Story of A Grief Goofball (Me)

I’m a grief goofball.

I practically jumped out of a moving car 20 years ago.

It was a limo headed to a very important cemetery ceremony. You know those?

For any of you who have followed my story, you know that Oma was the Creative Heroine who scooped the three of us up from a situation that had moved from bad to worse.

I have her — my matriarch — to thank for secretly buying those three tickets on a PanAm flight in 1979 that would eventually bring us to live with her and my Grandpa Joe in the United States.


My college girlfriends had come from the Silicon Valley to Marin County to support me on one of the hardest days.

They loved Oma and to describe the love I had for her, I’ll say this: she was my lifeline…my brother’s too and such a great combo of goofy, strong, comedic storyteller, dance wherever and whenever, a.k.a unapologetic, fiercely boundaried, disciplined, creative and affectionate.

I felt deeply loved and seen by her and had just the soul and structure I needed while my Mom maneuvered her new San Francisco working life as a 21-year-old. 21!

After Oma’s service at the church, we headed out in the typical procession behind the hearse to the burial site. I turned around, looking for my girlfriend’s car, knowing if they lost sight of us, they wouldn’t know how to get to the cemetery in Novato.

I told my parents I was going to hop out and hop into their car once they passed by to help them out. My Mom told me it wasn’t a good idea, but I told and motioned for the driver to stop anyway and hopped out with my black dress, heels, purse and the bag of programs I had designed.

I ran to the corner, waited for a couple minutes or so, not long, and, sure enough, saw my friend’s car.

I motioned for them to stop, waving as they approached, screamed each of their names as they were almost directly in the line of sight and they didn’t see me. They passed right by.

It happened fast. They passed me and in that split second, I realized that my ride to my Oma’s final honoring was gone. I also knew we were working against the sun and that we had a time limit…

I tried not to panic (p.s. I’m writing this from my gate at LAX where I arrived way too early), but for a minute, I looked around for anyone else I might recognize and nothing/no one (we had taken back streets not everyone would have known).

I was in downtown San Rafael, which for any of you familiar, you know there’s not much going on…not then and not even really now…there were never any taxis passing by and no payphones either —

And, of course, we had no cellphones.
No Lyft or Uber.
No time machines, even, to get me to where I most needed to be.

She was/is my person.

Thirty minutes or so passed and left the hair salon I had run into, barely able to share what had happened (how do you explain that?) to ask if I could use their phone to call a taxi and, instead, kept running (though I had scheduled the taxi, I sat for what was probably five seconds and kept moving — it felt like the only sane and safe thing to do).

I was clear on the other side of 4th St. closest to Miracle Mile and all I could think about was running! Run to the other side of 4th St. closest to the freeway and you’ll figure it out there. Something good will happen if you keep running, but run…

This was the inner dialogue and self-coaching.

I made it about five blocks away from the freeway (for those who live in the area, you’ll know how much I ran) and saw a tall man walking out of a building.

He had a Santa Claus-like beard and was wearing the cutest light blue overalls.

He was my something so good. That’s what I remember vividly thinking… deciding.

The one.

I was still running: “Sir, hi…” (barely able to talk, attempting to catch my breath and trying to explain the unexplainable situation), I’m going to miss my grandmother’s burial. I, I, I got out of the limo and…I tried to…I…can you please take me to the cemetery, please, please?”

He tried to stop me a couple times (he had already decided he was the one, too) to get the name of the cemetery in Novato and that yes, he’d help me.

Later I’d find out he was a painter working at the office building he was walking out of. Thankfully, his pick-up truck was parked right where I had stopped running.

He gave me a gift and opened my door…

It had been about 40 minutes since I had jumped out of the limo and it was nearing the tail end of the late afternoon which meant we’d soon lose the sun.

I had already lost Oma and I couldn’t lose the sun, too, so, as were driving in the carpool lane, I asked my new person if he could go faster. Can you go faster, sweet person…can you go faster…?

He was kind and would push his old truck as much as it would go.

Without really remembering how to get to the cemetery (a wee bit of stress), we magically pulled in.

I told him to drive all the way to the back.

In this now serene place, I could hear all the loud noises put prt pttt putttt his speeding old truck made. Metal clacking is loud and that’s how I made my entrance.

Heads whipped around and I saw people laughing…

I later heard that my parents kept asking to wait another few minutes, one more minute, pastor, my daughter should be here soon…

I felt Oma laughing and I’ll never forget her telling me as a young girl (probably too young to understand it fully): when things happen, Michelita, you l take the bull by its horns — you make it happen.

At 7, 10, 12, I would simply nod my little head not knowing, of course, that I’d know exactly what she meant — exactly — and that I knew it then, in fact.

As I shared two days ago, losses can be hard, they can (be kind to yourself on the journey) and, as I’ve also seen, time and time again, grief can be or bring light, too. You can make the light or sometimes the universe will make it for you.

Hold onto those light, goofball (a word my Mom loved) moments as much as, or more so, than you hold onto the hard.

Loss needn’t make you hard or bitter or distant. It can make you bigger of heart, better and more daring.

Friends and clients tell me I’m bold, but we ALL have life to thank for it; for the opportunity to choose it as the comeback.

Everything that does or doesn’t happen supports us in choosing to be more brave, more unapologetically expressed and to bring more lightness to any and all situations or to the people who need it most.

Ode to the people who need it most: use your hard AND your light to support them…as many of them as you can.

…also, because you might be wondering — I lost my angel’s business card later that day, but I don’t doubt that energetically he has felt my gratitude many times].

Enjoy your business, enjoy your life! 

Life is good,


Michelle Ghilotti
Success Designer, Brand Activator & Social Entrepreneur 

p.s. My coaching and consulting work support women to dive into their deep purpose (what we confusingly call a “business”, though it’s much more than that) to find the best expression of themselves. This is a quick sound bite on my take on authentic branding. Part of my own deep purpose is to write a book about the many forms of loss and, specifically, about the lightness (the gains) gained through the transformation we can undergo through grief. I can’t wait to keep telling you funny stories (and some deep ones, too) to help you move through to solution from any problem or loss. I’ll soon share more around the book. I’d love you to help me find someone I’m looking for the book! More soon…

p.p.s  Photo above: my Mom’s celebration of life…I arrived on time and didn’t make any quick decisions, except maybe that this would be another loss lesson/life lesson that would only make me better.

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