Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ahnung's 3rd Anniversary - Anger and Grief

There is no time table for one's journey through grief, loss, pain, trauma. Today is the 3rd anniversary of the passing of my soul spirit, my soul dog, my heart, my Being ... my Ahnung. This year, for whatever reason, has felt different. I became friends with Grief, with Anticipatory Grief as together with Ahnung I prepared for the day (Aug. 25, 2013) when I would have to hold her in my arms and her spirit was set free. It didn't matter though ... I didn't feel like I was prepared but I knew I had to keep my promise to Ahnung. That I would stay with her, that I would walk with her, I would love her with every fiber of my being, and I would listen .... listen ... really listen ... and when the time came, I would let her go. This year, as her anniversary approached, I found myself wanting to just disappear .. to isolate ... to lose myself in 'something'. So I walked and I walked and I walked. 'Walk the Earth, Marilou'. And I became frustrated at times because my left knee which I had injured on March 26th despite physical therapy was not healing and I couldn't run. For me, running was a spiritual practice for me. All the while I keep telling myself to be okay with whatever. Then a couple weeks ago, while walking with Ishka, these words appear ... 'it's at a cellular level' and then the image of my acupuncturist appears. I hadn't seen my acupuncturist in many years, yet she was the only healer I had that really saw me as a whole person. So I reconnected with her. And I have since discovered there is so much more under the surface which I need to heal. And I came face to face with an emotion I have tried to bury. I used to write to Grief ... i invited her into my home; i became friends with her. But lurking in her shadow was  Anger. And I shut the door on Anger and kept her at arm's length. Truth is, I have never been good at Anger. I have been afraid of Anger. I used to also be terrified of Grief. That I would be swallowed by Grief ... by Anger.

So I have been trying to allow myself to feel this 'bad' emotion ... this 'scary' emotion. Funny though ... when I write to Ahnung and I tell her how much I miss her and I begin to venture down the path of telling her how angry I am, I find myself asking for her forgiveness and apologizing for even having feelings of anger. I'm afraid to tell her I am angry not just at the circumstances, but I am angry at her for cracking my heart wide open and then leaving me. There is so much more I want to say but I don't know how to say them to her, or maybe to even allow myself to say them.

This morning as I was journaling and looking out my writing/meditation room I could hear and feel Ahnung's spirit, giving me permission ... giving me permission to feel anything and everything I need to feel; to not judge my emotions and say they are 'good' or 'bad'; they just are. And then as if to assure me she was with me, a red cardinal swooped down and landed on the post on my wooden fence. He didn't just 'fly by'; he landed on a post then flew to the next, and then finally on a post where the sun was partially shining down on him. He picked the post at the intersection of sunlight and shadow and remained there for a few minutes.

And in that moment, I could hear Ahnung telling me we need both the sun and the moon; light and darkness; joy and grief/anger. It's okay for me to tell her I am angry.

Ahnung, I am angry. I will try to allow myself to feel those emotions, but right now, on the 3rd anniversary of your passing, I just want you to know that my heart aches for you and I miss you and I would do anything in the world to have just one more walk with you.

"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with their heart and soul, there is no separation."

~ Rumi

Friday, July 15, 2016

Reconnecting with Ahnung through Ishkode and Place

On Wednesday I was able to walk the same area I used to walk with Ahnung ... this time I was with Ishkode (aka Ishka). After Ahnung was was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 we would take regular trips (mostly in the winter months) to Grand Marais and walk along the rocky shores of Lake Superior. The quiet of winter was what I needed. The stillness allowed me to simply Be in a sacred place with Ahnung. Two days after Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world in August 2013 I returned to Grand Marais ... to the exact Place we visited ... and there I cried and I cried and I cried ... I wrote and I wrote and I wrote ... and I scattered some of her ashes into Lake Superior as I wished her safe travels and thanked her for all she has given to me, and continues to give to me. On Wednesday morning I needed to reconnect with Ahnung; i needed to feel her spirit and to be in the same sacred place we shared ... to soak in her energy, her wisdom, her calm. This time, I had my beloved Ishkode with me, whom Ahnung brought into my life in the fall of 2013 to help me in my healing, and maybe to also remind me, she is always with me. Ahnung taught me to listen, to truly listen. She also taught me to be willing to love fully and completely even knowing our time was limited and that my heart would be broken. She taught me that my heart never really breaks ... or at least not in the way I fear it to break. She taught me my heart will break, but it will break open and that I need to just be still and Be in whatever place I am at, physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally.

There is something very sacred about certain places and spaces for me. My home is a sacred place and space for me. My morning ritual of meditation and writing and the burning of incense grounds me every morning. My walks with Ishka connect me with the Earth and with the skies and with Ahnung. And the sound of water, especially Lake Superior water, brings me to a place of peace.

I have this quote hanging in my meditation room ...

