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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The Light Within – Elizabeth Blue

I’ve been intending to write of my own experiences lately, but going through Elizabeth Blue’s writing this afternoon, this showed itself, and it feels important for this time.

by Elizabeth Meagher (Blue)

2.7.09 (age 19)

The Kingdom of God

In reading the chapter “The Kingdom of God is Within” I continually return to an idea that I have long pondered.  This is the idea that ‘God’ dwells inside all and everyone and that in this way we are all One.  When assuming that God is within every human being it becomes easy to understand the nature of heaven.  To me God is the innate divinity that exists in us all.  God is the light, the unconditional love, the compassion  and the innate harmony that everyone has inside of them.  Heaven is our expression and self realization of these aspects of ourselves.  When one is fully in tune with these aspects of oneself then one is in tune with ‘God.’  When one expresses these aspects then one is expressing God and creating a heaven here on Earth.  I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he said that the Kingdom of God is within.  

The idea that heaven exists within oneself and is an expression of God is common among many cultures.  While not all cultures use the same language in naming ‘Heaven’ or ‘God’, it is very common to believe that through a connection with the light and divinity within us (God) it is possible to reach a higher state of consciousness and discover a happy and peaceful world (Heaven).  This is Jesus’ same teaching which is so blissfully compassionate.  Everyone has the ability to reach Heaven, it is always within grasp to get there, and simply requires a connection with what we already have: the light within ourselves. 

third eye, Elizabeth Blue, cat,

Elizabeth with a cat appearing in her third eye!

long ago sweetness

For some reason I decided to log in to Elizabeth’s email account a few weeks ago, just to see if there was anything important there. I discovered she had folders that I’d not noticed before, and in one called “treasures” I found this beautiful birthday email she’d sent me, on my birthday, when she was 15. I had saved it, and was surprised to see she had too, among correspondence with special aunties, her sister and a couple others.

This is helpful for me to read when I occasionally let myself remember the very challenging times we had; the times when Elizabeth felt I’d betrayed her; the times she wanted more than I could give; the times she was hostile and rude to me and my partner, the times I was not the mother I’d hoped to be, wanted to be…

I hope it may be helpful for those of you who have teenagers, or who have lost your beloved child without the chance to hear or read these words, as I believe all our children feel this about their mothers, at some moments in time. I’m grateful she had the chance to put this into words at such a young age.

12/24/2005

Hello Mom,
I hope you are having a wonderful birthday.  I have
arrived in San Diego but so far have no luck reaching
you by phone, so I am trying email.
Thank you for being born, for your soul coming in and
giving birth to my body, I think you are such a
wonderful Mother and such a wonderful human being.
Even if you weren’t my own personal Mom I would be so
lucky to be on this Earth at the same time as you!

You have taught me so much about being a woman, being
feminine and holding such great love for that.  You
have expressed so wonderfully to me deep mothering
beauty from the time you sang me songs as you held me,
to your belief that any kindergarden who didn’t take
me was suffering a loss, to standing with me and
trying to hold me as I yelled how I hated you and what
you were doing, to forcing me to go to public school
because you were following your intution, to saying
prayers to keep Brieana and me safe as we lived our
daring little lives, to saying yes to (visiting) Palenque and
allowing me to go and have one of the most decadently
amazing times of my life, to holding my hand as I
cried for a home I had left behind, to trusting my
judgement now and loving me.  I feel like from the
time you sang me songs, gave me life and breathed into
me your love, to all the journeys we have walked
together on this path we call life,
you have been my
constant source, an inspiration and probably the
greatest love of a daughter’s life.

