Letting Go of Boo

Last week, exactly six months to the hour after my daughter Teal died, my mother joined her. This death was entirely different. It wasn’t radical, like Teal’s death. Instead, it was gradual. The disintegration of a life; the slow drift of a continent.

It seems as if my mother had been dying much of her adult life. Boo was always craving a rest, a peace she just couldn’t get. No matter how many lists she made from her bedside, propped up on pillows, blue willow cup of coffee beside her.

No matter how many dinner parties she threw. No matter how well shined the antique copper pots were. No matter how perfect her hair, how straight her hems, how well-applied her lipstick. In some basic way, my mother felt like she just couldn’t get it right.

Oh, but I am here to say that you could, Mom. You really could. And you did.

This is the secret children know that mothers seldom realize: You are far more loved and appreciated than you know.

Boo suffered from depression, anxiety, and a number of addictions. And through it all, as dark as it got, she still managed to be funny and elegant.

She dated Joe Kennedy, JFK’s brother who died in World War II. She dated Najeeb Hallaby, who went on to be the father of Queen Noor. She was Stanford’s Campus Queen of 1938.

She was also ‘The Happy Housekeeper’, which she wrote for House & Garden, the longest-running column in Condé Nast history. And she was married to my father, a well-known artist, for 24 years along with two other men named John.

Boo was an impeccable dresser and a great beauty. She loathed exercise, preferring great conversation over a few vodka martinis. She was a spectacular cook; she knew how to jitterbug. And about every twenty years or so, something would happen that would bring her right to the edge of death. And every time Mom would magically survive.

I loved my mother, more than anything. But I was also scared for her. At any moment, I always felt like she could crumble, and that it was up to me to keep this fragile pastry shell together.

So I did what I could all through my childhood to help my mommy hang on. I never got mad. I always made my bed. I tried to be quiet and helpful. I made her endless little pictures of princesses, cats, and of her. They always said, “I love you Mommy!”

The pattern continued right through my twenties. I was the one teenager on the planet who didn’t rebel. I let her pick out all of my clothes, though we did go to war over bell-bottoms. (She relented.) And I sat through one memorable lunch when I was soon to graduate from college. She looked at me over her glass of Chardonnay and declared that I would go into ‘communications’. At which I promptly burst into tears.

I didn’t want to go into communications! I wanted to be a Broadway star. I wanted to sing and act. I wanted to be a wild creative soul writing books in Paris. I didn’t even know what ‘communications’ was, but at that moment I felt as trapped as I’d ever been. And I’d be damned if I was going to go there.

God bless Boo. Now I understand she was honestly trying to be helpful.

What a folly it is to think our parents should be any way other than exactly how they are. This is why we chose them — for within all that pain they show us what we’re made of.

I have done just what I wanted to with my life. Even though it meant that my mother and I didn’t speak for months on end sometimes. Even though I took risks again and again that kept me worrying in the night, almost none of which I ever told my mother about.

For I was a big, loud, blast of energy in her life; too much, really. And she was anxious, small and reserved, a woman trained to fit in, be charming and find her man, no matter what.

In Boo’s world view, it was always best not to rock the boat – true of so many women in her generation. And so she was ill-prepared to raise this maverick child.

Honestly, I think I scared my mother just as much as she scared me. But through her own attempts to smother me with protection, and to shape me into something more conventional, my mother actually set me free.

She gave me something to chafe up against, and so sharpen my wits and my will. Perhaps without even realizing it, my mother made me who I am today.

Within that great matrix of human understanding we are given exactly those conditions we need to thrive in. Even if that thriving means we must spend a significant part of our life in pain.

Beyond the perimeter of that pain is a glowing field of redemption;  a place we only allow ourselves to wander when we are ready. Once there we can finally take responsibility for our lives. And isn’t that what leads us directly back to joy?

Did Boo make mistakes? Yes. And did I make mistakes? Definitely. But none of that matters now. All that remains is the unified field of love that unites us all.

