How Losing Teal Changed Me

flower-in-crackIn 2012, my 22-year-old daughter Teal dropped dead of a medically un-explainable cardiac arrest two hours after we ate dinner together. There remains no official cause of death… and so I am changed forever.

To me, this falls in the category of ‘unspeakable loss’. These are moments when life slams you between the eyes. You collapse into pieces unsure when or if you will pick those pieces up again.

Unspeakable losses can include everything from a sudden serious illness or accident to the loss of a marriage, a career, a home, a sibling, a friend, an arm, a leg, a parent, a child … or the love of your life.

One way or another we all know these losses. They pick you up by the short hairs and casually drop you off the nearest cliff. You sit up, blinking, with no idea where to go next.

So you cry and cry. Then you cry some more. Along the way you might rage as well. Then eventually you realize you are at choice. Somewhere back there, in the dark, murkiness that used to be your life, your heart knows the way back to the light.

It has to do with surrender.

There is no getting around your catastrophe – it simply is, as horrific as that may seem. And your pain simply is as well. What may be less obvious is that they have landed in your life for a reason.

That reason may take a while to reveal itself.

For me, the reason for Teal’s sudden collapse was apparent the minute I saw her stretched out in the hospital. At that exact moment, I knew her death would be the greatest teaching of my life – that it would return me to a self I hadn’t seen much of in the last twenty years.

That thought collided with the reality that the unthinkable had just happened. But it was there, nonetheless. My daughter, who longed to be a healer, would begin by healing me.

Teal was one of the most sensitive, compassionate, joyful people I ever knew. So my task now was to return to equal measures of empathy, kindness and love towards others myself.

My steely Internet Marketing Expert self simply dissolved, never to be heard from again. In my last two years of grieving, I have become that kinder, gentler person.

“How can you even think of other people?” another mother asked who had recently lost her child. Believe me, the ‘nice vibe’ wasn’t on 24-7. First I had to really surrender completely to my grief.

I had to lie down and cry my eyes out. I had to feel all the unfairness, the bitterness, and the agonizing truth that I would never see my daughter again. I had to lie awake on hundreds of sleepless nights. And I had to somehow wrap my mind around the fact that Teal simply didn’t exist anymore.

Then eventually, when the time was right, I began to pick up the dropped pieces. I have made false starts here and there, but a gorgeous thing has happened: I no longer have to know how things will turn out.

I no longer have to “Be A Success” or “Make Lots of Money”. Those agenda items seem oddly out of synch now. What I do with the rest of my time here is far more important now than the results I produce.

In the aftermath of Teal’s death, I find I am humbler and a little less dramatic.

I listen more and more for God’s will.

I ask for help when I need it.

I make my self-care the first priority.

I worry less and listen to others more.

I no longer try to control reality, and manipulate others to get results.

Instead I am learning Teal’s maxim: “Just be, Mom.”

As a result I now receive far greater love and abundance, without really doing much of anything to make it happen.

Or perhaps it’s that I have dissolved into an unexpected gratitude. For isn’t that always the choice with an unspeakable loss? We truly can be bitter … or we can become better for it.

The choice is ours.

So I have found an unexpected solace in being a good person and doing the right thing. Like Teal’s own warm, rich laughter, that goodness seeps into my heart and makes me whole again.

Now all I want to do is help people, and so I find my way.

Thank you, Teal.

A Powerful Anniversary years ago today my beautiful  Teal left the planet. Here is a picture taken of us a month before her sudden death. There still is no official ’cause of death’, and I suspect there never will be. But to me her cause of death was for me to wake up — to begin to live life in a deeper, richer far more honest way.

Because of Teal’s death I have become humbler, kinder and my values got a massive readjustment. Thank you, Teal, for the profound healing you have already provided me with. May I serve your memory in all that I do and honor the beautiful grace you lived with in your 22 years.

Thank you for your shimmering, sweet spirit that shines in my world every day. Not one of us will ever forget you.

My Adventure in the Woods: The Power of a Good Trip

Pinigree.BEST.crop2Every once in a while we need a good adventure – a way to climb out of our safe little havens and stretch. I just returned from such an experience – and I am so much better for it.

I have begun to date a serious backpacker. Rachel has been exploring the backcountry of the Sierras for 43 years, sometimes for as long as 13 days. And so it was natural she would want me to come along on a little jaunt.

