Category Archives: grief

My Mother’s 60th Birthday

Today my mother would have turned 60. Even though she’s been gone for 8 years, I still feel like our relationship is complicated, as most Mother-Daughter dynamics are. All her motherly wisdom is in me but she’s gone – so it’s hard to figure out how/when/what to think about her.

A lot has happened in her absence. I graduated college. I had my first big heartbreak. I was sidetracked in my career for a while but now I’m a full-time writer. I fell in love.

My brother became a chef. Then he started a family and met his soul mate, Lindsay, who has become like a sister, I think. I’ve never had a sister so I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m happily still learning the ropes.

Our family expanded, and still has this great loss to deal with.

Eight years have gone by and what does that mean? What I’ve discovered is that it means you’re left with a ton of choices. The really annoying kind of choices where you have to consciously decide to either rise above or sink below.

One decision is: how will I remember her? Will I push her out of my mind so it’s ALMOST like it didn’t happen? Will I try my hardest not to think about “it” so that if ever I do think about it I immediately change the channel?


Will I listen and try to find meaning in the universe around me? Will I make time to be filled with wonder and marvel at how spectacular life can be? Even though existence is rather peculiar.

It’s drudgery. It’s ecstasy. It’s exhausting. It’s magnificent. It’s cruel… it’s kind. And you don’t have control over what happens. You only really decide your outlook — how hard you’ll fight, how brave you’ll be, how generous, how empathetic, how honest, how happy…

I go back and forth — dance a little on each side because the challenges teach me and remind me to be grateful for all of the good.

Last night was one of the moments where I got to experience some of the wonder. I was handed a little inspiration to say all that I want to say today.

Last night, for a reason I cannot explain, I decided to re-watch Spanglish (Thank you, Netflix). I had forgotten how much of that movie is about mothers and daughters. At the end, the mother asks her daughter, “Is what you want in life to be very different from me?” Isn’t that the question we daughters all ask about our mothers? The difference being that if my mother said THAT to me, I’d realize how foolish a question it is, because I’d be honored to be like her.

Side note: Every year I donate blood on my mom’s birthday. If you are thinking that I am telling you that to say, “Hey I’m better than you” then you’re correct. I’m hoping that guilt turns into action. Donate blood today. There are a lot of stats about why it’s good but my favorite is that most premature babies need transfusions. That could be you saving a little baby’s life… today!



Filed under Be Grateful, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, parent, Volunteer

High Expectations, Yoda Moms + Cubicles

Navigating through my 20s without my mom is tough. I’m a girl living in a man’s world. Brothers. Dad. Boyfriend.

With the days of mourning behind me, I worried what it would be like the further and further I was away from a time when I saw my mother. Talked to her. Would I miss her more? Would I feel very far removed from her? Would I start to forget her?

Perhaps it is counterintuitive but I actually feel a calm because she is with me always influencing my decisions even when it is not apparent. Our relationship miraculously continues to evolve.

Her Latest Lesson

My mother did not build a career. In my limited understanding of the world, I considered this to be an egregious and embarrassing oversight because I have since the age of 5 regarded having a high-powered career as the ultimate achievement. Other girls dream of white dresses and fairytales but I envisioned the homes I would own all over the world.

When I would ask my mother about possible jobs around town she always said something like, “Why am I going to waste my time with that?” I took this a sign she thought she was better than everyone else.

Later when I was in college, I reflected and thought her judgment of others was a defense mechanism, and maybe even laziness or worse, lack of self-work. Time passed and I flip-flopped again. My mother was very intelligent. She could definitely work in any old cubicle around town. Something about my assumption did not add up. She had cancer so then I thought maybe that had something to do with it, but then a fulfilling career seems like a desirable distraction to me.

It was not until years later when I found myself in a cubicle that the crumbs started to lead me in the right direction. I have had pretty good jobs so far. I worked with people who became lifelong friends. I did some creative work writing and producing Web content. I traveled around the U.S. At my last job I even ditched the cube and had an office with huge windows and lots of time for afternoon tennis. Those experiences were adequate. They paid the bills. But two things. One, people telling you what to do sucks. Two, don’t let Mary Tyler Moore fool you, it’s not all co-workers who want to be friends or harbor super secret crushes for nine seasons. It’s a lot of lazy people with no ambition, crotchety bosses who take their boss’ aggression out on you and cake in the kitchen haunting every inch of your body.