In the last years of her life, dementia overtook Boo and all of her anxiety and insecurity melted away. She became extraordinarily present … and she was so very, very happy to see me each time I visited. This was the heart of our connection — that love that was always there hiding underneath it all.

Forgiveness, as sweet and pure as local honey, flows back to us from the afterlife, no questions asked. And what I feel now is my mother’s purest love and pride at who I have become.

I was singing as I drove yesterday, and I could feel Boo drop in and join me. ‘That’s right, Susie,” she seemed to say. “Sing! Sing as loud as you want!”

Thank you, Mother, for everything. You will always be my greatest teacher. But most importantly, you were my mom.

And I will always love you.

What Would Shirley Do?

Lately I’ve been thinking about a childhood hero of mine, Shirley Temple. I spent hours and hours watching her pluckily tap dance down the steps of her mansion or street busk with abandon with buddies like Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.
Now as I ponder my life, I can understand why I was so attached to Shirley. Again and again, the theme emerges.
There was the kindly father figure – a fellow creative, joyful soul who exudes love, such as Bojangles. Or any number of winsome bachelors who needed a little girl in their life. Then there is the archetypal angry mother, played out by grumpy governesses and orphanage owners, or aunts who want to sell little Shirley to slavery.
Again and again, Shirley rises to the occasion, busting through obstacles. Winning over the nay-sayers. Smashing stereotypes by being the one fun-loving, irreverent kid in the orphanage. She keeps showing up as the original powerhouse little girl.
This was female liberation long before its time and I couldn’t get enough of it. How I loved it when Shirley would save the day … because that was me.
In my own little life, she gave me hope. She proved that you could be ‘too much’ … and come out a victor! You really could overcome the forces of evil – like the mean kids at school.
In reality, Shirley was a victim of the Hollywood studio system. Making movies from age three to her retirement at 12, she was making up to eight films a year and under grueling conditions. At her peak she was earning her family $300,000 per film.
In the Thirties. During the Depression.
Shirley singlehandedly saved Twentieth Century Fox from bankruptcy as she became their top grossing star for years on end. Again and again, she helped several million people get over their worries. Which was why FDR famously commented, “As long as we have Shirley Temple, we’re going to be alright.”
But what did she get for it? A measly $13 a week in spending money, and a father who embezzled all the funds in her proprietary bank account.
In my own life, I was leading a similar battle at home. And like Shirley, I was highly underpaid.
It was up to me to save my mother from her chronic depression. It was up to me to keep Dad happy so he wouldn’t pack his overnight bag and vacate to his men’s club in New York … and stay there. Dad was one of those winsome bachelors. Mom was the evil orphanage owner.
Like Shirley I had a big job to do … So I used all the charm and ingenuity I could muster. And when all else failed, I sang.
Like a child actor who starts making films at the age of four, I learned to be a little adult, too. Just like Shirley I, too, hung out in fancy nightclubs. But unlike Shirley I just fell asleep on various banquettes, while she got a famous faux cocktail named after her.
I grew up and basically forgot about Shirley Temple, but somewhere deep inside, I must have internalized her message. Because over the decades I did begin to apply more and more of Shirley’s pluck to the forces of evil in my life.
Gradually I got to move from being a victim to being more proactive. Just as Shirley herself went from being married to an abusive alcoholic at age 17, to being happily remarried to the love of her life for the next gazillion years.  Not to mention becoming the Ambassador to Ghana among other things.
So I am here to say to those of us who were also ‘too much’, there’s gold in them there hills. You truly can be unabashedly yourself. All reports are that Shirley really WAS that fun-loving, perky, uber-gifted little genius she often played. And without a tad of shame.
And if we follow Shirley’s example, we will forgive those who exploited us or used us. Indeed, we will thank them for showing us the power of our unique gifts.
For those who are in flow with all they have to share always come out the victor. And their spoils are the simple glee of living their gift!
As I begin to do this new healing work, this is the message I seem to be delivering again and again. Every last one of us has a “special essence” … and that is where our sweet spot is. In joy. In love. In business. And even in our health.
Shirley’s gift was an unabashed glee at doing what she did well – delighting all those around her with her half-scamp, half-old soul zest for life.
What would yours be?
Long live the child actor in all of us. She who has one foot in play, and the other in saving the world.
(And do let me know your thoughts on this … )

Turns Out You CAN Meet Your Own Needs … Who Knew?

