Week 4, Part 1: Working the Woo-Woo

Week Four

Tuesday, August 27

I stayed at home all day. I was completely and totally exhausted from working late the day before, and was so relieved that something gave me have the presence of mind not to schedule anything that Tuesday. I had some visitors, but I did not schedule anything out of the house.

My friend Joy came by with her three-year-old daughter during the day. I guess I picked Grace up early from school that day. The girls had fun playing, and Joy brought a giant bowl of homemade popcorn for them.  Joy also brought a gift. Before handing it over to Grace and me, she said, “I made you something, and I hope you aren’t going to think I am a stalker.”

So, of course, I was eager to see what it was.

She explained that when her husband was away on business, one of her girls started getting sick a lot. After three visits, the doctor still could not identify anything wrong. When Joy mentioned that her husband had been gone for an extended time, the doctor exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me!” The doc went on to explain that perhaps the wee one was missing her dad but lacked the verbal skills to express this. The doctor recommended making a photo album of pictures with the dad and daughter that the daughter could have with her at all times. Pictures in the house were not enough, said the doc, the little girl needed her very own book.

This worked like a charm for them, and Joy thought it might be good for Grace too. So she went on Facebook, downloaded and printed up photos of Grace and Alice together at various parts of their journey together, and placed them in a small photo album in chronological order.

Genius. Thoughtful. Kind. And not at all stalker-y. Grace loves that photo album to this day, and I will be forever grateful to Joy for having thought of that. She is an angel. It was absolutely perfect, and so very helpful to Grace. I would not have thought of it. I was still in a daze, and moving slowly through my days, one foot in front of the other, but slooooooooowly.

I am still not capable of moving at my previous pace, to be honest. I just don’t have it in me. I can get through the day. But I need more time to do things, and I have to set alerts for basic tasks because still, not quite 11 months later, my mind ain’t what it used to be.

Catie also came by that day, and helped me with some chores around the house. We talked, and folded laundry, and she did some chores for me. It was so very helpful to have someone assist me with the household chores. She also seemed to have a good sense of how I liked things done, which was great, because the less I had to verbalize, the better. I am so grateful to Catie for all she has done for me, and for being able to do it with so little direction. She is an amazing friend.

I was still having a tough time talking much. I still do, to be honest. I could, and still can, actually feel my energy draining from me if I have to speak for extended periods of time. I simply feel like I do not have enough breath with which to speak. It reminded me of learning about the Heart, Lung, and Spleen channel in acupuncture school. Now, obviously, I believe that acupuncture works for many ailments, or I would not have devoted my career to it. That said, there were things we learned in school, that made me go, “Ummm, okay. That’s bizarre…WHY?” If not provided with a decent explanation of “why?” I won’t say I discounted the information—in fact, I probably remembered it better than stuff that made immediate sense to me—but I did make a silent note to myself to watch out to see if this teaching really bore out in real life patients.

In any event, in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Spleen “transforms and transports the qi,” with qi, meaning our energy, basically. The Spleen channel opens into the mouth, dominates the muscles and limbs, and controls the “uprising of qi.”  There are many things that are said to deplete the Spleen’s ability to do this, and ruminating is one of them.

Overexertion/overthinking/over anything, really, is another. Worry is yet another, and worry depletes Lung as well. Unstable sleep and eating cycles also deplete the Spleen’s ability to do its job. So, if, like me, one has not slept or eaten much, or at regular times, and is caught up in mental anguish and grief, one can manifest symptoms like fatigue, muscle weakness, scattered thoughts, and demonstrate a lessened desire to speak, eat, or use the mouth at all.

Check. In those early days, I obsessively ruminated over all the things I could/should/would have done differently, and I experienced all of the aforementioned symptoms at one time or another.

The Heart, in TCM, stores the Shen (spirit,) dominates the blood and vessels, manifests on the face, opens onto the tongue, governs sweat, and opens into the eyes.  It is disrupted by shock and fear.  When the Heart, and therefore Shen, is impaired, it can lead to symptoms of poor memory, insomnia, palpitations, breathlessness, and agitation. Check—I suffered a frightening shock, and displayed all of those symptoms. This was especially true the night Alice died, and though these symptoms were evident in the aftermath as well, I found them particularly present during the panic attacks I suffered. I also recalled that the day she died, about one hour after I found her, I suddenly became drenched in sweat, and for two or three hours, I just could not stop sweating.  Heart governs sweat and is impaired by shock. Check again.

