Monday, August 25, 2014

Ahnung ... one year anniversary

Today, August 25, 2014 is the one year anniversary of when I held Ahnung in my arms, surrounded by a community of friends, as she transitioned into the spirit world. There are no words for the pain that surrounded that moment, and the days, weeks and months that followed. But I promised Ahnung I would be there with her when it was time to let her go, and that I would walk towards the pain, the darkness and the grief that I so desperately wanted to run from. Ahnung taught me how to live and cherish every moment. In 2011, two months after I was diagnosed with my heart condition, she was diagnosed with cancer and together we walked our Final Walk together. I imagine walking over a bridge with her. When we get to the other side of the river, Ahnung stops and tells me it's not my time. She must go on to the other side. Her work continues from the spirit world but I must return to continue the work she began. I desperately want to go with her, but in the 2 years she prepped me for this Final Walk, she taught me that she will still be with me and that I will just need to learn to be with her in a new way, and I will need to learn to listen to her voice and her messages in a new way.

Dear sweet Ahnung .... I let you go on August 25, 2013. That first night without you I thought I would die from the pain. My heart shattered into a million pieces and I wanted to be with you, to hear you snore, to hear your body thump on the hardwood floor and to watch Legacy yank on your back legs ... and watch the two of you roll around in play :) You asked me to trust you and that my journey has not ended. You are right sweet girl ... my journey has not ended. The month of August has been filled with more doors opening than I could have ever imagined. I know you are the reason these doors are opening up and why I am connecting with people I need to be connecting with at this time.

so sweet girl ... I will keep listening to you. I will keep walking with you in a new way ... and I will share the amazing wisdom of what you have taught me, and continue to teach me through The Ahnung Way. I don't know what lies in store for me ... but I what I do know is that you are right by my side, and you will continue to guide me.

In 2011, you inspired me to co-found Leech Lake Legacy. It was my dream for Leech Lake Legacy to serve as a model for what can be done to provide resources and options for managing animal overpopulation challenges on reservations across the country, and how through reservation animals we could heal ourselves and communities .... 'We Believe in the healing and transformative energy of animals to build a bridge for a kinder, gentler and more compassionate world. We Believe reservations animals challenge us, teach us and guide us to our deepest sense of Home."

I believe you led me to Diana Webster, president/founder of The Native America Humane Society. Tomorrow Diana arrives from California as we take steps to begin what I could only dream and imagine when Leech Lake Legacy began in 2011 ... to explore how Leech Lake Legacy can serve as a model for what can be done at reservations across the country. And this week, we will not only be visiting Leech Lake Reservation but on Friday we will be visiting Karen Good (your rescuer ... and the amazing woman and Red Lake elder who led me to you) at Red Lake Reservation. I have no doubt none of this is a coincidence ... I have no doubt you planned for me to return to Red Lake this week .. to return to your roots and so we could sprinkle your ashes at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue outside the cat house where you lived for a couple months in 2008, in an igloo with the other big Rez dogs (Grandpa, Hazel and others).

As Diana and I meet with tribal leaders and elders of Leech Lake, White Earth and Red Lake reservations I know you will be with us, guiding us, and opening up doors so we can continue the work you began.

Today, and this week is symbolic on so many levels.

I miss you sweet nung-nung. Thank you for all you continue to do ... for being a beacon of love, hope, healing and resilience. Miigwech for being my north star. Always in my heart.

Ahnung in 2008 at Red Lake Rosie's Rescue on Red Lake Reservation

Ahnung .. an amazing observer of life.

At the Leech Lake Legacy August 2012 spay/neuter and wellness clinic
Ahnung with her friend Jaycee

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The courage to STAY ..

Yesterday, it came as a shock to many to hear of Robin William's death. It brought memories back for me and my heart hurt because like millions of others, I have walked in that dark valley.

Krista Tippett shared the following words on the On Being Facebook page this morning:

Upon hearing the news of Robin Williams, I offer these closing words from Jennifer Michael Hecht's book "Stay":

"None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay."

