The Way to My Own Door

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I am in my hotel in Lisbon, passing the time from 4AM, when jet lag roused me, until the city resumes its life. Something that needed attention on my website got me looking at old diary entries, which I like to do this from time to time, not so much out of nostalgia, but to be reminded of all the opportunities for growth my life has given me.  

Recently my posts have focused, for obvious reasons, on the death of my son Ivan, but looking at the entries from the past three years, I see how rich my life has been.  It’s been marked by pivotal decisions, such as trading the security of home, familiarity, and possessions for the chance of a more vibrant and fulfilling life in Canada. It’s been shaped by times of solitude, some chosen and some imposed on me by Covid quarantines, that provided opportunities for reflection and inner growth. It’s been reshaped and reconsidered by my decision to “live travelly,” not just on long cruise assignments that took me all over the world, but by my first sustained solo travel on land. It’s been enriched by a rekindling of my love of writing. It has changed simply as a result of growing older and liberating myself from the burdensome expectations of others. Some boundaries have been shattered by my greater willingness to be outside my comfort zone, and other boundaries have been strengthened as I come to better understand my worth. 

Now, however, I find myself wondering what will constitute a full and authentic life going forward. It’s understandable that I should feel this way after such a great loss.  It’s understandable to question a future that doesn’t include the active state of motherhood that has been central to my existence for over forty years. It’s understandable that I should feel the stuffing knocked out of me, the once light footsteps more of a limp. It should come as no surprise that I have trouble getting excited about anything.

Where is the adventurer Laurel, the curious, observant Laurel, the boundlessly energetic Laurel, the one hungry for new experiences and insights?  The one I captured in the photos below. I like her more than this one I am now. I want, as Walcott puts it, to welcome myself like an old love at the door. To give back my heart to itself, to the face in the mirror, who these days doesn’t look quite like the Laurel I remember.

I have to find a way to be, now that I must carry this loss with me as part of who I am. I know I need time to see what my healing will look like. Already I see glimmerings of the spirit I used to have. It sometimes gently nudges and sometimes outright argues with the flattened me, saying “get up and look around.” Be alive to something, on my way to being alive to everything again. This day, this meal, this friend, this mundane moment made special just by stopping to notice it. This sight. This insight. I must rescue the love trapped in the grief, and use its power it to find my way to that place where I can be the best me again.


I Also Had This

I have been in San Diego for the last bit of time, seeing many of my longtime friends. It’s been a bumpy ride, full of both immensely gratifying expressions of love and also gut-clawing moments of loss. It’s going to take more than one post to work through all the things I think it is important to get into words, but I want to start here.

When I am feeling confused, or lost in what to make of the new reality of my life, I find that I often say out loud to both my sons, “Okay, help me out here.” I ask them what I need to know, do, realize in order to put all this loss in perspective. In order to know how to move on with my own blessed and beautiful life.

I believe they speak to me. They tell me to look around and see the messages that are right in front of me. A few days ago, I was walking on the trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (photo above). It was so beautifully lit with spring flowers, wind-carved sandstone cliffs, white breakers and brilliant blue water out to the horizon. I realized I was crying as I stood and felt the warm air and heard the crash of the surf. Ivan wasn’t here. I can’t bring him here next year, or ever. It is too late. I can’t change any of it.

Adriano comes back often to be with me now in spirit, brushing one shoulder while Ivan hovers at the other. ‘What can you tell me?” I asked as I walked along the path. Ahead I saw a single bench at a viewpoint and was momentarily disappointed to see it was occupied because I wanted to sit and think for a while. There was a father explaining to a boy of about seven how the helicopter that had just gone by managed to fly. His younger brother sat on their mother’s lap, listening also.

And there was the lesson my own children wanted to tell me. I shouldn’t dwell on just the awful final chapters for each of them. We had sat as an intact family just that way. I have countless moments of absolute joy in being their mother, and they were bathed in love. There was a time when a caring father was part of it too.

I had that.

No, I have that forever.

An electronic photo frame comes out of storage when I am in any place for more than a few weeks. It changes as I grapple with what I feel comfortable seeing. For many years I didn’t want to look at pictures of my family because all I could see were faces that didn’t realize the train wreck that was coming for us all.

