In a Very Long Line at the Hotel Figueroa


On Thursday, I stood in this Hotel Figueroa line for a very long time hoping to buy some type of valuable memento. Like many, I have a bunch of memories at the Hotel Fig. Most recently, mom and I spent the night here on her February birthday…obviously not knowing she would pass away the following month.

Even though mom died in March, it’s taken me 8 months to actually order the headstone for her grave. I began this process in October and have spent past two months debating the headstone’s design, words, granite, symbol, and font.

Oh man, the font. I thought long and hard about the font. Mom was a book publisher so surely she had an opinion about fonts, right?  For the life of me, I couldn’t recall those opinions. I stressed over this for a week. WTF was mom’s favorite font? Fortunately, I discovered that in 2007, I emailed her specifically “What is your favorite font?”

Turns out, she cared less about a specific font and more about a font’s readability. Whew! After a couple more format changes, the headstone was now FINALLY ready to be ordered… but I still couldn’t give my final approval.

Not only did I struggle with reducing my mom’s beautiful life onto a small headstone, but…frankly, buying the headstone forced me to face the horrible fact that she is never coming back. After 8 months, her death doesn’t feel real. It feels like I’m just house-sitting while she’s on a very very long vacation.

Back to the Hotel Figueroa. After 10 minutes of standing in this line, I started chatting with the woman behind me. Conversation started easy breezy but we soon found ourselves deep in a heart-to-heart about the death of our mothers. The older woman had lost her mother 10 years ago, but still felt the pain.

Then, as if comic relief was needed, a Dixie Band (protesting climate change) passed by all of us at the Hotel Figueroa. Seriously. The light-hearted music and dancing drew the attention of everyone in the long line. It was surreal to be standing outside the Hotel Figueroa, talking about death while watching people march & dance to Dixie Band protesting climate change…but as my new friend commented, “This is Los Angeles.”

We picked up our conversation after the band passed. I explained that after much angst and grief, I was finally buying mom’s headstone today.  She sympathized and shared the wisdom told to her:  Despite all the words and symbols on a headstone, the most important item on a headstone is the dash. It’s the dash that represents the vibrant life lived between the years carved in stone.

Her words gave me chills.

Her comment put me at ease over something that’s been eating at me for 2 months. Though since our chat on Thursday, I looked up this “dash on a headstone” thing.  The idea has definitely made the social media rounds. Internet clichés aside,  it helped me realize that while this small marker would be etched in stone, it didn’t have to encapsulate everything about her…just as the dash couldn’t possibly encapsulate the beautiful life my mother lived.

As our deep talk came to a natural end, we then randomly realized that she was the wife of my coworker. We had just laid bare our lives to each other only to discover she’s married to a professional acquaintance I’ve known for 10 years.

It was a crazy (slightly awkward) moment of discovery. A crazy moment of standing in a crazy line outside the Hotel Figueroa.

And while I didn’t buy anything at the Hotel Figueroa on Thursday, I did actually buy my mom’s headstone.


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