Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
This trip – a mother-daughter adventure – was also a pilgrimage in honor of my mother, Dorothy Schwartz Silverblatt Wallach Levine, who lived in Oahu until she died. It’s hard for me to grasp she died over 25 years ago. Today I am only a few years younger, eight to be exact, than her. She came to Oahu with my stepdad, Harry Levine, and they lived a colorful life drinking whiskey sours. They wore matching belts and belt buckles each emblazoned with their names in rhinestones and both were buried at sea in a crown of ti leaves in front of the Outrigger hotel while Hawaiian orchids danced in the ocean.
My daughter, Shelby, and I will be taking an outrigger out to pay our respects.
Here is Shelby’s experience of the story:
Inspired by a podcast I did about time with @jesseitzler, I booked a trip to Hawaii with my mom (Louise). We went to Waikiki which is where her mom, my grandma Dorothy, lived until the day she died for about 20 years. She laid in the sun on a beach chair almost every day in a bikini or one piece until age 80, a cocktail in one hand, cigarette in the other, baby oil all over her body and a man about twenty years younger at her side.
She passed about 25 years ago. I was 13 and I remember the service being gorgeous. We paddled out in outrigger canoes and threw her ashes in ti leaves and flowers into the sea. After, I went surfing and we had a service at Dukes.
While the old beach boys grandma loved are long gone, on this trip we took an outrigger out to honor her. As soon as we paddled passed the waves, a sea turtle swam up and said hello. We threw some plumeria flowers into the sea, caught two awesome waves and went in. Ironically, I went surfing after. I wasn’t catching many waves then all the sudden I spotted the flowers we tossed 1 hour prior and caught a ton of waves. After, we celebrated with a Mai Tai at the Outrigger and then Duke’s, and the next day saw an Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonator show in true Dorothy fashion. Scroll to the right to see what a character this woman was. She and my papa Harry would wear matching outfits and instead of vacationing they just moved to exotic spots — first Vegas and then Waikiki in the 70s or 80s. What an awesome day— full circle. And what a gift to spend so much time with my mom, the legend @wzyofwho, aka Louise Stanger.
The area has become so much more urban and commercial since my last visit. It feels like a cross between West Hollywood and Rodeo Drive. My favorite international market full of native wares has been sadly transformed into high-end stores such as Tesla, Balenciaga, Bruno, Saks, etc. Stores for anyone and everyone and your consumer driven heart may want is here. While I love high-end fashion and have been known to be sucked into its ambiance, I long miss the simplicity of bygone days where puka shells, hand-made dresses and candles made in front of your eyes adorned the marketplace. Perhaps they remind me of my youth, of promise, of so many years to come, of tradition sewn into the fabric of the land sure as shells wash upon the shore. Now Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Valentino line the streets.
I was fortunate enough to travel with Shelby as she interviewed one of the world’s most famous watermen. He helped coach her into her first barrel on a trip to Mentawais. The world-class surfer, lifeguard and stuntman is known for working on films like Blue Crush, Heart to Heart and the original Baywatch. I was quiet as a mouse while they talked. He shared that drug addiction, crystal meth and opioids are rampant amongst the young. He has two good friends that run the junior lifeguard program that works with the youth to give them a different way of being, a chance at a better life.
Listening to Shelby and the surfer talk reminded me of what me and my colleague, Jeff Merrick, often say to clients. We liken getting to yes with a client to saving a drowning person. When the lifeguard goes out to save a life, the natural tendency of the drowning victim – like the person who is impaired with a substance abuse problem – is to drown the lifeguard, to say no. Yet a strong and able bodied lifeguard continue with yes – undaunted and determined to save a life. It is heartening to learn that a junior lifeguard program in Makaha is doing such lifesaving work.
He also shared that we are all connected by land and by water. He shared that when a baby is born and the umbilical cord falls off that cord is wrapped in lava stone and ti leaves so that all the wisdom of the ocean is connected. We then stood just feet away from where not only his umbilical cord but that of his son’s was buried as well.
There is a magic in the air as the soft winds caress us in his Aunties’ porch looking out at mellow waves only to imagine that tomorrow they will be 40 to 50 feet high and the ocean will be filled with some of Hawaii’s best surfers. I enjoyed being the butterfly on the wall listening to the story he was weaving in response to her questions. I loved the passion and quiet strength and respect that he showed for the ocean and his skill. I felt like I was listening to a sage. He shared that stuntman are some of the safest people – they create our chaos and design our safety.
We retraced many steps – from hiking to Diamond Head to snagging a beach chair at the Outrigger, getting a local massage in a house on Montserrat, painting my toenails with a bright jewel decal, taking to everyone we met to swimming in the reef. We retraced Dorothy’s footsteps to and from the Ala Wai. We went to the one and only rock and roll show on the island where we laughed so hard that tears streamed down our faces as Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators belted out their songs.
The trip was emotional for me, a bittersweet chocolate covered macadamia nut of sorts. Hawaii was the place I went to for solace with my three daughters after my first husband died, the place where I ate papaya daily and walked to Diamond Head with a skip in my step. It’s where my mother made delicious salads and shrimp scampi and had her fingernails and toenails painted with glitter stones.
The Island Colony on Seaside was where everyone was my mother’s friend. Today only the doorman Steve remembered her. He’s been there over 26 years. At her funeral all the firemen that worked the outriggers were there, a black lounge singer sang, ”We Are the World” and everyone had a fine repast at “Dukes.” As I was recalling all of these distant memories, my own mortality smacked me in the face. I am only 8 years younger than my mom was when she passed. And my daughters are close in age to when I started going to Hawaii. All of that seems surreal. Of course I do not smoke, drink whiskey sours till I am oblivious and yet she had a Cher-like zest for life and an authenticity that was to be admired and cherished. As I look forward I hope that I can exemplify her best qualities within me.
As we travel back to San Diego, I am grateful that Shelby took me on this wild adventure. She gently did not throw a fit as I returned many of the meals and things we ordered throughout the trip – 12 to be exact. She made sure I was safe on land and at sea. She loves history so talking about Grandma, visiting Island Colony was just another part of the story. We walked, talked and shared moments I will always cherish for it was she who booked the trip, paid for the airfare and took time away from her busy adventure podcast life to travel with me. That for me is one wild idea worth living I will always cherish.
If there is a moral to this story, it is to take time to pause, reflect, rest and to take a trip with your daughter, your son, your mom or your dad. Take time to cherish those moments even when you fight, even when you detach, for time has a way of creeping up. One day you’re 42, the next you’re 72 and if in between you have not taken time to capture the moments, you just might take the opportunity to do so today.
Thank you Shelby for a wild adventure worth remembering!
To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.