Even though I consider myself lucky in many ways (experience, travel, conference tchotchkes) eventually all three of my “real-world” jobs became tedious and stifling on both the soul and the mind. Now I have heard from friends that some desk-jobs are fabulous. I have yet to make on-site visits but I believe they exist. Some people are lucky and find the right blend. Others create their own destiny. It depends on personality. I know myself so I know my expectations for what I am willing to spend my time on is high.

After my last foray (I hope literally my LAST foray) into working for someone else who chops my work into tiny little pieces, I decided my mom was actually a genius. She is absolutely right. Why am I going to spend the precious moments on my life working on projects I’m not passionate about? She spent her time with her family, cooking, eating well, reading and spending her life exploring what interested her. Yes, she did not become famous (yet) but she was the most interesting person to talk with and she consistently worked on her spirituality. By doing so she taught me to hold high expectations for my career and all the precious moments of my life.

That tricky Yoda Mom!

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Filed under Be Grateful, Classic Mama Alice, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother

Gratitude & Support: My Interview on Open to Hope Radio

Open to Hope Radio Lauren Muscarella

Click here to listen to the radio show.

The inspiration, hope and beauty that can emerge from the universal hardships we all experience in one form or another is amazing. The Open to Hope Foundation is one tangible example of this type of resilience. It is one of the best grief resources I have encountered. Dr. Gloria Horsley and her daughter Dr. Heidi Horsley have created a truly inspired organization.

I am flattered and humbled to be a writer for Open to Hope, and be their guest on today’s show. (Radio show.)

Thank you, Dr. Gloria Horsely and Dr. Heidi Horsley, for your contribution and your support of Trauma to Art (t2a). The comments I receive, the people I meet and the shear act of being part of the Open to Hope community fills me with abundance and gratitude.

Much love,

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Filed under Be Grateful, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, mother, Trauma to Art (T2A)

The Similarities of Our Religions & One Another


From Curly Girl Design.

A few weeks ago I submitted a second round of questions to the IRS to officially receive Trauma to Art’s tax exempt status. After I paid the post office for the primo postage to ensure my document would arrive safe and sound my heart practically beat out of my chest. Any time I feel the hint of stress or anxiety I take a minute. I find a quiet place where I can focus and regain my center. Usually I will list all the things I am grateful for and then I list my aspirations.

When I listed my aspirations being the founder of a non-profit wasn’t one of them. I want to help build an inclusive community for grievers. I want to work to alleviate the stigma of talking about death and aging by emphasizing the important our elders’ wisdom. Once a mentor of mine told me religion is not a label like Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism, it is the way we practice our faith. I allowed the process of making Trauma to Art a non-profit blur my practice of faith: helping others.

After regaining some clarity I started to look for answers as to why I allowed the process to give me such anxiety. Like most anxiety, mine was born out of fear. I was afraid of letting people down and scared what people would think of me if I failed to attain my very public goal.

In a search for inspiration and understanding I came across this from Jonathan Granoff. In an interview with Deepak Chopra he said, “People have become attracted by the pornography of the trivial and the bottom line. The duty of religion is to take us to a higher resonance to build bridges rather than walls. If we can separate from ourselves that which separates us from one another–our pride, our bigotry–then I believe the deeper understanding of religion, which is to see the underlying unity and blessing in every religion will resonate and that to me is the vision of the founding fathers of the United States.”

Jonathan’s words challenged me to uncover something I hesitate to publicly admit. While I can serve my goals and ambitions with or without a tax exempt status, I cannot if I find myself engulfed in pride. I will keep you updated as I check the mail every day for my official IRS letter. No matter the outcome, my mission will remain the same.

The Similarities of Our Major Religions
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain.
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.
Judaism: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.

Alice Law #10. challenge and evolve the way you think about love and life.

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Filed under grief, Lauren Muscarella

The Art of Using the Postal Service: Symbols of Gratitude

When my family moved to Gardner my mother was separated from her friend Margie. I heard about her from time to time. I assume my mother and her friend commiserated over husband issues, the joys (and pitfalls) of child rearing and other life stuff. After our move their friendship of similar lifestyle and proximity needed to evolve or terminally reside in “Oh remember that friend?”

Thank you notes

At Trauma to Art's first workshop we handed out thank you notes for attending with custom comment cards (stamp included).