The Lung in TCM is in charge of, you know, the lungs, dominates qi, controls respiration, and houses the corporeal soul (the “animal” soul, our emotional reactivity, as well as human senses and urges). The Lung is taxed by grief, sadness, and worry. Therefore, depletion of the lungs can lead to tiredness, breathlessness, crying, heightened emotional reactivity and/or depression, as well as stiffness of the neck and shoulders (because when we do not breathe deeply, we use the accessory breathing muscles, located in our neck). Check. I do not experience most of these symptoms daily any longer, except for the neck and shoulder tension, but they still come and go, and at unpredictable times.

So, I definitely found that grief, shock, etc. could lead to a reduced breathing capacity and reduced desire to speak, as well as all of the other seemingly varied symptoms I suffered. I could feel it happening then, and I can still feel it many days recently. It took 10 years, but I am finally fully on board with that part of the foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Though I was not in an ideal time of my life, to say the least, I did find it interesting that the things those Chinese doctors figured out 5,000 years ago did seem to be true. I had seen this happen in my patients, sure, but nothing makes a person believe like direct experience.

It was an experience I would not wish on another living soul, but if I had to have such an awful experience, I felt compelled, to the very marrow of my bones, to try to make lemonade out of this shitty, shitty batch of lemons I had been handed.  And this meant I had to try to find a deeper meaning in this experience. I had to try to become a better person. I had to try to leave the world better than the way I found it. Look, I screw up several times daily like every other human, but I do actively try to find some beauty in this horror.

I remember thinking, “OK. You! Yes, you up there. If I handle this like a trooper, will you stop taking other people’s kids?”

I knew this plea was unlikely to be successful, but it was a strong, strong feeling. I felt, and still feel, compelled to try to turn this mess into something beautiful, for Alice’s sake. She would have wanted that. She was a happy, loving kid.

At some point Tuesday, I had another panic attack. Again, its onset seemed unrelated to any thoughts of Alice, or grief. I was doing some banal chore when it came one. Again, it was like I’d been suddenly hit by a missile. One second I was fine, the next, I was shaking, sweating, heart pounding, stomach churning, and completely consumed by guilt and regret. I can’t recall if anyone was here at that time or not. I do recall that I got in to the bathtub and that the water seemed to help.

That evening, Elizabeth Christie came to visit with her daughter—Alice’s buddy—Darla. They brought dinner from one of my favorite restaurants, and goodies from her family’s bakery, which is my favorite bakery. It was so very thoughtful of her. Elizabeth was pregnant, as I’ve mentioned, and quite teary, and I just really felt for her. She has been such a wonderful friend.

Darla and Grace had a great time playing, and Grace suggested that Darla could be her “new little sister, since I don’t have a sister anymore.”  This ripped my heart out, I tell ya. Darla thought this was a terrific idea, and she and Grace chased each other around giggling. Darla, who was only two years old at the time, asked several times where Alice was. Elizabeth and I became teary. What do you say to a two-year-old that lost her friend suddenly, and mysteriously? That question is not hypothetical. Seriously, what do you say? What do you say to anyone, really?

At bedtime, Grace began crying her eyes out, “It’s BAD for babies to die!!!  Why did our baby die?!?!”

Ugh. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I could barely speak, but somehow I managed to get out that I agreed that was, indeed, bad for babies to die. Grace could not quite verbalize it, but she went on and on in an endless litany that told me she knew very well that death had not visited our home in the usual order of things. It crushed me to know that she had to learn about this at such a young age. I knew very well that this event would forever change Grace’s perspective.  Her perspective was going to be very different from the majority of her peers, for better or for worse. I can see this is true every single day. Every single day Grace says something well beyond her age. It no longer automatically makes me sad, but it does cause me to sigh a lot. It causes me to ponder things more deeply. I told one friend, “Everything is existential up in this bitch 24/7. There is no more small talk. Ever.”

Now, I loathe small talk with a passion so intense I cannot disguise it, so this should have been a welcome change. But instead, it fueled my guilt. “If I hadn’t asked for no more small talk, maybe my baby would still be here.”

Yes, yes, I am aware that the aforementioned is completely and entirely irrational. I was aware that it was irrational as it zipped through my mind. But it zipped through nonetheless. So, I noticed this, labeled it “guilt,” and once I was aware that I was punishing myself with guilt, the guilt would pop like a bubble. Fascinating.

