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What I Learned on My Grief Pilgrimage 

It all flooded back as the sign came into view, “1440 Multiversity.” 

“There it is,” I said to Tina. She nodded, understanding all this moment meant to me, and to her too. This was my pilgrimage; one I could have never imagined I would be taking 3 years ago. 

It all began on Venice Beach in February 2021, as I sat alone on the sand just trying to take my next breath. My son Sammy had just died less than a week ago and I had gone to my one of my favorite spots, hoping the sand, surf and ions in the air would help ground me. I was in so much emotional and physical pain, and yet I felt like I was in a bubble, removed from everyone and everything around me.  After all, the world had kept spinning, people were living their lives, and mine had come to a screeching halt.

No one was there, not only because it was February, but everyone was sheltering at home.  The city had even closed the beaches (something I had clearly ignored).  All of a sudden, I heard a loud, masculine voice asking me a question, “Do you want to live or die?” I quickly looked around to see who was about to mug me, but the beach was completely empty.  I was dumbfounded as it slowly dawned on me this wasn’t a human’s voice I was hearing. I had always been someone who saw things (clairvoyance), knew things (claircognizance) and felt things (clairsentience), but I had never before heard things (clairaudience)!

The question came booming into my head again (although it felt like it was coming from right next to me), “Do you want to live or die?” I immediately knew what this question meant.  It wasn’t that I wanted or intended to kill myself. That’s not in my nature and I could never do that to my family or friends.  But I definitely could stop living. I could let myself slowly slip away.  I could let myself die.  

I had done it before, albeit unwittingly when my mother died quite suddenly from a breast cancer that had come roaring back and metastasized 10 years later. While I had a chance to say goodbye and get all the closure I could imagine, I was completely devastated. She was my person, and I didn’t know how I could do life without her. I wasn’t ready.  

My career was full throttle and I had just signed on with the Oprah Show to be their sex, love and relationship expert and was about to begin filming my first television show for OWN, to air with the network’s launch.  So instead of letting myself grieve, I avoided the pain. I let myself go numb. I pushed all the pain down into the recesses of my mind. I threw myself into my work and I kept telling myself I would deal with it all later. There was too much to do between work and my young family.

Within a year I discovered I too had breast cancer, in the same breast as my mother’s, the one over my heart. I had to stop my life completely to go through chemo and a mastectomy. It was a journey that changed my life in a myriad of painful, but ultimately beautiful ways.  But I understood very clearly in that moment on the beach that the voice was asking me if I was going to go down the same path; marginalizing and minimizing my feelings, not giving myself space to grieve, and allowing inflammation to grow in my body making it more susceptible to disease.  And I wasn’t willing to let that happened. Even in my immeasurable pain, I wanted to be here. 

So, I shouted out loud to the seagulls and The Voice, “I want to live!” And in that instant the most beautiful thing happened.  It’s hard to put into words, but the only way I can describe it is that I suddenly felt completely flooded by the immense gift it is to be alive.  In that instant, my life flashed before my eyes and I saw the miracle of that  little sperm and egg coming together, dividing and growing for nine months, me surviving my birth, along with growing up in my crazy family with all the traumas and tribulations, to be here now, in this body, on this little ball spinning through the Galaxy.  I viscerally felt the profound miraculous privilege it is to be alive in every cell of my body. 

Then the voice continued, “Well, if you want to live you need to go away somewhere, away from your family, and go all the way into your pain…all the way. If you don’t, you’ll die.” My first reaction to that instruction was, “No freaking way!” The last thing I wanted to do was go further into this pain of losing my beautiful boy, which was already deeper and wider than I ever could have imagined.  Not to mention, how was I going to go home to my husband whose son had just died less than a week ago and say, “See ya! I’m taking off for a week and leaving you with our youngest to hold it all together.” 

But when a booming voice on an empty beach tells you you’re going to die if you don’t do something, you listen…at least I do.  So, I bravely went home and told my husband what happened and what I needed to do. He’s not one that believes in the metaphysical, but he didn’t even pause before agreeing I should do whatever I needed.  I still don’t know if he didn’t question me because he was just in shock or was filled with his own Grace at that moment, but off I went to make my plans. 

The first call I made was to my soul friend, Tina Cameron. She is my ride or die (although she hates that term) and is one of the best I know at holding space for big emotions. I then reached out to Frank Ashmore, the managing director of 1440 Multiversity.  He had emailed me few days before my meeting with The Voice on the beach.  I had done a few events on their beautiful campus, and when the news about Sammy had gone viral, he heard what happened and reached out. Frank told me that while their campus was closed for COVID, I was welcome to come cocoon there if I wanted.  I hadn’t intended to take them up on their generous offer, but now I contacted Frank and told him Tina and I would be there in a few days.  

The next thing I knew, there I was standing outside my front door with some random comfy items of clothes thrown in a bag and my weighted blanket saying goodbye to my husband and my youngest son, still living at home. Tina loaded me into the car, and we began the 6 hour drive to Scotts Valley.  I don’t really remember the drive (I think I mostly slept and stared blankly out the window), but I do remember coming around the bend and seeing the sign of 1440 and knowing my odyssey was about to begin.  