In 1988, it was my intent to choose the path Robin William's took. In January, 2008 I wrote a piece titled 'The Rope' ... I share excerpts from it in hopes that my journey, my story, may give hope to someone, that there can be another ending; that we are not alone, and that even in the deepest, darkest moments ... choose to STAY. In 1988, I didn't have the courage to STAY but somehow, it wasn't my time to go, and so I share my story ... This is my story. I  believe many others share a similar story.


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.


In 1988, I didn't want to stay. For whatever reason, I survived. And after a week at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis (interestingly, it was the same hospital where my father died when I was 4 years old), and the kindness and compassion of a young psychiatric intern who befriended me at the hospital, I left and attended my first AA meeting. My healing journey began, and my healing journey continues.

So today, I remember and honor Robin Williams for the life he lived. Thank you Robin for the gifts you gave to this world. And may your death shine a light on a topic (suicide) often swept under the carpet. And out of your darkness, may your light shine on in the spirits of so many whose hearts and lives you have touched.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What makes you feel alive?

Today as I celebrate my 50th birthday I find myself looking back ... it has been a journey, an adventure to reach this half century mark. I will admit, after my diagnosis with my heart condition, I did not think I would make it to 50. But I realize now that I was given the greatest gift in 2011, the gift of learning to face fears I never knew existed, to go deep within myself and to learn to embrace and to appreciate fully each day.

So today, I share a few things I have learned. Life is a web of amazing connectedness; life is a blank canvas and we are the artist; life isn't black and white ... it's a blend of so many colors, both seen and unseen. What I have come to learn is that it is the mystery, the magic, the uncertainty, the questions and the willingness to leap, to reach for the stars, to BELIEVE, to HOPE .. and to LIVE as if each day is your last. Life is about connecting and I have learned that I am not alone, that I have a community of support, that if I leap off a mountain that yes, I will either learn to fly or I will be caught by a community of friends, or if I crash, that in the pain and brokenness that I will emerge out of the rubble even stronger. What I have learned is that I must STAY; i must be present; and I must not run from that which scares me.

In March, 2006 before I fell into the world of animal welfare (through the loss of my dog Shen to spleen cancer), I wrote the following in my journal ... it became the opening poem I would share with kids when Ahnung and I would visits schools or give presentations:

What makes you feel alive?

What makes you cry, makes you laugh, makes you angry?
Is there something you believe in,
feel passionately about, that if it is taken away from you
is like sucking the oxygen away from you?
Is there something you believe in,
you would be willing to give your life for?

What is that something, that lives and breathes
inside of you, and
outside of you?
That something that consumes your mind,
melts your heart, and energizes your body?
What is that invisible, yet transparent force?

Do you know?

Marilou Chanrasmi
March 13, 2006

And then in December, 2008, just a couple months after Ahnung came into my life, we spent a week up at Red Lake Reservation with her rescuer, Karen Good (of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue). I wrote the following 'We Believe' credo ... the original version at the end of 2008 was an 'I Believe' credo and with a few words added, and changing 'I' to 'We', it became the core values of Leech Lake Legacy. And now, in 2014, what I wrote with Ahnung by my side, continues to be what I believe and what guides in how I live my life and what I believe and what makes me feel alive.

So today, as I take a moment to reflect back on my journey, I realize I am truly blessed ... For I do know what makes me feel alive and what I believe in .... and I do know what I want my legacy to be.

I remember sitting in my writing room, early morning on March 13, 2006, journaling and reflecting and asking myself, 'What makes me feel alive?' I remember feeling lost, struggling to find myself, struggling to find what made me feel alive and wanting to feel that fire in my soul. Little did I know that I would be embarking on the journey I did ... and that grief and pain would open up doors I could never have imagined. Little did I know that it was GRIEF and pain that would break my heart open so I could explore new possibilities.

I don't know what tomorrow has in store for me. What I do know is that something magical is happening and that doors are opening and amazing new connections are being made. And in the words of Diana Webster (president/founder of The Native America Humane Society), there is a 'brilliant convergence' ... and all I know is something is happening. That something is beyond explanation and logical thinking. Our job is to still our minds and hearts enough to listen, to notice and trust in that wisdom and inner knowing that lies deep within each and every one of us.

Wishing everyone a day that fills your heart with love, passion, healing and hope.