You cannot get around the negative emotion by pressing it down, ignoring it, judging it, or condemning yourself for it. The only way through it is through it. All you can do is to try to be aware of your emotion, and acknowledge it. Once acknowledged, its strength begins to lessen. I kept at it. It worked. Guilt, and other negative emotions, still come up, but they occur so much less often, and do not stay for long. They pass through, and I try not to grab them and hang onto them when they do. It’s a work in progress, people.

In any event, Grace continued crying. She was crying the hardest she had cried since Alice died.  She wanted to know why the firemen couldn’t help Alice, why the doctor could not help Alice, and she reiterated her desire to go to the firehouse and police station to thank those who tried to help. I answered these questions to the best of my ability, and fought off tears.  I told her about my friend Rachel’s four-year-old that also lost her sister to SUDC and asked if she wanted to play with her. “Yes, Mama! I want to do that! I want that friend!”  She then stopped crying, rolled over and immediately went to sleep.

Once Grace fell asleep, I realized I felt like someone sucked my soul right out of my body. I went to bed.

 

Wednesday, August 28

I saw Dawn that morning. She looked me up and down and said, “The way to lose the baby weight is NOT to lose the baby, Melissa.” I laughed. And laughed. I had lost some weight, it was true. I still had no appetite and had to really force myself to eat.  It takes a friend that REALLY sees you to know when it is ok, helpful even, to say something like that. It does not matter how long you have known the person.  Some people just REALLY see you right away. And if they still like you—when you know they really see you—then that is a friendship to nurture.

Dawn is a gift I hope to forever nurture.

After seeing some patients in the morning, I went to my first grief counseling session. It went well, and she thought I was doing amazing well. So that was nice to hear. Having never before experienced such horror, I had no idea how I was doing in the scheme of things. I thought I was doing well considering. My friends had told me I was kicking ass. But they also said things like, “Don’t apologize for crying etc. I can’t believe you aren’t in bed with a heroin needle in your arm,” so it occurred to me that folks had a very low bar of expectation for me.

I had never before experienced such a low level of expectation. I can’t lie: It is really flippin’ relaxing. It’s a revelation, to be honest. I can honestly say the realization that I had such a low bar set for me has been—ironically—a peak experience. I vowed to enjoy the new, low bar that had been set for me, and I have. I vowed to ease the pressure I place on myself, and I have had some success with that.  Look, the perfectionist runs deep within me still, I am by no means “cured.” I still want “to do this” right. I still want to learn the lessons I am meant to learn from this, so that I do not need to learn them again, in an even more costly way, later. And maybe that is not even how it works. Maybe this did not happen strictly to present me with a teaching moment. I don’t want to take any chances, however.  My heart just can’t take it.

(By the way, Mom:  I have never, and will never do heroin. I know your heart skipped a beat when you read that. Rest assured, Mom, anything that makes you puke your brains out and roll around in your own feces in an alleyway, but yet you still want to do AGAIN once it wears off, has to be some kind of wonderful I never need to know about.)

Directly after my first therapy session, I had my first mammogram, because what could be more fun than cancer screening three weeks after your child dies? I know how to party, people. I scheduled this after she died. I did this on purpose. Why, you ask? Excellent question. And even two months ago, I could not have answered it. I think I was basically puffing my chest out to the universe. Or maybe I was flipping the bird to the Universe, getting in its face, and saying, “You want a piece of me? You want a piece of me?”

Sure, I was a bit overdue in having a mammogram, but it probably could have waited another month or so.  I guess I just thought, “If I’m going to get bad news, it might as well be now, because it would barely register with THE BIG BAD NEWS now headlining in my life.” Also, I thought, at this point, I might want to try again for another child. I was 44, so time was not my friend. Every day, Grace asked me for another sister. And every day, I could not believe I only had one child.  I could not believe Grace was going to be an only child. It sickened me. You know what? It still does sicken me on occasion, but I am no longer haunted by it 24/7.

The mammogram was not nearly as bad I had heard. It didn’t hurt and it took about two minutes.  But then again, after the events of the last three weeks, nothing was as bad as I had previously heard.

