My brother and I were born and grew up in Belgium, in a loving Roman Catholic family. My childhood years were beautiful and uneventful. As a child, instead of praying, I remember talking to my invisible friend Jesus.
He was my soul mate and I entrusted him with all my fears and desires. I always felt loved yet never truly at home anywhere. I told my mum many times, “I don’t belong here.” Of course, as a child, I thought this meant I didn't like Belgium and would want to move away once I was older.
As a teenager, I was a high achiever. However, I did not have many goals. I wanted to become a doctor so I could lessen the suffering in third world countries. There has always been a desire in me to heal pain in people and animals.
When my best friend’s mother was dying, I preferred sitting beside her bed instead of playing with my friend. My plans to become a doctor changed when I met my loving husband. This is a wonderful love story in and of itself, but it would make this story too long. Shortly after, we married and started our little family. Being a mum to three wonderful children was my first introduction to unconditional love.
My husband made my overseas dream come true. After 10 years of marriage, our little family moved to New Zealand. This new country became my spiritual home. The feeling of not belonging lessened a lot in this beautiful country. However, it still lingered in the background.
Being surrounded by the splendid New Zealand nature inspired me to start painting.
I discovered what freedom was for the first time, and I wanted to set myself mentally free from everything and everybody that reminded me of the walls of conditioning of my old life. This included my birth country, Belgian relatives, religious upbringing, cultural, social and educational influences etc. I wanted to start anew.
I discovered the love for long walks and hikes in the national parks. While building this new life, my mind was still very much focused on needing people and things around me for my happiness. I was afraid of losing my health, my loved ones, and my beautiful things like the place I live in, etc.
Although I felt much more free than ever before, I was still defined by the many roles I played. This was all about to change.
A dear friend of mine became terminally ill and asked me to be her companion on this difficult journey. Together we walked a path of sickness and suffering. She confided in me I was her “rock,” yet I didn't feel the stability I represented for her inside myself. Ultimately, all the suffering brought me down to my knees. It appeared that life had lost its beauty. Deep inside, I knew beauty was still there, but I just could not connect with it.
A strong urge forced me to retreat from her for some time. There was the fear of her passing away in the meantime; however, I had no choice. It felt unfair to be with her when I was so downhearted and scared. I hit rock bottom and had no idea how to get out. Being with my close family helped. But I was afraid of pulling them down also. The only place where I found quietude was in my garden, planting and caring for new life.
One day, out of a desperate need for some peace inside my mind, I went to the library for some tapes with talks on meditation techniques. While working in the garden, I listened to these spiritual talks. It was on one of those days that my neighbour came to have a chat with me and asked what I was listening to. He knew about my sick friend and I shared with him that I was exploring Buddhism to help me understand what was happening. He mentioned that he had a Buddhist book, ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,’ that I might be interested in. I took up his offer then and there because deep down I felt an urgent need to read this book. This wholesome book lifted me out of the black hole of meaninglessness and gave me a new perspective on the situation.
Life started to flow again. With this renewed energy, I felt ready to go back to my dying friend. When I spoke to her on the phone, she said she always knew I was coming back to her. From that day onwards, we were together till the day she passed away. I had a strong desire to spend time with her. During my retreat, she had also inquired into herself and was moving more towards healing her mind rather than focusing on curing her body. I listened while she talked. She went over all the difficult moments in her life and set them free. In her mind, a beautiful loving kindness and forgiveness took the place of anger and resentment. A deep peace arose in us.
One early morning, I arrived at her home to find her all by herself in terrible pain. Her husband, who knew I was coming over that day, had had to leave for the day to go to an important business meeting. Their children were at school. My friend, paralysed by pain, could barely speak to me. It was the kind of pain that no common painkiller was going to relieve. She needed professional help and we decided to take her to the doctor.
While she was sitting in the waiting room, she looked at me and I could see a primal fear in her eyes. She knew she was going to die soon but she didn’t want to confront it.
I was hoping the doctor was going to tell her, and he did in a way. When the doctor mentioned that it was the right time to get the hospice involved, my friend panicked. “I am not going to die, the hospice is for dying people!” she cried. The doctor quickly reassured her that the reason he brought it up was that he needed the help of the hospice to manage her pain. This calmed her down. The doctor gave her a prescription for morphine.
I drove her to the pharmacy and asked her to stay in the car while I was getting the medicine. We both needed this time alone to come to terms with what was happening.
When I returned back to the car, I found her crying and she asked me directly “Am I going to die?” “Yes, you are, my friend,” I said. She was panic-stricken. Then I started talking, and I did not know where it came from. I can’t recall what I said, word for word, because I wouldn’t do it justice. Something in me started to speak about death, dying and the realm she was going to go to. My being felt guided and the words that were spoken were so intimate, loving, and beautiful, it profoundly changed my friend. Her face changed from sheer terror into a radiant face of pure happiness. All this happened in an instant, in my car in a parking lot, whilst she was still in terrible pain. I was the witness and simultaneously the receiver of a pure awakening.
While driving her home, I could feel this bliss penetrating my being. I have never felt so alive. I put her to bed and gave her the morphine. Before she took the medicine she said: “I am so happy, I have never been so happy in my life!” Her whole being was expressing this message. I have read about awakening in books and understood it intellectually, and on that auspicious day, I observed and experienced awakening in action. My friend became one with an unspeakable love! She kept saying all over again, “I am so happy, I love you, I love you.”
In my being, this love felt similar to the unconditional love for my loved ones and yet at the same time it was so much bigger and all encompassing. It was holding us and we surrendered to it without question. We felt united in this loving presence, never to be parted again.
During her last days, she had only one request for me: “Can you please do for others what you have done for me?” “Yes,” I replied, not knowing what that would actually entail until much later.
The evening before she died, when I was about to leave her room, she said: “You know, don’t you, that you are more than a friend?” I trusted her words, but it wasn't until a decade later, before I fully understood her words. Her request and message became the guiding force in my life. Who I was was changed forever!
The next morning her husband asked me to come over quickly because my friend had gone into a coma that night and hadn’t opened her eyes since. The moment I walked into her room, she opened her eyes one last time. I lay beside her and took her in my arms. We told her that a neighbour was bringing her children home from school. My friend postponed dying until her children were there. It was a heartbreaking moment for the family. A sadness for her passing arose in my being. And simultaneously pure bliss was present. An instant after she passed away, all the lines on her face disappeared and she looked radiant and totally at peace. What an extraordinary beautiful mystery death is!
My whole being was one with this blissful presence for weeks after she passed away. After this profound experience I just wanted to retreat inside my own being and stay there forever. However, over time a strong force of the outside world pulled me back into the reality of family, friends, commitments etc.
Slowly this beautiful presence seemed to disappear in the hustle and bustle of my life. A feeling similar to homesickness came over me. My being wanted to go back to that state of presence, where I knew I belonged. I knew that our communion was still there, even on a deeper level than when she was in her body.
A few months after her death, I started to become aware of kingfisher birds. I don’t know why exactly but every time I see one of these beautiful birds, it touches something profound in me and it opens my heart to its blissful presence. Now this little bird has become a symbol of bliss and joy.
For years, it appeared to be impossible to stay one with this love and simultaneously function normally in the world. It created a discord in me. I wanted intensely to integrate this way of being into my daily life. I searched and searched for years trying to find the answer in spiritual books and in nature. In some books, I discovered that other people have had similar experiences of this love. I found a lot of strength, similarities, and encouragement in the stories of people who have had a near death experience. Although what I had experienced was not an actual NDE, it was still very helpful and healing because for a while I felt alone with this experience of profound love.
Listening to classical music and chanting spiritual mantras was helpful in seeing the bigger symphony of life, in which all is interconnected. During that period, I tried to put into action the request of my friend, “Can you please do for others what you have done for me?” I searched for the answer of this request in doing charity work. I volunteered in a hospice, serving coffee and tea to the dying people and writing some of the people’s biographies, all in the hope of reconnecting with this presence. I have encountered the most wonderful people on this journey. Still I rarely felt the encompassing blissful love.
Suddenly there was a realisation that the ”I” that was searching for this love had to move out of the way to make room for this love in my being to express itself. I stopped all volunteer work until recently, when I knew for sure it was love being at service to love.
Once the seeker in me had stopped seeking, the deeper connections in life started coming effortlessly. It wasn’t until eight years after she passed away that I started to understand this more deeply. Her request had nothing to do with ‘doing’ loving things for others but more with ‘being in love with what is’ within myself and others.
At this time, a number of injuries started severely affecting my life. As a child, I fell out of a rope swing and unknowingly damaged two discs in my cervical spine. It wasn't until my mid forties, after another spinal accident, that I started to have tremendous pain in my neck, shoulders and head. Years of meditation helped me to cope with the pain which would only flare up sporadically in the beginning, then became chronic over five years. I learned to live with it and used it as my teaching to let go of lots of unnecessary things, mainly mental conditioning. The profoundest teaching was that within the most terrible pain, this beautiful love was still present. I felt even stronger because there was no energy left for my ego-mind to play around. Fortunately, I was helped by a friend who is a spinal surgeon. After the surgery, the pain slowly subsided. The lessons learned over this challenging period have been extremely helpful in the deeper understanding of this love. While my body was in pain, I knew I was not the pain but I connected with the love and compassion holding my being within this pain.
Sharing my story touches a deeper place of loving oneness in others and the meetings are on a profounder level. I am extending this gift to who ever is ready for it. It is the only way to keep this beautiful gift of love alive. I won’t know until I face it; however, I feel that my fear of death is gone and it is replaced with a desire to be with people who are on the threshold of “dying”, either physically or metaphorically when they let go of their old sense of self. I have been the receiver of many beautiful messages, given to me by people before they died in order to pass on.
I am continuously witnessing beautiful transformations in loved ones who are willing to explore this deeper essence. The depth of their transformation is in direct relationship with their openness to look anew. Each person's transformation is authentically unique!
Words fail to describe the depth and the fullness of this loving presence and oneness. The closest description of this experience is a love that overflows and it wants to share itself again and again and in doing so, it intensifies in others. For me, it is the only way forward in healing a world riddled with separation. It asks me again and again to look at life anew, without judgement, without condemnation, without separation.
Now that I have seen this gift in action time and time again, this is the only way I want to live. Now, the world around me starts to reflect this love. I see it in my husband, children, children-in-law, grandchildren, parents, siblings, friends and in people whom I meet on my journey. Now, a profound urge is always present to commune from this deeper place of love. It expresses itself in my poetry and art but mainly simply in my being.
In sharing, I am this love. In sharing, I am more than a friend. I am the blessed giver and receiver of this love. I am and live in Love.
I would like to end my story with a poem. This is the first poem I wrote while I was painting in my studio. It was two years after my friends’ passing and something in me asked to stop painting and to write this down.
Would you truly…
If I tell you about our beauty I see in you,
Would you truly see it?
If I tell you about our love song I hear in you
Would you truly hear it?
If I tell you our touch warms my whole body,
Would you truly feel it?
When tears cut open my heart,
Would you truly be here to receive our sorrow?
When your smile brightens the light in my eyes,
Would you truly hold the flame of our passion?
When I tell you, you are me and I am you,
Would you truly understand our oneness in love?
If you do,
You and I can never be alone anymore.
With this precious gift in our hearts,
All hurt is gone.
We live forever as one.