I didn’t want to write this article. When I get a nudge to tell this story, I feel a lump build in my throat, and nausea surrounds me. This time, as that familiar rush of tears flooded my eyes, I opened the document.
This is a story about grief. And a story about ayahuasca. If you are like me and wondering what a substance like this can do about broken hearts, read on. There are no concrete answers here, but there is one perspective. And all I can hope is that you might find a tiny sliver of solace as you navigate whatever depth of grief you may be feeling right now.
Change of Plans
My dear friend Josh died in November 2015. He simply went to sleep and never woke up again. An unknown heart condition took him away from this precious plane at 33 years old, and we never got much more information about it.
At the time, I was living in Bend, Oregon, and he was living with my longtime best friend, Jen, in Portland. Each week, I traveled to Portland for my sales job, hustling cannabis products and making my rounds to drop inventory at dispensaries. And each week, I’d stay with my beloved buds. It was honestly one of the most idyllic times of my life. Weed was newly legal, I worked for a flourishing cannabis company and got to see my closest family friends every single week.
The week that Josh died, I didn’t stay at the apartment. Jen was out of town, and it had just started to snow. I reached out to Josh but didn’t hear back, so I just hit the road to beat the storm. I could’ve easily just used my house key and made myself comfy until I heard from him. I even drove by, slowed down, and just…kept driving.
Days later, I’d find out that had I walked into the apartment that night, I would have found his body. Something in my body pushed me to make that drive back to Bend, and because of it, I escaped with a little less trauma.
Through the Motions
After planning the funeral, giving the eulogy, and helping Jen pack up the apartment and move out of the city…I just had to return to daily life. I went to work. I made dinner. I spent time with my boyfriend. I took my dogs to the park. Normal stuff.
But nothing was normal. I was not normal, and life was wholly and permanently altered. Death is radical. It transforms you and the entire view you hold of whatever future you thought might be even remotely guaranteed. I was going to grow old with Jen and Josh. I wasn’t going to be like a second mom to their babies someday. I’d never get to marry them and give the most hilarious, heartwarming speech recanting years of memories and emotion.
That future wasn’t real anymore. Perhaps because Josh left so suddenly, and we just never saw him again, it was hard to grasp that he was gone forever. For weeks, I’d slip up, think of something funny, and grab my phone to text him. Time and again, I’d be pummeled with the truth that he was dead. And I was deeply grieving. An absolutely guttural emptiness. A hollow pain that I couldn’t wash away.
Time went on, and I kept moving, but it stayed with me. Like this monkey on my back, a rain cloud over my head, a fucking brutal thorn in my side. If you’ve lost someone, you know.
Seeking Something Like Solace
Nearly two years later, tired of shifting this grief from one shoulder to the next, I chose to do something different – to see what I could find. I needed to feel differently. I needed to understand the aftermath of death in a new light.
Taking the Leap
After many friends and colleagues shared their profound experiences in ayahuasca ceremonies, I knew it was also calling me. I’d had many psychedelic experiences, but nothing like Grandmother ayahuasca. So, a dear friend connected me with some incredible people hosting a ceremony near me, and I committed.
I took the prep seriously. I wanted to get the absolute most out of this experience. I followed a strict ayahuasca dieta, completely purging all caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, spices, meat, and fats from my diet. I ate only unseasoned baked fish or chicken for about ten days, with steamed veggies and unsalted nut butter for fat. I watched consumption in all forms and really devoted my mental space to preparing for the medicine.
The ceremony was two nights – we’d arrive Friday, settle in, and then sit that evening and the following night. It took every ounce of courage I had to drive out there. I cried most of the way in excitement, anticipation, and fear of the unknown. I had no idea what to expect, but I can certainly say I do not like to relinquish control. And anyone who has sat with ayahuasca will understand that the only thing to do is surrender.