I think I’ve changed. I think I can come to see those photos, those memories, as a time I once had, a time that I couldn’t hang on to, but that needs to be remembered, treasured, heard. I am so very blessed to have had those beautiful boys to love and cherish. They want me to remember that, and to let their faces, their precious hearts tell me through all those memories how much I was loved in return.


Passing Through Grief

I am sitting right now in the same place I was when I heard my son Ivan was dead.

On January 3 of this year I was waiting in the food court outside security in the Vancouver airport. About two hours before I would board a plane to fly to Singapore, I noticed I had a voicemail from a number in the Phoenix area. There was only one person it could be about. There were only two things it could be about.  Ivan was dead, or hospitalized.  When the message was from the police, I knew it was the former. 

I called the officer back, and when he asked if I was in a private place where I could sit down, my last shred of doubt vanished. I said that wouldn’t be possible, and that I was pretty sure I knew what he was going to tell me and that we could talk right then.

‘What do you think I’m going to tell you?” he asked. 

“That my son is dead.” And he told me I was right. 

After the call, I went back to my friend Annie, who was travelling with me, and we cried a little. Then we just sat until we needed to move through security to get on a plane to Singapore.  “I have to be somewhere,” I said. Singapore was as good as anywhere, since there was absolutely nothing in Phoenix that required my presence, and I knew if his spirit was free he could find me there (he did.) I called to make arrangements with a funeral home before multiple time zones made that too much for the frazzled nerves of a bereaved mother to deal with. Then we were off.

I rolled my bag past the spot today as I went to check in.  It is so heavy with vibes that I burst briefly into tears. Then I do what I always do: I asked my boys to be with me and keep me strong.  It works every time.  I thought to myself, “well, that’s done,” but it turned out I was going the wrong way and had to go back and pass it again. Same thing, vibrant with sadness, like the lowest note of a piano.

As it turned out, I was too early to drop my bag, so I had no choice but to go back and sit in that place of dark memory for over an hour. I am here now, with my chair positioned so I have a view that means nothing to me, and I am feeling some of the burden lift. It is, after all, just an airport food court.  Ask anyone else sitting here. 

Maybe I had to go past it twice and then sit there for a while in order to move beyond that awful night. When I leave here, I will turn and look at that spot, remember the Laurel that stood there, and remind myself of the healing I have continued to do. I will never go by it without the memory, but I am the creator of what it will mean. A place of grief, yes, but also a place to check in with myself, to see how well I have lived on.

In a few minutes, I will go check my bag, and head off on my next journey. I know my boys will be there with me whenever I need them. Here, there, and everywhere. Always. 


How to Befriend a Grieving Me, or Anyone

Today starts a new phase in my journey as I leave the ship and over the next few days make my way back to Victoria. During the time I have been living aboard, I have kept my sad news to myself, telling only two or three people, and then only in the context of recent griefs we have in common. When people asked if I have children, I swallowed hard and said no. I know that some people aboard know what happened because of this blog and Facebook posts, but beyond that, I don’t know how widely the story spread, because I can recall only two who acknowledged it.

And now my avoidance has to stop. Everyone I am likely to see in Victoria, and later in March in San Diego, will know that I am dealing with the loss of my son. I admit that this is causing me some apprehension. I know that people who love me are grieving for me too, and I’d like our interactions to leave us better and more meaningfully connected. This morning I thought about things that people have said and done in the past, and what has or hasn’t helped. I phrase them all in the first person because mine is the only story I am sure about, but I think most of them will generalize to grieving people and their consolers, regardless of the loss.

