Katherine Martin's Triumphant Surrender (Recounted By Her Husband, Franc Sloan)
Susan notes: Katherine Martin, author, playwright, wife, mother, and 'beauty,' is part of the fabric of this website.
Martin died in January 14, 2006. She and I never met in this life; perhaps we will in another. Her husband Franc Sloan generously agreed to share two letters he wrote to family and friends about her departure from this world (fittingly, on a big red horse).
Franc Sloan's letters touch my heart as much today as they did when I first had the privilege of reading them. I've read them many times, and each time I do I cry - tears of both sadness and joy.
Thank you again Katherine, for inspiring me. Thank you Franc, for sharing Katherine's last earthly journey.
Dearest friends and family,
I have enclosed two letters to you from the last days of my final journey with Katherine. The first I wrote on January 5 and never had time to send. The second was written just now.
If you would, please send your love and healing energy to me and to our son Benjamin to help us heal.
January 5, 2006
Each day brings its unique energy – surrealness surrounds every moment. Today she is resting peacefully as bright rays of sun appear and disappear through the clouds, shining through the window and onto her face. It's a glorious day. She can sense the sun even though she has lost her sight. The metaphor of the light is real. She is dancing with the light. She is calling out names of "others" from another time and space and one can see her concentrating on other energies. A furrowed brow, a wry smile, a look of surprise and other expressions of awe and mystery cross her face. A whole new world has formed just behind her closed lids. It’s amazing to watch.
If we ask her what’s there she can’t really respond. Whether because of the morphine or due to the ineffability of her experience, she is mostly unable to complete a sentence. She is most often not quite able to complete a thought or a question. In the beginning it was horribly frustrating to her. But why do all questions need answers and why do all sentences need to have an object anyway? We joke that there is a pool of words that have fallen off the bottom of her sentences, lying there waiting to be strung together in some other time and space.
Two days ago she finished one of her rare sentences. In a quiet voice – and to no one in the room – she said “O.K. I’m ready to go now.” Perhaps her Higher Self was sitting across from her across the veil and the commitment was made in that moment. And now her body is complying with her choice. She is no longer eating but continues to take water. Her skin is moist, her face clear, her bodily functions are working; yet clearly shutting down.
Handfuls of people come and go and some have spoken with her by phone. One friend asked that she watch over him and she promised she would. One just sat with her for hours, marveling at the power of her presence. There’s not much chitchat but there is lots of laughter. Some things are really funny. She can get sucked back into the “real world” pretty easily, as her sense of hearing has more than made up for her loss of sight. She can hear a pin drop across time. As a few of us guys sat down for a mandatory bowl game, she wanted to know who was playing. She’s always relished hanging with the guys in the midst of our macho reveling. She wanted to watch the game with us.
We’re caught between worlds. On the one hand we find ourselves in denial – perhaps the miracle of her healing can happen after all and she’ll pop off the bed like we see in the movies or read in books. Yet on the other hand she is leaving. She’s relying on her "other," less familiar senses, to show her her future. We don’t know what to do when we’re with her. Which way to turn? Which emotions are here now? What does she really want? What do we really want? What was in the chaos of our night dreams last night? What about this and what about that…?
At some point someone asked me if I had any regrets. I thought for just a moment and answered with the truth. “No.” But then there was a flood of ten thousand regrets that followed in the wake of the “no”. I regret so much. I regret being the person I was with her in so many ways and in so many situations. I could probably fill the world with regrets it seems. I’m not certain what’s true but I’m pretty sure the answer lies in forgiveness. I have asked her several times to forgive me and she has. Sometimes I want forgiveness for a way of being that hurt her. Other times an incident can come up that needs forgiving. It can haunt me to think that when she goes, I could lead a life filled with unresolved moments. So I have asked some of the enormous and loving energy that fills our house to lift that remorse and those regrets from me and it’s working. I know Kath wants me to be free. She is the wind behind my back.
Many remark on her courageous battle with cancer.… If it was a battle, she lost and cancer was the victor. How very far from the truth. Katherine lived a full and rich life. She loved and was loved. She traveled gently and softly through her life. She has not lost. She has not surrendered to cancer. She has surrendered to the sacred call to “come home”.
