Sunday, November 1, 2015

Heartbeat. Memories. Halloween.

I posted the following story on my Facebook page yesterday .. Halloween. I decided to add the story to my blog to make this memory more lasting.

Memory. It's an interesting thing. This morning I remembered a memory from Halloween, 1968. Our family had come to the United States because Papa got very sick. I had just turned 4. My mom and I were staying at Queeny tower which was attached to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, MO. The doctors were doing everything they could to save my father after doctors in Thailand said there was nothing they could do. My uncle Rey (my mom's brother) recommended Barnes Hospital in St. Louis so we traveled across the world. I spent my days at the hospital with my mom because I was too young to be in school. On Halloween, 1968 I remember going trick or treating with my siblings and cousins in Alton, IL. I don't remember much of the details other than I could only go so far with the 'big kids' and then I had to go home. Back home in Thailand I remember not being able to play with the 'big kids'. I remember crying and feeling left out. I would run to Papa and he would pick me up and carry me, and then all would be well heart emoticon. That Halloween I didn't have Papa to carry me or to make me feel okay.

The holidays are always bittersweet for me. I love Christmas music but the Christmas carol, 'Little Drummer boy' always takes me back to the months I spent as a 4 year old at Barnes Hospital ... in so many ways I was too young to really understand what was going on. On December 20, 1968, Papa was called to be with God, with Creator. Memories of that moment are forever etched in the mind and heart of a 4 year old who has spent a life time searching to understand, to be okay ... the last chorus of Little Drummer's Boy is: "Don't let them tell you you're not good enough, Don't let them tell you you're not strong enough, Me and my drum we're gonna change the world" .... for as long as I can remember, i have been so drawn to the sound of the drums. The heartbeat ... drumming moves me to tears; maybe it's because the beat of the drums is not only my heart beating, but it is Papa's heart beating .. it is Papa guiding me through spirits like Ahnung to do what I can to be of service ... I miss you Papa. Tonight, we'll go trick or treating together, with Ahnung, and no one can tell me I can't hang out with the big kids!!

'Heartbeat' print - artist: Sharon Nordrum

Monday, September 14, 2015

just stay ....

This is dedicated to anyone who has struggled with depression, with thoughts of suicide, with addiction .. and to those who have lost a loved one to suicide ....

just stay.

i see you.

i am here.

i see you. i see the darkness around you, inside of you. i see the emptiness.

and no, i don't have answers. i can't take the pain away. i can't make the sun shine again. I can't take it away.

I ask you to take my hand. to let me in. to let me stand with you.

together we will walk. we will stand.

and we will stay. one minute. one hour. one night.

we will stay. and we will cry and we will scream and we will pray to God, to a Higher Power, to the Creator, to the stars ... to anything or anyone.

and if you can't do anything, it's okay. i will stay. take my hand.


together we will stay and we will rest in your shadows.

just stay.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

We'll see you tomorrow ....

September is suicide awareness month.

In January, 2008 after decades of feeling lost and desperately trying to find myself and heal old wounds buried so deep within me, I sat down and finally wrote ... I wrote about the night of my last suicide attempt. I share this very personal piece in hopes that one person who might be at the end of their rope might read this ... and to know that YOU matter ....

I came upon the following website ... beautiful words shared by Jamie Tworkowski:

"Above all else, we choose to stay. We choose to fight the darkness and the sadness, to fight the questions and the lies and the myth of all that’s missing. We choose to stay, because we are stories still going. Because there is still some time for things to turn around, time for surprises and for change. We stay because no one else can play our part.

Life is worth living.

We’ll see you tomorrow."

And here is my story ... this was my bottom. I ended up at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri (probably not a coincidence that it was at Barnes Hospital where my Papa passed away when I was 4 years old) .... when I left the hospital, I went to my first AA meeting and the beginning of a very difficult and painful journey, but a journey I needed to take .. and through that journey I had to learn I am not alone .. none of us are alone ... and I needed to to learn to trust and to let go when all I wanted to do was hang on and control the remnants of a life that was shattering around me ....

I am glad I chose to stay.

thank you Papa for being there for me .. and thank you for bringing Ahnung into my life.


