I was carrying all my otherworldly secrets with me. Sometimes at night I would just close my eyes and feel myself shooting through the universe again. I would remember the Forest Man by my bed. I would feel the warm arms of the tribe of women and hear their songs. And so I took a lot of time and wrote it all down, lest I forgot. As if I could. As soon as I could hold a pen, I wrote it all down in notebooks.
I tried to make sense of what had happened to me physically for all the weeks I was in a coma. I went back to visit my attending specialist physician for a check-up, and to quiz him on my medical records and what had happened. ‘Sarah, your case was a medical anomaly,’ he said. He pointed at a lung X-ray on the wall behind his desk. ‘You see that X-ray? It is your lungs, and how they changed over a few hours from a speck to full coverage of infection. I have shown student after student and we have gone over it with the board, and it is just something we have never seen before.’ Before I left, he gave me my medical record to submit to the medical aid. ‘What was the actual diagnosis?’ I asked him. ‘We are not even sure it was pneumonia,’ he said. ‘The final diagnosis was influenza – the flu.’ Next, I went down the hall to the ENT surgeon to see if I would get my voice back once the hole in my throat had closed. When he saw me, he did a double take and checked his chart again. ‘Ms Bullen – were you the woman in bed A1?’ he asked. I had to check with my mom in the waiting room; she nodded. ‘You should not be alive,’ he said. ‘Do you know that I was called to resuscitate you when you had pulled out your tracheotomy? It was late at night and I wasn’t at the hospital, and it took me a while to get there. By the time I got to you, you were royal blue and hadn’t breathed for 24 minutes.’ He stood up and did a little hop and gave me a hug. ‘Well done, young lady. This has made my day.’ I hadn’t known that. I hadn’t known anything. I promptly threw up in his bathroom. I spoke to Murray for a long time about what had happened, both medically and on a soul level. ‘At one point your sister Liz came to see me and told me how scared she was, that you would die too and that Ruby and Jude would lose you both. I knew that was not going to happen. I told her that the nature of life is going to take care of this. I knew that Llewelyn would die, but you would live.’ That week, Liz brought the kids home from school and stayed over and we sat chatting on my bed as we looked over the photos and the messages from around the world that were still pouring in. She filled me in on some of the madness while I had been in the coma. ‘People went crazy, Sarah – you were the cool, young, gorgeous family! You were known, loved and admired by huge circles across the globe. Suddenly, you were fighting for your life in a coma and Llewelyn was dying. Everyone wanted information and answers. We were bombarded. ‘I stayed here at your house and totally took over. I kept the kids posted all the time. They really wanted to talk about what was going on and know the truth. They saw Llew every day. We talked so much about what happens when you die. Jude wanted details – what will happen if Mom and Dad both die? They wanted to know, and they needed to know. The school encouraged total honesty. Nothing could protect them from what was coming and not allowing them to be part of it would create fear and resentment.’ I told her more about my soul travels and we talked late into the night. ‘Sarah, what the hell do you think actually happened?’ I told her about the ceremony with Llewelyn, and how I’d said goodbye to him. ‘Do you think it was a karmic journey, a soul contract with Llewelyn? I think, sometimes, that the mind has such immense power over your body that you chose almost to go with him, rather than watch to him die.’ I nodded. ‘It was all of those things, and it was also something beyond all reason and logic. It’s hard for me to make sense of it yet, and I don’t want to reduce it to a single message. I know that I have had such an easy ability all my life to connect to these realms, and I know that was what pulled me there. You know I have done this before, but the coma was the next level. I think I thought I could save him.’ We sat quietly for a long while. ‘I do know that it ended up being my way of saying farewell to him. The other thing I do know is that I wanted to just float away. It is so strange, because that was not a conscious thought at all. I am the last person to ever think that. I have such a huge appetite for life. And at some point in the journey I made a very clear choice, and chose life.’ We combed through the Facebook threads and talked long into the night about souls and magic. We spoke about God and destiny. ‘What I found in that spirit world is that we are guided in our lives. God was there. I don’t really care what word you use for that power, but what I know is that there is something bigger than all of us and it is full of love. ‘We all have a destiny in this journey of life, and mine was not to die then. I have some bigger journey still to live, Liz, and I am going to live a bit and find that path.’ Friend after friend visited me. People I loved, and people I had never met. Colleagues I had worked with. They all wanted to come and see me. They sat in my lounge, held my hand and cried. I was so grateful to see their pain. It was just that I wasn’t feeling it. ‘You are just numb right now.’ ‘Sometimes, after a long illness it is actually a relief. The pain will come.’ ‘You will get through this.’ ‘Give yourself time.’ ‘He is in a better place.’ I wanted to grieve. I wanted to feel. I was feeling. I was awash with feelings. But the feelings were different from those I expected to have. They were: Acceptance. Delight. Gratitude. Love. Grace. Ecstasy. Bliss. Joy. I was living in such a state of grace. I felt so blessed and connected. I cried so much. I felt so much. I just didn’t grieve. Sure, I was also still fighting for my life. Coming off all the drugs meant I was paranoid, sleepless and scared. There were times I battled to breathe. There were nights when it got really hair-raising. On the steroids I would cough and hack until I retched and my lungs burned. I didn’t want to be left alone. I was scared and fragile. But my distinct lack of grief worried me the most. It was hard to relate to the grief around me and the terrible shock. I simply could not be a part of it. I could barely look at his parents and see the pain in their eyes. One phrase kept haunting me. So strange and foreign. Have more fun. The instruction that I was given by the Forest Man. It was an answer, a blessing and a message all at the same time. I just didn’t know how to live it. In fact, as the paranoia eased I felt the opposite of grief, and I was worried. I went to see a psychologist and then also a trauma release specialist and counsellor, Julie Petrie. ‘Sure, these emotions of grief are accurate for most people, but they don’t come one after the other like steps on a ladder you climb to success. Any of these phases can come at any time. Some last for months, or minutes. And they can come back again and again,’ she told me. ‘Is it possible I am not grieving, that something is wrong with me? I am on a lot of medication. Do you think it is suppressing it?’ ‘Women like you have to hold families together, keep children’s lives together. Bills have to be paid. Sometimes after a loss you are just trying to survive. If you need help from medication to do this, then take the help.’ She said that sometimes it takes years to start feeling safe enough to actually start processing what really happened. Most often, the first year is about just surviving. I was feeling that. ‘We live in a new, death-denying, grief-dismissing world now. After an appropriate time, we must go back to work and pick up our life. We are told to find closure. We live in a productive society. Allow yourself time.’ Lulu and Georgia were there, day after day, to pull me through. ‘Sarah, you are done with all the stages of grief,’ Lulu told me. ‘I have watched you over the past four years and you have grieved. You are done.’ I nodded. She took my hand. ‘You are claiming your own right to live, my friend, and you nearly had to die to get there.’ I decided I wanted to come off all my medication. ‘Absolutely do not do it,’ Lulu told me. ‘Sarah, you can’t mess with this stuff, and you are not emotionally solid enough. Just a few months ago you were lying in a coma, about to die. Don’t stop your meds yet. You will not cope and you will regress.’ ‘Stay on the meds,’ Georgia said. ‘Your kids need you to be present and calm.’ I stopped them anyway. This was against the advice of the psychiatrist treating me, and the psychologist I saw once a week. But it was my choice. It was as if my body just wanted to cut down. I wanted so badly to feel it all. I didn’t want to medicate it away, or soften it away, or dull it away. I wanted to feel every single emotion that came with being a human, being alive. ‘You must be suffering from post-traumatic stress,’ one visitor said. ‘You and the kids.’ I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t. Not at all. I was so far away from that. I thought I might be suffering from post-traumatic bliss instead. Is there a condition where a life trauma cracks your heart open so wide that the entire universe can enter it? Paging through my notebooks, I found a quote that was to mean so much to me over the recovery years. It was by the Roman general Marcus Aurelius. ‘There is nothing that can ever happen to you that is not in the realm of human experience.’ This is it. I knew. This is what it means to be human. The joy and the fun. The fear and the pain. All of it is part of the journey.