May you feel that spirit of fire and flame of passion that lies within each and every one of us.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Celebrating The Ahnung Way ... Join us on August 10th!

Designed by Kel Miller
At 6:19 this morning I received an email from LLL volunteer and friend, Kel Miller ... "Something kept me awake all night and this is what I worked on. Do you like it?"

I was just sitting down to write and to reflect, as amazing things have been happening in the past few weeks. In February of this year, Ahnung (means 'star' in ojibwe) came to me in a dream, and in it was a clear image and a vision. I share more about it on a previous blog post. After that night the words 'The Ahnung Way' continue to appear over and over again. I reach out to Kel to help me bring to life what I am unable to wrap words around.

For the past week my dear friend Terri has been asking me to post information about a birthday party she wants to host for me. I told her I don't want a party for my birthday; i don't want the focus to be me. This morning before I receive the email from Kel, I realize this month (August) is significant for several reasons.

On August 7th, I will be turning 50 years old. On August 25th, it will be the 1 year anniversary of when Ahnung crossed over to the spirit world. Ahnung is the guiding star for Leech Lake Legacy. In May, 2011 I met Jenny Fitzer (the other co-founder of Leech Lake Legacy) for the first time. We both responded to a plea from Karen Good of Red Lake Reservation (who was also the elder who rescued Ahnung and led me to her) to help the animals of Leech Lake Reservation. In May, 2011 I also learned I had a rare heart condition (left ventricular non compaction). My health challenges began at the end of 2008 at the same time Ahnung appeared in my life and was in and out of hospitals with surgeries and various procedures. Ahnung walked alongside of me through all of my health challenges.

2011 marked a turning point in our shared journey. I learned I had a serious heart condition with poor prognosis. 2011 marked the beginning of Leech Lake Legacy. 2011 was also the year Ahnung was diagnosed with cancer. I remember laying in my hospital bed at Abbott Northwestern in May, 2011 after a heart procedure wondering if I should continue with efforts that were beginning at Leech Lake Reservation. I remember asking my cardiologist how much time ..... his words ... "there are so many unknowns about this heart condition. It could be a year, 2 years or 10 years."

With Ahnung by my side .. my north star, she continued to guide me and to teach me and to bring a community together through her Celebration of Life parties.

I believe Ahnung continues to guide me from the spirit world and 1 year after her passing, she is leading me to people I need to meet so that we can move onto the next phase of the journey she began. In the past few weeks I have connected with amazing women: Sarah Haberman, the founder of Modern Storytellers who then connected me to Louise Woehrle, an award winning film maker who produced Pride of Lions ... there is a story that needs to be told, and some how, Ahnung is guiding and connecting us. This past week I met Diana Webster, president of The Native America Humane Society .... and new doors are opening up for both of our organizations in amazing ways. Diana says it best in the closing of one of her emails to me, "Looking forward to a brilliant convergence!" It is truly as if the stars have all aligned, and somehow, some way, the month of August represents a new beginning and the birth of a new path, a new way ... for me, it is The Ahnung Way.

My dear friend Terri has planned a party for Sunday, August 10th ... she has called it a Birthday Open house for Marilou. I would like to change it to a gathering of friends to Celebrate new beginnings and remember and honor Ahnung as she continues to guide us from the spirit world and inspire The Ahnung Way. I honestly didn't think I would be around to celebrate 50 years! As I celebrate 50 years, I celebrate Ahnung who gave me the greatest gift by choosing me to walk with her while she was on earth for her short 5 years ... and for continuing to guide and teach me to listen and walk with her in a new way.

Here is what Terri shared on the Leech Lake Legacy volunteer group. She has been wanting me to share this :)

Sunday, August 10th, 2014
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Shelard Village Party Room (space sponsored by Mary Skelly-Gaffney)
400 Ford Road
St. Louis Park, MN 55426
Off of 169 & Shelard Pkwy/Betty Crocker
Please come and celebrate Marilou’s BIG
Birthday with us! The more the merrier!


I did tell Terri that I do NOT want gifts. If you would like to give something, I ask for you to consider a donation to Leech Lake Legacy. I am fundraising for LLL as a part of the Best Friends Strut your Mutt event on September 27th, and have a fundraising page set up: