“I have never done SOLO before.”

I say that to a friend. Indeed, as I am walking step by step into my new Solo life journey, without my beloved Yumi at my side, I thought walking Solo was new to me. But now, in August of 2023, and looking back, I am realizing that I did have a deep and life changing Solo adventure as a young woman.

A journey with Louzy

The year is 1963. I am 19 years old. I land in Sao Paulo, Brazil to visit with my beloved cousin Nelly and her family. There I meet Louzy, the 20-year-old cousin of my dear friend Robert, from my home town of Antwerp, Belgium. Louzy has just come out of spending her whole life in a full body cast, as a result of having very bad scoliosis. For the very first time in her life, Louzy feels free.

Louzy and I become fast friends. We decide that we’re going on a big adventure together. “Let’s go down the Rio Paraná!” we exclaim. The Rio Paraná is a big river in the Brazilian jungle. We both feel this longing for freedom, each one of us in our own way.

The parana riverThe Paraná River

There are only jungle boats on the Rio Paraná. Jungle people go from one place to another with their children and their goats and their chickens. And there we are, the two of us joining these jungle families. We spend our days sitting on the boat’s platform that is on the surface of the water and attached to the bottom of the boat. The platform is used for passengers to embark and disembark the boat. Louzy the artist is drawing and painting. And I am smiling and laughing. We are having the very best time in this exotic paradise.

But what Louzy and I do not know is that within a split second, the Rio Paraná can go from being completely peaceful and quiet, to thoroughly stormy and torrential, with lots of wild, high waves. And suddenly the storm arrives. We are on the platform, which starts to go back and forth. It goes back towards the water and forth towards the boat.

Louzy and I are holding on for dear life at the edge of the platform. The boat people are desperately attempting to get both of us into the boat. I am flexible. I have not spent my life in a body cast. And so the people are able to pull me into the boat. But Louzy’s body does not have flexibility. She gets smashed between the platform that is moving back and forth and the boat itself.

Louzy dies right on the spot.

The boat people pull her body in. And from that point on, I can’t quite explain what follows. Somehow I gather the whole group of people on the boat in a circle around where they have put Louzy’s body. I don’t know their language and they don’t know mine. But before you know it, we are standing in a circle, and we are singing together and crying and praying. This whole group of people circles my friend who has died. And then I cut off a piece of her hair, and I put it in my pocket.

Because you cannot leave a dead body on the boat, the boat people take us—me and my friend Louzy who is dead—down from the boat to a little chapel in the jungle. And they leave us there. I am all alone in a little chapel in the middle of a jungle.

And again, I can’t quite fully explain what follows. I hear a voice speaking to me: “I’m going to guide you through the jungle; and you’re going to get to a road; and on that road there will be a car; and you’ll get into that car; and they’ll take you to a village; and in the village there’ll be a doctor; and the doctor will be able to come with you to embalm her body; and you’ll be able to call her parents to let them know what has happened; and to ask them to come and fetch you from the jungle.”

And so I leave the chapel and I start walking. The jungle actually reaches to my thighs. And as I take my steps, I hear the inner voice saying: “Put your foot here and put your foot here.” And I get to a road and there is a car; and I go to the village and I find a doctor; and I call Louzy’s parents. Everything that I somehow have known deep inside of me occurs. And two days later, a little plane comes to get me and Louzy’s embalmed body back to Sao Paulo.

Louzy’s parents are unbelievable people. All they want to know is: “Was she happy?” And I can tell them that she was ecstatic. She was so very happy. And they just want to know the details of her joy and happiness. And I can describe to them how we sat on that platform, and how she drew and painted, and what we talked about, and how we laughed. And that’s all they want to know. And then I give them the hair that I had cut off. And when they feel that they have really heard everything they want to hear, I leave their house and I come outside.

And I realize: “I don’t want to live. Louzy died, and I am the one who should have died.” She didn’t have a life till she was 20, and the adventure on the boat was the beginning of her life. She should have lived. And I should have died. I did have a life till I was 19. And so I decide that I am just going to recklessly cross the street, hoping for a car to hit me.

“I didn’t guide you in the jungle for you to end your life.” This is the inner message that I am hearing. And for the first time in my life, I realize that my life must have a real purpose. And I must live my life deeply embracing that purpose. I am in the complete not-knowingness of what that purpose might be. I am in the throws of deep grief and overwhelming confusion. And I go back to my home in Antwerp, Belgium.

Meeting Yumi

And that is when I meet Yumi, Yumi who lost his two sisters Yudith and Naomi in the water. The refugee boat they were on in 1944 got torpedoed. And all the survivors got machine gunned. And Yumi’s sisters died in the water.

