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Essay: The Beautiful Lightness of Being

Contributor Alessandra Moctezuma reflects on losing her husband, mourning, and overcoming grief
Painting by Noah Saterstrom of San Diego Magazine writer Alessandra Moctezuma as she overcomes the loss of her husband
Painting by Noah Saterstrom

By Alessandra Moctezuma

I tenderly remember the last months with my husband Mike as we took short walks along our street in Golden Hill. The gentle slope offered an expansive view of the San Diego Bay and, in the distance, the bric-a-brac chaos of Tijuana. We ambled slowly with measured steps and held hands, fingers interlaced, as we watched the sun dip into the ocean, a luminous descent where deep blues shifted to pinks and golds. Every sunset was magical, always new, always surprising.

Immediately following Mike’s death in the autumn of 2022, my feelings veered into the uncanny. What if he never existed? What if our life, our love story… was imaginary? My mind struggled with mortality. Yet as the months progressed life seemed almost normal, if quieter. My twin children and I were convinced that Mike was away on a long trip. But your body knows, your body remembers.

Every night I felt the emptiness as my hand reached across the bed. I missed feeling the prickle of his beard stubble on my cheek. Where was my jogging partner, his steps perfectly tuned to mine, our bodies occasionally bumping or racing each other to a predetermined finish line? I carefully hid away his dark-blue yukata, not wanting it to accidentally end in the laundry, his scent washed away.

San Diego Magazine contributor Alessandra Moctezuma standing in front of a painting in a museum as she overcomes grief
Courtesy of Alessandra Moctezuma

I tried to swat away my grief with myriad distractions, but, during the summer, it engulfed me. I couldn’t sleep, and every morning I woke waiting for something to happen. I fell in love with Mike shortly after my parents died, and our relationship made me feel so alive, a beginning to counter an ending. In the face of that deep loss, what I yearned for was to be grounded, and Mike was my tether. Encountering grief anew, I was uncertain of where to turn. I realized that it wasn’t something I could run away from.

Living in LA in the ’90s, I was introduced to African music. Ali Farka Touré, Fela Kuti, and Baaba Maal became favorites. I heard that Oumou Sangaré was performing in San Diego, and I convinced a friend to join me. As the concert progressed, I’d been overcome by the rhythm and melody. As if a switch had been turned on, I was filled with joy. I was alive and it was electric. At some point the audience started rising from their seats and rushing to the stage. I was called by the music’s vibration and every cell in my body wanted to dance.

A rush overwhelmed me and the beat filled my heart as I stomped my feet to the music. I envisioned myself floating away. My arms swayed, hands fluttering like butterflies. My mind and emotions shifted away from sadness. Instead of feeling alone, I felt physically united and in community with those around me. The experience was cathartic and healing.

After the jubilant interlude at the concert, I found myself seeking other opportunities to dance, uninhibited and unpreoccupied. Mike and I shared a passion for musicals, and he admired the effortless grace of Fred Astaire. In the musical genre, the storyline is interrupted by a song- and-dance act; a dramatic obstacle is overcome by an exultantly choreographed moment. I often thought of characters prancing in the rain, climbing on a sofa, dancing with a broom, or twirling in each other’s arms, entranced and enamored.

In my own journey finding a way out, a way through, I have come to welcome when sorrow and uncertainty are disrupted by my improvised and joyous steps. In these instances, which are becoming more numerous, I am made aware of the beautiful lightness of being.

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