Ah, life.

Recently it has taught me a lot about my own failings. For instance, that big suitcase of anger I’ve carried around most of my life? Boy, has it gummed things up for me.

But here is the good news … I can put that large, heavy valise down now. I don’t have to carry it anymore. And as I do, I can stop expecting others to save me.

Perhaps you can relate. I have a friend; let’s call her Dawn. Dawn is struggling. Like me she’s been through a huge transition in the last few years. It’s one of the things that drew us together.

Dawn has certainly been a support to me since Teal died. And her support shows up in potent spurts, all of which I have drunk up thirstily. And so I kept wanting more.

But more was not forthcoming, because … well, Dawn is struggling, too. And what a teacher she has become for me. Recently we went through a spate of planned get-togethers, all of which got cancelled, changed, rearranged. And man, was I pissed – even though I, myself, had done some of the rearranging!

Oh, that heavy valise of anger. I can feel its weight pulling on me as I drag it from room to room, town to town.

And oh that craving for someone else to fix me!

Meanwhile, I forgot that the third stage of grief is anger. Cause, hey, I’m a spiritual chick. I don’t ‘do’ mad … except that I do sometimes. Inappropriately … white-hot flames from the dragon. My anger has, at times, been my nemesis.

And now, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wants me to own my anger! Express it! Revel in it! The thought feels impossible. But if I don’t I can’t fully grieve the loss of Teal. The thought makes my toes curl.

And so it becomes abundantly clear that my beef isn’t with Dawn at all. It is with the fact that God has taken my beautiful daughter and I will never see her again. And yes, that makes me mad. So woe to anyone who gets in my path right now and doesn’t give me just what I want!

See what a fine teacher my anger is?

Harriet Lerner says in her excellent book, The Dance of Anger, that our anger is a critical warning system and not to be ignored. Nor is it to be vented willy-nilly. Instead, it is meant to be worked with, learned from, respected and understood. And savored. Anger is a beautiful indicator that something is amiss — and that would be something in MY camp, not the other person’s.

For instance, why must I demand that a friend who is struggling just as much as I am prop me up? What a disservice to poor Dawn — and me. It is most certainly not her responsibility to make me feel better So what can I do to get my needs met instead of having to lay them down at Dawn’s feet?

Yeah, yeah, yeah … but you lost your kid, my mind protests. And what’s so righteous about me that my pain is greater than hers, or anyone else’s? That thought is just as untrue as the notion that it’s up to Dawn to save me.

OK, yeah, losing Teal has been very rough indeed. “The worst thing that can happen,” some say. But I maintain that we are all in this same leaky ship together. All of us have pain, just as all of us have the chance to turn it all around. And no one’s pain is greater than anyone else’s, for we all have different capacities for what we can handle.

And so, once again, Teal’s death has been my deliverance, my redemption. My chance to live a whole, rich, unencumbered life … one in which I am finally free to let go of the anger and love the world unconditionally. So I can give the Dawns of the world a big, fat break. And instead of resentment, I can offer her a little compassion, and some understanding.

Just as my girl once did when she walked the earth.

What a profound teacher Teal was in that way. She loved the world and all of its inhabitants fully, without reservation. She just did … it was in her bones. Would she have put up with my little angry snit about Dawn for one minute? No! I can see her rolling her eyes right now, hands on hips, and saying, plaintively, “Oh, come ON, Mom …”

I feel her guiding me to let it go, direct from the afterlife. So I get to reboot and live authentically. But not as a ‘nice person’ who must hide her densely packed valise of anger at all times. But as a real person who can finally own her anger, learn from it, and give herself a break.

