My friend died last week….

by Cathy Rowan

Jose died last week. He died due to the Coronavirus. He lived over 4,500miles away from me and yet he was one of my very closest friends.

Inside me is a great big hole of missing him. A sense of both my personal and the world in general being a poorer place with his departing. I know he will have died in peace and his health had become increasingly poor over the last couple of years.

My body now feels him in the wind, sees him in the clouds scudding by, and dancing amongst the stars – probably swinging on the moon because he is now free. He is no longer locked in a prison: he spent in total just 6 months short of 30 years in prison in Texas. And for this I feel a visceral joy for him that he is no longer suffering.

But my heart is so angry with the prison system that did not even give the inmates bars of soap to wash their hands. Alongside this is this huge sadness: what is within me and most striking is just plain old “missing him” being here on the planet with me albeit thousands of miles away.

Yesterday I just sat with myself, just being with all of this and there was also a sense of more wanting to come. Suddenly an unexpectedly profound awareness came: that Donald Trump, for all his wealth, power and “freedom”, was so impoverished compared to Jose. Jose had an inner peace and freedom despite him being locked in a prison for life without parole.

Contact with Jose had a richness, an extraordinary arms-flinging-wide open in joy  feel: he had a deep abiding faith in Love that he called God. He had embodied and lived his life whilst I knew him from this deep faith that flowed through him. He had what I believe all our hearts long for – including President Trump. What came Jose was the one who was and is free, Trump is locked into a unseen cage of his past pain.

Jose wrote to many people over the 30 years including me for 15 of them. I started writing in 2005 – my life then being subsumed in micromanaging my severe chronic pain and vertigo that came from a car accident in 1999. I knew I was writing to a man on Death Row in Texas who was nearing the end of his appeal process and that the expectation by all there was he would be executed.

I wrote because I was lonely and because I missed from my work not getting to know people from very different backgrounds to my own. I even in my arrogance wrote because maybe I saw him as the one needing help. I was all wrong: it was Jose who helped me. Jose who had already in 2002 been just a few hours short of being executed was at peace with death. \jose who recognised what love truly is through his many pen friends and his amazing attorneys Dick and Mandy. And through this he found an acceptance of death and in so doing he embraced life and living.

And so it was Jose who taught me how one might actually more fully live with what cannot be changed. He taught me how one might accept with a glad heart whatever comes as, whatever this is, it is meant to be for now. Our choice is to see the gift within what comes and open to it.

He taught me that prison (and chronic pain) is a mind-set and that within us we can be free whatever our external life situations. He believed if we open our heart to the life-process we are in God will be with us and show us the way. He was a natural Focuser without ever knowing anything at all about Focusing. He knew about Presence, he radiated Presence. I found that in every letter I received from him it was just written from his felt sense supported by a place of Presence. He was so fully human, so alive, and at times got into such messes – death row definitely being the pinnacle of his “messes” list!

Jose gave me the unconditional love my parents could never give. And in July 2008 I realised I had to meet him to thank him, for what he had given me in terms of teaching me how to live positively with my pain, before he was executed. So I carefully booked my flights around treatment I was then having and in accordance with Texan prison visit requirements. And it was all set for me to go in late January 2009: then in October Jose got an execution date of mid-January.

What unfolded next is a long story, too long for a blog post: but suffice to say I so needed to meet this man I lobbied the “great and the powerful” with letters asking for his execution date to be deferred until after my visit.  Then by what Jose termed one of God’s miracles, just a couple of days before his execution date my request was granted. His date was deferred for 90 days in order that I could make my visit. My husband and I went and met him. Afterwards we also met his attorneys, Dick and Mandy, people of immense compassion and dedication.

Out of this meeting, a change in the Federal law and a huge online lobby, of which I was a part, Jose’s sentence, again just days before the execution date in April, was finally quashed. A sentencing retrial was ordered. This was almost unheard of in Texas. I had not realised in my lobbying that no-one else had thought I stood a snowball in hell chance of success. A friend said to me the other day about this – sometimes naivety is an asset!

Finally in 2013 he got a sentence of life without parole. I  had visited him twice prior to the final re-sentencing decision and then was able to visit Jose in 2014 in his new prison. At this meeting there were no bars between us and we actually got to have a hug.

And today my heart needs me, the whole of my body needs me to share with you about this extraordinary human being who has so profoundly changed my life, just as inadvertently I changed and “saved” his. Jose, following his sentencing commutation, spent his life sharing this experience of his life having been saved through love.

My heart feels I owe it to him to do the same now he is no longer here to share his story.

When his letters came I never used to open them immediately: the love emanating out of the writing on the paper was sometimes too intense for me. Often when I read them I skim-read – again too much love for my defended broken heart. And now he is gone: no more letters. Just tears, so many tears, and so much love. I have kept all his letters and when I am ready I will read them again and let them soak in even deeper. Right now my heart is not ready yet for their intensity.

Last Sunday I attended a Zoom meeting in memory of Jose with a whole group of people who also corresponded with him. People were there from around the world: eastern Australia to the Pacific Coast of the USA, from Europe. Not all his friends could make it but what was clear in this wonderful, but so painful-for-me, meeting was how Jose, transformed by love. How through letter-writing and letter receiving in a solitary confinement cage on Death Row, this love was literally spread around the globe.

