Suzanne Falter, FREE SPIRITED: How My Daughter Healed Me From the Afterlife

Suzanne Falter, FREE SPIRITED: How My Daughter Healed Me From the Afterlife

Guest host Julie Chavez interviews podcaster, keynote speaker, and author Suzanne Falter about her profound and heart-opening memoir, Free Spirited: How My Daughter Healed Me from the Afterlife. Suzanne shares beautiful stories of her daughter, Teal, who died unexpectedly at twenty-two from an unexplainable cardiac arrest. She also shares what it took to heal (years of self-care and connecting with her daughter, particularly through dreams) and what life has been like since.


Julie Chavez: Suzanne, welcome. I’m so glad to be talking to you for “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Welcome.

Suzanne Falter: Thank you, Julie. Many thanks.

Julie: I’m excited. I’m excited to talk about your book, which is Free Spirited: How My Daughter Healed Me from the Afterlife. I was really moved by your book. I was telling my family about coming to interview you. I was saying, I can’t wait to speak to her because this is such a fascinating experience and story. It’s not something that I have necessarily lived yet, obviously. There are pieces, I feel like, of grieving that I can relate to in this. It’s beautifully written. I really, really enjoyed just learning about your experience and getting to know Teal.

Suzanne: Thank you so much, my dear.

Julie: Can we start there? Obviously, the book gives us much more detail, but what’s your favorite way to talk about her? What do you like to tell people about Teal?

Suzanne: All of a sudden, I’m getting teary. I never get teary when I talk about Teal. Let me explain to the listeners. Teal was a big-hearted, very, very wonderful, joyful soul. She had epilepsy. She had a massive seizure, maybe. We don’t really know. Cause unknown. She had a massive cardiac arrest and died two hours after I had dinner with her. Completely unexpected. My favorite way to talk about Teal is really about — gosh, I’m sorry, Julie. I’m not usually so teary. Folks, this will be a vulnerable interview. My favorite way to talk about Teal is just to recall all the different ways she loved to live life so vigorously and really also how I learned so much about compassion and healing and taking good care of myself from her example after her death.

Julie: I loved so many parts of this book. Just after she was born, you described a scene where you experienced what you called the beginnings of Teal’s deep and abiding influence on you. I personally am honored to see your emotion. It’s just such an honoring of her and who she was and is to you in her life and in the afterlife. I just think it’s beautiful. I’d like to hear more about how she changed you. It sounded like it was a softening. You talked about “push, push” survival mode. By the way, I was like, “push, push” survival mode could basically be — put that on the back of my car. That’s my life motto. She gave you a glimpse of ease and kindness when she was born. Do you want to tell a little bit about that story?

Suzanne: I had an extraordinary experience on the day of her birth and immediately afterwards. She was in breach. For those who have not had that experience, you have to have a scheduled cesarean section where they open you up and take out the baby because the baby’s basically upside down. They gave me some morphine as part of the process of coming out of that surgery. I began to have these fantastic visions of all kinds of auras that I could read around everybody around me. I felt I suddenly knew exactly what the night nurse was going through. I had this unbelievable conversation with my other bedmate in the hospital room, who I suddenly felt deep, deep compassion for. I was a workaholic, driven, striving, “I will be successful if it kills me” kind of person. Here comes my first child. Of course, that’s a very softening experience in and of itself.

I was given the gift of feeling into all these people’s personal experiences and immediately looking at them, seeing this glow around them, and understanding more deeply, innately about who they were. It sounds pretty weird. I thought, at the time, I was losing it. I might have been in some morphine-y kind of way. It was so profound that forever after that, I’ve associated Teal with being deeply compassionate. Sure enough, her friends used to call her Kwan Yin, who was the Asian goddess of compassion, Buddhist goddess. Dear Teal just believed so deeply in the power of oneness as a singer. She was a singer in her lifetime. One of my favorite things about her was her singing because I’m also a singer. The two of us would sing together and have the most connected experiences singing together. We also just loved life on a very similar level. It was just such an honor to be her mother. Such an honor. She was a totally different kind of person. The other thing to know about Teal is that she was a free spirit, which is why the book is called Free Spirited. Slowly, as in the prying of the lid off of the crate or the casket, I emerged as a more free-spirited person myself from the experience of grieving her loss. I couldn’t help it.

