Friday, December 20, 2013

Papa ... 45 years ago today

December 20, 1968 .... it was 45 years ago today, when my father's spirit was set free. Every time I hear the music, 'Little Drummer boy' I return to memories that are as fresh as yesterday. Our family traveled to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri from Thailand after my mother was told my father was dying. She was desperate to do everything she could to save his life ... and yes, doctors in America could do that .. of that she was convinced. I was 4 years old at the time, and I remember playing with my Etch a Sketch game in the corner of his hospital room. My mom and I lived at the hospital for several months. It used to be there was accommodations next to Barnes Hospital for family, a place called Queeny Towers. I was too young to go to school yet, so I got to spend all my time with my mom and my Papa. I don't think I really understood what was going on, why Papa couldn't carry me around like he used to. But I remember always feeling safe because he was there. I remember how I knew nothing bad would every happen to me because my Papa would save me. When the older kids back home in Thailand wouldn't let me play with them because I was too young, I would some times cry and run into the bathroom and lock the door. No one could get me open the door, except Papa.

And now, 45 years later, the memories that remain with me are of his calm, loving, gentle, quiet and kind spirit. He was my rock, my pillar, my strength. I tell myself that everything in life happens for a reason. Maybe it's just my way to come to peace with things I have absolutely no control over; my way to accept circumstances and situations that hurt and shred my heart to pieces; my way of learning to walk on ground that never feels solid, and to move in a world where the only thing I know I can count on, is uncertainty and change. I closed my heart at a very young age, and I looked everywhere to try to fill the emptiness in my heart ... striving for perfection, alcohol, sports. We never talked about the loss of Papa. The messages I heard as a child were emotions weren't okay and that 'the sign of an educated person is self control.' And so I held everything in, and at the young age of 9, was also the victim of
Legacy and Ahnung - Photo by Sarah Beth Photography
sexual abuse (a close family friend who was also a Catholic deacon) and carried that secret with me till December, 2008. It was in December, 2008, my first Christmas with Ahnung while I was up at Red Lake Reservation, and had been dealing with flashbacks of the abuse and nightmares, that I was finally able to write a letter to my family and to set myself free from a secret that had chained me down. It was Ahnung, my north star, who led me out of the darkness. I believe my Papa brought Ahnung into my life, to help me move to the next stage of my healing. I believe he brought  Ahnung to also walk with me along my health journeys ... I also believe he brought Ahnung to me, and that I am alive today, because Ahnung took the cancer from my body, and disease plaguing my pancreas ... and I believe Ahnung chose Legacy knowing she would be leaving this world and wanting me to feel joy and happiness because Legacy is Joy! And it was Ahnung, guided by my Papa, who taught me how to keep my heart open; to learn to walk through grief and loss in a new way; to embrace all my emotions and to stop running from the pain. And even from the spirit world, Ahnung continues to watch over me by leading me to Ishkode so that my heart can heal. In 2011, Ahnung was diagnosed with cancer and I was diagnosed with a rare heart disease. I knew then that Ahnung's time was limited. I was also told, it could be a year, 2 years, maybe 10 years before my heart would start showing symptoms from the disease, leading to heart failure. We began a new walk, a new journey, a new way of being and appreciating every moment we had together. And today, December 20, 2013 ... 45 years after losing Papa, I know that Ahnung is with Papa. It was time for her to move on to the spirit world; it was time for her to join Papa.

I don't know when my time will come to join them. Some day, I know I will be joining Papa, and Ahnung, but until then, I will continue to do all I can to quiet my spirit and my soul, so I can listen ... and so I can be guided by their spirits. Until then, please continue to guide me in the work I am doing ...

I miss you Papa. I miss you Ahnung.

Ishkode (means 'fire' in ojibwe - October, 2013)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reaching for my star

Dear sweet Ahnung,

How can I both hurt so deeply and ache for your presence, your touch, your calm presence, while at the same time carry joy at the innocence, curiosity of the fire in Ishkode?

