In July 2017, Dee Tang’s life changed dramatically when her nearly 4-year-old daughter, Kawa Leaf, passed away in an accident on holiday in Bali. But rather than remain broken, Dee is using her grief as a tool for spiritual awakening and uncovering her soul purpose. Founder and Head Funeral Planner of Rite of Passage Funerals, Yasemin Trollope, chatted to Dee over FaceTime – here’s what she unearthed.
For a woman who’s experienced the deepest well of grief, Dee Tang is surprisingly joyful as we explore the experiences that have led her here today – talking about death and loss and grief and life.
Kawa’s passing wasn’t the first time Dee fell into grief’s arms. When she was 23, the first love of her life was hit by a car and died, leaving Dee with a heavy heart and many questions that needed to be answered.
“I’ve always had the belief in life after death; that we come back time after time. So when Kenny died that’s when I really started searching and questioning – why did this happen? How did this happen? I needed to find the answers,” she reveals.
At the time, Dee was working and living in Japan and was experiencing dreams that reconnected her with her lost love. In an effort to connect the dots she turned to books and inhaled new age self-help, soul, modern Buddhism, Conversations with God… anything she could get her hands on to find the answers she so desperately needed.
“A few years later I was granted this dream where Kenny and I were in a past life. We were a well-to-do couple and I was deeply in love with him, but I found out after we’d been together that he was sleeping with another woman, and so in this dream I was livid!,” she laughs.
“I woke up choking from this pain and then realised that he came back to me in this lifetime to give me unconditional love – and that’s exactly what he gave me. He simply loved me. After the dream, the soul contract I had made with Kenny was done. He ticked that box, he gave me that. I had never felt so adored – he made up for a past wrongdoing or past Karma, so I came to that understanding some years later,” she says.
Kenny’s passing gave Dee a gift: the ability to understand in her own way why death happens and an insight into staying connected, even when your loved ones aren’t physically there. A lesson she’d need in the coming years.
“Kawa was so beautiful. Anyone who encountered her experienced her magnetism, joy and beauty wrapped into one. When you have a child like that it’s quite a wild experience. People would see her and gasp, stare at her, be completely enamoured purely by her being,” explains Dee, with a smile.
When the news broke of Kawa’s accident, it ricocheted around the world. Kawa was flown from Bali to Perth, where she was in hospital for about a week. Her organs were still functioning, but they hadn’t done the full set of tests to check whether her brain still had function.
“At this point I was still holding onto Mother’s Faith, as every mother would do. You hold on until they absolutely say ‘no, she’s gone.’ I remember thinking there’s no fucking way I’m letting this go,” says Dee.
“I called a friend and they told me to put my hands over her third eye and down to her heart and she will work through me. We gathered our closest friends and started in meditation, and then we placed our hands over her. I remember my heart feeling like it was bursting open, I had become a conduit.
“From that moment on I knew that Kawa had anchored me to her energetically to heaven. Every time I sat down to meditate she was there and I had an insatiable drive to know why she passed in this way and how we got to this place; how our past life led to this life.”
Kawa’s funeral involved guests drawing on gumnuts (which Dee still keeps to this day), a friend singing and playing the guitar and a short meditation, but it was at Kawa’s memorial paddle-out held in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where Dee felt the full force of Kawa’s passing.
“When we all paddled out I looked around and saw people with leis around their necks, flowers in their teeth and or tucked under their arms so they could paddle, Desmond (Kawa’s father) had her ashes, no one said anything but Desmond simply nodded to his mates and everyone seamlessly like as it happens in nature moved out into the water. We formed a circle with our closest friends and it ended up forming a love heart with a star inside. A whale breached. It was orchestrated from heaven. Des went to spread her ashes and a big gust of wind came and blew them. It was the most joyous, heartbreaking moment of my life. It was explosive. Everyone started hugging – we were like dolphins. It was pretty much the most beautiful moment of my life,” recalls Dee.
