My Guided Book is Here

This morning, after some meditation, the book I have been feeling .. and some of you have suggested I write … arrived. Such a wonderful feeling to be in flow with God, creating. Each step, each word I write, feels guided. Even my nudge to research epilepsy and spirituality this morning yielded an NPR interview about this with … Teal’s neurologist! The path is clear.

And so I am putting out a chunk of what I’m writing as I go, just to get your impressions. Here begins ‘Tales from the Afterlife: How My Daughter’s Death Was My Rebirth.”

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On a cool August night in San Francisco, an hour after I gave her a hug goodbye in a North Beach restaurant, my daughter Teal died.

For the first time.

Teal went into cardiac arrest in the locked bathroom of her apartment, collapsing into the empty bathtub beside her. Her roommate Adam, a bartender and aspiring writer, was in his bedroom with his headphones on, listening to music. He was barely aware Teal had come home.

Fifteen to twenty minutes later he attempted to use the bathroom, found the light on, the door locked, and no response. In the minutes that followed he deliberated about what to do next.

Was this an emergency … or not? Should he break the door down? What if she just needed to be alone for personal reasons and so she wasn’t answering?

He tried phoning Teal but her cell phone ringer was off.

They’d only occupied the same apartment for a few months, and he really didn’t know her that well. Should he try to intervene? Back and forth Adam went in his mind until finally, some moments later, he jimmied the door open and found Teal sprawled in the tub.

The EMT’s came within four minutes and managed to revive her heart. What had happened exactly was unclear. There was no sign of any alcohol or drugs. She clearly hadn’t tried to take her own life.

At age 22, Teal had simply … died.

What none of them realized was that Teal was an epileptic; it was a personal fact she was loathe to share with housemates and friends. Her epilepsy was an embarrassing truth to Teal, and she was very careful about who got to know this.

Teal had a moderate case of epilepsy — her seizures were well controlled with a variety of drugs. She’d only had a handful of seizures – in a restaurant while waitressing, on a beach in Ghana, once while taking a shower, the morning after her junior prom.

Her condition simply meant she had to be very careful with sleep and alcohol consumption, take her meds, and stay out of high-stress situations. It also meant she lived her life with a secret that at times galled her and frustrated her.

Yet in the last year of her life, Teal’s epilepsy also became her salvation.

The drugs she took for this condition, Lamotrigine and Zonisimide, were an intense, brain-slowing stew that kept her from going into the overdrive that created seizures. Yet they also produced anxiety and panic attacks. And, though we didn’t realize it at the time, taking multiple drugs of this type put her at an increased risk for something called SUDEP.

SUDEP stands for Sudden Death in Epilepsy. It is a little understood, rare phenomenon in which a small percentage of epileptics simply collapse and die like Teal did. It’s classified as a sudden and unexpected death by an epileptic in which a clear cause is absent.

One in 3000 epileptics dies this way, almost all of them alone.

The night before she collapsed, Teal called me. I was in the swirl of preparing for some dinner guests. “I can only talk for a minute,” I told her. “No, Mom,” she replied. “You need to listen to me now.” There was an urgency in her voice I seldom heard, so I did what mothers do – I forgot about the rest of life and I focused on my child.

She described the last three or four day as ‘not good’. “I think I’m going to have a really big seizure,” she told me. But when I suggested we find a neurologist right away, she demurred. “They’re just going to want to change my drugs – and I like them,” she protested.

This magic combo were the first she’d found in her six years since diagnosis that made her feel like she had in the old days, before her first seizure. She wasn’t lost in a fog, eating compulsively, or unable to track conversations. She could remember things more easily, and she felt her old energy again.

But more importantly, she felt a closer connection to God.

In fact, Teal had decided her condition had been given to her so she could access her spirituality. After a seizure in 2010, she found her way to Omega, a spiritual center in Massachusetts where her father was studying.

There she found women who taught her about prayer and meditation, goddesses and belly dancing. There she also bought her beloved Goddess Cards, and began the path that led her to her next significant spiritual milestone –this one in a hostel in Morocco.

The connection between epilepsy and spirituality is strong – it is said that epileptics have a thinner than usual veil between them and the other side. Indeed, no less than the original doctor, Hippocrates, wrote a text about epilepsy calling it ‘The Sacred Disease’.

…. To be continued.

What if There Really Was Enough in This Sweet World?