The Rope
by Marilou Chanrasmi (January, 2008)


I remember the darkness and stillness of the room.  I was sitting on the edge of the queen size bed, alone, in a Hampton Inn motel in Hazelwood, Missouri, a small suburb north of St. Louis, right off of highway 270, the outer belt of St. Louis.  At 22, I had reached the end of the rope.  The slow descent began at 4 with the death of my father .... The gradual descent dropped into a downward spiral the year we left Bangkok. It was 1979. I was 15. My father’s death at age 4 was the first ingredient poured into the old-fashioned pressure cooker. The years passed, and more ingredients were added:  sexual abuse by a trusted family friend and Catholic deacon, alcohol, peer pressure, struggles with sexual identity, sudden loss of my “second mother” to a drunk driver.  Without a safety valve, an explosion was imminent.

I clasped a bottle of sleeping pills in one hand.  In the other hand, a Bud light.  I hear the water filling up the bathtub.  I have reached the end of the rope.  The palms of my hands, once blistered from hanging on, had callused.  My exit plan – pop the sleeping pills, fall asleep, drown in the bath tub and never wake up.  Let go of the rope.  Finally, let go.

Images of my father flash before me.  Images of him catching me.  The four year old in me smiles, remembering moments in his arms.  How fun it was to play with his glasses.  How safe it felt in his arms.  The 22 year old is tired.  There’s no more fight left.  The threads holding the rope are coming apart.

And so, that night, I execute on my plan – pop the pills, and fall asleep; my body submerged in the bathtub.  Alone, in a hotel room with stale air.  The lights go out.  I am, finally, letting go.


My eyes open.  I awaken to the same hotel room.  It’s the middle of the night now.  My eyes fixate on the ceiling for a moment – a dirty white with specks of grey.  Surreal, stale air inhabits the hotel room like cigarette smoke hovering around lost souls in a bar, in search of that “something”.  There’s a heaviness in my heart.  I remember falling asleep in the bathtub filled with warm water, inhaling toxic fumes of bleach combined with other chemical agents.   Over the years, I have been asked, by the brave few wanting to make sense of how anyone could attempt to take their own life, “how could you?”, “what was going through your head?”

“Nothing.” I respond to them, as sadness fills my heart remembering the young adult whose palms, scorched from blisters and tired from the fight, decided that letting go was the only exit.  “Nothing,” I say, as I remember the protective layer that encased by battered heart.  I just wanted the pain to end.  I just wanted to rest.  I just wanted to emerge from the darkness.

Somehow, someway my submerged body was air lifted out of the bathtub onto the queen size bed.   Remnants of all I had ingested the past 24 hours had created a drunken pathway, from the bathtub to the bed.   A deathly stench consumed the room.  Somehow, someway, I took those steps – I don’t remember.   I have imagined angels lifting me out of the water.  I have imagined my father, gently carrying me to the bed, whispering to me “not yet baby, not yet.” As I realize I am alive and my plan has failed, the stale air is replaced with a stench of defiance.

I’m in my forties now.  What happened that night remains a mystery to me.  The unfolding of the “why” has been my life’s journey.    Mistakes and questions have become my friends.  In the midst of winter, when layering is what’s comfortable, I shed layers to keep warm; I strive for authenticity, warmth and truth found only at my core.  I am learning to revel in the mystery, and in the questions.  I am learning that there are bright colors in the darkness.  I am learning there are millions of threads, that make up strands, which in turn make a rope.  I am learning that every thread connects me to something, someone, or some purpose; as we find common threads and re-build strands from worn out threads, we strengthen the rope of life.  At 22, my tired, callused hands let go of the one remaining tattered strand, as I danced at the doorsteps of death, only to fall straight into a hammock, handcrafted from a mesh of rope.   At 22, I fell straight into the arms of my father, and into the hammock of life.

I encourage you to watching this beautiful video of We Will See you tomorrow:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Heart. One Mind. One Drum.

