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Message In A Mussel Shell

Message in a Mussel Shell


At 9am my sister Francine called, and all she had to say was, “Are you sitting down?” and I knew. When she said the fateful words, “Mom passed away today,” the tears came. Tears that I was grateful for; I had always wondered if I would feel anything when she finally died. In the past I had prayed that I would not feel glad, had hoped that we would resolve our differences before this day, for you see, my relationship with my mother was complicated.

Following the rush of tears was my sudden recall of a daydream I had the day before. During my morning walk with my dog Puma, I found myself visualizing awakening from sleep to find the spirit of my mother hovering in my room. She did not speak. In my daydream I rushed to the phone to call my sister, Francine; Mom was living with her. In my daydream I told Francine to go and check on Mom, to see if she was alive, because if I could see her spirit then there was something wrong.

At the time I recall wondering why my mind was creating this odd scenario. I thought about calling Francine, but remembered that she was not at home, she was in Florida on a business trip and would then be flying to the Bahamas for a very long overdue vacation; Francine had devoted much of her time the past nine years taking care of Mom.

At the time I told myself I was being silly, just an overactive imagination. My day got busy, and I did not call Francine or my mother (something I only did infrequently)—and I forgot all about it.

Until this moment. Now, I recalled the daydream and realized it had been something more like a vision—a premonition—a warning call from my mother’s spirit; a call that I missed.

Guilt is a heavy burden, and I felt its weight. And that weight settled more firmly on my shoulders as Francine and Claudine made plans to gather that night and spend the next day together making arrangements. My physical challenges, the same ones that had prevented me from visiting all of them, including Mom the last few years, would once again prevent me from sharing this time with my sisters, my only remaining family.

As we spoke Francine shared what information she had about Mom’s passing. John, her husband, had stayed behind at their home in South Jersey, to care for his elderly dog, Suzie, and Mom. He had been concerned that Suzie might pass while he was away—instead it was Mom that he discovered had crossed over when he brought her breakfast.

As near as we could tell Mom had passed peacefully away in her sleep. Considering how much time she had spent in and out of hospitals over the years—she had suffered a massive heart attack, and acquired a pacemaker and a defibrillator (she was on her second set), was diabetic, and more—the quietness of her passing at home was somewhat miraculous.

More than once Mom stumped the doctors who could not figure out what was keeping her alive. Francine and I had often wondered about why she was still here; over the years she had become an invalid with not much more than TV to keep her busy. I maintained it was sheer cussedness—Mom had a will like iron, and a temper to match—traits that had not mellowed much from the time of our quite dysfunctional childhood. Francine thought that there was something that she had not finished yet, something that she was waiting for. I kept hoping that she was not waiting for resolution of our relationship, as hard as I had worked on clearing my issues with Mom, coming to a place of peace with her and our relationship was something that still eluded me.

As Francine waited to board a plane back to New Jersey instead of to the Bahamas as planned, we shared our thoughts and feelings. It became very clear to me that I needed to do some more shamanic clearing work around my feelings of guilt and sadness.


The universe was kind, Carolyn Riley, staunch friend and shamanic buddy who had assisted me with countless sessions over the years (many having to do with issues related to my mother) was available.

The tears flowed freely as I shared my mixed feelings with Carolyn about my relationship with my mother. Interspersed with the feelings of guilt were feelings of deep sadness—I had lost the one person in the world who understood me best—despite the sparks we struck off each other my mother and I were alike in many respects. Perhaps that was one major reason we had trouble getting along.

One trait we shared was a deep love of animals. Mom always enjoyed my stories of animal encounters, and she was never put off by the wilder aspects of my shamanic life. As a child she supported my intense desire to be with animals, often taking me to the Philadelphia Zoo. In a recent conversation she shared that zoo visits with me as a child were never short, “You had to visit all the animals, and you knew exactly where each one was.”

Another memory surfaced, when, as an adult, I told her about the ceremony that the animals at the Philadelphia Zoo had requested. She was excited and made a trip to the Zoo to obtain a map we needed for the ceremony, and mailed it to me. I felt more grief and guilt as I realized that I had not called to share my recent excursions to the Woodland Park Zoo with her, and I never would be able to again.

As Carolyn and I talked she gave me some homework for afterward. I was to go down to the shores of Puget Sound (literally at the end of my street), and release my anguish, bury it in the sand below the high tide line, so that when the tide came in it would cleanse the heavy energy and smooth it away.