Lately I’ve been thinking about my future. It’s a place us divorced women at midlife go a lot in our minds.

Will I have what I need as I get older? Can I create a big enough safety net?

Can I really rely on just me to bring me whatever I need for the rest of my life?

It’s a practical question – and one that must be asked. Especially by me. Because somewhere long ago, I got programmed to believe others should take care of me — like a husband, or Master Card.

Somehow, someway I didn’t believe I could do it. I decided I wasn’t enough.

Maybe you know this feeling … it’s a deeply grounded sense of lack. A feeling that no matter how great your accomplishments, you don’t deserve to do the happy dance quite as much as others do.

For me, I’ve often felt like I was ‘just barely hanging on’ … no matter how many thousands of people read my books. No matter how many radio and TV interviews I get. No matter how much money I make or how many gazes follow me around the room at cocktail parties.

I’ve been grateful for my accomplishments, mind you. But they were simply never enough to fill the gaping void at my core. This is the void that alternately screamed and whispered epithets … none of which were particularly nice.

It is really hard to hear that voice, somehow. Yet at the same time it is quite impossible to ignore. For that voice springs from the very core of our being – a place where we know ourselves like no one else does.

And it is this voice with which we can build, or not build, our future.

So enters Lack. This is the quality my own inner voice has feasted on all these years. In my own childlike way, I tried to keep up with its demand.

I took hired lots of experts who knew more than me, and wound up in debt more than once. I made agreements with business colleagues I couldn’t keep. I waved my little flag of shame right alongside my wins. And still my hungry, gaping maw was not satisfied.

Through it all, it devoured every win I had and then immediately smacked its lips, requiring more. It was as if no matter how hard I tried … I could never keep up.

For a long time it looked like there wasn’t enough in this world of whatever I wanted – be it money, love or vacation days. But in my heart a slower truth burned: I simply was not enough — nor would I ever be.

And so the illusion of lack perks along, informing us again and again of something that is not true. For in fact, we are enough. We were born enough. We have always been enough. And we will always be enough. God designed us this way.

It is only that seed of self-doubt, planted by our sweet, simple, childish minds that would believe otherwise. And so our learning path is carved out for us, step by rocky step.

The answer is not to shake ourselves by the shoulders and bully our souls into submission, demanding better behavior. (You may have noticed that doesn’t work.)

Incredibly, we must make friends with the hungry, gaping maw.

We must own that diminished dark place inside that sucks in all scraps of goodness, and spews out toxic waste. We simply need to muster up our courage, shine the light on the maw and get to know it better.

For when we do, we learn a surprising secret: the maw has only ever wanted to protect us.

How could something so vengeful, so personally hateful, be motivated by love? Well, because when we were one or two or three, our little child selves decided that this was so.

Almighty mommy couldn’t possibly be out of line, we thought, so we ourselves must be wrong. And so the maw appeared and instantly the condition of eternal not-enoughness began.

Again and again, we chose situations to bear that out. Indeed, this is all part of the plan – the contract we make with the maw. For its job is to keep us on the edge of reason at all times, never comfortable and always grasping.

So if we’re really paying attention, we can begin to find our way out of trouble. We can learn from the signposts along the way, and start to converse with the maw instead of feed it.

We can begin to know what we need. We can recognize our patterns. We can own our truths. And we can begin the dear, deep process of self-forgiveness.

So we rescue ourselves and finally begin to know enough-ness, in all of its tender, sweet, undiminished brightness.

This really is the peace that passes all understanding. And may this be yours today … if you so choose.

Spending the Weekend with God

Today I am having a day-long date with God. Maybe I’ll even make it a weekend with God. I have no plans and no particular place to be – only some vague ideas about laundry, a swim, maybe a pedicure.

So I surrender. I choose to be in that divine place of uncertainty, on the edge of reasoned thought – not needing, in this minute at least, to fill myself with tasks. Or to even know what I’m going to do next.

Oh, the glory of nothing to do! How I feel I can let myself relax and open up to new possibilities. Like a tightly closed bud, unfurling.

Those of us who are alone – the divorced, the widowed, the lonely, the unattached – we can dread weekends. That is when you go to Home Depot and see couples walking the aisles, shopping for sinks. Or if you’re grieving the loss of a child like I am, you see children darting here and there, and you long for that little girl, the young woman who no longer exists.