Shortly after we set your spirit free I didn’t think the tears would ever stop; the pain in my heart would go away; and I lived with the quiet, voice inside of me that so desperately wanted to go with you … for my spirit to soar alongside of you because the thought of  walking this earth without you physically by my side was too much for me to bear. I prayed. I repeated to myself, over and over again, the words we shared with kids we used to visit in schools …. ‘when life gets too much. When the pain is too much and all you feel is darkness around you … look up into the night skies for the brightest star and Ahnung, your Ahnung, will guide you.” For many days and many nights that wasn’t enough. But I made a promise to you sweet girl. I promised to set your spirit free when it was time; I promised to hold you and love you when your spirit was set free; I promised to keep my heart open even when dagger pains in my heart screamed at me to harden my heart; I promised to embrace the pain …. And to learn to listen and feel you and to Be with you in a new way. Sweet girl, I am learning. I feel your spirit so strongly in the studio where we spent your last nights; I feel your spirit in little Ishka; and I smile because I remember how I used to say to myself, “I so wish I knew what Ahnung was like as a puppy.” And now I know.

You are my guiding star sweet girl. You are the guiding star for the many people whose hearts you have touched. You are the guiding star for the work we are doing at Leech Lake Legacy, and you are my fire and my inspiration.

This morning … my heart just aches for you and I just need a reminder from you that you are still with me.

And on this early Saturday morning, before the sun rises, as I meditate and sit quietly I hear you … ‘Listen. Listen. … in the silence you will hear me. In the trees, in the falling leaves, in the heart beat of Ishkode, in the changing season, in the water, in the rocks .. in the eagles ... I am here.’

Keep knocking,
and the joy inside will eventually open a window …..

Go and find yourself first
So you can also find Me.

Don't run away from grief , o soul
Look for the remedy inside the pain.
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.


and so sweet girl, continue to teach me to walk and to Be with you in a new way.

Ishkode carries Ahnung's spirit

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ahnung's Fire ..... an eternal flame ...

Ahnung's cake - Final Celebration party on Aug. 25, 2013

Today at the Leech Lake Legacy Celebration party I will return to the same space where I spent my last moments with Ahnung surrounded by a community of friends. Today we will celebrate the work she has inspired me to do …. Today we will honor her spirit for continuing to bless us with her presence, her wisdom, and her guidance from the spirit world … and her chosen one, little Ishkode (Ish Ko Day, ‘fire’ in ojibway) will be there to ensure the fire continues to burn inside each and every one of us to continue the work of healing that Ahnung began while she was here on earth.

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doors
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep."

~ Rumi

Ahnung's chosen one, Ishkode (Ish ko day, 'fire' in Ojibway)
Ahnung bench ... will be placed in the Incoming area for animals at the Animal Humane Society today ...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Welcome all who come ....

Ahnung in early 2009
My sweet Ahnung came into my life at a time I needed her. In the short 5 years I was blessed to have her be my guide and to walk along side of me she taught me so much. She continues to teach and guide me from the spirit world. My heart was ripped into a million pieces that Sunday afternoon ... August 25, 2013, when we set her spirit free. Yet she continued to guide me even in my darkest moments. She taught me how to embrace even the darkest moments and the deepest pain. She taught me how to make friends with Grief .... how to invite her into my home and to set up my guest room for her. She taught me how to Be with her in a new way ... how to listen with my heart, how to notice the signs all around me, how to be comfortable in the silence .... to know when to ground myself and when to bend and flow. She taught me to simply trust ... to trust our journey. She also taught me that there is a greater purpose for why I am here ... why she was here .. and why she led me to Ishkode (ish ko day) ... we all have a purpose, a much greater purpose for why we are here ....

She taught me how to welcome all who come ... even when, quite frankly, I wanted to slam the door shut on Grief who insisted on arriving at my door step with many suitcases. Thank you Ahnung for teaching me to make friends with all who come ...

This being human is a guest-house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,

Who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture.