"In the end what matters most is
How well did you live
How well did you love
How well did you learn to let go."

Ahnung means 'star' in ojibwe. Ishkode means 'fire' in ojibwe. Through the spirit and energy of two reservation dogs (one from Red Lake and one from Leech Lake) I feel I can reach for the stars and I am reminded to always look within myself so I never lose track of all that fuels the fire and passion of life inside of me.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to walk the shores of Lake Superior, in the exact space place I used to walk with Ahnung ... this time with the puppy she brought into my life just 7 weeks after she crossed over into the spirit world.

miigwech Ahnung ...

miigwech Ishkode ....

Monday, May 30, 2016

Guided by Ahnung ... and the fire of Ishkode

Baby Ishka up at Leech Lake Reservation
October 11, 2013
In 3 months it will be 3 years since Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world. August 25, 2013 is a day I will never forget. I journaled, I blogged, I wrote and I wrote as I walked and I learned from my precious Ahnung, on how to live life fully; to embrace every moment ... to stay in my heart and not be taken away by the fears of my mind and all the 'what ifs'. I wrote because it was all I could do to diffuse the pain of  shattered glasses that drove right through my heart at the thought of not having Ahnung with me. I wrote to let go of the anger of the injustice I felt that I would only be gifted with 5 short years of a soul who touched not only my life, but the lives of so many others. How do I live without her? How do I breathe? How do I learn to walk without my Ahnung, my north star?

And guided by Ahnung, I wrote and learned to make friends with Grief, with Anticipatory Grief. I learned to not be afraid. I learned to walk into the deepest and darkest places of my heart, and I trusted Ahnung would hold me and guide me and lift me up. And just 6 weeks after she crossed over to the spirit world, she led me to an 8 week old puppy from Leech Lake Reservation. My head was telling me 'NO I do not want a puppy!' I was tormented on what to do, and an elder said, 'Ask Ahnung what to do?'. and so I did. Another elder said to me, 'Marilou, sometimes it's not up to us.' It was clear Ahnung had brought this puppy to me, and when I walked around the lake we used to walk together I asked her for a name. The word 'Fire' came to me. I could hear Ahnung telling me, you must name her 'fire.' And so this 8 week old puppy came home with me, and she was named Ishkode (Ish-ko-day, means 'fire' in ojibwe). Let's just say, Ishka was not the calm dog that Ahnung was :) .... she had 'fire' alright and she brought laughter and joy back into my heart with her antics and her spirited way. And as she has matured, I see more glimpses of the wise spirit of Ahnung coming through.

Ishka has been my bridge to Ahnung. Ishka has also become the glue for the rest of the pack at home (Missy, Mister and Legacy) ... a wise girl in her own unique way.

So for the past couple years I have had sprinkles of joy and laughter with the adventures of Ishka .... I realize now it was Ahnung at work. She gave me 6 weeks to be swallowed by grief; to not run from the pain (and boy, am I an expert in ways to avoid dealing with pain) .. i wanted to remain in that dark space but I guess my Ahnung felt like it was time to bring a little Fire into my life, and to step back into life ... and so I did. I was learning to live again. and Ishka was the bridge to Ahnung I so needed to keep my heart open. I didn't think I needed; i especially didn't think I needed a puppy but Ahnung felt differently, and as always, she was right.

I continue to feel Ahnung's presence and spirit in so many different ways. In the past 5-6 months, I have felt her presence in cardinals that have been visiting me almost every day. Most of the time they come separately .. sometimes I am blessed with a male and female cardinal at one time. The time I feel Ahnung's presence most is when i have a single cardinal visit .. perched on my wooden fence outside the window of my writing/meditation room. Often the cardinal just sits there .... and often I get a glance.

It has been hard for me to write for my blog. I don't know why ... i just know it has been difficult. But in recent weeks Ahnung has led to an amazing person, and he is opening up my heart in a new way. For the past 5+ years I have intentionally chosen to be single and to focus on my healing. Again, I wasn't looking to meet 'someone'; quite frankly, I have been very happy with my life. But I believe Ahnung is asking me to consider the possibility of once again sharing my life with someone. That is a possibility, and a chapter in my book my life, that I had wanted to simply keep closed. Now... a new chapter .... 2015 was a year of many learnings and stepping away from an organization I co-founded (Leech Lake Legacy) and stepping into an organization more in alignment with my heart and soul (The Native America Humane Society) ... of learning and immersing myself in community work and tribal nations. On a community level my heart opened up in so many ways in 2015. It appears Ahnung is guiding me to explore opening up my heart in the most personal and intimate way in 2016. It is scary and exciting all at once. An adventure as I step into a new chapter, and learning more about myself in this new possibility ...

Ahnung, I am listening to you. Thank you for this new chapter ...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Heartbeat. Memories. Halloween.

