Losing My Bold Soul Sister: Grief & Gratitude in Paris

Lisa Anselmo Lisa Taylor Huff

“I’m so glad we’re friends.” These words were spoken to me by my Paris “sister,” Lisa Taylor Huff. They were followed by one of her long, hard hugs. I’d spent part of the day with her—helping her around the house, running small errands. She’d been feeling weak lately. No big deal, just some pain, she’d said. She’d be fine, ultimately, once the doctors got a handle on things.

She was gone a few weeks later.

Lisa had been diagnosed with kidney cancer in November of last year, and in spite of the fact it had spread, there was hope, the doctors promised. Lisa stayed active and optimistic—working on her memoir, blogging about her illness, posting doodads on Facebook, texting and emailing regularly. Right up until her last few days.

The collective expression on the faces of those who attended her memorial at Père Lachaise Cemetery: Bewilderment. This was not the way it was supposed to go. Not after all Lisa did to create the perfect life.

Lisa's blog, The Boul Soul

Lisa’s blog, The Boul Soul

Lisa’s Paris story is described on her aptly named blog, The Bold Soul. She risked everything to follow her dream of living in Paris, and made it happen. She’s the reason I’m in Paris now. Like any big sister, after charting the course of expat life, she threw out a line and pulled me in—encouraging, advising, coaching me past my fears. She helped me search for my little apartment, and pushed me to apply for my long stay visa for France—which I got, thanks to her guidance. In early 2014, because of her “why not?” attitude, we co-founded No Love Locks, creating a firestorm that changed the conversation about historic preservation, and changed our lives in the process. And when I left my job and moved to Paris last summer—an experience that was fraught with fear and self-doubt—it was Lisa who administered the dose of faith and courage I needed. That’s just how she was. Always.

I met my name twin when I was sixteen, while doing the musical Grease at a local playhouse in New Jersey. Fate parted us then reunited us twenty years later. We would discover that, like our names, our lives had been identical—both of us writing, and both of us in love with Paris.

How we met. The baby-faced “Deux Lisas,” (her, center; me, right), backstage at Grease, Pax Amicus Theatre of the Performing Arts. I made those costumes. Go Rydel High!

How we met. The baby-faced “Deux Lisas,” (her, center; me, right), backstage Pax Amicus Theatre of the Performing Arts where we did a production of the musical Grease. (My mother and I made those costumes.) Go Rydel High!

Lisa’s husband, who she met in Paris, called us “Les Deux Lisas”—The Two Lisas. We talked or emailed or texted nearly every day. Sometimes five times a day. She was the first person I’d call when I’d land in Paris, the first person I’d see. Lisa has been so much a part of my Paris experience I’m unable to separate the two. I don’t know how I feel about the City of Light without her shining in it.

Here I am at the crossroads of grief and loss, where this journey began after the death of my mother. Once again, I’ve lost a touchstone, a best friend. A guiding force. In some ways, the loss of a peer and soul sister makes me feel even more fragile. And even more like I’m on my own.

Lisa was in my episode of House Hunters International. During the shoot, cameraman Mike Hodder told me I'd be glad I'd done the show because it would serve as a memento of this time in my life. He was so right. I'm grateful our friendship has been permanently memorialized on film, and I watch the episode often.

A friendship memorialize on film. Lisa and her husband were in my episode of House Hunters International. Image courtesy of HGTV.

Our friendship has now been reduced to data preserved in binary code. But from years of email exchanges, our entire story emerges. Two writers were never at a loss for words. We dreamed in tandem, often about the neighboring houses we’d buy in the French countryside with the profits from the film rights of our yet-to-be-written bestsellers. Lisa’s emails could be long, detailed accounts of her daily life, but just as often, random musings and inspiration blurted out, as if hearing her think. A favorite, one she wrote after she was diagnosed, still shows her hope and determination. The subject line: “Must Buy;” the text: “French farmhouse in Provence NOW. And then fill it with this stuff.” It included a link from our favorite French home decor site where we’d spend way too much time. I replied, “Love it! Let’s keep planning for our futures!” Looking back at that email, it’s clear I was paddling hard against the tide that I knew, deep down, was already turning. It wasn’t the first time I’d been here.

can you believe text 2

Lisa’s reaction to the barrage of press requests for No Love Locks

Our text messages trace the last three years, parsed out in chit chat and emoticons. In the first message, from August 25, 2012, I invite Lisa and her husband to brunch in my brand new apartment. The early texts are all like this: lunch plans, shopping trips, museum dates. Later, the message bubbles bear heftier content: the business of No Love Locks and, as our movement builds momentum, our frantic attempts to divvy up half a dozen daily press requests. Can you believe our lives sometimes? Lisa asks in one of them. It’s all there: the leak in my apartment; the day she tried to fix me up with that “nice guy from Georges’s office.” At some point, talk of blood tests and scans creeps in. Hospitals. As the string of bubbles comes to an end, two of my texts go unanswered. They’re followed by news of Lisa’s condition, which her husband sent with her phone from her hospital bedside. The last message, dated July 6, 2015, is of her passing. From first text to last, one long conversation of a too-short friendship.

Our story in text bubbles. Lisa was the first person I'd call or text each time I arrived in Paris. As No Love Locks gained momentum, our texts echo it. Lisa was always sending encouragement, whether it was calming me in times of stress, applauding my writing efforts, or helping through my Paris life. The text lower right was sent when the locks came off the Pont des Arts to save the ailing historic bridge. Lisa was too ill to attend the press conference but still hopeful about the future.

Our story in text bubbles (l to r): Lisa was the first person I’d call or text when I’d arrive in Paris; No Love Locks press hysteria; Lisa’s encouragement, wisdom and advice are evident; Lisa’s text (lower right) when the city moved to save the Pont des Arts. Too ill to attend the press conference, she was still hopeful about a bright future. So was I.

