4 years of grief and peace

As this 4 year anniversary of my daughter Elizabeth’s death was approaching, I could feel the shimmering of grief in and around everything. I’ve been getting better and better at learning how to take care of myself, and I realized a few days ago that doing a ritual for Elizabeth with flowers and ashes on Haleakala would bring me some peace.

The past couple of years I’ve been with my mom and sister and good friend (Elizabeth’s godmother), and it was hard to be far away from each of them and my partner. Talking and texting with them helped, as did the many messages I received from family and friends  throughout the day – I love knowing that others are thinking of Elizabeth, missing her, remembering her, honoring her…

I started the day moving slowly, putting on clothes I think Elizabeth would have liked (a dress! she always wanted me to wear dresses…), earrings of hers made of butterfly wings, a pearl necklace she made for me…And then bought and ate food I thought she’d have liked, enjoying these embodied pleasures for and with her.

I had envisioned driving up the nearby mountain, Haleakala, as I know she loved being on Mt Lemmon in Tucson, and this feels very similar. One of the things Elizabeth had really wanted after she was diagnosed with cancer was to come back to spend time in Hawaii, which she didn’t get to do. Her ashes hadn’t been placed anywhere here yet, so today felt like the right time.

As I opened the basket on the altar that holds her ashes, and scooped some into a blue jar, I felt something hard and metallic. I reached in and found a dime!  I remember placing a few things with her to be cremated, like flowers, her tattered baby blanket and bunny, but don’t remember any of us putting money in with her…Perhaps someone who was there will remind me, or perhaps it was John, our dear friend who died of cancer a few months ago. I seem to hear him laughing now…

I waited until close to sunset and began my drive up the mountain, quickly enveloped in fog that became clouds. I love driving into the mist and seeing the world transform into another realm…I could feel her with me, listening and watching as she showed me how she can be with each of the people she loves, all at the same time. She showed me again that she helps people as they’re making their transition, especially when they’re young and when they are in shock and unprepared, that she acts as a guide of sorts. Still with her same kindness and also lack of patience or bullshit. Being very real and direct about where they are and what is happening.

I drove without knowing where I would stop to place her ashes and the beautiful lei made of tuberose and small pink roses, one of her favorite flowers. I asked her for guidance and also a sign that she was with me. Immediately I saw a gorgeous pheasant, and ended up seeing a total of four of these gorgeous birds on the mountain.

After driving only a half hour,  I was above the clouds and the light was incredible as the sun was close to setting. I was led to a place to pull over and found an easy path through the grass and then a beautiful rock. I placed the lei around the rock and spread some of her ashes in a circle around and on top of the rock. I spent a while meditating and taking photographs, feeling grateful for the peace I felt, the extraordinary beauty around me . I kept thinking I needed to leave, but realizing I had no where to go.  Being present, appreciating this peace and beauty was where I needed to be.

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dime from the ashes

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hiding pheasant

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Preparing and Offering Her Body

When Elizabeth died, I was as well prepared as I could be. She had been at home, my home, in hospice care for almost two months, and I was able to be with her that entire time, letting go of almost everything else for that time.  It was heartbreakingly sad and breathtakingly beautiful – the grace and love of Elizabeth’s Presence was immense.  She was in a state of egolessness.  She no longer cared how she looked, she had no anger, almost no fear or sadness – none by the end, and she was radiant in love.

We knew she was dying, and we had time to prepare ourselves emotionally, and also in practical ways.  We are blessed that our close friend Victoria, Elizabeth’s godmother, had recently taken a training in home funerals, and found an amazing woman here who also supports families in taking care of the bodies of their loved ones. I hadn’t known this was an option before, and am so grateful that we didn’t have to send her body off to be tended to by strangers.  Kristine Bentz, of Sweetgrass Ceremonies met with us – Elizabeth, me, and our close family, a few times, to let us know what our options were and listen to our hearts.

