Moments

It’s been so long since I’ve written, and I have much to share, but I’ll start with now, with today. The first email I opened today was from Jade Beall, saying her new book Bodies of Mothers, was being shipped, and had this photo of it fresh off the press.

Although I knew these gorgeous photos of Elizabeth (and me) would be in the book, it was a bit overwhelming still to see the reality. My emotions ranged from delight to deep sadness, for she’s in a book about mother’s bodies, but she didn’t get to be a mother herself, and I wish she were here in her body, dammit, instead of memorialized in this way.  I had to laugh too, as I’m sure Elizabeth had something to do with this page being opened!

bodies of mothers, beautiful bodies, elizabeth blue, jade beall,

“The Bodies of Mothers – A Beautiful Bodies Project”

The next email was this blog post, from Tric, about the shocking and sudden death of the 24 year old son of her friend. More tears, and another reminder that “this day is the most precious thing possible”, as Elizabeth wrote while in high school. It is so easy to become complacent, to take it for granted that we can breathe, that our heart beats, that we can walk and see the ocean and mountains – which I’m fully enjoying every day, by the way, now that I’m living on Maui, which is a whole other day’s story…

Baldwin Beach, Maui,

One of my walks on Baldwin Beach, Maui

So I do my best to stay present. This is one of the greatest gifts I received in being with Elizabeth during her last two months of life. Noticing every time I started to play out a story in my mind, of what the future might look like without her, or what could have been different in the past, that I wasn’t being present with Elizabeth, in what I knew to be her last days here.  There’s nothing like truly knowing that this moment is unique and finite, to bring us present in each moment.

Of course I struggle with this too, preferring at times to distract myself in various ways, from movies to Facebook or reading – being present in other people’s worlds, but not my own.  When I do though, I usually notice, and do it consciously, giving myself permission to take a break.  And then I come back, doing a quick meditation or really loving my dog, Tilly, and feeling her love for me, or going for a walk and appreciating the beauty around me with all my senses.

Next, I saw that the movie “Heaven Is For Real” was showing, so headed out to see it.  I’d wanted to see it since seeing a preview months ago, as it’s about a 4 year old boy who has an experience of being in Heaven, and comes back with stories of people who died whom he’d never met or heard of.  It was quite moving at times, and reinforced many stories I’ve read of people who’ve had near death experiences (though this boy doesn’t actually die, but somehow had a similar experience). It wasn’t great as a movie, but it’s worth seeing for the story of this little boy.

It helps me a great deal to learn of these experiences, such as Dr Eben Alexander’s “Proof of Heaven”, his story of spending a week in a deep coma, and coming back with clear memories of a wondrous, beautiful afterlife.  He had previously not been spiritual, nor a believer in life after death, as he was a scientist who didn’t believe what he couldn’t see or touch. This experience completely changed his life, and many who’ve read his book. I’ve always believed there is life after death, and it’s comforting to have some validation, helping me to trust more deeply that Elizabeth is at peace, is doing a great deal of work on the other side, and is present with me, and with many who love her, bringing gifts and blessings to each of us.

Elizabeth has been so present with me these last couple of days, and I’ve been feeling this new wave of disbelief.  As time goes by, it is easier to feel her spirit everywhere, it’s also harder to remember her in her body.  I look at photos of her and still can’t comprehend that she was even here, and that now she’s not. It’s such a mystery, a profound mystery.

Elizabeth Blue, Lucia Maya

Elizabeth Blue, September 2, 2011

I was reminded again of her poem “Seeping Back” written at age 15, which speaks of this mystery and the eternal, beyond my comprehension, a good place to end for today:

“Devotion, my mysterious master
I saw the crossroads, one forever movement of light
Seeping back to the river of eternal life…

…I am waiting for our hearts to be conjoined in the endless breath
Why can we not meet at the simple movement, place of undying peace and satisfaction?
Whisper of eternity that says I love you
For if we were to meet in that place there would be nothing left to live for.”