Thank you for being, thank you for loving, thank you
for being born and thank you for my birth.
Thank you.
I love you

love,
Elizabeth

Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall, Lucia Maya, Elizabeth Meagher

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

 

Facing My Own Mortality

Here’s the background: for the past three years I’ve had a bony bump on my forehead.  It didn’t hurt or grow much, changed little, and mostly I ignored it. It started to bother me when I saw it in photographs, and to assuage my vanity, I looked into having it removed.  I was pretty sure it was a cyst or other benign growth. A plastic surgeon was about to do it, but decided I really needed a CT scan first, to be sure what was under there…

Now we jump ahead to my move to Maui in March of this year.  I finally had health insurance and on my first visit to meet my doctor, I mentioned the bump. So I had an xray of my head that day, and she called me later, sounding worried. She said they needed to do a CT scan and that it was a “lytic lesion”, which could have many causes, but it means something is “eating away” at the bone. So, I have a CT of my head, and now she mentions she’s consulted an oncologist.

For someone whose daughter died from cancer less than two years ago, that is about the last thing I wanted to hear.

He or she (the unseen oncologist) recommends a CT of my chest, abdomen and pelvis, and what I understand, while I’m completely freaking out, is they think I’ve had cancer somewhere in my body (for over 3 years) that has spread to the bone in my skull. The doctor was obviously scared on the phone, and this is what worried me the most.  She wasn’t reassuring. She didn’t say this is just a rare possibility.  When I asked “but wouldn’t I have some symptoms if I’d had cancer for over 3 years that had spread to my skull??”, she said “Not necessarily.”  I told her my doctor friend had said there are many benign possibilities, and her response was “well, did you tell her it’s a lytic lesion?”

The BIG CAT Scan

CT scan, CAT scan,

CT scanner

I went for the big CT scan.  It took 2 intense days of waiting, with little sleep, terrifying unbidden images filling my head, of what my life would be like if I was told I had cancer somewhere that had spread to my bone.  Imagining what treatments I might have to go through, what would be the chances I’d be cured, what quality of life I would have, on and on. I do have a good imagination, though I was focusing on imagining my body whole, healthy, vibrant and living to be an old woman…

Finally the doctor called and told me there was nothing of concern in these full-body scans. But now they needed to do an MRI of my head, to get a more detailed image. I had an MRI done of my head, again waiting on pins and needles for a call with the results, and she tells me they still can’t tell what it is, but the possible diagnoses on the radiologist report include cancer, and also benign possibilities. Each test they think will give more information and rule out cancer, but each test shows a mystery.  All this time, I can hear the fear in my doctor’s voice, talking about what next test the oncologist recommends. 

Gratitude for my inner and outer resources

I am incredibly grateful for all the tools that I have: over 15 years of practicing Reiki and giving myself Reiki constantly during this time; years of practice remaining in the heart-center in the midst of chaos and fear; the aromatherapy, herbal, nutritional and homeopathic remedies I knew to use for calming my nervous system and clearing the radioactive dyes they injected into my veins; doing prayer and ho’oponopono constantly.   I am grateful for knowing to get help and support from others too – receiving acupuncture and craniosacral work, hypnotherapy and energy healing from my gifted and wise friend Kathleen, talking with family and a few close friends. I’m incredibly grateful for my partner, Zelie, who was with me every step of the way, offering to be with me for each appointment, listening to all my stories and holding me while I cried.

Fear of Not Living

I am grateful, because even with all these tools, I cried. A lot. Even with my own and others’ intuitive read that I did not have cancer and wasn’t dying, I was terrified. I was more frightened than I’ve ever been in my life. More off-center and filled with anxiety than I’d  been during the ten and a half months that Elizabeth had cancer, or even when she died.  I kept working with this fear, asking what was it I was so frightened of? It wasn’t fear of death. I know deeply that when it’s time to die, death itself is welcome. It was fear of not living. What terrified me most was the idea that I have so much left to do, that I haven’t yet fulfilled my purpose here, and I need many years still to do that.  I feel I’ve been preparing my whole fifty years of life (maybe even lifetimes) for what lies ahead, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to have that chance.