Now I am just a person, not a saint. Weak, flawed, and no longer eager to please. Nor am I silently resentful.

Instead I am learning to have a little compassion for myself first, and then others. And not because it’s going to get me somewhere. In fact, there is nowhere to get.

As Teal knew, there is only love and understanding. Of that I am now sure.

An Unexpected Gratitude

I have an immense amount of gratitude for my life right now – odd as that may seem. Yes, I am grieving the loss of my daughter Teal six months ago.

And yes, I am feeling my intense vulnerability right now.

But at the same time, I am celebrating in a curious way. For losing Teal has dramatically shifted not only me, but my work as well.

Or as one former client commented to me recently … “I felt your heart before, Suzanne, but now I really feel it.”

Yeah. Me, too.

This new life I’ve been given is raw, exposed, and so incredibly rich with creative possibility. I live in the gorgeous question every day now of what I am to create. What am I to do? Who am I to become?

Very gently and carefully I have begun channeling Teal’s healing energy (see below). And so my former work as a platform building coach is starting to re-emerge as something slightly different.

It is becoming a new sort of healing-coaching that softly blends both business and life — because both must exist in a tender balance. (I will keep you posted as this work becomes ready to share.)

More and more I’m becoming aware of how our pain and suffering are simply constructs we create to feed our wounds, and so keep us small and safe. I can see our fear and despair as artificial constructs we create – mere smoke in the wind. And yet they still seem so ironclad and powerful, don’t they? And important!

But I am here to say that they are not. Nor have they ever been. We just believe they are.

My self-help writing has also come charging back on its riderless white horse. (I authored two books with Ballantine in 2000 and 2003.) And so I lie awake at night wondering wondering wondering: what should I do next?

Again and again, I just get the word to wait and all will be revealed.

You will know when to begin again as a coach and healer, Suzanne, I am told. You will know when and how to disseminate your books.

Just yesterday Spirit gave me this message:

Only when you feel into the gift that the writing and healing are and the need for them, and you can come into your right place of service, can you give this gift in full conscience.

I love that. Especially the part about ‘full conscience’.

No longer can I be a strategic business owner first, and a servant to the world second. Now, to fulfill my destiny, I know the rest of my life must be rendered in complete service. The dream that changed my life back in March of 2010 was one in which Spirit showed me all the suffering in the world, and that I was meant to help heal it.

Now in the grace of this transition, I understand why I left my marriage, why I moved East, why I created and then let go of The Spiritual Marketing Quest. And even why I lost Teal.

All of it was to prepare me for this – the greatest work of my life, and the way in which I can be of deepest service to you.

Every day reveals itself as a sweet lesson in letting go. My business mind wants to whir and click, but instead my focus must be simply on how I am to support you.

To do that, first I must truly own the value of this writing and this emerging healing work. I knew it when I wrote How Much Joy Can You Stand? But grief renders what was once brilliant and rich mute and colorless. Only now am I waking up to glimpses of what I can share.

And instantly, as soon as I feel that bliss, I no longer feel so alone! I start to feel into the excitement of creating something special for you. And so I can give you my work in full conscience – with love. And I can receive your love back, which is just as it should be.

So the Spiritual Diet is no longer about conscious weight loss, but rather about how to ease your suffering and become the happy, empowered soul you are meant to be. These are the elements of a ‘Spiritual Diet’… chosen to help you rediscover your joy.

And together – together – we are meant to build the Spiritual Diet community.

Together we are meant to collaborate, co-create, spread the pollen that we collect from the various wildflowers in our lives, and so buzz through life as a swarm with more honey, more energy, more bliss.

That is my invitation right now for you … Drop by and ‘Like’ the Spiritual Diet community Facebook page and join the hive!

And/or join us on Twitter, too. And on Pinterest if that’s where you like to spend time. I share unique content in each spot, just as I’m nudged.

Finally, if you wish to receive the twice-a-month Spiritual Diet Ezine (and our free Virtual Goodie Bag that has lots of sweet spiritual gifts)

click here. Each issue includes a personal essay, plus neat finds from my life … and yours … for living a life of spiritual uplift.

