Centering Our Souls at Samhain

Part Four of a Manifestation Story

At the heart of this retreat was the myth of Persephone. When I started studying death last year, as a part of the End of Life Doula studies, I dedicated my learning to Her in the role of Goddess of the Underworld. But here’s the thing… I have chosen a version of the myth which is not tied to patriarchal brutality. I am not interested in perpetuating or celebrating a relationship based on abduction, rape, and entrapment. There is another telling that I prefer. It was one I learned from another, so I cannot verify the source – but I suspect it comes from Dr. Pinkola Estes or another goddess-mother of feminine spirituality. The version that my swiss-cheese memory recalls goes something like this…

Persephone was in a field collecting flowers to make a circlet for her mother’s hair, when she came upon a lost soul who could not find the doorway to the underworld. She returned to her mother, the Goddess Demeter, and told her that she must go into the underworld to guide these lost souls and offer them initiation. Though She did not want to let her go (the plight of most mothers), Demeter watched Persephone’s descent and immediately longed for her return. As she mourned the absence of her daughter, the world fell into a stark, quiet version of itself as a blanket of snow fell and the flowers receded into the earth.

Meanwhile, Persephone took Her place at the crystal doorway to offer seeds of transformation to those who no longer walked upon the earth. Initiation involved consumption of a pomegranate seed, and these garnet seeds would light the inner flame of those moving into a new way of being. When Persephone returned from the underworld to visit her mother, Demeter felt such joy that the earth burst forth in blossoms of celebration, as life and color bloomed once more.

Here we have a story of creation and of changing seasons, mothers and daughters, of love and loss, of passion and responsibility, of transformation, death and renewal. This is a version of an ancient tale I can relate to.

My current belief (current – because I am ever evolving based on my own life experience) about the transformation that death brings is that we are all energetic beings, and in human incarnation we are able to learn and grow through emotions that are not experienced beyond the confines of the body. So, once we have gathered these lessons and intentions, we are free to leave the body behind, as we return to energetic form. Those we love and have lost in body to death, remain ever present in energetic form. My intention for connecting with our lost loves at Samhain, was to use the tool of creative visualization or meditation to sit with them once more.

And so it was Persephone who manifested within the cave of sacred memory to offer us initiation and safe passage. When we reached the central chamber, which was warmed by firelight, with walls donned with portraits of our ancestors and dear ones lost, we sat upon a crimson couch and welcomed whomever chose to step through the doorway veiled in magickal moonlight.

The results of meditation differ, based on experience. Someone who is well-practiced may have honed the ability to get out of their own way to let vision come and judgment or expectation fall away. But one should never negate the vision or experience they find in the sacred space of the powerful mind.

JK Rowling, I feel, captured it perfectly in The Deathly Hallows, when Harry asks the ghostly image of Professor Dumbledore:

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Some of us had very clear, even life-altering conversations with one or more people on that comfy couch. Some of us saw ourselves surrounded by smiling loved ones who were present, without words. As for me, I found an opportunity to seek forgiveness and receive acceptance at the edge of the underworld.

I had no expectation of my own personal journey, since I had written the meditation, led the visualization, and was ultimately holding space for the experience of others. However, as I provided the silent pause for those on this journey to find connection, someone came through the veil for me.

In January of 1993, I volunteered in the buddy program for Hope & Help, a local resource for people living with HIV. I was introduced to my first and only buddy somewhere around my 24th birthday. I was the first ‘stranger’ his parents left him with, so that they could go to church together. When they left, he told me that he was being punished by God. This broke my heart and made me angry, all at once. I am not a fan of religions that lead people to believe they are worthy of abandonment and abuse from a supposed all-powerful being. He was a young and passionate choir leader for his gospel church. He had a blood transfusion during a surgery after his appendix burst. He died in November of that same year, a week before his 28th birthday.

It was Kirby who came through the veil for me. He was smiling and happy to see me, and the feeling was mutual. A part of my guidance was to consider the conversations we never got to have… the ones where we have the opportunity to say to our loved ones: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. 26 years have passed since Kirby left this earthly realm, and he came through so that I could tell him something I needed to say.

When I was 24, I had not yet learned about life, let alone death. I had minimal access to my gift for words. When I sat with him, whether in his home or in the hospital, I felt a complete lack. I did not know what to say or how to say it. I sat and held his hand and looked into his eyes, but I always felt that I provided little comfort. But here’s the thing I’ve carried… shame. When I held his hand as he lay in his hospital bed, lung capacity too weak to push out words, I was not fully present. As I held his hand, I thought about the fear I carried for a disease on which I had been well-educated. I knew that holding his hand was zero risk for my wellness, and yet I can recall leaving the room and washing my hands with urgency. The only real threat was to him… my germs could compromise his health, and not the other way around. I would give anything to be able to sit with him again with the presence, compassion, and understanding I now possess.