~ Elizabeth Blue, ©2005

 

 

Praying ~ Mary Oliver

elizabeth blue, bird tattoo,PRAYING

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

~from Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry, “Thirst” (Beacon Press, 2006).

Thank you to my wonderful mother for sending this at the perfect time. I’m mostly without words these days, while I’m resting and recuperating from my move and all that was involved. I expect they’ll be back soon, and Elizabeth will have more to say too…

Ghost Cats

I’m in the process of moving to Maui at the end of this month, and I’m selling my home and many of my belongings.  It’s been keeping me busy and full of a mix of emotions.  Yes, of course I’m happy and excited to be moving to Maui – paradise as everyone calls it…Now don’t get me wrong, I am beyond grateful, and know that I am truly blessed. I feel grateful for my nearly 9 years in Tucson, and the many gifts I’ve received, the opportunities, the community, friends, and how my work has blossomed and grown. I know it’s time to leave, and am grateful that my time here is complete, and the universe has “assigned” me to such a beautiful new home, one I’ve been waiting for for many years. It is time.

And, it’s hard, this leaving. Part of the process of clearing out means I’ve been going through all the rest of Elizabeth’s things and and giving away much of them: clothes (she had a LOT of them, as anyone who knew her is aware!), jewelry (also a great deal of jewelry she’d bought, been gifted, and made herself), personal belongings, art, and writing, as she was always a journal keeper and saved all her writing, which I’m so grateful for, and ALL of which I keep!

Going through her clothes has been the hardest, as they are possibly more intimate aspects of her even than her writing. Elizabeth had expressed herself through clothing since she could first crawl to the shelves and pick out her outfits! Her many personalities were expressed, and she still had her shredded pink Converse high tops from her punk days, her many pairs of high heels, and then clothes. Clothes to dress her school self, out dancing with friends self, going on a date self, getting chemo self which she also wrote about here…As I was despairing about how to find a home for all her clothes (that didn’t fit either me or her sister), I got an email from Felice, a friend and teacher of Elizabeth’s, who is about the same size, and whom Elizabeth adored.  I asked if she’d be willing to take them, and she said she’d be honored, and would also distribute them to friends who might like some! I felt Elizabeth at work behind the scenes helping me…

Everywhere I go in Tucson I am reminded of time spent with Elizabeth, from the cafes where we often met for coffee and conversation, to the hospital, cancer center, naturopath’s office where she received treatments…it is bittersweet, these memories and this leaving. As I leave behind the places with sad memories, I also leave behind reminders of our time as a family, of our closeness, of her homes, her friends, her jobs.  I know the memories are with me, and Elizabeth is alive in my heart wherever I am, but those tangible reminders will not be part of my daily life – a relief and a loss, at the same time.

So today, while my house was being held open, I went to a movie, a chance to rest that was much needed. The only one playing that appealed was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, which I’d heard nothing about. I believe Elizabeth was guiding me to see it, and I’ll tell you why.  First, it was wonderful – funny and moving, a movie about transformation and Life, just what I needed. I really felt her presence, and started to cry during a scene towards the end.  An amazing photographer has climbed high in the Himalayas, waiting patiently for an elusive Snow Leopard to appear so he can photograph it. He speaks of how hard they are to see, and that they are called “ghost cats” because of this. I was immediately brought to Elizabeth’s fascination with and love of snow leopards, (all cats, but especially them), and a video that she had had shared with me, that we’d watched together over and over, delighting in the play of snow leopard kittens in a zoo. In an amazing reading someone had done from Elizabeth’s photo, the woman had said that she is “still drinking mint juleps (a line from one of her poems) out of silver goblets and is finally with her snow kitten”.  In the film, the photographer chooses not to capture the moment on film after all that, saying that sometimes he prefers to just take in the moment…beautiful!

