Episode 21: Visiting With Lisa Kumagai And Her Story, “You Are Allowed To Be Here.”
In her story, "You Are Allowed to Be Here," Lisa Kumagai from Torrance, CA shares the heart-wrenching story of her husband's suicide and her own journey of healing and forgiveness. From our very first virtual She Said Story Sharing Showcase, she read a letter she wrote to her old self from "before", and we learn how she has coped with her tragedy to become a stronger version of herself.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
MUSIC: intro music plays
JENETTE: Well, hello everybody and you are listening to The She Said Project podcast. We are so glad you’re here to join us today. I’m your host, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project. And with me always in the Zoom Studio is Kerry Rossow, my co-host—one of the original founders and creators of That’s What She Said and The She Said Project. So, Kerry. Welcome! Hi, how are you? It’s been.. it’s been a minute.
KERRY: Hi! It has been a minute and I feel kind of excited because I feel like we’re creating something new again. Here we are: we took the podcast. We took Zoom. We took women telling their stories and sort of mushed it all together like a love child and—here we are..
JENETTE: We’re having a zoom baby! (laughs)
KERRY: Whatever. (aside) I’m not too old. Ohh.. (laughing continues)
JENETTE: So we started That’s What She Said as a way for women to get onstage, be bold, be brave and share personal stories. We launched The She Said Project Podcast as a way to share the stories with an even larger audience and then start combining stories from women from different communities, different cities. And the show has appeared in Champaign, Illinois—the show has appeared in Bloomington, Illinois, and it’s actually in the works to appear in more communities live. However, I don’t know if you’ve heard, that something happened in 2020 and live events are not really a thing. So we’ve had to pivot like many other people and organizations. And..
JENETTE: Yeah, so instead of producing a live show in the second half of 2020, we went virtual. We actually launched full-on She Said Productions on the Zoom and it was a huge learning experience, but I’m so grateful we got to do that and one of the huge benefits was connecting women from different cities, in different states, and different communities coast-to-coast. We were no longer locked in to just where we physically were in our town.
KERRY: As usual and since the beginning of this project, I’m always sort of the one like, ‘Mmm mm, can’t do it!’ ‘Not going to happen!’ and when you first came with this idea, of course, I was the first one to be like, ‘hmm mm, no,’ and then as I was watching these virtual events and seeing the connections of these women and our guest today (Lisa. Spoiler!) was one of them that, literally I was hiding in my garage from my rowdy crew watching it and I was so gut-punched by her story and when it was over I thought you know, yet again, I had to eat my words and I was proven wrong, you know, these stories connect women across all platforms.
JENETTE: And we set out to prove that we could still connect with women through the power of their stories, even if we were not in the same room with them. So, with that, let’s introduce today’s guest—from Torrance, California, please welcome Lisa Kumagai. Hi, Lisa!
LISA: Hi. Hello. Thank you so much for having me.
JENETTE: Thank you so much for patiently listening to Kerry and I…um, babble and introduce, you know The She Said Project Podcast. This is so cool and such an honor because you and I met via Zoom. We’ve never met in person and now through Zoom we’re continuing our mission of sharing women story and recording our podcast this way. You are the first guest we’ve had on the podcast who actually appeared in our virtual show instead of our live showcase. So, it’s an honor to have you. Thank you for sharing your time with us today.
LISA: Oh, it’s an honor to be asked and that it was a wonderful experience. I thank you so much.
JENETTE: So, perfect. Tell us, you know, what you thought about, ‘Oh my goodness. I’ve been invited to speak in this story sharing showcase.’ What… what did you think when you were first invited to join and be part of the show?
LISA: I was excited. I was honored. I mean, when I heard about what The She Said Project is about it was just… it just resonated so deeply with me and just, you know, the idea of connecting women—and people, in general too—through stories and, and life experiences and just, you know, it’s always been my belief that we are all more connected than we are separate and so, you know, to do it through stories and to hear other women’s stories as I was able to do as well was very powerful and I’m just so honored and grateful that I had this experience and to be a part of this—still! So, thank you.
