a tiny human you created grow up right before your eyes.
With all the time we’ve had together, and the need to save money, I’ve actually started enjoying to cook again. On top of that, I’m determined to get back to my healthy state of being and even started running again. The Woodlands is known for their awesome running trails, and as much as my knees keep trying to remind me that I’m turning 35 in a couple months, I’m not gonna let it phase me. I used to feel so guilty leaving Garrett for even just an hour to go do something for myself, but with a little (ok, a lot) of coaxing from Grant – I’m actually at a point where I crave that alone time in the morning where I can run and just clear my head of anything and everything. It’s also allowed me to reflect even more on this year, and got me to a place where I could finally listen to my thoughts enough to want to write again. Not to mention, Grant and I had been itching to flip a house (because, who doesn’t watch Fixer Upper? #relationshipgoals). The search began for basically the worst house in the best neighborhood. My best friend’s mom, or my “utter mutter” as she calls herself, even offered to be our realtor, which has been amazing since she knows the north side of Houston like the back of her hand. We put an offer in on one house and realized quickly what it’s like to be wrapped up in a bidding war with multiple investors. Unfortunately we had to back out, which is hard especially after you’d already started spending your free time browsing Houzz (seriously addicting), and imagining all the cool updates you could do. So here we go again, and fingers crossed we find the one – if we do then be prepared to be seeing a lot more home design posts in the months to come.
Just when I thought I’d received the last bit of sad news for the year, I learned that my sweet friend Dahlia passed away tragically from complications during childbirth. I was absolutely stunned, and to be honest still am. She was at the peak of her life – she had just gotten married and announced they were having a son, and it made me so happy that she finally got everything she ever wanted. Dahlia and I first met after we moved to LA and I was still living the crazy media agency life. She was an ad sales rep who called on my team, but our friendship turned into more than just a working relationship. I’ll never forget the ski trip we all took to Mammoth Mountain for the annual Think LA Snow Jam weekend. Dahlia and her team had decided that instead of piling into the party bus with all the other media folks, she and her coworkers and a handful of her clients would take our own van. Needless to say it was a crazy 5 hours full of sing-a-longs, swapping agency/ad sales stories, and the weekend just got better from there. I will always remember Dahlia’s quick wit and no non-sense yet incredibly kind attitude that made everyone want to be around her. In the years that followed, that same group of friends made a tradition of girls’ night dinners at whatever new restaurant we needed the excuse to try. The last real time we got to see her was at Garrett’s baby shower, where she brought along her new boyfriend & now husband Jason. They moved to San Diego shortly after and although our girls dinners got fewer and far between, I always loved seeing her posts about her new life and the new life she was bringing into this world. It breaks my heart that she won’t be able to see her son undoubtedly grow into the strong and smart young man he will become. Every night since, Dahlia has come to me in my dreams – sometimes to show me glimpses of her life with her family, almost to say that she will never completely leave us, and my waking mind wants so badly to believe it.
As I start reflecting on the past couple of months, and all the highs and lows, I can finally start to feel the dust settle. Sure there are a lot of things still up in the air – will Grant finally get the big U.S. Senate staff position he was promised after the presidential campaign, and would I finally find the right freelance job through The Second Shift, a professional network designed for moms, I had been so close to landing? As stressful as the thought of not having any jobs lined up yet, I still can’t help but feel fortunate for the time off. I mean, when else do you have the chance to enjoy a whole summer with your husband, and toddler who’s about to turn 13, I mean 3? I started realizing after all that we’d been through this year so far – this was truly what we needed and the man upstairs knew that. Not to mention we are so lucky and grateful to have family close-by who would do anything they could to help support us and lift us up when we need it most. I’m still not sure what the rest of this year holds, but I can say that I look forward now more than ever to finally feeling settled in a place we can once again call home…
This post is dedicated to my dear cousin who passed away this year. If you or a loved one you know suffers from alcoholism, please seek help – whether it’s AA or even a local church or rehab/counseling group. Talking about our weaknesses shows strength, and I hope this helps raise awareness for those who might feel ashamed to speak up like I know so many do.
I am also so inspired by Dana Saragaglia and Zihla Salinas Arbit, the sisters of my two friends who passed this year. Both have set up donation pages in honor of their sisters Christina Saragaglia and Dahlia Salinas– please visit and help share if you feel so inclined as I know it would mean the world to all of us.