BY MICHELLE O'CONNELL KATZ – 23 FEB 2022
“I was dropped off at the side of the road, in the dark, in the cold. I wandered for ages, not sure if I would ever make it home. After a lifetime, I saw a halo above the mountain top. I hiked a little every day and vowed…. That’s where I will stop.” - Michelle O’Connell Katz
It was Memorial Day weekend, and as I wrestled with morning, I had a fleeting memory of backyard BBQs, beer and meaningless chit-chat in the baking Los Angeles sun. Empty, distant, and fun… I still miss those days sometimes. That was another life. Every morning, for a few minutes, I forget that my body has been snatched and that the person I used to be is gone, yet the new me isn’t fully birthed. I spend large portions of my days floating somewhere between life and death, stuck in the past, leery of the future. I wonder when the whole me will arrive.
Shifting my awareness to the patches of sunlight streaming through my bedroom window, alighting the towering pine trees that line my property high up in the San Jacinto mountains, I remind myself that this life is a gift, and I won’t let it slip through my fingers any longer. My wife and cat curled up in the pools of sun remind me that I can’t give up even when I want to. I take a slurry of supplements along with my daily vow to find the missing puzzle piece of the dramatic health crisis that began many years ago. I have an aching hunch that the rest of my story is waiting for me, somewhere.
I had been experimenting with micro-dosing mushrooms for several months, and still had some left over. Perhaps I was saving it for the day when I was called to the medicine again. I had experienced life-changing healing and transformation during all my previous ceremonies with various indigenous plant medicines like Ayahuasca and Bufo (toad medicine), yet in my gut I knew something was still stuck. Every time I went deeply into the medicine, my deceased father emerged and dragged me through his traumatic childhood and the ceremony became dark, the work suddenly feeling too hard. Was I ready to try again?
Yes. I decided today would be my first solo journey, the one I had been waiting for. Unsure as to whether I could provide a safe enough container for myself without the help of a guide, I convinced myself I had been in enough ceremonies to piece it together. Softly, I mumbled prayers to open up a sacred space, lit palo santo and melted ceremonial chocolate to open my heart. Dear God, I whispered, let this be the one.
Sensing I needed to be close to nature, I went outside, flung off my sandals, and landed in the hammock, waiting for vivid colors to appear. As I swayed back and forth, gazing up at the massive pine trees casting their thick shadows across my legs, I started to feel the familiar rapid heartbeat in my chest. Oh no. Not today. I begged him to go away. Was I trapped?
I realized I needed to lay down flat. With some help, I moved from the hammock to a lounge chair on the deck. I began to shake violently and had transformed once again into my father’s dying body. It was too powerful to push away. The sounds coming out of my body were no longer mine, they were his. Deep guttural moans of a man using what little breath he had left to reveal something unspeakable. Video my wife took of me as I writhed around and coughed violently is hard to look at. It was like watching my father (in drag) trying to choke out words he couldn’t say during his time on earth. A sound healer friend rushed over with her tuning forks and healing hands to help soothe me while I battled the discomfort of birthing something terrible through the gates of time and space. As the medicine wore off, an unsettling thought wafted through my airy consciousness: Is something more than ancestral trauma stuck inside me? This lingering question, tangled up in my daily exhaustion, gnawed at me, while something miraculous unfolded over the next three weeks.
Coincidentally (or not), at the time, I was enrolled in a series of shamanic classes and the very first class was about how entities can get stuck in our bodies. A specific example used by the teacher, was how being present when a family member dies can result in their consciousness being trapped inside us. My body locked up as his words slipped through a tiny crack in my mind. My thoughts flashed back to December 2015, at my sickest point, watching my father die of COPD at home. I witnessed him take his last labored breath and selfishly prayed that he could help me heal from the other side. It suddenly hit me, he sounded EXACTLY like I do when I’m deep in ceremony. I remember the inhuman moans and jerky motions he made with his hands, mysteriously pointing up to the ceiling. Was I supposed to protect my energy somehow? No one ever told me this could happen. Then again, no one ever warned me that this long messy chapter of my life could happen. I was told if I worked hard, saved for retirement and never looked too deeply into anything, I would be okay.
Slowly, I allowed myself to ask the question. Could he really be trapped inside me? No. I decided that was too bizarre, too X Files (even for me) to pursue. Yet hadn’t it relentlessly pursued me for years now? On a soul level I knew it would track me, like a stealth bomber, until I saw my healing all the way through to cellular wholeness. Perhaps it was me who needed to make peace and forgive? The answers washed over me like a hypnotic trance beat. Had I been chosen to repair what was shattered and damaged during my family’s years of terror during the Holocaust? Who could help me figure this out? Immediately, I knew.
Marissa, a gifted and empathic death doula with a comforting New York accent has blown my mind multiple times with her other-worldly ability to connect to those who have passed and bring back life-affirming information. I called her when I began to put the pieces together, setting aside what was left of my ego to ask for help. Our session was earth shattering. She led me through a brief grounding meditation and suddenly my father showed up. He said he could not bear being with “them”. He could not let go of what “they” had done to him and his family, so he chose to remain in an in-between place where he could process what had happened to him during his life.
Suddenly, I understood that while he was in this purgatory, so was I. Waves of guilt and grief ripped me apart as I listened to these words from a man I never truly got to know while he was alive. He acknowledged that throughout my years of illness and awakening, I was processing the traumas he could not. He promised he meant no harm and understood it was time to move into the light. He wanted me to live again. After a long pause, Marissa told me that some people don’t figure this out in a lifetime. My thick wall of frustration melted into gratitude. This could have been worse, I realized. I could have listened to the rest of the world and just accepted living out my days inside a human prison. She also told me that my father often travels around in the form of a red-tailed hawk, so whenever I see one, know that it’s him. I heard a whoosh through the other end of the phone, which sounded like Marissa voicing what she was hearing on her end. “Now I understand that I am a reflection of the light and love of God” was the last thing my father said. And just like that, he was gone. Shaking, crying and mesmerized all at once, I thought, I love you Dad, and I’m thankful I got to know you better since you left, even though it’s been rough.
Over the next few weeks my body went through a lot of changes. I felt hot and cold and I often experienced chills randomly in the middle of the day. The heavy gravity blanket that had been wrapped around me for so many years had lifted and my head felt like my own again. I was left with the awareness that the only requirement for healing any chronic illness is to wake up to all possibilities. My job now is to move forward, even if I don’t fully know how. On warm days, I walk barefoot into my gazebo/art studio, turn on some music, and throw paints onto a canvas until the sun goes down. Sometimes, I’ll gaze up at the California sky and see a red-tailed hawk circling above my new life.
My healing journey continues, it’s just a little lighter now.
To learn more about Michelle’s experience with a life-threatening illness that turned into a spiritual transformation, read her article in our November issue, “Survival: From Mysterious Illness to Spiritual Awakening".
Michelle is a retired TV producer and lives in the mountains of Idyllwild, CA with her wife, Cate and their cat, Nomad. She also performs in the Indie folk rock band, Edson, is a prolific songwriter, an abstract artist, and a healing coach specializing in autoimmunity and detox. Currently, she is working on her untitled memoir about the wild and epic healing odyssey that turned her devastating health crisis into a powerful spiritual awakening. To reach Michelle for coaching sessions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To purchase original artwork, visit @katzpaintings on Instagram, or artpal.com/katz.
Artwork: "Red-Tailed Hawk" acrylic on canvas by Michelle O'Connell Katz.