Two Rites of Passage: a graduation, a death.

Two weekends ago, I officially became a college graduate, earning my Bachelor of Science in Psychology from CIIS. We sat in the living room. On the right was my laptop, where we watched the virtual commencement ceremony; on the left, our dog Coco, propped up on a pillow and bundled with blankets. Her health was failing rapidly, having taken a dramatic turn for the worse just days before. It was a strange juxtaposition; the future, the past, life, and death. The following day we put Coco down.

Two rites of passage, standing at the threshold of a new life chapter. The experience of losing our dog continues to transform me. There is grief, pain, and heartache; what has also arrived is a deep, deep gratitude of the transcendent experience that is love and loss. There is a phrase that I like very much, which goes something like, the depth to which we can experience pain is equal in measure to depth to which we can love. In this blog post I share some of my reflections since Coco has been gone. In sharing what is personal, we can connect to what is universal.


May 16: Here I stand at a crossroads, and it’s as though a river is rushing by. I can smell the clean comforting water that carries scents of mossy rocks and wetland runoff. The past is behind me, the future ahead, and here I stand in this river of life. There is nothing to do or change, only allow it all to flow. This river flows from me and through me, in me and beyond me. Our doggie, Coco, has passed on.

We said goodbye yesterday, tears streaming, hearts aching with the hole she has left in her absence, the empty space in our home, our lives. It was time and she told us so. She was always such a good communicator. She had a mass growing in her stomach, we’d found this out in January and the vet said it was about quality of life now. A new protocol with diet change and pain meds, we tuned in our dials to high alert, and we wondered, how will we know when she’s in too much pain, how will we know when she’s ready to go? We kept asking her to let us know and eventually she did. In truth, the last few months were tense in this regard. And I can only notice it now, in the absence of tension, in the absence of our fur baby, Coco. Not that I would have changed anything. Nor do I resent that tension. There is an interplay of deep care and concern and being ready at a moment’s notice to do or attend to whatever she needed. This kind of willingness is born of true love and friendship. When someone- or somebeing- you truly care for needs and depends on you, there is a joy in the giving; a satisfaction that comes from being of service. In love’s selfless giving there is great receiving, too. And Coco gave us mountains of joy. Buckets of love. She gave us love like a river flows downhill, naturally, without any pretense. Because a river just flows, it is the nature of River. The nature of dogs is simply to love and be loved. There is no question, no trying, there is only loving.

Coco taught me about love, about seizing the day, finding joy in the routine. Our daily walks gave us space to share all that cannot be spoken. There are emotions and ways of knowing and being that live between words. When you engage over years and years together, be it a partner or best friend, there is so much conveyed in the in-between.

This is a love story. And in remembering all the wonderful times, I feel immense love and huge gratitude for the near fifteen years Coco shared with us.

When I first met Coco, she was six weeks old, playing with her litter mates, in a small fenced in corral. I sat down cross-legged on the floor with these bouncing balls of cuteness as they scampered and played. Pretty quickly, a small brownish gold fur-ball wriggled under my knee and popped up between my legs. They say that your animals choose you. Two weeks later, after she got her shots, I went to pick her up and make it official. We drove home together, Coco zipped up against my chest inside my stretchy jacket, like a makeshift babybjorn.

Coco Kaplan, born: June 18, 2007, died: May 16, 2022.


May 19: Learning to get comfortable with the edge. The edge of discomfort, the edge of change, the edge of unglorified moments; moments of death and life and rebirth. Finding comfort in the constant transition that is life. Adjust and readjust, as my dad would say. I thought Coco was scratching at the bathroom door when it was actually the air humidifier this morning. Split-second moments of coming to terms with her absence. She lives in my heart forever, yes, but I cannot cuddle her or play with her, nor take her for a walk anymore. She has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. It is beautiful to imagine this bridge, where all our passed-on loved ones are reunited in spirit. Perhaps they are frolicking together, cheering us on from beyond? There is a thunderous silence in Coco’s absence. There’s no Hi, sweet Coco when she’d look at me, or Good morning, punkin!; there’s no How are you, my sweet girl? With these everyday exchanges gone, along with her presence, the house is suddenly so still and so quiet. But it was me who was talking, and now it is me who is quiet. My little mascot was a daily inspiration, and now there is just an outline where she used to be. It all comes in waves. I know I will find my inner joy again; it is not even gone really. It has just retreated in a respectful reverence for the grief that is here now. I am navigating a new edge; I adjust and readjust.


May 20: Coco has been gone four days and yesterday I overate the strawberry-rhubarb crumble and made myself feel gross. Eating my feelings is not something I have ever known myself to do…at least not till now. But you know what? All is OK. This is a new edge, with new emotions, a new reality. I have not been here before and it is OK to feel out of my element. Adjust and readjust.