Of course, I did not want to have cancer either. Watching my grandfather, then my daughter, and now one of my closest friends go through treatment for cancer, I knew I could do it if I had to, but really. I was asking the Divine “Really? Can I please have a break?” I lost my daughter less than two years ago, I was still exhausted from my move to Hawaii, and I am entering what feels like the best, prime years of my life for my work serving others: writing, teaching, facilitating, doing healing work and bringing through the gifts that Elizabeth shares through me. I could not believe that the Divine plan was for me to go so soon, and yet, I didn’t believe that was the plan for Elizabeth, and she was just 22 when she died of cancer.  I knew that it was not up to me and my preferences. I kept doing The Work, inquiring within my heart about the truth of what I was believing, and on some deep level, I had to surrender to the mystery and the suchness (as my teacher Brugh Joy used to say).

I felt Elizabeth especially close throughout these many months, from April til early August.  The synchronicity of this was not lost. She had lymphoma, initially in her chest, which recurred in her brain. This recurrence was essentially untreatable, and my mystery bump was on my head, in a very similar place to where her tumor was, on the opposite side. (Interestingly, my bump had appeared some time in the months before Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer.)  I sat with her as she had brain MRIs done, CT scans of her body, countless blood draws, meetings with worried doctors, and I could only experience that through my own eyes and heart, as her mother.  This time, it was my body we were talking about, my life, and it was a completely different experience. I feel that a large part of why I was going through all these tests and the emotions that accompanied them, was so that I could have a better understanding of what Elizabeth (and others facing a terminal illness) may have gone through.  Another part is to take me deeper on my own healing path, feeling and expressing layers of emotions and writing about some difficult aspects of my relationship with Elizabeth.

Direct Evidence of The Mind/Body Connection

I’ve long had an immense respect for, and direct experience of the mind-body connection. What happened during this time of such stress served to more deeply embed this in my being. I hadn’t had any pain from this bump, other than an occasional tenderness over the years. However, after I heard the possibility that it could be cancer, and I was so overwhelmed with fear, with my stress levels high, I started having pain in the area of the bump! I could feel the pain increase after I had a conversation with my doctor, and I could feel the pain decrease when I placed a tachyon directly over it.  The tachyon is a small disk that helps to direct healing energy to what it’s placed on. It also had an immediate effect of visibly shrinking the bump! I could feel my body relax as soon as I placed the tachyon, and seeing the bump shrink by the week also helped me to relax, so it worked in several ways.

Lab Tests to Rule Out Myeloma

Finally I had a new doctor who agreed that blood tests might give some information towards a diagnosis. Kaiser sent me an email with each test result, and with each one my heart would be racing as I clicked on the link to see the results. Almost all came back quickly and normal, (and I’ve never been so happy to be normal in my life!), until we were down to the one test for myeloma (bone cancer), which seemed to be the doctor’s biggest concern.  This one, of course, took many days, and the first of two parts came back normal, which had me sobbing in relief. However it was on a Friday afternoon that the last of the tests came in. I was so nervous – it felt like I was going to open an envelope that would determine the course of the rest of my life. The result showed something that I did not understand and didn’t know how to interpret!  I could not believe it.  I had to wait til Monday to receive an email response from my doctor that it was normal!  Finally, something in me shifted and I trusted what I’d been feeling, that I do not have cancer and my body is healthy.

There was one piece to complete however, which involved surgery (albeit minor), to my head. You may know that Elizabeth had brain surgery in July of 2012, to try to remove the tumor which wasn’t responding to chemo, and the surgery did not go as planned. Her brain swelled, necessitating a second surgery to remove part of her skull, and she then had a stroke. After a week in ICU following the surgeries, she came home to hospice. So having a bone biopsy of my skull was rather unnerving, but this was the way to get clarity about what is causing this bony growth.  (I’d been asking for this since the beginning of the tests and mystery, but that is another story.)