Elizabeth left her body around 4:30 on a Sunday morning, September 23, 2012.  My sister had had the amazing foresight to arrive the night before (though scheduled to arrive several days later), so she was there, and after some time of sitting with Elizabeth, I must have woken her up, and began calling and texting family to let them know.  I wanted our family to have that day to be with her body.  The next day was for others who wanted to come and visit. Tashe and I did a ritual bathing of her body: cleaning her, touching her skin one last time, anointing her with precious essential oils, then dressing her in a brand new, simple white long dress that was the last piece of clothing Elizabeth had bought herself, not consciously knowing she’d wear it to be cremated in. We then placed beautiful flowing sheer fabrics under, around and over her. We placed her body on a massage table that Kristine had brought us, and used dry ice under her torso to keep her cool, so she could be at home for a couple of days. Finally, we showered her in rose petals…

Elizabeth Blue, home funeral,

Her toes…

Elizabeth Blue, home funeral

Elizabeth Blue’s body at home, 9/23/12

Elizabeth Blue, home funeral

Elizabeth Blue’s body at home, 9/23/12

Elizabeth Blue, home funeral

Making offerings…9/23/12

I almost forgot to include some of the practical details, as I was spared from dealing with the outside world right away.  Kristine helped to guide Elizabeth’s father through the process of becoming the “funeral director” which involved filing some paperwork at City Hall, which allowed us to then transport her body ourselves for cremation. We could have had them come to transport her body, but it just felt right to us to do the whole process ourselves.

The funeral parlor (if that is what they’re still called) provided a simple cardboard casket which Kristine brought us, that we asked friends to decorate with messages and artwork, and we placed some of Elizabeth’s belongings in with her, along with many rose petals.  The day of the cremation, our family said our last goodbyes to her at home.  It was so hard to know that I’d never touch her skin again, very hard to let go…And then we brought her to the crematorium, where we were able to gather and watch as they placed her body inside the crematory. I didn’t think I’d want to do that when she was still alive, but when it came time, it felt better to be there . I knew then that it was not Elizabeth going into that fire, but an empty vessel – as she said, her “flesh and blood holder of humanity” had ceased to exist…

Here is the email I sent after the home funeral, about the cremation and as we began to prepare for a larger, public memorial and celebration of life:

September 26, 2012

Dear Ones,

Yesterday was very difficult, and beautiful.  We gathered with close family and said our last goodbyes to Elizabeth’s body at home, placing her body into the casket, which had been decorated by friends and family, and putting her baby blanket (Silky) and some flowers in with her, to help her make the transition.  We transported her body and were able to support each other and witness the box being placed in the crematory.  I didn’t know if I’d want or be able to witness this, but I am grateful that I could be present, in the way that seeing a burial might also bring some sense of completion.

We had a lovely open house the day before, with many friends coming by with flowers, love, tears, laughter and stories.  It was good to be with others who love Elizabeth. Thank you so much to those of you who were able to be here.

We have confirmed the date and location for Elizabeth’s Celebration of Life/Memorial Service.  It will not be a religious ceremony, but one that represents Elizabeth’s diverse and deep spiritual beliefs and an opportunity to gather, celebrate her life, tell stories, share images, music, ritual, and more.
with much love,

Lucia

The Enormity of it All

The Enormity of it All

Lucia Maya, Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall, Elizabeth Meagher

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

Yesterday I was having lunch with a dear friend, who is very insightful and intuitive, and has two sons the same ages as my two daughters.  She asked me, with concern, for the second time in two weeks, if I was really taking the time and space to allow for the enormity of what has happened.  It felt like she was asking if I truly grasped the magnitude of what has happened to me, my daughter’s death a year ago.  I didn’t really know how to answer her and I still don’t.

On the one hand, I started to feel like maybe I wasn’t doing this grieving “right”, which I’m sure was far from what she intended.  As a mother, it’s such a familiar place to go: if this looks different, or is not what is expected by others, maybe I’m not doing it right.  Though much of my mothering has looked “different” (as is how I live my life), and I can see things I could have done better, overall I’ve mothered the best way I know how, following my heart and modeling that for my daughters.  Still, it’s easy to be vulnerable as a parent, to question if we’re doing the right thing. Guilt seems to come along with parenthood and the enormous responsibilities we’re honored with in bringing someone into the world.

