Friendship After Death: how Teri Dillion rocked my world in life and beyond

by | Oct 13, 2022

We met on a meditation retreat. We walked down the dusty road each morning to the centre, expecting nothing and everything. I noticed that although she had scoliosis, she had a queen-like posture and her walk was regal, determined, unapologetic, and relaxed. This woman seemed to own her body and her space with ferocity and love. I was equally intrigued and afraid of her.

I watched her fall in love that summer. The romance was giddy, quiet, and dignified. By some divine alignment the two lovers had been assigned to sit next to each other on the meditation seating chart. They were both therapists. I offered the new couple my room for a romantic rendezvous and they politely declined. They knew this one was going to last.

Their wedding was beautiful. It was pulled together on a small budget with every detail attended to. A long DIY and planning process (they made their own decorations!) appeared seamless on the day. I remember dropping off the flowers I picked from a friend’s garden, anxious that they may wilt in the heat or be not good enough for this bad ass of a woman. She told me that the makeup artist put on too much makeup and in their discussion about it (Teri wanted less, make up artist more) Teri said something like “You don’t understand what this wedding is about.” She was so clear on what the wedding meant to her and how she wanted to show up. I laughed when I got my thank you card immediately after, knowing that they must have written them on the plane to Hawaii to get them out so quickly.

She used to call me to “vent” when I was driving to work in Denver. Her definition of venting was so conscious (starting with asking for consent to vent) that I found myself listening, giggling, and delighting in hearing her tangle and untangle her own questions. Unlike my usual depletion from listening to people vent, listening to Teri filled me up, because she was just so damn aware about the whole thing that sometimes it almost felt like she was playing. I liked being a person she could call.

It was shortly before my wedding when she got her diagnosis. I was driving home from work on the highway between Denver and Boulder. It was ALS. She knew all the details. Time jerked. My words halted through the haze of disbelief. There was a lot of silence. Love washed in, massaging the spaces where we struggled to bring our brains up to speed.

At my bridal shower a few months later I only took a photo of our feet. I mistakenly believed that there would be so many more opportunities to take photos. She pulled her strength together to show up for me and try to make the day happy, and she also cried. We held her with our arms and warm eyes. They held me with flowers and food and stories about marriage.

She hugged me a few minutes after Scott and I said our wedding vows up in the mountains above Boulder. “It’s such a rush isn’t it?” She asked. YES. I thought. She got it. I had never heard this about weddings. She knew me.

One day we had a big blow out on the phone. She still invited me over for dinner after. She was ever willing to repair, to be curious about where a relationship could go. One of my spirit guides told me that I should go over for dinner, that “we were sisters” after all. I said no way. I knew that she was dying and being mad at a dying person is awkward. Despite my best efforts, my anger kept sizzling and I didn’t want it to heat us to some further irreparable explosion. I wouldn’t go. I sent my husband over with the meal. People in the community were making food for Teri and John at that time, scrambling to support life with ALS.

A few years later we flowed back together like raindrops landing at the exact same time. I was doing a small retreat in a small Canadian ocean town while I underwent therapy for my concussion. One of us spontaneously messaged the other and connecting was suddenly so easy. I no longer second guessed her, felt judged, or stumbled to say the right thing. We were just friends. We apologized to each other many times for our old blow out, but it was as though judgments had washed away long ago in the runoff of our losses of homes, communities, friends, religion, her body, and parts of my brain function.

It didn’t take long for our chats to get real about the meditation teacher we had shared for a decade. Teri and I had both been his personal assistants, and each of us had taken this notoriously difficult and somewhat feared job at the urging of the other. I encouraged Teri to take on the role on a retreat in 2014 and she passed it to me in 2015 when she didn’t want the stress of it impacting her wedding.

When I decided to write a letter to the sangha about our former teacher’s narcissistic abuse, she became one of my midwives, along with Erin Anderson, another one of the teacher’s former assistants. From hospice, with her eye blink device, while writing her own book, Teri took the time to edit my words, to ask and answer questions (is it OK to use the word asshole in a letter like this? Long debate). She and Erin pushed me into my own courage each time I fell apart, knowing that the repercussions of speaking up in this way would be fairly horrible. As I wrote, didn’t sleep, cried, and doubted myself, like good midwives, they said what my soul was saying — push. Keep going. You can do this and it is worth it. As much as it hurt, it felt so right, like the stars had set this up so long ago. I joked with Teri and Erin that maybe the assistants were becoming the assistance! We all felt a duty to speak the truth in our own ways about the harmful behaviors we had seen.

Teri and I talked a lot in the next few years, sometimes every day. I birthed a child and she birthed her book and continued to follow her curiosity, always learning more about the topics that fascinated her. We joked. We talked about friendship and death, trauma, cults, and patriarchy. I loved her more and more all the time.

