Today marked the six-month anniversary of Michael Jackson's entombment in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Glendale.
As they do every third day of each month, the Michael Jackson Fans of Southern California on Facebook spent the afternoon gathering together for support and strength, and delivering tributes sent from fans around the world to the Holly Terrace doorstep. Each month the numbers grow. This afternoon, upwards of 50 people showed, myself included.
MJFSC weren't the only ones thinking of Michael today and feeling the need to release some grief, to find the type of solace that only visiting the cemetery can offer.
Debbie Rowe, Michael's wife from 1996-1999, and mother of his two oldest children, Prince and Paris, arrived with a friend about 3:40 p.m. She drove 90 minutes from her Palmdale home, and then drove a bit longer, circling past the fan gathering four times, unsure if she should approach.
Update/clarification 3/5/2010: We did not know she was going to show up, it was not prearranged. We were all slack-jawed when she pulled up to the curb. Likewise, she did not know who we were or about our regular monthly gathering.
"I was afraid you would hate me," she confessed to the group as she made her way into the sea of Jackson supporters, tears streaming down her emotion-filled face. Not a dry eye among us, either.
She was met, instead, with love. "L.O.V.E." as Michael would say.
Much has been written about Debbie (including breaking news today) and to her in the form of hate mail. What I learned today is that what most observers and media think they know about someone in the spotlight is diddly-squat. Author Harper Lee encapsulated it best, through words she assigned to Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird:
I didn't walk around in Debbie's skin today, but I looked into her eyes and, like most everyone else there did, hugged her -- twice. I felt her body rattle from sobs as she hugged back. Her grief and sorrow moved through me like a knife into my own heart. I also felt an overall sense of momentary relief that comes from the give and take of understanding and compassion between human beings.
She spent about an hour with us, small talk mostly, and we gave her space to peruse the many gifts laid out on the terrace patio, all of which she said touched her very much. One item moved her deeply, a photo creation. It was given to her, with the original overseas mail packaging, by proxy from the group on behalf of the sender, which she accepted once she was convinced that the fan who made and sent it would be glad.
Several times Debbie said that she hoped she wasn't intruding on the gathering, when in fact most people there were at a loss for words at how much the opportunity to share their feelings with her helped them.
This was not her first visit to Forest Lawn she told us, but it was the first time she had been there when fans were present. Having not been invited to Michael's funeral, understandably, personal time at his resting place has helped to fill the void of that experience in some way. Cemeteries are for the living, as FLG's founder Dr. Hubert Eaton, proclaimed decades ago. That philosophy held true today.
Before she left, Debbie was presented with a Justice 4 MJ t-shirt, which are literally hot off the presses. Members of the MJFSC, who are mounting several justice-oriented campaigns, are selling the shirts as a fundraiser that will also provide a unified visual when everyone wears them at Dr. Conrad Murray's next court appearance in April.
For more information about their calls to action and the shirts, visit their newly launched website at Justice4MJ.com.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the shirts will also benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles, an organization that Michael cared about and supported during his lifetime.
Photos are © Lisa Burks, watermarked specifically to preserve the integrity of what happened at Forest Lawn today. Permission to post elsewhere as 'exclusive' is expressly denied, as is redistribution without a link back to this original post. Please and thank you for helping to keep it real.