Friday, September 20, 2013

Goodbye Lisa Empanada

What can I say?

Lisa Empanada is gone.

As I write these words in my notebook, I'm sitting on the back porch of Lisa's house in Baltimore.  She built this porch herself.

I'm here for Sandy, Lisa's wife.  And I'm here trying to make sense of it all.

The family is mostly inside finalizing arraignments for the viewing.  There will be no service.  No funeral.  Lisa didn't want one.

Dylan Thomas exhorted us to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."  Lisa did not do that.  So I will do it for her.  I will rage against the dying of HER light. 

So what can I say?

Lisa was a Sister to me.  She was close as blood.  Closer.  We talked about everything and anything.  We explored the darkness that I knew, and that eventually took her.

We laughed.  Oh, how we laughed.

Keystone Conference, March 2013

And we cried.

Lisa, to the world, was about happiness.  She had endless compassion.  Full of love.

Some would say it was love that caused her to do what she did.  They would be wrong.

Lisa was no stranger to Love.  When she passed, the internet became a tidal wave of love for her.  People related stories.  Wrote poems.  Quoted songs.  If Lisa saw it all, she would roll her eyes, blush,  and laugh.

Lisa was loved because she loved.  She loved everyone.  But the love her life was her wife, Sandy.  They are truly soulmates. 

And Lisa left her behind.

In a recent Newsweek article about suicide, Dr. Thomas Joiner theorizes that people who attempt suicide have three things in common, and that all three need to be present:  "Thwarted belongingness" or feeling alone; "Perceived Burdensomeness" or feeling like a burden; and "Capability for Suicide" or I am not afraid to die.

Remember that.  I'll  come back to it.

So what can I say? 

I met Lisa on January 14, 2012, at one of Jen Bryant's Raven parties in New Hope, PA.  She sat next to me at dinner, and was drinking Miller lite straight from the bottle.  She looked at me and said "those bitches think drinking beer from a bottle isn't feminine.  Well this is what I say to that!"  And she chugged one down.

Lisa the night I met her.  Between us is Victoria

I liked her immediately, and told her so.

So began our relationship.  We talked a lot as we moved forward through our lives.  She would come up to PA for Laptop Lounge.  We would hug and laugh when we were together.  It wasn't until later that we cried.

She was there the night I was stopped for DUI.  It was her "first birthday" as Lisa. 

And when she suddenly stopped her Facebook account in the spring, we spoke for hours as she fought the Darkness.  She was suicidal.  She had a plan and wasn't going to be turned from it.  She attempted suicide, but her daughter found her in time. 

She got help. 

And with Sandy's love, we thought she turned everything around.  But it was a lie.

She went full time as a woman, except for work.  There was a party for her thrown by her family.  I was honored to attend.

The affirmation party.  Ally is on the right.

Lisa was angelic and happy.

So what can I say?

Shall I write about how this woman changed my life?

After her Affirmation Party, I wrote her a letter that came to me in a dream.  I sent it to her via FB message.  And she wrote back.

I can't comment other to say...thank you so much. I am crying but I don't know if I am happy or sad. I feel pain for what could have been and for what I might have done to you and others, yet those missteps brought me to a real life dream come true. Yet still those feelings, that pain, so familiar to both of us is haunting. Thank you Sophie!

She used what I wrote as a part of what would be the finest thing I ever read from her.  And the most horrific.  But I'll get to that in a moment. 

Then we discussed my transition plan, and she wrote this:

It is a sometimes seemingly horrendous journey. Thankfully we don't have to do it alone. Take my hand.......

I am so thankful that you extended yours

And so I did.  We would transition together.  Sisters.  A promise of shared experiences.

So what can I say?

Shall I write some soaring rhetoric that will make me cry and make sure that all knew how much she meant so many?

No.  I won't.  Not now anyway.  Maybe soon.  No, now I'll tell you how she died.

After all, if you read what she wrote on Facebook, which included my letter to her, she already told you.  She told us all.  But we thought the darkness was gone.  It wasn't.

No.  It never left her.  And she knew we were all watching, so she hid it from all of us. 

She planned her death.  Meticulously.

On Monday September 16, the sun rose on Lisa's last day here on earth.  She left work at noon, and her foreman said she had a strange and sad look to her face.  The last person that we know saw her alive was a neighbor who saw her cleaning out the back of a Painting van.  The same van that she used to attempt suicide months ago.  The one with the gas powered compressor in the back.  She never cleaned out that van.  See, she wasn't the tidiest person.

She left a couple of things in the house for Sandy, including a short message, written with lipstick on a mirror.  Sandy showed me the mirror.  But those words are for Sandy alone, so I won't write them here.

From there, the details are known only to Lisa and God. 