Still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi

Ahnung - Final Celebration (August 25, 2013)

Ishkode (means 'fire' in ojibway) .. continuing Ahnung's work

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Letter to Grief .... miigwech and safe travels

Ahnung - photo by Sarah Beth Photography (August, 2012)
Dear Grief,

It's been almost 7 weeks now since you came to live with me in my guest room. There were days I wanted to throw you out .. there were days and weeks I locked you in the room, pretending like you weren't there. But you were there, and every time I opened up the door, the pain in my heart was unbearable. You reached out your hand to me and reminded me of the words you said to me as I prepared for the loss of my Ahnung:

Ahnung is in your heart. You are One. She is in your blood. She is in your bones. She is in the Earth. She is in the Air you breath. She is the Fire inside of you. She is in the oceans, the rivers and lakes, the rocks. When she is gone, she will live on in you.”

and then just days after Ahnung's spirit left me, you said to me:

"When I visit you in waves know that I come with your Ahnung. Ride the waves with us. Open your heart … in the cracks and shattered pieces of your heart, let the light in, let the water in …  you must also let the sharp edges cut you. Sink into the waves. Hold onto me, hold onto Ahnung. One day I promise you, you will ride the waves with us and I will leave you. You  will learn a new dance and a new way to Be with Ahnung.”

Dear Grief ... it has been a journey, and not an easy one. I know the journey isn't over but there is a new path I must embark on. I was learning to Be with Ahnung in a new way. I was learning to feel her presence and to notice her in the earth, the rocks, the oceans, the birds, the squirrels .... and now, she has led me to a little puppy from Leech Lake Reservation who is to carry on her work ... she has led me to Ishkode ('fire' in ojibway ... ISH ko day). Ahnung is asking me to take a new path. So dear Grief, with a renewed fire in my belly, and the spirit of Ahnung in Ishkode, it is time for you to move on. I know you will return, and you will visit me. And when you do, I will welcome you with open arms, and we will sit by the fireplace and have some tea. Miigwech (thank you) Grief for teaching me to Be with you ... miigwech for teaching me to keep my heart open, so I could heal my heart.

Safe travels dear friend ....

Ishkode - October 16, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ahnung's gift to me .... Ishkode (means 'fire' in ojibway)

Ishkode (ISH ko day)
I headed up to Leech Lake last Thursday ... my first Leech Lake Legacy spay/neuter and wellness clinic without my Ahnung. There was a heaviness in my heart as I packed on Wednesday night as memories of my sweet girl came flooding in my heart. She has been the fire and the inspiration behind Leech Lake Legacy, a non-profit I co-founded to help the animals and pet owners of Leech Lake Reservation . But I could feel Ahnung telling me I needed to go. It had been over 6 weeks since she crossed over to the spirit world. She left me 2 weeks after our last clinic in August ... my gut tells me Ahnung orchestrated the timing of everything that has happened. She knew I needed to be surrounded by a community of friends and so she guided me to continue on with her Final Celebration of Life party on August 25 at the Animal Humane Society ... where we celebrated her life and where I held her, surrounded by friends, as she took her last breath and I felt the weight of her head fall into my arms. I promised her I would embrace the grief, as painful as it was, because I knew it was what she wanted me to do so that I could keep my heart open. And so the journey through grief has been a very difficult and painful one, but every step of the way I felt Ahnung with me and she has shown her presence to me in different ways.

So on this last trip up to Leech Lake I brought Legacy with me because I needed to feel her presence with me. I look at Legacy and he reminds me of the joy he brought to Ahnung and their playful relationship. We arrived at the Country Inn at Walker on Thursday around 4:00 pm. I checked in and unloaded my car and decided I needed to go for a walk along the same path Ahnung and I had walked by Leech Lake. It was a beautiful fall day. On the one hand I was excited about our next clinic and being up at Leech Lake Reservation and being around a loving community ... on the other hand, I ached for Ahnung and needed to just feel her with me. So Legacy and I went for a walk. "Just Be with all the emotions ... don't run." Ahnung has continued to guide me from the spirit world and to give me the strength to continue the work she began.
Leech Lake
We continued walking ... as the trees opened up and we could catch a full view of Leech Lake up above us I saw what appeared to be a large bird flying towards us. At first I couldn't tell what kind of bird it was. It flew closer and closer to us. In moments, the bald eagle swooped down and hovered right above us. There was a momentary pause, and in that instance all I could feel and sense was Ahnung. 'I'm here." And the eagle flew away. There was no beginning or end, or life or death in that moment. We were One. I said outloud, 'miigwech (thank you) Ahnung' ... and my heart was filled with her spirit and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be ... continuing the work at Leech Lake Reservation.