(It’s a simple click to unsubscribe if you decide it’s not for you.)

In her lifetime Teal taught me about compassion, love, fun and freedom. And she lived that with a huge heart and tender vulnerability.

As her dear buddy Nacho put it simply, “I have become a better person since Teal died.” And so can we all, for this is the heart of the Spiritual Diet.

Join us, won’t you?

Are You on a Hero’s Journey?

Lately I’ve been reading about Joseph Cambell’s carefully delineated ‘Hero’s Journey’. Campbell culled the basic 17 themes from the world of mythology to explain why we do what we do … again and again … in this mortal coil.

Here’s the abridged version for those with less time and a desire for a quick hit. So you can make your own side-by-side comparison.

Because if you’re like me … well, you’re on that journey whether you like it or not. The good news, however, is that you are delivered to a much sweeter place. And you get a lot of ethereal support along the way.

 

Here’s how the Hero’s Journey generally goes down.

1. A questing person (our Hero) is told to make a radical change and leave behind everything they once knew to be familiar. They might be feeling dead in their current life, or somehow dissatisfied.

2. They might put their foot down and say, ‘Hell no!’ … or they might go with it.

3. The Hero throws it all over, and a new, magical helper appears.

4. Now the Hero ventures forth … and crosses into an uncertain world where there are no known rules, limits or structure. Enter uncertainty.

5. She enters ‘The Belly of the Beast’ and all is suddenly REALLY unfamiliar. This marks the separation from her previously known world. And there’s no going back. So she tells God she’s ready for a transformation.

6. So begins a series of tests. The Hero may fail as she goes. Or not.

7. The Hero experiences unconditional love. This is the fair maiden the shining knight goes ape for … or it could be the site of a loving mother that an infant yearns for at birth.

8. Temptation arrives. So what else is new? Is our Hero going to keep her course steady towards transformation?

9. Now Hero confronts that one thing that has the most power in her life … She confronts and is intiated by that which has the most power over her life. (In my case, my mom, but in many cases the entity is male, as in a father figure.) Here is the beginning of true detachment — and thus the coming to know redemption, joy and bliss.

10. The goal of the Hero’s quest arrives … ‘The Boon’ in Campbell’s words. And such victory is sweet, indeed. Though now the Hero is humbled and does not see herself so much as the victorious winner but more as the keeper of a sweeter state of being.

And so our Hero is humbled, and rambles off to serve the world in great, good gratitude.

For the record, Campbell provides 7 more steps. Read here to get the whole picture.

Are You on a ‘Need to Know’ Basis with Life?

I notice something about myself these days. I spend a lot of time explaining to my Higher Power how it’s going to be.
As in, I just ‘know’ what is probably going to happen – because … well, I know how things work!
Of course I see what I long for … but I probably can’t have it, right?
And there is this other, especially potent thought: I can’t really have that great dream in the sky – the one that has followed me through my life. Mainly because it’s not mine for the taking.
That is for other, better, more qualified people than me.
Oh, the power of an active mind. With it we can build castles or prisons – it is all gloriously up to us.
So, then, why on earth do I do this? Why do you? Why would any of us want to limit ourselves so?
I think it’s just so we can keep ourselves safe — under the radar and just barely detected. It’s that old bugaboo … fear of success.
How I forget, time and time again, that I am not alone. We all do this to some degree. We think that no matter how many warm bodies move through life alongside of us, and no matter how many ‘coincidental breaks’ we get … at the end of the day, it’s just up to us.
Us and us, alone.
We recognize no issuing God, no kind benevolent force, and no purpose to any of this when we are stuck in our fear. And why should we?
We are too busy clinging to the hard, cold specter of being alone in this sweet world. And so we buy into our most base beliefs.
We are undeserving.
We are flawed.
The rest of the world has it all figured out and we just … don’t.
But I am here to say that you know as well as I: this is just a load of hooey.
You know it is. I know it is.
Is it possible there is another sweeter, more tender dream instead? One that is based on a condition of mutual co-creation with the Universe, instead of lack or neglect.
One in which I can relax as I sit down to the computer to create every day. One in which my words pour out of me like the sweetest honey, without effort, without strain.
Can I simply do my work in concert with God and so know that unending bliss I have been given in this little mortal life? For this is my taste of life everlasting.
I know such bliss is available to all of us.
And so this is my prayer today: no matter how hard things seem or how badly I feel, I can allow myself to know I’m held by Spirit.
I truly am supported by the unseen, powerful hand of God in all that I do. And only the gyrations of my worrying mind will get me into trouble.
So for today, I’m going to let go of having to be right about my plans.
I’m going to release the need to know how it will all turn out.
And I am going to trust and empower Spirit to work through me, and be grateful for that, the sweetest of all gifts.
And … because I know me … I’ll be reading what I wrote here again when ever I need reminding.
Because that is how I am. A fertile mind caught in a fearful body. And so life goes on, wheels turning, one beautiful, poignant lesson at a time.

Another chapter of my book: The Hospital

I stood looking at my daughter on the hospital bed before me. The machines of the trauma unit whirred and beeped around us, a strange, barren symphony of sounds.

Her arms and legs were swaddled in layers of thermal padding; wires snaked out from behind her muted blue hospital gown. An IV poked out of each hand above her chipped purple nail polish. An array of monitors played overhead.

Only Teal’s head and her feet were plainly visible. I put my hands on her feet and her sleeping eyes sprung open – the whites flashing wide around her beautiful teal-colored eyes before they closed again.

Once more she appeared to be sleeping.

“It was only a reflex,” commented the nurse seated nearby who was monitoring Teal. “It’s normal.”

This was a new normal for which I was ill prepared. Three hours earlier Teal had been sitting across the table from me in a Peruvian restaurant. My new girlfriend had brought us to see a lecture that night on the Pachamama Alliance, a Bay Area group dedicated to saving the Achuar tribe of Ecuador from Big Oil.

Together we listened to a speaker describe how the local shamans travel between worlds. Teal turned and looked at me repeatedly, her eyes open wide as if to say, “Can you believe this?”

She was ethereal that night. She’d lost weight recently and drifted into the restaurant an hour late, looking especially beautiful. The twenty-something guys at the next table shifted and glanced in her direction as she sat down. One of them smiled at her. She did not appear to notice.

It was not like Teal to be so late – not at all. She dismissed it with a wave of her hand. “The bus,” she said simply. I noticed she was oddly quiet.

I thought perhaps it was because I was with a woman I’d only recently begun dating – a kind soul I will call Rita. Rita had done some journeying work with the Achuar, and was eager to share what she knew with Teal. They’d already connected by email, chatting about shamanism which Teal was curious about.

After the lecture, Rita described her own experiences in South America – staying in a tribal village, slogging through a jungle for hours in thick mud, fasting and taking the psychedelic drug iowaska to integrate God more fully. Then she asked Teal if she was inclined to do the same.

A world-weary smile passed across Teal’s face. “Me … Oh, I don’t know,” she said dubiously.

What she meant was ‘I can’t.’ As in, I can’t do drugs of any kind because I’m already loaded up with so much stuff I’d probably croak. And I can’t be in situations where I can’t sleep well because I might seize. And while we’re at it, slogging for hours through the mud is probably not so feasible either.

Teal turned her attention back towards her dinner, which she continued to eat silently.

I have replayed this dinner so many times in my head since her death. Should I have been more attentive to the fact that Teal was drifty and half-engaged? Should I have intervened? Usually she was a fun conversationalist who enjoyed sharing the various hilarities and truths about life. I knew she’d been looking forward to this dinner.

So what was wrong? Was she feeling shy and uncertain around Rita?

Or was she having some kind of extended petit mals that were rendering her silent? My mind drifted back to the only other time when I’d seen her like this, a few years earlier. She had been silent all day after flying home the night before in a snowstorm.