The person driving the van was Tom.  Tom was Lisa's birth name.  Tom was a tortured soul.  He drove the van to a different part of the city, miles away.  Maybe he went elsewhere first.  No one knows when he parked the van.  Tom brought with him something to represent each of his children, his "carry letter" stating Lisa was Transgender, and his drivers license.  He brought a framed wedding picture.  These items he laid on the front seat in plain sight.  He carried something of Sandy's as well, but I won't say what. 

And he brought a pillow.  Sometime during that day or night, he started the compressor, layhis head on the pillow, and waited for the carbon monoxide to do its work.  Which it did.

It did.

And Lisa died.  Tom took her from us.

Sandy returned home from work, saw what was left for her, and started calling around, and texting people.  She called the police and filed a missing person's report. 

I woke early on Tuesday September 17.  4 AM.  And I saw messages from several people asking if I'd heard from Lisa.  I hadn't, which was unusual.  In fact, my last message from her was Saturday early morning, September 14, at 12:44 AM.  She wished me a happy belated birthday, as well as something else, which I will not write here.  That one is just for me.

It was odd I hadn't heard from her for a couple of days.  I wondered if I'd pissed her off.  But she had pushed me away.  As she had with everyone over the previous week, one by one.  She had her plan, and wasn't going to be deterred.  Not this time.

Tuesday September 17, 2013.  Lisa and Sandy's Eighth Wedding Anniversary.

So what can I say? 

I contacted Sandy, offered to help.  She said it wasn't necessary- that the police were on it.

At 1 PM, I received the text that I expected and dreaded from Sandy.  And with it, I left work and headed south toward Baltimore at high speed.

"They found Lisa in Essex.  She's gone."

And with that, my life changed.

My Sister was gone.

The last Picture I took of her.  She sat next to me during the Saturday night gala at SCC.  This was the last night I would see her alive.

I started this post two days ago with the scribbling in the notebook.  As I type this part, it's Thursday night.  Tomorrow is Lisa's viewing.  I will wear the black dress I wore the night we met.  Then I will pack it away and never wear it again. 

Tomorrow the community will say goodbye.  She had been doing that for weeks.  The stories I've been seeing online tell me this.  I saw her last at SCC.  I cried on her shoulder for an eternity.  The last things she told me was that only by being whole... by being Sophie, could I be the best possible parent to my daughter.  She urged me to be the best parent to my daughter that I could.  When we hugged goodnight, she held me firmer and longer than ever before.  I thought it was because I was upset.

I know now she was saying Goodbye.

I never said goodbye to her.  Tom deprived me of that.

All we have left are memories and questions for which we will never know the answers.  What were her last thoughts on Earth as she drifted off to that final sleep?  Was she smiling and at peace, like she wrote before?  Or did she cry, knowing who and what she was leaving behind? 

We know the last thing she heard- the sputtering rumble of a gas powered compressor that was her chosen method.

Now we are all without her.  And there is pain.  Why did she do it?  She told us all.

She felt she was hurting Sandy.  And she couldn't stand it.

Tom died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.  That's the medical fact.  But Love was not the true reason Tom did this.


Tom died because he was transgender.  And that fact led him to his death, of this I am sure.  As sure as I am of my daughter's love.

Tom died, taking Lisa with him.  Taking my Sister.  My dear friend. 

And I have cried for days.

Lisa, The Raven, the Night we met.

How will I feel many years from now about her?  Time will heal the pain, and someday I will be able to think of her and not cry.  Thirty years from now, God willing, what part of my heart will still ache for Lisa Empanada? 

Will Lisa be waiting for me on the other side when it is my turn to pass over?

After her April attempt, Lisa told me many times that I saved her life.  I didn't.  And I have found myself thinking about that.  Was that a waste of time?  And it struck me.  No.  It wasn't.  It bought us all five extra months of Lisa.

We all had five months more of her in our lives.  Her smile.  Her words.  I personally had one of the most moving and affirming experiences of my life thanks to her party.

Right now, I'd give everything but my wife and daughter to speak to Lisa for just a minute.  To hold her close and feel her tears.  But we had five months of "borrowed time" already.

And tomorrow is goodbye.

Keystone Conference, March 2012

Lisa made Sandy a promise eight years ago.  Their wedding song said

I'll be your dream,
I'll be your wish
I'll be your fantasy
I'll be your hope,
I'll be your love
Be everything that you need
I'll love you more with every breath
And now that promise is broken.  All her promises are broken.

She promised we would transition together.  She promised to call me before the Darkness took her.  She didn't.  And she's gone.

I previously mentioned Joiner's theory on Suicide.  And it fit Lisa to a T.  I have had those three things a few times in my life.  And survived.  Right now, I strongly feel two of them. 

But there is one that is NOT there.

I Know I am not alone.

That knowledge keeps me from calling out to my Sister "Hey Lisa! Wait up!  Let's explore the Light together!" and following her away.