JENETTE: Yay! Now you shared a story on the virtual show that was really deeply personal about a tragedy in your life. Can you give our audience just a little overview of the story you shared and why?
LISA: Yeah—so my story is I was married for 14 years to a man who, you know, like we all start out—that was my forever after, my best friend in life and life kind of took a toll on us and he battled with mental illness towards the end of our marriage and five years ago he lost his battle and committed suicide. So my story showcase was about kind of the events leading up to that tragic day and sort of my healing journey since then. You know, we have two children together and having to parent, you know, single parent and really help my children as well get through all of that has been… has been a big part of all of our journeys and so I just wanted to share that because, you know, after it happened to me, I just felt so alone that I don’t know of any other people that had gone through anything similar, but once I started looking around Facebook groups, all of that, like it really is more common, unfortunately, then we believe and so I really— I mean I still continue to want to share my story so that if there are other people like me who feel so alone through this process or are still in it may be trying to figure their way through that at least hopefully they don’t feel isolated. Alone. Hopeless.
JENETTE: Yeah. Every time you remind me about what happened to you I feel a little pain in my chest like a little (inhaling) gasp. And I know that there’s other women out there who need to hear what you have to say. Your story was so unique because of the way you wrote it: it was a letter to yourself.
JENETTE: Yourself—before the tragedy—trying to talk you through it. So let’s just go ahead right to the audio now and listen to your story and share it with our audience then we’ll come back. This is Lisa Kumagai from the first ever She Said Story Sharing Showcase virtual show in August 2020 with her story, “You Are Allowed To Be Here.”
LISA: Recently someone reminded me, ‘you are allowed to be here.’
Those words sucker- punched me right in the chest. ‘You are allowed to be here.’
For a few seconds I couldn’t breathe, like I got the wind knocked out of me. And when I found air again, the tears just gushed out simultaneously with quivering exhale.
“You survived and you’re still here.”
Oh my gosh, the guilt. The conflicted emotions about still being here. I didn’t even know I was harboring it all until she said it. You know, I’ve done the healing work. I’ve addressed what happened. I’ve talked about it over and over and feel like I processed every stage of feelings I possibly could.
It’s been 5 years since my husband committed suicide. And until that one phrase was spoken, I had no idea that I felt guilty for being alive. I look back at this event that split my life in two. Who I was before and who I’m trying so hard to be after. How do I cope with knowing that I’m still alive and he isn’t? So I did what felt natural to me and I started writing. I wrote a letter—to me. Before being a widow and a single mom. Before living in a new place, building a business, establishing a new normal. Before I had to figure out how to fall in love again. And before I felt guilty for being alive.
“I promise I see you. I see you in those weeks leading up to that tragic event. The one you sensed was possible, but couldn’t quite pinpoint. Would violence be turned on you, the kids, him, all of the above? I remember your fears. I recall that frantic desperation as you tried to file a restraining order and the hopelessness because it wouldn’t stop his cryptic verbal threats of, “Don’t worry. You’ll get your happy ending.”
“I understand the rage and numbing loneliness knowing your marriage was crumbling and this imbalanced, unrecognizable person was yelling at you that it was all your fault. I want to run and catch you that fateful morning in December as you crumble to the sidewalk after handing the police officer the keys to your house. So they can go in and see if Steve followed through on his threat.
“I will never forget your piercing scream when the officer comes back out and said, “I’m sorry ma’am. It’s too late.”
“You wonder if you’ll ever be you again. I get it. You wonder if you can come back from the paralyzing shock—the thick life fog that will follow you around for over a year. I regret those few weeks in June when you consider following in Steve’s footprints—toying with the idea that maybe he had the right idea after all. Yes, it’ll be terrifying. You won’t recognize yourself in the dark places that your mind will take you, but I urge you to keep listening to that faint Voice of Truth and Reasoning that’s desperately screaming, “Your kids need you! They don’t deserve another dead parent and they don’t deserve any of this.”
