9 Steps to Writing Your Script for a Life You Love

Writing Your Script for a Life You Love
©  Sandy Peckinpah

You never could have told me the day I married David Peckinpah, several decades ago, that I would not be married forever. I visualized my whole life, from that day forward, extending into a lifetime.

On the night we first met, we walked along the beach in Monterey and shared our dreams. David said “I want to be a writer.” And I replied, “Well then, let’s begin!” We merged as a creative force that sent fireworks over the moonlit bay. Well, maybe not, but that’s how it felt! 
Married, 1974

Our courtship was not traditional in any way. We were together every night, but instead of romantic dinners or dancing, we spent evenings creating characters and  the storyline for our first project together.

David loved the western genre. He came by it quite naturally. His father, Denver, was the colorful  “Cowboy Judge” of the Superior Court in Fresno. He wore a Stetson hat, and Tony Lama boots under his long black judge’s robe. He even hand rolled his own cigarettes. Every day Judge Peckinpah drove his rusty old camper to the courthouse. At lunch he’d crank up the camper and cook a pot of beans and deer meat he hunted in the mountains near Yosemite.
Sam and Denver Peckinpah

And David’s uncle? Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get asked, “Are you related to Sam Peckinpah? The movie director?

The Wild Bunch, directed by Sam Peckinpah
Sam’s greatest movie was the Oscar nominated western, The Wild Bunch, starring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine. Sam was the first to portray violence in slow motion. Picture a man getting shot with the gritty reality of blood spurting everywhere and pain so real you could feel it in your gut. That was Sam, or “Bloody Sam,” as he came to be known.

He always said, even the ordinary man could be pushed to the point of violence and demonstrated it in films like, Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, The Getaway with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid with James Coburn and Kris Kristopherson.

The Peckinpah family even had Indian blood from Aunt Jane, a Mono Indian Princess who lived on Peckinpah Mountain outside of Northfork.  And yes, The Rifleman starring Chuck Conners was written by Sam who made the town of Northfork famous.

David idolized Sam, and Sam loved David. He often invited us to visit him in Malibu, attend screenings of his films, or join him on a film location.
Me, on set
sitting in Kris Kristofferson's chair

We even participated in Sam’s surprise 50th birthday party in the Hollywood Hills. We were absolutely star struck walking into this party. It was crowded with famous and talented actors, writers, composers and even musicians like Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and Ringo Starr!

The conversations were alive! Exciting! Creative! On that night, I realized, this room was filled with talented people who were able to make a living doing what they loved!

David with the book contract. That's a pipe in his hand.
He thought it would make him look more like a writer. :)
Up to this point, writing had just been a hobby! With this inspired revelation, we arrived back in Monterey with writing as the focus of our dreams.  

David finished the novel we began during our courtship, and “They Were Spoken of in Whispers” was sent to an agent in New York.  Miraculously, the first publisher accepted it. We celebrated with champagne and thought, We’re going to be famous!

Our advance money arrived weeks later. We feverishly tore open the envelope and stared at the check for $1000. Two years work. Wow. We needed a back-up plan.

Sam encouraged David to write a screenplay and hired him to write a script from a book he’d optioned. It was the beginning of his passion for screenwriting, and we got $5000.

Sometimes the innocence of youth is a good thing when I think of the odds we had of “making it.” There was no doubt we’d succeed. It was the first time I truly experienced visualizing success at the inception of a dream. With that confidence, we began creating our beautiful family, beginning with Garrett, our firstborn son.
Our first born cowboy,
Garrett, named after Sam's movie,
Pat Garrett and Billythe Kid

David’s career took off and we relocated to Los Angeles.  While David was writing, I studied acting and took literature classes. After the children were in bed, I edited David’s scripts and we’d continue to talk stories and characters well into the night. There’s nothing like a creative union of two people. It ignites passion!

We had successes and failures. We made money and spent money. Then one day, the Writer’s Guild went on strike for 9 months.

Our income came to a halt and I was terrified. I would lie awake at night with visions of empty bank accounts, unpaid taxes, and piles of bills.

Our bank accounts sank, and I even had to ask my best friend for $100 to buy groceries. It was during this “financial drought,” I developed a pattern of fear around money. Its power was so strong, it consumed me, even when money wasn’t an issue. There was never an amount in the bank that made me feel safe.