I asked Kirby for his forgiveness, and even now, I can almost hear his voice. “Oh, Melissa. There is nothing to forgive!” As he tilts his head, glances at me with compassion, and offers me that gorgeous grin… tears flow, and I know that this is happening inside my head, and also that this is real.

When I lead a meditation, my main worry is whether the silence I offer is long enough for a message to be received, or so long that I lose the mindful attention of those I’m hoping to lead. When Kirby faded into the veil, I ended the silence with these words…

We know that time moves differently in the Underworld, and that though we long to be with our loved ones, we know that now is not that time. Tonight is a moment when time stands still, and here we were blessed to connect between the worlds.

But time will move on and we shall go with it. Much like when we connect in the realm of the living, it feels as if no time has passed… so will be the day when they come to greet us and take us from the temporary realm to the eternal.

Until then… we honor them by choosing to live in joy and happiness. It would be an insult to their sacrifice not to.

We made our way out of sacred space the same way we came in, and we shared the stories of our experience. We cried together, and we amazed one another with knowledge of healing offered and received between the worlds.

The next day, a meditation informed everyone of a gift from Persephone. We were all given a garnet pomegranate seed, in the form of a teardrop bead attached to a small silver ring. The symbolism was that we would be offered safe passage any time we wished to connect with our loved ones, and when our time comes, we, too, will be received and initiated by Her love.

We then took the gift we were given, and selected a series of other beads to encircle our wrists in the form of a bracelet that would forever remind us of this time we’ve shared at the edge of the underworld.

The final piece of the remembrance portion of the retreat was to write the names of those we had invoked onto gathered autumn leaves. We drove to a nearby river, walked to the center of the bridge, and blew kisses into the wind, as our leaves floated down and around, returning our beloveds to the eternal flow of the river that separates us.

When we returned to the mountain house we now recognized as home, some of us stepped into the kitchen, and continued the preparation of a true Thanks-Giving meal. When my hosts suggested a full turkey dinner with all the sides, I thought it sounded great, but I hadn’t really considered the symbolism.

We were at the end of our time together. We twelve had chosen to be vulnerable and authentic. We supported and celebrated transition and transformation. We cried together, and we built a bond that transcends time and space. We agreed that we wanted to do this again. And we gave thanks for all of it.

The day before these gorgeous beings gathered, I started a seven month course on Holding Space Leadership, and our course creator and guide, Heather Plett, shared with us a poem. As she read these words, I understood that I would share them, too. They are perfection. So, before we sat down to our final full-togetherness, I read these words to my courageous and wonderful guests, and now… I offer them to you.

Blessing for a New Beginning by John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Each farewell the next morning took away a little piece of my heart, in the form of longing and protection. And by noon, we were three again. We set to the task of breaking the set, and packing it up. Our journey down the mountain would come the next morning, and there was much to do.

Gratefully, the universe rewarded me with a little more time with my dear hosts, who drove over from their daughter’s home. I was pleased to share my gratitude for the remarkable journey we had all shared in this beautiful space that held us all in warmth and love. And because it is what sacred gardeners do, I planted seeds of intention for two retreats in 2020. My life-long friend took notes during our eleven hour drive home, on our ideas for how to manifest more self-love at Beltaine next May. I can’t wait to light that candle and dedicate that hearth to bless, once again, the journey we will share.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy to be here with you for this brief moment in time. May the season of light bring you an abundance of blessings.

Persephone’s Passage

A Journey Into the Underworld

Part Three of a Manifestation Story

When the sacred ceremony for our beloved Crone was complete, we shared a delicious meal that our hosts had prepared for us, and when we were warm and well-fed, we gathered at the heart of the house, beside the hearth fire.

I spoke of my gratitude for this remarkable gathering of those who have been walking this path with me all year, and those who walked with me long ago. I lit the candle of my intentions, with the word RETREAT front and center. I asked my travelers to close their eyes as we grounded ourselves into the present moment, and then we moved our minds into a sacred grove of trees to which we would return throughout the weekend. This circle of ancient beings held space for each of us as we remembered those we have loved and lost. They reached out their branches to us and begged to hold symbols of our love, as we pulled photos and trinkets from imaginary pockets. Into each tree our love and longing was gently placed. And then, we opened our eyes to dedicate these intentions to the Ancestors’ Altar before us. We each pulled out photos and placed them upon the mantle and hearth, as we called the names and shared stories of those we love beyond the veil.

And as we felt the honor and arrival of each soul into our circle, we bid them a warm welcome, and eventually made our way into warm beds and deep sleep.

Saturday morning brought the sunshine and a report from our Crone that she slept soundly without the burden she once carried. Once we were all awake and ready to return to our work, we circled at the hearth once more. As I was preparing for this retreat, I thought of our intention to journey into the underworld to spend some time connecting with our lost beloveds. What came to mind for me at the thought of gathering with my ancestors was the idea of which I’d read, that we can choose to heal what had been passed down the family line, and effectively heal that wound in both directions – past and future.

