Lessons for Living, From Dying ~ On Life ~ And Death ~ Part I
How did she know? How did I know?
Sherrie and I re-connected at the threshold of her passing, a month before her accident. Follow this story of friendship, intuition and synchronicity surrounding the questions of Life and death. And the surprising Life Lessons, and unpredictable peace, that has come out of it.
When Tragedy Strikes ~ Lessons for Living ~ From Dying
Our lives affect everyone around us . . .
We don’t even know . . .
Ten years ago this Spring, on April 28, 2007, one of my best friends was killed while riding her horse.
This tragic accident affected everyone who knew and loved Sherrie.
And, I’m pretty sure that her death has, on more than one occasion, quite literally — saved my Life.
Because, you see, Sherrie is not really “gone”. Sherrie is still here — still loving, still smiling, still giving.
A few things I’ve discovered:
* Sherrie and I are still connected. Even before her passing, we talked about Living, about dying. And in some strange way, we were prepared for it. Like it was all part of a Giant Cosmic Plan.
* I’ve analyzed her accident, and my accidents, and made a list of guidelines that have helped keep me safe . . . and will help you, stay safe, too. (See my next post, Anatomy of an Accident.)
* Every now and again, when I’m in a precarious situation with an unruly horse — Sherrie seems to drop in from the ‘other side’ and yell: “STOP! Get out of the barn!”
And I’ve learned to LISTEN.
And I put down what I’m doing.
And I walk away, unscathed.
And I Thank God for Sherrie T.!
Everything Happens for a Reason
It has been said that everything happens for a reason. And I like to believe that.
But how difficult that becomes when you lose someone you love . . .
Yet I feel the need to share this difficult topic — of losing Sherrie — in hopes that others will benefit from her Life and death. Like I have.
Her story, and the lessons that came out of it, may be her final gift to us all.
I’ve waited ten years; I’ve run it past her husband, Tom. And with permission, I tell this story.
This entry is a long one.
So take your time.
Read this post in bits and pieces.
It took years in Sherrie’s and my Life for this drama to unfold.
Savor the flavor!
Listen up . . . and learn . . .
Certainly the day I met Sherrie happened for a reason, at a remote 25-mile Endurance Ride above the Antelope Valley in the mid-90s.
Somehow in the line-up of horses and riders that day, our Souls found fellow friends.
We rode “drag” together, the last ones on the trail — talking about horses, and hooves, and rides we’d love to do . . . and by day’s end, we vowed to meet up again, soon.
Sherrie was an animal person, through and through. She always had at least five horses, two dogs, several cats . . .
And everything was bountiful. Foals, kittens, pups.
Sherrie was generous in so many ways — with her time, her enthusiasm for Life, and with what she knew.
We rode trails together, ate meals together, spent hours talking on the phone. Her friends became my friends. Her community became my community.
Sherrie always helped needy animals find fitting homes.
From Sherrie we got our cats and kittens. We got our beloved older Welsh pony gelding that she had rescued, that my kids adored.
Sherrie was always learning, and always sharing what she learned.
She introduced me to many breakthroughs in the horse world: Natural Horsemanship, rope halters, quiet, effective techniques.
And through her generous introductions, she ended up jump-starting my equine farrier (Hoofcare) career.
Thank you, Sherrie! I am so grateful to you for all of this!
Now lets jump to 2007, just before Sherrie died.
Here’s the timeline:
Sunday, April 1, 2007: Due to travel and work, Sherrie and I hadn’t seen each other much over the past couple years.
She and her husband, Tom, had moved to a nearby ranch in a temporary living situation. They had sold their previous property and were building a new, more distant ranch, that wasn’t quite ready to move into yet.
On this day, Sherrie invited me out so she could study farrier skills with me, and learn how to trim her own horses’ hooves.
We spent the day working together with her herd. Laughing, catching up — trimming hooves, sharing stories . . .
The biggest piece of news: The Car Accident. Sherrie told me this amazing story:
The Car Accident
It turns out that Sherrie was nearly killed in a head-on crash just a year or so before. (Dec ’05)
She, Tom, and the dog, were driving back from visiting Tom’s family in Arizona for Christmas.