During the strike, our creative minds never stopped. David wrote every single day and I edited, every single night.

When the Unions finally reached an agreement, we diligently rebuilt our financial base with the scripts written during the strike. One of them went on to be made as a Disney movie, Man of the House, with Chevy Chase and Farrah Fawcett.

Beauty and the Beast, CBS
David transitioned into doing television series and was even nominated for an Emmy for Beauty and the Beast, on CBS, starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perelman!

It may sound like we had nothing but success. Far from the truth. Like any business, the entertainment industry is a roller coaster of emotional and financial ups and downs.

Rejection was just part of success. All stories have successes and failures…that’s what makes a good story… even in real life.

Then one day, our personal story had a tragic ending. We lost our firstborn son, Garrett.

Our creative marriage couldn’t survive the despair of loss. We broke apart, and then David died suddenly at the age of 54.

With those tragedies I realized life isn’t about careers, or jobs, or money. Those things can enhance life, but really, there’s only one thing that matters, and that’s love..love for people, love for what you do, and how your love inspires other people.

Sometimes, there’s a time limit, and we don’t get to have those we love for very long. The loss of two people I deeply loved changed me forever.

I was challenged to build a life that was the highest expression of love I could possibly have. 

Until then, it never occurred to me I should have a back-up plan. My husband was a successful writer and I worked with him every step of the way, but I never took ownership. I tormented myself thinking if only I had written a script on my own, or at least shared writing credits.

I learned quickly that hindsight serves no purpose other than to torment our present lives.

I was forced to find strength beyond the debilitating grief. My three living children needed me more. I realized I had to create a new script for our lives.

We moved south of Los Angeles to a lovely affordable town called Murrieta. The children now say it was the best thing I could have done for them.

I began a new career as a real estate agent and I dove into it with passion. Failure was not an option.

article for the newspaper
We all have to find the one thing that drives us…that one thing when we wake up in the morning, we think about it and can’t wait to start our day. For me, it’s writing. Is real estate my passion? Not completely, but within our jobs are pieces of something we can find to feed our souls. I’ve found great inspiration from my clients and their personal stories! I love participating in making their dreams come true! 

I write articles on selling homes. I create ads and write home descriptions like they were stories! And, on my days off…I’m writing my own story in articles and for my books.

Like the entertainment business, I’ve had good years and bad years in real estate. We’re just coming out of the current real estate crisis and we’ve all learned an important lesson. Resourcefulness. No one and no career is immune to the ups and downs of life.

Lives and careers have cycles. There’s no magic number or perfect career that gives peace of mind, because life isn’t about a number. It’s about following your heart, doing something you love, and expressing love every single day.

When it’s a “down” time, be creative in making opportunities. Additional streams of income offer a back-up plan. I made jewelry and sold nutritional products during the worst year of the real estate crisis. At first, I was embarrassed, but then realized we do what it takes to survive. I was sharing these products because I loved them, and they enhanced my life. Ultimately, it also opened doors to new friendships and business alliances.

Remember, you’re in control of how you react to circumstances in life. It’s your life script. I’m still writing mine and discovering the lessons from my past are actually a platform for my future.

Here are 9 Story Points for Writing Your Own Life Script

1.    Do something you love and it will never feel like work. If you can’t work in your dream job right now, pursue your interests within your job and that may lead you on the path to your dream career.

2.     Keep your drive young-at-heart!  Never use age as an excuse. Louise Hay started her business at 60 when she sold her self-published book, You Can Heal Your Life out of the trunk of her car. At 86 she heads the Hay House publishing empire. Set your goals now and begin renegotiating a life you love.

3.     You’ll never run out of money because you’ll never run out of ideas. A wise friend told me this. Your ability to think and create ideas are the tools God gave you to be resilient. Use your talents and abilities to open new paths. Consider reading The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris.

4.     “If someone says no, just say NEXT!”-Jack Canfield, author of  Chicken Soup for the Soul, Think Positive. The entertainment business is constant rejection with success sprinkled in. Don’t stop pursuing what you love. If you give up too soon, you may have been standing at the door of the person who was about to say “Yes!”

5.     Take steps to push worry out of your life, and let passion fill it. That’s resilience. I remember seeing the actor, Will Smith, interviewed by Oprah, and she asked if it felt good to be rich. He said he still falls asleep worrying about money. That’s the pattern he learned in life. Will Smith! If he worries, then “worry” is really the enemy of our spirit. “Worry” is just fear at war with your faith.