At the time, I was doing a business I didn’t particularly like. I was burning out. My relationship had just ended. I was wandering around the Bay Area trying to figure out where to live. I’d only arrived here a few years earlier. I was just really lost. Then she died. The bottom dropped out. I suddenly had no home, no relationship. I had closed my business. Now I had no daughter. I was trying to get a grip and figure out what to do. I just decided to surrender to the process. I rented a room in someone’s home that was just a basic, simple, little situation. I made it a point to live on as little money as I could and work as little as possible. I really didn’t work for about two years. I had some savings, which was fortunate. I had a friend who put me up for free in her house. I just lived sort of like Teal. Teal’s deal was, I’m here to bring joy. I’m a singer. I will busk on the street. I will work as a waitress, put the cash in my pocket, go to an airport, and just pick a destination and leave. She went through the world with her little guitar singing on the streets all over the world and making friends. She died, my friends, at age twenty-two. That tells you a little bit about Teal.

Julie: Thank you for sharing those things about her. I love hearing about her and her bravery and who she was to you, like I said, both before and after. Reading about your experience, the rootlessness that you experienced right after her death, it’s so challenging for me because I am such a tightly controlled — that’s my tendency. To read about that and seeing how, like you were describing, so many things that you had, it sounds like, placed your identity in, those were just ripped out at the roots — suddenly, there you are trying to figure it out. Such a brave time for you as well to try and take that time to transform and heal instead of digging back in in another way.

Suzanne: It was tempting. I tried to restart my business many times. Every single time, as if watching me from the beyond, the universe just took that business right away. I launched a website. It was hacked into multiples times. Finally, my webmaster’s hard drive was being eaten by malware. She was like, I’m done here. I had to give up. I would’ve restarted if I could’ve. I knew it was wrong. I knew that that would not lead me to where I needed to be. Finally, when the hacking attack started, I really did back off because it was obvious that nothing was going to happen. I had booked coaching clients. Then they would all cancel because they’d be like, you’re broken.

Julie: I don’t know that I want to take advice from you currently. Maybe later.

Suzanne: Exactly. The hardest thing about being a driven person is that you are deeply in denial about what you need. You’re getting something out of it, so you’re perpetuating the myth, the lie, the illusion. You can’t really say that, okay, I definitely need to just stop for two years. I thought I was quitting for a month. I thought I was just taking a month off. Then it became two months. Suddenly, it was two years. I just couldn’t go back to work. I finally started to listen to myself. I have a book about self-care, The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care, which was the precursor to this book because the big thing I learned was compassion and oneness, our connectedness to the afterlife, but also, self-care. Teal was really good at self-care. Because of her medical condition, she had to be. She took meticulous care of herself. She would say exactly what she thought and meant. She didn’t let people walk all over her. She was highly sensitive to her own needs. May we all be so.

Julie: I know that you’re winding down the podcast because I listened to a few episodes, and you mentioned that in the beginning. What you just said, that when you’re a driven person, you’re in denial about what you actually need, let me change my bumper sticker to that. Hello, everyone. I’m driving away from what I need. That is so accurate. What a beautiful thing, that you had a daughter put in your life who taught you exactly what you needed to know, which is that you must care for yourself. That really resonated with me. We haven’t spoken about this, but I wrote a memoir. It’s coming out next year. It’s about a crash that I had after I spent too long caring for everyone but myself. Then suddenly, I was a disaster. That lesson, true self-care, not the performative kind that we see so much of, but this true question of, how am I taking care of myself? Am I addicted to stress? Am I paying attention? Am I paying attention to me, to what’s happening around me? All these things, it’s a message that we can’t hear enough of. I love that she was brought into your life, not to teach you that in that way, but that that was part of who she was to you.

Suzanne: I think that was a big piece of why we were brought together. I also really had to experience Teal’s ongoing wisdom and her energy around me. It really pulled me through my grief, this feeling that I was not alone. Whatever can be said about the afterlife — of course, we don’t really know. We’ll never know. It felt real to me, boy. It felt like this was happening for a reason. It felt like I was not as off base as I thought. I began to realize that everything was happening according to a greater plan and that I just needed to get with the program and surrender. The more I fought it, the more difficult it would be. I got this little channeled blip that came down which said, spirit helps, but you create. Meaning, you set the intention. You get in touch with what you need and want. You create that from your gut, and you will get assistance. You won’t necessarily get assistance with the things you don’t want. I did not want that business even though I was trying to restart it out of a fear-based decision called, I’m going to run out of money. Sure enough.

Julie: I love fear-based decisions. They always turn out so great.

Suzanne: Yeah, right? I had a surprise job offer come into my lap writing fiction, which I did for eight years, two years into her death in 2014. It was somebody who’d known me all my life and who just came out of nowhere, wealthy person. Offered to sponsor me, invest in fiction. We started a little publishing company. I wrote a bunch of novels. I had published fiction in the past, but not for fifteen years, I hadn’t written a novel. That was pretty great.

Julie: That’s amazing. Reading your book and continuing to see that concept of surrendering, there is so much to that. What am I aligning with in terms of my life? What is it that I’m trying to get to? Asking those deeper questions of, you’re exactly right, what do I really want that’s below the things I think I need and the things I think I want? How do I get down there? One thing I wanted to ask you — you talked a lot about your dreams. It feels like Teal really showed up a lot for you in your dreams. You gain a lot of insight from your dreams. Is that something that still happens for you? How do you hold onto your dreams? How do you interpret them? I was really interested to hear more about that.

Suzanne: Thank you for asking about that. The dreams were probably one of the biggest tools I used in managing the loss of Teal. These dreams would happen often as I was just waking up. They would either be a full-on dream, or it would be, my eyes open, I looked around, and I suddenly had a deep awareness. In a few cases, I even saw a vision. Those do not happen now. I don’t need them to happen now. Interestingly, I’m writing a memoir of my father. It’s actually a biography because he’s not writing it. I am. I’m writing a biography of my father, John Falter, who was a Saturday Evening Post cover artist and illustrator and had an incredible career. This job came unbidden from a museum. I’m writing this thing, and I’m having these dreams about him. It’s a very similar kind of experience. He died in 1982. I feel he’s showing me things that I need to have greater understanding about. What I do with these dreams and with the dreams from Teal — in the dreams of Teal, I would dream that we were at a cocktail party. In one of them, we were at a cocktail party. She was maybe thirty-five. She was sort of future Teal. She came up to me. We were hugging and chatting and just having a wonderful time together. It was like a visit from Teal. Another time, I dreamt we were watching TV together, much the way we used to. Then in other dreams, in one of them, she showed up, and she was very Botox-ed. She was wearing these groovy dreads and these big aviator sunglasses and completely the opposite of who she really was. She was an extremely down-to-earth, simple person who walked around in jeans and T-shirts and torn Keds.

Julie: I love Keds. Good choice.

Suzanne: Good choice. She looked at me. She said — let’s see. What did she say? She said, “Unmute your phone.” Then she disappeared. At the time, I had given up my smart phone. I just had a little flip phone. I had it on mute all the time. I really didn’t want to be bothered by people unless it was an emergency. I saw that she was showing me that I had developed a false persona, this workaholic. At the time, I was working with a style consultant. I had all these headshots. I was just so in my ego and so in my narcissism. She was showing me I could unmute my phone. I could let go of my fear of the people. I could stop being my false self. I could be my true self and let people in. That dream took me a while to understand. What I did was I wrote it down. When you write down everything that happens in a dream, if you sit with it for a moment, you do get a deeper understanding, so you just keep writing. Sometimes your pen just has to move across the page. Just let it flow. I always have a little section called “the dream” and then “the interpretation.” The interpretation made itself clear. I never would’ve understood if I had just thought about the dream because those links are a bit unclear, correct?

Julie: Yes.

Suzanne: With my dad’s book, I am dreaming vaguer dreams so far. I haven’t gotten super clear instruction. The biggest mystery in this book is his first wife, who he was married to for twenty-five years who he built his career with. She was a CIA agent. She was a fascinating character. I don’t know a lot about her. He’s dropping little seeds about who she was and how their dynamic was together. It just shows up. I really think these dreams present themselves when the message needs to be delivered. That was my big takeaway because I almost never dream about Teal anymore. Despite my tears at the beginning of this episode, I feel my grief has been greatly healed.

Julie: That’s a good reminder that I think there is healing, and the tears can hopefully still be part of that, right?

Suzanne: Of course.

Julie: Proof of our love. I love to let my feelings out through my eyeballs. Happens all the time.

Suzanne: God bless you. By the way, did you know — I had a great chat with a photomicrographer once, who takes microscopic photographs of tears. The crystalline structure for different types of tears is completely different. Your body produces tears in grief that are different from, say, tears of frustration or tears of joy or tears of anger. That tells me how healing crying is.

Julie: I am going to be thinking about that all day. That is so incredible. Wow. I’m going to be thinking about that. I can’t wait to hear about that or learn more about that. That’s fascinating. I’m a big fan of crying. For me, I keep everything so tight that that sometimes is the only way to unlock a little bit. We can save my issues for another podcast, obviously. There’s no need to get into that today. Thank you for sharing that about the dreams. I really find that so fascinating and also very hopeful. I have known people in my life that are gone. I miss them. I think that’s very hopeful to think about the afterlife. Do people ask you questions about the afterlife now that you’ve had these experiences? You’ve written the book. What do they tend to ask you? What do you wish they would ask? I feel like people have sort of strange ways that they frame it up.

Suzanne: I don’t have any particular agenda for how I want people to interact with me, hopefully on anything. On the afterlife, I would say people really are curious. Then people always have their own experiences with the afterlife. It’s amazing how much conversation there actually is about this, etherically, conversations that are happening in dreams, in visions, in insights, whispering. One of my old housemates used to smell pot every once in a while even though she had none in her house. Sure enough, her late husband had been a big weed smoker. She’d smell. Oh, he’s here. That’s a very distinctive smell. Why would you suddenly smell that? It’s just cool. It’s just cool to me, and unexplainable, as I said earlier. Mystery keeps us going.

Julie: I think that that’s a really good reminder. I love to think about mystery. My favorite people are people who have an appreciation for mystery because there’s so much we don’t know and will never know. It’s funny, I wrote down this question. We kind of touched on it a minute ago. Do you think that healing ever hits a point of completion, or is it just a constant evolution?

Suzanne: I think we have collective grief for many things. I’m grieving Teal, my mother, my father, friends I’ve lost. There’s lots of death in our lives. The big path is that grief is our teacher. We learn a bunch of things from a grief experience. If we allow the grief in, it will wash us. It will cleanse us. It will provide us with insights. It’ll perhaps give us inspiration. I’m thinking of the women who started MADD, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who lost children to drunk drivers and started this awesome and powerful organization that reformed driving laws around intoxication. That’s the kind of thing that grief can give way to. We have a little saying in the world of people who have lost children, which is, you either become better or you become bitter. I didn’t know that in the beginning. I was just very, very aware — the minute Teal — just to be clear about her story, she collapsed in a bathroom. Her heart was started half an hour after her collapse. She was taken to a hospital. She never regained consciousness. She began to decline again from there until finally, six days later, we had to take her off life support.

During that six days, and in fact, the minute I saw her stretched out in the ER, I knew she would die. I knew I would be changed. I knew the whole thing was meant to be. I didn’t accept it, but I knew it. I had this weird experience where I was standing there looking at her about half an hour after I came into that room. The nurse said to me, “This must be so hard not knowing what’s going to happen.” She wasn’t dead, but she wasn’t fully alive. She was in a vegetative state, essentially. Some people, as we know historically, have lingered in those places for years. She said, “It must be hard not knowing what’s going to happen.” I said, for reasons I really didn’t even understand at the time, “Life is change.” Life is change. Then I’m like, wow, do I really think that? I was like, yeah, I do think that. Life is change. Doesn’t mean I was glib. I was in shock, actually, is what the truth was. I understood that, expect the unexpected. That much, I understood. I had already lost a lot in the previous two months. When we allow life to change us and we go with it and we surrender to it and we open ourselves up to what’s possible, even if we don’t know what it will look like or how it will feel or even logistical things like, how will I make a living? the answer will present itself. The path is drawn out. It is all ahead of us if we allow it to provide us with what we need.

Julie: Gosh, you are just dropping serious wisdom. I am going to listen back to this and write it down. It’s true, though. Life is change. As a parent, too, it makes it so challenging to — it’s just a continual letting go in all ways over and over again. For those of us who aren’t great at surrendering, allowing — the club that I’m going to start, uptight people. I don’t know. I’ll call it something great. For those of us who have that, it really is this “let go or be dragged” kind of thing. This is what is happening. How do I just enter it and let it go?