What I said to my friend is that I feel like my main work now is healing through grieving, and taking the time to heal in whatever ways I can.  For me, this means a lot of time alone, listening to music where I often receive messages from Elizabeth, meditating, reading, watching tv on netflix for hours when I need to (all of “Orange is the New Black” during 2 really hard days). It means getting acupuncture and bodywork, talking to good friends, asking family to be around for difficult times, like birthdays and anniversaries, asking for support…It means saying no to many invitations and events, listening deeply to what I really want to do, and leaving when I’m tired and feeling full. It means spending time with my younger daughter, visiting her more often, connecting with her and wanting to be closer with her.

It also means seeing clients, offering the healing work I do, which I love – it helps me to focus on someone else, listening with my full presence, feeling like I’m in service and contributing, and it makes me feel better as I receive the Reiki as it flows through me to my client.  Teaching Reiki and facilitating healing circles and retreats also brings me joy, and is another way that I feel Elizabeth’s presence, sitting with me and supporting me, as I ask to be the clearest channel for the teachings to flow through. It also allows me the opportunity to share some of what I learned from Elizabeth about living and dying with grace, which helps bring some greater meaning to this intense journey of transformation.

It means writing, combing through my emails and journals, Elizabeth’s writing and photographs, and sharing these with all of you, listening for the guidance about the timing. Receiving feedback about how this affects you has been an amazing balm for my heart.

But, am I able to absorb the enormity of what has happened, that my adored and beloved and challenging and worrisome and beautiful and smart and difficult and adoring and creative and wise 22 year old first-born daughter has died? No, absolutely not.  Do I cry as I write these words? yes. There is no way I could absorb or take in all of this, even one year later it continues to seep in, little by little, day by day, and I do my best to stay present to it, to grief, stay present to Elizabeth’s spirit, stay present to my living daughter, Julianna, stay present to my partner, and mostly, stay present to my heart.

Leaving Her Body…

Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall, Elizabeth Meagher

Elizabeth Blue ~ April, 2012 by Jade Beall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year ago today, the email below I sent to our close friends and family. Now I share it here, with those of you who have joined me on this transformative, healing journey.

As I prepared for this first anniversary of my daughter Elizabeth’s death, I anticipated it would be challenging. I’ve been learning how to care for myself, my needs, better and better throughout this time, so I asked close family and friends to gather, a very small group who knew and love Elizabeth (and me!) dearly, to come and spend time together.  We’ve spent the last couple of days telling stories, looking at photos, doing art projects with Elizabeth’s image, eating, laughing, resting, loving Elizabeth and each other…

We plan to begin the process of releasing her ashes today, spreading some in one of her favorite places in Tucson, with plans to spread more in Berkeley and Hawaii later, two of her other favorite places. I honor her and remember her every day, and oddly, today doesn’t feel as momentous or intense as I expected – I’m wondering now if the emotion will come when everyone leaves and I’m alone again…in this first year, even the hardest days have been fine, as I’ve watched myself experiencing emotion like never before, and always able to be aware that it will pass, that all I need to do is be present and keep trusting my heart. Thank you all for being here with me in this first year. Your presence from near and far, old friends and new, strangers and family, has meant so much. I am so grateful for each of you. Thank you.

Leaving Her Body

September 23, 2012

Dear Ones,

Elizabeth left her body this morning around 4:30 am.  She was peaceful, she knew I was right with her, holding her hand, talking to her and loving her. Something woke me at 4am, and I went to check on her. As I heard her breathing, I knew she was very close, and sat down to be with her.  I was thinking it could be a few hours still, so was about to lay down on the couch, when I heard her take one breath, and then realized it was her last one.  Her heart continued for a while…

Since yesterday morning her breathing had changed, and Greg (her dad) and I had spent the whole day sitting close, talking to her, telling her how much we love her, and how many people love her and have been affected by her.  She was mostly in another world, but every few hours would open her eyes, and was still so clear, with the same love and grace in her gaze.