6.     Consider additional streams of income. Look to your talents like cooking, tutoring, or selling products or services for a cushion. Ask a friend what they think your talents are. It may surprise you! Even if it just pays the utilities or helps restock your savings…it’s worth it. Consider reading Rich Dad Poor Dad

7.     Life is about expressing love. Never let career or money issues spoil an evening with your partner, ruin a day with your child, or interrupt your sleep at night. When you feel those concerns taking hold, exchange it with expressing love. Take your partner on a date or spend a day with your children.

8.     When you have a tragedy, recognize it as a time to grow in faith and strength. William Bridges author of The Way of Transition wrote:  “Change can happen at any time, but transition comes along when one chapter of your life is over and another is waiting in the wings to make its entrance.” 

9.     Look to your past and write the first act in your life script. You’ll see the cycles you’ve already lived. There is no story without conflict, but you’ve survived! Now write the second act just as you’d like your life to be. That’s called having a vision for your future.

I found peace around money, my job, and my spirit, the day I decided I would be grateful for what I have and the lessons I’ve learned. My will to survive was stronger than I ever dreamed possible. I raised my three children on my own!

When I write, I often search for my husband’s inspiration. I miss our creative union, and never thought I’d experience that kind of love again.

My wedding 2011. Blending our  family,
and always honoring Garrett and David
But I did. A year ago I fell in love and married a man who captivated me when he first wrote “Hello” on Facebook! And… he writes beautifully! Now, he’s the one who edits my work! It feels so good to be loved and to share my life with someone who also shares my passion.

I couldn’t have written a better second act for myself….or maybe I did!

Not a day goes by that I don’t long to hold my son in my arms, or feel tears for the loss of David. I miss them so... but my love for them still resides deeply in my heart. 

When you lose someone, you have the opportunity to transition and express that love into those who are living. Their loss taught me to focus my life on love in the present moment, and to never, ever, take a single day for granted.

I urge you to begin writing the next part of your life. Write your story with passion! You’re the star of your own show! And remember…Live life with love. It’s the only focus that will bring you peace and a life filled with joy…happily…ever after.

Let me know when your script is ready!
With love,

Sandy Peckinpah writes books, articles, and speaks and teaches about resilience and using your past as a platform to the future. Her new book, How to Survive the Worst that can Happen, won the Pinnacle Book Award. Read more at http://BreakthroughToHappy.com  book website: www.HowToSurviveTheWorstThatCanHappen.com Email: Sandy@sandypeckinpah.com

Interrupting Patterns and Reclaiming Joy

How a Trip to Italy Changed My Life
Discovering “Pattern Interrupters™” for Reclaiming Joy
Sandy Peckinpah © All Rights Reserved
Do you ever experience moments in time when you’re sure people have been put there as angel messengers? The more I reflect on defining moments in my life, the more I can document with certainty, there is divine intervention.
David's Show, Silk Stalkings
 It was in my year of grief, the year I experienced “the worst that could happen.” In that year, my husband, David, was executive producer on a CBS/USA Network show, “Silk Stalkings.”  It was a slick detective show created by the great, Stephen J. Cannell, about crimes of passion in sizzling Palm Beach, Florida. Thanks to the miracle of television, Palm Beach was really San Diego and most of it was shot on a sound stage, never setting foot in Florida!
David buried himself in work after our 16-year old son died. Working on the show was a displacement of grief for brief periods of time. There, he could transport himself into the world of television magic and forget his tragic loss.
When he came home at night, the reality returned and we struggled to find balance in our relationship that had been hit off balance by grief.
Divine intervention came when David’s co-executive producer, Stu Segall and his wife Wendy presented us with tickets and hotel accommodations to anywhere in the world! It was light in the midst of darkness.
David and I knew, without question…Italy. I loved Italy since I was 16 and spent several months there. David appreciated the culture (even wrote the CBS show, “Wolf” based on an Italian father/son relationship).