Tina had masterfully taken on the role of my Grief Concierge, coordinating our arrival, and many of my healer friends and teachers to support me over the next week.  When we walked into the faculty house that they had opened for us, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The house was filled with flowers and cozy blankets, cards signed by the whole staff, and all my favorite foods in the refrigerator. There was even a framed picture of me and Sammy by my bedside. 

Over the next week I did what The Voice instructed.  I threw myself all the way into my pain, with support. I spent hours every day crying in the arms of the 1,000 year old Mother Tree that is on the property, overlooking the forest she created. Tina slept with me every night, patting me back to sleep when I woke up screaming and crying.  Every day (via Zoom) I did grief yoga or breathwork with Paul Denniston and somatic therapy with Kate Hutson. I had counselling sessions with David Kessler, and Reiki Master and Sound Healer Gen Deelyworked on me remotely and channeled my angels and Sammy in ways I couldn’t deny.   Katherine Woodward Thomas came to stay a few days to help. She taught me to pray for the first time. Diana Chapman came over to help me move some huge anger and took us forest bathing and fairy hunting (another story for another time). Tina knew a beautiful body worker nearby named Cheyanne Donald, who came to work on me several times over the week, massaging the pain out (at least temporarily) and helping me release even more. I kept a video diary while I was there, mostly for my friends and family who wanted to follow along, but it was so powerful, I ended up posting it on my YouTube channel if you want to take a deeper dive into my journey there.  

By the end of that week, I certainly hadn’t healed. That’s something I will be doing for the rest of my life.  But I knew I had been transformed.  I could breathe again and I felt some space inside myself. I had even laughed a few times.  And I now had a path to healing I could continue. I learned that grief is actually a portal. And when we are brave enough to enter it fully, it can transport us to a whole new, more self-actualized, and fuller version of ourselves. 

As I sat in the forest with Tina on our last day there, I felt profoundly grateful for the gift I had been given.  But I couldn’t help but also deeply felt the pain of all the mamas like me whose hearts had been shattered. Why did I have access to amazing generosity and healer friends willing and able to support me and they didn’t? Most of us have no idea how to grieve at all, much less how to go into the pain so that we can fully begin to heal. And then it came to me, and I spoke it out loud to Tina and the Mother Tree, “I am coming back. But this time I’m going to raise the money to bring a bunch of grieving mamas with me and take them through this process so that they can begin to fully heal as well.”  My body lit up with goose bumps and I knew I was speaking the truth. 

And now here we were again Tina and I, 3 years later, arriving back to 1440 Multiversity along with a team of my healer friends who helped me during that week and in the years since. We were about to meet 66 mamas we were going to take through 5 days of healing I experienced there.  Tina helped me co-produce the entire event and ran everything behind the scenes.  And with her fundraising help, my other friends and community, and  the generosity of 1440 Foundation, we were able to provide full or partial scholarships to 50 mamas! 

I wasn’t sure if the mamas would experience the same transformation I did, but I held on to the hope that if we changed just one life it would be worth it. Because when the mother, the container of the family’s emotional landscape is not OK, no one else can be.  Since Sammy died, I have connected with 1,000s of other families who have experienced child loss and I have seen it time and time again; divorce, families falling apart, siblings (and parents) turning to drugs or other destructive patterns to cope…But when the mother does her healing work, the rest of the family begins to heal as well.  

What transpired over those 5 days was nothing short of miraculous as I watched every single mama there transform! They arrived with shoulders slumped, glassy eyes looking down at the ground. I watched as over the course of our time together their shoulders went back, they began laughing together, and the light came back into their eyes.  The women I said goodbye to on the last day were totally different versions of themselves, and a sisterhood had been formed that will continue to carry us on this journey. 

I too am transformed. I went deep into my own grief again, while holding space for the mamas and emceeing/moderating the entire week.  I spent a lot of time on the mother tree releasing my pain in between sessions, and held it all together until I got home, completely depleted and collapsed. I barely left my bed for three days! 

But it was all worth it.  Because what I discovered that week at 1440 thanks to The Voice changed my life (and by extension my family’s life). And now it has changed the life of 66 other families.  I now know that what worked for me will work for others. It’s a unique combination of working with the mind (emotions, stories, guilt, understanding grief), the body (movement, releasing emotions, healing the body, fascial work, sound healing) and spirit (mediumship, mindfulness, nature and cultivating creativity).  

I am more passionate than ever about helping mamas heal.  And I am so grateful to all those who helped me heal, and who worked with me to raise the money to take all the mamas through the same healing.  I’m planning on starting soon to raise the money to do it all again next year, along with some shorter mini retreats, the first happening the weekend of October 25 in Chicago. If you (or someone you love) wants to learn more, get on the list for the next retreat (at 1440, in Chicago or anywhere else), or help support the healing of mamas, click here.

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