For some reason, Sherrie explained, all she wanted to do that morning was leave for home — pronto — so she could return to their horses.
She was unusually insistent.
“We just gotta get out of here!”
They drove all day, covering hundreds of miles.
And then, after dark, just a couple miles from home, suddenly — over a rise — four headlights appeared.
It turned out, three teenage girls were out joy-riding, and the driver had decided to take a chance and pass another vehicle on a blind hill.
Tom veered their older model Jeep to avoid the crash — but there just wasn’t room for three vehicles on the two-lane roadway.
Steel crashed into steel . . .
Sherrie and Tom felt the Jeep rock back and forth.
In the Jeep, Sherrie took the brunt of the blow.
In the teenager’s car, the front-seat passenger, tragically, was killed. The driver and rear-seat passenger were hospitalized, but survived.
The third car escaped unharmed.
~ Miracles ~
Somehow, Sherrie lived. Stuck in the mangled mess.
Miraculously, Tom’s head was spared from being struck by a heavy tool in the back of the Jeep — instead, it impaled into one of the boxes of Christmas presents his mom had given him earlier that day — probably saving Tom’s life!
Sherrie Laughs :))
Sherrie told me that when she got to the hospital, she just laughed. The doctors couldn’t figure out why.
“I laughed because I was alive!” She told me.
“I just couldn’t stop laughing!”
Apparently that’s not the response the doctors had expected!
I marveled as Sherrie told me her death-defying story. Her body was weakened from her injuries, but she was still tough.
At the end of the day, after working together, we hugged, and said our goodbyes.
On the drive home, I kept thinking about what she’d told me. I kept seeing her in the hospital, laughing — and imagining the doctors’ reaction.
The next morning, I awoke early, just before 4:00 am. (Not my usual time, especially after working hard the previous day!)
But a lyrical rift was busy constructing itself — repeating over and over in my head — the beginnings of a poem, all about Sherrie T. . . .
It came in so strong, so insistent, that I got up, turned on the computer, and began to write.
From my Journal:
April 2, 2007
(I saw Sherrie yesterday — I taught her how to trim her horses. I awoke with this:)
Smashed and broken?
Cannot stop Sherrie T.!
Severed ribs, severed Jeep,
Head-on crash cannot keep
Happy smile, happy faith
Laugh in hospital’s
Deadly face. Bleeding
Skull cannot keep
Challenged mom, toughened Sherrie,
Loved by Tom. Lives for
Horses, friends and pups —
Up for travel, up for fun.
Life’s adventures just
Begun. She’s a marvel,
She’s possessed with a
Special kind of zest —
I read it over. I got the chills.
And tears — it was good.
Later that day, I read it to my Hawaii artist and writer friend, Susan, when she called.
She got the chills, too, and told me to be sure to read it to Sherrie.
I would, I figured, the next time we’d talk.
Yet I didn’t call Sherrie directly. I had horses to shoe and work to do, and then there was prepping and leaving for my out of town work . . .
Flash to the 2007 timeline again:
Wednesday April 18: Packing for work, feeling overwhelmed, I felt a presence, a hand on my heart, saying: “STAY. Wait. Don’t go!”
Written in the margin of my work book that day:
My intuition said: “Wait to fly to Hawaii — wait ‘til Friday!” I heard this, felt this — very clear. “But this (change in flight) will cost me money,” I protested. “And I’ll have to work really hard” (to get all my work done in a shorter time frame).
The Quiet Inner Voice said: “Wait!”
So I did.
Thursday, April 19: Then, because I stayed, I was home the next day — and, Sherrie called!
We started to talk, to catch up.
And then I realized that I hadn’t read her the poem yet.
Then, as I read her the words, Sherrie got quiet. Emotional.
She seemed completely taken aback.
“Do you really see me like that?”
“Oh yes — yes, Sherrie, I do! I see you exactly like that!”
Nearly in tears, “Really? You do?”
“Yes! Sherrie, you’re amazing! Whatever obstacles in your life, you rise above them.”
And we talked about her car accident, and about my near-escape-from-death carriage wreck (with Welsh-cross mare, Fauna, summer ’06).
And we marveled: “We’re alive!!!”
“Isn’t it AWESOME!”