Legacy and I continued our walk and then headed to meet the others at the Leech Lake Tribal Police headquarters to set up and prepare for our 6th spay/neuter and wellness clinic at Leech Lake Reservation. On Friday, day 1 of the clinic, around noon time we had our first surrendered pup brought in. A Leech Lake resident arrived with two puppies. I happened to be out front at the intake desk when the pups were surrendered. My heart stopped momentarily when I saw the puppies .. one
Ishkode (then Athena) getting checked out by Dr. Heather
of them in particular reminded me of Ahnung. I also knew all surrendered animals at this clinic would be given a name beginning with the letter 'A' (Jenny Fitzer, the other co-founder of Leech Lake Legacy set up a system of naming surrendered animals each week with the same letter of the alphabet so that we can track them through the process as we transfer them to our partner shelters/rescues to be placed up for adoption). At the moment I felt Ahnung's spirit again. The pups were given wellness checks and their initial vaccinations by one of our volunteer vets, Dr. Heather. Both were covered with ticks. Was Ahnung trying to tell me something?

On Friday I would take the little pup out (she was named Athena) ... the resemblance of little Athena to Ahnung was remarkable: she had the same markings and even has a little white tip on her tail and a white splotch on her back. Over and over again throughout Friday and into Saturday I was being asked if I would be taking her home. I kept saying 'no'. My head said there is no way I could bring a puppy into my home. I wasn't ready to take on raising a puppy yet I didn't know if Ahnung was trying to send me signs. On Saturday, Karen Good (Ahnung's rescuer and a Red Lake elder from Red Lake Reservation) was at our clinic. She too asked if I would be taking baby Nung home (that soon became her name at the clinic).
Ishkode and Legacy
I said I just couldn't. She looked at me, and with the same wise elder look she gave me when I first met her in 2008 and also met Ahnung, she said calmly and purposefully, "Ahnung is giving you many signs. Marilou, I would seriously think about it. Sometimes it is no longer our choice." Later that night, I introduced Legacy to baby Nung. I trusted Ahnung would guide me .... Legacy can be temperamental with some dogs and I have to watch him with new dogs he meets. He and baby Nung hit it off within minutes.

That night in my hotel room I tossed and turned. Ahnung, please guide me ... please let me know what I need to do. And then the thought occurred to me that it was in October, 2008 when I first met Ahnung up at Red Lake Reservation. I didn't remember the exact day in October. I got out of bed and looked up the first photo I took of Ahnung in 2008 .... October 10, 2008. I felt chills run through my body. It was exactly 5 years ago. Ahnung was clearly leading me to the puppy. I could hear her telling me I needed to name the puppy 'fire' in ojibway.
Spending time with little Ish at the clinic

So Sunday morning I brought baby Nung home with me. Her name is now Ishkode (ISH ko day) which means 'fire' in ojibway. There are striking resemblances between Ishkode and Ahnung not just in appearance but in personality. I know Ishkode will have her own unique personality ... but she, like Ahnung, has those wise soulful eyes. And when I hold Ishkode, I feel Ahnung's presence even stronger. I didn't plan on bringing a puppy home, but apparently Ahnung must feel like Ishkode must walk alongside of me so that we can continue the work we are doing at Leech Lake Reservation. So sweet nung-nung, I am sorry I kept resisting the idea of bringing little Ish home .. I am sorry I needed you to send me more signs. I needed to be sure that this is what you wanted me to do. I hear you sweet girl and I will continue to keep listening. I had always wondered what Ahnung looked like as a pup .. well, looks like she has given me the answer.

There will be many more stories forth coming ... Ahnung's spirit continues to live on, both in Legacy, Ishkode, me ... and in an entire community of people. Miigwech Ahnung for continuing to guide us all from the spirit world.

If you would like to follow along in the continued journey of Ahnung's spirit and Ishkode (and Legacy), follow us on Ahnung's facebook page:

Ahnung - July, 2013
Ishkode exploring the backyard
Ishkode's first trip to Woody's Pet Food Deli