When you want something with all of your heart, the universe conspires to helping you achieve it.”
—Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”
“It’s time to come back…” Those were the words my oldest brother muttered over the phone on July 15, 2006. I remember the date so clearly because I was out to dinner in New York City with my husband celebrating my 28th birthday. On July 18th, my aunts picked me up at the airport and drove me directly to the hospital where my father was. It would be his last hospital stay before being released for in-home hospice care. He had been battling an aggressive Stage 5 cancer diagnosis since 2001. At that point, nothing more medically could be done.
The next few days were a blur. I took charge of my father’s care, learned to nurse his wounds and change an IV. I spoke to him, read to him; we prayed and even sang hymns together. He was on a very heavy pain medication that would cause him to come in and out of consciousness. Watching him in physical pain was one of the hardest things I have ever witnessed.
On one of his conscious days, after telling me how much he loved us, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I am tired.” I remember answering him, “It’s OK to let go. We are going to be OK. You can rest now.”
My father never cried.
He fell into a deep sleep that evening, one that lasted several days. His breathing was shallow, his body so frail. I for sure thought it was only a matter of hours until he left us.
I had already been praying for my father’s peaceful passing, but that coming Sunday was Father’s Day in the Dominican Republic. The night before, my prayers (which realistically were more like demands) turned incredibly selfish. My pain had turned to anger and my questioning of God was nothing short of savage: “Where have you been when he needed you the most? I need you now! I need you to show me your mercy and grace! I beg you! Just one day, one day so he can talk to all of us and know we are here by his side. One day. Let that day be tomorrow. Show up. Show up for us! You say you don’t abandon your children. Show me you are here with us, with him. Let him know it’s OK to let go. Show me, please Lord, I beg you.”
At this , I was kneeling, screaming, and pounding on the ground. I felt like I had left my body. It was the most gut-wrenching cry and plea I’ve ever made in my life. What happened the day after would completely change my belief in miracles and faith forever.
“Vanessa, are you here? I am hungry.”
I walked into my father’s room as he uttered these words around 7 a,m. He was sitting on the bed, wearing a Superman t-shirt I had brought him back from NY, and asked for popcorn chicken from KFC. I couldn’t help but fall to my knees in happy tears and gratitude.
I called the entire family over for a KFC feast. We shared stories. My father took a walk and sat on his balcony. We even took pictures. Before bed, he shared with me that he looked forward to the dream he had been having the past few days. He told me he had been walking through beautiful gardens and green fields. He was happy, he knew we would all be OK, and that he was no longer in pain.
My father fell back into a coma the next morning and passed away peacefully in his sleep on August 15.
As painful as it was to accept my father’s inevitable death, the month I spent with him was one of the most transformative spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. It’s been a testament to my faith and why when I woke up a few months ago with the concept of this issue on my heart, I knew I had to bring it to fruition.
This one is a very personal one. I have been sharing about my experiences dealing with depression since I was 13 years old, struggling with eating disorders and questioning the existence of a higher power on my blog since 2008. The messages and relationships I’ve established over the years over these topics have lead me to know so many of us spend our days actually trying to have better, more meaningful human experiences.
My column, “5 Steps to Fabulous,” is an extension of my book of the same name about the five aspects I changed in my life to simply live more fabulously from the inside out. From fashion to yoga, I share resources that have enhanced my life, parenting, marriage, and businesses. Hopefully they do amazing things for you too.
Also in this issue, Sarah Jakes Roberts, a famed preacher’s daughter, delves into her own journey, sharing about the impact her marriage and children have had in her transformation and the work she does today. We get “Up Close & Personal” with her.
I learned about “Heal,” a documentary by Kelly Noonan Gores, one Sunday morning when my husband sat me down me to watch it. I knew how powerful our mind is in its ability to help us shift behaviors, but the documentary highlights people who have healed themselves from terminal illnesses literally by shifting their thoughts, their beliefs, and their nutrition. Read more about this powerful must-watch film.
Of course, our cover story is also a very special one. I heard Gabby Bernstein speak at a conference in 2013 and have stayed connected to her through social media ever since. Recently, Gabby shared a very painful loss, that of her second child she had been carrying for five-and-a-half months. Weeks later she also shared that the sign that had shown up for her for her angel boy was a blue butterfly. Having experienced a similar loss myself—and if you know me, you know my name means butterfly—I knew her story would help bring this issue together even more intentionally.
Over the past year, I’ve been on a personal path to improving my physical health, making peace with food and my flaws, and aging as gracefully as I can. This issue’s theme—Mind, Body + Spirit—showcases how those three important pillars in one’s life cannot exist fully unless they are in alignment.
As always, this issue will help support you with the best resources in beauty and fashion. As places begin to open up, we share a Travel Diary you should experience.
BELLA is here to continue to bring light and awareness to human interest topics and doing our part to be change-makers in the multimedia space. It is only by committing to continuously educating ourselves that we can help our future generations grow up confident knowing that those who look, love, or worship differently than they do pose no threat to them personally or to their way of life.
Here’s to more belief, self-care, kindness + love in this new year.