Trisha Diane Smith was born on October 6th 1964 at 2:06 AM to the parents of Suzanne Cogen and Paul Smith of Los Angeles, California. It was, like this year, an election contest; conservative Barry Goldwater vs. establishment Lyndon Johnson. The Los Angeles Times headline that day was “U.S. Increases Vietnam Forces.”
From her earliest moments of life, Trish liked to sleep. Her mom reports that she slept nearly 12 hours straight a night at 6 weeks old. Later in life she could be counted on to sleep no matter how much coffee she drank, jet-lagged she might be, or noisy it was around her. Sleep was the place of dreams, of other worlds to explore. She identified with the Ralph Wiggum line – ‘Oh boy sleep! That’s where I’m a Viking!’
Trish attended elementary school at Brentwood public until sixth grade. She described herself in those days as a ‘shy, overachiever’ a disposition that set the stage for a dramatic rebellion later in life.
She loved suburban Los Angeles in the 1960′s and rode horses, danced, went to camps and enjoyed her teachers and classmates. The love of dancing, fostered for the first time in those Los Angeles ballet classes never left her. Trish forever loved the techniques of body movement, the art of dance, and expressing herself onstage.
In 1968, Trisha’s first sister, Paula Smith, was born with complications that forced mom and new baby to stay in the hospital and Trish to stay with grandparents. Trish remembered that period as one where she first began to be independent and self-reliant. There at Boppy and Nanny’s she began to read fiction and delight in the escape of epic fantasy.
For the first time, Trish began to identify as a wandering lady knight, with her own moral code, rescuing and supporting other travelers she met along the way. This self-image would become reinforced many times with epic fiction, and finally when she read the journeys of Roland Deschain, in Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series – her favorite novels.
At the age of 5, in 1969, Trish was given her youngest sister and first brother, the fraternal twins Becky and Ben. Six years later, in 1975 at the age of 11, Trish and her siblings moved to a small town in northern California called Sebastopol about 50 miles north of San Francisco. Sebastopol then had a population of about 4,000 and was full of Gravenstein apple orchards that would later become expensive grape vineyards.
It was a dramatic change from suburban Los Angeles but Trish remembers the transition fondly. There were big spaces to roam. That appealed to the budding adventurer. She would ride dirt bikes around the orchard with friend Sharon in 7th grade.
She became a cheerleader and principal dancer in her high school dance company. Later in life, one of her favorite movies would be ‘Dazed and Confused’ directed by Richard Linklatter, which she said was a near replica of her late 70’s High School experience. She made many friends for life in High School, a testament to her heart and loyalty. She graduated in 1982.
At the University on the beach in Santa Barbara, California, Trish struggled to find any passion for academics. Without a real plan, the wanderer pieced together interesting sounding classes into a Bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Santa Barbara was just an hour or two from the exploding LA 80′s heavy metal scene, and she spent many weekends at the Roxy, the Troubadour and the Cathouse. For school papers, she wrote essays about heavy metal (that we still have, neatly typed on onion paper) some entitled ‘The Collective Ecstasy of Judas Priest concerts”, “Ronnie James Dio reflects trends in cultural thought” and my favorite “Satan: Is he infiltrating the music industry?”’
She developed a long-term relationship with her first love, Brian and moved briefly with him to Chicago, and then to U.C. Davis for a semester. But eventually she returned to Santa Barbara to complete her degree in 1988.
After college, took her first major trip, a six month European adventure with sister Paula who was 19. The trip made her lady knight feel real. Adventure travel became her passion.
Back in the US after her eye opening travels, Trish got a job at Tower Records in San Francisco, and began to explore life on her own after college. On a foggy fall night in 1987, heading to a Grateful Dead concert over the ocean side cliffs of Santa Cruz, Trish was nearly killed in a head on car crash. The car almost plunged over the high cliffs into the ocean; she lost a lot of blood and required extensive abdominal surgery.
She was actually released from the first hospital without them having noticed that she had broken vertebrae. Her core strength from being a dancer kept her spine intact and she alive for two weeks, until a better doctor fused her broken back with metal plates. Trish had cheated death.
The crash was cataclysmic to a happy, fun-loving, beautiful girl from the apple orchard. She began to suffer panic attacks, a disorder that would haunt her forever. She was forced to contemplate existential meaning and later wrote: “I still do not understand why death returned me like a piece of burnt toast, but it doesn’t matter as much anymore. Now I’m just glad that I lived.”