Suzanne: Let go or be dragged. There you go, my friend. That’s it in a nutshell. Hey, dragging’s not fun. I have other friends who have lost children who have chosen to be dragged. Eighteen years later, they’re still bitter and still pissed. Their lives are still run by the fact that they lost a child. I think there’s more to life than this. I think it’s a crisis. I think it’s a huge loss. My deepest sympathy goes out to everybody else in the club who’s listening to this. What I know is life is freaking short, and then you die. Take out the freaking, and that’s what T.S. Eliot said. Boy, he was right because life is short. Look how short Teal’s life was, twenty-two years. She didn’t know she was going to die. Although, the interesting thing is, when I began to read her journals — I do write about this a lot in the book. She had seeds of understanding of what was coming. She wrote in her book — let me just preface this by saying she had a lot of channeled insights that she would put into a little ratty notebook. I have it right here, a little spiral notebook. Right inside the cover, she wrote, “You will be in your power when you are overtaken by light, and you can see everything as an opening to freedom.” That was almost exactly a year before her death. Her insights about life, about herself, about her situation, about all of us were profound. Those insights really helped guide me. That was one of the reasons I wanted to write the book. I wanted to share them with people. There were many, many ideas about how to be in this world that take away the limitations, that take away the restrictions, that take away the fear that we are always grounded in. We’re grounded in so much fear as we move through life, and resistance to what is and denial. I was the queen of denial. Believe me.

Julie: I think I could talk to you all day, Suzanne. I love hearing all of this. I want to finish by talking about your life that has grown up since. You say in the book you found new love in your life. The part that you wrote that I loved, which was, “Love doesn’t happen when you find the right person. It happens when you find the right you,” is that something that you continue to see and grow into? How does that fit in your relationship now?

Suzanne: I’m sixty-four. My wife is seventy-one. We met just about two years after Teal’s death. By then, I felt that I had moved through enough of my grief that I had space for someone else. It was super clear to me that it wasn’t going to happen prior to that. When I was ready, I just sort of made a decision. Very quickly, she fell into place. She was described to me in detail by a psychic. The psychic actually contacted me and said, “I was told to gift you a reading.” I was like, well, okay. Let’s go. She said, “You will find the love of your life.” I won’t go into the whole story because it’s pretty detailed. It was extremely accurate. Sure enough, two months later, I met my wife. The thing about our relationship is we are people who have met later in life when the lessons have really been largely learned. Although, there is always another path of learning. We’re on that path of learning, but our ability to be in a committed, serene, loving, deep relationship is far greater than it used to be because life is this sequence of learning, learning, learning. We’re learning all the time. This relationship is much easier than my twenty-five-year marriage was to my former husband, not because gay, straight, whatever. That’s not the point. The point is that who I was with him and who he was with me were completely different than who I am with her now. He helped me learn how to be in that relationship, as I helped him. We’re always surrounding ourselves with the perfect teachers. I got into a terrible relationship prior to meeting my wife that was really marked by a lot of dysfunction. That taught me even more about how to be in this relationship, in this marriage. I have to say it gets better all the time despite the physical ailments, despite the creep, creep, creep of decrepitude. We are really aware of how fortunate we are. That sure helps.

Julie: I love that you used the word serene because I think that’s such a beautiful goal to have. You’re exactly right. We’re hopefully growing into who we’re meant to become, but that takes time and pressure and the right circumstances. You’re right that those relationships later in life really can have a different shape and form to them because we better understand what we don’t need there.

Suzanne: I even see it in writing the memoir about my dad’s life. I even see it in his first marriage and then his marriage to my mother, how he and his first wife evolved and then eventually split apart and how that all went down and how he and my mother got together. I can see the path. I can see the progression of personal evolution, even though it was the fifties and the sixties and people were not so evolved. It was more the martini culture.

Julie: You’re exactly right. I think that’s the advantage of looking back on the fullness of someone’s life. You can see their path, and so if we can translate that wisdom into our life and know that I’m on the right track. If I’m paying attention, then I can have an act of faith that the conditions are right for preparing me for whatever is next.

Suzanne: So it is.

Julie: Thank you for this time. This was a joy. This conversation was everything I thought it would be. I was reading your book, and I thought, she is going to have some interesting and valuable things to say. Indeed, you have. I’m so excited that people will get to meet you this way. They’ll get to meet Teal, both in your book and in you. I’m thrilled about the whole thing. Thanks so much for the time today.

Suzanne: Many thanks, Julie.

FREE SPIRITED: How My Daughter Healed Me From the Afterlife by Suzanne Falter

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