My friend Tommy from college checked in on me by text that day. I am close to Tommy’s Uncle Terry, and in fact, lived with him, his wife and their daughter for a spell in Chicago. I was a nanny for their daughter Eileen for a time. Terry lost Susan, his wife, my dear friend, in 2008, and then his only child, his 23-year-old daughter, in 2011.  Absolutely devastating.  Alice, six weeks old at the time, went with me to Eileen’s funeral, and Terry kept saying how grateful he was to have a baby there to hold. Alice was passed around that funeral like a joint at a Dead show. She was like a little tranquilizer for the grieving masses. I am certain that Alice’s death was just too close to home for Terry, and though he reached out immediately by text, he clearly could not talk to me. And that was, and is, just fine. I totally get it, sadly. In any event, Tommy had clearly elected himself to be “the family representative that shall make sure Melissa is still standing,” and I am deeply appreciative to him for that. Their clan is a fantastic clan. There really isn’t a bad one in the bunch, and I am grateful for all the love and support they have given me over the years, but especially of late.

Anyway, I had talked to Tommy the day after Alice died, and he had checked in with me from time to time via text knowing I still found it draining to speak. That day, he said to call him if I needed to do so, and offered to just simply listen if I needed to yell, cry, laugh, cuss (he knows me), or any combination thereof. I wrote back that I still was not angry, that guilt was still my demon. I was still in shock, I know now, looking back.

He told me although he was aware that he could never know what I was experiencing, I had no reason to feel guilty. I told him “Guilt is inevitable, I’m sure. As parents we feel guilty if they have a lisp, if they skin their knee, don’t share with their sibling, etc. So, when you find them dead, dead on your watch, I don’t know who wouldn’t feel guilty.  That said, it comes in waves now instead of 24/7, so there is progress.”  He shared areas where he feels guilt with his kids, and I told him about the The Survival of the Soul, and how it had eased my guilt some. He said the important thing is that I know that I have done nothing I should feel guilty about. I told him that parental guilt is usually at a constant low level that becomes unnoticeable as it is baseline.  You don’t notice parental guilt until it gets amped up to 11. Mine was definitely, suddenly, amped up well beyond 11. I pray to God that no one reading this will ever have to experience that.

I told Tommy what I told everyone:  I still don’t believe you, but please do not stop telling me that I should not feel guilty. I can feel the part of my brain that knows I could not have done anything growing, but it is still in a fragile state of growth.

It was a nice conversation all told, but it was most notable in that it was the first time that someone told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty, and I actually felt the guilt ease up during the conversation. The guilt had eased overall, but this was the first time there was a direct and immediate lessening in response to someone assuring me I had no reason to feel guilty. It was great to catch up with my friend, and great to see, for myself, that I was making progress.  Tommy has been a wonderful friend through this chapter in my life, and I will be forever grateful.

You see, when people check in on you regularly, it is possible to gauge your progress by how the conversations go.  You have a constant by which to contrast your reactions, feelings etc. I have a friend or two that check in daily, some friends that check in weekly, and some friends that check in regularly, but on an irregular schedule. This is all very helpful. I have the perfect amount of regular “check-ins,” and for this I am deeply grateful. Of all the things that are helpful, these short, but regular check-in conversations have been among the most helpful, because unwittingly, they have given me the benefit of being able to observe my progress, or lack thereof. They have granted me perspective.  You can’t buy that.

Our neighborhood MOMS Club had asked if they could do their September issue in Alice’s honor. I was so very touched.  They had requested that the moms who knew Alice write some remembrances of her. Alice did not know many of the moms, because I was a working mom and couldn’t get to many of the events, so I thought I should write one for her. I began writing the piece called “Thank you Alice,” that night, three weeks after my sweetheart passed.

It started as something I thought I should do, but it soon became something I really wanted to do, and, in fact, felt compelled to do. I used to write, simply for pleasure, before grad school and kids, but it had been a while since I had written anything.  The last thing I had written was something I read at my dear client/friend/mentor Monte Factor’s funeral. I was proud of what I prepared for his service, but I just never found the time to keep writing. But, I knew I had to write “Thank you, Alice.” I knew in the very marrow of my bones.

I suddenly wondered why I was only writing Memorial pieces. No one sets out to be a writer that only feels inspired to write when a loved one dies. I am going to have to fix that.

I found writing that piece enjoyable and healing. I knew I would finish it, and this was big, because I could barely finish folding the laundry at this point in the aftermath.

