Eleven: eleven

Some people have lucky numbers. Others, unlucky ones. I have a sacred number: 11:11 in the morning, the hour and minute of my daughter Maya’s birth.

When 11:11 popped up on my iPhone screen this morning, I thought, “Aha, beloved girl. There you are, waking me up again!”

Swimming with Maya lavishes 302 pages on the idea that our dead are always with us. Last night, during a class presentation at the Oakland Center for Spiritual Living, I started to say “When Maya was lost…” and stopped myself mid-sentence.

Maya was never lost. She vanished. Very suddenly. That felt like an absence I would never survive in the days after she died. Yet such was not the ultimate truth. In time, I found I wanted to live, first for Meghan’s sake, and later on for my own. And, I discovered that my love for Maya – and hers for me – caused us to be inextricably interwoven whether in or out of the body.

So last night I retreated from the language of loss and instead focused on transmutation. Maya shines in my heart, and in the hearts of those who loved her, even in the hearts of those who read about her, and especially in the hearts of those whose lives she saved or transformed through the miracle of organ donation. She lives among us in a different form and way now.

For our class, “Beyond Limits,” we built an altar. Each of us contributed tokens of meaning. The divine often speaks to us through synchronicity, so we discovered that all three of us altar builders had experienced difficult deaths. We each brought items that symbolized our healing.

Altar for "Beyond Limits" class

Altar for “Beyond Limits” class

Sacred objects are powerful because we imbue them with love and deep meaning. I included a picture of Meghan and me that was taken two years after Maya died. That photo symbolizes the moment when I realized that now it was just the two of us, and that we would make it as a different kind of family.

Meghan was born at 2:14 in the afternoon. Another sacred moment. But because Meghan is very much alive, I honor her birth moment differently, with greater peace and equanimity.

Remembering the exact time of my daughters’ births honors their arrival on earth and my own transformation into a different person – one with a larger heart, willing to risk the radical love required of mothers.



Maya’s Short, Beautiful Life

Today is Maya’s 43rd birthday. I was 43 years old when Maya died, and she was 19. So this year, a mysterious circle is forming. There are so many “I wonders” inside the circle of synchronicity, so many “What ifs?”

What if Maya had lived to be middle aged? Who would she be now?

There is a dividing line in my life: Before Maya Died (BMD) and After Maya Died (AMD). BMD I really believed I could control stuff – at least I struggled desperately to maintain that fantasy. AMD, I knew for certain I couldn’t.

The transformation that began with Maya’s death is still under way; its ripples continue to inform my life. Children change us whether they live or die. But if they die, your world shifts on its axis. I had no choice but to re-examine everything. And as a writer, I had to write about it.

Swimming with Maya is an exploration of what it meant to be a mother to Maya and Meghan. It is a portrait of a family, as well as of the one who died. John Donne was right. We aren’t islands, we are all connected in a web of life and relationships.

Maya at age 18

My connection to Maya – and hers to me – is eternal. Our love was fierce, passionate, and often turbulent, at least during her teenage years. Thankfully, she lived long enough for us to heal a lot of the inevitable wounds.

I’ll visit the cemetery today and put flowers at Maya’s grave. I visit Maya’s grave at special times – her birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of her death in April, and Memorial Day. But I used to go weekly in the first few years after she died. It was the one place I felt at peace.

The Garden of Remembrance

The Garden of Remembrance

I’ve often wondered whether others feel at peace when they visit a loved one’s grave. Blogger Jessica Kane, who writes for Legacy Headstones, an Ohio headstone and memorial company, recently shared ideas about why these visits are so meaningful.

“Visiting your loved one’s grave helps you keep a good perspective about the daily stresses and challenges of life,” Jessica explains.

The saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” is popular for a reason – it resonates because there is always something on our minds to distract from the pure delight of being alive.

“Visiting the cemetery offers a tangible reminder that life is also full of joys and wonders just waiting to be appreciated,” she adds.

Visiting Maya’s grave reminds me how grateful I am for her life and how much I want to honor her memory. And it shows me how very far I’ve traveled on this grief journey. In the early months after Maya died, I would sit at her grave and talk with her.

Jessica notes that this is a common practice, and a helpful one. In fact, talking with a departed loved one at the gravesite could even be considered a form of psychodrama, she says.

“It’s a powerful healing tool many counselors use that helps people move through grief by talking with a person who is not present in physical form.”

Swimming with Maya

Talking with Maya, and writing about her, helps keep her present in my life. So at the cemetery today, I’ll wish her a Happy Birthday, and celebrate her short but beautiful life. We’ll have a conversation under the giant oak tree that overlooks her grave. Once again, I’ll be “Swimming with Maya.”