As a writer, words have the ability to breathe life into characters and continue to tell their stories for generations. These words between Lisa and me are no different, and perhaps it’s fitting that the relationship between two writers should be reduced to words. The Letters of Les Deux Lisas, Volumes I, II & III. As long as they exist, so does the friendship, and Lisa’s words of encouragement can continue to inspire me. Maybe I’m not so alone in Paris.

I do miss the sound of her voice on the other end of the phone, our long-winded lunches. And I could really use one of her restorative hugs right now. But I will take the words she left behind, and be grateful to have had such a friend.

The two Lisas on top of the world. Montmartre, 2009.

The two Lisas on top of the world. Montmartre, 2009.

Be inspired by The Bold Soul
Here, highlights from Lisa’s blog. Read and share. Keep her message alive.
There’s How You Think It’s Going to Be. And Then There’s the Curve-ball Reality.
I Never Do Things the Easy Way. Never.
The First Day of the Rest of My Life
Why I Keep Falling Back in Love with France (or, 10 Years of The Bold Soul)
Or dig into the Bold Soul Archives. I highly recommend it. Nearly a million visitors can’t be wrong!

The official announcement to our supporters on NoLoveLocks.com

32 responses to “Losing My Bold Soul Sister: Grief & Gratitude in Paris

  1. OH Lisa…so lovely and sad….I had been following Lisa’s blog since 2008 and thru her’s found yours…and I too was shocked beyond words to read Georges final posting on her blog…I knew she was sick obviously but never dreamed she would lose her battle.
    The love locks crusade is something both of you should be proud of and the battle goes on in her name.

    I’m so sorry for your loss and understand how it has taken you a while to write and post this….take care and chin up, just like Lisa always was.

    • Thank you, Debbie. Yes, it’s taken me this long to process what has happened. Her decline was fast and we are all numb. Writing this post, the finality hit me. I miss her every day. But I wanted to share her story, and keep her message alive. A few of her friends and I will be launching a few other initiatives in her name, so stay tuned. L

  2. I was a longtime reader of bold soul blog and was lucky enough to meet Lisa when I visited my favorite city a few yrs back. We really clicked and I enjoyed being with her for lunch at the cafe where she spent a lot of time writing and waiting to meet Georges I was shocked at her sudden passing and am so sad for her family and friends. I am so glad the no love locks campaign has paid off. Thank you for your efforts. I was in Paris recently and kept thinking of Lisa. So sorry for your loss.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. I endeavor to keep her message alive. Do share your favorite posts from her blog. Her words can continue to inspire. We will be blogging about some initiatives in her name from her blog so stay subscribed. Thank you again for your support. L

  3. I am so deeply sorry for your loss…be gentle on yourself. Thank you so much for sharing this. A big hug to you.

    • What wonderful advice. As if you knew I was not very self-nurturing. Which I am not. I will try to be to myself what Lisa was to me: a great friend; a cheerleader; unconditionally loving. L

  4. So sorry for your loss – I found you both at the same time – she will be missed – thank you for sharing your beautiful tribute – sending hugs your way – xx

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your friend Lisa and the friendship you both shared.
    Thank you for sharing your story together. Hugs to you.

    LynnH

  6. I am so sorry for your loss. This is a lovely and moving tribute that you’ve written for your beloved friend. Through you, I’ve found her blog, which I mean to read through.

    Stay strong, Lisa.

  7. I found Lisa’s blog The Bold Soul shortly after she left New Jersey for Paris and thought (and also wrote to her) that she was living my dream. We never met, but I know we would have been great friends. I miss her.

  8. Lisa, this is such a wonderful, wonderful post and I’m so sorry for your loss and everyone’s loss! I read Lisa’s blog all the time, she gave me inspiration and I found her so smart, charming and interesting through her writing. I only wish I had met her in person. It is also very odd that today I was out on my run and for some reason Lisa popped into my head. I don’t even know why! Then I thought of you, meeting you this summer randomly, and about our great talk in the café. You were both on my mind today, and then I read this. Thank you for posting this and peace and love to you and all of Lisa’s loved ones.

  9. Hello Lisa — really beautiful post. Loved reading about your and LIsa’s long-lasting friendship. Your stories individually are wonderful and of course your joint no love locks campaign brilliant.

    Sending deepest sympathy over the loss of your dear friend. Though I never met her, I’m one of thousands who loved her writing (and yours!). Have added a link to your post in the comments section to a post I wrote about Lisa in July.

    Cheers and all best wishes for success with your own writing and Paris adventures.

  10. Hello, Lisa, I reactivated my WordPress account to comment – I’ve just finished reading all of Lisa’s blog and am just gobsmacked… Your tribute here is wonderful and I am so looking forward to meeting you in February. Lisa has inspired me to do two things that I’ve been on the fence about for a long time – moving to France and starting a blog. I’m pretty scared about both but then hey, who isn’t scared? I have just written a message to her and I think that will be my first blog entry, if I can figure out how to set up this WordPress thing. Thanks again for all you two did to get the locks off the bridges. I was cheering you on and was so thankful that someone was DOING something for a change! Bless you, you and Georges are in my prayers. Hugs, Sara

      • You certainly have. I read your New York article several days ago not realizing it was you – such a fine piece of writing, so true what you say about Americans’ emotional reactions vs. the French endurance.
        Here is the first post of my blog, addressed to Lisa:
        https://newwinesixtynine.wordpress.com/
        Thanks for those good wishes, I will need them! Sara

  11. Pingback: Is Ruin Really the Road to Transformation? | My (Parttime) Paris Life·

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