Yesterday I returned to the trails I used to walk with Ahnung. I walked with the pup my sweet Ahnung led me to ... Ishkode. We walked and we walked and we walked. I was unaware of how far and how long we had walked till we got back to my car -- 3 hours later!! No wonder little Ishka's tongue was hanging out on the side and she was very thirsty! :)

I needed to take time to reflect and to pause and to listen. I needed to re-ground myself. Ahnung taught me so much about just Being .. about listening, observing and being aware of her surroundings. There was a Way about her -- a very wise Way. She is my rez dog and she has led me to my work with tribal nations. Over the past 4 years I have been immersed in working with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota. It has become Home to me on so many levels. I don't know where my life's journey will take me, but what I do know is that must never lose sight of my north star, my Ahnung. I have also come to embrace the Seven Sacred teachings, embraced and practiced by Anishinaabe people and indigenous people.

Humility • DibaaDenDizowin
Honesty • gwayakowaaDiziwin
Respect • manaaji’iwewin
Courage • zoonGiDe’ewin
Wisdom • nibwaakaawin
Truth • Debwewin
Love • zaaGi’iDiwin

There is so much beauty and wisdom in Indigenous Ways .... thank you Ahnung for being my guide and leading me to a people and a nation who have now become my people and my community. 

Ahnung ... I ask for you to continue to guide me and to teach me. 

"If you listen close at night, you will hear
the creatures of the dark, all of them sacred 
- the owls, the crickets, the frogs, 
the night birds - and you will hear beautiful songs, 
songs you have never heard before. 
Listen with your heart.
Never stop listening.”

~ Henry Quick Bear, LAKOTA

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ahnung's 2 year anniversary - Grief visits again

Today is the 2 year anniversary of when my soul dog Ahnung crossed over into the spirit world. I remember that day (August 25, 2013) as clearly as it was yesterday.

As I prepared for that day, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. It helped me walk through and try to find peace when my heart felt like it was being shredded to pieces; it helped me to listen, really listen to the wisdom of Ahnung as she guided me through this Final Walk. I share some old writings as I learned to make friends with Grief, and I write a new one today on the 2 year anniversary ... Sweet Ahnung, you are always, always in my heart:

Anticipatory Grief: Making Friends (December 27, 2012)

Grief walks up to your front door. It’s not time yet, you say. Yet she keeps on walking. She walks past the rose bushes in your front yard. She walks past the boulders you’ve carefully laid in her path. She walks past the detours you’ve planted to steer her around you and away from you. This time She is focused. And the rain is pouring and thunder is booming as the earth shakes and vibrates.

“Please,” She says, “I need shelter. I need to come in -- if only for a moment. “

Reluctantly, I let Grief in. I offer her a cup of warm tea. We sit by the fireplace.

“Why have you come?” I ask. “It’s not yet time.”

“It’s time. I am by myself tonight. Tomorrow I may not be alone. I may bring thousands of Me and there will be nothing you can do. We will break down your door. We will drown you. “

She pauses for a moment.

She strokes my dog Ahnung.

“Sit with Me now.”

We share stories. We cry. We laugh. Ahnung lays between us. A calm breeze permeates the room.

“It’s time for me go,” Grief says.

“But we have so much more to share,” I say.

She smiles. She rises, and Ahnung walks alongside her. Ahnung stops at the front door as Grief turns around to face me.

“I will be return. I may come alone, or I may bring a friend. Now, go be with Ahnung.”

We melt into the breeze coming through the open door.

Anticipatory Grief Visits Again (Mar. 3, 2013)

You came to visit me again last night.

Most days I see the clear blue skies, I catch my breath when I look up into the night skies, and I walk with my feet planted solidly on our earth.

Is it too much to ask for the World? For the Universe? For eternity …. For strings of days to never end with my sweet Ahnung? Is it too much to ask for Cancer to step to the back of the line? Is it too much to ask for the Love, the Wisdom, the Resilience, the brightness of Ahnung to shine on forever?

Dear Grief, I respect you. I honor you. I know you have a place in this world and in this universe. I know it’s not my place to negotiate with you. Yet when the earth shakes below my feet and when the ground moves and the tremors knock me off center, I desperately grab onto Ahnung. Last night, it was just an earth tremor. How many more tremors will I walk through with Ahnung? How many more tremors can the ground beneath us withstand until the inevitable quake on the horizon arrives? How many more tremors will I be blessed to endure before the ground beneath us splits open and swallows Ahnung? And will I be swallowed too? Will I be swallowed by the pain of You, dear Grief, as I desperately hold onto my soul, my Ahnung, as she slips away from me?

How? How do I accept, with grace, this Final Walk?

Grief looks me in the eye.

“When the earth shakes, and the ground beneath you falters, look up into the skies. Look into Ahnung’s eyes. Look up at the North Star. I gift you with the tremors.”

“Ahnung is in your heart. You are One. She is in your blood. She is in your bones. She is in the Earth. She is in the Air you breath. She is the Fire inside of you. She is in the oceans, the rivers and lakes, the rocks. When she is gone, she will live on in you.”

I hold onto Ahnung as the earth beneath us stops shaking. I bury my face in her thick neck. I hold her. I hold her as tightly as I can. I hold her again.

Anticipatory Grief … Here to Stay (August 24, 2013)

Grief knocks on my door again. Ahnung greets Her at the door. This time she arrives with bags in hand.

“It is time.”

She opens the door, takes my hand and leads me outside.

We get down on our knees. She places one hand over Ahnung’s heart and one hand over my heart.

And she repeats to me what she said months earlier:

Ahnung is in your heart. You are One. She is in your blood. She is in your bones. She is in the Earth. She is in the Air you breath. She is the Fire inside of you. She is in the oceans, the rivers and lakes, the rocks. When she is gone, she will live on in you.”

I look into Ahnung’s eyes.

Grief takes my hand, “It is time. We must begin the walk.”

In the dark, we are guided by the north star and the slow, steady beat of our hearts.

My old friend Grief visits again - August 25, 2015

Grief knocks on my door again.

I let her in.

“Let’s sit on the patio.”

We reminisce. The summer breeze brushes again my skin, and I know Ahnung is with us.

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you” ~ Rumi.

I ask my old friend Grief, ‘Will you ever stop visiting me?’

There is only Silence as Grief looks gently into my eyes, reaching into my soul.

My friend Grief is Ahnung. My friend Grief is a doorway. Ahnung is on the other side, and in the moments she comes to visit me, it is a gift for me to step through the door and to Be with Ahnung.

I answer my own question, “Dear Grief, you are always welcome in our Home.”

I visit with Ahnung. We walk. We are simply there with each other.

“Thank you Grief for the Gift of visiting hours to the Spirit world.”

She smiles as she gets up, and as quickly as She arrived, She disappears … until her next visit.

"Go and find yourself first
So you can also find Me.

Don't run away from grief , o soul
Look for the remedy inside the pain.
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone."

~ Rumi

Photo by Sarah Beth Photography

Photo by Sarah Beth Photography

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Life's journey - uncertainty, trust, intention, purpose, passion

It's been a while since I have written for my blog. My blog ... my writing ... was such an important part of my journey as I prepared for the eventual crossing over to the spirit world of my soul dog, Ahnung. We are approaching the 2 year anniversary of when I held my sweet girl, surrounded by friends and a community, as she took her last breath and set her body free. It is time to begin writing again.

The pain, the grief of losing Ahnung was so deep but my sweet girl taught me so much about living, watching, listening ... Being. Letting Go. And that first night without her I wanted to run from the pain; my heart felt like it was being put through a shredder. That night, I prayed that my heart would stopping beating so I could be with my Ahnung. I wanted to drink again. I wanted to numb a pain I didn't know what to do with, but then I kept 'hearing' and experiencing and feeling Ahnung's presence and energy and wisdom .... asking me to simply 'Stay. Be.' 

And I promised Ahnung I wouldn't run from the pain and the darkness and the demons that would rear their ugly head (alcohol, old ways of coping ...). My prayers changed, 'Ahnung, I need you. Teach me to feel you when I can't see you. Teach me to listen and to keep my heart open.  Teach me to be okay with standing still, closing my eyes, and trusting, that yes, this pain shall pass. Teach me to ride the waves of grief, to make friends with grief, to honor and embrace that which hurts me and scares me ... Teach me to simply trust, to let go, to Be Okay with having you ripped from my life ... my heart ... just 5 short years after you came to be with me. This chapter has ended, but you tell me, there is still so much more to come in the Book of Life.

