This past June, on National Cancer Survivors Day (coincidentally), my friend John had a party to celebrate his victory over nasopharyngeal cancer. More than 100 guests from different chapters of John’s life were in attendance. We celebrated John, his impact on our lives and how valuable he is to our community and his own family. There were lots of tears, lots of laughs and a contagious outbreak of love, hope and gratitude. We had come close to losing him, but where we once shared worry and prayers, we now shared praise, gratitude and joy. In his remarks, John called the event a living funeral; a phrase that has stayed with me.
A year ago, when my husband and I first began talking about celebrating my 40th birthday, I was all over the map with respect to how I wanted to mark the occasion. For years, I had told him that I wanted to go to Paris for my 40th birthday, but for a variety of reasons, that became an unattractive option. A week in Paris with my husband alone sounds fantastic on any another occasion, but the idea of celebrating a milestone birthday a continent away from all the other people I love just didn’t feel right. I wanted to usher in a new decade surrounded by the people who bring joy, laughter and meaning to my life. I wanted a living funeral – and that is exactly what I got.
From the very beginning, my husband advocated for having a big party. I was a fan of the idea, but worried it would lack intimacy. There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending quality time with my favorite people and that can be difficult to do in a large group. But when our close friends, Amy and Brendan Malloy, offered up their new brewery – M Special Brewery – as the location for the bash, it became the cornerstone upon which the rest of the weekend festivities were built. My husband started cooking up a plan that became more and more compelling as the weeks wore on.
(It’s worth noting here that my amazing, generous, thoughtful, loving husband is a flippin’ STUD. Not only did he come up with a plan that was SO ME in every single way possible, he was smart enough to enlist a handful of my most helpful, resourceful girlfriends to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Raising children and planning a 40th birthday celebration takes a village and he appointed his villagers wisely.)
The party got started early on Friday afternoon as people began arriving in Santa Barbara for the weekend. We drove directly to M Special to sample the goods and meet up with a few out of town guests. From there, we checked into the gorgeous Bacara Resort just a few miles away from the brewery. That evening, my husband and a few friends arranged a beautiful cocktail reception on the terrace, with a view of the ocean and the setting sun. My heart swelled each time a new friend arrived – one after another, each one sacrificing time, money and everything else that’s required when grown ups leave their children, set aside work and table all their other responsibilities for three days – and I was soon under a Love Spell that still hasn’t worn off. The living funeral had begun.
Saturday morning was as grey as an old sweatshirt, inviting us to sleep in and have a slow, leisurely morning. What a treat it was to run into one friend after another,
in the gym and on the patio eating breakfast, and be able to linger or pull up a chair; nothing to do except be in each other’s presence, telling stories and catching up.
Gradually, we migrated poolside, idling without purpose or a plan – something my mostly Type A friends don’t often get to do – and eventually, the sun joined us and the volume began to turn up on the day. Every hour, a new friend arrived from L.A., Seattle, Austin, the Bay Area, and the mood started to transform from lazily cheerful to lively and festive. Old friends and new friends mingled effortlessly and filled my heart with more and more joy.
To prepare for the coup de grace planned for that night, two of my girlfriends arranged for a Glam Squad from TEAM Hair and Makeup in Santa Barbara to come by our hotel suite and beautify a few ladies. While I generally like doing my own hair and makeup, I happily submitted to my good fortune. I thoroughly enjoyed sipping champagne, snacking on treats and gabbing with the girls while these women transformed me into The Birthday Girl. (And for once, I was ready for a party on time!) Girl Time at its best, complete with a heartwarming toast from my friend, Lauren.
At this point, I was deeply enchanted by the Love Spell. To have spent more than 24 hours surrounded by love – love directed from husband to wife, from friend to friend, but especially love directed toward me – was a gift beyond measure. So for me to show up at M Special to a NEW sea of faces – MORE friends – all there to help me celebrate my birthday, was totally overwhelming. The beer flowed, people hugged and laughed, we danced and sang, my husband and my best friend from high school gave funny toasts and I got to tell everyone how much they mean to me…. It truly was an unforgettable living funeral!
On that evening in June when we celebrated John’s victory over cancer, he counseled us with one piece of advice: “don’t postpone joy”. I am so grateful that I was able to set aside three full days – that my friends were willing to spend those days with me! – to take John’s advice and to live utterly and completely in the moment, awash with buckets and buckets of joy.
Special thanks to Melissa Redell and The Solvang Bakery for providing all the gorgeous, delicious desserts (including my fabulous cake) and the amazingly talented Bear Redell and his little brother, Ben, for providing all the fantastic live music. (Be sure to check out his SoundCloud page.)
Remember this post? Choosing what to wear was not easy – especially as the evening temperatures on the weather report continued dropping. I must have tried on thirty different outfits before selecting my Friday and Saturday night get-ups. In the end, it was worth it. I was comfortable, relaxed and able to put my attire out of my mind completely to focus on my friends.
I wanted something unique and festive and, after much deliberation, decided to wear this Hepburn-esque, metallic snake-jaquard dress by House of Holland. My earrings are Elizabeth Cole. Although I hardly needed a clutch thanks to the pockets in my dress, I also carried my green, croc-embossed clutch by Clare V., which is sold out, but this green python-embossed clutch is a fabulous alternative.
(Other alternative options are: This dress has the same silhouette in fun, fall colors. And I also love the print on this dress. These earrings are also gorgeous, as is this pair with similar stones and colors.)
One week before the event, I saw that the weather was going to be much cooler than I had anticipated – in the mid-50’s – and scrambled to pull together an outfit that was sexy and fun, but would also keep me warm. Thanks to Shopbop.com’s free shipping, free returns policy, I was able to order several outfit options at the last-minute. On the night before we left, I put my husband through a painful fashion show while he watched Hard Knocks on HBO. I ended up selecting vegan leather embroidered pants by Blank Denim and a deep blue silk off-the-shoulder blouse by Emerson Thorpe. I chose another statement earring for this night, too, and love this pair by Adia Kibur.
On both nights, I wore my oh-so-reliable black patent leather sandals from Stuart Weitzman.