My beautiful boy
We planned it around my birthday in March, three months after Garrett died.
The loss of a child can suck the life out of a marriage. David and I struggled to be close.  We’d still give each other a quick kiss at the  beginning and end of the day, but anything more seemed unbearable. Emotion morphed quickly into sadness.
David was a nervous traveler. He liked vacations where he could sit in one place…like Maui. We traveled there every year, to the same hotel, the same room, and reserve the same cabana, every time.
Italy would be different. We structured an itinerary and faced a whole new language and cultural experience.
I was just 16 when I first traveled to Italy with “Up With People.” Our cast learned the entire show in Italian (Viva la Gente!) and often stayed with families who didn’t speak English.  I can still remember every word of the Italian national anthem, but not a word of how to ask, “Where is the train station?
David and I slept better on the plane than we had in the months. It was like being in a safe little cocoon, slumbering to the sound of jet engines. 
Hassler Hotel Roma
We took a taxi from the airport into Rome and arrived at the legendary Hassler Hotel located at the top of the Spanish Steps.
Exhausted, we followed the bellman to the second floor. He opened the door and gestured for us to enter. The room was decorated in bright sunny yellow, every bit of it. Yellow wallpaper, yellow bedding, and yellow drapes. It was impossible not to smile.
We unpacked, then ventured out in search of our first cappuccino.  As we wandered the cobblestone streets, I could see David begin to relax, I reached for his hand.
We entered a coffee bar and David ordered “due cappuccini” (two cappuccinos). He paid with lire (Italian currency before Euros) and used the word “grazie” over and over. He had no idea how much he gave the “barista,” but the man seemed satisfied…until… we sat down at the table.  The barista began shouting!
David quickly pulled out money from his pocket and placed it on the bar. The man nodded, took the money, and turned away.
Don't sit down!
We learned later, cappuccinos are one price standing at the bar, and another sitting at a table.  We left the bar and laughed hysterically until we couldn’t laugh anymore.  Monumental moment…it was laughter that freed us from pain.
That experience was enough uncertainty, though, for David, the non-traveler. As soon as we returned to the hotel, David asked the concierge to hire a guide for the entire week. 
 “Angelo” arrived the next morning in a dark blue suit, Feragamo loafers, starched shirt with cuffs, and a perfectly knotted tie. We embarked on the “private tour” of Rome in his 1985 Mercedes. I mean the really private tour.
Our first stop, the Vatican. Angelo whisked us past the long line, as though we were celebrities. We entered St. Peter’s Basilica through giant doors and I felt a wave of sense memory. I looked to the right and there it was. The Pieta, in the place I remembered.
The Pieta
It’s a masterpiece of Renaissance Sculpture created in 1498-1499 by Michelangelo. The sculpture portrays the lifeless body of Jesus sprawled across the lap of his mother, Mary. When I first viewed it in 1968, I was just 16, but I remembered dropping to my knees with emotion, tears stinging my eyes.
 I couldn’t possibly have known then, what it was like to have a child, nor how it felt to lose a child, but I profoundly felt it.
I looked at the sculpture through present eyes and understood. Mary was a mother who lost her beautiful boy, and that part of her, I now shared. Somewhere in the master plan, my soul must have known at the age of 16, I would experience such a loss as my destiny.
We moved on through the Basilica. The Sistine Chapel was in the process of restoration, but with Angelo, we had privileged access behind the public places. He led us into the Chapel. We stood in reverential awe. Angelo waited patiently beside us. When our eyes and mind, could grasp no more, we looked to Angelo.
He spoke, “Okay, David, Sandy, You see-ah something now-ah” he waved his finger back and forth like a teacher, and continued, “no one else-ah see-ah.”
He pulled a large key from his pocket and guided us to a door just outside the chapel. As we entered there were a dozen or so artists. They were in process of restoring great works of art that would once again hang in the Vatican.  Angelo introduced us to each one of them.
He then led us upstairs to the Pope’s sitting room. Angelo had keys to mysterious doors that opened astonishingly private places.  We viewed the display of garments from Popes who have passed, and looked out the second story window to view St. Peter’s Square.
We toured the gardens in full spring bloom. Men in robes sat quietly on benches dozing in the late morning sun. Nuns passed by without catching our eye.
 At the far end of one of the gardens, we entered the “laboratorio” where artists restored stained glass windows. Angelo talked to everyone as though he knew them. Each day with Angelo was a history lesson and revealed the secrets of Rome.
At night, David and I wandered the streets of Rome. The scented nights were intoxicating and we delighted in exploring piazzas, fountains and statues. On those enchanted evenings, we found our child hearts and re-captured our sense of “happy.”
We discovered a little family-owned restaurant tucked along one of the narrow cobblestone streets. As we walked into the restaurant, we were greeted with a cacophony of “Buon giorno!” from a family bustling about. “Mama and Papa” were the cooks, and their children served us.
Roman Artichokes, Carciofo
We didn’t order, but food magically appeared at the table…and kept coming… and we kept eating. I vividly remember the taste of Roman Artichokes (carciofo) braised in olive oil, garlic, and herbs. The main course was Osso Bucco, and we raved to “Mama” about the marrow and it’s buttery flavor.
