Happy Birthday Terri Luanna

Today would have been Terri’s 41st birthday…

As I sit here in her home, in the silence, finally taking a moment to process this day, the gratitude I feel for the privilege of accompanying my niece along the remarkable but painfully short journey of her life, is what I keep coming back to. What I have to come back to.

Just look at her…

Our gracefulwomanwarrior in Cairns, Australia @1986

Luanna soaring through the air in  Cairns, Australia @1988








This quote from Lady Gaga resonates all that is/was Terri-

“I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”

From the moment Terri Luanna graced this earth, she was destined to teach us all what passion looks, sounds and feels like. To leave a touchstone, an imprint, on each of our hearts that will forever be ours to keep. One of compassion as well as passion. One of resiliency and grace. Of living life fully.  With integrity. And gusto. And love…

But one of her greatest gift to me, the one that fills the tremendous hole Terri’s death has left in my heart, is her daughter. The magical Miss M.

From the moment Miss M woke my hubby and I this morning, her presence soothed my aching heart. I held back my tears as we snuggled, wishing Mamãe a happy birthday, then my tears gave way to laughter as Marisa and Mark kicked off their morning pillow fight. (Picture an old western arcade game where you shoot at the moving target only this target is dressed in footie pajamas, running back and forth at the bottom of your bed!)

She decided that she wanted Papai to make his special chocolate cake for Mamãe’s birthday and to leave a piece outside in nature for Mamãe and the birds. Once in CT we were greeted by a 5’10” monkey masked Papai and soon after, commenced our cake baking, dance party, spaghetti eating evening.

Finally, it was time to leave our present for Mamãe. Our fearless leader, Miss M, led the charge. Flashlight in hand, she and Papai located the best, most excellent tree for the cake.

Pointing her flashlight up she said, “I want to look for Mamãe in the trees…”

She focused her beam on a large maple between her house and the neighbors.

“She’s definitely in that tree,” she matter of factly informed us. “Because she can watch over us and Kristina.”

Terri incarnate…

The tears did come. Hers and mine. First Marisa’s, as she cried herself to sleep in my arms with Papai sitting along side her.

Then ours. As Papai held me close before going to bed. As I watched Terri’s Life Celebration. As I answered the call from Aunty Cole.

But inevitably, the tears brought me back to the beginning. To the gift I have been so blessed to receive. The imprint of Terri Luanna that will forever be on my heart.

Happy, happy birthday my sweet niece…

Love, Aunty Laurie

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3








It Takes a Village…

What an amazing weekend.

As soon as Miss M and I got into my car yesterday to head back to CT, Mamãe’s favorite song, “The Happy Song” came on. Naturally, Aunty Laurie “freaked out” (Marisa’s description of my annoyingly exuberant response to life!)

“It’s Mamãe saying, ‘What an awesome weekend you guys!'” I shouted above the now blaring music.

Marisa’s face beamed as she bopped to the exact song we played for Terri at our surprise 40th birthday celebration on the eve of Terri’s fateful trip to Chicago.

Terri and Miss M busting out their moves to "The Happy Song" Oct. 2014

Terri and Miss M busting out their moves to “The Happy Song”, Oct. 2014











As the song ended, I locked eyes with Marisa in my rear view mirror. “Mamãe visited Papai this weekend too you know! It wasn’t in the form of a song, but I can’t tell you cuz it’s a surprise!”

The look I’ve come to recognize as her “Terri look” appeared. My heart contracts every time it happens. I feel Marisa’s heart opening to the presence of her mother. I recognize it because my heart does the exact same thing. I push back the tears that threaten to overflow.

From the moment I arrived in Marisa’s 1st grade classroom on Friday, I was viscerally aware of a seeming shift in her aura. The warmth with which her teacher, Mrs. H, welcomed me to join in the scarecrow making and birthday celebration for one of Marisa’s classmates matched the positivity exuding from Miss M. Hearing her teacher mouth to me, “She seems so happy,” filled my heart.

The loving energy continued in my kitchen, Taylor Swift playing on the stereo, as Marisa methodically created a spectacularly spooky poster for her cousin Jamie.










It compelled Uncle Markie and cousin Andrew to join Marisa and I for her first viewing of the “Wizard of Oz”.

It put smile after smile on the faces of her aunties, uncles, cousins, great aunt and great grandmother as we made an appearance at each of their homes on Saturday, and continued into Sunday after a sleep over with Jamie and Lala.

Hay ride with my BFF!

Hay ride with my BFF!

Love you Sophie Luanna!

Love you Sophie Luanna!


Selfie with Aunty Eryka

Selfie with Aunty Eryka










Pumpkin decorating with Katie!

Pumpkin decorating with Katie!
















But the culminating moment arrived late Sunday night. Although Heron had already moved me to tears earlier in the day with his preview of the gift he had lovingly created over the weekend for his beloved daughter (with Terri’s help, he told me), it didn’t prepare me for the wellspring of love and loss it evoked when I watched this video on Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/heron.dasilva.79/videos/870378186345411/

You see, it truly does take a village…

And how incredibly lucky are we, the inhabitants of our gracefulwomanwarrior’s village, to be graced with Terri Luanna’s indelible presence through the gift that is her magical daughter?


Aunty Laurie