05/07/2014 05:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Love, Death and Innkeeping

Melissa Levis

I Googled the top five stressors in life and realized I've had nearly all of them this winter: divorce, death of a parent, career change and moving. The only good news is I've yet to brush with stressor number five -- a jail sentence.

My marriage had been unhappy for a long time, so filing for divorce was a courageous, good thing. The unexpected part was that four days later, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. For 27 years, she had been the innkeeper of our stately Vermont country inn. I haven't lived in Vermont since I left for boarding school at 13 and for the past 20 years, I've been a songwriter in New York City, writing off-Broadway musicals and being a rock star to the 5-and-under-set. 2014-05-07-MoeysMusicPartyJCChires.jpg

I know nothing about the hospitality and restaurant business, but while my siblings and father took care of our mom, I commuted to Vermont to take care of our inn.
I had been introduced to mindfulness a year ago by Cheryl Jacobs and am forever grateful because it helped me be present in those two brief months I had with my mom. We pulled out the stops and celebrated Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years at the inn, with gusto. 2014-05-07-IMG_0090.JPG
Although Mom was weak, she greeted guests with grace and humor and kindness, wearing her hot pink wig and a big smile.

We invited a cast of Broadway actors to perform an original musical called "Inn Trouble" to celebrate her life in January. The inn was packed with three decades of loyal guests who dressed in sparkles and pink because Mama loved everything festive. 2014-05-07-Image8.jpg

Three weeks later, the living room of our inn was packed once more, this time for her funeral. I played my guitar as 200 guests sang and danced our Wilburton Inn theme song.

My 13-year-old nephew played his guitar and harmonica like a young Bob Dylan and sang a song he wrote to say goodbye. My brother, an organic Vermont farmer and baker, rapped his eulogy as the grandsons kept the beat. A guest said, "Your family puts the fun in funeral." I like to think that our celebration for our mother sent her on the express train to heaven.

Since mom died on February 6th, I have been in a haze. The parties have ceased. My to-do list has multiplied. My divorce court date's been postponed. My new apartment in NYC has yet to be unpacked. But with daffodils here and summer on the horizon, it is time to emerge. Mother's Day is this weekend. Mom would want us to celebrate once more.

I believe in synchronicity and Arianna's Third Metric event last week, in New York City, was the outstretched hand to raise me from my sorrow. Her message of taking care of yourself, protecting your priorities and connecting with people is the only way I can navigate through all this changes and loss.

Arianna said life does not have to be perfect to for you to thrive, which is wonderful since my life is a mix of Green Acres, Fawlty Towers, Terms of Endearment and War of the Roses. Please be my thrive buddy and share my journey and together we will:

1. Be a unitasker.
After a lifetime of chronic multitasking, I vow to do one thing at a time. Do it well, experience the satisfaction of crossing it off the list and then move on.

2. Meditate every morning.
A friend recommended Jon Kabbat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living eight years ago, but I couldn't force myself to get through his meditation CDs. Inspired by his talk at the Third Metric event, I tried them again. Now his meditations are an anchor to start every morning.

3. Take a 30-minute walk every day.
Even in Vermont where the mountains beckon, it is easy to stay behind a computer, indoors, all day.


Thirteen years ago I ran the New York City Marathon, but I fell off the exercise bandwagon after hurting my knees. With all the stress of the past six months, I truly have gained 20 pounds. But another synchronistic gesture found me as I visited my town's Chamber of Commerce. My childhood dentist recognized my smile and gave me a free entry to the Maple Leaf half-marathon in the Fall to welcome me home. Running that is a far off goal, but for now, I pledge to be invigorated by a daily walk, be it in the mountains of Vermont or my new downtown neighborhood in Manhattan.

And now it's breakfast time at the inn. Time to change out of my leopard PJs, put on the coffee and try not to break the yolks should a guest order over-easy eggs.

Though I am overwhelmed with the changes and challenges before me, I vow to make our inn better than ever to honor my mom. I am in love with coming home again to Vermont and my family, in love with the business of innkeeping where guests enter as strangers and leave as close friends, in love with this chance to heal from mourning for my mother and from my 15-year marriage, and I strive for a new beginning.