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Laurie Ellen

Bearing Fruit is dedicated to the memory of my beloved sister, Laurie Ellen Neustadt. She continues to influence and inspire me fifteen years after her premature death at age 45. Laurie Ellen would have been 60 this year. It is a good time to celebrate her life and legacy. I recently found an article about the sustainability program at Edgewood College where my sister taught art therapy. She was honored for the meditation garden she created which sought to embody the unity of many religious beliefs. In the garden each of the major religions are represented by boulders made of ceramics she made bearing a religious symbol. It was heartening to know that the college where she taught still honors her legacy.

Laurie worked with seniors in ground breaking and loving ways. She and her singing partner, Stuart Stotts, would interview elders and create songs that reflected their lives and honored their memories. Stuart and Laurie Ellen sang in nursing homes, senior citizens, as well as at conferences where those who cared for the elderly met.

Growing up, children often take on rolls depending on their place in the family order. As the oldest daughter, I was a practical child, far more concrete than my sister. She was the creative one who had a beautiful voice. I couldn't carry a tune, though I did have rhythm and loved to dance. I grew up to practice law convinced that I didn't have a creative bone in my body. Any creative instincts I had were sublimated and expressed by buying art and other handmade items and clothes. Laurie Ellen tried to encourage me to find more integrated ways to express my creativity. But it was hard for me to begin while I was practicing law in a competitive environment. Ironically, I did not allow my creative spirit to flourish until after Laurie Ellen died. It was one of the only ways to keep her spirit alive in me.

                              Leslie and Laurie Ellen

                              Leslie and Laurie Ellen

                                   Laurie Ellen Neustadt

                                   Laurie Ellen Neustadt

Laurie Ellen was a deeply spiritual and mystical woman. Her house was full of altars. She had an eclectic approach to spiritual beliefs and practices. She loved being Jewish and was active in the Jewish renewal movement, but Sufism called her just as strongly. She sought ways to bring people of faith together, in her art as well as the meditation garden she created at Edgewood College. Laurie Ellen loved lighting candles on the Sabbath. The day she died I was overcome with a desire to make candlesticks in her memory. I went to studio and painted candlesticks. She left me and my brothers a small legacy. I spent the money to create a yoga studio and sacred space with altars in my older son's bedroom.

I wish she could see how I have allowed myself to explore my creative side. While there is nothing romantic about illness, I don't think I would have given myself the freedom stop practicing law and explore writing and art without being diagnosed with cancer. I was blessed to find Marilyn Day who brought me into a community of open-hearted women who have encouraged me to express myself in a variety of mediums.

Not-for-profit organizations that provide expressive arts therapy will receive part of the proceeds from the sale of Bearing Fruit both to honor my sister and to help those wrestling with life challenges that are difficult to bear. I cannot imagine having survived the challenges of my life without being able to write, make collages and share my stories in a supportive, empathetic environment. I would not be flourishing despite my health challenges without my sister's example to guide me.