As the veil thins this Samhain, I’m feeling the dead among us. A lot of people I have cared for crossed over this year. But my closest beloved died August 11, 2016. As the harvest of the summer was beginning to be gathered, my dear friend Rebecca Tidewalker died. She left behind her grieving partner, her 16 month old precious child, and a large circle of friends and family who loved her. Rebecca was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in the seventh month of her pregnancy. She was a perfectly healthy 37 year woman who never smoked, never drank—her only real indulgence was dark chocolate and she didn’t even eat that very often. We were all so confused. How could this happen?
When she got the diagnosis, Rebecca knew healing was the only option. She cried for three days and on the third day she heard a voice from the divine assuring her that she would be healed. And so she trusted that voice and did everything she could to heal. She tried all the treatments she could afford—from the western drugs (which were miraculously able to be covered by her Medi-Cal insurance—thank you Obama) to supplements and Acupuncture. She did all the physical treatments that were available to find a cure.
But she didn’t stop at trying to find just a cure. Rebecca heard a divine promise of healing and she was determined to do her part to make that healing happen. You see, Rebecca was a healer. And she knew that healing is not something that happens passively. Healing is a co-creation that requires our active participation. Rebecca came to me not long after the diagnosis and asked me to be her herbalist. I tried to say no—arguing that we were too close, that I couldn’t be objective and well, didn’t she want an herbalist with more expertise with cancer? Despite my pleas, she was insistent and so we began to work together with her as my herbal client.
In our year and a half of working together in this way, Rebecca became one of my greatest teachers. I have never had a client who was so committed to their healing. It was like each window of healing that opened, she saw it and moved through it. She saw her illness as a opportunity to lay down old wounds and ancestral patterns. She opened her heart and allowed the plants to gently guide her to levels of healing that can only be reached when we collaborate with divine and earthly wisdom. She wasn’t afraid to listen to the guidance of the spirits of the land, the ancestors, the plant people. She wasn’t afraid to dive in her healing when it was unclear what lay ahead. Even on her deathbed she chose healing.
This is the teaching that Rebecca gave me that has been in my heart this Samhain. Life gives us opportunities to heal. From the terror of a life threatening diagnosis to the heart wrenching pain of hearing a little baby singing for the first time knowing that his mother will never hear this song. From the misery of a case of strep throat that leaves you immobilized to the decades-old trauma memory coming blaring back, triggered by the words of a presidential candidate. From the devastation of losing a loved one to gun violence to the fear of knowing that a corporation plans to build a pipeline or an oil refinery in your grandchildren's watershed. These struggles are times when the universe cracks us open. And it is through these openings that another layer of healing is possible.
I want to be really clear here. I’m not saying that people get cancer because they have things they need to heal. I'm also not saying a pipeline in your back yard or a union busting boss is a "blessing in disguise". The universe is much more complicated than these placating shortcuts to meaning. And in a world full of toxic pesticides, oil spills, and corporations that prioritize profit over life they are often dangerous roadblocks to the healing this earth so desperately needs.
Rebecca taught me that when we experience suffering, there are always doorways to healing if we can be prayerful and listen to find them. This Samhain, I am praying to find the ways that her crossing has opened doorways for collective healing. What has the constant ache in my heart created a doorway through? You who loved Rebeca, you whose heart is heavy with grief as you remember your dead, I invite you to join me in this prayer. How has the pain of the losses in your life this year created an opening for you? How is the suffering of this time calling you into action to help heal our collective struggles? How are the ancestors healing us all from the other side this Samhain?
With Love and Prayers for Healing,