 

Thursday August 29

Thursday, I had made an appointment with this fella Gahl Sasson. Gahl teaches Kabbalah, tarot, and astrology and does readings for folks. I like Gahl because he is not of the “Do this, and don’t do that, and don’t leave your house on Sunday,” variety.  He is more like a Carl Jung, or Joseph Campbell, in that he uses archetypal patterns to help folks understand certain tendencies they may have, or may encounter. He speaks of astrological events more as conditions for which certain kinds of growth or change are more or less favored. In other words, Gahl accounts for free will. Gahl is also not airy fairy in the least. He’s this muscular, strong, Israeli bald dude, who seems to have full command over all of his faculties. You sort of feel like you are getting a reading done by an Israeli general, which is a trip—and a trip worth taking, I might add. He clearly has empathy, but you can tell your shit doesn’t bring him down, and that, my friends, is worth the price of admission right there. The gift of experiencing someone’s empathy for your situation, while seeing that they themselves are not brought down by it, is a very precious and rare gift indeed.

Anyway, I like Gahl, so I went to see him. I felt like I was standing in the vortex of something much bigger than myself during this time period, but I could not quite put my finger on what it was.  I was open to hear what anyone might have to say on the topic.

After hearing the basic outline of my story, he asked if I was open to having more children, because, apparently, I have a strong aspect in The House of Children, especially at the beginning of 2014.

Gahl went on to describe another aspect (Saturn on top of Moon) that would start in the beginning of 2014. This aspect can infer a loss in relation to motherhood.  Gahl suggested that maybe, there was a more difficult manner of death, that would have happened at in early 2014 had Alice not died when she did.  But that, because of my good karma, or her good karma, she died in the best way a person could die (in her sleep,) therefore, saving us an even worse experience down the road. Whether this is true, or not, it is certainly helpful to reframe tragic events. It always helps to count your blessings. I was already thankful that if she had to go, she went so peacefully, but this input from Gahl really solidified my gratitude that Alice had not suffered, even for a moment.

I have to tell you, I wasn’t feeling like I had especially good karma before this, and that is a fairly risky thing to say to a mother whom recently lost a child. But he said it. And I didn’t flinch, surprisingly.  As soon as day two after Alice died, I was grateful that if she had to go, if there was nothing that could have done to prevent her death, that she was able to go so peacefully. So these words of Gahl helped steer me back to the place where I could be grateful that it wasn’t worse.

You see, the thing that had really birthed the guilt from which I suffered, was the fear that she had suffered—and that I had not been there to ease her suffering. When it comes right down to it, that was what haunted me. So the more I was assured that she had not suffered, the more I was assured that there would have been nothing I could have done even if I had been right there when she died, the more I was able to untangle myself from The Guilt.

I spoke to Gahl of my paralyzing guilt. He pointed out that Cancer is the sign of guilt. My sun sign is Cancer, and is in the House of Children. With the sun sign representing one’s self-expression, he said, it is only natural that you would have guilt related to children in the first place, and that the guilt would magnify upon the horrible death of a child. This gave me chills.

He pointed out that Alice died in sleep, which is the most benevolent death possible. Tibetans believe that the ultimate the way to die is during sleep or meditation.  Obviously, with a two-year-old, it would be sleep. He went on to say, that although he was aware I felt guilt for not being right there with her, to remember that I was, in fact, with her. I was simply in the other room. He suggested that it was no coincidence that I napped that day, something unusual for me. He suggested that perhaps I needed to be asleep, to serve as her guide, or, perhaps, to simply save me from being in a position that would lead me to believe I could have altered the course of events.

He asked, “How guilty would you feel if this had happened while you were away and she was at daycare, or with a relative? Very bad, right? How bad would your guilt be if you were awake, and thought you could do something to save her, but could not? So, you must find a way be grateful that you were there in the house with her.”

And you know what, I have been grateful for that ever since. That part of The Guilt was healed 1,000-fold that day.

He went on to discuss what the field of psychology has to say about a mother losing her child.   Some say that if a mother loses a child, she can be depressed the rest of her life without being diagnosed with clinical depression.With any other loss, he said, you have one year to get yourself together before they diagnose you with clinical depression.

So, this is the worst possible thing for a woman, but it happened in the best possible way.  Allow yourself to cry, mourn as much as necessary, he said, “But guilt is making it about you, not her.”

Holy Toledo. There was some cold, hard truth.  Consider me schooled.

I told him about the peace in the bath, and how the guilt only came in waves after that, never again constant.

