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 App├ętit 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 and visit her website at

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