I didn’t know her well. I saw her several times a week, whenever I worked out at the Santa Monica stairs. A trainer, she was a dependable presence there. We always said hello, and occasionally we had brief, casual conversations.  After I ran into her outside my dermatologist’s office one day, we had a lengthier conversation about various vanity treatments.

Yesterday I arrived at the stairs to find candles and flowers, a string draped across a tree, hung with sweet notes, photographs of Melissa. She had a heart attack Saturday night, in the late hours between midnight and dawn — the loneliest hours of night. She was 40 years old. There are some theories about what could have contributed to her death, but that doesn’t really matter now.

What matters is that her death has touched many people who, like me, didn’t know her intimately but who assumed she’d be around for many years to come. We brush past so many lives in our time here on earth; some of those lives become fixtures of sorts. We just get so used to seeing certain people that we forget how unpredictable life can be, and then when they aren’t there anymore we find ourselves stunned at the emptiness.

Maybe the lesson is to always keep in mind life’s fragility, whether it’s with people close to us, or people who inhabit our lives on a more casual basis. Carlos Castenada wrote, in one of the Don Juan books, that we should always keep death over our shoulder — not in a morbid way, but so we will remember to savor life. It’s stunning when someone so young dies so suddenly. It does make us look over our shoulder — at our own mortality, at the capriciousness of fate and at the moments when we grazed the life of the person who is now gone. Maybe if we kept that focus all the time, those moments when two lives touch would be just a little sweeter, a little deeper, leave a deeper imprint. Maybe that’s one of the lessons Death has for us, if we care to look into its shadow.

George Elliot wrote: “The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand. The angels come to visit us and we only know them when they are gone.”

Life is always trying to teach us; so is death. And I think the lesson is the same — slow down and pay attention to each and every moment because you never know what endings may come, or when.



  1. I’ve been keeping death over my shoulder since my tour of duty with the Marines during 1967-68. Life IS fragile. Thank you Patti, for this wonderful ode to Melissa. May she rest in peace.

  2. david pllenn says:

    That’s the lesson for all of us. Your last sentence says it all. Ii wrote songs for a living for much of my life and I have some friends in a wonderful group called Powdercoat (two females) who open their set with a song about, ostensibly, two people on a raft on a river, and the first lines are, “Wake up…wake up…we’re moving “. That’s what death serves as a reminder of, every time. Wake up. Live your life. Savor every day. Somewhere later in the song is the line “It’s not about where we’ve been/ but where we’re going.” Thanks for the post. PD.

  3. Jerri Hemsworth says:

    Such a beautiful tribute, Patti! So poignant and timely. You are truly gifted with your writing. It’s amazing how people who touch our lives in large and small ways affect us with enormous gifts.

  4. Mick Bysshe says:

    I too got mileage out of Carlos Castaneda’s mentor telling him to be aware and consult his own death for the next step to take in day to day life. Hopefully Melissa lived a life of being aware and living it to the best of her ability.

  5. Ruth Bertman says:

    Written so beautifully. Thank you for saying so much about life.

  6. Dena Barash says:

    I am Melissa’s mom and I live in Florida. My son, Jon, and my husband and I were in California for 5 days after
    Melissa died. Then, we returned to Florida for her funeral on March 22.
    The past few weeks have been surreal and Jon and I are struggling to accept that we will never see Melissa again.
    I want to thank you for your beautiful tribute to Melissa. It is heartfelt and written so well.
    I’d like to share it with my friends if that is ok with you.
    What is the easiest way for me to share it?
    Again, thank you for your kindness and taking the time to write about Melissa.
    I appreciate it very much.
    Dena Barash
    561 901-4802

  7. andrew says:

    Back in the early 2000’S I use to workout with Melissa and many times we would run the Santa Monica stairs.Needless to say she was in impeccable shape and was a tremendous trainer always trying to push you to your limits without doing too much.I have since moved to the Bay area but about a week previous to hearing of Melissa’s passing I found an old photo of the two of us at a party we attended separately not knowing the other would be there.The photo bought back many wonderful memories and then to hear of her passing shortly after made those thoughts and recollections even more precious.

  8. Xiomara Miner says:

    I have known Melissa as far back as when she was a little girl.I worked for her father whom was a dentist for 25 yrs.In that time I knew she would grow up to be a kind and special women whom in deed she was.I think she touched many lives and that she truly loved life.RIP my sweet angel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *