My friend John (1967-2017)
Last year I decided to go to India and John kindly offered to put me up whilst I planned the trip, as I had recently moved out of my home in Billericay. It took about three weeks to organise the visa, tickets, vaccinations, etc and it was during this time that I met John’s sister, Teresa, and her grown up children, Daniel and Matilda. Teresa had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was back in the UK, from her home in Sweden, to sort out some of her affairs. A difficult time for everyone, but John put on a brave face and tried to be bright and bubbly, however the underlying stress was apparent.
As I spent time with John he shared more of his worries and concerns that were depriving him of sleep. Not only his sister’s illness but work and relationship troubles. He had left his job at the family farm and was trying to take stock of his life and find new direction. He even applied for a builders merchant manager’s job, for which he was way overqualified, but was unsuccessful.
He had split with his partner, Sue, some time ago but still regularly saw his two girls, Isabella and Ayesha. John’s house had three rooms that were devoted to the girls, adorned with pop band posters, cuddly toys and the like. Wardrobes and drawers were crammed with their clothes, as they stayed over two, three or more nights a week. In the three weeks staying with John I got to know his daughters a little and saw how he absolutely doted upon them. They wanted for nothing. Both the girls, although quite different in character, came across as intelligent, well mannered and considerate. They could even take themselves off to bed without a fuss. As young teenagers (almost), that was impressive.
At the end of November 2016, with a six month visa and no real plan in mind, I left for India. Some healthy food and exercise, walking and yoga, were as far as my intention went.
I swapped whatsapp messages with John and sent the odd photo of my travels but then, in early January 2017, he sent a message saying he had been diagnosed with cancer.
The shock I felt must have been nothing compared to that felt by John and his family. From then on I was in regular contact with both John and another close friend, Kevin, who kept me abreast of the situation. Speaking with John on the phone, I was surprised to hear how upbeat he was but understandably that didn’t last. As his situation worsened he became more accepting and reflective.
During one of the many email exchanges we had, John replied with the below after I had written about some of my spiritual thoughts and beliefs:
That was a very thoughtful message.
Believe it or not I don’t think what you have suggested is something I don’t believe in.
As I said to you, my body has been out of alignment with its natural state for years. Essentially I realised that I m not a hard nosed businessman in pursuit of untold riches. I pursued a life that never suited my personality. I m not a greedy and selfish person deep down. I now believe following this path has led to my illness.
The stress this has brought has caused me untold damage.
I think you knew I wasn’t well when you were here. I was quite sure there was something wrong hence my visits to doctors. It was a virus that triggered the cancer off over Christmas. It was almost like it was waiting to be kick started. If you remember I told you I couldn’t breath in the pool in Sweden while at my sister.
Stupidly I didn’t push the doctors for a simple X ray and just listened to them saying there was nothing wrong.
I guess now I’m facing the daunting task of operations, chemo and radiation treatments. Basically, a sledge hammer to open a walnut.
I do now need a deep healing within my body to withstand this onslaught. I’m looking at ways to meditate and find peace with myself.
As you can imagine, I have just told my children the news and the devastation I feel inside is a pain I cannot explain. My head at night is in turmoil. Sleep, as you well know, is now a precious commodity.
All my dreams, hopes and plans are distant memories. We talked about riding across America on a Harley, finishing my flying course etc. Now I face the fear and emptiness of this long dark road. Time suddenly feels like it has stood still while I watch everyone move forward past me.
It’s almost like you have stepped into God’s waiting room.
To make things worse I had to break news to my sister who is dying that I cannot give her stem cells to fight her disease. We both get cancer within months of each other. I was already suffering her burden in my mind and now she is staying looking after me!
If you believe in fate then I left work 5 months ago and maybe something has given me this time to reflect before I face this trial.
I just hope I can face this with dignity and not let my daughters suffer watching me waste away. I hope you find that peace and end the pain of the Tinnitus. I can assure you my sister and I knew you were going through hell with it. Again unless you live it for a day you cannot understand the torment.
