Margaret Borwhat co-founded the Women's Cancer Advocacy Network (WCAN) in 1997 while waging her own fight against the disease. This resolute woman was a powerhouse to the end and though she peacefully succumbed in body in 2006, her spirit took up the banner for a new dimension of the crusade. She wants us to know that this life is not all there is. And, much to his chagrin, Margaret left her skeptical husband, Don, with an undeniable "foo foo" experience that was the first of endless pranks to prove to him there is an afterlife.
Annette Childs documents the astonishing story in her 2007 book, "Halfway across the River: Messages of hope from the other side." As Margaret walks through the final stage of cancer, she brings together Don, Annette and herself in an unlikely, symbiotic and sometimes aggravating bond. "We were like a car trying to travel with one flat tire, the skeptic businessman, the 'Godwoman' [as Don calls her], and the one dying of cancer." Annette says of the early relationship.
Don begs Margaret to leave him out of the mix, but true to character, Margaret's deathbed wishes for Don are: 1. To carry on her work with WCAN through the non-profit Margaret's House. 2. To help Annette share the miraculous stories she has participated in as a therapist aiding those at the end of this life and their loved ones. A portion of proceeds from "Halfway Across the River" goes to WCAN.
In a telephone interview with Annette, I commented, "I see 'Halfway Across the River' providing a place where skeptic and believer can meet and explore the world of the unknown. Is that how you see the book?"
AC: That's a very good description of how I see the book, and if we end up talking about how the book came to be and Don Borwhat's place in the book, that's absolutely what birthed the book into the world – skepticism and experience.
This is a book I'd been trying to write for many, many years. I'd had various copies of something like this scattered around, and I'd been trying to gather these incredible stories that I had witnessed in my work with those at the end of life into one solid format for at least 10 years. I was never on my own able to bring that book together.
About 3 years ago I met a woman named Margaret Borwhat who initially came to me seeking therapy. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer 15 years before this and had lived a very, very valiant life with the deadly disease. She had become one of the top breast cancer advocates in the country, and had really spent the last 15 years of her life giving back and trying to make sure no one else had to walk in her shoes.
So when she came into my office seeking therapy and began telling me about herself, I instantly knew… Because I work with cancer patients for a living, I knew Margaret was someone who had so much to give the population that I'd spent so much of my life trying to help. I told her that I really did not want her to be my client. I wanted to forge a friendship with her, and learn from her how she, a.) lived so well with such a difficult disease, and b.) now was turning her attention to how she could die well.
That's why she had come to me. She had seen me in an interview on television where I was describing how my work was essentially to help people diminish their fear of death so that they could, if they were traveling towards the end of their life – the other path of terminal illness – how they might find a more graceful way to do that by eradicating their fear.
So those things brought us together. We did not end up being client and therapist, we ended up being friends. And, in the course of our 2 year friendship, I shared with her the bulk of the stories I had been trying to put into the book that I had been unsuccessful in writing.
The stories gave her an incredible amount of comfort. So much so that at the end of her life she turned her attention toward trying to find a way to help me get these stories out to a broader audience. They'd been so helpful to her, she really wanted to see them accessible to other women who would follow in her footsteps, finding themselves in the terminal stage of an illness. So that's where Margaret and I began.
Dd: And then how did Don become a part of all of this?
AC: Well, Don is a very well-known businessman. He's nationally known for his business leadership skills. Very successful. Very good at what he does. So, in Margaret's way of thinking, she thought, you know, if Don can turn entire companies around, surely he can take Annette and turn her into someone who can make a living off of what she does best – which isn't an easily marketable skill.
My specialty as a therapist is really end of life care, and unless I do that in a hospice setting, it's not very easy to find a population of people at the end of life. So she thought Don could help me find how to turn my skills into some type of business skill that would help me make a living and allow me the ability to write down these stories and get them out to a larger population.
She kind of set the stage and set the three of us up for a meeting and she told Don, 'I want you to meet my friend, Annette.'
Don knew the types of things Margaret and I would spend our time talking about and he called these things 'foo foo.' He thought these things were utterly ridiculous. He was glad that they gave Margaret comfort but he thought the things I was talking about were really preposterous. So, unbeknownst to me, he had nicknamed me 'the Godwoman.'
Don is the kind of guy, he's very funny; he's very sarcastic and very caustic. He has nicknames for everybody, but my nickname became 'the Godwoman' because he was making fun of my spirituality.
So Margaret set up a meeting between Don, herself, and me. And what she wanted was for me to tell Don some of the stories that were in my unpublished manuscript that meant so much to her, and gave her hope that the dying process did have meaning and would be a peaceful transformative transition for her.
But as I began to share the stories with Don, he just rolled his eyes and threw up his hands and said, 'Oh my goodness, Margaret. I'm a very skilled businessman but don't ask me to help someone with this foo foo stuff. It can't possibly be real. Don't ask me to try and get this stuff out in the world.'
So the three of us went round and round. I am not aggressive as far as business, at all. Don's very aggressive. Margaret was very, very tenacious. She dug in her heels and said, 'I really want you to help Annette get this book out into the world. It's important to me.'
It actually came down to one of the things she requested when she was on her deathbed. To hear Don tell the story it's very funny, because he says, 'God, of all the things she could have asked me for, anything would have been easier than that.'
He said, 'Ah, the Godwoman! I can't help the Godwoman.'
One of Margaret's favorite sayings was, 'When asked to help don't find excuses, just help.' And the other thing she said to him is, 'After I die, I'm going to do something that is going to make you realize these things that Annette talks about and teaches about and tells you she has experienced, they're real, Don.'
He did not for a moment think she would follow through on that, and without giving one of the main themes of the book away – you've read it so you know – Margaret absolutely followed through on that. And shortly after her death, Don was hit with an experience that absolutely knocked down his house of truth. Everything that he thought he knew about the world and how it worked was completely obliterated with one experience.
Dd: I love what happened to him, because I think that he asks the questions that the average skeptic or even those that are on the fence about believing may have.
AC: He's still asking those questions. I think he will always ask those questions. He is still as bothered by these experiences as he is comforted by them.
It's an odd thing for someone who has lost a loved one and all they want is a sign from that loved one and they don't get one. When they hear Don Borwhat complain that he's stalked by the other side, they can feel very frustrated and hurt, because he will jokingly complain about it.
Dd: One of the experiences that I've had recently, I have a son who has died, and for several years we've had very strong communication. I've had lots of experiences. Nothing quite like what Don had, but some came pretty close. And one of the frustrations that I've had this year, which has been a particularly difficult year for me in many ways, has been that it doesn't mean that life is going to be perfect. Just because they're there, doesn't necessarily change what happens on this planet. I've gone through a long period of time now where I was very angry about that. It seemed to me that that should come hand in hand, that everything should be perfectly wonderful if there is an afterlife. And that isn't necessarily true. So I was wondering if that's part of what he's dealing with as well.
AC: And I don't know. He would have to answer that.
I think it's probably a bit different. In part because his grieving process as a man in his late 50s, who's wife was sick with a disease for 20 years that they knew was going to take her life, is such a different process than a mother who's lost a child no matter what the age that child is.
Dd: Right, right.
AC: And it's such a different form of longing.
When Don and I talk about his experiences there is a part of him, and he literally will say this, he would just love to go back to his mean SOB, cut-throat business-world life. And he tried to go back to that, and he's still a very successful businessman. What he struggles with is the responsibility of realizing this world is not all there is.
I often will tell people I work with, 'You know, spiritual truth is not a yellow-brick-road.' It's what we think we all long for and immortality is what we think we seek at the end of our humanity, but when we actually realize life does not end with our physical death, as soon as your face lights up with a smile in recognition of that, your shoulders drop with the gravity of, 'Oh my God, everything I do. Everything I don't do. Every choice I make has a consequence, and not just today.' At a very deep level, we get the fact this makes me responsible on a much grander level than if I just came, lived, and died.
