Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Bright Lights
Celebs FAMILY Inspiration Journal


January 5, 2017 by @VanessaRivers

To everyone who has messaged, called, emailed, prayed, cried… My family and I greatly appreciate your condolences and love. Writing these words is not easy, but it feels necessary. When you find out you have lost someone you love, the world stands still. It doesn’t seem real. The magnitude of sorrow is overwhelming and swallows you like quicksand. The experience feels unbearable. But you have to bear it. And in this family, you have to bear it graciously and bravely because the entire world is watching.

I sat in a room at ABC last Friday watching my stepfather, Todd Fisher, do an interview for 20/20. I know it was one of the hardest things he has ever done in his life. Last week, Todd lost his sister, and then a day later he lost his mother. My cousin, Billie Lourd, lost her mother and her grandma. I lost my aunt and grandma. Just writing about this, so soon after such an incredibly painful loss, is beyond difficult. I don’t know how Todd found the strength to do an interview. He simply said that if he didn’t share these memories that only he could tell, then no one would, and there are millions of fans and friends who are grieving and heartbroken too.

Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd at the SAG Awards

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were not just our family. They were icons, beloved and adored by fans across the globe. No matter how hard it is it’s important that we try to keep beautiful memories of them alive by sharing our special memories of them with the world.

My last great memory of Aunt Carrie is from her 60th birthday party at her house in Beverly Hills. I went to her bedroom, where she was hanging out, to give her a big birthday hug and tell her the exciting news that I am pregnant. She asked where I was living in London as she was planning on putting an offer in on a house there. She was sitting on her bed with her French bulldog, Gary, by her side, holding court with a group of her close friends around her. She was in her element and seemed really happy and content.

Happy Birthday Carrie Fisher & Princess Leia

My last great memory of Grandma Debbie is from Christmas Eve. It is our family tradition to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and despite the overwhelming sorrow blanketing our lives like a winter frost, we still gathered to try to enjoy each other’s company. Grams was so strong, putting on a brave face for our family so that we could still try to celebrate the holiday at her house, even though all of our thoughts and conversations were about Carrie. She wore her pajamas, no makeup, and a hilarious red, white and sparkly Christmas hat to try to cheer us up. Grams had her sense of humor intact and was always thinking of others to the very end. She asked us to pray that God would give Carrie “more time,” and we talked about how strong Carrie was and that we felt she really could get through this. But God obviously decided he had graced us with Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds’ presence on this earth long enough, and he wanted both of them back with him.

I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have been adopted into this amazing family. Todd married my mom, Christi, when I was six years old, saving my little brothers and me from a life of emotional abuse with our biological father who cared far more about his career as a singer than he cared about his family. Todd took us in as if we were his own, and so did Grandma Debbie. I grew up with an amazingly loving family, and not just any family – a famous family that was adored by people around the world. They showed me, with their actions, that you can be extremely successful and still make family a priority. I don’t know how I got so lucky but I am eternally grateful for everything they have done for us.

Carrie Fisher, Christi Zabel, Vanessa Rivers

One of my favorite memories of Grandma Debbie growing up was from when I was a teenager. To the horror of Todd and my mom, I lost my virginity too young, to a boy that no parent would be proud of their daughter having sex with, at any age. Mortified, Todd called up Debbie, told her what happened (kill me – how embarrassing!), and then asked if I could go on tour with her for the summer so she could “set me straight.” What proceeded was an entire month touring around on The Debbie Reynolds Show, spending every night after the show with Grams, getting a sex lecture about how “when a boy puts his _ _ _ _ into a girls _ _ _ _ _ _ it can make a baby and could ruin your life if you are young and foolish, and not married yet, and have not gone to college or have a career.”

Imagine getting the sex talk from your grandma every single night for an entire month! Now, imagine your grandma is Debbie Reynolds. At the time, I was humiliated and wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Todd’s plan worked. I didn’t have sex again for another year, at which point I used at least two forms of birth control! (I am now married to an amazing man and pregnant for the first time at 33 years old.) At the time, this was the most embarrassing thing that could have happened to me. Looking back now, the summer I got to spend a whole month on tour with Grams is one of the best memories of my teenage years. As Todd said in his 20/20 interview, “Debbie Reynolds was the kind of person you could really look up to and try to emulate.” She was an incredibly talented and driven actress, but she was also a fantastic mom, sister, daughter, and grandma.

Debbie Reynolds with granddaughter Vanessa Rivers

One of my favorite memories of Aunt Carrie growing up was my college graduation party that she threw for me. I had a small pool party at her house in Beverly Hills with about twenty close friends and family members. Carrie baked a cake for me herself and then presented it to me in front of all my friends. It was a three-layer chocolate cake with white frosting and sprinkles all over, and on the front, in thick white frosting, she wrote, “WHAT THE FUCK NEXT?”

It’s ironic that now after both their deaths, I find myself thinking the same thing. Where these two amazing icons that I called Grandma and Aunt used to be, there is now a giant hole in my heart that I have to try to fill with their memories and their strength. Living in London for the last four years, I didn’t get to see either of them very much. I tried to see Grams every time I flew into LA, and I rarely saw Carrie, but just knowing they were in the world somehow made it a better place. I imagine this is how many of you that adored them are feeling. You might not have spent much time with them, or any time at all, but like me, you looked up to these phenomenal women and loved their beautiful, fighting spirits and appreciated how much of themselves they shared with the world.