I am so grateful for the gentle waves of these passages, that each new wave has washed over, giving me time to adjust, to accept, to move into the next stage gracefully, diving in deep and emerging with an ever more cracked open heart, and knowing there’s still more and still more….

As usual, we are doing something a bit unusual – we are keeping Elizabeth’s body at home for a few days, having cleaned, anointed and prepared her body ourselves.  We will have a visiting time here, for anyone who is in Tucson, if you want to say goodbye to her body, and connect with me and family.  She will be cremated in a couple of days.

We are also planning a large, public memorial service in 2-3 weeks.  We will honor and celebrate her life, with music, stories, photos and her poetry.  Do not feel you need to come and see her body,  it is simply a possibility if you want to say goodbye in this way.

More to come…

love and blessings,
Lucia

This photo is of her last night, still beautiful and at peace.

Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, hospice

Elizabeth Blue her last night, 9/22/12

Elizabeth Blue,  Jade Beall, Elizabeth Meagher

Elizabeth Blue, April, 2012 by Jade Beall

Slowing Down – emails from the depths, September, 2012

Slowing Way Down

Some of the last emails I sent, about my older daughter Elizabeth Blue’s journey towards the ultimate release, from the two weeks before her transition last year. 

September 14, 2012

Dear Ones,
things here are slowing waaay down.  No words now, sometimes nodding or shaking her head in response to a question, sometimes that seems too much effort.

Elizabeth still has no pain, is comfortable and has no fear that I feel…there are lots of folks assisting her, both here and in the other realms too.  She’s not eating still, and only taking small sips of water.  The hospice nurse and our doctor/friend Ann Marie assure us that all is progressing as expected and in the best possible way as far as being peaceful and comfortable.  Even throughout the day there are changes, as tonight she had a hard time taking one of the medicines through a straw, so we skipped that one…it’s probably only days left now, but it’s still hard to say.  She’s breathing fine, a bit different now, and very inward, very much connected with the other worlds now.

Today 10 of Elizabeth’s friends came to say goodbye, led by Samantha, her closest friend, and it was so beautiful.  Full of tears, laughter, stories, reminiscences – they each took a turn holding her hand, kneeling by her bedside and talking to her, kissing her, loving her and telling her goodbye. It was exquisite.  They were all so loving, so respectful and sweet with us.  Amazing.

Feeling how precious we each are, remembering to tell those you love how you feel, letting the small things go, knowing that each day is precious, each smile, each kiss… for us all, not just Elizabeth.

sending love to you all ~ if you’re receiving this email know that I love you.
love,
Lucia

Samantha Salazar, Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, hospice

Elizabeth’s best friend Samantha and their circle of friends came to say goodbye, 9/14/2012

Lucia Maya, Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, hospice

Lucia and Elizabeth snuggle, 9/12/12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 15, 2012

…a rare and REALLY hard day, watching Elizabeth visibly recede, and I was compelled, like I was a zombie, to watch some of E’s video diaries, of her when she was healthy, and then right when she was finishing chemo, and so hopeful and herself… it was beyond heartbreaking, and I’ve been avoiding going back and revisiting other times, but today i got pulled in.  The rest of the day I can barely be present with her. Can’t sit still, am angry, rageful, so sad…

September 19, 2012

Dear Ones,
Elizabeth hasn’t been eating for 2 weeks now, except for these few times: it was lovely that she ate what seemed to be her last meal from Zelie, some fruit and toast for breakfast.  Then 4 days later when Greg arrived, with her favorite dessert, carrot cake, she ate a few bites, and then our dear friend Tita brought by some food, and Greg prepared and fed Elizabeth a whole meal of beans, rice, avocado, quesadilla – all her favorite foods, and it was so beautiful, her being able to receive that from her dad, who has such a deep connection to food and sharing his love for people through food…Then I was writing to him about how lovely that was, and realizing that I couldn’t remember the last food I’d fed her, and felt really sad.  A few hours later I offered her food again, (now days since she’d said yes to eating) and she said yes, as though she knew what I’d been thinking.  I fed her a perfect peach, and she gave me the gift of being able to feed her one more time…

She’s had almost no water for that long too (just enough to take pills and a few more sips), though the last few days it’s been hard for her to swallow, so she gets no pills, only 2 medications to give now, both liquid.  She has occasional ice chips, but often says no to that too.