I know that my sisters are there for me.  They've proved it these last few horrible days.  I know I will never be alone.  And even if they are not, I will always have Lisa in my heart, where I will keep her all the days of my life.

I will transition to the Woman I truly am, and carry Lisa with me into the life she denied for herself.

There have been many ways people have said "Goodbye" over the years.  I could paraphrase Shakespeare.

"Goodnight Sweet Princess.  And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

There are many songs I could quote.  But only one really fits.

One of the final verses of Brokedown Palace by the Grateful Dead.

Fare thee well,
Fare thee well,
I love you more
Than words can tell.

With Hayden, celebrating Lisa's failed attempt with Champagne and Banana Crème Pie.  May 2013

Goodbye Lisa.  I will always love you, my Sister, and I will always miss you.


  1. I grieve for all of you Sophie, especially Sandy. I knew what tipped the scales from one of her last essays... you'll see it in there... I feel the same way about how all of this has stolen the dreams of my own family... and I also approach the abyss at such times. This was beautiful Sophie.


  2. So sad. the tears are streaming down my face. yet another sister lost to the world. she was so beautiful. as a cancer sufferer suicide is something that I cannot understand as I love life too much. maybe I am too selfish too be suicidal. Goodbye Lisa, RIP

  3. Sophie, at this moment, after the tears poured out and the words flowed later, I don't know what else to say.
    Right now, it is just a heartsick, sad, angry, sadder and ultimately helpless feeling that Lisa is gone and there is nothing we can do to get her back, to somehow fix the situation.
    All we can do now is be there for each other, be there for her family and some day, as time heals at least a little, we can remember more and more of the good memories that Lisa brings and find ways to celebrate who she was, her spirit, to find our own ways to pay it forward.
    Sophie, you are most definitely not alone, my friend. Support, thought and prayers your way.

  4. Just beautiful, m'dear. Sending all my love, thoughts, and hugs your way. You are never alone. <3

  5. Sophie,

    The things you have written about Lisa and the photos that you have posted clearly show that she was a loving and wonderful person with a soul full of grace and dignity.

    Your words about her passing serve as a powerful, loving and beautiful testament to Lisa and also to you.

    I will keep you both, along with Lisa's family and loved ones in my thoughts and prayers.


  6. Sophie, I didn't know Lisa. I know some of her friends and the tales they have told of the Raven. I am very moved by what you write and your love for Lisa. I hardly know what to write, myself. I want to let you know that though we are strangers, I am part of the larger community and there for you and others should the need arise with prayers and love.


  7. When I die, I hope that there is someone as gifted as you to write my elligy. Sniffles

  8. Sophie,

    I didn't know Lisa but I have been touched both by the event of her passing and the outpouring of grief and love from her many friends. We were connected on Facebook, never chatted, but I enjoyed seeing her beautiful, smiling pictures and reading some of her poignant posts. She seemed to be the real sunshine of the party and friend to so many. As much as I have felt badly about what happened to her and concerned that things like this happen in our community, reading this blog post is the first time it has made me cry. I am so sorry this happened but so glad that you and many others were enriched by her friendship and sisterhood.

    Hugs to you and all her sisters,

  9. Sophie,

    I am sorry to read about Lisa. I cannot imagine what Sandy and you are going through. Your great friendship and sisterhood are something that you will have the rest of your life. And that is wonderful.

    May the Darkness Never Take Another.


  10. Sophie,

    Thank you very much for this blog post about Lisa! Tegan and I didn't really know her very well, but you provided us with a glimpse of the loving and caring person that Lisa truly was. We read Lisa's Facebook entry about her previous suicide attempt and it left us full of angst and questions about what happened to her during her final days. You helped to answer most of these questions for us, which has provided us with some much needed closure. We hope that you can find your own peace and closure as time passes.

    Wishing you the best,
    Mae West and Tegan Marie Smith

  11. Hi Sophie, MJ here. I'm surprised at this point we haven't crossed paths yet, but then there was so much about Lisa most of us didn't know; let alone who she kept closest.
    Lisa helped start a group called Diversi'T's, that I now help monitor; there are many there who also love her dearly though she hasn't been a regular part of the group for quite some time.
    I've done my best to keep our members there informed, and to share what comfort we can. Thank you for doing so much of the same for others, as you clearly also did your utter best for Lisa.
    Love and hope to you all,

  12. Hi Sophie. This surely hit a raw nerve...

    Exactly two years ago today I lost my closest online friend who seemed to almost share a psychic link. her passing hit me harder than any loss in my long life to that point and carrying on lost much of it's joy without her there, not good for someone who had suicidal plans laid and ready for nearly half a century...

    She too looked fabulous but found herself unable to complete the transition she knew she needed and just decided to let an obvious cancer run rampant and carry her off much to the shock of the large number who knew her.