I posted the following story on my Facebook page yesterday .. Halloween. I decided to add the story to my blog to make this memory more lasting.

Memory. It's an interesting thing. This morning I remembered a memory from Halloween, 1968. Our family had come to the United States because Papa got very sick. I had just turned 4. My mom and I were staying at Queeny tower which was attached to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, MO. The doctors were doing everything they could to save my father after doctors in Thailand said there was nothing they could do. My uncle Rey (my mom's brother) recommended Barnes Hospital in St. Louis so we traveled across the world. I spent my days at the hospital with my mom because I was too young to be in school. On Halloween, 1968 I remember going trick or treating with my siblings and cousins in Alton, IL. I don't remember much of the details other than I could only go so far with the 'big kids' and then I had to go home. Back home in Thailand I remember not being able to play with the 'big kids'. I remember crying and feeling left out. I would run to Papa and he would pick me up and carry me, and then all would be well heart emoticon. That Halloween I didn't have Papa to carry me or to make me feel okay.

The holidays are always bittersweet for me. I love Christmas music but the Christmas carol, 'Little Drummer boy' always takes me back to the months I spent as a 4 year old at Barnes Hospital ... in so many ways I was too young to really understand what was going on. On December 20, 1968, Papa was called to be with God, with Creator. Memories of that moment are forever etched in the mind and heart of a 4 year old who has spent a life time searching to understand, to be okay ... the last chorus of Little Drummer's Boy is: "Don't let them tell you you're not good enough, Don't let them tell you you're not strong enough, Me and my drum we're gonna change the world" .... for as long as I can remember, i have been so drawn to the sound of the drums. The heartbeat ... drumming moves me to tears; maybe it's because the beat of the drums is not only my heart beating, but it is Papa's heart beating .. it is Papa guiding me through spirits like Ahnung to do what I can to be of service ... I miss you Papa. Tonight, we'll go trick or treating together, with Ahnung, and no one can tell me I can't hang out with the big kids!!

'Heartbeat' print - artist: Sharon Nordrum

Monday, September 14, 2015

just stay ....

This is dedicated to anyone who has struggled with depression, with thoughts of suicide, with addiction .. and to those who have lost a loved one to suicide ....

just stay.

i see you.

i am here.

i see you. i see the darkness around you, inside of you. i see the emptiness.

and no, i don't have answers. i can't take the pain away. i can't make the sun shine again. I can't take it away.

I ask you to take my hand. to let me in. to let me stand with you.

together we will walk. we will stand.

and we will stay. one minute. one hour. one night.

we will stay. and we will cry and we will scream and we will pray to God, to a Higher Power, to the Creator, to the stars ... to anything or anyone.

and if you can't do anything, it's okay. i will stay. take my hand.


together we will stay and we will rest in your shadows.

just stay.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

We'll see you tomorrow ....

September is suicide awareness month.

In January, 2008 after decades of feeling lost and desperately trying to find myself and heal old wounds buried so deep within me, I sat down and finally wrote ... I wrote about the night of my last suicide attempt. I share this very personal piece in hopes that one person who might be at the end of their rope might read this ... and to know that YOU matter ....

I came upon the following website ... beautiful words shared by Jamie Tworkowski:

"Above all else, we choose to stay. We choose to fight the darkness and the sadness, to fight the questions and the lies and the myth of all that’s missing. We choose to stay, because we are stories still going. Because there is still some time for things to turn around, time for surprises and for change. We stay because no one else can play our part.

Life is worth living.

We’ll see you tomorrow."

And here is my story ... this was my bottom. I ended up at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri (probably not a coincidence that it was at Barnes Hospital where my Papa passed away when I was 4 years old) .... when I left the hospital, I went to my first AA meeting and the beginning of a very difficult and painful journey, but a journey I needed to take .. and through that journey I had to learn I am not alone .. none of us are alone ... and I needed to to learn to trust and to let go when all I wanted to do was hang on and control the remnants of a life that was shattering around me ....

I am glad I chose to stay.

thank you Papa for being there for me .. and thank you for bringing Ahnung into my life.


The Rope
by Marilou Chanrasmi (January, 2008)


I remember the darkness and stillness of the room.  I was sitting on the edge of the queen size bed, alone, in a Hampton Inn motel in Hazelwood, Missouri, a small suburb north of St. Louis, right off of highway 270, the outer belt of St. Louis.  At 22, I had reached the end of the rope.  The slow descent began at 4 with the death of my father .... The gradual descent dropped into a downward spiral the year we left Bangkok. It was 1979. I was 15. My father’s death at age 4 was the first ingredient poured into the old-fashioned pressure cooker. The years passed, and more ingredients were added:  sexual abuse by a trusted family friend and Catholic deacon, alcohol, peer pressure, struggles with sexual identity, sudden loss of my “second mother” to a drunk driver.  Without a safety valve, an explosion was imminent.

