Sunday, April 26, 2009

Death Turns to Birth

I had everything I had ever wanted . . . right up until our Easter Sunday dinner when my then seventeen month-old daughter and I watched as my amazing husband, Erik, slid down the kitchen counter and died. He was 29 and I was seven months pregnant with our second child. One minute he was laughing, and thirty five minutes later, he was proclaimed dead. Just like that.

Needless to say, it was unimaginable.

Six years have now passed since Erik's death and, again, I have everything I have ever wanted. After pushing through the ups and downs of spousal loss and unexpected single-parenting, I'd like to think I have earned this right to happiness. I put in the time. Endless hours of Post Traumatic Stress therapy. Journaling. Eye Movement Desensitation Reprocessing. Hypnotherapy. Chakra work. I figured the only way to get over Erik's death was to go straight through it, as painful as every step would be, and that the more time I spent healing, the sooner I would feel capable of being a good mother again, and eventually, a good partner to someone else.

Of course, what I didn't know when Erik died was that grief is not something you ever truly 'get over'. Grief is like a newly given birthmark on your face, eternally staring back at you in the mirror.

Erik's funeral was followed by a catered 'celebration of life' on one of George Lucas's soundstages. Erik was a rising star in technology management at Lucas's special effects' division, Industrial Light and Magic, and his unexpected death was high on the richter scale for thousands of people. I will always be grateful for the outpour of love and support from the Lucas employees and my incredible photography clients.

I remember when one of my ex-boyfriends arrived at the funeral chapel, how I wondered if he would end up being the next daddy to my children. Even in my black maternity outfit, it was as if Erik was sending me a message, telling me to find love again. Sure, I admit that I started dating way too soon according to most people's ideas of grief etiquette, but I have no regrets. Feeling desirable was all a part of my healing process, and there was this biological yearning, a screaming inside of me, "NEED FATHER FOR CHILDREN." The idea of being a single mom to two baby girls was inconceivable, but I was not willing to settle for anything less than the happiness that I once had.
Six weeks after my second daughter, Keira, was born, I did an online search for other young widows, and found myself on for the first time. Men and women of every shape and size. I scrolled through to see if there was anyone, at the age of 30, who could relate to my situation, someone I could talk to, but I ended up searching through all the men—widowed or not. I needed to connect. I needed male attention. But, who would want me? Who would want a young widow with two babies?
Next thing I knew, I was member, typing up a headline for myself.
“Add water, will grow.” My catch phrase.

Then I wrote and rewrote my profile, which finally read:

“There is a place where happiness overwhelms you, where you feel you might burst because it feels so good. I have been to that place. I have been there and tasted its richness and I know that I will return there once again. I have to believe that those capable of loving with such intensity, of living each moment completely, must deserve to love again. Successful, charismatic, intelligent, attractive, energetic, confident, athletic, talented, great sense of humor (sounding pretty good, yes?) looking for a friend with potential. Someone who is unafraid of their feelings, of delving deep, or getting dizzy in the rain. Someone who knows how to see the joy in the most difficult of times. Someone who wants to live life to its fullest, who puts love above all else. Most importantly, someone who adores children. I love movies, dancing, running, singing, playing pool, writing, getting dressed up for a night on the town and dressed down for a long hike, scrabble, backgammon, late night talks, afternoon naps, the ocean, the mountains, travelling, moments where you don't have to say anything. I am a self-employed Baby/children's photographer with world-wide publications. My job is awesome! I get to blow bubbles and roll around on the floor with little ones all day. Right now, I am taking time off from my business to write a memoir and cherish the precious moments with my two baby girls.”

In the morning, I checked my emails. Ten different men, a couple of them even good-looking. My first night on and I had received ten emails! I was a hit—already on my way to feeling less like a young widow, less like damaged goods.

Time passed, and after a couple of six month relationships, two years of workshopping bits of my memoir, and the eventual resurrection of my photography business in California, along came the serendipitous email through Along came Evan.

My girls, Tatiana and Keira, were 2 and 3.5 years old when I brought them to the soccer field and introduced them to Evan and his 8 year-old son, Jason. The connection was instant between all of us. Within a year, we moved into a house together in Northern California, with the most incredible view of San Francisco, and Evan asked Tatiana and Keira to start calling him daddy. The girls were elated.

Before Erik died, he promised to always take care of us, and I must admit that, for a while, I was upset with him for dying, for not being there anymore to take care of us. I know that there is no rational thinking in being mad at someone for dying, but grief is not always meant to be rational.

The day after we told the kids that Evan and I were getting married, and that he would be legally adopting them, Tatiana nuzzled into my lap and asked, "Mommy, do you think Daddy Erik sent Daddy and Jason to us?"

I stroked her long, curly hair and said, "Yes, sweetheart, I think he did."

I believe that. I believe that Erik sent Evan to us, that this was his way of taking care of us, the way he promised.