“We both should have died!!!”
“But WE DIDN’T DIE!”
“Somehow we LIVED!”
And we talked about our friendship, and all the connections we have.
And we shared gratitude for our Lives.
And we vowed we’d stay in touch when I’d return . . .
And we hung up the phone. And I continued to pack. And I knew I’d see Sherrie again, when I got home.
Timeline continued, 2007:
Friday, April 20: I fly out of town for my regularly scheduled, Hawaii (Oahu), farrier hoof and horse work.
Saturday April 21: (The night after my arrival, late pm. — one full week before Sherrie dies.) My friend, Susan, and I sit and talk under the stars in her outdoor Lani Kai courtyard. And I say the most amazing thing.
I tell Susan that I feel very strongly the need to write my kids and my husband a letter “for when I’m gone” — for when I pass away. (Influenced by the conversation I had with Sherrie about how we had both survived accidents that should have killed us . . . )
Sunday, April 22: I awake the next morning, and I take action and write: For When I’m Gone. (See below)
Saturday, April 28: Unbeknownst to me, late afternoon, back home in Southern California — Sherrie is killed in a horseback riding accident on her big Warmblood gelding. Just ten days after our last conversation, 27 days after I last saw her, 26 days after I wrote my poem about her.
Thursday, May 3: Before my return flight, while driving my rental car, I talk with someone from home.
She asks, casually, “Do you know a woman named Sherrie T.?”
“Yes, my good friend.”
“Well, I read in the paper she that she died!”
“She was killed while riding her horse.”
Pull the car over.
Just outside Lani Kai.
By the little church.
Side of the road.
Pale green grass.
Disbelief — Panic!
Hang up the phone.
“Oh God, PLEASE!!!”
And then, the strangest thing happens.
I feel her presence, with me in the car —
“Sherrie? Is that YOU???”
And I talk with her.
And she seems to answer me.
Like our last conversation before I left on my trip.
I hear her . . . Feel her . . .
“Everything’s just FINE!”
Smiling at me.
“No, Sherrie, NO!”
Comforting me, through my tears.
And I recall our last conversation — when I stayed home and cancelled my flight. When I read her my poem . . .
And I recall what I wrote, just the week before, for my kids, my husband, of what I wanted them to know — how I wanted them to be able to respond, when I’m gone.
And I can’t believe all this is happening.
How could this be?
What are the chances of all this???
How could we have, at some level, known?
And I realize that I must apply all that I’ve written about my eventual passing — to Sherrie’s death — NOW.
Because without Sherrie — without our recent re-connection and conversation — I never would have written my philosophy on Life and death — For When I’m Gone . . .
From my Journal: A letter to my family, to be read . . . when I pass on . . .
For When I’m Gone
April 22, 2007
Lani Kai, Hawaii
I’ve always been an adventurer. Striking out alone with my horse Rebel in the Los Padres National Forest behind Santa Barbara for a ten-day camping trip at age 18 was my idea of fulfilling my dream.
Living in California, working in Hawaii.
I’ve always made friends wherever I go. The bus driver, flight attendant and workers at my favorite restaurant become part of my support and my joy.
I believe God put them in my path — and I remember them, and I am remembered by them. They help make my travels more rich, more home. More fun.
Yet I’m flawed at packing. I love to be gone and out on the road, but I hate having to actually LEAVE.
Travel and Death — Travel and Rebirth
In all my years of travel I’ve discovered a distinct relationship between travel and death. Travel and Rebirth.
It’s always a painful effort to pry my life away, pack up my gear and go — (thank God for cell phones!)
So packing and leaving represent the death process. Separating from the people & stuff & place I love the most.
Death, like labor and childbirth, ain’t easy. It takes surrender and acceptance and breath.
It takes faith — like under-the-hibiscus, in-the-horse-trough, no-doctor-no-nurse-no-midwife-childbirth. Like ocean swimming an infant.
It takes faith to live like God really is in charge — God really does love me & care for me & look out for me.
Yet God provides for the intensity of childbirth & death — as proved by all those who have gone before us — and I just have to surrender — completely surrender — to His love and care and protection . . .
Because God is the protector of my Soul. The Great Game Master.