Dd: That seems to fit in with what Don says in the book about being able to return to being an SOB. I find his perspective very entertaining, and I could see that he has a tremendous role in society now, which I think his wife has been major in giving him, to help left-brained people.
AC: And he is going kicking and screaming. Yes. I don't know his destiny, but I certainly have my thoughts. As you just said, Margaret is not letting up on him. Some of the things happening to this man are just incredible.
Dd: Will there be a follow-up book where you will tell us more of the stories?
AC: There may very well be. I have a giant email file from Don. 'Got another foo foo to tell you about.' And there's definitely a shared energy. Don and I, on more than one occasion, have had reciprocal dreams. We've had visitations from Margaret where she's at my house five minutes after she's at his house. And neither of us knows, until, and it's always Don who picks up the phone and says, 'Godwoman, It's Borwhat.'
And I'll say, 'Oh my God, she was here too. What happened to you?' He'll tell me, and, I'll tell him.
And he always refers back to me, 'What the hell does this mean; you're the Godwoman?'
I have maintained my stance, 'I don't know. I don't have the answers.'
He will often say I ruined his life, and it's tongue in cheek, but he is in a world that will not stop unfolding.
Dd: Wonderful. Well, my last question of you then is, you say in the book you see yourself as a teller of sacred stories; and it sounds like you have enough from him alone. And also I enjoyed the other stories you were telling him to give him validation of the things that were happening to him. And, your doctoral dissertation sounds very interesting. Are you going to follow up with book after book relating all these stories that you've witnessed?
AC: That is my plan. Part of the research I did for my doctoral dissertation was an exploration of near-death experiences. When someone has a [NDE] there are well-known, well-documented aftereffects to that. People who have a near-death experience become more spiritual, they become more intuitive, they often become hands-on healers. Those are some of the more esoteric aftereffects.
There are some more mundane ones: They tend to become less political. They tend to re-cycle more. They're much more green-living and ecologically conscious. They become kinder to animals. There's a whole litany of things that happen to people who've had a near-death experience that pretty well tell us they become more highly evolved human beings. Which is fascinating.
There's plenty of people in the field who feel like when you have a near-death experience you get dipped into the light. And even though you come back to this plane, you carry some of that light with you and you illumine the planet with it, just a bit.
What my doctoral dissertation explored was people who have had an afterlife encounter – some sort of visitation or meaningful message from a deceased loved one. I took those same aftereffects that we see in people who've had a near-death experience and I looked at people who've had an afterlife encounter. What I found was people like yourself, like Don, do carry those same aftereffects, whether you want to or not.
And Don Borwhat is a perfect example of that. He's more intuitive. He has pre-cognitive dreams. He has a link to the other side that he doesn't even want to have. He is more aware of the planet. He is more aware of everything that he didn't want to be aware of. So he's really interesting from the perspective many of us embrace those kind of changes and look for them. Whereas he was not looking for them.
It doesn't seem to matter if we're looking for them or seeking higher growth. If we have been thrust into a near-death experience, if we've had an afterlife encounter, if someone near and dear to us is dying and we are their caregiver, those people tend to experience the same aftereffects.
And the aftereffects get more and more diluted. The near-death experience seems to carry the strongest aftereffects; then, afterlife encounters after that; mystical experiences after that; and caring for a loved one who's at the end of life. So it kind of goes down a continuum.
That's what I would really like to write my third book about, is how we do not have to almost die to start receiving some of the gifts that people receive after having a near-death experience or an afterlife encounter.
Does that make sense?
Dd: Absolutely. I thank you so much for the interview today. I look forward to writing about your book and this conversation.
"Halfway Across the River," published by Wandering Feather Press, has just earned Annette her second Benjamin Franklin Award, an independent publisher's gold medal for the genre spirituality, metaphysics and new age. Her first was received for "Will You Dance?"
Annette founded OneCandle.net, "dedicated to diminishing fear by shining the light of wisdom on matters pertaining to death, dying, grief, and bereavement."
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