  1. You won’t “make me sad” by bringing up my loss(es). I am already sad. Even when I am happy the core sadness is there. Likewise, don’t worry about “reminding me.” Trust me, I haven’t forgotten. 
  2. My public behavior is a performance of the familiar Laurel. I’m not being falsely cheerful. I am not in denial. I’d just rather hold it together than lose it. I may not want to be unmasked at the moment, so don’t push me to reveal how I really feel if I don’t want to talk.
  3. One of the most painful truths is that I will not be making any new memories with Ivan. If you have a memory to share, please do so. It is the next best thing.  Speak Adriano’s and Ivan’s names aloud. I love hearing them because it reminds me that even though they are gone, they are still real.
  4. Advice about things I could do to heal may be difficult for me to accept, and may even be counterproductive.  I know it will be offered from love, but sometimes it feels as if it’s more about what would please you for me to do. I don’t have the energy to explain why some things simply are not a good fit for me, and if I am feeling weak, it may make me feel alienated and even a little angry.
  5. Be careful with the bromides, like “everything happens for a reason,” or “he’s in a better place.” It is only my beliefs that register with me, not yours.
  6. Don’t think your grief stories are evidence that you empathize. I struggle to have the energy for my own, and other people’s stories weigh me down. And besides, the truth is you don’t understand unless you have lost a child yourself. Or, in my case, both of them. And when you say you can’t imagine what I am going through, trust me that you can’t, and I don’t want you to try. Hug your own loved ones. Tell them right now that you love them. That honors my grief far better than trying to imagine yourself in my situation. 
  7. Don’t shut me out.  Don’t run away and hide. I am a walking embodiment of every parent’s worst nightmare, but I am still the flesh-and-blood person you know. Don’t treat me like a pariah. There is no perfect thing to say, and less may be more, but the best way to deal with me is to acknowledge what happened, say you are sorry and then move on with whatever has brought us together. Discuss the menu, set off on the walk, eat the gelato, get in line at the ticket booth, stop to window shop. I need grounding in the present.  
  8. Don’t judge the way I act or decisions I made or make.  You aren’t walking in my shoes, and just be grateful for that. 
  9. And last, let me take the lead. That will help most of all. And please don’t let all this advice scare you. Read #7 again.  

Past, Present, and Future

I saw a Facebook post today from someone identified only as Amy, and I am marveling at the simple wisdom of it.  She says that to move on from emotional paralysis, “You have to give up your need for a different past. You have to allow yourself to grieve for what happened or a lot of times, what didn’t happen.”  She adds, “It doesn’t mean you’re okay with what happened or didn’t happen, it means that you are accepting life now and in the past for what it was and what it is.”

I look out this morning at a beautiful blue sea dotted with whitecaps lit by the sun, approaching Australia on the last day of a two-month assignment, and I know the answer to healing lies in what she says.

I learned that my son Ivan had taken his life, probably at midnight New Year’s Eve, as I sat waiting in the Vancouver airport for my flight to Singapore to begin this assignment. The news was not unexpected—he had been suicidal off and on for years, and almost constantly in 2022. Perhaps that helped buffer the moment in the airport, because as I asked myself, “what do I do now?” the answer was simple: Go on with your life. Get on that plane. 

I should clarify that I didn’t have family to support in their grief, nor did Ivan have possessions or affairs I needed to be physically present to deal with.  Everything that needed to be done could be done remotely, and many things didn’t really need to be done at all. His creditors and bank would figure out the situation eventually, and when his rent went unpaid, the complex could use his deposit to clear out his apartment. I wanted nothing except what a friend of Ivan’s was able to rescue, and that wouldn’t even fill a shopping bag. So I went to Singapore.

I don’t regret it at all.  Even when you feel as if you are only half in this world yourself, you need a place to be.  The somewhere I chose to be provided distractions, positive things to do and experience, and time the first month with travel companions who are wise women who knew the best way to show their love was to just let me be whatever I needed to be at any given moment. 

My grief has two distinct parts.  The first is that my son was so miserable in life.  It wasn’t going to get better, at least anywhere near enough to have a life he would consider successful or happy. I think about a line from a Jackson Browne song: “And though the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems/ It would be easier sometimes to change the past.” I don’t think Ivan had the power to change his future. The past, and a present taken up with things he could not manage, were too strong. I had to let him go.  It was the best mothering I could give him in the end.  

From time to time I talk to both my children and tell them how sorry I am that things weren’t different. I am sure I will grieve that way for the rest of my life. All I can do, though, is shake it off and tell myself, “enough of that thinking. It does no good.”  Any lessons there were in all this, I have had plenty of time to struggle with over the years. I need to be kind to Laurel now.  

The second aspect of grief is that Ivan won’t be here ever again for anything.  I didn’t get to have the fun phone call where I listened to him praise and frequently trash the Oscar nominations.  I couldn’t send him photos from places I knew he would love seeing. I can’t share in his highly intelligent and knowledgeable rants about the day’s political headlines. He was always better informed than I am.  And the ambushes are frequent. The other day I saw a shirt I thought Ivan would like hanging in a market stall in Noumea, and I took a step or two in that direction before remembering there is no Ivan to buy it for. And there won’t be, ever again.  

