A Life to Remember

By Gretchen Lieff   |   May 14, 2020
A memorial for Victoria Vaccarello, a vibrant local treasure, who lost her life along the train tracks.

A Lesson in Loss

It’s important to tell those we love how much they mean to us – don’t wait.

It was another death along the train tracks in Montecito as we waited anxiously for further details and circumstances.

Then we heard it was a local hair stylist.

That was upsetting.

And then the unfathomable – 37-year-old Victoria Vaccarello, a vibrant local treasure, was the girl who lost her life along the tracks.

My friend Judy Foreman knew Victoria as an 11-year-old who used to play soccer with her daughter at Santa Barbara Middle School.

“After beauty school, Victoria worked at the Biltmore with Kevin Charles and then at Red Studio on Coast Village Road. She was a very good hairdresser – very responsible and a good friend to a lot of people,” Judy said.

“Did she do your hair?”

“No, but I would see her quite often at Salon Montecito, and I found her to be very professional. There was no sadness in her at all, she was a very independent person. She played hard and she worked hard, and she loved to travel. She would go to Europe and rent a car and drive around. But she was not a sad person, at all,” Judy said.

I’m glad to hear that.

Winnie the dog

“Victoria had a great laugh. She loved flowers, especially roses. Her middle name was Rose. She loved baking. A year ago when my daughter Ashley got married, V baked the cake. Victoria loved her dog Winnie – she was just crazy about that dog.”

Long pause.

There have been many train track deaths in Montecito.

“Yes, I know a lot of them, and all have been suicides – but not Victoria.”

No one would bring a lifelong companion, canine or not, to one’s demise.  

“No, this was just a tragic accident, the waste of a great life. It’s a rotten shame – 37 years old and just a wonderful life to look forward to,” my friend Judy said.

According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, Victoria was walking on the tracks with Winnie when the train hit her. She may have been trying to wrangle Winnie. She may have been wearing headphones. Winnie was on leash but survived.

Sierra Bingham runs Montecito Body and was one of Victoria’s best friends.

“We were close, as close as anyone can get to Victoria.” Sierra speaks very slowly.

“She was fearless; independent; she had incredible style. She was so gorgeous that guys would fall all over themselves, I loved walking behind her just to watch them. V was loving and kind. She was my accountability partner in working out and hiking. She and Winnie and I would walk on West Beach early in the morning. Winnie’s a blue-nosed pit bull. V bought her a life jacket and taught her to swim.”

Sierra pauses and I wait for her to continue.

“V got Winnie five years ago – her uncle found the pup running scared on the streets of Compton in L.A. He caught her and brought her up to Santa Barbara to V. She’s a cool dog, very mellow. They lived for each other – V and Winnie.”

Sierra told me more about Victoria.

“She was private, no social media, nothing – no Instagram or Facebook. It’s been challenging for friends and neighbors, you know, we want to come together. Part of the grieving process is to tell stories and laugh and cry. I’ve had to break the news to people all over who aren’t part of our Santa Barbara bubble.”

I was impressed by how Victoria traveled solo.

“Yes, she went all over the world on her own. Last New Year’s Eve she popped over to Spain – Barcelona. She took a cooking class and in the evening the class took a bus to the Central Square and V sent videos of the fireworks. And then she flew over to London for a few days. She lived in the moment.”

Sierra pauses again.

“I don’t know if the investigation is ongoing or what will come out of it or what even could. But, yes, it was a shock. Because Victoria and I had plans, we talked about the future, starting a spa in Montecito.”

I can’t imagine the depths of a loss like this.

“The grief comes in waves,” Sierra chokes back tears, “We can’t bottle it up, or hide, life is short – shorter for some. And fragile. It’s important to tell those we love how much they mean to us – don’t wait.”

As Judy and Sierra – and so many others in our special community – are hurting because of Victoria’s death, I look for solace and discover Judith Viorst’sbook, Necessary Losses.

The author explains loss as inevitable – and necessary. From the beginning, as we burst into the brightness as a crying baby, our existence is defined with the loss of the womb and then the loss of our childhood and then the loss of our youth.

Viorst warns that if we don’t deal with loss, we can’t deal with life.

My friend and mentor Daniel Flores helps people cope with loss. Daniel teaches classes in death and dying and is a hospital chaplain. According to Daniel, some people respond to loss in a healthy way. Many don’t. “Loss allows us to become fully functioning, giving and receiving human beings. It’s what matures us. Loss is inevitable, everybody has loss — it’s how we respond that matters most.”

“We need to embrace life knowing that we’re going to lose it one day. One day, life ends. Will it be a tragedy, a disease, an accident, or by your own hand – all of that’s in the cards.

“But they’re your cards.

“The very beauty of life itself and being a human being who is alive, that’s what life’s all about. We have a mind and a soul, we think and create and relate to others and help each other. Life is worth living and death makes life even more beautiful – while we have it.”

How can death possibly make life more beautiful?

“M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) says all of us should carry death on our left shoulder, to remind us to be fully alive. Death can actually spur us along to a better place by reminding us how precious life is.

“Life is a choice. A choice we need to make, in the face of loss and death.”

“That’s why the end of grieving is acceptance.”

Thank you, Victoria – for the reminder.

* Winnie is currently with the family until they can find a secure home for her. If you might be interested in adopting Winnie, please email letters@montecitojournal.net and we will send your information along to the family.

The Montecito Journal also invites readers who would like to share poignant pet stories to the same address: letters@montecitojournal.net


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