Into the Unknown
That evening, as I drank the medicine, I began to let go a little. There was no going back, so I might as well find the flow and be with it. The wonderful people serving us the medicine and hosting this place had created a very safe environment and were there for the guests at every turn. They were also intuitively connected to each of us in a way I cannot explain. They all drank the medicine, and it was like the entire container became a living, breathing organism humming together. Sometimes the hum was chaos, sometimes it was harmonic, but together we were.
The woman singing and playing music came to me and asked if I’d like more medicine since she could tell I hadn’t really dropped in yet. I drank more. And then, I took off. The initial phases of the high were reminiscent of the come-up of a hefty dose of LSD. The full body takeover but with a silkier, airier feel. At first, I was just navigating random thoughts and feelings, observing fractals in the room, and watching the walls and shadows become something altered altogether.
And then, I closed my eyes and lay down. Usually, when you are tripping your balls off and close your eyes, you’re met with an array of imagery from geometric shimmering and mathematical complexities to full-blown cartoons and movies created behind the eyelids. Not this time. Everything went black and still. It all just shut down. Nothing was there anymore. Silence.
The Mechanics of a Broken Heart
After some time here in the void, I was finding stillness. I focused on my breath, feeling my nervous system come down a little as my body melted into the moment. And then, from the farthest into the black I could see, the tiniest pieces of machinery came into view.
Slow and silent, there were these little pieces, bits of shiny shellacked metal in red, gold, royal blue, creams, and purples. Subdued hues at first but then brightened as they sharpened in focus. It was starting to form something, to come together somehow. I realized what I saw was taking the shape of a heart – a mechanical pulsing perfect beast made up of the tiniest, most insignificant pieces. Each perfect, playing a part.
As the pieces came together, the heart became whole, and then, as though it had a hinge on the back and a clasp on the front, it opened like a blossom. The heart bloomed awake, and out of it poured tiny little angels, fairies, and emblems of beauty from the physical world, like flowers and charms. Like a beautiful miniature Renaissance painting, this fractured heart was birthing so much splendor. I was so immersed in the delicate scene that I hadn’t yet noticed that this was all being puppeteered by a set of hands, pulling the strings, treating me to this miraculous wonder.
And then, I see. They are Josh’s hands. He has ever so carefully opened up this cracked, closed-off heart to show me the wonder and magic contained within. The lust for life, the enchantment of the human experience. All the things that had been dampened by his death. I take one last look at this incredible gift before me before he gently closes up the pulsing heart and gives it back to me. And then he’s gone.
I began to sob. Big, desperate tears, and in a moment, the woman is above me, smudging me and singing to me with her hand on my chest. I cry and cry, and then, just as quickly as this began, I’m on to the next journey. Because ayahuasca is like that – many trips in one night, taking you on a rollercoaster of psychological symphonies.
That first night was long and arduous, breaking me down in ways I cannot describe. A raw plunge into what it feels like when you resist surrender. A lesson learned. A thousand lessons learned. The second night, the medicine swooped in and caressed me gently, like a mother nursing a newborn. She put me back together lovingly. Ayahuasca is like that – she gives you exactly what you need.
New Revelations and Transmutations
But I set out to discover whether or not ayahuasca would help me relieve my grief. Did it? No. But it certainly helped me grieve. And helped me understand it better. There would never be a time when I wouldn’t grieve losing Josh, but learning how to make space for this grief was tangible now. I could find ways to transmute it. What if I could turn that exquisite pain into something infinitely beautiful?
For me, that looks like writing more. Being a much more authentic version of myself and always looking for a viewpoint from every angle. It means seeking expansion in my life and saying yes to exploring the imperceivable. I neither fear nor welcome death, but I am learning to respect it deeply, which has opened my mind to many new revelations.
Processing grief is huge. It can feel all-consuming, and sometimes, I remember that feeling I had when I got the call about Josh. Now, I don’t brush it away as easily. Instead, I sit with it, let it pass, and that sadness is replaced with immense gratitude for all that our friendship was to me.lsd ayahuasca