Funny, how we say those who commit suicide have taken their life, when everyone else who dies loses theirs.  I do think in the end I can say that Ivan finally took charge of his life on his own terms.  I, on the other hand, like every survivor, lost a little of mine. I have to figure out how to get it back.  My life has changed, and I feel in my bones it will be different—still unknown and intangible but, as always, beautiful and abundant. Time to walk into my future, with my grief tucked into my heart. I’m ready. 


Stop, Drop, and Roll

It has been six weeks since my beloved son Ivan died. Since numbness doesn’t produce much coherent thinking, I haven’t figured out much I want to share until now. 

One of the themes of early grief is the screaming desire for a do over.  Just a chance to have him back, give him one last hug, try one more thing.  But when the death comes, as Ivan’s did, after a long, agonizing end stage from which there didn’t seem to be any other escape, I would only want him back healed and happy. If there is anything after death, he is both of those now, and reunited with his brother Adriano, who is healed and happy as well.  It would be utter selfishness to want it otherwise. Still, the drone in the background of this stage is two words:  Too Late.  For anyone who cared about a dead loved one, those words are heartbreaking.

I think about the new hard facts.  There is no one now I can share memories with about our family. I will never see either of my sons settled into happy relationships with women they love. I will never have a grandchild. No one will ever say, “Hi, Mom” to me again. I had difficulty for years looking at photos of my intact family because we never saw all of this pain and loss coming.  My last chance for a happy outcome is gone.  Except for me, I remind myself. I will go on, and though I already know I have changed, I will find a way to be happy and at peace in this new reality.

I sometimes thought that if I had to do it all over again, I would still marry their father, not because he was a good choice for me, but because I wanted those two beautiful people to come into this world. But giving the gift of life to my sons and having them in the end not want it calls for some difficult reckoning. I can’t imagine any mothers of children who ended their lives not wondering whether it was a good thing to have brought them into this world. Yet, when I look at photographs of Adriano and Ivan as children, I  see that their faces are happy and that there were many, many good times.  They knew how much I loved them and they loved me back.   I will have to settle for that love being enough of a reason to have taken this journey together. 

 I feel as if I am beginning another stage. I accept that Ivan has died, but I can’t quite grasp that there is no more Ivan. Nothing that happens from now on will include him. That is where the ambushes come from and will never completely stop.  The French writer Colette  put it this way:

‘It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

A few years back I was going through some memorabilia and came across an old audiotape of Ivan when he was in preschool.  He was telling me what he had learned that day about keeping safe in a fire. In his tiny voice, filled with solemnity,  he told me I was supposed to stop, drop, and roll. I wish I still had that tape, but maybe Ivan is still trying to tell me that. 

Stop, drop, and roll, mommy.  Just stop, drop, and roll. 


May my heart always be open

A year ago today, while in Costa Rica, I learned from a neighbor that Ivan was missing from his apartment and had been acting strangely for days. Eventually a social worker found me and told me he had suffered a manic episode extreme enough to be hospitalized. I had to leave the ship I was on to rush halfway across Costa Rica for a flight to Phoenix to be with him. The drugs he took to keep future episodes at bay sent him on a downward spiral of depression and other health issues that he tried in vain to overcome all of 2022. Now, a year later I am once again in a place of great beauty trying to comprehend what happened, and what it means for my own life.

I am still sifting through my thoughts and don’t quite know what I want to write yet, but tonight, as I wait in Tahiti to join a ship in a few days, I saw this sunset, and an ee cummings poem I hadn’t thought of in years came to mind. I will let him speak for me.

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young
and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Tonight I pulled the beautiful sky in this photo over me and smiled. I am going to be fine.


Love the child that holds your hand

“What you seek you shall never find. For when the gods made man, they let death be his lot. Eternal life they withheld. Let your every day be full of joy. Love the child that holds your hand. Let your wife delight in your embrace. For these alone are the concerns of man” -The Epic of Gilgamesh


Leaving the Train

I read a remarkable story the other day. 

A boy had traveled by train with his parents every month to visit his grandparents. Eventually he reached the point where he convinced his parents he was old enough to make the trip alone.  As the train prepared to leave the station, his father slipped something in his pocket, and said, “if you feel frightened or confused, this is for you.”

The trip was different from when the boy had his parents for reassurance.  The train was noisier and more crowded than he remembered, with people looking at him in ways he could not interpret. Scared, and feeling terribly alone, he remembered his dad had put something in his pocket. It was a piece of paper on which he had written five words:

“I’m in the last car.”

