The urn holding Cameron Perkins' ashes is encased in a small statuary with an angel weeping as it leans across the top. It takes up a lower shelf of a bookcase in Claire and David Perkins' comfortable Mesa home, richly decorated with bright and varied spiritual objects.
It's been almost 4 1/2 years since the life-troubled and tempest-tossed Cameron, 26, died in Maricopa County's Durango jail from what the coroner ruled was an overdose of the drug albuterol. He was halfway through a 30-day sentence for a parole violation related to selling methamphetamine, when a cellmate awoke in the middle of a night in May 2004 to find Cameron in convulsions. He died before guards and medics could intercede.
"It was from Day One, out of the womb, into trouble," said his mother, Claire, who anguished, sacrificed, prayed earnestly and fiercely fought misbehavior and the self-destructive actions of her son for that quarter-century until his abrupt death.
Now Perkins has launched the Deep Water Leaf Society and has written a book targeted to those fraught with grief, anger, blame and disbelief over the death of loved ones, and to those who wrestle with family members seemingly impossible to live with. Since Cameron's death, she said, "I have been on an incredible spiritual journey of healing and awakening."
Founder of the Intuitive Society, she tells her story in a 238-page book, "The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief" (Intuitive Journey Press, $16). It takes its name from the image of a leaf (a human) clinging to the water's surface "while we are resting upon a deep well of mystery, magic and eternity." But as long as one stays a "surface leaf," the deeper truths are never tapped, Claire said.
Raised in St. Francis Xavier Catholic Parish in Phoenix, she was the youngest of four children and the only one opting to not attend a Catholic high school. Two years after her marriage, Cameron came along in April 1978, following a long and difficult labor. "He was born with an insatiable appetite for attention and a fearless, boundless sense of curiosity that bordered on suicidal," she wrote. It took four months before her son slept through the night, and he "did nothing but cry and nurse the first six months."
"I figured that this was just what babies were like until I got him into kindergarten," she said. His first teacher told Claire that throughout her 15 years of teaching, "I have never had anybody this wild." Cameron was "like a magnet for trouble, and he never learned if you punished him or restricted him. It never sunk in that what he did was connected to consequences," Claire said.
The boy was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and was put on Ritalin when he was 5, and that continued, off and on, for the next five years, with mixed results. It was like making a choice between having a son who was a "live missile with no guidance system or a zombie with headaches and moodiness," she said. In the years that followed, he defied rules, could be wily, and "the size of the trouble he got into grew right along with him," Claire wrote.
When Cameron joined the U.S. Marines, his parents hoped the regimentation would rein in his behaviors. But in the third year, he got into a fistfight with a superior, was court-martialed and discharged for bad conduct. Back home, he couldn't keep jobs, lived on the streets and began using crystal meth.
"My heart broke daily as I watched Cameron self-destruct," Cameron wrote. "Life became a roller coaster of bailing him out of trouble, loaning him money, letting him come back home and then kicking him out again.
"Truthfully, both of my other children, Sarah and Ryan, got completely shortchanged," she said.
During those years, Claire, 50, embarked on a journey of spiritual searching and discernment. "Traditional churches" didn't fit. Wide reading into spirituality and metaphysics continued, and she found the New Thought Movement and the Unity Church that "fit my frame of reference and the idea that consciousness creates reality, the idea that what you think about and what you focus on is what draws you into your life."
"God is there, and yet we are co-creators with God, so we are in charge of our own destiny to a great extent," she said. "That is completely different from what Catholicism teaches, or some of the other traditional Christian paths." Her quest took her to Arizona State University where, in 2002, she earned a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in religious studies and philosophy.
She then trained as a transformational life coach at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe. Her journey took her into the Creative Journal Expressive Arts program, developed by California art therapist Lucia Capacchione, who teaches that healing and recovery can be enhanced and a new life designed through such exercises as making art collages combined with journaling. Her book details Claire's experience of discovery and transformation by clipping magazine art and painstakingly producing collages that provide windows to her heart and soul.
"Dreams have been a constant part of my life," she wrote. "For years I'd been recording dreams every morning." Her book records numerous dreams that somehow related to Cameron before and after his death. She said the "gift of dreaming" allowed her to master the art of dream exploration and interpretation. "I have always had these really soap operaish-type dreams, and I have always had a good memory for them. They stick with me in the morning. My mother was like that, and I think that was a gift I got from her," she said.
Claire has been a dream coach for 10 years and regularly leads dream group meetings in her home and teaches workshops.
"I've explored some things that are pretty 'out there,' even for me," she said. "A meeting with a medium, past-life regression, cellular release, an amazing trip to Egypt with a leader who is a channel and an encounter with the goddess Sekhmet that really changed me." She believes she is still connecting with Cameron. "We've been able to heal our relationship across the boundary of death."
With the Deep Water Leaf Society, she seeks to "grow beyond the book into a community - a borderless affiliation of hearts and souls bound by the shared human experience of grief and by the knowledge that we are so much more than lost, lonely souls experiencing a few brief years on this planet."