Just for the record, I don’t want a partner, a home or a renovation project – or even another child — at this moment in my life. But I can remember in the last few years when I spent more time in longing than in contentment. When the rest of the world seemed to get this ‘life thing’ far better than me.

Then I used weekends like a weapon. They were my acid test: do I have it together enough to fit in with the rest of this weekend-happy crowd of relationally successful people?

Can I pull off this thing called a happy life?

But here is the question that’s on my mind now: can I let myself off the hook and just embrace where I am today?

Can I allow myself to love my aloneness, my expansive, rich, creative palette of possibilities. Can I actually wake up, like I did just this morning, excited to get up, get going and see what I discover?

Can I allow myself to not know what will unfold on this date with God? And so can I give myself joy as a gift today, instead of a yearning?

Can I trust myself enough to dissolve into contentment just like I slide into the lap pool up the road. And can I just swim in it, lap after lap, with no limit, no end?

Can I know I am worth trusting again? Even though I blew it repeatedly in ways imperceptible to anyone else’s eye over the years. And even though I’ve been left with my lot of pain. Still, can I emerge, blinking into the sunlight?

I’m fool enough – or possibly wise enough — to believe God wants to spend the weekend with me. And so I make my aim to be good company, in that I will listen more than I speak.

I will soften more then push.

And I will, above all, tune into my desires moment after moment. And give myself just what each moment calls for.

What are you doing this weekend … for you?

A final thought: if it makes sense, join my free Teal Healing tomorrow night (or get the recording.) Kind of a spiritual endcap to these two beautiful days of emptiness, sweetness, whatever-you-want-ness. And, I suspect, one reason I’m feeling the desire to spend the weekend with God.

I’ll be sharing her energy and love all mixed up with my own. You can get the call info below.

Sweet days and sweet dreams, my friends. I love you all!

Learning to Forgive Myself

I am learning to do the unthinkable these days … I am learning to forgive myself. And such purchase is not so easily won.

To get there I have to do something most unlikely – I have to look at my transgressions. My faults; those little things I did that made me stink. I have to go right into the belly of the beast.

Twelve Step recovery programs refer to this work as the Fourth and Fifth Steps. That would be making “a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” Then admitting “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.”

Lo, how I have resisted this. For to do so would be to acknowledge that I am flawed. And so the mask of perfection I’ve carefully paraded through this life is cracked and must come down.

Perhaps you know that mask.

It’s that sense that at any given moment, in any given situation, you’d better damn well have some answers – whether you know anything about what’s going on or not.

How I have carried the weight of the world on my shoulders all these years – needing to prove to you or anyone else who will listen how worthy I am. Your problem becomes my problem, my test of strength, my proving ground. And if I solve it … will you love me?

There is no valor here, as it turns out. There is only neediness and grasping. And there certainly is no love.

There can’t be. For in this place, my well has run dry. I have no love for me, so there won’t be any for you either.

And yet, wildly, there is this new place of possibility that lives squarely, smack dab in the middle of my weaknesses. Here I am learning to breathe again, to relax and be gentle with myself.

I am seeing that old need to control, cajole, push, manipulate, steam roller and otherwise persuade others to do things ‘my way’ wasn’t okay. But it also wasn’t my fault.

It was simply a way of being that was firmly locked in place by the time I was five years old – and it had a lot to do with survival.

Back in those days, I listened to a lot of fights at night as I was trying to go to sleep. My martini-laced parents would be at it again, voices raised, accusations being hurled, while I lay in my bed hugging myself and humming to avoid the fear; the incredible fear that at any moment my world would end.

They’d divorced before. They could do it again. And then where would I be?

This is what we do when we are young: we assume things. We assume we are responsible. We assume we must put out the fires. We assume that if we don’t we will die. And sometimes, we are even right.

Most of all, we assume we don’t rate the usual love … the kind that’s unconditional.

And so now, all these years later, the ghosts in the corners wish to be fed. They are tapping us on the shoulder, saying, “Please look at me, please feed me.” If we are in the second half of life, it’s now or never … as our ghosts remind us.

And so, carefully, I am taking out these weaknesses of mine one at a time and examining them, like antique plates in a china shop. I am studying their cracks, their patterns, and observing their innate beauty. For in them is an entire map of my pain.

I am no longer afraid of what I will find because now it doesn’t matter so much. In losing everything in the last year, what I found was the freedom of non-attachment.