And I am acting out my Character in the grand Game of Life — interacting with other Characters within the Bigger Plot and all the intricate sub-plots Life has to offer.
The movie of our lives is already shot and in the can. And we are watching it all play out . . .
And if we can watch with assurance that God is good and God is in charge, then all that happens here — the good and the bad — truly do work together for good in the biggest, highest picture.
It Is Well with My Soul
Now you see, my life circles round with: packing, leaving, adventuring — learning, returning, sharing — adventuring, packing, and leaving again . . .
My assurance to you at this time of your loss: It is well with my soul. I’m out on another adventure!
I’ve packed (the painful part). I’ve traveled (and met people along the way). And now I’m at my destination — surrounded by those I love and know.
I’ve come home — to my “other”, heavenly home.
Like from California to Hawaii, to the family I haven’t seen in so long.
Don’t Weep For Me.
Keep me in your heart as if I’m on one of my journeys.
Know that I’m trotting down some turquoise beach somewhere — diving into the ocean and doing somersaults.
I’m re-uniting with loved ones lost. I’m learning new language, new customs, seeing new landscapes and learning the lay of the land.
I’m galloping with Fanta and Mentor and all my horses that have passed before me!
Consider Me Traveling!
Don’t consider me dead — consider me traveling :))
Please save up stories about your adventures for me — as always — to share the next time we’re together.
Please send telegrams, cards, emails, phone messages and instant messaging . . .
(Who knows — at the rate today’s technology is advancing, I’ll probably be able to answer you back!)
And I’ll write/phone/message home my travels to you, whenever, however, possible.
I’ve lived my life. I’ve loved my time here with you all. And I’m so very grateful that you are part of my life!
This Is YOUR Lifetime. You Go Out and Live It!
Remember, this is your lifetime. I’m living mine. I’m loving mine. I’ve had mine.
Now you go out and live yours, like you always have, giving it all you’ve got. Connecting with those whom God put in your path.
“Just be/do your best!” (Mom, Grandma Warby) That’s why we were all put here.
If I’ve made any sort of a difference to you with my life — then you go do the same.
The coffee you drink today,
The kind words of encouragement you say —
This is Your Life
Seize the moment —
Savor the flavor —
Make your connections.
And that’s my letter to comfort those I love. That’s my philosophy on death and dying — and on Life and Living!
So how do I apply all this to losing Sherrie?
I MUST Accept What Is
I realize: Sherrie had a tragic accident.
I must accept this — accept what is.
Sherrie isn’t here in the physical any more.
Yet, Sherrie is alive. In Spirit. In God.
Sherrie is free!
She’s out of pain.
She’s on to a new series of friendships, travel, adventures . . .
And she doesn’t want me to weep for her, but to be joyful for her.
Happy that she’s in a good place.
And I must keep my promise. That we will stay connected.
And I shall keep an ongoing dialog with her, in my heart.
Sending her my energy outwards, in LOVE — rather than hold on to sorrow or fear.
And I realize, I can still learn from Sherrie. Not just from her Life, but from her death.
Lessons from Sherrie’s Death . . .
And, flying home to California, I call Tom the next day.
And we cry.
And we share our shock.
And we share our grief.
And he tells me everything that happened that awful day.
Because I have to know.
For my Life, too depends upon knowing what went wrong.
And after talking about all that, I tell Tom how I’d felt her peace.
And he shares that he felt her, too.
And I learned from Tom that Sherrie, years ago, had her own Near-Death experience.
And she knew how wonderful Heaven would be . . .
And Tom and I talked about our love for her — and, awkwardly, embarrassingly — we rejoiced in her new-found happiness . . .
And we rose above our sorrows that day, and we talked about the highest good we could muster.
And we knew that Sherrie had given her all in this Life. And she had risen above many, many obstacles.
And yes, we would sorely miss her.
And yet, we also knew, that some Greater Plan was somehow making sense of all this.
And by Grace of God, we experienced a feeling of peace.
Next post: The Anatomy of an Accident ~ On Life ~ And Death ~ Part II ~ My analysis of what happened that day, which has surely saved my Life. And how to learn to Live Life the best we can.
Copyright 2014, 2017