Michelle Lujan, a mother who brought beauty, dies at 51

David Briggs
Michelle Lujan, pictured in 2015, saw clients in her salon, Iosis, in Point Reyes Station.  
06/06/2019

Michelle Lujan, an esthetician who dedicated her life to creating beauty of every kind, whether through dance, food or caregiving, died from ovarian cancer on May 14. She was 51 years old. 

Michelle moved to Bolinas in the early 2000s and later to Point Reyes Station, where she opened up a beauty salon, Iosis. Her close friends described her range of creative talents, her uniquely vibrant spirit and her strong presence of mind, especially in caring for her three children. 

“There are a lot of people who leave the earth before their time,” said Kathleen Deyling, who knew Michelle when they both lived in Bolinas. “She was one of the people you wanted to live out their long lives: she was part of the change, part of the healing of the planet. There are so many reasons to feel heartbroken at her loss, but that’s one.”

Another friend and former Bolinas resident, Lynn Rey, called Michelle an artist. “Everywhere she went, she made the world a more beautiful place. She had a beautiful aesthetic. She made her environment beautiful and even the way she dressed was like putting together art every day,” she said.

Michelle was born on March 7, 1968 and spent much of her life in San Francisco before settling in West Marin. She grew up in Colma with her mother, Joanne Lujan, who worked as an orthopedic technician for Kaiser. After attending Humboldt State University for a few years, Michelle returned to the city to attend beauty school. She married her first husband, Ben Isaacs, in 1996 and worked for several different spas.  

She opened her own shop, Iosis—which in alchemy refers to the last phase, when a metal finally turns to gold—in the Creamery Building in 2014. She offered a range of services, including waxing, brow and eyelash tinting, and skincare, using organic oils and creams along with crystals and essential oils. 

In an interview with the Light in 2015, Michelle said she wanted Iosis “to be a place where women in particular could come get their beauty needs tended to, but not have it be some kind of thing where we’re tending to this because there’s something wrong with you. It’s more: come in and get nourished and feel good.”

Friends—of which Michelle had many—used the word “exceptional” to describe her gifts. As a dancer she favored West African styles, after spending time in Senegal in her 20s. She liked to cook, always had a garden, and could conjure a salad out of anything. Her mother said she was shy as a child but that she starred in a number of school performances and wowed the audience with her voice. Her style? Bohemian and chic: fake furs were a staple. 

Michelle’s life was not free of hardship, and West Marin had been a refuge for her. In 2002, her eldest daughter, Natasha, whom she had with her first husband, died in a swimming pool accident. Soon after, Michelle moved to Bolinas and started the next chapter of her life. 

“If you can survive something like that and you can still have compassion, grace and love in your heart—yeah, you have something strong in you,” Kathleen said. 

Michelle remarried, to Jonathan Gavzer, though the two separated in recent years. Michelle and Jonathan had two children, Sunya, 11, and Samuel Bear, 7. 

“She was a really good mom,” said Shelton Livingston, a Point Reyes Station resident and another friend. “She was really focused on her kids, even when she was sick and there was so much going on. She was focused on giving them good experiences, involving them in making food and having fun.”

Joanne said Michelle always had a fire to her, especially when it came to protecting people she loved or standing up for her beliefs. She described an instance when Michelle was nursing in a restaurant in San Francisco and the manager asked her to go into the bathroom. Instead, Michelle walked out of the restaurant and proceeded to nurse in front of the window, in full view of everyone. 

Kathleen, a doula who now lives in Nevada, witnessed Michelle at important rites of passage, including for the births of both Sunya and Samuel Bear. Though she’s seen many births, Michelle’s courage stood out. 

“I think of Michelle as the great Mother Earth herself,” Kathleen said. “And her death was like her births. When she finally accepted that she was dying, she gave herself over in the most courageous, surrendering way. I only hope that my death can be faced with the same grace, surrender and love.”

Michelle died at the home of her father, Ben, and stepmother, Dianne Lujan, in Santa Rosa. Her friends washed her body in essential oils and sprinkled her body with petals from a thousand roses, which they had collected from their gardens. 

 

Michelle Lujan is survived by Jonathan; Sunya; Samuel Bear; her dog, Little; her mother, Joanne; and her father and stepmother, Ben and Dianne, and their two children, Ben and Monica. A memorial service will be held at Toby’s on June 15 at 2 p.m. Friends and family have also set up a GoFundMe page to reach a target of $17,500 to support her children: www.gofundme.com/support-for-the-children-of-michelle-lujan