“And please stay close to those core girlfriends who will fight for your resilience and threaten to camp outside your door every single night. Remember to love and appreciate those friends who will take time off of work to drive you to all your appointments to figure out will Prozac or herbs pull you out of your deep well of loss. And those friends and family who will laugh with you, but also take you seriously when you decide ‘nah, I’d rather up my therapy sessions, work with the trauma specialist, meditate and yoga my way through this grief.
SPOILER ALERT for you: Those will actually work.
“I feel you. I get it. 14 years of marriage to a man who was once your best friend, before life and stress and God knows what internal imbalances hijacked that person you had vouched forever with, far away and long ago. And I applaud you for committing to those four months of weekly family therapy sessions that will prove necessary and beneficial for the kids. At 8 and 11 years old they’ll grumble, of course, and learn at an early age that talking about feelings and memories and death is so hard. It hurts. I’m hugging you as you remain neutral in the challenge of hearing their adoring stories of their oppa—their dad. As you sit there reeling with anger at what he ultimately did to them: abandon them.
I’m so proud of you for handling it with grace though, because you do. Because they deserve to preserve those memories of their father—the one who loved him with all his heart and strived to create a loving, kind and fun-filled environment for them. And girl, I hold you up during the worst moments: the funeral. One of the most surreal days of your life. And that call with the organ harvest center on the day he died and you had to approve each and every body part and organ they had to check off the itemized list. Just know that you’ll get through it. Know that unbeknownst to you, you are equipped from a lifetime of growth to handle this. Know that healing will come with time but most importantly with awareness. And gratitude. Yes, gratitude. For all the shit that happened and all the blessings that were always right there. It’s hard to see that right now because you’ve stuffed down a lot of painful emotion for longer than you like to admit. You’ve given the finger to the gratitude and love you once knew cuz you’re so hateful of him your life and the situation. This isn’t the happily-ever-after you envisioned and the hardest part is having to accept there won’t be—not in the way that you pictured it to be.
sdI’m here on the other side now writing this to ask you to please have faith. Believe in a happily-ever-after—just not this one. Hold onto hope and patience. To see it through to the peace, understanding and compassion on the other side. It’s not perfect where I’m standing but it is brighter and better than where you are now. There’s breathing space. There’s growth. Sun is shining. People love you. You will relearn healthier love and what that feels like for you. Trust me: it’s going to feel foreign at first, it’s going to be hard. Friends make it easy and certain guys will retrigger all that shit, but we can laugh about it, you and I, on our journey together. The one that keeps going and evolving. So, please, don’t give up. It’s liberating to believe: you are allowed to be here! To have hope for a future without Steve it and to possibly find love again. Because of everything you are able to endure, I am allowed to live my life. In joy and uncertainty.
How empowering to know I am allowed to be here after everything that happened. So thank you. Because of you I am here. I am seen. I am safe. And everything will be okay.
I love you. You got this.
With all my heart, Lisa
JENETTE: Wow, Lisa—listening to that one more time takes me right back the personal show and that intimate, intimate moment in your life that you shared with our audience. First and foremost, thank you. What were some of the reactions that you got to, to being that vocal about your story?
LISA: You know, I had actually shared parts of my story ever since things had happened in different platforms and, you know, my closest friends knew most of all obviously what had happened, but for other friends who listened in on the Showcase to kind of hear my story more in its entirety they were really taken aback, but they were also very supportive and shocked. It was it was definitely a healing for me too—another level of healing to be able to have the space to, to express even deeper in more detail the things that had happened. I had written that letter maybe a couple years after it happened and then to have this place to be able to share it vocally and just you know from the heart and it just took it to a whole other level of just really feeling those words and living those words and sharing those words.
So it was, it was very powerful all around.
KERRY: How about your family? Were they supportive? Were they worried about the reaction or worried about how that would be for you?
LISA: No, they were very supportive. I mean my children don’t know all of that, still. My son does, actually—he listened to it afterwards, and he was also shocked—he was like, ‘Wow, Mom. I didn’t know that some of those things had happened.’ So that, that also together with him, it was a healing experience that we kind of talked through some things and he had questions and, you know, very open, so we talked about it. My daughter. She’s 13. She still doesn’t know all of it, and not quite ready to go there with her yet. So yeah, so she knew I did this Showcase, but she doesn’t really know the details of it.
KERRY: So when I’ve watched it, and because I didn’t know you beforehand, and then I subsequently, um, ‘social media stalked’ you—now following your story on social media and seeing this joyful life that you live, and I have a soft spot for sisters and families and, and seeing how joyful you are with your immediate family and your extended family—and I think every time I see you, it’s sort of a testament to these tragic things that happened and then you still are able to live this joyful life and every time I see it I get sort of a, like ‘YAY!’—like ‘yay, you!’—it’s still hard and you’ve still been through these really difficult things but you’re carving out this joyful space in your corner of the world.
LISA: Yes. Thank you. I appreciate that. I’m trying. (laughter) I’m doing the best I can. (laughing)
JENETTE: Your joy is tangible. It’s palpable. And my favorite moment was when you’re reading this letter to your former self and you just take a moment to thank yourself—to show gratitude, because of everything that she—you—went through, that you are allowed to be here and have these experiences. And to keep finding joy in your life. I think that is such a huge lesson for anyone going through something so traumatic—that there is light on the other side and you are living proof of that. So I, I love the way you carved out your story as a, as an intimate portrait of, you know, a woman going through something but then we got to see it! We got to see it what happens on the other side and we got to celebrate with you. So thank you and I know that there’s other women who need to know, who need to know. We’re all in this together.
KERRY: Right. Right.
LISA: And ultimately, too, I think the letter to me signifies that it doesn’t matter what anyone else tells you—how well you’re doing or you know, ‘you got this’—like you really, the only person that you’re going to have to believe is yourself. And so it’s just so important to have that connection and hopefully openness to to hear yourself, I guess. And I still struggle with it for sure. There’s no way I’m I’ve mastered that in any way shape or form, but, but that’s something I strive for, so… (laughter)
JENETTE: Well I’m honored that your performance and then she said showcase became a tool that you can use to open up some doors and some conversations with your son and your family—that means so much because we strive to create that environment where women can be a little bit braver and a little bit more vulnerable than they would be normally and create that that support.
What did you think about the women who were in the Showcase with you? Like what a what a great group of ladies? They were all so supportive.
LISA: They were all amazing. I… all of their stories were so powerful, it resonated with me and just—even though I never got to meet them in person yet, but just being on Zoom together. It was just this great energy and just proof that as long as you’re somehow connected and you know, whether virtual or whatever, you feel it and it feels good and they were all warrior women. Loved it!.
JENETTE: (Exclaims) Woooo! I think we need that. We all need warriors in our lives. Right, Kerry?
KERRY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I’m so, so happy that I got to virtually meet you and follow your story and I get to see these little glimpses into your life when I stalk you—sorry. I meant to say when I research you. Thank you, thank you so much for sharing and continuing to share, the whole story.
LISA: Yeah, and thank you both for having this amazing platform, this amazing organization. It’s so inspiring. So anytime I can be a part of it. I would be so happy—but thank you.
JENETTE: We can certainly talk about how to make that happen. But, I feel like you’re not done. I feel like there’s more stories to tell and there’s more sharing and more lives for you to touch. So thank you for touching ours. Thank you for being part of the She Said family. You are a sister forever!. We love you, Lisa Kumagai! All the way in Torrance.
LISA: Oh, love you, too! (laughing, kisses)
JENETTE: So that’s all the time we have for today. I cannot thank our friends and fans enough for joining us on The She Said Project Podcast where we strive to raise women’s voices one story at a time.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast, in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC.
For more information on our live shows go to shesaidproject (dot) com.
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management. Empowering women to live their best lives.