Jose was not an intellectual, his IQ was 70:  yet he lived what Gene Gendlin taught and wrote about, what the mystics including Rumi writes about. I know he had a dreadful childhood and so I suspect did Donald Trump. However Trump’s was one of white privilege and money whereas Jose’s was from a poverty-stricken Hispanic family. Neither man got the love they needed: and yet somehow Jose found a way to an all-encompassing sense of love within and the richness and peace that comes with it.

Maybe Jose found Love despite his circumstances or perhaps it was because of them? I feel Jose has much to teach us all about how our chase after money and power can so damage us  and get in the way of what is truly important, what life is really all about.

I am finishing this post with a slightly paraphrased form of how Jose started all his letters to me and to all the people he wrote to:

Dear Reader, hello my precious friend, how are you and your loved ones doing? May this post find you all only in GODS hands as it leaves me. Thanks to our LORD  and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST!

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Cathy Rowan

I originally trained as an OT and also in Gestalt therapy. In 2010 I discovered Focusing which for me was the natural next step on from Mindfulness. I trained as a Focusing Practioner with Fiona Parr and I am currently training in Wholebody Focusing with Addie van der Kooy. What I love is how Focusing blends so naturally with other previous experiences. In particular I find my work as an OT in acquired brain has informed the way I practice. This includes my interest in making accessible relational neuroscience in supporting peoples understanding of how our bodies neurology is shaped by our experiences of others and their experiencing of us. I live with a chronic pain condition from a car accident in 1999. Focusing has changed my life in how I now live with this health condition. Through this I have learnt so much personally about trauma and grief - how they live on in the body unless one befriends them. For me Focusing enabled me to heal when therapy did not - it was just "too much too fast" for my body. What I needed was the Focuser - Companion relating where the relationship feels to be for me much more one of quality and this brought to my body a sense of finally being free to choose and to control the unfolding process. This meant that the process went at my pace and was received by compassionate attuned mirroring. Thus healing what I got so little of as a child.

10 thoughts on “My friend died last week….”

  1. Wow. I feel deeply moved, deeply softened, and in awe from reading this. Thank you!!

  2. Cathy, thank you for sharing more fully here what you’d just referred to…, carefully, briefly in the breakout room we shared together on Saturday. How magnificently you and Jose held each other. I suspect that will continue even as he’s no longer on this earthly plane. I’m wishing you gentleness on your heart as you begin finding your way, begin experiencing the Absence of his Presence in this realm. May his memory be a blessing. And may we all honor the power of your interventions in his life.

  3. Dear Cathy,

    I’m so glad that a friend let me know about your blog post here. It is a truly touching story, and it seems to me that you’ve taken us to a place where our felt-sensing, and our heart-felt-connecting take us toward that which is beyond us…… I’m not good at saying this in the way it is inside.

    Here are some things you wrote that strike me so much, I needed to write them down in my note book:
    “My body now feels him on the wind”
    “How one might live more fully with what cannot be changed..”
    “We can be free– whatever our external life situation”
    “Jose was transformed by love”
    “He found a way to an all-encompassing sense of Love within”

    I love hearing of someone who was transformed beyond the grievous mistakes that were made…even those mistakes could not and cannot stop the transformation through Love….

    I deeply resonate with all that you have written and I’m grateful you have shared this, and I also join Lynn in saying that I sense that you two are still very much connected, that Love cannot be lost or erased.
    with gratitude,
    elizabeth morana

  4. Thank you Elizabeth. Your beautiful mirroring of my words and also your response to them is bringing a huge Jose-type smile to my face. I grew up in a family which did not “do” feelings let along grief. Their mode of dealing with death is do not speak about the person. I learnt as an adult this just then traumatised the grieving process. Instead I discovered to move through the grief I need to connect to others, to express and share my loss and for this be met. You do this so beautifully in your response.

  5. Yours was the first comment to my post. And at the time I could not respond – as I had been worried I had “exposed too much of myself” after seeing the post go live. So your response was such a precious gift to me – I can feel the tears now of deep gratitude. Yesterday the tears were too deep and I know how well stopped emotion in me stops me. Today with the other posts and more time I now felt a need to come back to you – yours made such a deep and reassuring impact that where I had shown myself was a safe and loving place and able to receive and meet my grief.

  6. Dear Cathy,

    Your comments back to me mean a lot; I did not expect that–to also feel ‘heard’! (An old habit, hard to break, I guess)…..

    …and I love that you’ve taken Jose’s sweet and loving way into your body–when you felt a “Jose-type smile” to your face! A beautiful expression of how another can change us, can bring something of them into us.

    And I’ve learned from your response even more clearly how connecting with others around a loss is so healing, and especially when it was not available to you during your childhood. That’s opens some possibilities for me around things that were not allowed in my family.

    with best wishes,
    elizabeth

  7. My own heart swells as I read your story that seems to come directly from your heartfelt connection with this good man. Your clarity in the writing just flows so that I get to share something of that experience that you engaged with. Thank you. Kevin

  8. Thank you too Kevin. As I adjust to living without Jose embodied in the world I notice how his love is supporting me in my embodying and healing process as readers of my post about him reflect back to me their sense of his love. His body may no longer be but his love is still here and increasing. That is such a gift to this planet and its peoples as we are all in so much need of love in these challenging times. In gratitude Cathy x

  9. Cathy I admire your bravery in sharing your story and hope that in reading these comments you feel supported. Clearly you had a very special relationship together and this relationship will continue even though his physical body is no longer here. His love will continue. Sending you love and a virtual hug. Kit

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