Her spirit gave me the peace in the bath, he offered. Every spirit bequeaths a gift to those left behind, an inheritance, of sorts, to the loved ones. He felt like that sudden peace in the bath was Alice giving me the ultimate forgiveness: the ability to forgive myself.

Again, chills.

If anyone should feel guilty it’s her, he said. Um, WOW. That is quite a thing to say. He said that she came here, made us fall in love with her, and just left without any discernible reason. What did I have to feel guilty about in that scenario, he asked.

He suggested that she knew her life contract was coming to an end, and that was why she sought so much time with me in the two weeks before her death. Her soul agreed to come to my family.  We will never know why she chose us, he said. The Greeks worshiped the Goddess of Necessity—only she knows why things occur as they do. But when we ask her “Why?” we never get any answers. He suggested that Alice came to us, and then left once she felt we were safe.

It is a good sign that she didn’t suffer, he said. He said that it sounded like her exit was a plan, but not one I could have known about, or I would have interfered with the plan—I would have tried to sleep with her, or I would have thought I had a way to fix it. And that would have made me more guilty, more miserable, if I would have, at any time, thought I could have affected a change in this plan, yet failed to do so.

I knew he was right about that.

Gahl looked at my chart, Alice’s chart, and the chart of the day she died.  Finally, he said, “You know, this is sort of beyond astrology. There is nothing in any of these charts that would indicate something like this would happen. To me, this smacks of a conspiracy.”  He basically said that Alice and I had cooked up this life lesson for us in the heavens, that God approved it, and then sent us down here to go through this.

I sort of laughed. I have seen Gahl four or five times in the past 14 years and had never heard him use the word “conspiracy,” nor had I ever heard say that the chart was essentially meaningless in a situation.

Anyway, a laugh escaped my lips, and he said (not laughing), “No, really. I think this is a contract you two cooked up before you came into your bodies here on Earth.”

I can’t lie. My first thoughts were “My higher self, my SOUL did this to me? Does my soul HATE ME? Was I a masochist in a previous life? Who would willingly do this to themselves?  And God was in on it? He listened to ME? On THIS? Did he not know when to tell me to shut up already? What the hell was I thinking up there in Heaven? And Alice was in on it? My kid threw me under the bus in the worst of all possible ways!”

Is it too late to tell God that we were out of our minds when we allegedly cooked this up? Is it too late to tell God, “Um, hey, I have NO IDEA what Alice and I told you, but I can only imagine we were kidding. Too late to take it back now, I realize, but …COME ON!  Don’t listen to me ever again!”

An aside: I am fully aware that I don’t speak to God the way other folks speak to God. I can’t do it. It feels false to me to just recite prayers.  Nothing against the prayers mind you, or people who DO actually get something out of reciting liturgy as they form their relationship with God.  It just doesn’t feel right TO ME. So I do my thing, and am happy to let other folks do their thing. Mostly, God has been pretty tolerant of this.

I speak to God the way I would speak to a friend I really like, who really understands me, who is not above laughing about the funny things in life with me, and whom I love dearly. But mostly, I try to listen to God. I meditate, which to me, is listening to God, while I see praying akin to talking to God. God and I seem to have a much healthier relationship when I am the one with my trap shut, and if you don’t believe me, this supposed contract I whipped up, at my direction, with God and Alice, should serve as

Exhibit A:  SHUT UP, MELISSA.

Anyway, Gahl said, “Look, she had a plan come for two years, and she made her exit in a very elegant way, a very mature way, a very spiritual way. There was a reason for this, but you may never know the reason in this lifetime. If she wants to come back to you, you can give her a chance by becoming pregnant or adopting. But if you do this, give it at least a year.”

I reminded him of my age.  He said he felt sure that if I really wanted another child, it would happen. He did not flinch when he said that.

Again, I felt reassured that if she had to go, that she had gone in such a beautiful way.

He looked at Grace’s chart and said that her Jupiter was in the house of letting go. He said this could mean that she will have dreams of and/or visitations from Alice. And she has. Grace’s Sun is in the House of Children and Saturn is in the House of Siblings. Saturn is the planet that provides our tough lessons, teaches responsibility, etc. Therefore, Grace was to have tough lessons in the sibling department. Check. Alice also had this aspect, as both kids have Leo rising.