A Bone Biopsy and Flashbacks

The biopsy itself was fairly uneventful, with Zelie flying with me from Maui over to Oahu as that’s where they can do a CT-guided biopsy. They told me I wouldn’t have much pain afterward, even though the radiologist had to essentially drill a small hole into my forehead bone. The next day at home, as the local and sedative medications wore off, I started to have intense pain. Fear combined with pain makes it much worse, and because I’d been told not to expect pain, I was worried that something was wrong. We were also preparing for a hurricane that night, which only added to the stress… 

Elizabeth Blue, Elizabeth Meagher, hospice

Elizabeth liked ice packs on her head – this was when she was in hospice, not in much pain

Sitting with a frozen pack on my head and crying in pain brought me right back to when Elizabeth was having horrible pain in her head, when the cancer had come back in her brain, but before we knew that’s what was going on.  I finally took something stronger than a tylenol, along with many remedies to help reduce swelling and bruising, and to facilitate healing, including arnica, dandelion root tea, and turmeric, and was able to get some restless sleep that night.

Cancer Free

I received an email the next day, saying there was no cancer found! All they could say was that it was “reactive bone”, usually caused by trauma. So on one hand I’m back to where I started, with a bump on my forehead, no real idea what it is, and knowing that it is nothing to worry about, which had been true these past three years. On the other hand, I’m in a very different place than where I started: I have a new perspective on mortality and what it can feel like when you, or your doctors, believe you may have a terminal illness. I have a different appreciation for the amount of time we have here, and how precious each day is. I wish I could say that every day is beautiful and the whole world looks fabulous all the time, but that’s not quite it. I’ve always been grateful to be alive. I lost my father at age 3, and had a usually fatal illness myself when I was 4, so I’ve been blessed with a profound appreciation for the gift of life as long as I can remember. What has changed is subtle. It is slowing down, eating more croissants (cause we never know…), loving more, with greater compassion, and I hope, greater presence.

Lucia Maya, healing, heart

My new heart…

Almost two weeks later, I still have a bruise/abrasion (mysterious how it got there – it covers the bump, but it’s not where they placed the needle) in the shape of a heart on my forehead. It may go away eventually, but I feel like I now have a heart tattooed on my third eye, a daily reminder to see everything through the heart. And another reminder that my heart will continue to heal.

The Shadow Side of Love

I’m crying before I even start to type. I’ve been avoiding this blog for months, knowing this post needs to be written and holding off as long as possible. It’s hard to write about the difficult aspects of my relationship with my first-born daughter Elizabeth, and yet I feel compelled to paint a full picture, to give greater context for our unconditionally loving relationship at the end of her life. Even more, to show that this spirit who is now so loving and who assists so many from the other side, had many facets and was incredibly complex. Ours was a mother/daughter relationship that encompassed unconditional love, hate, compassion, need, affection, and a deep soul connection unique to us.

Elizabeth Blue, Jade Beall,  Lucia Maya,

Elizabeth Blue and Lucia Maya, when she was in remission and I was crying tears of gratitude. April, 2012 (photo by Jade Beall)

Of all the people I love, she was the most challenging in my day-to-day life.  I miss her so deeply, I would give almost anything for her to be here, to be hearing about her new job, new relationship, her friends, her dreams…. And here is the “forbidden thought” (as my teacher Brugh Joy would say) – I don’t miss being pulled into her drama, into the tension that she wore like a cloak, that arose with each decision, each new beginning. I don’t miss being part of her angst.

Any of you who knew Elizabeth, either in person, or learning about her through our writing, knows that she was not all angelic. She was an incredibly wise, loving, loyal, girl and woman, and she also carried a lot of shadow, darker aspects that are less accepted. She could be fierce, mean, arrogant, “bratty”, self-centered, and hurtful. (Of course, I can be all of that as well!) Always mature for her age, from about age 9 to about 13, she was in full teenage angry-rebellious-needy-push away-pull me close mode. At age 21, when diagnosed with cancer, she and I were only about 3 years into a still-developing, sweet, mutually supportive, lovely relationship.  I had imagined that our relationship would continue to grow, deepen and soften, with less tension, and greater forgiveness. And it has, just not how I envisioned it…

Traveling to visit my younger daughter recently, I was reminded of a time when I was flying with both my girls, and Elizabeth was around 11 or 12. She was so sassy, so mean, so stubborn and hard-headed, so disgusted with me (and me with her). I remember seeing a mother with her teenage daughter across the aisle, and I still remember how sweet they were together, talking like friends, kind and appearing to enjoy each other! I longed for that, and at the time it seemed like a far-off fantasy that I could barely imagine.

