by Ben Falk
Michelle was a traveler, flowing like the wind and water, living life following her dreams. She grew up near the ocean in California — Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, Fallbrook, and Oak Park — and also lived in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Arizona. And then she began to have dreams about Santa Barbara and the ocean. She was drawn here. She came to Santa Barbara several years ago, grieving the loss of her daughter Sierra, who passed minutes after birth due to complications. With no money, no home, and no job, Michelle and her dog Quest came here to start a new life and find happiness. She had no plan, except to live in this special place of her dreams. She quickly found a job at Wild Oats Market and soon became the Natural Living Department Manager (in charge of natural medicine). Always very knowledgeable and helpful in caring for and healing people, Michelle was a natural. This nurturing quality led to her interest in becoming a nurse, a dream whose realization was due to begin this week. Two Sundays ago, on a magic and beautiful afternoon, Michelle was inexplicably taken from us all while surfing Poles on the inside of Campus Point in Goleta.
Wild Oats is where I was blessed to meet Michelle. I, along with many others, was instantly blown away by the light and beauty that radiated from within her. Her father had just given her his Perfect Balance — a Rich Reid surfboard with a few major dings in it — and I immediately offered to fix it up for her. And so it began. Our days were spent together enjoying the beauty of Santa Barbara: surfing, hiking, biking, swimming, skating, and camping. When Wild Oats closed, Michelle found her place as the manager of the El Capitan Canyon Store and was instrumental in helping guard the soul of this new camping-style resort on the Gaviota Coast.
With hard work, determination, and an unrelenting drive, Michelle positively affected every situation she encountered, no matter what darkness surrounded it. But once she became pregnant, the focus of Michelle’s life shifted to her child and the nurturing of our family life that lay ahead. There are many wonderful mothers in this world, but (and I think anyone who knew her would agree) Mama Shells was in a league of her own. She was born to be a mother and I could not have asked for Kaili to have been more blessed. The lessons of strength, honor, and righteousness that Michelle left for Kaili will never fade. Kaili and I will always love Mama Shells for the timeless motherly soul she was and all the beauty she taught us.
PRESENT The following was written by Michelle after the death of her first child: Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past no longer is. The future has not yet come. Looking deeply at life as it is, in the very here and now, the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom. We must be diligent today. Tomorrow is too late. Death comes unexpectedly. How can we bargain with it? The sage calls a person who knows how to dwell in mindfulness night and day “one who knows the better way to live alone.” Do not rely on individuals; rely on the teachings. Do not rely on words; rely on the meaning. Do not rely on the adapted meaning; rely on the ultimate meaning. Do not rely on intellectual knowledge; rely on wisdom.
BEYOND Michelle, I never thought life and love could hurt this bad. Your compassion, love, tenderness, and sweetness were one of a kind. Our souls had a very deep connection, and I know that even though we might not be physically together, we are one. You live within me and my heart. Our creation, Kaili Moorea Falk, is the most special gift life could have given us. It is my honor and duty to fulfill the vision of raising her in the most mindful, productive way possible, and to carry on your legacy of nurturing and nudging Kaili up and down the rocky roads of life. I promise with all my heart to make sure her Mama Shells is remembered, honored, and always in our thoughts and prayers.
You were a warrior — a centered, strong, and healthy woman in complete control of her body, mind, and soul. You, Michelle, were so tuned into nature, Mother Earth, and had such a respect for its awesome powers. The mystical awe and power that the ocean possesses is a force like no other. While I know that you died doing something you loved and in a place you loved, it does not make the path any easier. I am honored and give thanks everyday for the gifts you left me. I shall always remain strong for Kaili to honor your life and wishes. You are such a pure soul, timeless and unwavering in your love. The imprint you have left on all of us will last an eternity. Kaili and I will continue to feel this true love within us and celebrate it every second of every day until we see you again.