Since I no longer am trying to hang on to a dying marriage or relationship, or a business partnership that has had its day, I am free to explore. And since I no longer have a big world to support, I don’t have to be impressive. Or smart. Or well-packaged.

All I have to be is me. And right now, that means means giving myself the time and space to own my copious transgressions. And then see the sweet, childish logic that kept them in place for so long.

I used to think my problem were the meanies who came after me – those taunting kids at school, my jealous siblings, and later in life, lovers who judged me harshly with stinging verbal assaults. Man, were they wrong.

And yet, who invited them in to play? I did. And why? Because of that little girl who lay in her bed all those years ago, humming and hugging herself, avoiding the truth pounding through her head … the truth that life wasn’t safe. And that she didn’t deserve love.

I have immense sympathy for this little one now. She did the best she could, albeit clumsy. She simply did the best she could.

And so, I can slowly let my shoulders relax. Tenderly, I can acknowledge that I am no longer being tested and I can take myself off the hook.

Perhaps I can even set up a new life for myself in which love is no longer shot through with harshness, but kindness. And I can find that freedom I have longed for all these years … the freedom to love myself again, and so love another as deeply as I can.

For isn’t that what the promise of life is all about?

How clever of God to hide this bliss in the one place we are least likely to look: our most awkward, unkind moments. For if we can love ourselves here, then we can love the world as we were intended to … freely, beautifully. Fully.

How to Forgive Your Mother

I said goodbye to my mother a few days ago. At ninety-four, she is a fragile, shrunken figure lying in a nursing home bed. A once-fierce woman who has pretty much given up the battle and lost her ability to speak. A former magazine columnist who can’t think much these days beyond the spot on her trousers, or the nail polish she keeps chipping from her fingers.

Boo is waiting to die, though death as a concept is not something she understands anymore. She just knows she is waiting for something, and the wait seems very, very long.

When I sat with her each day in her room, she knew who I was. Or at least I think she did. She gave me that special look reserved for mothers and their daughters – a combination of pride mixed with assessment. ‘I love your sweater,’ she managed to say. It was the only sentence she spoke.

Boo was a blue-eyed Campus Queen of Stanford, class of 1942, who married one of the few men around during World War II. He was dashing; she was beautiful. She was profiled in House Beautiful as a ‘perfect wife and mother’, despite the fact that she was in the middle of leaving her glamorous husband and fleeing east with another man. Her three children got to come along, too.

How to write about my mother and the mille-feuille of our complicated relationship? Imagine layer upon layer of shame, guilt, fear, dedication, devotion, control, jealousy, empathy, strategy, maneuvering, and yet … somehow … still love.

Then imagine me – loud, precocious, smart, too much and completely unexpected after she remarried. And her – anxious, worried, overwhelmed and trying desperately to get it right in her new marriage.

And then soak it in a whole lot of booze and pills. Throw in a suicide attempt, weekends in Manhattan, lots of celebrities, loud fights and an ever expanding attempt to keep the glamour going in her Liz Taylor-Richard Burton marriage to my father.

And yet, somehow, there was love. Still love … all stitched under, through, and around the chaos.

My mother speaks to my soul in some basic way only mothers can. Long ago I managed to detach from needing her seldom-dispensed approval. And I learned how to not ask for help over the years because she always turned the conversation back to herself. But there she is … still in my heart.

So I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t have resentment; Boo was far from the perfect mother. And yet, still there is that damn love. When one is near death, that really is all that matters.

With it comes the opportunity for forgiveness. Because these days there doesn’t seem to be much charge around my ‘story’ of Boo’s misdeeds. In fact, it bores me silly.

Instead, there is only the present. Now time has stripped her bare and there is only a coming to terms with its march, ever forward. I have no need to bear a grudge any more. I am my own creation now – not my mother’s, despite her many failed attempts to get me back in the box I kept slipping out of.

While I sat by her bed, she spent much time just looking at me. Sometimes she eyed me suspiciously from the depths of her dementia. But more often, she just gazed at me serenely. We sat in Zen silence and communed.

There really was nothing to say … just a state of being to hang out in. And so this visit was extraordinarily tender and intimate in its own sweet way.

The drama had melted away; life had become basically insignificant. And we were rendered mute.

Near the end of the visit, I apologized to my mother for not coming to visit her more often over the years. She is in the suburbs of Philadelphia and I live in Northern California, so visits have only happened occasionally for some time. I cried and felt genuine remorse. Truthfully it was decades ago that I stopped trying to be a good daughter.

