by Erin Prewitt on May 25th, 2015

Just recently I had an opportunity to participate alongside our local Ventura School District Superintendent, Trudy Arriaga, to present a very special award.  The “Eternal Optimist Award” is based upon my husband Chris Prewitt (who passed away just over a year ago) and his incredible spirit.  I originally wrote the speech to describe how Chris was an eternal optimist.  But as I re-read today I was looking at my own life and was hoping to pull some inspiration for myself and decided to share with you (I made some modifications in this speech to make it broader for the readers of this blog, I hope you don’t mind readers). 

“The journey and events that led me to be standing in front of you were caused by a painful tragedy (the sudden death of my Husband) which has forced me to face myself in ways I never imagined.  It is like a story I heard many years ago of two men who were imprisoned a long time ago.  One day these two prisoners, who shared a tiny cell, with two beds, a small desk, and a tiny barred window in which they could look out from, were visited by a priest from the local village.  When the priest visited, he asked the prisoners a question, “What do you see when you look out the window?”  The first prison responded quickly, “That is easy Father, I see mud.”  This answer makes sense, because if you looked out the window and you looked down you could see dirt, which was now muddy because of the rain.  When the priest met with the second prisoner from the same cell he asked him the same question, “What do you see when you look out your window?”  The second prisoner’s answer was quite different.  He turned to the priest and with a slow smile growing on his face he whispered, “Father, when I look out the window, I see stars.”

This is how I choose to view the death of my husband.  I could look out at this journey and see tragedy, pain, and be distraught.  And by most metrics, I would be justified in feeling those emotions as they are part of the muddy landscape in front of me.  However, like the second prisoner I choose to look further.  I choose to look beyond the mud, I choose to look up and SEE THE STARS.  I choose to see potential, possibility, opportunity, and most of all I choose to see beauty.  It is not that I pretend that the mud does not exist, I know it is there.  To be among the living we all must face (and often times) walk through the mud of life.  However, just because there is mud in front of me does not mean I disregard all the other wonders that lie beyond.  It certainly doesn’t mean I cannot focus on the stars.  It is all part of our daily landscape, what do we choose to notice, to talk about, to focus on, and to see in one another.

What do you see when you look at someone in front of you?  Can you only see the mud of that person, the grimy, messy, and unlikeable parts?  Or are you able to see past the mud, and see potential, possibility, maybe even the beauty?  I think we all have the opportunity to choose how we view people.  Once we have chosen how we want to view them, more than likely that is how we will see them.  The research is conclusive, that how we view our environment, which includes people, directly impacts how we treat and respond to it…So how are we responding to the individuals we come into contact with…do we see only the mud or are we able to see beyond the mud and see their beauty, their potential?

This is what this award is about, The Eternal Optimist, it is about someone who looks at the landscape of life and across a body of their world and sees potential.  Eternal Optimist, believes that potential outweighs any obstacle and that if you keep your eyes open beauty can be easily found.

The recipient of this award is NOT someone who jumps in head first because they don’t know what their getting themselves into.  That is a common misconception of positive and optimistic people, it is not that they don’t know, it is that they DON’T CARE.  They don’t care that others who have come before and have struggled or maybe even failed.  They don’t care that the road ahead might be bumpy or hard, BECAUSE they are willing to see beyond the bumpy road, they are able to see something many others cannot…they see opportunity, they see potential AND that is WHY they jump in. 
Being an Eternal Optimist goes beyond a personality trait, it is more intentional then that.  An Eternal Optimist is someone who has chosen to be disciplined about the way they see and interact with the world. 
An Eternal Optimist often navigates on the road less traveled, that is why so often these individuals stand out and are memorable for a lifetime.”

As I re-read this speech and I sit back and assess my own frustrations, my own landscape.  I wonder where I am more committed to seeing mud, then stars.  To take it a step further I see pockets of my life where I assume there is only mud before me.  Just yesterday I got in an argument with someone I care about deeply.  I adore this person, however in one area of our relationship I have a chronic complaint.  I have spoken up about my complaint wanting it to change, when that has not worked I have tried staying quite hoping that my silence will somehow bring about a different outcome.  I will be honest, there has been some change but not the amount that I want (hopefully you relate to this, I don’t want to be the only one!!).  After reading the speech I see now that I not only have become resigned that this will never change, and more honestly change to my liking, but I am also making (this dear person in my life) ‘in the wrong’ because they are not doing it my way.  I see that my viewpoint has limited my experience of this relationship, where there is joy and love I have brought in resentment and disappointment.  Isn’t this what I am talking about above, only seeing mud before you?  In this area I have only been seeing mud or better said, maybe the mud of the situation.  I have not been able to see the potential, opportunity.  At this moment I am not sure what to do, but I am clear on point, I want to keep my head up and look for the stars, the beauty of who this person is in my life.  I think bottom-line is I am really over rolling in the mud and acting like I don’t have a choice about it, when I am the one who willingly threw myself in the mud in the first place!

by Erin Prewitt on May 18th, 2015

Today when I picked up Izzy from school I ran through my routine of questions on our drive home, “Izzy what did you learn today?  Anything new?”  As is our routine, Izzy shared a bit about her day and then quickly transitioned to an event in her day which she wanted to share.  Rarely are her favorite stories about school work or learning something.  Rather, they are usually about friends or recess chatter.  Today was a bit unique.  While she was telling her story, she stopped mid-sentence.  When I looked in the review mirror to see why she stopped talking I saw tears welling up in her eyes and her lips quivering.  As I watched her, my own tears started to gather.  Softly I asked Izzy, “Sweetie why are you crying?”  Izzy had to take a deep breath before she whispered, “Mommy, I think I am starting to forget Daddy.  I was trying to think of some of our adventures today and I couldn’t remember.”  I could see that the burden of forgetting was weighing on her heart and spirit, Izzy broke down and her little cry turned into a soft emoting rooted in fear and sadness.  

I continued to drive, checking in on her in the review mirror.  She continued to release more of the pain that comes with losing a father, even 13 months later.  It is surreal watching my child come to terms with one of the harshest human realities.  Being alive so often means moving on, and though we can take pieces of the past with us, we cannot take it all.  Life is a forward moving process which at times can just be down right painful.

After a short period of time Izzy asked, “Mommy can we go do the labyrinth walk?”  The Labyrinth walk is a tradition we have created in our family to help us release anything we feel no longer serves us.  Labyrinths are windy walking paths which come in numerous forms and designs.  They have a maze like appearance, and because they have existed for centuries, they serve a multitude of purposes for the people that use them.

We have chosen to use the labyrinth as a meditative walk.  Usually, while we walk into the labyrinth we focus on a particular worry or mental burden that we have been carrying.  Once inside the center of the labyrinth, we take a deep breath and commit to releasing our concern, letting it go forever.  We repeat the walk in reverse to exit the labyrinth, which then we think about what we want in our life.  We think about how can we replace the burden we just released with something more pleasurable, hopeful, or peaceful.

Like normal this day Izzy ran through the labyrinth, entered the center, and took a deep breath, and then she skipped her way back out.  When we were done, we sat down side by side on a bench which overlooked the labyrinth.  I asked her, “Izzy would you share with me what you wanted to release and create?”  With a wide grin of a child unburden of worries she said proudly, “I was releasing having Daddy with me the way I like it, alive…and I was creating having two Daddies…you know my Daddy in spirit and a Daddy in life, alive.”  With that clear answer she ran off to play.  I sat there for a few moments and thought how simple life can be sometimes when we are willing to unburden ourselves.  It can be as simple as accepting what is, like the death of a father, and creating what could be possible.  Maybe life can be as simple as Izzy said, it is possible to have two Daddies, one in spirit and one in life.

by Erin Prewitt on May 12th, 2015

There is something telling me that I should share the letter I wrote on the day of sentencing for the woman, Shante Chappell, who killed my husband.  I originally read this back in June 2014 just before Shante was sentenced.  As I re-read this letter, I am finding myself just as passionate about its message as I did that June afternoon. 
Today I am trusting my intuition, and for the first time, I am sharing an excerpt of my Victim Statement:
 Long before I wrote this letter I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what I wanted to say.  What would Chris want me to say and what I could say that would be in the best interest of our community?  However, the more I reflected the more I realized that the purpose of today in my opinion is what is in the best interest of Ms. Chappell. (Looking at Ms. Chappell) I hope you do not mind me calling you Shante.  April 6th will forever link Shante and me together for the rest of our lives.  I choose to believe that neither Shante nor I wanted anyone to pass on that day, especially someone like Chris.  
..Even as I stand here today in a courtroom where its design is to provide judgments, rulings, and sentencing I am cautious to stand before you and say I am in the position to judge Shante.  I do not feel qualified for that role; I do not know or understand what life has dealt her and how it has impacted her.  I have not walked a day in Shante’s shoes.  I feel compassion for Shante and feeling judged, because people have assessed my response to Chris’s death.  Many of these people have loved me through this process and acknowledged me for being brave, for staying in the world of the living…but there have been others who have judged me or assumed they understand what I am going through. Chris and I worked really hard to create a life of kindness and compassion and that has guided me through these past few months and most importantly my sentencing recommendation. 
I know that some will judge me today for my recommendation of Shante’s sentencing, but that is neither my concern nor my responsibility.  I ask those of you who want to judge me or Shante to know, you do not know what is like to be us.  What it has been like to walk in our shoes, live in our lives, and exposed to our loses and pains…I ask for those of you who would be quick to judge either of us to find compassion and grace to allow us to move through this process in our OWN way.  I ask that my family and friends, Shante’s family and friends, and the community at large trust us to make decisions that will both serve us as individuals and our communities.  How you can help this process is by bringing more compassion, love, and understanding that allows all of us to heal and grow.

So you may wonder why I did not share the entire letter.  I can tell you that I fully intend to share my entire letter, and many other intimate details about my experiences after losing Chris. It is my deepest hope to be able to publish it in a book.  I am actively seeking a publisher so I can share my entire journey (cross your fingers for me!!)

by Erin Prewitt on May 4th, 2015

Today I took our dear little dog, Levi, for a walk.  Usually I walk Levi on a leash.  Levi has been in our family for 4 years, and for some reason today I thought that maybe he would be fine off the leash.  So I asked Levi, yes I asked out loud (I am one of “those” pet owners who talks to their pet and I am NOT a bit embarrassed about it.) “Levi, do you want to walk without your leash?”  I don’t speak dog, so I chose to interpret his wagging tail as a yes!  I was nervous.  What if he walked away?  Or what if someone walks along who can’t stand dogs and gives me one of those shaming looks for letting my dog off the leash?  Even though I was a bit anxious, I did it anyways and to my happy surprise he stayed with me the whole time!!  He loved the freedom, he never walked too far away from me, and the best part was he did less marking (that is a miracle, my dog likes to pee on everything while walking).

Levi walked proudly in his new unleashed state.  I realized how simple it was to just take his leash off and how well behaved he was without it.  My mind started to wander, I thought about how so many of us humans leash ourselves.  Then I thought, “Is there any area in my life that I have self-leashed”?  What if I could be like Levi?  Are there areas in my life where a leash is no longer needed?  My mind immediately focused on motherhood.  I started to think of all the ways I felt limited, maybe even tied up about being a mom.  Somewhere along the line I had decided what “good” mothers do.  They play with their children (especially kid board games).  They make child friendly meals.  They know how to create a warm and inviting home.  They have no problem carpooling kids to activities, heck, good moms say the more kids the merrier.  They take pride in doing homework with her children, and most of all, they enjoy it!!  Countless times I have walked onto my daughter’s school campus and compared myself to all the moms scattered around me.  I compared how they got down on their knees to talk with their little ones, or how some of them seemed to effortlessly handle their three plus children under the age of 7.  I listened to mothers talking to one another about all the activities their children participate in and how driving them about town is just a part of being a parent.  I imagined these very same moms cooking those child friendly meals while simultaneously helping their children do their homework in their very tidy homes.   

Between my made up standards of what a good mom is, and my tendency to imagine perfect home lives created by all these super-moms, I always came up short.  I was not and probably never would be a “good” mom by those standards.  I am not a fan, and I rarely participate in playing child board games.  If I cook, it is generally something I like.  I loath the idea of carpooling and by no means is more kids the merrier.  And then there is homework time.  I will describe it as a very painful daily event at my house.  One other thing, I am clueless on how to decorate a home, let alone make it warm and inviting.