Debbie Reynolds (L) and Carrie Fisher attend the 2011 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre on September 10, 2011 in Los Angeles

Debbie and Carrie will live on in Todd and Billie, and they will live on in the hearts of all of us. Every time you are brutally honest, love magnificently, stand up courageously for what you believe in, or put yourself out there in a deep and raw way – they will be living on in your brave actions. I’m scared shitless to become a mom soon, but I am so happy that we will be welcoming a new member into our family this year, especially after losing Grams and Carrie, and also after losing my mom years ago. I’m sure my child’s favorite movies will be Singing In The RainThe Unsinkable Molly Brown and Star Wars. As Todd said in his interview, “There is no word can’t in this family.” You can do absolutely anything in this life if you work hard and believe you can. Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher are proof of this. There is no I can’t. Only I can. And I will.

On Saturday Jan, 7th, 8pm PST, HBO will premiere Bright Lights, a documentary starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. If you are missing them, I hope this beautifully raw and honest movie gives you comfort.

Bright Lights Documentary Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

Arrivals - Carrie Fisher, Todd Fisher, Bilie Lourd, Vanessa Rivers

Reynolds and Fisher Family Christmas


Carrie Fisher, Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds

Billie Lourd, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher in Star Wars

Debbie Reynolds

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  • Reply Anna Elbek January 5, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Wow! This is so moving and exciting at the same time! You have incredible women looking over you and where there is great loss comes great triumph ~ huge huge congratulations to your little bundle of joy and an amazing new chapter!

    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      Thank you for your words of encouragement Anna. This was a great loss but you are right – I am honored to have such amazing women looking down on me from Heaven and I know they will look out for and guide our newest member of the family from above. XO

  • Reply Vanessa January 5, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    This is so beautiful! Endearing, heart warming, with the incredibly strong, fun and lovable spirit of these amazing women. They will forever be your angels and be proud of you and Billie continuing their legacy of inspiring females. Love you ❤️

    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 6, 2017 at 9:51 pm

      Thank you so much for your sweet words VV! I am beyond blessed to have amazing friends like you in my life. Love you and looking forward to seeing you this summer in Europe!

  • Reply Misha January 5, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    This is a tear jerker. So well written and so honest and raw. Im so sad for your loss, but also so happy you’ll be soon welcoming a new family member. May the light from Debbie and Carrie shine on through Baby G!

    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 6, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      Thank You Misha. I know someone is excited to meet you very soon and call you Auntie. Love you!

  • Reply Becky van Dijk January 5, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Vanessa – this is a really beautifully written tribute to your Grandma and your Aunt. How fortunate you have been to have these two incredible women be part of your life growing up. Sending you, your family and the little munchkin all our love from Bali. Love you, Becky xxx

    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 6, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      Thank you Becky! Love and miss you! I can’t wait till your London visit this summer. XOXO

  • Reply Pamela Newman January 5, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    Sweetie . I send you kisses and hugs Vanessa .
    Loved your story . Thanks for being so honest
    and real . Praying for all of you as we all grieve together and know Heaven just got 2 more Beautiful Angels … joining your Mama .
    ???. We’ll see them again !!!
    And a Great Big Congratulations on the
    Good News !!!! ?
    I Love You My Little World Traveler . ?
    Pamela Newman. ?
    ? Santa Barbara , California

    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 6, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Thank you for your sweet note Pamela! I know Carrie and Grams are already having a ball in Heaven with my Mom in Heaven, and all their friends who went before them. XO

  • Reply Shoshi Rockman January 7, 2017 at 10:42 am

    So beautifully written . Sending you lots of love at this time x x x


    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 9, 2017 at 1:21 am

      Thank you Shoshi! XO

  • Reply Mary MacLauchlin January 7, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing your memories with us, and thank you for sharing your family with me for the past several years since your momma’s death.
    One simply can not help but to fall in love with each and every one of you. The love you have for each other is like a magnet pulling one in to the funny, endearing craziness that is the Reynolds/Fisher clan.
    My heart breaks for all of you and I’m sending each of you my most heartfelt condolences and all my love…

    • Reply Vanessa Rivers January 9, 2017 at 1:25 am

      Thank you for your sweet message Mary. And thank you again for everything you did to help our Mom and our whole family. You are truly an Angel. Love and miss you!!!

  • Reply Laura Bill January 14, 2017 at 4:49 am

    This is such a beautifully written post Vanessa. I truly adored Debbie and Carrie and although I never knew them, I feel somehow as though I did. As a huge lover of old Hollywood movies anf the 1940s/ 1950s era, Debbie was one of my greatest idols who I looked up to, so when she passed on, i was left heartbroken that one of the greatest stars had left us. What she did for the Holywood industry – by looking after those wonderful costumes was remarkable, and her singing and dancing talents will always be something to aspire to -as i am a performer myself. Now, i will read their books and watch their movies often to keep the memory of them alive. I hope you stay strong and i wish you lots of luck with the new baby. They will be looking down from above. Love, Laura xxxx

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