I felt that Elizabeth had guided me to this film, as a way of connecting with me. I’d been feeling like she’s been far away, but also feeling like I’ve been SO busy that I haven’t had time to be quiet and notice her.  This was the first time in a while that I was not engaged with others, and she showed up.  Thank you Elizabeth, my ghost cat – here’s the video for you, though I imagine you can now enjoy snow leopards anytime you like!

Update on NPR Interview

I promised the link to my interview on NPR, and here it is: Voices for the Cure on Arizona Public Media. Mark McLemore was a wonderful, thoughtful and sensitive interviewer, and I’m so honored to have the opportunity to share more of Elizabeth’s and my journey with more people.

Lucia Maya, Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall, Elizabeth Meagher

Lucia Maya and Elizabeth Blue, April, 2012, photo by Jade Beall

Elizabeth’s 24th Birthday

Dear Elizabeth,

it’s your 24th birthday, and you’re not here, and you’re very much here.  I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to spend the day, but I knew I wanted to do some ritual to honor you, and also something to nurture myself, some way of tending to my body – my “flesh and blood holder of humanity” as you wrote so eloquently.

Then a couple of days ago I saw someone announce on Facebook that she had an opening for an ayurvedic massage today, and that seemed perfect – it showed up and presented itself, so I said yes.  Next I realized this was the day to take some of your ashes up to Mount Lemmon. I know you loved it there and it was the other place I knew I needed to leave some of your ashes before leaving Tucson.

First thing though, I shared one of my favorite poems of yours on FB, A Lifetime.  It feels to me that it says so beautifully what you wanted to do, and what you did in this lifetime. It makes me happy to know you even thought about all of those things, and then that you got to experience it all…it’s quite extraordinary.

After my relaxing massage, I was ready to drive up the mountain. I packed up your bundle of hair, carefully wrapped in one of your scarves, and a shovel.  I still had the hair you’d saved from when going through chemo the first time, and I know you’d intended to do some kind of burial ritual, so I wanted to complete that for you as well.  I took some flowers, and then filled a small glass bottle with some of your ashes to offer to Mt Lemmon.

I drove up with Tilly beside me, wondering all the way where the hell we were going, and both of us were relieved when I found the right spot to bury your hair.  Tilly was happy to walk around under the pine and oak trees, and I easily dug a spot for your hair in the soft ground, covered it with dirt and pine needles and put the flowers on top.  It felt like there were bears nearby, maybe watching me, and I am certain they’ll come and sniff around at some point.  I could feel their presence in the trees…

Mt Lemmon, Elizabeth Blue,

burial of Elizabeth’s hair

Elizabeth Blue, ashes, Mt Lemmon,

ashes on Mt Lemmon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got back in my car and drove further up, looking for a place with the really incredible stacks of rocks.  I asked you (and I’d been feeling your presence all day of course), where you wanted me to place the rest of the ashes – did you also love those rocks, or was I just imagining that, since I love them…? I heard you say that you do love them, and, to remember that where the ashes go is about what I want, that it no longer matters to you, you’re not in those ashes. You said that you love that I’m taking the time to do this ritual, but it’s for me, not for who you are now…I could also feel the ways that we were, and are, so merged.  That there are times that I can’t tell whether it is I who likes or experiences something, or you.

I trusted that I’d just know, and sure enough, I saw those rocks, with a parking area, and with Tilly leading the way on her leash, I realized there’s a beautiful area to walk down and among the rocks.  I’d been there before but somehow never saw that, even though there were many others walking down that way! I meandered down a path, down to where there was just the view of Tucson desert I’d been envisioning, and placed your ashes in the corner of some huge rocks. It was out of the wind, though I know not for long. And slightly off the main path, but there will be plenty of people coming through.  Along with the immense natural beauty, there was also graffiti and cigarette butts, and it seemed the right place for some of your ashes to rest.