When we finished our meal, Papa took us by the hand, into the kitchen. Mama and Papa talked excitedly over each other, and I could only understand about half of their Italian.
Like Angelo, I unconsciously began adding “Uh” to words, like this:  “Do you cookuh the meatuh in a big potuh for very long timuh?”
Silly, but yes! They understood! Well, they probably laughed behind the kitchen doors.
They brought out tiny liqueur glasses and poured Limoncello, their family recipe, a maceration of crushed lemon peels and sugar, steeped in grain alcohol.
They toasted to us, and I translated just a little: something about us returning and they would teach me to cook-uh and we would drink-uh vino, and it was all “molto buona.” They sent us on our way with a bag of dried herbs and an ashtray with the restaurant’s name on it.
 On another night I was determined to find the Trevi Fountain recalling memories of when I was in Rome at 16. We traipsed up and down cobblestone streets for hours, then suddenly, I heard the sound of water a few blocks away.
The Trevi Fountain
As we got closer, I grabbed David’s hand and we started running. “It’s around this corner…can you hear it?” It’s really loud because the Trevi Fountain is located in a small piazza and it echoes against the buildings.
 We ran like teenagers, hand in hand, turned the corner, and there it was: a sight to behold. It must have been midnight, but crowds of people surrounded it in awe of this artistic masterpiece.
Then we kissed…a wonderful, lingering, passionate kiss. We looked in each other’s eyes and there was love, not pain.
We bought Italian ice cream, (gelati) from a cart and shared bites as we tossed three coins in the fountain and vowed to return again some day.
The next day, Angelo, waited for us in the lobby. He wore a look on his face like a parent ready to give a huge gift. He drove us outside of Rome on winding roads into the countryside, entering a magical, tree-shrouded kingdom deep in the woods.
We pulled up to an old brick building. Part of it had worn away over hundreds of years and open to the sky. Tables were scattered around a huge wood-burning oven in the middle of the open-air restaurant.
Angelo was treated like a king. He quickly took command, seating me in view of the wood-burning oven to watch the chef direct “the show.” The waiter brought menus and Angelo shook his finger “non, non.” He ordered for us.
I had no idea I was about to enjoy one of the most euphoric meals of my life. It began with roasted red peppers and sliced fresh Mozzarella, drizzled with fragrant olive oil and aged Balsamic.  Toasted Pine nuts dusted the top and fragrant basil was torn randomly over the plate.  Crusty bread, warm from the oven was the final note in a symphony of flavors.
The next course came hot from the wood oven. It was a charred pillow of parchment paper, set onto a white platter. A present! The waiter broke open the paper. Inside was a perfect assemblage of handmade semolina linguini, fresh peas, cream, and pancetta; all scented with the heavenly aroma of smoked wood. The waiter brought aged Parmigiano cheese. I looked to Angelo and he nodded.
“Si, grazie,” I replied.
I am a cook…a really good cook. I’ve taken cooking classed throughout my life. I study Bon Appétit as though researching for a thesis. I appreciate creativity, the marriage of just the right ingredients, and exquisite presentation.
There are times in my life when all of those elements come together and I see, smell, and taste something that’s so heavenly, it actually makes me cry. This was one of those moments. Angelo noticed my tears and put his hand gently on my shoulder and smiled. It was his grande finale.
To this day, I have no idea who Angelo was or how he ushered us into the secret places of Rome. As we left Italy, we discovered our privileged tour cost us a heck of a lot of money. In fact, it could have put a down payment on a condo in LA.
Was it worth it? You bet. It gave us the gift of putting the grief from the tragic loss of our beautiful boy into a compartment we didn’t have to access for a while. In fact, I don’t remember ever crying once. Not once.
Except for the linguini.
Exercise: Pattern Interrupters, Reclaiming Joy
I wrote this story to express the importance of actively reclaiming your joy and a quality of life, no matter what the tragedy.
 “Pattern Interrupters.” are ways to interrupt the emotion of sadness, depression, or grief that can become routine after a tragedy or challenge in life. You must not ever let sadness rule your life.
·      Recognize that the combination of good and bad circumstances define you. The “good” teach you gratitude, and the “bad” challenge you to learn resilience.
·      Don’t let the past ruin the quality of your life today. Allow yourself time to feel sad, but then recognize the joys you still have. It can be hard when you’ve experienced a tragic loss, financial challenge, or a change in health. That’s when interrupting a pattern of emotion is most important.
·      Interrupt your “Pattern of Sadness,” or “Pattern of Anger,” or any pattern that is holding your life hostage by making a plan to do something out of the ordinary. It doesn’t have to be as huge as a trip to Europe. It can be a hike in the mountains, a trip to the ocean, or a trip to visit a special friend.
·      Take time for your spiritual well-being. Read inspiring books, visit online inspirational sites, or find laughter in renting a great comedy for a movie night with your family.
·      Tears of Sadness and Tears of Joy have a different chemical make-up. Set aside time for crying, but then turn those tears into tears of joy for the good memories that reside in your brain and your heart.
Thank you Stu and Wendy
Above all, be open to the possibility there are miracles and people who deliver them. I am forever grateful to our friends for sending us to Italy. I’m not sure they realized the magnitude of their miraculous gift. It was the first time I knew, after the deeply tragic death of my son, I could experience joy, once again. 
I guess they know, now.  