It has been a journey. The waves of grief almost drowned me but I could feel Ahnung's energy and presence every step of the way. She was my life jacket and my guide through the darkest moments. 

On October 11, 2013 (just 6 weeks after Ahnung's crossing over to the spirit world) and on the 5 year anniversary (October 11, 2008) when I met her for the first time at Red Lake Reservation .. I believe she guided a puppy to me. There were many times I remember saying, 'Ahnung, I wonder what you were like as a puppy.' Ahnung was around 2 years old when she came into my life in 2008 (many thanks to a dear friend and a Red Lake elder, Karen Good, of Red Lake Rosie's Rescue). She had just had a litter of 8 puppies and we soon found out she had heart worm, lymes, coccidia, no front teeth (apparently grinding it down in search of food), and pellets in one of her nipples and in her chest. Karen told me the day she introduced me to Ahnung, 'There's something special about this one, Marilou.' And exactly 5 years later, Karen happened to be at Leech Lake Reservation with me when this puppy was surrendered by a Leech Lake tribal member. The puppy looked so much like Ahnung. I did NOT want a puppy nor was I ready to bring another dog into my household ... but there were too many signs I couldn't ignore: she was the first surrender, she looks just like Ahnung, the day the puppy is surrendered happens to be the exact day (October 11) of when I first met Ahnung. There were actually 2 puppies surrendered but I felt an immediate bond to this one puppy. I had my other Leech Lake rez dog Legacy with me and he does not do well with all dogs so I told myself, if Legacy doesn't like this puppy then I can't bring her home because my commitment is to Legacy. The first time Legacy met this little puppy, they immediately bonded. I am sure not a coincidence .. the work again, of Ahnung. 

As I struggled with what to do, I received guidance from two elders. Karen Good (Red Lake elder) said to me, 'Marilou, sometimes it's not up to us' .... and a friend who is a Leech Lake elder said to me, 'Pray to Ahnung. Ask her to guide you.' 

I didn't feel ready but I asked Ahnung and it was clear I needed to bring this puppy home. She also guided me to name this puppy 'fire' in ojibwe, and so I did .. I named the puppy, Ishkode (Ish-ko-day). 

It became clear to me why Ahnung brought Ishkode (aka 'Ishka') to me and why she wanted me to name her 'fire.' This puppy was a bundle of energy and full of fire. She made me laugh (and yes, made me scream in frustration as she would drag gutters off of my house, dig her way out of the yard, drag shovels and dog houses around the yard ...). Ahnung gave me 6 weeks to grieve, and then she dropped a puppy in my lap. It's almost 2 years now since Ishka has been with me and there is no doubt she has her own personality but there is without a doubt Ahnung's energy, spirit and wisdom sprinkled and in her being. 

I now know why Ahnung brought Ishkode to me. Yes, to help me in my healing journey and to bring joy and laughter into my heart again .. but now I realize that it is also because Ishkode needs to continue the work she began up at Leech Lake Reservation. Ishka needs to continue her work of being an ambassador dog for reservation dogs, to help in healing, and to be a voice for her people ... so Ishkode and I are now working towards becoming a pet therapy team. 

There is a new chapter beginning in our Book of Life. This chapter reads, 'Ishkode: Igniting the fire of passion and purpose.'

In a volunteer capacity, I have been actively involved in animal welfare for the past 9 years. My work and passion have now expanded to being a voice not just for animals but for tribal nations. Ahnung has guided me to take on a new role as Vice President of Community Healing Programs for The Native America Humane Society and with Ahnung's guidance and the fire of Ishkode, my hope is that I can be of service to tribal communities and indigenous people and their animals.

Stay tuned for Ahnung's work to continue, through the spirit and fire of the little Leech Lake rez puppy she chose .... may the adventures begin!! :)

Ahnung - photo by Sarah Beth Photography

Ishkode - October, 2013
Ishkode - August, 2015
Ishkode and Legacy - rez buddies

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I will keep walking with you Ahnung

I went back to an old blog post i wrote in January, 2011. As I welcome 2015 I find myself reflecting on the year 2011. Where was I emotionally, spiritually, physically at the beginning of 2011? Was I prepared for what was to come?