We know we have to let our children go, but no matter their age, we always want to be in the last car, watching, in case their life gets too tough to handle on their own.

For 43 years I was on the train with my son Ivan, at first with him in my lap and eventually supporting him from the last car. With great sadness, I am now ready to go public with the news that Ivan and I both left that train on January 1, 2023.  Ivan is gone now, exploring the hereafter with his brother, Adriano, and I am stepping into my future as well, now that we both are free of his suffering. 

I don’t know how long it will be before I write more about this. Just wanted you to know what has happened, and to assure you that although it is pretty lonely and confusing standing on the platform without him,  I am feeling strong and capable of moving forward, and grateful as ever for the blessings of my life, even when they are mixed with pain. Thank you for any loving thoughts you sent Ivan’s and my way.

Ivan Etienne Corona

September 28, 1979- January 1, 2023

Rise in Power, Be Free, Go with my Love


Solstice Light

Victoria is covered with a foot of snow. The streets are brown with slush and today will be treacherous with ice after a solstice-long night of temperatures well below freezing. It’s a good time to stay inside and light candles. 

We don’t live in an era when candles are necessary—unless we forgot new batteries for the flashlights and the power goes out—but they are one of our most potent symbols. Jews are lighting them this week in celebration of a miracle.  We light them to usher Shabbat in and out. Many Christian denominations light them at the altar to begin services.  They are one of the most powerful ways we have to separate ourselves from the mundane and ordinary and enter divine space and time.

Or just inure ourselves to the long, cold dark of winter. Years back, I took the coastal steamer one summer all the way up Norway to the Russian border. Because it was the means of transportation for local people and goods, I had a few hours in several remote towns unvisited by tourists. I spent a fair amount of time poking around hardware stores because I have always been curious about what we now rather inelegantly call “life hacks,” which are on display in what local people buy. I was amazed by the quality and quantity of items relating to setting a beautiful table—runners, mats, tablecloths, and of course candle holders. In a town without tourists to sell sticker-shock Scandinavian brands to, where else is there to shop for beauty but the aisles between the snow shovels and the bins of nails and hinges? Though it was midsummer and only passingly dark at any point, it seemed clear to me what this was about.  Winter is either here or coming in this part of the world. 

There is something deep in all of us, I suspect, that understands that beauty keeps darkness at bay, that light helps to banish loneliness and isolation. In the long stretch of time between ending my toxic marriage and meeting my great midlife love, Jim, I collected tableware and changed out my table every few days.  For a while I set two places even though I knew one would be unused, mostly because I preferred the way it looked, but admittedly because it represented some future hope of having the right person seated there. Funny, how when Jim died, I went back to doing this, but with only one place because now it was too sad a reminder of the man who wasn’t there.  And, I realize now, it was an important symbol of how I had fully embraced the idea that I, by myself, was enough. 

The lighted candles were part of those tables. They help us weather all variety of storms. 

As often happens when I post here, I think I will write about one thing and end up talking about something else. I thought I was going to write about weather and memory, and if you go back to the opening you will see how it took just three sentences to set the course this post was meant to have.  My jumping off point was going to be how I notice when I think back about my travels, how rarely the weather factors into my memories. Southeast Asia is very hot and humid, but what I remember are the Buddhas and the bustle. Don’t ask me whether I was wearing a parka or a light jacket as I was exploring the Maritimes, or whether it was a day for sandals or shoes and socks in the Canaries. I have to look at my photographs to remember. 

Of course there are exceptions—the sudden torrential rain flooding the streets as I was showing my friend Linda the sights of one of my favourite cities, Riga.  Taking advantage of waterproof boots to splash in puddles in Quebec City with my friend Nancy. Scrambling to put on layers of summer clothes for an unseasonably cold day in Morocco with my friend Jane.  But these are the exceptions. Maybe it’s because I spent most of my life in Southern California, where the weather report is on a continuous loop most of the year, and maybe it’s because I have mostly traveled at the easiest part of the year weather wise, but really it’s just that everything else counts for so much more. 

And so it is today. There’s snow piled in the yard, the paths along my beloved cliffs will be far too icy to risk a walk. And probably all I will remember is the glow of the candle I will set in the window. Blessings of the solstice to you all.

The view from my door before dawn.