Sandy Peckinpah is a realtor at Coldwell Banker in Murrieta, California. She writes books and articles with an array of inspiring subjects from transformation, grief, and resilience, to the subject of real estate. Sandy is also staff writer for Vintage Scene Magazine. You may email her at SandyPeckinpah@Yahoo.com and visit her website at http://SandyPeckinpah.com

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Gifts of Nature; The Secret Garden to Healing

The Secret Garden, Gifts of Nature to Help You Heal
Discover the power of resilience through nature 

         My friend, Jody and her father, Al, gardened together. They set aside that time for each other. The time was well spent with father and daughter, in synchronicity, tilling the soil and their love for each other. Their reward…the most magnificent blooms, and the most delicious vegetables, from which we all enjoyed.
I remember the year my husband, David, and I were having a large dinner party for a new show he was doing. It was a Sci-FI show called “Sliders,” starring Jerry O’Connell and my dear friend, Cleavant Derricks (a true star in my eyes, as he had won the Tony for “Dream Girls” on Broadway). 
David was the new Executive Producer of the show and it was a gathering of producers, writers, and actors. These evenings were spent in vibrant, creative conversations and often gave birth to many new story lines and characters for the shows. It was the part of show business I really enjoyed!
I also loved cooking, creating the table setting, and designing the ambience. To do it well was my gift to my husband and my friends; the gift to myself was basking in the glow of knowing I provided an evening to be remembered.
Family Heirlooms dress the Table 
 I set our long dining table with silver candelabras, my treasured china, my Grandmother’s silver, and David’s grandmother’s gold-rimmed crystal goblets. I was the keeper of family heirlooms and cherished each and every one, as they held stories of our past, and that of our ancestors. 
I snipped flowers for the table from the front yard. I held a basket of mint sprigs and gladiolas that popped up in early spring. As I searched the yard for more color, my friend Jody drove up the circular driveway with a huge smile on her face.
She hopped out of her Suburban and threw open the back hatch. She carefully lifted out a gargantuan yellow sunflower, 7 feet tall! She had pulled it from the earth, roots and all!
“This is for you!” she blurted out.
“What? It’s beautiful! What should I do with it?”
Jody said, “It’s for your dinner table tonight!
“But I don’t think I have a seven foot vase!” I laughed.
Come on…I’ll show you,” she replied as she moved toward the front steps holding the flower and I held the ball of roots.
Jody guided us into the dining room and carefully placed the giant sunflower right down the center of my table, from end to end. It was glorious! It brought whimsy, sunlight, and aliveness to my table dressed with antiques!
That was Jody. She created delight from the toil of her garden.
Jody’s love of her garden has taught me a lot over the years, especially in the darkest hours of my life.
Those dark hours came when I experienced my greatest tragedy. I lost my beautiful 16-year old boy suddenly to a rare form of meningitis.
Nothing evokes a more profound life change than loss. When it’s a child, it’s called “the worst that can happen." And if it’s your child, you’ve entered a very remarkable group of people on the planet, who know how it feels to have chapters of your life ripped away. Not only are the present and future changed, so is the past.
Suddenly, those beautiful, joyful memories of my child’s early years were painfully colored by the aura of loss. The death of a child changes every chapter of your book of life. The chapters are suddenly chaotic and broken apart. It defies the natural order of life. My child left this earth before me, and for that, I was forced to create a whole new way of existence.
The grief creeps upon life like a moss that shrouds the darkest forests. It’s black and suffocating, with no light piercing through the heavily laden branches. I looked to my faith, my friendships, and my family for light. I relied on them to guide me to the light when I couldn’t see the way.
While trying to make sense of something that cannot be understood, I held myself close to those people who brought me peace and comfort. Jody was one of those.