And I even wonder about our new baby, the one Evan and I conceived, Julian Erik. He is 16 months-old now and the happiest little boy. Is it possible that Erik has recycled his soul into Julian's body as another way of forever being a part of our lives?

Evan wants me to finish this memoir, even though I am struggling to find the time with four kids and a photography business. He has given me the weekend off to write while he takes care of the wee-ones because he knows how important it is to me to make something beautiful out of my experience, to remind others to cherish love and not compromise until you get everything you want out of life . . . even if you have to do it twice.


  1. I'm so glad to see you've been writing again...this is really good, Hyla. I am so impressed with you and your ability to press forward even after all you've been through. I am so happy that you have found that happiness once again, and that you are sharing your life with someone you love...Erik was true to his word... This was beautifully written, and I want to be the first one to read your book when it goes to press. Amazing. So proud! Michelle

  2. What joy to see you writing again. I am really glad you are experiencing the second coming of a fulfilling family. You are a strong lady and have many things to teach others about walking through pain and persevering. I too look forward to your published memoir, and if I know you like I think I do, there is no doubt that it's going to happen. It's strange to see this all written down here in such a short, condensed version, but actually when I remember all of these stages I think how difficult and eternal they seemed at the time. Looking forward to reading much more from you and hearing your Hyla-isms. Nat

  3. Your story is so moving and inspirational. You deserve every bit of happiness, two times over! This is such an important story to tell, not just for widows, but to remind those of us to live fully while our loved ones are alive, here and now. I can't wait to read, you need to write on.
    xoxo Christine

  4. I can't read your blog without tears. You are an inspiration to all of us who have been broken open by the rocks life slams us against. Losing the love of your life and then realizing that you created it, so you can create it again, is courageous. Kudos to you for believing in the healing power of love and for providing a beautiful life for your girls. I look forward to reading more here and also seeing your book at Barnes & Noble.

    In Love & Light, Stephanie

  5. I have to admit Hyla, you have always been a role model of strength for me. And your amazing ability to capture that strength with your phrasology and creative word choice will help others cherish what they have as well as to believe in second chances and fate. I CANNOT wait to see this all come together in a book shortly. I'll be your biggest fan always. ;).

  6. I cant stop reading've been through so much!!! I will surely read your entire memoir! StephanieM

  7. Meeting Hyla in the darkroom was auspicious ...she liked my photography ...she was actully Curious .....SHe was passionate and ALIVE ...i liked HER >>>SHe was real , sensitive ; aware if she could see THRU me ..see thru life .... This mysterious quality of her spirit has amazed me again and again ...watching her grow , caring for her thru the sweet dramas was always a joy ...then there was Eriks' funeral ....never have I seen such DEEP love ....she stood at the front of that overflowing chapel and gave a sincere and deep hug to EVERY person who came to give their sympathies she was passing on Eriks' love ... like she was THe Goddess of the Beyond ..........courage ? unbelievable courage as i watched her face every tiny feeling that losing such a love brought ....those girls know they are loved .... this family is nourished ..and by what ? that same unseen force that Hyla allows ... that same openness that allowed us to sit on her sofa monthes after Eriks' death and for her recieve messages that he was sending through me to her ....the same openness that brought her a new loving husband and father to her precious babes .... a stunning example of LOVE ~ Hyla ...always keeping her HEART open life ...even through death .....
    WHen I met Hyla when she was only 23 , she told me that although she loved photography , she really wanted to become a writer .... and THIS HYla , this story ....heartwrenching and powerful came to you for a reason ..... i would like to see what the reason is ....
    I will be honoured to read your story ... All my love , Carlyn

  8. Hyla, you already know you captured my heart after only meeting me for moments with your story....we stood there and I cried as you told me. I have never forgotten, hard to when the anniversary of his death falls on my birthday :-(. Your story touched my heart as it has many others and once published will touch the hearts of so many more. Big hug love Penny

  9. Hyla,
    You photographed my family when my sons were 1 and 2 1/2 years old-10 years ago. We still look at your photos on our walls daily. You have had an amazing, unbelievable journey, and I am so thankful to reconnect with you. Your story of loss, grief and healing will help many. Love and blessings to you and your family.

  10. Hyla,

    I'm touched by your story. I too lost my best friend suddenly. A pulmonary embolism took her within feet of every medical advantage anyone could have wished for.

    It will be eight years at 3pm Tuesday since they pronounced her dead. I wept in Mass this morning thinking of how many moments she's missed and how much I miss her--even now as I move into a lasting relationship.

    Part of me wants to be healed, part doesn't. That's where I've stood for the past three years. Life pulls us along. Opens our mind to new ideas. Stretches our soul. In the end, I'm a better man for having to made my way through this. Just as I'm sure you've grown to be a more compassionate soul than you ever thought possible.

    All the best on your journey. I've friended you on Facebook and will be reading along in the weeks and months to come.


  11. What a wonderful story! It has only been 9 months for me, and I am really struggling. I pray that my 2nd life will turn out as well as yours.....thanks for the story, does make me feel, maybe there is hope.



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