I continued my walk with Levi, and I guess I have to admit, I continued talking…but this time I was talking to myself.  I asked myself what does being a good mom look like?  My thoughts wandered to Izzy, and tears began to tickle down my face because I instantly recognized that she accepts me as her Mother exactly as I show up.  Izzy learned that if I made dinner the rule was “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”.  She comes to me with new ideas for new activities she wants to participate in.  But she is strategic in how she introduces her requests; “Mommy, what if when soccer ends I take singing lessons?”   She knows that I am a one activity a week parent.  This year she has turned into a problem solver when it comes to homework time.  Recently she said “I have a plan, let me show you how I am going to process homework this week”.  As I continued on my walk, I grasped the fact that I, Erin Prewitt had disempowered myself as a parent.  Nobody else has done it, it was all me.  I thought I was lacking as a Mother that I did not have the skills, interest, or DNA required to be like those other great Moms.  

I stopped walking abruptly because I found clarity.  I found self-awareness that it was me that had leashed myself to these crazy and unrealistic standards of what good moms do. I made up these standards, and if I made up these standards of what a good mom looks like, then I could change them!  This brings me to something recently shared by a wonderful client I work with.  She said to me, “Erin, there are two rights I have as a woman:  I have the right to change my hair color and I have the right to change my mind.”  I just love that statement! 

So I am changing my mind.  I am taking off the leash I have tethered myself with.  I am freeing myself and changing my mind!  It has been a few days since that walk with Levi.  After mulling it over, I have concluded on a new vision of what a “good Mom” is:  A good Mom is one who believes in herself and teaches her children to do the same.  I may not be a good Mom for most kids, but I know I am the perfect Mom for Izzy.  Now maybe I should go change my hair color!?!?

by Erin Prewitt on April 21st, 2015

A few weeks ago I wrote about climbing the mountain of grief and I shared how my style this past year has been to find the most direct route no matter the terrain.  I was determined to move through my grief.  This has been my style, my hike of choice through the grief and all the many changes that accompany a death of a spouse.  What I didn’t realize was the potential that I might bonk (bonking is term used in the world of hiking and biking when you run out of steam in the middle of the climb).  A couple of weeks ago I BONKED, and I bonked majorly! 
My bonking started with getting sick.  Then I became exhausted, and my back and shoulder started hurting me.  After several days I began to feel like the walking dead, but I could not figure out why. Several people in my life shared that maybe it had to do with the year anniversary of Chris’s death.  I had expected that I would feel sad, maybe even weepy, but I did not think I would feel exhausted and have this chronic pain in my body. I processed my body aches and increased emotions for a few days and I began to understand that I was feeling responsible for everyone’s grief.  I was feeling that I was the one that needed to reach out to them, that I needed to be someone they could rely on to move through their loss, and I felt a need to host loved ones in my home. 
This self-imposed burden had worn me out.  I needed to get really honest with myself, and once I did, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to retreat and be with myself.   I knew I needed to share with my loved ones how I was feeling, I needed to tell them about the exhaustion, the body aches, and my need to retreat.  My friends and family rallied around me and encouraged me with their loving support, to do what I needed to do and not what I thought I should do.  Once I did that things started to flow.  A friend who was out of town let me stay in her house for a couple of days.  Soon, my body started to feel better, and I was able to really explore how I was feeling.
In retrospect I see that I just bonked.  I ran out of steam and I was not able to keep my pace.  I needed to rest, to stop charging up the mountain and allow myself to take a breather.  In some ways I feel silly that I couldn’t figure it out on my own.  It took 4 different people to tell me in 4 different ways before I got it!   Retreating was the very best thing I could do for myself.  Letting go of feeling responsible for everyone else was another gift I gave myself.  It wasn’t until I finally committed to resting that I realized how exhausted I really was.  After resting, I was able to recognize that most of what I was feeling was because I didn’t know how to slow down and just take a time out.  I know my natural pace is fast, and that I don’t sit idle very well.  However, I have learned in these recent weeks that slowing down can be fresh air to the soul.
Taking those days for myself also helped me see that I was balancing sadness for an old life and the death of my spouse.  But on the flip-side, I was ALSO grateful and happy with the life I have created.  I also realized that I hadn’t celebrated my journey.  I forgot to tell myself "Good job lady!" for accomplishing so much this year and for truly turning the losses experienced this year into opportunities to wake up and create a life that greets me with a smile each morning.  So that is what I did.  I rested.  I explored my feelings, and in the end I celebrated a job well done.  Bonking opened me up to ask for what I needed.  I’ll be the first to admit I would not want to bonk every week, but I found that a good bonk can be a beautiful opening to go deeper with yourself.  I wonder if in the future I can be more alert to the signs of my feelings and body and maybe rest long before I fall on my butt with a good bonk?!   I hope so!!