Then she went on a shamanic journey for me. During it I had many more memories surface and quite a few tears. The memories were all good, but I still wished that there had been more—I grieved that our relationship had not been a better one, and now the hope that might change in time was gone.

Carolyn returned from the journey with information and a gift. Blowing the gift into my crown she told me she had been given a bird’s nest with two white eggs with speckles on them. The journey took her into one of the eggs, and her vision gradually expanded to encompass a landscape with a mountain. The vision zoomed in, focusing on me sitting on the mountain, crying. Next to me was my mother and one Carolyn called the Cat Being. Above were clouds in the sky that my mother and the Cat Being had come from.

Carolyn said that my mother was calm and serene. Looking back over her life she had no regrets, all was as it should be. All the while the Cat Being was present. Carolyn described him as being lighter chocolate color that shaded into darker areas on feet and ears, with brilliant blue eyes, and a tail that was crooked on the end like it had been shut in the door. She said he carried his tail held high, and the crooked part stuck out to the side. Carolyn is not well versed in cats, so she could not identify the breed, but to me it sounded like an early example of Siamese.

Carolyn said that my head was bent as I cried, and that my mother smoothed back the hair that had fallen over my face, and told me, “Dear, it is all right,” and with those words she departed back to the clouds in the sky from which she had come. But the Cat Being remained, and approached me where I laid on the ground, and began to knead up and down my back with his paws, working and working the energy. When he finally finished he said, “You will be all right, Rose” then he departed back to the clouds as well.

When Carolyn finished relating the journey to me I was in tears once again, but they were tears of gratitude rather than grief. I had been gifted with a final message from Mom, and so much more.

In the last stages of her life Mom raised purebred cats and showed them. She began her career with Siamese cats, but the conformation of Siamese cats of modern times bore little resemblance to the Cat Being Carolyn met on the journey. His physical appearance reminded me of the Siamese cats of old Siam, and internet research confirmed my original intuition regarding the legend that surrounds them—a legend that Carolyn could have known nothing about.

In olden times the cats from Siam, which sported kinked tails as a breed characteristic, “…were venerated as guardians of the temples. When a person of high rank died, it was usual to select one of those cats to receive the dead person’s soul. The cat was then removed from the royal household and sent to one of the temples to spend the rest of its days living a ceremonial life of great luxury, with monks and priests as its servants. These cats were reputed to eat the finest foods from gold plate and to recline on cushions made of the most opulent materials, which had been provided by the departed one’s relatives in an attempt to receive good fortune and blessings. Once they became temple cats, they were supposed to have special powers and could intercede for the soul of the dead person.”—

When I shared this information with Francine, we felt cheered. Our mother, who loved cats, had apparently been accepted into cat heaven! And that made one of our decisions an easy one, in lieu of flowers at the memorial service we would suggest that people make a *donation to one of Mom’s favorite charities. It could be our offering to the temple.


But I had one more task to complete for my healing session. Jumping on the internet once again I realized that I could catch the incoming tide while walking Puma after his dinner. But the stone that I had intended to place the energy in eluded me, nowhere in my house could a stone be found that would volunteer, and my query indicated that it was not one on the beach. What to do? My next question yielded the answer, it was not a stone that I sought, but a shell.

Delving into my store of shells I immediately found the perfect one—I knew it was perfect because I felt embraced by its energy. It was a mussel, whole and complete with two attached, but open halves. In conversation with John earlier that day he told me that Mom’s usual dinner on Saturday night was mussels, an absolute favorite. I felt gladdened that her last meal had been something that she enjoyed so much; it was a meal that we had often shared on my visits home long ago.

I had thought that I would be placing all the heavy energy of guilt and sorrow into the mussel, but that felt wrong. All of that had cleared during the journey. What felt right was placing an offering of all the good memories with my mother that had surfaced. And so into the open mussel I blew our times together at the Zoo, conversations where we were in accord, our crazy day in Boston where we had so much fun and spent all the money we had, ending up searching for coins lost in the car seats to pay the toll driving home, and finally, an “I love you,” three words seldom shared between my mother and I.

I placed the mussel on the dampened sand on Alki Beach, and watched as the next wave lifted it off and out to sea. As I turned away my gaze was drawn downward. There, by my feet, was a white stone with speckles, reminiscent of the egg in the bird’s nest. Picking it up I realized I had earned another stone for my mesa, and obtained what I had sought for so long—I had forgiven my mother, and we were finally at peace with one another.