Alice’s Sun was in the 12th house, which indicates a very old soul. Her Venus was in house of past lifetimes, and music featured prominently in her chart. This took my breath away, because Alice, as I’ve mentioned, sang even as a newborn. It freaked people OUT. She was literally born singing.  Her chart was easy one, Gahl said. She should have had a good life, he asserted.

I believe she did. I truly believe Alice had a great life. And I feel grateful beyond words that I feel this way.

He said that he knew that telling me not to feel guilty was of little use, and that he knew it was impossible for me not to feel guilty on some level because there is a part of me that feels it needs to be punished for something.

Um, YES. Exactly.

I told him about the “slivers” I felt in my brain. One sliver feels guilty. One sliver knows I had nothing to do with it. And another sliver yet feels like “I knew this would happen.”

He said the “I knew this” sliver was really just part of The Guilt sliver because feeling that “I knew this” feeds The Guilt, but it is also the sliver that slept late that day because it knew you could not change the outcome.

Um, Damn. That, I realized, was spot on. SPOT. ON.

He then led me into a mediation. A meditation that happened at a lake.  He had no idea that I have a deep love of lakes, and that they are by far my favorite body of water. I feel so peaceful, like a million bucks, when I am near a lake. At the end of the mediation, he asked me to take three cards from the tarot deck.

The first card, he said, was a message for me personally. It was the Kings of Cups. My sign, Cancer, is represented in this card, which shows a pure knight on a white horse. He equated the Knight of Cups to Galahad, the only Knight that was allowed to drink from the Holy Grail. Only one who is free of guilt may drink from this cup, this Holy Grail. Gahl asserted that the lake meditation was showing me that I am allowed to drink from the cup because I am free of guilt in this matter.

I cried.

The second card, he said, was a message from Alice to me. I turned it over. The card said “Love” on it. The card had various other significant meanings, but, he said, there is only one card called “Love,” and she chose that to be her message to you. Simple. Effective. Just the way a two-year-old would communicate.

I just collapsed in tears, and felt a indescribable sense of relief. And love. I felt an indescribable, all-consuming love. I really did.

The last card, he said, was to represent what the contract between Alice and I might signify. I turned it over. It was the High Priestess. The Moon is on the card, which is the ruler of Cancer. The High Priestess holds the akashic records, the records of every lifetime of every soul. He postulated that our contract had to do with motherhood, past lifetimes, and esoteric knowledge. Perhaps my role in my community would change, it seemed. He said that it is the highest card for feminine energy, the epitome of feminine energy. The High Priestess is said to be the mediator of the passage into the depths of reality, the guardian of the unconscious mind. She is said to sit in front of the veil between the worlds that separates us from our inner self. She can serve as a reminder to heed your intuition, and to bring your intuition to the table when solving problems. She can also indicate radical life changes.

I still do not know exactly what this card meant in this particular reading, but I can say, that my reality is indeed forever shifted, and not in the ways I would have imagined.

Gahl did not charge me that day. He told me that he could not accept it, and asked me to do something to help others in my shoes one day. So I strive to do that every day. I hope I can do as much for others as he did for me that day.

You can believe in astrology, tarot, etc. or not. It’s no skin off of my nose. But one thing cannot be denied: I felt about 1,000 times lighter after I left Gahl’s house that day. I felt like there was some meaning to life again, some beauty in life again. I felt a sense of purpose, and I had renewed strength. And I knew, even then, that if something could make me see life in a meaningful, beautiful way again, that close to the time my darling daughter died, what could be so wrong with it?

I left feeling like I knew I would see her again. I left feeling like she healed a lot of relationships while she was here, and that, therefore, her little life had meaning. I left feeling far less guilty than I had since she died. I had a good few moments of peace and understanding. I left feeling like there was some sense in the universe. And, that, my friends, is priceless.

I was also very aware that I was not out of the woods. I knew grief came in waves, and had likely not even peeked past the shock yet at that point. But I enjoyed the moments of peace while I had them.

That evening, my friend Kristen picked Grace up from school so that she could have a sleepover with Kristen’s daughter Sophie. Grace had enjoyed one other sleepover there, and clearly loved her newfound independence. I will be forever grateful to Kristen, her husband (and my dear friend) Eddie, and Sophie for all they have done for us. I love you all.

One of the wonderful moms in my neighborhood, Erin, came that night, as well as my friend J-Do. Erin and I met when we tried out a babysitting exchange that was started in our neighborhood. I knew her, but not well at all. Still, she had been beautifully supportive, and had offered to come by and do a sort of ritual for Alice and me if I liked.

