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Mondays with Tara (and Susan Cantrell)

Each time I traipsed the rickety stairs to Tara’s door and rapped five quick taps, the reverberating two came back from her side, and she appeared with a sure smile, amber eyes dancing beneath a halo of white hair. There was always a warm hug before she led me to the massage table, warm with fresh flowered linens.

There were no oils or gongs, only a petite table fountain that bubbled softly while she worked her magical Trager on my aching bones. A car crash in my teens had left me with a broken shoulder, and so I dragged my sorry wing to her for help.

Intuiting every clenched muscle and knotted fascia, her smooth hands radiated fire and inched the pain out of my body and mind. Sometimes I cried. But we rarely talked.

Years went by, we began talking more and befriended each other to the point that we exchanged Christmas gifts and she attended a few of my birthday parties. In fact, she officiated when I married myself at age 50, laughing with delight while she tapped out a two-fingered “Here comes the Bride” on my ancient piano.

A dozen years went by and there was rarely a month that I didn’t see her: my spirit guide, friend, healer and counselor: Tara (She legally changed her name from Mary Schaeffer to just Tara, and it caused her no end of grief). When she gained her license in Rosen work our conversations became much deeper. This woman, who had trained to be a Catholic nun until she changed her mind just short of her vows; who got a nursing degree and became head of nurses at an L.A. psychiatric hospital; whose quest for spiritual truth guided her to body work, began teaching me everything I know about love, true grit and the hereafter.

“I’m in so much pain, I can’t go on,” was usually my hue and cry, although I did occasionally share my triumphs with her, to her delight.

Her reply was something like, “How about accepting exactly where you are in this moment and not fighting it? You will come out the other side. There’s always the interplay of darkness and light and we needn’t judge it.”

I never learned such things in Kindergarten – only from Tara . . .

When it happened, I can’t say exactly, but she became stooped and her face was a Rand McNally - albeit, my face wasn’t far behind. We had both aged, especially me after yet another serious car crash that gave me the opportunity to see her twice a week for a year. My spiritual growth was then exponential.

“Someday you will be a great spiritual teacher,” she said, beaming. And she wound up the session as always by smoothing my brow and cupping my face. With my eyes still closed I always placed my hands on hers and said, “Thank God for Tara.”

She always made time for me and the legions of friends and clients who came to her. Her whole being was to love. And when she moved into a modest apartment, living a most minimal life, divesting herself of “stuff” and spending much time reading, I came to understand that she had reached the pinnacle of contentedness.

I admired her greatly . . .

It never occurred to me that she wouldn’t always be in my life. In fact, a month ago when I asked her age and she said it was 70-something, I was relieved, figuring she had at least another 15 years in her.

However, I think my subconscious was already registering: dark circles beneath her eyes, thinner, becoming a bit ghostlike with an other worldly look in her eyes.

She wasn’t one to talk about her health or even go to doctors unless absolutely necessary. Natural healing was her creed. Thus, I didn’t question her . . .

The biggest surprise of my life came a week ago when she left a message on my machine. “Susan, I am going into the hospital tomorrow and I won’t be doing my work anymore but I want to introduce you to someone who will take good care of you. I have a gift for you. Come by today.”

It didn’t take a soothsayer to read through the lines: She was choreographing her own death.

In shock, I arrived at her dwelling where she was advising several dear friends who were also bewildered by her energy. She wasn’t lying down and had just tossed a salad for one of them.

She ushered me into her bedroom where her jewelry was laid out. She wanted me to take her mother’s pearl earrings but I asked for the glass angel pendant that I had given her months ago.

“Are you sure you want me to have this?” I said. “I hope to give it back to you.”

She would have none of it. She was going to die.

“My heart is giving out,” she said, and I surmised that she had used it too much.

As I sobbed at her feet, she smoothed my hair and grinned with delight. “I’m ecstatic,” she said, and you could see it. “This is what I want. I’m ready to go on to the next plane.”

Sobs and more sobs.

“Oh, sweetie, I want you to grieve this hard. You need to do that, you know, like you did with your mother. And I want you to come see me in the hospital because you will see that death is nothing to be afraid of.”

Others were dabbing their eyes and incredulous that she could be so sure of her imminent demise when she still had such vibrancy.

The following day she was in admitting at the hospital for hours and so I waited to see her until the next day.

When I arrived, the room was dark and hushed. Half a dozen men and women were gazing at her yellow and spent body, some weeping silently. She had only stopped breathing minutes before.

Then there was a call from a disciple several states away asking that we snap our fingers all around her to aid in her transition. We formed an unspoken bond, we lucky ones, who bore witness to Tara’s own impassioned enlightenment.

We were exalted/we were already missing her. We exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways to celebrate and grieve the loss of this wise crone who had shown us the way to live and die . . .

My calendar says I have an appointment with her today. And I suppose I still do. Thoughts of her teachings and her very essence course through me.

The angel pendant around my neck is dancing in the sunlight and there is a rare influx of thousands of painted lady butterflies in the air.

I remember her promise, “I’ll contact you - probably in your dreams. . . ”


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