From my January 31, 2011 blog post:

To love ... and not lose myself

Part of my lesson for the next stage of my life's journey is to learn to love, and not lose myself. It begins with simply really finding out, discovering and creating who I am ... and once I am able to do that to be solid and centered enough to truly trust that my own voice matters. We learn from every experience, every friend, and every relationship.
There's a beautiful quote by Rilke I love:

"To love does not mean to surrender, dissolve, and merge with another person. It is the noble opportunity for an individual to ripen to become something in and of himself. To become a world in response to another is a great immodest challenge that has sought him out and called him forth."

I learned so much from my trip this past summer swimming with wild dolphins in Bimini, Bahamas. I had no idea how life changing and transformative it was going to be for me. Early in 2010 I had also met with my astrologer ... she said something that has remained with me ... she saw death (and surgery) in my chart and thought that my relationship had ended. I said no, everything was great. I was more concerned with my ongoing health issues. She was relieved to know that my relationship was doing well. My session with her was the impetus for my booking the wild dolphin trip. She told me "you better learn to play, to save your life." She asked what I have always wanted to do ... I said "swim with dolphins ... wild, free dolphins." The dolphins gave me the courage to find my voice, and then to speak my truth.

As I reflect back on the year, she was right about both things ... the ending of my relationship and surgery. I am going back to see her tomorrow. When I called to schedule my session with her about 6 weeks ago I shared with her that she was right after all, and in tears I shared with her that my relationship had ended. Compassionately, she said "i'm so sorry. Marilou ... walk the earth." It was exactly what I needed to hear at moment ... walk the earth Marilou ... stay grounded. And so for the past 6 weeks I have walked the earth and I have placed one foot in front of the other, doing the best I can to keep moving forward.

I have walked through grief, loss, fear ... and some major health scares. I have reached the edge and in the end I have learned that I am much stronger than I thought I was, but most importantly I have learned that I do not have to go through the difficult times alone. I have God, my faith, my furkids (Ahnung, Missy and Mister) my family, my friends and an extremely supportive and loving community. Thank you all for loving and supporting me through some very difficult times.

And so today, January 1, 2015 I find myself reflecting back on my journey. There is no doubt in my mind Ahnung came to me to help me heal and to walk alongside of me on this earth so I could move forward and into the next stage of my journey. In January, 2011 I moved into my current house in Bloomington.. the first home I ever purchased and owned on my very own. It was house with a massive yard and one that Missy, Mister and Ahnung all loved. So much space to run and explore.

Little did I know what 2011 had in store for me.

My health challenges continued but in May, 2011 I learned I had a rare heart disease with poor prognosis and one that would lead to heart failure. How much time I had was unknown. In fact, a lot was unknown. It was also in that month that I was beginning to venture down a new path ... the beginnings of a non-profit I co-founded, Leech Lake Legacy, an organization serving reservation animals and the people who love them. It was a cause I was extremely passionate about but one that would consume my every available waking hour. I found myself asking the question, 'if my time is limited, is this what I should be doing?' And with guidance from my spirit dog Ahnung, my answer was YES! And then in July, 2011 my sweet Ahnung was diagnosed with cancer.

For two years after Ahnung's initial diagnosis with cancer we walked side by side. Through surgeries, diagnostic and medical tests (for both of us) we vowed to embrace every moment we had together and to celebrate life as if there was no tomorrow. If I could blink and bring Ahnung back, in physical form, I would do it in a heart beat. I know she is always with me, and she has given me the gift of Ishkode to remind me she is here with me and that my work must continue. Ahnung taught me not to run from the pain ... to embrace that which scares me and to fall into it. I also believe I am alive today because of Ahnung. 

I don't know what 2015 has in store for me. I don't know what Ahnung has planned for me :)

But dear sweet girl, this I know ... whatever journey I am meant to walk; whatever path I am meant to walk, or to create; whatever window I am meant to look out into; whatever rock or crevice I am meant to lift, or move, or simply stand or stay with ... whatever my journey is meant to be for 2015, whether it is to keep walking this earth and continuing the work you began (through me) with Leech Lake Legacy, or to do some other work, or to be with you, I am with you sweet girl and I am listening to you. Continue to guide me Ahnung as together we step into a new year!