A summer went by when I turned my phone on every night, not sure if she would leave her body before morning and I would get the call to activate the phone tree to tell people she was passing. With my baby asleep on my chest or shoulder, I clicked it into the mode that would allow important calls to come through. Then time would open for the waters of gratitude, grief, and hope to wash my heart. I wanted her freedom. I also wanted one more day and one more conversation.

On the day of her parting, I was midway through a 6 day training in working with the dead. I already felt close to angels and the thresholds of death, which felt fitting and helpful. I got the call that the MAID process was underway. I stepped out of class and walked to the drum of this gorgeous Lakota lullaby cover just breathing, waiting, waiting, walking, waiting, breathing. Then the world burst like confetti flying through trees and birds and flowers. The light shining on the mountains and the ocean’s sparkle released their grip and bounded in brilliance. I stared. I cried. I knew she was going soon or had already left.

A while later her face appeared in my heart with a rose, like a hello! from a new vantage point. She felt like pure love and gentleness and then poof! She was gone. I looked at the leaf covered path ahead and everything was suddenly ordinary again. Weighty, plain, and glitterless, but ok.

That night I felt a pull to go sleep downstairs, away from my husband and baby. I sensed that some healing was coming so I snuggled in with a fuzzy blanket expecting to drift off in some softly held circle of spirit guides.

Enough already!

The message blasted like a car alarm in the room and in my body from every angle.

Enough, enough, enough.

Fierce love shook me awake and pointed her heart finger.

Stop hiding out, making yourself smaller than you are, holding back from what you love and who you are. It’s time to stop, it’s been enough. Enough enough enough!

Firm love shook my knowing. Compassionate love raised her voice.

Ok, I said.

Teri, is that you?!

The next day a friend shared that she received a similar message from Teri the same night.

Then for weeks her absence slapped my face 50 times a day. I grieved in tiny moments, saving my tears until my baby finally napped, pushing Lulu’s stroller in awe of Teri and tortured by the thought of her gone-ness. I felt her nowhere. It stung as I realized over and over:

This is just death.

I can’t write her a message and see her reply pop up on the screen or know if and when we will be in touch.

She is in the mystery.

A sense of etiquette prevented me from trying to contact her through mediumship. I did not want to impose in any way. Perhaps she would be resting? Busy? Vibrating with stars and volcanoes and sea turtles? Soaring through her fields of ancestors?

A few weeks later I was doing Pilates when she suddenly flooded my basement. She felt like soft rice paper, curving and translucent and her message direct.

“DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL.” She announced, which was a pretty mind blowing answer to the why am I here? koan that has sounded in me for decades as the louder accompaniment to my general grief about being human.

OK,” I said.

It was the perfect answer for me.

When my daughter was really sick for the first time and my husband and I slept in lapses between temperature checks and toddler tears, Teri appeared in a dream. “She will be better in 36 hours”, she told me. It was true. And just as she had in life, her gentle reassurance eased my aching heart.

A month or so later, we met through mediumship practice with me as the medium. She told me some things about her existence now and how she was exploring and enjoying. She showed metaphors like pods of dolphins and told me that she may be going away for a while. She was still considerate and generous. She gave me some frank relational advice about my mother. I sat in my little office, looking at the bare maple trees outside, appreciating the healer that she had become in her life and death. I also did not really want to believe that she was going away, and I wondered if my mediumship was off.

Within a few days I could not feel her anymore. There was just a hole where she was, as though she slipped into yet another dimension, one that my senses were not tuned to. I didn’t know if she would ever be back. When she came to mind as I listened to music, carried my daughter, and sat on the toilet, I sent out little offerings, like small love notes from my mind.

I love you Teri, Thank you. Yet in those moments when I used to feel a connection, as though she was somehow receiving the note, I felt nothing.

Then the dreams started up again for a while. She was just there, moving gracefully, looking back at me over her shoulder as the dream gave me the answer to whatever question I was pondering.

Sometimes the dreams felt like visitations and sometimes more like my own processing around her death. In those I would prop her up under her shoulder, help carry her, or help to find the right clothes for her death day. In all the dreams the texture of her was there. Something like soft crinkling rice paper, with smile lines and deep heart grooves. Translucent and gentle.

It’s been almost a year now since Teri passed and I can’t remember the last time I saw her in a dream. She pops into my evidential mediumship class sometimes when we practice gallery or platform reading (when a medium connects with a spirit who could be related to anyone in the audience or group and goes through a process of gathering information from the deceased person to make it clear who they are). Each time she connects with a medium they remark on her kindness, her compassion, the way you could tell her anything, and her hair! (which was important to her). Our contact is less frequent though and I miss her. I hope that it ebbs and flows and we become close again and again throughout my time here and beyond. On this day in particular, a few things I know in my bones because of my time with Teri rise up and tickle my heart:

Never underestimate the value of being a good friend.

Love yourself wildly, including your edges.

Plan your own funeral if you can because it will be awesome.

Dedicate your life to love and let it flow through you.

and

DO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL.

ox