The Bardos of Scarlett Elizabeth Grey

Newborn baby with tubes

The Bardos of Scarlett Elizabeth Grey

I had another daughter. I have another daughter, I have two children. I have one child that still breathes. One is alive and one is dead.

This is the way I try to explain my experience, outloud to myself and to others. It seems as if the words don’t match the experience and that my expression is often misunderstood.

These moments start with a dream. I was eight months pregnant and slept one night in a dream bardo with my unborn child. She birthed herself as a bird and came out through the side of my belly. She told me her name was Ishvarapranidhana.

I told Cory (my lover) when I woke and he said, “That name is a bit too hippy for me Sarah.” Ha! Right?! At the time I was studying Yoga and practicing Yoga nidra quite a bit so I knew that Ishvarapranidana meant “Surrender to the Divine”. My first interpretations of the dream were that I needed to relax my thoughts around the upcoming birth of this child. I was feeling a lot of fear of the pain of birth and very unsure of my experience. I had no control over my body, or what others were going to do to it, so I settled in and started Ishvarapranidhana’ing the bejeezus out of my fear.

I went into labour about a week later. Being in labour is so weird, it’s like another dimension. It’s like everyone is on the other side of a pane of glass. They can see you and talk to you but they have no ability to affect you. It’s like an opening only you can feel. You are ALONE in it. You can’t give some of the experience. You can’t backpedal, You can’t get out of it. You HAVE to go through it, the door, the opening. You have to surrender to the divine. You have no choice. Choice is an illusion. It’s Ultimate. This is my birth bardo with Scarlett.

Scarlett Elizabeth Grey

When that little teacher of mine slid out from my body the world began to move faster. I was left alone in a birthing room covered in blood, with blood on the floor all around. The doctors and nurses ran from the room with my baby and I yelled for Cory to go with them. “Go with her!! DON’T leave her! She needs you now! Go!”

As I lay there abandoned and shivering, in an odd silence the dream came back to me and I knew what it meant. I would need to surrender my daughter to the Divine. I would need to give her back. “Shit! Fuck!! How the Fuck am I going to do that! I have no experience with death. I don’t know how to do this. I can’t do this. This can’t be how it is! WTF!!?” All this and more went through my mind in that quiet room, alone and scared.

And so began the journey of watching our beautiful daughter die. It took the doctors about 3 weeks to confirm a diagnosis and then give us the prognosis. But I didn’t really need it. I knew what was going to happen. I remember being so caught up in big fearful thoughts of death and then all of a sudden being pulled back into a present moment that was incredible and beautiful and heartfelt and …. not scary. I tried to keep focus on a moment instead of the ‘big picture,’ which seemed too unreal. So I kept going in small steps, baby steps, tiny little Scarlett Elizabeth Grey steps…..

Newborn baby with tubes

We dove into the pool of death headfirst. I started asking many questions: What is this going to look like, smell like, feel like? How do I help her, support her? What do I give her spiritually? How can I love her the most in the shortest period of time? How do I support my family, how do I support Cory, how do I care for myself? It was a lot.

We had an incredible amount of support and guidance. I asked about spiritual services and they gave us a gigantic list to choose from. We chose a Buddhist Nun named Jaeun. We had no formal experience with Buddhism but I liked how she felt to me, and Cory felt safe with her too. We asked Jauen if she would help us help Scarlett die. If she would stay with us throughout the dying process and be with us in case we had questions, she said yes.

Newborn baby and mother

In the evening we started.

We pulled the tubes from her body first and then the doctor gave her some medicine so she would not feel as much pain. I kept trying to stay in the moment and not let myself get too carried away. Jaeun was there and Cory was there, no one else. Jaeun was the perfect witness for us. That’s what she did, that’s why she was there. I felt her quietly observing without judgement and simply holding a wide open space for us to have this intense experience with our child. She was absolute perfection.

Scarlett’s death felt so slow, it took all night. Cory and I laid in bed with her and held her and spoke softly to her and we fell in and out of sleep. Her death bardo and my dream bardo got all mixed up together. I fell asleep while watching her die and started dreaming. I found her in a room of reflections and glass, like a house of mirrors. She spoke to me and wanted to show me things. She was so happy and lively! She was a little girl, not a baby, and she had blond curly hair. She took me by the hand and then showed me space, all this space. It was stars and infinity with crystal textures and many colors, soooooo many colors!

Then I woke up and panicked!! “Is she DEAD?! Did I miss it?! What’s happening??!!” Bam! Right back to my living life. Her color changed from pink to gray. Her temperature changed from warm to luke warm to cold. Her breathing was slow and then gone. Her body went from soft and malleable to stiff and then it was done. The nurse confirmed there was no longer a heartbeat and a couple hours later Jaeun confirmed that her spiritual death process was complete.

My experiences of the bardos of dream, death, birth and this living life have this veil about them, something much like the pane of glass during birth I described earlier, but so much thinner. It feels like those graphs of osmosis, where there is an invisible semi-permeable membrane and molecules can move across. Like that, only it is consciousness moving and not form.

osmosis diagram

My form as a woman has experienced the bardo of birth through my flesh, and then within weeks my daughter’s death bardo. The two events were so close together I realized that these passages are made of the same energy. They feel the same; both are necessary, but more than necessary… they are vibrant, whole and beautiful. They are both meant to be expansive and glorious, but in this culture we are meant to celebrate birth and grieve death. What if they were both met with celebration, joy and fascination?

I had another daughter. I have another daughter, I have two children. I have one child that still breathes. One is alive and one is dead. All this seems so semi-permeable to me. That while the form of my dead daughter is gone her “isness” is not. Her death is permeable. Her birth is permeable. My dreams are permeable. My life is permeable. My meditation is permeable.

MY death is permeable…. It makes sense for a second, and then it doesn’t again. I forget it and then I remember it…

I offer my deepest gratitude for giving me the space to be read. And my most sincere love to Jaeun, Doug Sensei, Cata Sensei, my Sangha (spiritual community) and my lovely little teacher, Scarlett Elizabeth Grey.

May the merit from this practice go towards the benefit of all beings.
May it become a drop in the ocean of all the activities of all the Buddhas
In their tireless efforts towards the liberation and enlightenment of all beings.

om mani padme hum

Sarah Thomsen