Katherine and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. There are no words to thank you for your prayers and for your love. Your calls for miracles and for healing have been answered. The miracle is here, the healing is in process and she is off to find the next chapter of her destiny. Soon we'll all be about our work again - Kath with the beauty and joy awaiting her and the rest of us heading back into our lives, all the richer from having known her.
For now I ask each of you to send her a breath of air and a ray of light to send her on her way.
Much love to you all,
January 16, 2006
Some time in the past week, as we lay together pondering the inevitability of her journey, the phrase “ride the horse in the direction it’s going” popped into our conversation. In an instant, our collective imaginations conspired and I asked her if she could see the horse I was seeing. It was powerful and bigger than life. It jammed its front hooves into the ground with impatience and its nostrils were flared. Yes, she saw it too. I asked her what color it was. Red. Was it her horse? Yes. In our half sentences and musings, we saw her on the horse. Sidesaddle? I asked. Of course, she answered.
She described her clothing and her hair and added a descriptive word or two more. I took it a bit further, as I had the luxury of being able to string words and sentences together for the two of us. The collective story continued to unfold and I asked her if perhaps that horse was waiting to take her across the veil. She was quiet and did not answer. I went on. I could imagine a full gallop – powerful, courageous, determined, unafraid, and willful – as she burst through to the other side.
She always loved the idea of a grand entrance and this would, in my mind, be so perfect. Yet, at some point, the conversation was totally and even awkwardly one-sided and the image seemed wholly mine. I let it go and stopped talking. I often had a habit of enthusiastically imposing myself on Katherine. Sometimes she loved it and sometimes it just pissed her off. I didn’t know about this one. And for the next few days I doubted myself.
A day or so later I found myself more lost than ever. I was quiet around her – deferential to the circumstances. It seemed the way to be – we were all that way. There was a hospice nurse or a caretaker of some sort or a friend just wanting to sit with her. If we wanted to talk about her dying, we would go outside, hoping she would not hear us. As that day wore on I realized that I was not being true to myself, to Katherine and to our relationship. So I went into her room and held her hand. I was scared.
I told her that I had so much stuff backed up in me that it was closing me down and I was feeling so small. I told her I had to get it out. I told her she didn’t need to say anything. It’s all my stuff. I asked her to forgive me in advance for things I may say that would hurt her. And she smiled. And in that moment I knew I had her permission. She has always honored me in this way. She knows me so well. She knows that stuff piles up in me and needs to be released. She knows that she is the only one in my life to whom I can be like this – messy and honest. So I let myself talk. I would stop periodically and ask if she was hearing me. She said yes. I asked if I hurt her. She said no.
And then I got into what I really wanted to say. It’s as if all that was pent up was leading to this place. I said we needed to take our power back from all this sadness and from the disease and from the fear and from all that had gone down over the last year. I felt my energy coursing back into my body. And she smiled a big, loving smile that seemed to last forever. She would often smile like this after an honest diatribe from me. It’s a loving, appreciative forgiving and proud smile.
I know I will never forget this moment. We were one. We had collected ourselves in one powerful spot. We had set down the trials and tribulations of the last year and had landed in a moment. We were the power. We had the choice. We were together and bigger than anything that could get in our way. We smiled together and she squeezed my hand hard and I knew that we had crossed a bridge together. We were one. We were powerful. It was our destiny.
Friday night she started breathing more heavily and she had a fever. In a panic, I called hospice and a nurse arrived late that night. It was the first time Kath did not know me – the first time I would call out her nickname, “Beauty”, and she would not smile and call back to me. I was terrified. I knew in the bottom of my heart that I was holding her back, if that was possible. Any tiny part of Katherine was better than no part of Katherine at all. I could feel in that moment the depth of despair that has been haunting me for the last year. I fell into the loneliness and the fear and the desperation.