You were such a combination of the ethereal and very much of this world. When you were little, making up words and dances (like the “hatdeck” when you were 3, and fufia and kufia – were they unseen friends?), seeing spirits, writing poetry and loving the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child. Now you seem to be truly at peace, in the angelic world of the ancestors, and yet, you come down and play Angel from Montgomery today on your birthday, which I haven’t heard in months! “To believe in this living, is just a hard way to go…” yes, sometimes it is.

So, my sweet girl, though I miss you deeply, and can still hardly believe you’re gone, I am mostly feeling at peace these days. I hear that you want me to be happy, and mostly I am, though I know it’s fine to be sad too, and that crying actually makes me happy at times.  I was afraid that this second year, and now your second birthday after you died, would be harder, as some experience that.  I’ve found thankfully, that it’s easier with time.  I can feel your presence ever closer – almost merging, and yet further away, as you’re more diffuse, more spread out, though still very available when I need to connect.

I know that you know all of this, but I wanted to put it into words, to help me remember this day, and share it with others.  You make my life so beautiful, along with your sister, and I’m so grateful!

love,Mom

Notice the orbs and the lights (including purple ones) that showed up in these photos.

orb, Elizabeth Blue, spreading ashes,

One View

orb, Elizabeth Blue, spreading ashes,

The View from Mt Lemmon, where Elizabeth’s ashes were placed – note the orb and lights!

Elizabeth Blue, ashes, Mt Lemmon,

View from Mt Lemmon

Gratitude and Clearing Out

I had a wonderful end of 2013, with my 50th birthday spent with my closest family and a good friend, with delicious food,  the people I love the most (most of them anyway), and even time on the beach in California!  It was a perfect day.  Except, of course, that Elizabeth wasn’t there, though I certainly felt her presence.

For months I’d been wondering how I could gather my family and friends to celebrate my 50th birthday, which is on Christmas eve, but it felt too overwhelming and stressful to orchestrate.  Somehow, (and I believe Elizabeth helped out here), the only time we could all meet up for our annual family vacation was my birthday week!  We’ve never done our trip Christmas week, but it worked perfectly, and I didn’t need to do anything other than say yes and show up.  Family flew in from Hawaii, the East Coast, and drove from Tucson and northern California, and we had a beautiful week together in Santa Barbara…

Lucia Maya, birthday dinner

Lucia’s 50th birthday dinner, with roses from Elizabeth

When we arrived at the restaurant for my birthday dinner, the hostess showed us to our table, strewn with rose petals, and said, “Someone named Elizabeth was here earlier and left the roses for you.”  We all stared at her, asking her to repeat herself, until we realized it must have been my friend Victoria, who was staying nearby.  She had brought the roses and said to tell us they were a gift from Elizabeth, but the way that was communicated was a bit startling to us all!

My year has started off wonderfully too. Since coming home, I’ve had the pleasure of my partner Zelie being home for a few days, and now my daughter Julianna being here with me for her winter break, likely our last time together in Tucson.  I have put my house for sale and am preparing for my move to Hawaii, where I’ll be based on Maui and continue to spend part of my time on Molokai, offering retreats with my partner.  I move at the end of February, and it’s been a very busy few months of clearing, packing, and organizing!

Julianna has been amazing, helping me with not only the practical aspects of preparing for a huge yard sale (I’m not taking much with me to Maui), but also the more emotionally charged ones of going through Elizabeth’s boxes of belongings.  Yesterday we sorted through 3 boxes of her journals, jewelry, photographs and clothing, and it somehow felt relatively easy, making decisions about what to save (journals, of course) and what to let go of.  It was wonderful to have Julianna with me while I made decisions, taking what she wants to have, knowing that we are both clear on what feels right to save, and what to let go.

Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, Sedona,

Self Portrait by Elizabeth – Blue Boots at Sedona Creek

Today I still needed to get through Elizabeth’s file folders, and that was unexpectedly much harder. Perhaps it was reading many of her papers from high school, or seeing her handwritten notes and to-do lists. Perhaps it was tossing piles of teacher’s evaluations of her, and feeling like none of that mattered, as she’s not here anymore. What difference does it make what her 9th grade English teacher thought of her work?  Perhaps it was seeing again her funny labels on her folders that I threw away, but couldn’t help photographing first, as they are so endearing:

Image

It feels good to be letting go of so many things, feeling like the things are not very important anymore, and traveling lighter feels right.  The move to Hawaii also feels very right, after years of feeling it coming, knowing it is now time, and that moving away from this home and this town where Elizabeth was last, mostly feels healing.  It feels expansive and like my work and my life can open in new ways, hopefully to be in service in larger ways, and in a place that will be healing for me as well.

And so I will continue to write, write; talk, talk. Edit away.  And pack, and store, and recycle, and sell, and cry, and laugh, and love.

Last, I want to express so much gratitude to all of you who’ve found this blog and surrounded me with so much support, friendship, and love.  55,000 of you visited last year, from 136 countries! That may be small in the blogging world, but it’s huge to me, and I can’t say how much I value each of you who read this blog, and who share yourselves with me.

Elizabeth Blue – the photoshoot by Jade Beall (part 1)

Click on any image to see them larger.

These are just a few of the photos taken by the amazing artist Jade Beall, of the Beautiful Bodies Project, in April of 2012, when Elizabeth was in remission from cancer.  She had finished 6 chemo treatments, and we were celebrating that she had no sign of cancer in her body.  I was delighted that she’d agreed to be photographed, wanting to document this time, this transition time in her life, showing all aspects of herself, with hair and without, with clothes and completely naked. We did not know that just 2 months later she’d find that the cancer had recurred, spreading to her brain, and that she would die 3 months after that, on September 23, 2012.

I am incredibly grateful that we have these beautiful, revealing images of Elizabeth Blue – a beauty inside and out.

Coming Home to Die

I heard an excellent story on NPR the other day, about How Doctors Die, and how even though the majority of people in the U.S. say they want to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, less than half do and most die in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). In Tucson, where I’ve lived the past 8 years, only 10% die at home.  This is partly because when we are very sick, doctors are not likely to tell us the whole story, and we are not willing to ask the important questions – what are the implications of this treatment, what will be the quality of my life, how much time might this treatment add to my life, what are the risks and benefits…?

it reminded me of how difficult it was for the doctors to tell us what was really happening when Elizabeth was in the ICU.  She’d had 2 chemo treatments when the lymphoma had spread to her brain, that had not shrunk the tumor.  She’d had brain surgery to “debulk” the tumor, which had reduced the size of one tumor, though now we learned there were two in her brain, and probably more in her spine.  The surgery had increased the swelling in her brain, necessitating a 2nd surgery to remove part of her skull, and then a stroke left her paralyzed except for her right arm and head.  She was intubated, meaning she couldn’t speak, and it was so painful that she tried to pull the breathing tube out if her hands were free.

Elizabeth had told me clearly when going through her first chemo treatments: “Mom, I don’t want to go through years of treatment for cancer only to die of it. I don’t want to live like that.”  I looked at her and I said “you won’t”, knowing somehow, that it was true, she would not.

But the doctors were still coming to the ICU each day and telling us she could go to rehab, learn to walk again, she’d need radiation to her brain, a different chemo drug…and I was a believer still, not yet seeing what was in front of me. Powerless, and still hopeful. Around the 6th night she was in the ICU, in the hallway, our favorite nurse said to me “I heard from your friend that you’re starting to talk about hospice.” I was shocked.  That was the first time I’d heard the word used in relation to Elizabeth, and we had NOT started to talk about hospice! I was angry at her, felt violated and that she’d crossed some line.  Only later was I incredibly grateful for the one brave woman who would dare speak the truth.