Trish found her meaning gradually by living each moment to the fullest. Wisdom that often evades us till our later years, she knew in her early twenties. She would never turn down an opportunity to do something, anything – art, bungee dancing, psychedelic drugs, crazy rock shows, endless parties with a close group of slacker friends, camping trips to beautiful parts of California and months of summer travel to Guatemala, Thailand and Turkey.
She had come too close to death to waste any time. But she was never a planner – she relished how life would reveal itself in wondrous ways when you got off the couch and tried something new, or followed someone with a good idea. She understood the value of opportunity and impulsiveness.
Her passion for travel grew with each trip. She was the lady knight wanderer when she traveled, each stop of the train a new destination that would unfold when she got there.
But while she crammed life into each day, she still worried that the reaper was around every corner taken too fast or too carelessly.
In her mind, she began to formulate an avatar, a dragon that she never named. Dragon was her companion as she fought the fear, the reaper. She became one of the first women in San Francisco to get inked with body art, and commissioned future great tattoo artist, Fred Corbin, to get her dragon avatar tattooed on her shoulder.
She wrote on April 1, 1991, “and now I have my dragon. I am elated and afraid. I can never go back – not ever. I have chosen to mark myself with this symbol of luck, change, strength risk and commitment. I’m afraid – now that my dragon is finished – I have to live up to it. Am I ready? I can only hope to deserve the significance of the power. I must jump in – get a grip. I must use the strength wisdom and power that is inside me to light my way on this new adventure.”
That summer, 1991, she took her Dragon to Turkey, completely alone. As a unaccompanied, beautiful foreign woman, she suffered hassle and danger. She coped and had a lot of fun. She had proven her strength, tested the dragon.
But the real adventure developing was her career and professional life, which had begun to emerge from her grunge and slacker existence in San Francisco of the early 90′s. Trisha found she could write, and began to freelance as a journalist and writer for trade publications and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
In a moment of fearlessness, she applied for a job writing budget travel guides for Fodor’s. They accepted her. She spent months in Norway and Belize covering nooks and crannies of two of the world’s most beautiful and unexplored countries. She was published in 1992 and 1993.
Emboldened by her success she secretly applied to Columbia Journalism school for a master’s degree program. They too, accepted her and she left San Francisco and moved to New York. She would never again reside in California.
At the University, she could feel the currents of media changing and she loved the opportunity of the unexplored new medium. The 1994 graduating class was the first to be taught the internet. She learned how to hand-code and publish her own work on the World Wide Web.
On March 24, 1995, at a party in the East Village, Trisha idly gave her phone number to a boy-punk from New York five years younger than she. She wasn’t so interested in him, she was just too nice to decline. She had no trouble attracting men. She was smart, beautiful and cool. She didn’t remember him when he called later that week.
There were no fireworks when the two dated; no magic chemistry, no euphoria. But they were cut from the same cloth, and shared the same values; adventure and travel, low-brow art and music, counter-culture coolness, and a desire to cram as much into life as possible.
And both were battling their demons; she her panic disorder and fear of death; he, active alcoholism and drug addiction. Underneath, there grew a mutual deep respect based on emotional integrity and authenticity. For the first time ever, each felt that the other was truly understood. They ‘got’ each other.
And I did it sober. I had stopped drinking and drugging a year prior to our marriage, in no small part because her trust had created in me self-confidence that helped me quit. She, long before me, knew that out of an immature punk-boy would emerge a man.
And so we, Trisha and David, the two who everyone thought would never settle down, settled down in Washington D.C., where we had moved in 1997 when Trisha was recruited for an exciting position at the Discovery Channel. We explored life as ‘normal’ couple, building careers and having kids.
Her career launched into orbit. She explored and at times expanded the frontier of the Web as it developed. She hit her pinnacle of career happiness quickly, as dot-com exuberance fueled the need for exciting travel and nature stories that she could cover.
And she continued to be a cool pioneer, doing a diary on pregnancy with our oldest, Emma, long before they were commonly called blogs. And she was the executive producer of a Webby award winning site that presaged social media, called the Cancer collage.
On April 30, 2000 Trisha gave birth to Emma Harriet Creekmore, now 12 years old. From the moment she held Emma, Trish was awed by the power of motherhood, how her whole body and mind became devoted, almost possessed, by the need to love and support this child. She thought it was magical.
The family moved to Takoma Park, MD a year later and Lily Harriet Creekmore was born minutes after the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on February 1, 2003. Trish freelanced work that first year of motherhood, and spent most of her time holding Lily, who would not let Trish go.