She and I have been part of a spiritual community and heritage together for nearly thirty years, learning from and traveling with our dear friend Lazaris. We have gathered together nearly monthly for all those years, changing and growing and learning and celebrating and laughing all the way together. They are blessed times. The group was gathering on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday for an event called “Celebrating Love: Mystery and Magic from Beyond the Threshold.” The title alone says it all. I had a chance to celebrate my love for her for the entire weekend – the love I was desperate about losing.
I whispered to her that I was going to be with Lazaris and with our friends. I told her that if she wanted to leave without me she could. I told her that our love crossed the boundaries of space and time and that I would always be able to find her. She knew I was hurting and she didn’t know what to do about it. She knew this would be an elixir for me. I had to believe that she would want me to go. But what about my commitment to be with her to the end? What if I wasn’t there? What if she left without me? I somehow felt I was doing the right thing and that we would work it out somehow.
I left her with the nurse and spent two hours with my spiritual family. Together – spoken and unspoken – a few of us made a pact, in the sanctity of the evening, to help Katherine make the transition.
When I got home her breathing had become a bit more labored. I described the events of the evening to her in detail, not sure if she was able to hear me. I told her of the love that so many had sent her. I described the full moon and the wind and the clouds racing by and star Sirius shining through her window. I told her it was a glorious night – a magical night. If there was ever a night to surrender, this was it. And I kissed her and went to bed.
Saturday morning her breathing was very loud and even more labored. I was helpless. I was numb. I took a shower and dressed and made myself some breakfast, acutely aware of her breathing in the other room. There was nothing I could do. I was helpless. I was lost. How stupid it was to be doing what I was doing – the routine of life - while the woman I have loved so deeply and for so long fights for her life in the next room. It was madness. It was surreal. It was numbing. There was nothing else to do.
In a moment the numbness left. A peace came over me – a stillness and a resolve. I really don’t remember taking the steps across the house and into her room, but I remember crawling into her hospital bed for the last time. I thought there was no way she could hear me over her breathing and through her desperation to stay alive. But, somehow and from somewhere, came the image of the big red horse. This time it was as vivid as anything I have ever seen – a crystal clear scene unfolded.
I began to describe it to her – just over the sounds of her breathing. I asked her to stand in my hands and I lifted her up onto the horse’s back. I could feel her weight and then the lightness as she grabbed the horse’s mane. I could see her smile as she settled in for the ride. A tiny woman totally at home on the back of a huge red horse. It was beautiful and glorious.
I continued to describe the scene out loud to her. The wind was blowing mightily and the trees were swaying back and forth. It had taken on some of the imagery of the meditation we had done the night before. A canopy of trees lead through the forest. I became aware of another horse behind me. It was the first time I had seen my horse and I readied myself for the journey as well. It was so chaotic in that moment. With the elements and the power of the horses and the call to get moving. They were waiting for us. I didn’t know who they were but I told Kath we need to get going. There was impatience in the air. Maybe more like excitement and anticipation. A grand event was in the works. People had gathered. They were waiting for her and it was my job to get her there on time.
We were clearly in two worlds. The meditation had become far more real and vibrant than the room and the hospital bed and our bodies linked together. It was clear that we had to let her body go before we could get on our way. In a moment of absolute clarity I told her it was time to surrender. I told her to take a few more breaths and then it would be time to go. I could sense a rhythmic “no” in her breathing, so I linked my breath with hers and said “yes” - louder and with much more intention than her “no.” Yes…yes…yes. And then we were off through the woods together. She took a few quiet breaths and then she was gone. And then it was all gone and there was total silence.
I was back in the room. I carefully washed her body and kissed her from head to toe and talked out loud to her, assuring her that her dignity would be honored. I put on her favorite clothes and combed her hair for the last time.
A dear friend arrived moments later and told me to hurry to the seminar, assuring me she would take care of the details. And for the rest of Saturday and all of yesterday I celebrated my love for her with “mystery and magic from beyond the threshold”.
It is impossible to thank each of you individually. So many of you played such profound roles in our lives – some of you in the daily living of our lives and some of you from afar. And I thank God, the Goddess, our Higher Selves, our unseen friends and our guides from places known and unknown.
And I thank Katherine whose gentle love changed me forever.