Yumi Schleifer's sisters: Yudith and NaomiYudith and Naomi

I was born on August 19, 1944, 10 days after they died in the sea. And I found in Yumi a profound soul to whom I could cry out from the place of overwhelming loss. Together we could share the fragile ground we were treading. And that was one big piece of what profoundly connected us soul to soul. It was the trauma of loss of loved ones in the water. It was something the two of us shared. And we were able to talk to each other at a very deep level.

And the deep purpose of my life emerged in my relationship with Yumi. He was a guide for me. Anything I learned, he pushed me to learn some more, and then he pushed me to teach, and then he pushed me to learn something else, and he pushed me to teach. He was the one going: “And now you take the next step; and now you take the next step.” And I took the next step and the next step till the two of us started taking steps together. And with time, through the experience of our own relationship, we co-created and began teaching the Encounter-centered Transformation® approach.

Today’s Solo adventure

I’ve been calling my current life a Solo adventure, feeling like: “Oh my goodness, this is my first ever Solo adventure.” But it’s not. I am now realizing: “I’ve done a big Solo adventure, and it was in the jungle where I knew nothing. And I was guided in ways I could never have explained, and still cannot explain.” But what I’m realizing now is: “Yeah, I’m in the jungle, in a Solo adventure, with the not-knowingness, and that voice is part of how I live my life.” It’s called the “still small voice.” And I am listening. The still small voice comes from the Bible (Kings 19:12) where Elijah hears his own inner voice saying: “And after the earthquake a fire … and after the fire a still small voice.”

My new little great grandson’s message to me

In the midst of exploring my Solo adventure, a new baby is born into my family. When the wife of our grandson was pregnant, I was elated. “She just might have a boy,” I thought to myself, “and then they will name him Yumi.” Now Yumi’s name is Avraham from Abraham. Yumi is his nickname, which comes from the nickname Avrumi. But his brother Schlomo could not pronounce Avrumi, and creatively made it into Yumi.

And then I found out the joyful news that the baby was born on Thursday, July 6, 2023. And it is a little boy! Immediately inside of me was a sense of profound, overwhelming elation. “This little boy will be a Yumi,” I said to myself.

Hedy and Yumi's great grandson at 4 days old.

Our great grandson at four days old

And then I found out that the grandfather of our grandson’s wife is named Avraham. In Jewish tradition one does not give the name of a living person to a new little being. And so the baby could not receive the name Avraham. I was very disappointed and I completely understood.

And now comes the inexplicable part. After the official naming of the little baby boy at his Briss, the traditional Circumcision Ritual, I was told the baby’s name. As soon as I saw his name in print, I burst out crying because he was not named Avraham. A deep sadness enveloped me. I could not stop sobbing. I was heartbroken, inconsolable. Sorrow followed me all day, all week. I could not shake the feelings of inexplicable loss I was experiencing. It made no sense. After all, I knew the baby was not going to be named Yumi.

“There was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible,” writes Joan Didion in her poignant memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she recounts the first year following the death of her husband John. She describes eloquently how the trauma of loss can affect a healthy mind and soul. Joan Didion says: “The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.” And she says: “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.” In Western Attitudes Toward Death, Phillipe Ariès wrote: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” Joan Didion adds: “When we mourn our losses, we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves: as we are no longer.”

The “US-ness” that I miss

Hedy and Yumi touching hands

Click to watch the video.

I now realize that with the birth of this new little baby, my magical thinking was that the baby was going to bring back my beloved Yumi. I was under the spell that “what happened remains reversible.” The way I felt is well-described by a saying from an unknown author: “If tears could build a stairway, and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to Heaven, and bring you home again.”

My great grandson has a life-giving message for me: “Elter Babie, great grandma, I am not Yumi. I am myself! There comes a point at which you must relinquish your beloved and let him go. You are indeed Solo. And I am here to also remind you of that privilege.”

Thank you for nourishing me

I began my Solo journey six months ago on January 23, 2023. Many of you sent condolence messages that touched me deeply. I was nourished by seeing how vibrantly both Yumi and I live in the hearts of so many of you.

My birthday is this Saturday, and now having gathered 79 years of life experience, I get to learn something new: the Solo adventure after 57 years of “US-ness.”

How old am I today?

I have learned a new expression. I am “age fluid.” Just the other day I suddenly felt like I was five years old. And so on this first birthday of my new adventure, I reach out to you with a sense of enormous gratitude for life itself.