The next morning, after some time had allowed this idea to sink in, I asked the oncology team to tell us what was realistic. Did hospice make more sense than planning to continue treatment? Only then, when confronted, did they say yes, hospice was probably the way to go, that the treatments being discussed weren’t likely to be successful. They also passed it off to Elizabeth’s specialist, who had never come to the hospital, saying he’d have to talk to us for the final word. He came that day I think, and sat with me and Greg, and told us that she could try more chemo, or radiation, but it would likely only add days or weeks to her life and he didn’t recommend further treatment.  There was no question in my mind that Elizabeth wouldn’t want that, and I didn’t want that for her either.  All I wanted then was for her to come home, be out of the ICU, in a beautiful, peaceful place where we could care for her ourselves.  Dr Miller also told us that if he let himself, he’d be sobbing along with us, but he couldn’t.  That he wanted to be the hero who saved her, and he hated that this wasn’t the way the story was going to end. I know he didn’t want to be there either, having this conversation. No one wants to be the one to tell the parents of a 22 year old young woman that she will die soon.

We still had to fight hard to get her breathing tube removed, as she had a hard time passing their breathing test, though she was breathing on her own. The ICU doctor was afraid they’d have to intubate her again, if she didn’t have the strength to continue on her own.  I knew she’d be fine, that she needed to get the breathing tube out, so we could take her home.

Elizabeth Blue, ICU,

Elizabeth in the ICU

Finally, after days of promises and disappointments, they removed the tubes (partially because her dad had a rare, but necessary, blowup at the ICU doctor). She breathed fine, and she could speak again! I then told Elizabeth what Dr Miller had said, that there were no more treatments to try and she could come home.  She looked at me and said, “I’m relieved.” I looked in her eyes and said, “I understand.”  Elizabeth said, “I’m so glad you understand! I was afraid you wouldn’t.” I told her of course I understood, that she had done everything she could possibly do, and I just wanted her to come home where I could take care of her, and she wanted that too.

She’d had a feeding tube in, and as soon as her hands were free, she tried to pull it out. I explained that she might not be able to eat, as we didn’t know if she could swallow still, and asked if she understood what that meant. The doctors advised against it. She said yes, she wanted it out, and got it most of the way before a nurse could help her. Once that was done, and she wasn’t attached to the machines, we arranged quickly with hospice for a bed to be delivered to our home, and she came home the next day, after 10 days in the ICU.

Elizabeth Blue, Lucia Maya, hospice,

Elizabeth at home in hospice

If that nurse hadn’t spoken up, if we had been compliant and unquestioning, if we didn’t have great family support, a friend who is a doctor…Elizabeth might well have lived her last weeks in the ICU, hooked up to LOUD, painful, machines, with ICU psychosis (an actual condition they acknowledge there) from bright lights 24 hours a day, nurses waking her up every few hours, not able to speak, eat, laugh or just be.

roses, altar, Elizabeth Blue,

roses on the altar

As it happened, she came home and lived two more extraordinary months. The most beautiful, grace-full, love-filled times I’ve known.  There was healing and completion in many relationships. Time with her sister. Visits and laughter with family and friends. Singing bowls played. Silence. Books read. Poetry listened to. Soft sheets. Daily massage. Cuddling. Favorite foods. Music of all sorts – from Graceful Passages, Beyonce, Ashanna and Wu-Tang Clan. Fresh roses and altars with sacred objects. Soft light, birds, flowering plants and trees outside the windows.  We had time to talk of fear, of death, of love, of acceptance, of regret and loss, and joy and peace…It was so beautiful. And I am so blessed to have shared that time with her, and so immensely grateful it happened the way it did.

If I’m very lucky, I will die as she did (except for the Wu-Tang Clan), surrounded by love, being loved, and being Love.

Elizabeth Blue, hospice,

Elizabeth and Lucia’s hands

Elizabeth Blue, hospice,

Elizabeth with her Grandma, at home

I recommend filling out 5 Wishes, a living will written in plain language, that gives great options for how you might want to be treated if you can’t speak for yourself. Take some time to think about how you want to live and how you want to die…