In March of the year of grief, Jody encouraged me to experience the cycles of life in another way… opening my heart with the task of creating.
She gave me two books that I treasure to this day. The first, “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés,Ph.D. was my awakening to the value of getting my hands in the dirt. The author says the cycle of nature is “Life/Death/Life.”
I studied the book with a yellow highlighter in hand as it revealed how carefully nature is choreographed, without any effort at all, but by the divine hand of God.
We think life is all about control, planning, chance, and some luck. What unexpected circumstances reveal to us, however, is the plan born to us by the very nature of being God’s child. 
Jody encouraged me to plant a garden. She thought I could begin the healing process through the lessons of nature.
I had over an acre of land in Westlake Village set against the backdrop of the Santa Monica Mountains. We had a forest of oaks, pine, and ficus trees covering the property, and even a babbling creek.
The second book Jody gave me, “She Who Loves a Garden,” by Mary Engelbreit was inscribed with the thought My dear friend, Sandy, No one, not even God, will ever take your garden away. With love, Jody.
In this tiny, whimsical book, it says, “She who loves a garden learns the lessons of the seasons and how life itself adheres to nature’s plan.”
There’s a saying, “When a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?” What about my forest?
Inexplicably, the very morning of my son’s memorial service, one of our massive oak trees fell. Two hundred years of standing majestically on this land, the tree just tipped right out of the ground and died.
That fallen ancient oak was my son’s silent song as hundreds of people gathered at the church two miles away to honor his life. Don’t try to explain it. It’s timing was an act of nature more powerful than the human mind can comprehend.
some of the many gifts given to my garden
 I needed to plant the garden where the oak tree fell. I had the tree service cut the massive 200-year old trunk into huge stepping-stones. I made the pathways through the garden in the shape of an oak tree with sprawling branches. At the entrance I placed a wrought iron arbor and planted pink climbing tea roses around it.

It had to be a rose garden. After all, my first published book was “Rosey…the Imperfect Angel.” It’s a children’s fairy tale about a little angel who is born with a face that’s different than all the other angels. Little Rosey was assigned the task of tending a rose garden in Heaven. Through her hard work, tears, love, and ultimate joy, she had the garden that represented all nature had to offer.
My book
You see, my own daughter, Julianne, was born with a cleft, and my desire to introduce her into the world with a very different face gave birth to the story.
The rose represents resilience. In the winter, roses are cut back to sticks and stripped of leaves. The bushes weather the frost, and somehow manage to bloom every spring, no matter what.
As my garden took shape, my wonderful circle of friends began bringing me roses of every kind. I would open my front door in the morning, and there would be another rose bush, waiting to be planted in what I called “Garrett’s Garden.”
Children would make wind chimes and colorful signs; others would bring bird baths, fountains, and tools for nurturing the garden. Garrett’s pediatrician, brought a huge plum tree.
I carefully labeled each plant, documenting who gave it to me, and what day it arrived.
My children often helped me dig, pull weeds and plant. I loved it. It was joyful! I felt connected to Garrett as I tended the garden.
 For my birthday, I bought myself a swinging bench. My husband and I would sit on it many weekend afternoons and find solace amongst the roses. We found joy, sometimes laughter as we recalled so many wonderful memories.
"Garrett's Garden" Stone at the entrance
Through the process over the years, I learned how to get my hands dirty, how to control aphids with lady bugs and a forceful spray of the hose, how to fight the gophers by filling their holes with water, how to keep rabbits away with blood meal, and how to shoo away the graceful deer (who looked to my garden for dessert) with an electronic sound machine (it worked just sometimes).
Ahhh, the cycles of life, I was learning that all forms of life offer challenges and ultimately to accept what I couldn’t control. My garden brought me peace and was a place to bury my sorrow.
I remember two years after my son died, a friend called to tell me how happy she was that her son was accepted to college. She had every right to her joy. I attempted to express happiness, but hung up the phone, and burst into tears.
Why couldn’t it be my son going to college?
I ran to my garden and dug furiously in the dirt. My hands were white from gripping the trowel like a weapon and hitting rocks and roots from the nearby oak tree. My tears watered the ground beneath me. I snagged my arm on a thorn and blood dripped to the earth.
Little Julianne, tending our garden
A quiet little voice cut through the tears, “Mommy….do you want some help?” I turned to see my 5-year old daughter holding a huge trowel in her tiny little hands. My little “Rosey,” tended to her Mommy in the rose garden. We finished digging the hole together and planted the fragrant rose bush called “Double Delight.” My spirit began to heal.

