Making do with loss

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 25 Comments

My original plan was to make this an upbeat holiday post about a favorite inspirational quote. But I just found out that a dear, 80-something friend has died of a heart attack. So I’m feeling very sad. 

Still, the quote that I was planning to share has power, even in this moment:


“Everything you need, you already have.”


This is a line from my late therapist. Every once in a while, she’d remind me of this “fact” whenever I seemed to doubt myself. In the years since, it  has become my mantra.

Everything I need, I already have…

Saying the mantra is very hard as I mourn the sudden death of the lawyer I met more than two decades ago. Back then, I was a New York Daily News columnist covering a case that he was on. Eventually, he became a very good source. After I quit the paper to become a mommy, he became a valued personal friend.

Everything I need, I already have….

He was there for me during my early years as a Type-A-career-woman-turned-beserk-stay-at-home-mom. Later, as he counseled me on divorce and real estate matters, he brought in his partners and children on what became an ever-expanding circle of friends. I also grew to adore his wife. How wonderful that last month, my favorite couple and I met for a lunch that was filled with silly laughs.

Everything I need, I already have….

This special gentleman used to tell me that he felt like my uncle. I never said it out loud to him but in my heart of hearts, he has always been the closest thing I’ve had to a father. Since my own tyrannical dad died when I was 19, having this nurturing friend held me steady from the time we met in my early 30s until his death. Knowing he was only a phone call away always made me feel so, so safe.

Everything I need, I already have…

He gave me everything I needed. I will always have that. Maybe that’s the way to interpret the mantra right now. The only reason I’m not mentioning his name is because he died mere hours ago; people need to be properly notified. But when word gets around, I’m sure others will have lots to say about his impact on their lives.

Everything I need, I already have…

When I met him, he was a fiery, hard-drinking, overweight trial lawyer who cursed a lot. Over the years, I watched him survive multiple heart attacks and reinvent himself as a lean, vegetarian, yoga-loving, wise-ass sage. He was a man who understood the power of passionate transformation. It’s the flame that he leaves behind. Those sparks are a gift to those of us in his circle.

Everything I need, I already have…

So I guess in his passing, the mantra becomes more dimensional. It was first amplified when my late therapist was taken from us by cancer. When my mom died two years ago, I once again felt the duality of loss and completion. But I can’t go there this minute, not yet. Not now, not when I still really, really miss him.

Everything I need, I already have.


Comments 25

  1. I’m sorry for your loss of a dear friend, Betty. It’s always hard to lose people we love, especially those that’s been there for us and are practically like family.

    When a person passes away, they don’t leave, but they are survived through our memories of them. Don’t ever forget about your friend, because that’s the only way he’ll live forever: through your wonderful memories.

    I love the mantra, though I don’t think I’m quite at the age (I’m 19) to fully appreciate that mantra just yet. But it will be kept in the back of my mind until maybe one day it’ll finally click.

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    angie, thank you. of course, you’re right — people really don’t leave us. my late therapist always said was that parents live forever inside of us, which is what you’re saying too.

    hang onto the mantra now. even at 19, it still works for you. here’s an example: when my college students go out there trying to report stories or get jobs and internships, many of them feel like they don’t have enough experience, enough credentials, blah blah.

    but they already have everything they need to get the story, the internship, the job. they are young, smart, gorgeous. we’re a youth-driven, tech-driven culture. if you can see that you’re hot, that becomes your brand. does that make sense? so the mantra is about the glass being half-full or half-empty. we need to see ourselves as full!

    ooh, writing that made me feel better. thanks. :)

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    thanks, susan! he was jewish and he left during hanukkah. my chinese mom left during lunar new year. i hope this means that they want us to celebrate their lives. sigh. at any rate, i grieved last night by pigging out on two toasted bagels slathered in whipped cream cheese and responsibly-farmed lox.

  4. I am sorry you are going through this loss. It is huge. Such people do live on within us. When my brother died, I kept looking for signs he was still out there, somewhere. (None came.) But he lives on inside my heart.–mj

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  6. Hi Betty,

    Thanks for sharing so beautifully about your friend.
    I’ve been meaning to write in to congratulate you on your career move and to say that I am grateful that I had a chance to meet you and learn from you in class at SLC.
    Best, Rosa

  7. Post

    rosa, i am honored to have met you in class as well. and i’m sure you noticed that today, i used one of our homework personal essay prompts — repeating a phrase or sentence over and over as a refrain. thanks for your good wishes.

    thanks, charlotte — always appreciate it when you stop by.

    and gerry, how comforting to know we share yet another bond.

    hope you’ll keep on chatting here. right now, i’m off to a full day of meetings. will be back tonight. hope you all have a great day filled with awareness of all that we have. xo

  8. Hi Betty, am new to your blog yet the inspiring quote resonates with me. Have similar story, but will share late. At this moment, heartfelt condolences. Keep going, girl.

