Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. ~ Francis of Assissi
In her deeply honest and inspiring memoir, Watching for Dragonflies: A Caregiver’s Transformative Journey, author Suzanne Marriott explores how caregiving for her husband throughout his journey with chronic illness allowed her to gain a spiritual awareness that would ultimately help her through her own medical crisis and into a place of healing and solace.
My husband, who often struggled with movement after being diagnosed with MS, had a numinous experience with dragonflies when he was able to walk in the cool waters of the Eel River. On the far bank, he stood watching dragonflies flit through the reeds, transfixed as their transparent wings reflected the sunlight, transforming them into prisms of iridescent color. These dragonflies became a powerful symbol of strength and renewal for him–a symbol of being whole.
With Michael’s death, I feel as if I, too, have died. The light has gone out of my life. It’s as if I’m a candle and Michael the flame, and his last breath has blown out the flame and left me alone in the dark.
As I enter our empty home, I feel like I’m in shock. As if in a daze, I fall into the living room chair that used to be Michael’s. Suddenly, I’m struck with the power of his presence. Our souls seem to meet and intertwine with the passion our bodies once knew. As the connection builds, my breath becomes increasingly rapid. I surrender to this energy that is both inside and around me. After a timeless time, it reaches its peak and subsides. I’m left awestruck, my face wet with tears.
After a while I get up and walk over to the CD player. I put on a disk by Neil Young. As I listen to him sing “Harvest Moon,” I begin to sway, holding my arms out and curved as if I’m dancing with Michael. With my eyes closed, I imagine him holding me and leading me across the floor. The lyric, “Because I’m still in love with you, I want to see you dance again, on this harvest moon,” touches my heart, and I know it’s a message from Michael. Tears and sobs mix with the lull of the music, and the song carries me off—carries me away to Michael. For just a bit, the pain lifts, and I feel loved and cared for once more.
Two days after Michael’s death, I visit my therapist for our weekly session. Sharing my grief and confusion with her gives me a sense of grounding and safety. As I emerge from her office, wearing a red fleece top that was Michael’s—which still holds his comforting scent—I’m suddenly aware of his presence. He tells me to walk down the street to a shop we both knew. I hear his voice inside my head— his voice, not mine.
“I want to buy you a gift,” he says.
“How will I know where it is?” I ask.
On entering the shop, I’m drawn to a red Buddha Board on my left, just a few steps from the entrance. It looks like a slim laptop computer, but, as the proprietor shows me, instead of opening to a screen, it opens to a blank surface on which one can write or draw with a soft brush dipped in water. As the red surface takes on the water, the images emerge in a darker shade of red and slowly fade away.
Immediately, I know this is Michael’s gift; it’s as if he has handed it to me. I purchase it, take it home, and place it on the coffee table in front of the couch. I sense that Michael has given me a beautiful symbol of impermanence.
I’m entranced as the first free-flowing lines I draw on the Buddha Board gradually fade, leaving just two drops of red. I watch in wonder as one disappears, then the other. I feel Michael sitting with me on the couch, and I thank him.
“You have taken care of me for so long,” he tells me. “Now I will take care of you.”
Dreams offer me a link to my subconscious and my intuition. One dream in particular brings my feelings of isolation and disconnection into stark relief. In this dream, I’m in a war zone:
I’m high on the side of a mountain with other, younger women. The scene is dark; there is little color. We see a huge aircraft being shot down. It looks as if it’s going to crash on top of us. The terrain is too steep; we can’t run away, and there is nowhere else to go. I tell the young woman next to me to pull the sleeping bag over her body to protect herself from the flying debris. I watch the pilot of the plane eject and fall downward and out of sight just before the plane crashes. The woman and I are now in a war-torn city. We are reuniting with others like ourselves. There are other people there who have not been in the war. They ignore us. We are survivors seeking our own company.
As in the dream, often I feel trapped in a war zone of loss and emotion, unprotected and unrecognized, isolated from a world of people who don’t see me, who don’t share my grief. On the advice of my therapist, I join a support group. It feels like the right thing to do, and it turns out to be a wise decision. Being with people who really know and understand what I’m going through proves to be profoundly supportive. I learn that I’m not alone in my grief, and I discover that by sharing my own pain and experiencing my empathy for the pain of others, I begin to heal. As I watch others move through their grief and find ways to become active again, I gain hope.
One of Michael’s dreams I recounted in my journal seems especially poignant right now. It’s a dream he had after he began using the wheelchair.
He’s sitting along the wall in a dance hall. President Clinton comes over to him.
“Can you walk?” he asks Michael.
“I can walk,” Michael replies, and stands up.
“Can you dance?” President Clinton asks.
“I can dance,” Michael answers.
And they dance.
Once again, Michael’s successful, vibrant, charismatic self is in the lead. Now, in my imagination, I add to this dream. I imagine President Clinton asking, “Can you fly?”
And I imagine Michael saying, “I can fly.” And I see him taking off, in spirit, no longer bound to this earth. He is free.
From this time on, dragonflies no longer evoke the last time Michael could walk. Now, for me, dragonflies are a symbol of his strength and his soul in flight, and I have become the collector of dragonflies.
© 2023 by Suzanne Marriott
About the Author: Suzanne Marriott is a memoirist and deep-travel writer who shares her transformative experiences with her readers. A native Californian, Suzanne has traveled up and down the coast of her state, exploring as far north as British Columbia and south into Mexico. Her interests include transcendent experiences, afterlife communication, Jungian psychology, and Tibetan Buddhism. She lives in an ecologically conscious cohousing community in the Sierra Nevada foothills. For more information on Suzanne’s life and the importance of compassionate caregiving, visit her at https://suzannemarriottauthor.com and www.facebook.com/suzannemarriottauthor