It’s been three years since Kawa’s passing and each year is marked by Kawa Angel Day – the day when Kawa passed from Earth into Spirit – when the family gathers to honour their angel with a private ceremony. Kawa’s little sister Rafa Rose (who was a baby at the time of her passing) and her baby brother Beau Sunray, together with Dee and Des and a group of friends honour her life and her death.
It was August 2018, a year after Kawa passed when Dee met her best friend in the USA and was invited to an Ayahuasca ceremony. “It was the first time in a long time that I didn’t have my kids and it all just unfolded,” she says.
Located in the redwood forest of Northern California, the mystical fog and ancient trees set the scene for what was to become a life-changing event for Dee and her healing journey.
“In the days leading up to leaving (for the USA) I had this intense headache and I felt like it wasn’t mine. I was carrying it for someone, but I knew I had to experience it.
“When I drank the Ayahuasca I realised I was underwater. ‘They’ (with Ayahuasca ‘They’ refers to the Mother or Grandmother spirits) were giving me the experience of Kawa in her last moments of life.
“The headaches were so intense – it was this unbearable pain – and then next thing you know it just blacked out and I shot out of the water and it was pure, pure light,” recalls Dee.
For any mother who’s experienced the death of a child, the endless pain and questions around how their baby’s last moments were spent can be debilitating. For Dee, this put those questions to rest. Finally.
“For the year leading up to that I was wondering… Did she suffer? What did it feel like to pass away? What was my baby experiencing in her last moments of life? All the questions you would ask as a mother. Ayahuasca allowed me to experience her last moments and they showed me that she passed quickly, peacefully and left her body immediately.
“I knew I was going to see her in one way or another and the way Kawa came to me was in a prism of light. They showed me a beautiful, soaring rainbow. Then I was granted this deep knowing she was the embodiment of a rainbow, she was physically and metaphysically a rainbow child, and that’s the thing about a rainbow child – they are so beautiful and so perfect they cannot last. They’re here for only a fleeting moment. There was immense beauty in that poetic experience.
“I realised how blessed I was to have had her here with me for 3 years and 9 months. She was exactly 100cm when she left,” reveals Dee.
So much happened that night, but for Dee there was one clear takeaway: that we all must experience suffering and die, but on the other side of death and grief is love and faith, which holds us all together. That is the yin and yang of life.
The soul contract lesson she learned from Kenny’s passing has also helped her grapple with the loss of Kawa.
“I sat down last week, the day before Kawa Angel Day, and I heard her voice come through. I heard her say ‘we’ve done this before, and we’ve done it again, and we’ll do it again’. It was a reminder that we’ll be together again and that we have been together many times before. I understand that this is just a moment in time, and I’m Dee for now in this body and I have my soul purpose, but I understand this is all fleeting.”
Dee’s relationship with grief has come full circle. She is now passionate about sharing her story of grief, is in the process of writing a book for adults and children about those simple moments of nirvana we share together and has created a sacred space on her property in Fremantle called Kawa Heart Studio – a little haven for healing and creative pursuits all rolled into one.
Death has taught her how to surrender, trust and grow. “It [grief] is really important for our soul evolution; it teaches us what’s important. Embrace it, because what you get out of it is a deeper understanding of universal truths, a deeper understanding of why you’re here, clarity around your purpose and you’ll just love more. It’s wild! When you do experience feelings of joy and love, it is indescribable and so precious.”
Grief Therapy – “Grief counselling really helped Desmond and my relationships with my family and dealing with trauma of the accident and the events that followed.”
Meditation – “Meditation was the most useful tool to just grieve and cry. Giving your body that chance to just release because there’s so much building up inside you. It hurts so much but just let it come, allow your body to go through those currents and be taken by that storm. I feel this is absolutely the most important tool for grieving.”
Reiki – “I would have Reiki seasonally to help cut ties energetically and also to balance the chakras and all the things unseen to the physical eye. It was also opportunity to connect to a higher space with the guidance of the Reiki Master.”
Massage – “Your body is in trauma after grief and regular massage helped relieve the stress and tension of sorrow.”