May 21: There is no backwards. This is a phrase I used to say to Coco on our walks when she’d catch a scent in the opposite direction…I mean, otherwise, we’d be there all day. I love this phrase because it applies not just to walking, but to life in general. Especially now in these times of pivotal change on our planet. There is no backwards and we can accept this and face each moment fully alive, saying yes to whatever comes up inside us, making friends with our shadow and our light. This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer; but we will suffer less and it will not fester. (It also doesn’t mean we won’t sometimes try to stuff our feelings with strawberry-rhubarb crumble. This being human thing is hard.) We could also choose to dig in our heels, pining for the scent that was, that blade of grass that got away, the opportunity lost, the delusion of the good ol’ days. At that only postpones our suffering temporarily, if at all. So really, there is no backwards, there is only right here and now.

You have a gift.

Normal is a lie. What a relief, right? As Jonathan Mooney (2013) says, “…the only normal people are people you don’t know very well” (47:59).

We need to be challenging normalcy. Why? Because normal is a lie, and yet this myth of normal is keeping so many of us locked into a belief that we are less than, that we are failures, that we are deficient. Especially those of us who are defined as cognitively or physically different. We need to be challenging the current pathology paradigm, which has always sought to isolate and pathologize every variance that veers too far from the fabricated standard of what is acceptable–mentally or physically–and what is not. If you think about it, our entire society, the whole Western Anglo-Saxon world and beyond, is built on an ideal of normal. And because of this, everyone, every single one of us, we lose. yes, even if you are so-called “normal”. Because what happens when you fit in to the normal bracket, you end up othering everyone else. This unknowingly perpetuates the stigma of normal/abnormal. But guess what? Not one single one of us is “normal”. Think about that. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t have some kind of struggle and it always comes back to what we are supposed to be living up to. Happy, healthy, successful, powerful. Even the people that the media props up as pinnacles of perfection, they show up years later with booze problems, sex addictions, abuse scandals, gambling debts. They confess to depression, to childhood trauma, to attempted suicide, to cancer, to heart disease, diabetes. The list goes on. Somehow we are always surprised by this. OMG, can you believe that so and so has such and such? They put a crack in the grand facade…yet we still keep clinging to the myth of normal.

I propose that we crack this facade right in the clunker. Why not embrace the truth: we are all unique. Regardless of brain type, blood type, gene type, each and every one of us is different. Rather than let this separate us further, I believe that acknowledging our quirks, our kinks, our weird, our geek, this will actually bring us closer. Because if we don’t have to be so normal and by extension perfect, that takes a lot of pressure off. Suddenly we don’t have to measure up to anyone. AND we are free to just be ourselves. This leads us to finding our gift!

If you are alive, then you have a gift. Are you someone with a unique brain that is cognitively different? Autistics, add’ers, dyslexics, I’m talking to you. You may not know what your gift is yet, but that is okay. But more likely, you do know, in fact, you may have been aware of your gift all along, but dismissing it, thinking oh no, that’s not good enough, not marketable enough. That’s not perfect enough, normal enough…? I say to you, nonsense! Society has done a great job making you believe that you are not worthy, because you are not normal. And as you may have guessed by now from the tone of this article, that is just not true. Normal is lie and you are beautiful. Shine that wild light, you glorious diamond. Shine it bright and big and may we begin to shift this societal paradigm towards one of Love, kindness, and inclusion. Remember: difference isn’t a deficit–in fact, difference is the norm.

Give Jonathan Mooney a listen and tell me what you think…

The Gift in Everything

This year has cracked me open and I’m ready to let go. 

For a while now, I’ve been in a state of deep questioning, about my purpose, what I really want, and who am I meant to be, if not an interior designer. This started well before the pandemic, but of course, 2020 has magnified everything. 

Growing up I was surrounded by fabrics, wallpaper, and the fabulousness that was my designer grandmother, Judy- a savvy, independent woman from The Bronx with a penchant for red toile, pine antiques, and Pall Mall cigarettes. My aunt is also an interior designer, my father a talented woodworker, my mother, a painter and jewelry maker. Design is in my blood. 

In 2002, I got a job as a design assistant and from that point on, the world of interior decoration has kept me challenged and engaged, helping me grow as a woman and an artist. I worked for several talented designers and learned all the intricacies of the business. In 2013, bolstered by an agency partnership that would handle my marketing and billing, I started my own business, librastudio. It was the perfect situation, allowing me to focus on what I did best- design. They took a percentage, but it was well worth the portfolio building and the growing of my brand.  Once I began to generate my own leads, the agency reliably filled in any gaps.