With a pack. Sleeping in a tent. Carrying all of my food .. and my everything … for my five day trip.

“Imagine leaving your life behind and just losing yourself in the wilderness for a while,” she crooned. “Time just disappears.”

I objected at first. Couldn’t time just disappear for two or three days?

Of course, she replied. But there will be other campers. Turns out you need  to hike further into the wild for time to disappear.

Uh … how far would that be?

A total of 26 miles … with a 35 pound pack. At altitude.

My mind sputtered and reeled. A big, fat no erupted from my lips. “That’s fine,” she said casually. And she meant it. But then she said the thing that clinched the deal. “But I know you can do it if you want to, Suzanne. And you will gain so much confidence from this.”

This, friends, is the real reason for an adventure. Even at the ripe old age of 55, I need boosts to my confidence. And I suspect we all do.

So I agreed. I knew she was right.

Not being a lover of pain, I trained for the trip, walking San Francisco’s hilly shoreline with a pack that got progressively heavier each time I went. The first time I carried 30 pounds 6 miles, I came back triumphant. I could do this thing!

We went on an overnight test trip – a taster of what was to come – and I came back inspired.

I leapt into calculating food/energy ratios, reading Calories from Fat contents and playing around with an app called Cronometer to design the perfect diet of low-weight, high calorie food. Fresh fruit and veggies were out … Reese’s Pieces were in.

The big day arrived and as I hoisted the pack on my back, I felt excited and nervous. I had no idea if I could do this … but I trusted my guide implicitly. So I went.

That first day we climbed higher and higher up into the granite peaks, and I began to relax. The ever-unfolding trail stretched before us … disappearing into dark woods. Rambling lakes and streams came and went. Granite peaks soared around us, strewn with boulders that had been there for thousands and thousands of years.Athena on trail.crop

Rachel’s dog, a German Shepherd named Gertie, darted ahead carrying her own pack, sniffing as she went. Nature’s battered but permanent self presented herself to us – a beautiful, ancient bosom to lose ourselves in.

I kept going on and on that first day, unable to stop, until my legs were wobbling and I had begun to stagger. We had walked 8 miles.

We spent the night by a large murky puddle that yielded a tea-colored water after filtering. We told ourselves it had more tannin than Chardonnay, and tried not to think about what we were drinking. “We’ll be fine,” reassured my love. And we were.

We took off our watches the next day, and made our way to an obscure lake deep in the wilderness. To get there, we took a secret ‘packer’s trail’ named for the mules and horses who’d carried camping tourists and their gear this way.

The trail was no bigger than a deer’s footpath in places. When we had to cross up into the mountains, itrocky peak path.crop became a rock-strewn field of granite marked only by a trail of manure and the occasional dusty hoof-print. Other back packers had left ‘ducks’ (or cairns as we call them in the East) – a small pile of rocks indicating the direction to walk.

“Find the trail,” Rachel would say to Gertie when we weren’t sure where to go. Damed if she didn’t find it nearly every time.

Magically we made our way to our destination, a perfect lake high in the mountains. It was a lake so serene and pure, and so quiet, the stillness was palpable. There wasn’t another soul.

That night we lay on our backs and watched a shower of meteors streak the night sky like fat, iridescent rockets. We swam in the deep blue and lounged on rocks that seemed to have been perfectly arranged by God.

We ate when we wanted to. We rested or explored when we wanted to. Time really had lost all of its meaning.

We found our way back along a different route; through the rock fields, across cold streams and up into the sun-parched peaks again and again.

Somehow, now, it wasn’t difficult. A new strength had already been forged in me – one I was ready for after nearly two years of grieving my daughter’s death.

Now I found that all that mattered was the next step and then the next step. I had become present with life again in an entirely new way – and so each mile became a sort of celebration for me.

At the end of the trip I was glowing, albeit with a thick coat of grime. But gorgeous grime it was, for every inch of it was laced with gratitude.

End of trip smiling.SF.cropI returned with gratitude for the woman who showed me the way back home. And gratitude for my own willing heart that could put aside comfort to experience to real riches in life.

These are the ones that linger right on the edge of pain and fear, past all the doubt and hesitation.

It is here that we truly can be born again.