Luckily an evolution took place in the form of letter writing. It started when we moved in the 80s and stayed strong for decades. My mother wanted me to watch and learn. Mama Alice, subtle as always, gave me heaps and heaps of stationery and lectured me on the art of picking a proper parchment representation to encapsulate my essence. At the time I had no feasible use for such an education. These days I do.

USPS Modern Update

While I don’t have some great correspondence relationship with a friend whom moved far away, I have taken her practice and updated it. Email is a great way to keep up with all my friends so that is my mode of choice. However, I employ the USPS for a lofty task: acts of gratitude.

Once a day (usually) I write a thank you note to one of my friends. The note could be about something specific. Recently I sent out a stack thanking my friends who helped me through the process of taking a new job (if you helped and haven’t received one, trust me it’s on its way). Sometimes it is a simple ‘thinking of you’.

The Double Thank You

The double thank you is the best. When I can I include a thank you note within the thank you note as a gift so my friend can continue the postal love to another friend of theirs. My way isn’t the only way. How do you show your gratitude?

Much love,

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Filed under Be Grateful, Classic Mama Alice, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, loss, positive tradition

We Change the World Every Day

We are an ambitious people. We all have big, lofty goals. Building the foundation and working toward those goals is daunting. Nelson Mandela is famous for saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

This jewelry was made at the first Trauma to Art in-person workshop. It will be on sale with other t2a creations at the Karenna Maraj studio in Cushing Squaure, Belmont, Mass. soon! Email me for details.

While that struggle gives our lives meaning, it’s also important to acknowledge the impact of our day-to-day actions. What we eat. The words we use. How we treat one another. These things influence the world around us.

My mother’s food soapbox is a great example. In my household she led the charge when it came to healthy eating. As a result I am totally obnoxious about food. A snob. A nudge. It’s embarrassing at times. Then I look at the good that has come from my (painful) lectures. Those friends forced against their will to listen to me talk about processed food and aspartame and leafy greens actually changed their eating habits.

I can think of three change leaders off the top of my head: My best friend Caitlin. My college roommate Sana. My former boyfriend Jesse. And I know the list goes on from there. I also know their actions persist meaning they are affecting change as I write this Friday night blog post. Everyone thinks on a grand scale. Even me. I want to create pervasive American cultural traditions to remember the people we’ve lost and help the grieving. Goals are good but seeing the small picture should not be undervalued or underserved.

As a society we are quick to acknowledge and reward those with big dreams, which we should. In addition to that maybe could start to value kindness, gratitude, laughter, music, art, friendship, family, love, respect, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance… the list could go on forever. I’ll let my mother handle the rest: Alice Law – definition after the jump.

Much love,

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Filed under Classic Mama Alice, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, parent, positive tradition

Do People Change?

Do people change?

Do people change?

Whether people can actually change is up for hot debate. Some psychology professionals insist that lifestyle changes can inspire behavioral change. For instance someone might lose weight to prepare for a new work environment filled with fit colleagues.

Others claim that change occurs after major life events—childbirth, divorce, death of a loved one. Studies have shown major life events change our value systems resulting in new behaviors. Then of course in 1967 psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe came up with the “Life Change Units” chart to estimate how major life events can affect our health.

Academics aside, my father, an authority on several aspects of life, says that people can change over time but their personalities remain the same. My dad said as a boy my brother assembled his blocks with the keen precision of an artisan. Three decades later he’s a meticulous remodeler. And as a bald tyke I loved sparkly, lacy dresses and socializing with the whole neighborhood. True to form today my closet is packed with girlie accoutrement and strangers are merely friends I haven’t met yet.

My dad said whether people change or not, it’s more important to sympathize with another person’s feelings especially when they’re not the same as your own. Papa Joe sited my mother’s birthday as the perfect example. As he tells it, he always remembered to get my mother a nice gift. However on her 50th birthday my mother was disappointed to find my father hadn’t planned anything special. My dad’s hands flung out to his sides, index fingers up to the sky as he emphasized, “Your mother let me know she was upset.”

Change or no change, accept others. That’s straight from Papa Joe, who admitted with a chuckle, “I was married over 30 years and you’d think I’d know to book a weekend in Rockport for me and your mother. Like most people I’d like to think I’m smarter than I actually am.”

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Filed under Brother Mike, Classic Mama Alice, father, giving thanks, gratitude, grief, Lauren Muscarella, loss, mother, parent