She started having some pain a couple of days ago, so has had liquid morphine 3 times, but no pain yesterday or today.  She still has tremors/shakiness so gets liquid lorazepam a couple of times a day for that.  She’s sleeping much of each day, partly from the medication, and partly from having so little energy. She’s wanting to be alone more, doesn’t want any visitors and some days doesn’t want me around, which is different.  So it really feels like she’s disconnecting from this world…

Given all this, it’s quite remarkable that when there are no medications in her, she’s still quite clear, with a small smile to greet me in the morning, and this morning gave a thumbs up to my questions of how she slept and how she was feeling…She still rubs her lips together when i put lip balm on, like she always has, just very slowly now.  And she doesn’t want me to massage or put lotion on her now – it seems like too much stimulation, and bringing her back into the awareness of the body.

She’s not been talking for quite a while, but can still sometimes nod or shake her head, though even that takes effort now, using a lot of energy.   She is still comfortable and seems very peaceful.

So there’s no way to say how much longer she might be here, though without any water it seems it can’t be much more.  She is amazingly strong, and so courageous and loving.  She did say yes a few days ago when I asked if she feels ready to leave, and if she feels that she’s completed everything she came here to do.  That hadn’t been true a few weeks ago, so I was grateful to hear that.

Sending much love to all of you, and connecting at the heart…
love,
Lucia

Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, hospice

Elizabeth today (9/19/12), with her newest blue bracelet and a silky blanket under her head, both from Aunt Tashe, with her bunny by her side. She’s wearing a favorite ring from my Aunt Amy. Surrounded and enveloped in so much love…

Elizabeth Blue’s Life in Pictures

Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall, Elizabeth Meagher

Elizabeth Blue, 4/2012 (by Jade Beall)

Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall, Elizabeth Meagher,

Elizabeth Blue, 4/2012 (by Jade Beall)

As we move closer to the one year anniversary of my daughter Elizabeth’s death, on September 23, she is very present with me, giving me many messages and signs that she is close.  I will share more of that in another post.  For now – I am getting the message that it is time to share this video again.  This is a slideshow of Elizabeth’s life, from beginning to end, with many of the people, animals, events and passages in her life.

The professional photo shoot done during the last year of her life was done by Jade Beall, who recently dedicated a blog post with photos and story of that photo shoot, and I will be sharing many more of those extraordinary photos soon. Here are 2 favorites.

This slideshow was created with love and is shared with love.  (And you might want to have some tissues handy…)

Hospice – last week of August, 2012

Slipping Closer to the Edge…

These writings are from about a month before my daughter Elizabeth Blue died.  She was at home and needing 24 hour care, having had a stroke following unsuccessful surgery and chemo to remove the cancer that had spread to her brain. She was in a peaceful state of grace that is hard to capture in words and images.

August 24, 2012: a group email

dear ones,

again, I’m not sure how long it’s been since writing, but when I start to receive texts and emails asking what is going on, I can feel it’s time to share more outside of this small and yet expansive, world I’m living in.

Day to day, it’s hard to see change, much like when you have a newborn baby, and can’t see how quickly she is changing because you’re so immersed. But when I look at photos of Elizabeth now, I can see that her head is more swollen, and I know she now has a bump on the back of her neck that is very likely another tumor, or one that has spread, so there is evidence that the cancer is growing.   She has also had several episodes of muscle tremors, with her heart racing, which is uncomfortable for her, but responds to muscle-relaxants. It is likely a sign of neurological symptoms from the tumor, and may indicate other symptoms to come.

