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Michele Baldwin

Ruth Frazier's latest talk on TED Talk. 

 
 


Michele Baldwin’s earthly journey is completed. Merck Pharmaceuticals produced a poignant, five-minute utube presentation about Michele, with the last interview she granted.





She died at her home in Albuquerque, NM, on Sunday, February 5, 2012, of cervical cancer. 

Upon hearing in July 2011 that no more treatments were possible after two rounds of chemo/radiation and two surgeries, she decided to go out with a bang.  And accomplish something major so that other women could be inspired by her actions.  So she chose to raise awareness and funds to prevent, diagnose, treat and end this miserable mother-taking disease. 

In August 2011 she had standup paddle boarded for the first time. She combined her passion for that new sport with her love of India and her desire to return to see Varanasi, the sacred city she had missed on early trips to India.

700 miles?  Why not?  And Michele Baldwin did it in October/November, as this website describes.  And she set up a goal to raise $100,000 for a nonprofit, the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer, working with Indian women and women everywhere.

A major reason for Michele’s trip was also to leave a legacy of her determination, courage, and yes, single-minded wackiness for her three children:  Tenzin, 20;  Lexx, 17; and Audrey, 12. 

So she accomplished the trip itself, had much media coverage both here and in India, and came home for the last of her dying – but even in this, Michele was unique.

The week before Christmas Michele went to a very serious Buddhist retreat in Crestone, Colorado, at the Dharma Ocean Buddhist center.  She was so ill she meditated in front of the fireplace on a mattress placed there just for her.  All the other 120 participants heard, first-hand, that she was dying – and why.  Three of the women involved from Canada serenaded Michele one night in her room, and she brought them to the larger group, and a sing-along of joyous songs, old hymns, and a few favorite “hippie” songs were sung by all. 

But Michele decided her way of a funeral:  she wanted an open pyre Buddhist cremation at Crestone. 

Just a few problems with that idea:  SHE DIDN’T LIVE FOR THE PAST 3 MONTHS IN COLORADO, MUCH LESS IN SAGUACHE COUNTY IN CRESTONE.   OR SHE DIDN’T OWN PROPERTY THERE. 

“Impossible, next to zero chance of it happening” she was told.  Just the words to spur Michele on, even while very sick.

Michele noticed the “or” part of the regulations.  

 

Out of the blue, a Buddhist practitioner gave her property in Crestone. 

Just a small plot, but nonetheless…   Michele began in earnest to convince us, every day we visited her, every day she grew weaker, to have her cremation in Crestone. 

And here’s why: the Starry Ganga was for her cause, but because of her children, her cremation would be her final gift to us, her family.  It would return her to the elements in a very natural way amid the high Colorado mountains she loved and it would transform our grief to joy. 

We didn’t know this last part so much when we were working our tailfeathers off to make the Crestone cremation happen, but we heard it big-time from the officiant of her ceremony, Jonathan Daniel, who works for Dharma Ocean and had helped Michele fill out her application to the Crestone End of Life Project in December, line by line of effort on Michele’s part. 

Logistics, bureaucratic permits, and the weather all worked in harmony to move us forward. Michele’s death was serene and peaceful, and she was so ready to leave her worldly body behind. 

Except for my father, whose remains were sprinkled at a pro baseball game, our funerals have been pretty prosaic.  So it was with some trepidation and dread, apprehension and nerves, that more than 20 of us (including the film crew who loved Michele so much) traveled from New Mexico, Chicago, Pennsylvania, California, and other parts of Colorado  and all met in the beautiful place of Crestone on the western base of the Sangre de Christo mountains…Michele had requested a public celebration later, so this open-air cremation was designed just for beloveds, family and friends.  All three of her children were there, and  some of their friends too.  I’m sorry but there just aren’t enough words to describe the beauty of the ceremony, so now we go to some photos. 


Pallbearers: l to r:  Her husband Joaquin;  brother Chris;  daughter Tenzin; and son, Lexx.


  Parents Ken and Ruth Frazier placing juniper boughs on her body.

 

Pallbearers: L to R:  Her husband Joaquin;  brother Chris;  daughter Tenzin; and son, Lexx.


Parents Ken and Ruth Frazier placing juniper boughs on her body.




It was very cold as family members lit Michele’s pyre.  Sangre de Christo Mountains in the background.


 
Beautiful cloud of smoke…





soon we were warmed by her spirit, and her worn-out body did its final gesture of love.  (Her daughter Audrey and Audrey’s father Joaquin comfort each other.)





Beautiful Buddhist prayers, chants, and a singing of the Beatles’ “Michelle” (the song her parents had named her for) and the ceremony was complete.  Michele would have loved it – but then again, we know she did! 

We all were amazed at the transformation of grief to joy, of liberation and delight. 

Thank you Michele for your last gift to your family.  Only you could have imagined its effects; only you could have known it would take this to move forward with your memories intact in each of our hearts.       

And now back to your work:  to raise $100,000 for the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer, your chosen charity, and your Michele Baldwin Living Memorial. 

 

Ruth Frazier, mother

 

 




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