When Lily was a year and a half old, in October of 2004, Trish felt a small lump in her left breast, immediately went to the oncologist. She was diagnosed with Stage I triple negative breast cancer. We were told it was a dangerous cancer, about which science knew relatively little.
She opted for the most severe treatment; radiation and a chemotherapy cocktail that by the end made her feel worse than death. Trish suffered deeply. The panic disorder worsened, and she was shaken.
She added more firepower to her avatars – the next one a huge Phoenix that she had carved into her delicate skin with 12 hours of deep-needle tattooing. It was a masterpiece. The phoenix and the dragon stood by her as she slowly recovered, mentally and physically from the chemotherapy and cancer.
On a wet, grey, cold day in early spring, I sat at my work desk, and searched for around-the-world plane fares. Home on the couch, at nearly the same time, Trish watched the Oparah show, who was doing a motivational segment on fulfilling your life’s dreams. Trish dreamed of travelling for a year around the world with family. We both knew what we needed to do.
We made it our goal to travel internationally as a family for 52 weeks. By 2007 we had rearranged our lives and changed our jobs enough so that we could do extensive travel.
Our first was to Europe as an trial run, England, France and Ukraine. Later would come many more; Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Peru, Costa Rica, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa and more. On travel with family, Trish expressed joy. They were our best moments. She could merge the mother and the wandering knight archetypes harmoniously together.
And she was my problem-solving partner. Hundreds of times, the kids watched two loving parents work through jams together. The exposure they got to cooperative problem solving in unknown situations has given them confidence and independence.
And she was funny. When Trish laughed, we all laughed. This is a video of Trish last summer in Africa. We’re at a break in our morning safari in South Africa.
To jump ahead for a moment, when we completed our Africa trip this past summer, we had finished half of our 52 week goal. The kids and I will finish the other half over the next few years, with her there in spirit, just like she would want us to do.
In 2007, possessed by the power of motherhood, Trish did the most symbolically significant thing she could do, she added two new tattoo avatars to her forearm, each magical animals intertwined, one representing Emma, and one Lily. They were her last ones, representative of the deep love she felt for her beautiful daughters.
After freelance writing for a few years, Trish returned to full time work at Discovery bursting with confidence. She developed her rock diva persona – heels, hair, clothes and that bad-ass, no bullshit personality that was unafraid of confronting management about mistakes. She didn’t care much about the business model; she just stubbornly wanted to make great content.
In April 2010, Trish found a second cancer lump in her breast. Again she chose to treat it with the most effective and severe approach she could, chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstruction. It took 18 months to complete all the procedures.
The recurrence was a very bad sign, very dangerous and very potentially lethal. Triple negative cancer did not come back after five years randomly. Hers was a virulent cancer. Trish and I both deeply grieved and feared the future.
It was an magical year. We threw crazy parties, bought her awesome shoes, and dined at the finest restaurants. We met rock-stars, rode endless roller coasters and had lots of local adventures with our girls.
Most importantly, Trish allowed herself to be taken care of by friends and me. Trish, you see, was fiercely self-reliant, and despised any inclination of her own weakness. But that year she fought off fear to accept that she was not in control of her own fate and needed help.
In that vulnerability, she learned to love us all more deeply. And it was in this period that I could finally repay her for saving me years of self-hating alcoholism.
Last March, the cancer metastasized. She again began the grueling treatments, starting with radiation and eventually chemo. We tried for one more epic trip, this one to Africa where she safaried day and night, swam with wild dolphins, stared into the eyes of a great white shark and camped where hominids evolved from primates 2.3 million years ago.
On the trip she suffered increasing back pain and strange symptoms, which we hoped was attributable to her bad back and some kind of allergic reaction. But it wasn’t anything so benign. The cancer was growing quickly. A month after we returned she was emergency-admitted to the hospital. She had lost the ability to walk, was experiencing massive pain and would spend most of her final two months in a hospital bed in our home.
Trish remained stoic until the end, never complaining. Even though cancer took her beautiful hair, her powerful legs and would soon take her life, not once did she ask ‘why me?’ or say ‘it isn’t fair’. She was so powerful.
Trisha Diane Creekmore took her last breath on October 18th, at 8:25 in the morning at the age of 48. She was surrounded by her family who weeped with agony, but sighed in relief that her pain and suffering was over.