I clasped a bottle of sleeping pills in one hand.  In the other hand, a Bud light.  I hear the water filling up the bathtub.  I have reached the end of the rope.  The palms of my hands, once blistered from hanging on, had callused.  My exit plan – pop the sleeping pills, fall asleep, drown in the bath tub and never wake up.  Let go of the rope.  Finally, let go.

Images of my father flash before me.  Images of him catching me.  The four year old in me smiles, remembering moments in his arms.  How fun it was to play with his glasses.  How safe it felt in his arms.  The 22 year old is tired.  There’s no more fight left.  The threads holding the rope are coming apart.

And so, that night, I execute on my plan – pop the pills, and fall asleep; my body submerged in the bathtub.  Alone, in a hotel room with stale air.  The lights go out.  I am, finally, letting go.


My eyes open.  I awaken to the same hotel room.  It’s the middle of the night now.  My eyes fixate on the ceiling for a moment – a dirty white with specks of grey.  Surreal, stale air inhabits the hotel room like cigarette smoke hovering around lost souls in a bar, in search of that “something”.  There’s a heaviness in my heart.  I remember falling asleep in the bathtub filled with warm water, inhaling toxic fumes of bleach combined with other chemical agents.   Over the years, I have been asked, by the brave few wanting to make sense of how anyone could attempt to take their own life, “how could you?”, “what was going through your head?”

“Nothing.” I respond to them, as sadness fills my heart remembering the young adult whose palms, scorched from blisters and tired from the fight, decided that letting go was the only exit.  “Nothing,” I say, as I remember the protective layer that encased by battered heart.  I just wanted the pain to end.  I just wanted to rest.  I just wanted to emerge from the darkness.

Somehow, someway my submerged body was air lifted out of the bathtub onto the queen size bed.   Remnants of all I had ingested the past 24 hours had created a drunken pathway, from the bathtub to the bed.   A deathly stench consumed the room.  Somehow, someway, I took those steps – I don’t remember.   I have imagined angels lifting me out of the water.  I have imagined my father, gently carrying me to the bed, whispering to me “not yet baby, not yet.” As I realize I am alive and my plan has failed, the stale air is replaced with a stench of defiance.

I’m in my forties now.  What happened that night remains a mystery to me.  The unfolding of the “why” has been my life’s journey.    Mistakes and questions have become my friends.  In the midst of winter, when layering is what’s comfortable, I shed layers to keep warm; I strive for authenticity, warmth and truth found only at my core.  I am learning to revel in the mystery, and in the questions.  I am learning that there are bright colors in the darkness.  I am learning there are millions of threads, that make up strands, which in turn make a rope.  I am learning that every thread connects me to something, someone, or some purpose; as we find common threads and re-build strands from worn out threads, we strengthen the rope of life.  At 22, my tired, callused hands let go of the one remaining tattered strand, as I danced at the doorsteps of death, only to fall straight into a hammock, handcrafted from a mesh of rope.   At 22, I fell straight into the arms of my father, and into the hammock of life.

I encourage you to watching this beautiful video of We Will See you tomorrow:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Heart. One Mind. One Drum.

Yesterday I returned to the trails I used to walk with Ahnung. I walked with the pup my sweet Ahnung led me to ... Ishkode. We walked and we walked and we walked. I was unaware of how far and how long we had walked till we got back to my car -- 3 hours later!! No wonder little Ishka's tongue was hanging out on the side and she was very thirsty! :)

I needed to take time to reflect and to pause and to listen. I needed to re-ground myself. Ahnung taught me so much about just Being .. about listening, observing and being aware of her surroundings. There was a Way about her -- a very wise Way. She is my rez dog and she has led me to my work with tribal nations. Over the past 4 years I have been immersed in working with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota. It has become Home to me on so many levels. I don't know where my life's journey will take me, but what I do know is that must never lose sight of my north star, my Ahnung. I have also come to embrace the Seven Sacred teachings, embraced and practiced by Anishinaabe people and indigenous people.

Humility • DibaaDenDizowin
Honesty • gwayakowaaDiziwin
Respect • manaaji’iwewin
Courage • zoonGiDe’ewin
Wisdom • nibwaakaawin
Truth • Debwewin
Love • zaaGi’iDiwin

There is so much beauty and wisdom in Indigenous Ways .... thank you Ahnung for being my guide and leading me to a people and a nation who have now become my people and my community. 

Ahnung ... I ask for you to continue to guide me and to teach me. 

"If you listen close at night, you will hear
the creatures of the dark, all of them sacred 
- the owls, the crickets, the frogs, 
the night birds - and you will hear beautiful songs, 
songs you have never heard before. 
Listen with your heart.
Never stop listening.”

~ Henry Quick Bear, LAKOTA