  9. This has been a year of passages. First, the mother of Billy’s wonderful boyfriend Eric died of cancer. We were all with her at the end but it was very difficult for both Billy and Eric. Then one of our magazine’s writers, Taylor Siluwe’, a great talent and a dear friend died at the age of only 35. Then an old friend, tireless campaigner for gay rights and one of the founders of The Advocate magazine, Aristide Laurent died after a long illness. Then another friend – Roger – a good natured, quiet person who, after his passing we discovered to have been almost secretly doing all sorts of good works ranging from paying for a playground for the children of a poor Chinese village (which is named after him) to paying for the education of some boys he met in Mexico. Contrary to Marc Anthony’s famous speech, the good that we do often does live on after us. Each of the above people gave love and each, in their own way, made the world a little better, a little happier. This has extended their lives far beyond mortality. We who knew and loved them can no longer sit down to lunch with them but we can still close our eyes and feel their embrace. They remain with us every moment in our hearts and we see them with our inner vision. My dear father, from the observation of whom I learned whatever I know about how to be a decent human being and, I hope, a gentleman, passed away over 40 years ago and yet he is still very much with me. Norman, my partner before Mike, who passed of AIDS in ’95 is likewise ever present in my heart and often seems an almost tangible presence in my life. At my age, in fact, the company of those I loved who have gone on before me but whose spirits are always with me is a large one. It is not fashionable to express metaphysical beliefs in today’s intellectual circles and at one time, I would not have done so. However, after certain occurrences of an experiential nature (meaning there is no point in recounting the details if the reader hasn’t actually experienced such things for his or her self) that took place during and after the time of Norman’s death, I have come to believe there is indeed more to existence than this one lifetime and perhaps we may indeed be rejoined with those we have loved in a future existence, the nature of which we cannot now comprehend. For now it is enough for me that the people I love. both living and dead, are with me all the time in my heart and I am never alone.

  10. What a warm, compassionate and inspirational tribute to your good friend. your “story” reinforces that we can’t always, truly know the ways that we touch the lives of others. I’m sure he is equally touched by, and proud of, you.

  11. That wonderful mantra is what I usually feel around the holidays. I just look around and see the bounty in my life and I know I don’t need anything more. However, it is harder to acknowledge that sense of completeness in the face of loss. I lost a dear friend last year… an amazing world reknown artist, Olga Porumburu, who was wise, kind, generous – and in her 90’s when she died. She inspired me to pursue painting and I think of her wise counsel often. I’d like at least one more conversation with her but have to resign myself to memories and imagining what she’d say. To live by that mantra I have to accept that I received from her all I needed – even as I regret that I didn’t visit her more often.

  12. I am sorry for the (physical) presence of your friend that you are now missing and found the words you shared truly touching.

    You do, in fact, have everything you need in that he gave you all you could give. Your mantra sounds right to say and will feel right in time. The right words at the right time mean so much.

    Thinking about the dates of passing for your loved ones, in a way tghat I hope doesn’t sound too mystic, those dates bring a sense of closure. Your friend passed on during Chanukah, the joyful festival of lights to remind you of miracles, to remind you of light. To remind you to remember everything he taught you the same way the Chanukah story is kept alive through retelling and remembrance every year. Your mother’s passing during the lunar new year was to let you comfortably embrace her new life away from the suffering of illness and your new life as a daughter on your own, but with her forever in your heart. I thought of my own cousin Suzanne’s recent passing on her mother’s birthday, just days before Thanksgiving. I think she felt herself slipping away and fought to live through her so n’s birthday and then waited to give her mother the gift of saying good bye.

    You know the power of words and you use them so well. I remembered turning to the words of your blog when my father died. I knew I would find someone who understood there. And when I need comfort or understanding, I turn to The Book of Psalms or The Book of Proverbs and let those words carry me.

    To compliment your mantra, I’m remembering a line from a U 2 song,
    ” What you don’t have, you don’t need it now, what you don’t know you will get to learn somehow.”

    These loved ones were in your life when you needed them and they made sure they gave you what they had while they had time. To share their stories honors them and gives others what they gave you.

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