*In lieu of flowers the family is suggesting that you make a donation in the name of Rosaline Dolak De Dan to either the Philadelphia Zoo or the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary Memorial Fund.

For the next article in this series see Sea Star the Seal, Puppy Kisses, and the Wheel of Life.


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©2010 Rose De Dan. All Rights Reserved.

Rose De Dan, Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC, is an animal communicator, Reiki Master Teacher, shamanic energy healer, and author. Her classes, sessions and ceremonial work are inspired by wild and domestic animals who have issued a call to action for personal and global healing.

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  1. Dearest Rose,

    My condolences to you and your family. You are such a courageous woman … I am honored to know you.

    My father and I had a rocky relationship in a different way … he was a Leo and an old-fashioned Catholic, Italian first child. The last year or two of his life the lion turned into a lamb …. a gift that was very unexpected and very welcomed. He passed on September of 2000 at 85 years old. My mother, on the other hand, passed after a couple of years of having cancer (her heart was like the Rock of Gibraltar, one nurse said) in 1967. I had never spoke with her as an adult (I was 13 when she passed) and missed that over the years. One thing she said that hurt me while she was in the hospital was brought up by Spirit in a Sweat Lodge a number of years ago, out of the blue. They showed me HER perspective as a dying mother who was raised as she had been. It was also a great gift that helped dissipate a long-ago thought that was not sweet.

    Thank you, Rose, for all you share and teach humanity. It is having GREAT ripple effects!

    With Love and Blessings,

  2. Hi Rose,

    I just wanted to extend my condolences on the loss of your mom. The clarity with which you tell your story is an inspiration.


  3. Dear Rose,
    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss.
    I worked in Philadelphia Zoo as an Educational Counsellor one summer, it was the best fun. I really got to know the Polar Bear while I was there, I would visit him every morning and eat my breakfast while I watched him swim around in his little pool. Way too little. Maybe that’s why I resonated with him. I also liked the Cheetahs, they were fascinated with my umbrella! The Zoo was a great place to be at the time, and to teach there was a privlidge, as indeed it is a privlidge to read this blog post and to know you.
    Blessings to you,

  4. Dear Abby, Joanne, Beth and Lisa, thanks so much for your kind words of support, they are much appreciated.

    I wrote this article in hopes that sharing my process might be somewhat inspirational to others. Thank you, Joanne, for sharing your “it’s complicated” experience with family relationships, I believe your words may inspire others who are seeking their own healing insights.

  5. Hi Abby, the Philadelphia Zoo had a great educational program the last time I visited the Zoo. I felt it was one of their most important purposes, offering greater understanding of the animals rather than having them simply be exhibits, and hopefully to awaken in zoo goers the desire to get involved in conservation efforts. How wonderful that you were able to be a part of that!

    I actually have a polar bear story that involves my mother and I as an adult at the Philadelphia Zoo.

    Mom and I never let the weather or time of year stop us from a Zoo visit. It was a wintry December day, and we were outside at the polar bear enclosure where you could view him as he swam underwater.

    We were standing there looking in, and there was no one else around except us. The polar bear swam over, and ignoring my mother, he opened his jaws wide and tried to bite me through the glass! I can tell you it was an unnerving experience even with thick glass separating us.

    My mother was delighted, and insisted on having me pose facing the camera, which meant my back was to the polar bear, even more unnerving. As a result I have photos of him trying to bite the back of my head. At the time I can remember thinking that only my mother would think that was cool!

  6. To my dear friend Rose,

    I just finished reading the article you wrote about the loss of your mother. I am sorry. There really are no words that can encompass this sentiment.

    I had to read your article twice … the first time through many tears … the second time in total awe of you. It was beautifully written regarding your life and the relationship with your mother. It was incredible how you opened your heart and soul to all of your readers regarding your journey … the good and the not-so-good memories.

    I wish you PEACE, HARMONY, and TRANQUILITY during this time.

    Take care and be well.


  7. Rose,

    Clarence is kneading your back; Chi Chi is racing around sending arrows of love and hissing sparks to strengthen your spirit and I offer hugs of friendship and spring boughs bearing peace and tranquility.


  8. dearest my heart felt sympathies to u ..n the beloved ones….this is my first reading of ur blog n kinda feel attached to u already …am a reiki practitioner i do it regularly but in an unsystematic way…..i don kno y i feel drawn to shamanic ideas n its very new to me…so am nervous as well….peace be with u n love

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