Every year was a new beginning, as I cut back the roses in winter and knew, without a doubt, they would bloom again. I could hold God and nature, responsible for losing my blooms to the deer, the gophers, the rabbits, and the aphids. Ultimately He would give me an opportunity to start again in the spring as the tender leaves sprout from the brown stumps, and deeply planted bulbs would send shoots up through the dirt, hardened by the cold of winter.
roses and fountain from my garden
I suffered the greatest tragedy a mother could imagine, and I survived in part by digging in the dirt. Saying you’re a survivor implies you have fought a war when in reality you experienced the cycles of life that nature had planned for you all along.
My garden is one of triumph.
I offer you a new way to traverse the challenges that life gives you in the following exercises.
Using Nature to Heal Life’s Challenges
·      Consider Planting a Garden. From your list of friends, find the one friend who has a green thumb. Ask them to help you plant a garden.
·      Watch for the Gifts! Once you start your garden, and you let your friends know, and I promise you will begin to receive plants, bushes, wind chimes…all kinds of things for your beautiful garden!
·      Make a sign or have a plaque or a stone made to designate this as your special garden. I had a large beautiful stone etched with “Garrett’s Garden.” You could also name it something like “Transition” or “Finding Peace.”
·      If you don’t have the space for planting a garden, set aside a place on your deck or your porch to grow potted roses. Roses come with many beautiful names, like "Peace, "Love," "Forever." Choose names that mean something to you.
·      Water features offer sounds of peace flowing. Even the smallest fountain makes a peaceful sound.
·      Care for your plants, nurture them, prune them, watch them sprout, bloom, change, and wither, only to come back again.
·      If you don’t want to plant, give yourself a gift of buying flowers at the grocery store or flower stand. They will brighten your home and your spirit. Remember, flowers awaken and soothe your spirit with their gifts of color, beauty and glorious scents.
Photo from my garden captured by Jim De Girolamo
When you sit in your garden, begin to recognize miracles in the gifts of nature. Open your eyes and your heart to all that lies before you. Listen to the bird singing you a song. Listen to the trickling water as a harp for your heart, and allow the sky to hold you in its embrace.
Those are the miracles that taught me life does indeed have good cycles and tragic cycles; and yet from it, rebirth emerges. The challenges and sorrows are just as important as the joys and the glorious blooms in shaping your garden of life.  Resilience lies somewhere, deep inside our souls, ready to spring forth from the roots of tragedy. When we emerge, it opens us to the glory of a life fully lived.

With Love,

Sandy Peckinpah is the host of a radio show on KRXA 540 AM Talk Radio, Passion By Design. It’s a show about designing and living a life of passion. She is the author of several books, her newest being the award winning, “How to Survive the Worst that can Happen,” a parent’s step by step guide to healing after the loss of a child, written from her own experiences of losing a child. Her blog, www.BreakthroughToHappyaddresses an array of inspiring subjects from transformation, grief, and resilience.. Sandy welcomes your inquiries: sandy@sandypeckinpah. Visit her websitewww.SandyPeckinpah.com


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