A Tribute to Annelise


Tribute to Annelise Balfour Couchman:

Another young, beloved friend died yesterday from cancer. I refuse to say, “she lost her battle with cancer” as Annelise was not fighting. From my perspective, she lived her life with pure love and embraced the opportunity to grow from her teacher cancer. 

The last seven years of my I’ve experienced numerous friends dying from cancer. The first was Morgan Fieri whose death at 39 years old shook me to my core. I knew she was sick, but I didn’t think she would actually die. Her death woke me up to the reality that young people are mortal too. Morgan lived life fully and her passing inspired me to tattoo a large dragonfly on my shoulder blades. It was a reminder of Morgan who loved dragonflies and to embrace each moment as life is fleeting. With her death I was awoken to the reality of how temporary life is. 

Two years after her death, Deb Hubsmith, my best friend of 19 years was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Her death twenty-two months after diagnosis rocked my world beyond belief. Rowen Holland, my dear friend and family member died two years after Deb at the age of 47 from colon cancer. Sandwiched in between Rowen and Deb’s tragic deaths was my own stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. Just in case I wasn’t getting a taste of my own mortality, cancer came calling to evolve my soul at a rapid rate

As I’ve been in the public eye with my healing journey, I have gotten to know many cancer patients along the way. Some have healed. Some have not. In the company of illness, death is a constant companion. 

Nine months before my diagnosis I got a large raven tattooed on my left arm to signify the presence of death in my life. I was being trained as a death doula, played an active role in Full Circle Living & Dying Collective (a Grass Valley group whom brings awareness about the topic of death and dying to the community), a Hospice volunteer and leading grief rituals with the public with my horses. The topic of death intrigued me and I was diving into it with fascination. Deb’s death had impacted my life in this manner. Little did I know the angel of death was soon to tap on my shoulder with my diagnosis?

In the past year I have known many who have died from cancer.   died this spring at the age of 42 from breast cancer leaving behind a cherished four-year-old daughter and husband. Peg Hall died a week after Jenny. Susan Smith a beloved member of my community died this summer. Laura Williams, a dear friend and avid horse lover died a week ago (not from cancer but from a horse accident). Now Annelise has passed in the last 24 hours from breast cancer at the age of 48. There have many others who have passed whom I was not close to. 

Dawn Higgins Andrews, another dear cancer thriver wrote this in refection of Annelise’s death: “When you’re diagnosed with a life threatening disease, you find your tribe and you love on each other. You can relate in a way no one else understands. It’s a special bond that isn’t determined by geography, that doesn’t require face-to-face meetings to become dear friends. These friendships are a blessing and a curse- because, as I am learning, loss is inevitable. The commonality that bonds us is cancer and cancer kills people.

It’s a tough blow that another young one in my tribe has passed. It is a reflection of my own journey, and the reality of what I face.”

Annelise and I traveled in similar circles though we never met. We shared much in common. We were both single moms on Maui in our twenties with our young children (our kids are the same age, now 26). We were born the same year. She was diagnosed around the same time I was and we became immediate friends. We would speak every few months, send texts and encourage one another. Annelise was a bright light of inspiration for many and her loss impacts countless lives. I feel immense compassion for her daughter in light of the reality of her momma leaving this earth. 

Part of me wants to proclaim, “Fuck cancer!” but I know this attitude is not constructive to my own healing. Yes, I am upset that it seems that many of my dear friends are dropping like flies and yet I know there is so much more beyond what I can see. As I face my own mortality with the death of my cherished friends I am incredibly grateful for the lesson of knowing how precious this life is. Cancer can be a gift to help awaken to the beauty of what we are given. 

Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love. The depth of loss I feel is equal to the love I have for each dear friend. 

Francis Weller author of ‘The Wild Edge of Sorrow’ wrote: “Grief is a sustained note of being alive. We are most alive at the threshold between loss and revelation; every loss ultimately opens the way for a new encounter” 

This world is certainly a crazy place. Cancer is becoming an epidemic. I will not sugar coat it. With our toxic world we will continue to see more and more younger people diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is a reflection of the toxic nature of our society, environmental devastation, the greed, the hunger and the unaddressed pain we all carry. There will be more sickness and illness, until this earth plane comes into balance. 

The gift is how to embody our lives fully, while we have a body to enjoy it. I could die in a horse accident like Laura, cancer could snuff my life out in a year or two or I could completely heal this cancer and beat the odds of the diagnosis. Whatever my fate is, I plan to live my life fully. Every tear that I shed for the death of Annelise is a remembrance of how sacred each breath is. I pray for the lives of my friend on the cancer journey and my own life. Each prayer is a wish that we may awaken to what true healing is for each of us, even if that means embracing death. It truly all boils down to love and what we choose to do with the sacred gift of the heart. 

Annelise’s last instagram post read, ““And the Ultimate Power is Love. My heart is blown open by the profound love I have experienced in the last few weeks. Totally agree with RA ~ “The purpose of incarnation in the Third density is to learn the ways of love.”

I saw Deb in the last month of her life capture this truth as well. This is the gift of the dying, to realize what is truly real. Love is all there is. To embrace and love those that you cherish is the most important thing. Love each tendril of sunlight as it falls on your face, as you never know if you will feel that warm ray again. Love heals. Love transforms. 

Please hear these words from one who has seen far too much death in a short period of time. Cherish your health and embody your life. It is the most precious gift. Don’t wait for illness to teach you this lesson. 

What I keep coming to is the sense of deep surrender and also a fueled desire to live. We never really know when our time will be. I know for me I’m going to keep finding my way, facing my shadows, finding the joy and living each day to my fullest.

Morgan, Deb, Rowen, Jenny, Peg, Susan, Laura and Annelise’s death have all left marks on my heart. As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything, That is how the light gets in.” I strive to keep my heart open despite the sorrow and grief of these losses. In embracing this life, I surrender and accept it all, even death in its metamorphic form.