Elizabeth Blue, punk rock, blue hair,

Elizabeth Blue at 13

I am well aware that I gave her some good reasons to be angry with me. In many ways, her anger and rebellion came from wanting to be closer to me, wanting me to herself, wanting all of my attention.  Somehow, at the same time that she was needing me more than ever, I was experiencing my own time of learning independence and exploring my own wilder side for the first time.  I was not a wild teenager. I was a very responsible, good student, good friend, then good wife and mother. After my divorce in my mid-thirties, I finally wanted to play, and wanted time on my own, separate from my kids. This was a fairly abrupt change for them, as I’d been a happy, devoted, stay-at-home mom up til then.  My world started to broaden, my priorities shifted, and they knew it and understandably, resented it.

From a very young age, Elizabeth did not want to share me – first with her dad, then with her younger sister, and especially when I fell in love with my new partner after I was divorced. This created an extremely challenging triangle, between me, Zelie and Elizabeth.  On the one hand, Elizabeth adored and admired Zelie, at least in the early years. But anytime I appeared to choose Zelie over Elizabeth, whether it was in a decision about discipline, rules around the house, or just when she felt left out (which was often), she was devastated and angry. Then, she’d become “bratty” (her word), manipulative, argumentative, disrespectful…

There were a couple of sweet years when she just wanted to hang out with us. This was in her early teens, just before and after we moved to Tucson and she had left behind the intense punk rock scene of the Bay Area.  She had shifted into a deeply spiritual aspect of herself, and was lovely to be with. She was writing gorgeous poetry, attending spiritual workshops, working at creating a new persona, and enjoying Tucson.

Then everything changed. Partway through our first year in Tucson, she decided she had to move back to Berkeley to live with her father, sister and new step-mother. She felt lonely and afraid she couldn’t fit in. After months of debate, she convinced us all, and we made arrangements for her to move back – I helped her apply and she was accepted at a new school, her dad rearranged their home for her, etc… About 3 weeks before she was to leave, she changed her mind. She had finally made friends and realized she wanted to stay in Tucson. She had always been able to talk (and manipulate) me into pretty much anything – she could always wear me down. I was terrible at setting limits, especially with her.

This time I said no. There was so much tension in the household, I was in a place of fear, and I couldn’t handle it. I listened to my head, rather than my heart, and told her that she had made this commitment, all of us had worked hard to set this up for her, and she had to follow through. She was furious, enraged and desperate to change my mind. She felt I was choosing Zelie over her, betraying her, and was devastated. For a variety of reasons, it was the one time I didn’t listen to my heart with Elizabeth, and it’s the only decision with her I deeply regret. I still can’t write or talk about it without crying.

She was miserable, calling me almost every day, talking of depression and begging to come home. By the end of the first semester I relented and Zelie agreed. Though in the big picture I do trust that everything happens as it is meant to, and I can see good reasons why this needed to happen, it was very damaging to our relationship.  It took years for her to trust me again, and some part of her hardened from that time. This protection around her heart only really started to soften after her cancer diagnosis, and finally released in the months when she knew she was dying.

Jade Beall, Elizabeth Blue, Lucia Maya,

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

Elizabeth and I had one of the deepest soul connections I can imagine. When I look at photos of her now, I feel like a part of my soul left with her. I hear that many mothers feel this when their child dies, so perhaps this is simply part of this process. I hear often how much she looked like me, and I can see some resemblance in photos, but she had a kind of beauty that I used to long for. And yet, it feels like we were 2 sides of the same coin, that we made a whole in some way, and now I’m missing some part of myself. It’s very hard to put into words, but I imagine many of you can feel what I’m describing.

I mourn the years that feel like they were lost, before she died. If I’d known she would leave her body at age 22, that’s one thing I would have done differently. I know she forgave me, but I still haven’t completely forgiven myself. I am working on it, with her help and guidance. Being able to share it helps to bring healing as well.