I want you to have a good life and find a woman to share life with. At times like these you realise only love, friendship and happiness really matter.
Enjoy your trip and hopefully I’ll still be around when you come back.
The girls are here and they said hello as does Teresa.”
I held a couple of shamanic ceremonies for him on the beach and upon a cliff top, where I was staying in India. They seemed to make sense to me and I got confirmation back from the universe that I was on the right track in the form of acknowledgment sounds and sights. A local man asking for a photo with me just as i finished the small ceremony on the beach (I had been discreet and he had not seen me conduct it), a bell being rung when I completed the cliff top work with a multitude of eagles.
During this period I spent a week in the city of Trivandrum in Kerala, southern India where, as serendipity would have it , Amma “The Hugging Mother” was holding an event. I went along and took a sacred stone that I was using in the work I was doing with and for John, said prayers for him, and left it in the temple. Again this felt right.
However after a few weeks working shamanically it felt as though I could do no more where I was and, as I had been thinking about flying back to the UK to be with my friend, I booked a ticket back.
I returned early February and stayed at John’s house. Teresa was there nursing him as best she could and many other family members and friends came to help and offer their support. But John had deteriorated rapidly. I worked with John using my teachings and was there to help out as necessary, even if it that only meant making cups of tea for the many visitors. My ideal, of course, was to be able to help him battle the disease and cure himself, but that seemed out of the question now as destiny had other plans.
The decision was made to move John to a hospice and I agreed to spend the first night with him, so that he was not alone in a strange place, and Teresa could try and get some rest, as she had been in constant attendance since coming over from Sweden.
As night fell the hospice became quiet and all I could hear was the sound of the oxygen machine, rhythmically pumping out life to a slow morbid beat. I lay awake on the bed in John’s room as he drifted in and out of a medicated consciousness in the chair just round the corner. I may have grabbed some sleep but mainly I lay and meditated and prayed. I did some more work with John, again hoping in some way it will help him, at least to try and overcome any fear of death but there was little, if any, energy left in him.
Around noon the next day Teresa returned with her dad and brother, so I left, saying my heartfelt goodbyes to John, in case I didn’t see him again and returned to his empty house in Southend.
I did more shamanic work that night and realised I needed to do some anger releasing work with him when I returned to the hospice the following day. I have a piece of broken mirrored haematite in my mesa, or medicine bundle, that represents anger which I use with clients. This healing was confirmed when I noticed another smaller piece of haematite stone under John’s empty massage chair, a stone given to him by another friend, who had offered his spiritual support.
The next day I packed my mesa and shamanic “tools” into my backpack and made my way to the hospice.
But John had passed earlier in the morning.
When I arrived I tried to support the family in their grief as best I could without being intrusive. Whilst sitting talking with his Teresa, I offered to conduct a shamanic style soul release ceremony for John, to send his spirit off to wherever it goes next, even though I had never done one before, I’d only ever been taught it. I told his sister this but she asked me to do it anyway. So I did. His whole family came into the room where John was laid out and I carried out the ceremony.
Teresa and other family members thanked me afterwards and said how beautiful it was.
Sometime later I walked along the beach near the hospice and had the small piece of mirror like haematite in my hand. I knew I had to release it into the sea and was drawn to a monument, an obelisk about thirty metres out from the shore, but reachable due to the low tide. I think it is a World War II monument but I’m not entirely sure, however I knew the stone had to be placed there, for the tide to come in and wash away. It was also within sight of the hospice so the connection was strong. As I walked out on this wonderfully becalmed day, I looked down to see a small toy mirrored heart lying there on the stoney foreshore. I knew that this was to come with the stone and I placed both of them on the side of the obelix, said goodbye to John in spirit again and left feeling somewhat lighter amidst such a tragedy.
Farewell my friend. Safe travels wherever you are.
It didn’t go unnoticed to me that the place where I received most of my shamanic training was almost directly opposite the hospice in Westcliff and my dad’s wife, Margaret, also volunteers at the same hospice. Yet more synchronicities confirming to me a connection to something bigger.
Trevor Cowan April 2017.