The night of July 12, 1993, Kathy Eldon tossed and turned in bed. After hours of staring at the ceiling, she fell into a restless sleep, riddled by troubling dreams. When the phone rang early in the morning, she felt instinctively that something had happened to her 22-year-old son, Dan.
She was right.
Dan Eldon was a photographer on assignment for Reuters News Agency covering the unrest in Somalia when an angry mob surrounded him and three other journalists, stoning them to death.
“A wail escaped me in a tone I didn’t recognize,” she writes in her 2013 memoir, In the Heart of Life. “It was the sound of my heart breaking.”
Although she was plunged into absolute despair, reflecting on the experience today she says, “I was determined to do something to transform that loss into something I could bear.”
That “something” turned out to be Creative Visions Foundation, the nonprofit organization she and her daughter Amy founded five years later in 1998 to honor Dan. The organization helps support what she calls “creative activists”—storytellers who, like Dan, use the arts and the media to ignite social change.
Since its founding, Creative Visions has helped bring nearly 200 projects—including films and theater productions as well as mixed media art and online campaigns—to fruition. The projects have dealt with topics such as the environment, human rights, gender equality, and global consciousness. Transforming Dan’s death into a force for good gave Eldon and her daughter new purpose and meaning for their lives.
Eldon also hopes to inspire people through her memoir, which chronicles not only the death of her son, but also a painful divorce, offering a resounding message: No matter how messy life gets—or how insignificant or insecure we may feel—we all have something to contribute to the world. The universe, she says, is working “for us and not against us.”
Eldon didn’t always believe that. At 22, the native Iowan married Englishman Michael Eldon and moved to the U.K. When Dan and Amy were ages 7 and 3, the family moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where Eldon’s husband worked for a computer company. The family launched safaris into the bush, survived a coup, and had myriad other adventures. While in Kenya, Eldon became a journalist and wrote several books.
From the outside she appeared to be living an idyllic life, but inside she was struggling. In 1989, after nearly a dozen years in Africa, Eldon felt drawn to leave by a force she says she could neither “understand nor resist.”
“I felt as though there was something else that I was supposed to be doing in this world and it wasn’t going to be in Kenya,” she recalls.
Although deeply troubled by her decision, Eldon moved to London. Amy, then 14, joined her nine months later, while 18-year-old Dan stayed behind with his father, whom Eldon eventually divorced. While Dan was wary of his mother for years afterward, the two had a breakthrough in their relationship just seven months before Dan died. It was sparked by a letter Eldon wrote to her son explaining why she had made the choices she had made, many of which had upset him. In a phone call, Dan told her he finally understood and that he loved her and was proud of her.
“I’m so grateful for that resolution,” Eldon says. “I’m not sure I could have healed without it.”
Turning to Unity
After Dan’s death, Eldon also leaned heavily on Unity teachings, which she had been introduced to while visiting New York City soon after leaving Africa. While in New York, she had been staying with her friend Maryesta Carr. One Sunday morning, Carr dragged the depressed Eldon to Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center to hear a Unity service led by the late Rev. Eric Butterworth. (The spiritual icon served as minister of Unity Center of New York City from 1961 until he made his transition in 2003.)
“I found myself enthralled by the language that Eric Butterworth used about consciousness and about our ability to interact with energy, shape our reality, and connect with a universal source that was all about love,” Eldon says. Carr gave Eldon a Daily Word subscription and sent her Butterworth’s books and bulletins featuring his talks. But more than that, Carr lived the Unity teachings in a way that enabled Eldon to truly understand Butterworth’s words.
“When something terrible happened, Maryesta didn’t go toward judgment or blame,” Eldon says. “She tried to forgive and find the higher purpose for whatever was unfolding—and she did it in a way that never felt pious. She didn’t make it feel like hard work. Instead, she lived more fully than I could ever imagine, and she reminded me that life held the possibility of love, light—and peace.”
Eldon, raised a Methodist although the church never really engaged her, soon began studying Unity and came to understand there is a flow in life and that she could deal with whatever came her way. “I read every Unity book and all the self-help books I could lay my hands on,” she says.
“I was constantly trying to create positive energy that could attract good things.” Slowly her life began to change.
Eldon’s worldview was also shaped by her parents, who raised her in what she calls “an extraordinarily outward-looking environment.” Enrolled in German classes in the fifth grade and French and Latin in the seventh, she was ready for a life-changing experience when her father cashed in everything and took Eldon, then age 14, and the family on a tour of 11 countries—including Russia and East Germany at the height of the Cold War. Once back in Iowa, Eldon couldn’t wait for her next adventure.
At 16, she became an American Field Service exchange student and lived with a host family in South Africa during the height of the apartheid era. She considers herself fortunate that her host sister’s uncle was Bram Fischer, the courageous lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela during the infamous Rivonia treason trial.
Eldon recalls the phones being tapped and the family being under surveillance. After Eldon’s departure, Fischer was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for his antiapartheid activities.
“It was a rude awakening,” Eldon says. “I learned that the world wasn’t like my life in Iowa. People aren’t always nice to each other. This was the brutal reality of apartheid.”
After returning to the United States in 1963, she vowed to one day return to South Africa and help bring justice to the Africans. “I truly believed there would be a bloodbath there,” she recalls. “Back then, no one thought that South Africa could peacefully move into a multicultural environment.”
She was grateful when, 15 years later, her then-husband’s career brought her back to the continent. As a journalist for the largest Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation, she wrote hundreds of articles featuring “creative, active nation-builders of all races.” Then as now, her writing helps her make sense of her life.
Dealing With Difficulty
“I will never get over the death of Dan,” she explains, “but I have gotten through it. So many remarkable things have happened that would have never occurred had he been alive. Extraordinary goodness has flowed from people I’ve met because he was no longer here. I try to concentrate on that rather than mourn what can’t be. Dan wouldn’t want me to be sad forever. He was too much of a celebrator of life for me not to find joy again.”
Eldon’s life continues to offer challenges. As she talks, she is on her way to visit her second husband, who is in the hospital for a stem cell transplant. The previous week, the Pacific Ocean crashed into their Malibu home and flooded the lower level. And she’s dealing with a major breach of trust by someone in her organization.
When she consulted a friend who shares her spiritual beliefs, her friend reminded Eldon that “everything’s perfect; it’s all as it should be.”
“Now my new phrase is, ‘Bless and release,’” Eldon says. “I try not to get embedded in the dark stuff—I just bless and release.”
While she admits she’s “still grappling,” Eldon says she feels “a sense of bubbling joy” and chooses to focus on the positive.
“It’s baffling at times how I could feel so happy,” she says. “I know there’s an amazing consciousness guiding me in some inexplicable way. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s rich. It’s a joy.”
One of the things Eldon rescued when her home flooded was a book of Rev. Eric Butterworth talks that Maryesta Carr had sent her years ago. Eldon keeps it on her nightstand.
“Some days you don’t want to get up in the morning, and many days I didn’t,” she remembers. “But there are miracles, or happenings, that I perceive as truly incredible. In truth, our consciousness is so powerful that we can attract and shape things beyond our wildest imagination.
“I realize now that we have no idea what’s coming next,” she continues. “We just have to try and handle whatever happens, but we can’t just throw in the towel. We’ve got to know that we can get through anything and come out the other end.”