I liked. And I knew J-Do would too, so I asked her to join us. I had really no idea what to expect, and I hadn’t spent a good deal of time thinking about it, because I was still in a daze a lot of the time. One thing about shock: it forces you into living moment by moment. You do not, and in fact, cannot, project much into the future. I did admittedly spend some time in the past, as I was dealing with guilt, but I really was living moment-to-moment most of the time. That is something we hear all of the time—“You have to live in the moment, man”—but which is definitely not rewarded or encouraged by real action in our society. It’s a talking point, but not so much of a walking point. It was starting to become a walking point for me, but I can’t take any credit for that. I was starting to live moment-to-moment as a reaction to a really terrible thing had happened to my child and to my family. I had no idea if this moment-by-moment thing would last, or if it was a temporary part of shock. I didn’t care. I just kept truckin’. I thought, “I better enjoy this while it lasts.”

So, the ladies and I had some wine, and chatted for a spell, and Erin set up a table. Erin lit a candle she made with Alice’s likeness on it, and asked me to set up the table with some of Alice’s favorite things and/or with things that reminded me of Alice. I told stories about Alice using the items as cues, and the ladies listened intently. It felt good to speak about my love for Alice. Then the three of us wrote down messages to Alice, and threw them in a small fire Erin had made, thus appeasing the pyro in me.

Erin went on to discuss how grieving people are often filled with terror that they will forget their loved one, or that the memories will fade to movie-type memories. I burst into tears. Until she said that, I had not realized how deep this terror ran through me. I was spending all day walking through the house imagining what Alice would be doing at that time, were she still with us. I’d close my eyes, and recall the way her chubby thigh felt in my hands, the shape and density of her head, and the weight of her head on my shoulder. I recalled exactly what my body had to do to pick her up, and what I had to do with my stomach and back had to do to hold her without hurting my back. I was spending all day trying desperately not to forget what she looked like, smelled like, felt like, sounded like. I had told no one about this, for I had not even realized fully I was doing it until Erin brought up this common fear. Hearing her state this fear was like some one lifting the flood gates. I cried. J-Do joined me.

Erin went on to speak about an African god and goddess that rule the sea. The female aspect, Yemaya, rules the upper portion of the sea, rich with sea life, and some light. She represents life.  The male aspect, Olokun, rules the deep sea, the dark sea, the part of the sea that hosts less life, but indeed has sunken treasures. He represents death. She asked me to think of a sunken treasure on the bottom of the ocean full of gorgeous jewelry. The jewels were to represent my memories of Alice. She asked me to consider the possibility that I would never be denied access to any memory, and I need not fear they would vanish, that they were there, on the bottom of the sea, protected by Olokun, to access, and wear, and decorate myself with whenever I chose to do so. BUT, I cannot live down there full-time, for I am alive and part of the living world, the living part of the sea. She reminded me that I needed to live in the part of the sea that hosted life, and that I should trust that Yemaya would allow me to return to the depths, to commune with my jewels, my memories of my daughter, whenever I liked. She asked me to imagine that Olokun and Yemaya would protect me, and my memories, allowing me to travel easily and safely between the two parts of the sea. She wrote an amazing poem about this, and sang it to me. I was transfixed. And, I was transformed. I have never again felt the level of fear of forgetting that I felt prior to that night. Never. Not once. The fear that I would forget simply vanished. I shit you not.

In short, it was an incredibly powerful and moving experience. I was gobsmacked that someone I did not know very well was able to so accurately and precisely target one of my core issues, one I didn’t even know I had, and then help me find a way to process it. Erin is a true healer and I am so very grateful to her for what she did for me. What she did for me was truly life-altering. It was an incredibly healing experience, and it helped me move on to a new level in my “After-Alice-Died Life.”

Overall, Thursday, August 29 was an incredibly healing day. I got very little work done, but I had achieved great success in my mission to heal myself, and to keep trying to find some beauty in my awful experience. I was beginning to make lemonade from the super shitty bunch of lemons I’d been handed. And that felt good, people. August 29 was the first “milestone” day I had in my new life. I have truly never been the same from that day onward.  These three days, August 27, 28 and 29, were among the most healing in my journey so far, and I am deeply, profoundly grateful to every person that had a hand in it.  These people helped save me.

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