Before she died, Trish told me her only regret was a future that she would not have, most of all not seeing her girls, Emma and Lily grow and develop into women. Trish was so proud of them. But she did not regret the way she spent her life. Trisha knew how to live life, and she lived it robustly, with vim and with vigor.
Trish’s relationship with god was an uncertain one. She liked the idea of gods, and tentatively believed in them all. But she found little comfort in religion. She was ultimately a pragmatist. When asked by Emma at Christmas ‘What do we believe in?’ she famously replied “We believe in magic.”
On her death bed I asked her if she thought there was an afterlife. And she replied wryly “I sure hope so.” Her relationship with the reaper had changed. She no longer feared him. Death was just another station-stop on her adventure and she would not worry about it till she got there, just like she would have any other trip.
Eulogies are grossly unfair to the deceased, smashing years of complex life into 20 minutes of your time. But there is also a purity in selecting just a few words to describe a loved one. So I’m going to use six that I think best represent Trish; three classic and three modern.
In her shortened life, Trish embodied epic virtues that are sadly rare these days. She was brave, loyal, and stoic.
Once endeared to her, Trish remained unflinchingly loyal to you and unconditionally forgiving. She left a long, wide, global trail of friends each of which she valued deeply. She was especially attracted to the disenfranchised, those down on their luck, and those that just needed encouragement.
In New York City, 1996, she and I adopted a rescue cat from a pet store. Instead of choosing the furry friendly ones at the front, she chose the mangy one cowering in the back, lying in her own pee.
Sidney was never a good cat. As we would clean up the pee and put band-aids on the scratches, I would tease Trish about her choice. Until one day I realized that’s the same method by which she chose her husband. And before you laugh too hard, that’s probably how she chose her friends too.
Her loyalty included that most precious of qualities, forgiveness. She would forgive anyone for anything if they were sorry. We were the weary travelers the wandering lady knight had met on her epic journey and she would stand by us even with our mistakes.
Trish was so brave. In Mark Twain’s words: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. “ She battled her whole life with fear, never conceding, never winning, never gaining, never losing. The panic attacks were real, and intense, and sad. They were like fits of darkness. It would sometimes take her days to recover.
Nonetheless she willed herself to live and adventure, push to new places and limits, and ultimately begin to explore her most fearsome spot: her vulnerability as a mom and wife.
She was stoic. She suffered physical pain her entire life without complaint. She had daily chronic back pain from the car accident.
And she went through 3 chemotherapy treatments, 4 radiation, 5 surgeries, and countless procedures. And she had emotional pain too, but she would get through it.
But the wandering lady knight with the classic virtues was also a modern woman, cool, adventurous and irreverent.’
Trisha had a genius ability to be ahead of the curve, to know what was about to be cool – body art, heavy metal, trapeze, years before they became mainstream. She was always hip, but never pretentious. She was authentically cool.
She loved to explore, to adventure. She lived to see what was around the corner, at the next city, in the next room. Wandering was her way, and she liked it best when she found new boundaries and remote places, both physical and imaginary. Her idea of the best travel was just to buy a ticket to a country, land and figure it out from there.
In her last few years, when she was severely debilitated by the cancer, she found love of online video games and their massive virtual worlds to explore and random people to meet. She met many of her last friends in these virtual places and loved them just as much as anyone she had met in person.
And she was irreverent. As a wandering lady-knight, she had no use for the protocols, bureaucracy and ceremony of the daily routine. She was sassy, saucy and sacrilegious.
She was especially disrespectful of authority. In the office, she was known for calling bullshit even when it was harmful to her career. She was ultimately fired from most of her jobs, from Pizzaria Uno’s to her last day at Discovery channel. And she was proud of that.
Those six, Brave, Stoic, Loyal, Cool, Adventurous and Irreverent made her a complex force. What I have heard the most from friends reflecting on Trish, was that she was powerful.
She wasn’t powerful because she made long speeches, or grandstanded, or sought the spotlight. She was powerful because she had integrity, spoke her mind and was unconditionally honest. She was powerful because she was true to herself. We are all here because of her power.
Trish had final words for her kids a few days before she died. At that point she was too weak to write in a card but she thought about the words quietly, and told me to write it in a card for them after her death. Trish spoke;
I am so proud of you.
You are everything to me.
I love you.
Be who you are.
Take the rabbit hole.
That’s what she wanted for all of us. To Be brave. To Respect ourselves. And to Take the rabbit hole. So let’s do it.
Trisha Diane Creekmore Smith, you will be missed but never forgotten. We love you.