We’d taken her to a basketball game at the high school she’d graduated from a few years earlier, where she sat mute on the bleachers, unable to respond to chatting friends.

When I asked Teal if she was acting like this because she’d had a rough flight, she answered no. Instead, she said she felt terrible for all the people who’d gotten left behind at the airport, while she was on the last plane out.

Now, as we sat in the semi-silence eating our meals I wondered if I should ask Teal how she was feeling. A cautionary voice in my head stopped me; Teal’s epilepsy was not appropriate conversation for this ‘Getting to know you” dinner with Rita. I knew she’d be annoyed if I brought it up.  I decided not to say anything as the evening’s final speaker began.

The last hour passed quickly, and my mind turned to my next event:  hurrying to a downtown hotel to meet a dear friend. Teal’s godmother was in for the night from out of town; we were to meet at 9:30 sharp, so there was little time to waste.

We had secured Teal a ride home with a Pachamama staffer who lived nearby, and then we all said goodbye. I held Teal in my arms … and I can still remember that last, precious hug vividly. Her cool, thick hair that I loved to stroke nestled next to my cheek. I could feel the solid smaller mass of her body next to mine, and her sweet arms circled around me.

“Bye, Mom,” she said simply. “I love you.”

And then I was gone, out the door, mind off in another direction. Little prepared for the phone call I would get approximately two hours later from ‘Sylvia’ – a disembodied voice at San Francisco General Hospital asking if I was the mother of Margaret Barns.

***

In retrospect, there was nothing to be done. I couldn’t get to the hospital soon enough to save her.

And even if I’d taken her to the emergency room myself on the premise that she was having absence seizures, we would have waited. And waited. Triaged behind all of the other more important cases. In fact, Teal had not been to a hospital for a seizure since her first one six years earlier.

And even if she had collapsed in the ER – and could have been revived right away – Teal would have spent her coming days without brain damage perhaps. But this backpacking, free-spirited, world-travelling adventurer would ever after have to live with the specter of her own imminent demise at any time.

In the days that followed, her neurologists reassured me that they might not have even run a scan of her brain if I’d brought Teal in. If anything, they would have prescribed one more Lorazepam and sent her home.

Still, the damage was done.

Nothing in motherhood prepares you for the moments in which you sit alone on the cold vinyl couch in the small room in the ER, waiting for the bad news. A kind police officer brought me a bottle of water.

An empathetic administrator with a clipboard came in to get Teal’s paperwork signed, and I burst into tears. The administrator put her arm around me, and then surprisingly, she, too, began to cry. “I know how it is,” she assured me. “I know how it is.” Wiping her tears, she handed me the contents of Teal’s wallet, four dollars and a bus pass, and a receipt to sign.

Finally the attending physician came in. He was a compassionate man in maroon scrubs who had clearly delivered a lot of bad news in his life. “It’s rough,” he began. Then he added for emphasis, “Very rough.”

The physician went on to tell me that Teal had been without a heartbeat for between 15 and 30 minutes. That she’d had a second cardiac arrest upon arriving at the hospital. And that it was almost certain that she had sustained extensive brain damage. Since the brain can only survive in tact without a heartbeat is four to seven minutes, her condition was grave.

Yet their protocol now was treat her as if they could save her life, and as if her brain damage was minimal. There was still a tiny chance that Teal could somehow emerge from this, because the exact length of time she was without a heartbeat was unknown. Her pupils were still responding to light – and she was managing to breathe on her own, both positive – even amazing – signs. He assured me they would do everything they could.

I stepped into an elevator going up with the heavily encased figure on a gurney that was my daughter.  A hush fell over the seven nurses and physicians gathered around her. “It’s mom, honey,” I said, my voice quivering. “I’m here and you’re doing great. These people are taking incredibly good care of you. They know exactly what to do. And Dad and Luke are on their way.”

The doors opened and they hustled her off. She disappeared behind swinging metal doors.