    Lisa not being able to be herself at work sounds ominous, how could someone live such a double life without feeling helpless? So many of us have boldly stepped out into the world to make ourselves visible but the world is still slow to change to fully accept our condition. it still takes some courage and determination to go the distance and I curse the world for holding me back from the joyful life I now lead.

    The journey is so much easier if you have support around you, loosing your sister has brought back the pain of my loss so I know what you must be going through.

    We have to hang in there, for ourselves, for those who come after and sadly for those who never made it to a new life...

  13. Sophie -

    Having just come home from vacation, I am shocked... I can't imagine how deep Tom's pain must have been to take his and Lisa's life away from us.

    It's amazing that for most of us, this feminine side we have is what seems to give us life. And it is through your writing that I have gotten an idea how wonderful a person Lisa was, and how much she will be missed by her friends and family....

    No words can express this loss, so I'll simply say that my prayers are with you and Lisa's family....


  14. i am sooooo sorry for your loss and i am sooooo sorry for the loss to Lisa's Family.
    i think in the end she felt as compelled to her demise as each of us who are transgendered feel toward our need to dress or transition.
    she got to the point where her demise was no longer a choice but rather she was drawn toward it.
    you may not believe this but she has already made you a stronger person and with that strength and out of respect to her you will be able to continue on your journey, one day at a time.
    this i know as i have seen your writing get stronger and more focused within just this past year.
    thank you for sharing as it has helped some of us through the shock of Lisa's passing.

  15. Sophie:

    I just re-read your September 11th "Tossed Out" blog. First thought, what an easy date to remember -- when things came crashing down in your life. Yet, like the new World Trade Center, Sophie rises from the ruins and has new freedoms. Freedom has a price. Your quest for Sophie is costing you the comfort of your marriage and family -- yet you will survive. The strength you thought you had, the strength that got you through that day, pales in comparison to the strength you really have.

    When I read your tribute to Lisa the day you wrote it, I was struck first by her death, but mostly by the love that you clearly had and have for her and that the power of that love gave you strength to tell her story and be there for her family and friends when you surely wanted just to curl up and cry.

    I read your blog through tears falling on tears. I sobbed know you had sobbed. I know that pain, as I a few years ago watched my wife languish 2 months in a hospital dying -- each day I wrote the story of her strength and our love -- each day through tears as thick as molasses. Each day I poured out my love of her for all of her and our friends and family and interested onlookers to read and share the pain and embrace the life being taken so young.

    A person taken in the middle of what should have been a long life reminds us of the fragility of our existence. Tom took Tom's own life. Lisa was swept away by his selfishness. I can't look at it any other way. What she felt, and felt she had to hide from her loved ones, we can only guess at. Except we know that she felt the love of her many friends and family. She knew Tom's act would anger them all, and yet she was powerless in the end to resist him and reach out and drawn on the strength you all could have, and would have, willingly given her. No one was able to stand between her and Tom and protect her from him. We who are CD/TG/TS know that the duality and the singleness co-exist and live in tension. Why she was unable in the end to reach a necessary equilibrium is unknowable.

    While I consider suicide to be a selfish act, and while I fear that place that people go that allows them think that suicide is the answer, and the only answer/alternative left to them, I cannot think badly of a soul who takes that route. To be that desperate must be awful.

    I wish I had known Lisa. I think that I met her briefly at Keystone, but can't be sure. She looks so familiar . . . . . .

    To have your soul finally at peace I can understand. As with my wife, though we grieve the loss of the person Lisa, who has left us, we must believe that they are in the oft bespoken "better place" and have found peace.

    I know that others have commented on what a good friend you were to Lisa, and she to you. Let me be bold and thank you on her behalf for all you did with and for her, and thank you for representing our community to her family and friends after her death. You are a strong woman, Sophie.

    Best Regards,


  16. Sophie,

    I am shocked by the news. I met her briefly at Keystone and saw her at SCC a few weeks ago. Oddly enough, I saw her at the Atlanta terminal after SCC heading home. She was beautiful and I told her so at Keystone. She got a laugh from my cartoons. I know transgender suicides are statistically high, but when it happens on a personal level, it becomes painfully real.

    Take care,

  17. wow! i just read this post in shocked silence...i am sorry for both your and her family's loss! i hope you all receive the comfort you deserve!

  18. I do not know Miss Lisa, but heard about her from a mutual friend. I do not know you Miss Sophie, just read your beautiful words. I am sadden by the news...hearing how this darkness kidnaps such beautiful loving people hurts my heart so. My condolences goes out to the family.... and You.... and Every one whom is transitioning that may be introduced to this unemotional, hateful, crud darkness. Please know that there are some of us little people...strangers even... Who can help bring just an ounce of light to help defeat the unkind darkness.....