Some days she seems even less able to track things in a linear way, but this seems so natural now it’s hard to notice the change.  Today also for the first time she said her mind was busy when I asked (rather than quiet), using her hands to show me “chatty”.   She often uses her hands to communicate, though she is able to speak. She has said she is “doing work”, working through some things internally on this journey that need to be completed.  She is aware of the support she has, from all of us, in addition to the unseen forces.

There have been many visitors, (including the nurse and nurse’s aide 2 times a week), which she seems to enjoy though gets tired quickly. She says yes to everyone who has asked to visit, though I limit the schedule so she (and I) aren’t too tired. Often I am happiest when I have time alone to just sit with Elizabeth, like the other morning when I played Coleman Barks’ album, his readings of Rumi poetry, and we listened together, which was a beautiful way to start our day.  The physical tasks of feeding, changing, turning her, giving medicines at the right time, etc, often take up most of the time in the day, but I try to find times still when we can simply sit and be…

We have fewer people here, which is easier in some ways, harder in others.  Tashe and Terri (my sister and sister-in-law) were here which was immensely helpful. My mom is leaving this weekend, and it’s been wonderful to have her. She’s been patient and generous with me, even when I’m not at my best, not as patient and loving as I’d like to be.  Julianna (my younger daughter, 19 years old) heads back to NYU on Tuesday, and I’m going to miss her terribly.  She’s been home all summer, the longest time we’ve had together in many years and I’ve enjoyed every day with her.  During this difficult time she’s been just amazing – so loving, supportive, thoughtful, helpful, generous and just beautiful to be with. She is ready to go back to school, and though I can’t imagine how I could function in that world now, I can see that it will be a good place for her right now.

So next week it will be just Zelie (my partner), Elizabeth and me here, and we’ll see how that goes. Zelie is wonderful – patient and loving, and really sweet to see the two of them together. Greg (Elizabeth’s father) continues to come every week from Friday to Sunday, and brings Elizabeth treats from Berkeley and good company as he sits with her for hours each day, and he just cooked us all a wonderful dinner.  We may call on friends and hospice volunteers more, taking up offers of meals and perhaps just to come and sit with Elizabeth so we can do errands or have some time for emails and maybe even some breaks…

It doesn’t feel like Elizabeth’s ready to leave us yet, and yet we are aware it could happen at any time.  Most days it simply feels like I’m caring for her while she’s very ill, disabled, but really hard to see/believe that she’s dying.  The hardest day for me so far was going to Elizabeth’s apartment for the first time without her, and seeing all her belongings: her artwork, clothes, lists of things to do, all the outward ordinary objects that connect me to her in her previous self, all the ways we spent time together, the gifts I bought her, the stories of getting these shoes in Seattle, or that friend who made her that drawing, etc…it was just heartbreaking. Then a couple of days later I went back, and already it had shifted, and was much easier…so time continues to help, and continuing to be present to whatever degree possible.

I’ve been in the process of writing this in bits for days, as that’s how life is right now, and this feels broken up and unsatisfying, as some of the days do.  There’s an unsettled quality right now, and also an immense amount of love and gratitude in each day. Grateful for all that has been and all that is.

love and gratitude to you all,

Lucia

We managed to take Elizabeth outside in a reclining wheelchair to the backyard last week, which she’d really wanted to do:

Elizabeth Blue. hospice,

Elizabeth Blue on her expedition outside, 8/2012

Elizabeth Blue, hospice, wheelchair,

Elizabeth with Julianna and Greg, 8/2012

Elizabeth Blue, hospice, reclining wheelchair,

Elizabeth with Grandma, 8/2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 28, 2012 – from Lucia’s Journal

Tonight I had the thought to tell Elizabeth that I would willingly trade places with her, sacrifice my life for hers, and then I realized how arrogant that was, the idea that my life was better then hers, my situation, my potential future, better than hers.  I saw in that instant that her life and situation, however long, has nothing wrong with it, nothing that she needs to “trade” for.  I shared this all with her, and she agreed, nodding.  I finished by saying that I wanted her to know that if I could, and she wanted, I would willingly give my life for hers.