But then last year, the agency folded, my momentum dipped, and I turned 45, in that order. A mid-life transformation was upon me. All the trends and the catchphrases and the cookie cutter-ness of the design world had started to bug me, the frivolity of it all. I knew the value- the absolute importance!- of having a beautiful, functional space that welcomed you in and nourished your spirit. I knew this in my bones, yet something in me had shifted.

At first I blamed Instagram, because it seemed like every time I was on it, my stomach hurt. So I kept my distance, but the gnawing feeling wouldn’t leave. With time on my hands, I dove into marketing, business development, reading blogs, doing courses on growth and honing my niche. I even did a holiday gift show, sewing a slew of small eye pillows to sell. All of it felt like a slog. (That’s a lot of ’s’ words.) But I persisted, because I knew that there were times in life when work just felt like work. Being a small business owner doesn’t mean it’s easy. In someways, it’s harder than a regular job, especially when you’re wearing all the hats. But usually, there is a kernel of joy somewhere in there because it’s all for you and you are in charge.

I leaned in to the unknowing, confident that there must be a way to revive my mojo and get me feeling inspired again.  That or I’d have to venture into a new field, into unchartered waters. (The latter scared me a lot- the starting over.) At the end of last year, we took a trip to Israel, and I felt hopeful I’d find clarity in The Holy City. Perhaps, I’d find my purpose there.

Door in Jerusalem
Door in Jerusalem
Wings in Tel Aviv
Wings in Tel Aviv

Well, that didn’t happen. ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ is a circular platitude that happens to also be true. It was a good trip, with an interesting paranormal experience in Jerusalem (another story), but I returned home just as unclear as I’d left. 

Then it was January and a lucrative commercial project landed in my lap. While I’d done some small commercial jobs, residential has always been my forte. Yet, was eager to work, hungry to find my spark again. Besides, it would be a good portfolio piece and the client was from Jerusalem (which felt synchronistic). In mid-March the job was 80% complete when the shelter-in-place happened.

As the days and months of 2020 both dragged on and flashed by, I could feel myself getting unmoored. Not having projects or clients to be accountable to, I was finding myself stuck in the rabbit hole too often, and every week seemed to bring a new experience. My routines were held together with mediation and morning pages, zoom meetings with my writing group, daily walks when the air was clear. The quarantine what-day-is-it-syndrome and the fires, and that one day when all of us in the Bay Area woke up to a red sky and we couldn’t tell whether it was day or night- that day, I looked outside and I cried into the windowpane, wondering, ‘Is this the other shoe dropping? Or are there more shoes to come?’ 

Yet even on the up days, and especially on the down ones, the questions of purpose and calling kept rattling inside, demanding attention. I felt guilty for having so many questions and impatient with no clear answers. What was I meant to BE?? What did I want to be? Did I still love design? If so, was there a way to take the process and make it meaningful? The Copy Cure, a top-level copywriting course that I’d enrolled in and which I knew was amazing and would eventually yield success, had me stalled  at my ideal customer. How could I figure out my ideal client if I had no idea what the what the hell I was selling? Or more precisely, if I wanted to keep selling it.

Then a proverbial window opened. I listened to Marie Forelo interview Dr. Edith Eger, a 92 years young holocaust survivor from Budapest. The talk was about Dr. Edie’s new book, The Gift, and was full of powerful stories and lots of “Edie-isms”.

“Love is not what you feel, it’s what you do”


“Love is the ability to let go…what are you holding onto?”.

Dr. Edie Eger
Dr. Edith Eva Eger is one of our favorite MarieTV guests of all time. In this uplifting interview, she shares the miraculous lessons she learned as a Holocau…

Love is action. I like it. 

In the hour long chat, Seeing the Gift in Everything, there were more than a few moments of deepness (that’s right, not mere depth- deepness!). I was in the park, waking with Coco and I just had to sit myself down in the grass and cry. It was beautiful, really. I looked up at the blue sky, felt the warm sun, and the fresh, wet grass beneath me.

That day, I took a step forward and reached out to my therapist. It was okay to admit that I could use some help climbing out this time. 

Love is action. 

“The most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket.” – Dr. Edith Eva Eger

This monumental year has cracked me open and I’m surrendering to it. Yes, I’m a little bit scared, too, but it’s an exciting scared. I prefer when things are tied in a bow, but that’s not what’s on offer right now. Sitting in uncertainty, the one thing that has held me together has been my writing. Showing up consistently to the page, I’ve been graced by the muse and encountered some true moments of flow- where time and space disappear and it’s just me, in the zone. 

So yeah, I don’t know exactly what’s next and in what form, but I know for me, it’s about creative expression. I guess for now, I’ll just keep writing.

🦋♥︎ -Libra