She just gave me a look that dismissed all of my concern, my shame, and my neglect in a heartbeat. It doesn’t matter, she seemed to say. Boo understood.

That’s about when it sunk in that I would probably never see her again. This was it … the thought filled me with a deep clutch of grief.

Before I left, I gave my mother a hug and held her close for a long time, and then for a moment I stroked her cheek. Her eyes softened and there it was … that damn love beaming out at me. Whether she knew me or not didn’t matter any more. I knew she loved me deeply.

And in the face of such love, all anyone can do is just lay down their sword. And so it was that I came to forgive my mother.

And that she came to forgive me.

 

How the Worst Year of My Life Was My Rebirth

2012 was a watershed year for me – I let go of a committed relationship, my home, my business partnership, and the powerful coaching practice that went with it.

And just when I was truly wandering in the desert, not knowing who I was, where I was to go, or … I thought … how to get along in this world, I lost my daughter Teal.

This is when things started to get truly interesting. For I thought I’d been through ‘the worst’ when this happened. I loved my partner! I was in anguish that she ended our relationship! I’d given up my home to move in with her just a few months before!

And hey – how was I going to make a living now anyway? Oh, the drama, self pity and victimized howls of protest that ensued …

Then Teal died and tore the lid off of all my preconceived notions about myself and what life is really all about.

Now I know that the ‘story’ that we tell ourselves from day to day is meaningless. That there is no right, no wrong, and no one who can ever truly hurt me or you.

I write this with tears of gratitude streaming down my face for what I know is that we are always held in divine grace – we just are. And when we remember, and turn back towards that comforting light, the answer is right there … clear as day.

And so I have learned I am nothing more than a healer. The only thing that REALLY matters in this life is how many people I touch.

How much you or I ‘have’ is also an illusion. I gave up the big showcase house a few years ago when I left my marriage and have been steadily downsizing every since.

Now I live in a sweet, comfortable house in which I rent a sunny, beautiful room. I have no mortgage, no love interest and no big obligations. I even gave up my smart phone in the interest of becoming more present and less distracted.

So I am discovering emptiness … and in that beautiful, simple place I grieve, I let go more and more, and so I truly heal. I have begun to piece together the puzzle of my life, and in doing so I am finding a new picture of myself.

This picture of me is stronger, freer, more stable. More grounded in what is right and true, and no longer needing to hang on tenaciously to that which does not serve.

I no longer need to prop up the false image I projected to the world for all those years – the hero with all the answers, ready to fix any problem, leap into any fray, and hold up the Universe on my bony shoulders.

No, no, no. I simply didn’t realize the Universe wanted to hold me up. And so I can safely say that the ‘worst’ year of my life was in so many ways my rebirth. My delivery. My redemption.

One of the sweetest discoveries is that I have friends! Like Sally Fields receiving her Oscar, I’m just now seeing the vast sea of caring souls out there who believe in me.

For the first time in my life, I am truly letting in that caring support and it is vast. From the total strangers whose stories weave and intermingle with my own in groups I attend, to those who leave their naked, beautiful shares on my posts on Facebook.

Hundreds and hundreds of people from all the different decades of my life have contacted me since Teal’s death … reaching out simply to say they are sorry I am in pain. And then new friends have arrived in my new world north of San Francisco, all of them committed to holding me and helping me through this.

So I dissolve, again and again into the sweet bliss of union.

I also talk to Teal often … she drops in at night when I waken sometimes. Lately she has been playing the Bob Dylan song, ‘I Shall be Released.’ So I looked up the lyrics:

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released

I am in the process of being released into that very light. I am being shown the vast chambers within – my own sea of tranquility; my own gleaming horizon which I can venture towards. For really there is no other choice … is there?

I mean, yes, okay. You can mire yourself in the petty pursuit of being right, and lock yourself in a cage of your own fear. And you can cling to all that is tangible as the ‘way’ – putting the pursuit of security first before everything else.

Or you can simply surrender, let go and slide down the waterslide of Spirit into bliss. As someone who is doing exactly this, let me reassure you that the water is fine.

In 2013 may you discover just how held you are, how beautifully, preciously loved you are … by those around you, by God and even by the rest of us.

Discover that oneness by simply letting go, dear friend. For that is your ticket to peace.