I once stood at what looked like the gates of heaven — bathed in golden light. The Angels and I were having some sort of serious discussion. It was all very peaceful while I was there.
Coming back was a different story. Thrust from that place, I awoke to my husband’s screams. “Lily wake up, Kara isn’t breathing!”
The terror still grips me as I type this. The nightmare had begun. Our infant daughter had been ushered through heaven’s door and I was locked out. At two months old, she passed to the other side and I was shot back into the land of the living.
Why was she taken from me, and why did I have that golden-light dream the night that she died? I would never again feel those soft baby hairs, the heat of her being alive. I would never see her smile again.
She had died in the dark of night of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Her name was Kara Meyer Dulan and I was knocked past my knees—flooded with incomprehensible grief.
Before our precious daughter came to the world, my husband and I had been together for well over 10 years. We didn’t want children right away. We were still young and wanted to experience the nightlife and sparkle of LA.
But as they say, not all that glitters is gold. Unfortunately, when we decided it was time to have children, it wasn’t as easy as we thought. First, I needed to clean up my unhealthy lifestyle and quit drinking so that I could commit to the rigors of fertility treatments. Then, time consuming and expensive doctors’ visits became a regular part of my routine. With the help of twelve step groups–sobriety and having a child became my only priority.
All else went on hold. We spent years trying to conceive and when she was here the joy was felt by the community who had helped us hold the vision for a new life and new possibilities. We held hands at her welcoming ceremony, danced, and celebrated her arrival with family and friends.
And then in the blink of an eye she was gone. What had I done wrong? Was God angry with me?
As an MFT Psychotherapist and Yoga/ Meditation Teacher, I had heard countless tragic stories that happened to other people—and now the angel of death had visited our door. The pain was so severe I thought I’d die—and then that heart piercing stab gave way to what I can only describe as a soul sucking numbness.
Would I waste away? Somehow, I reached out in the darkness and talked to a trusted friend, and mentor Reverend Michael Beckwith. He told me I had to decide whether to grow or shrink from the tragedy, and in that moment, I chose to grow.
I didn’t know it then, but in that dark place I was planting the seeds for my own transformation.
The grief over losing my daughter at such a young age has brought me great healing. This is because I am sober, relatively sane and committed to the healing path through being present for my suffering.
I want to say here, that the idea that grief brings with it spiritual transformation is not popular in some circles. A well-known author has even called the idea that grief brings this opportunity “hogwash”.
I beg to differ. My suffering helped me grow in ways I had never imagined. I am not saying that grief, trauma, and suffering don’t suck. They most definitely do.
I didn’t sign up for such anguish, but I learned over time that I have a choice regarding how I choose to move through it all. This means I respect the reality that I feel darkness closing in and in spite of it I take some sort of positive action.
This can be as simple as doing the dishes and brushing my teeth each day. These little acts matter and it’s important that I name them as self-care. They seem small but they connect me to life.
When I was in deep grief, I needed to move towards making a meaningful life and “act as if” the universe was a good and beautiful place even when I couldn’t see it. Through practicing little acts of self-love and care I eventually became strong enough to help those who suffer.
My spiritual practice now is to be of service in Kara’s loving memory.
But as they say on airplanes, it’s important to put the oxygen mask on myself first before I can help anyone else. To do this I used the tools I had learned as an MFT Psychotherapist and Yoga Teacher and practiced self-care through wellness practices like meditation and walking and or hiking. I also stayed committed to sobriety and my weekly women’s group. I have found that seeking support and embracing wellness practices help me through.
Through this commitment to life, I would eventually start the Kara Love Project, a foundation which serves marginalized children, families, seniors, and people both locally and globally in her honor.
I started by hosting a camp for kids in our backyard. But my vision came to life after holding a fundraiser for and actually visiting the Unatti Group Home for Girls in Bhaktapur Nepal. It was halfway across the world that my healing truly began.
I soon learned that many of the girls in the home had suffered horrific abuse and poverty. Yet somehow, they had “made it through” with grace, gratitude and dignity. Connecting to life again through getting to know the girls and being of service helped me honor the light that was our precious daughter’s life and made space for me to tell my story of healing.
When I returned from Nepal in 2017, I wrote my first book, Giving Grief Meaning. It tells my story and how I came to find wisdom and beauty within the letters of Kara’s name. I call my discovery the name work. Here’s how it looks.:
K — is for kindness – let me first be kind to myself so that I have the ability to be kind to others.
A — is for alignment – let me act as if the universe is good even when I can’t see it.
R — is for regeneration- let me feel a sense of spaciousness and calm. This can happen by taking a walk or practicing yoga. Whatever is right for me.
A– is for action – let me take what I have learned out into the world.
In addition to supporting organizations that make positive change, my life’s vocation is now raising the two beautiful children we adopted at birth and telling my story to help others. I wouldn’t have the life I have today if I hadn’t embraced the idea that I can heal and transform through grief.
To learn more about the Kara Love Project, click here.