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She's now dancing in the light

Marilyn Myers, who shared her dying days with Times readers and looked "forward to the realms of joy and light that lie ahead," died Sunday from ovarian cancer.

By JEANNE MALMGREN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000

[Times photo: Lisa DeJong]
Marilyn Myers planned her passage from life as a 'joyous reunion with the divine.'' In January, which she was still able to go outside, she basked in a patch of warm sunshine in the yard of her St. Petersburg home.

For more photos see our gallery.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Marilyn Baer Myers, who spent the last weeks of her life publicly sharing her thoughts about death, died Sunday evening at her home.

She was 50 and had ovarian cancer.

Surrounded by family members and a close friend, Ms. Myers died the way she had hoped, in her own bedroom, windows and doors open to admit fresh air, accompanied by the gonglike sounds of Tibetan "singing bowls."

"There was no struggle at all," said her son Boomer Ford. "It was very peaceful."

Ms. Myers was featured in "Dancing in the Twilight," an eight-part series that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times during January and February. In it, she talked about her efforts to face dying with openness and acceptance.

"Death doesn't have to be awful," she said in early January. "It can be beautiful if you see it as a natural stage of life, just like adolescence and middle age. Really, it's more like birth. It's a birth into another realm of existence. So it's joyous."

Readers responded to the series by sending dozens of cards, letters, poems and gifts to Ms. Myers and her family. Some offered Bible verses for comfort; others suggested cancer cures. Church groups called to say they were praying for her; a local artist loaned a sculpture for her to enjoy.

Last week a donor, who does not want to be identified, came forward with a $5-million gift to create a healing center that will bear Ms. Myers' name.

Ms. Myers was born in New York City and earned a B.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The college arts administrator made a career switch when she moved to St. Petersburg in 1975. At a time when massage therapy was still viewed askance by some, she determined to make it her life's work, despite opposition from neighbors when she wanted to give massage treatments at her home office in the North Shore neighborhood.

In the early 1980s she opened the Center for Well Being in St. Petersburg, one of the first holistic health clinics in the Tampa Bay area. It offered neuromuscular massage and seminars in stress management, bioenergetic exercise and macrobiotic cooking.

In 1987 Ms. Myers was paralyzed from the waist down in a Colorado tobogganing accident. After that she split her time between St. Petersburg and a 200-acre farm in Tennessee, where she and her son Charris practiced organic gardening.

Dancing In The Twilight

Marilyn Myers shared her journey toward death in an eight-part series. You can read those stories on our Web site here.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Marilyn B. Myers Foundation for Creative Healing. Send checks to the law offices of Harold L. Harkins Jr., 2803 W Busch Blvd., No. 112, Tampa, FL 33618-4517.

Her cancer was diagnosed in the fall of 1998. Ms. Myers tried conventional medicine, including chemotherapy, and alternative treatments, including Tibetan herbs prescribed by the Dalai Lama's physician. Nothing was successful. Eventually she switched her focus from fighting cancer to preparing to die.

That decision, she said, was enormously freeing.

"I just relaxed and said, "All right, you may not win. You may end up dying, and what would that be like?' And immediately, I began to feel a whole new freedom and excitement for this journey."

Ms. Myers' unconventional plans for her death included a handmade coffin in her living room, special items chosen to be buried with her, and personalized invitations to the funeral, which she referred to as her "spirit reunion."

Dying, she said, taught her much about living.

"Most of us live as if we have a lot of time (to live). But we don't really know how much time we have left. So we don't have the luxury of holding on to resentments or letting unfinished business pile up or not telling people we love them."

Ms. Myers' aim in sharing her ideas was to encourage people to live more fully.

"I want to plant a seed that at least it's possible, that even the painful things can be beautiful, if we can just not resist them. I don't know if it'll make a difference, my saying all this, but I hope it will."

One month ago, as the disease advanced, she said she was not afraid to die.

"I have very little trepidation about what's to come. I look forward to the realms of joy and light that are ahead."

Ms. Myers is survived by her sons, Shandaken Peter ("Boomer") Ford of Berwyn, Pa., and Charris Ben Ford of Telluride, Colo., daughters-in-law Julia and Dulcie, a grandson and several cousins.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at Sweet Rock Bottom, Ms. Myers' farm in Tennessee.

[Times photo: Lisa DeJong]
Marilyn Myers died Sunday night. Family and friends anointed her body with oil and dressed her in the burial garb she had selected. About 2:30 a.m. Monday, her son Charris Ford, right, and friend Janet Maddox, arrange her necklace.

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