In my Mabon workshop, for the Autumn Equinox, we did a cord cutting ceremony. We cut the cords that remained tied to those who had harmed us, or to ideas of who we SHOULD be based on the beliefs of others. When we were done, many felt that we could spend more time on this, because there were more cords to be severed. So, it was an easy decision to make this a part of our retreat. I loved the idea of sitting with my grandmother and letting her know that I had chosen to heal this familial trauma for myself, for my mother, for her, and for all of our relations throughout time.

This ended up being more powerful than I had imagined. It turns out, some of us are really conscious of what is holding us back, and can easily see how it may have been passed down through generations.

The ceremony took some time, because it needed to be focused for each and every one of us. I cut the cords for one of our Tribe members, and then she stepped forward to wield the sword of surrender for all others. As each sacred soul stepped forward, they were asked:

Are you ready, willing, and able to sever, release, and retract any and all cords attached to people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas, and unknown and unseen forces that bind you and your familial line, that keep you from living fully present and in joy? “I AM!”

Do you who are holding space in this sacred circle offer your loving support and positive energy toward the safe, healing endeavor of our dedicant, for her/his highest good and for the good of all? “WE DO!”

Will you allow and receive the loving assistance and positive energy of those surrounding you who are holding space for you in loving light, who offer their energy for the highest good of you and for all? “I WILL!”

Do you wish to name aloud or silently those people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas? “SAY THEM ALOUD OR STATE THAT YOU ARE DOING SO IN SILENCE”

As I wield the sword of surrender to symbolize the cutting of these cords – be they many or few – see in your mind’s eye the cords being swiftly cut with grace and ease, and then witness each cord being retracted into your being and simultaneously into the being or representation of what formerly bound you. As each cord recedes and retracts, send it with love and with gratitude, for each of those cords represented a lesson and a growth opportunity. Let that being or representative know that you are finished with this lesson, that you are no longer holding on, and that you wish them peace.

Space Holders Chant:  And it all just falls away. And it all just falls away.

When s/he feels it is finished, dedicant says: “Thank you. It is done!”

As the sword of surrender waved through the air that surrounded each of us, it symbolically cut away our attachment to the stories of betrayal, abandonment, abuse, unworthiness, not-enough-ness, unlovableness. We cut the cords of mental illness, of addiction, of perfectionism, of estrangement, of drama, and poor choices we’ve made, as well as those made by others which caused us suffering and turmoil. We cut and cut and cried and cried.

And when everyone had been freed from these bonds, I became “Someone’s Priority” once more, and the words were spoken and the sword was wielded for me.

Suddenly, as the work was done, I was surrounded by the embrace of this Tribe. This marriage of old and new had become one in the understanding of our sameness.

We can never look upon a single human and believe that we know the perfection of their lives. Every one of us carries a burden, tied to a past of longing. We each long to be free from suffering, and often believe we are alone. We carry the shame in silence, because we fear the thoughts and expectations of others. And yet, it is through the sharing that we are able to witness our similarities, and it is through being truly seen that we understand that the only shame is what we ourselves carry. When we have the courage to share in a safe space, it is as if each person present lifts a stone that once pressed down upon us, and we are once again able to breathe deeply and rise into our wholeness.

I was so honored to stand witness to the severance of cords and release of these beautiful beings. With tear stained faces, each fell into my embrace, and I was so proud of the hard work they had been willing to do for themselves. I was teased for making them cry, and I replied that my work was done! I only think a movie was good if it made me cry – because it means that it managed to touch me deeply. And so it is with sacred ceremony.

And another intention upon my candle was harvested… PASSION. This work is my passion. Holding space for others to do the work of their own healing is my passion. Standing witness to the beautiful and painful truth of my beloved community is my passion. Knowing that they each feel safe, seen, heard, held, and loved… is my passion.

There is still a bit more to tell, but I am emotionally spent on this glorious memory. I hope you’ll come back for more. Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so glad you are here.

Misty mountain morning…

Relinquishing Regret at 80

Part Two of a Manifestation Story

Once I had finalized the itinerary for the Retreat I had dubbed Persephone’s Passage, I shared it with my travelers. I then received a pretty urgent message from my beloved Crone who is also an original member of my Tribe. She didn’t want to interfere with the flow of the retreat, but she wanted to seek our assistance with some work. So, one day a week or two before our journey north, I picked her up and brought her home to hear her story and nurture a plan.

I have her permission to share, and though I won’t offer specifics, I imagine her story will not be unfamiliar. She was carrying a heavy load of darkness. In her life, like many of us, she had some sorrows and regrets. She felt haunted by portions of her life that were woven with naivete and poor choices. Though these things were stitched and resolved a half century ago, through counseling and mindfulness, she would wake at night to rub her fingers over those prickly threads, and she was exhausted. She said to me:

“Melissa, I am eighty years old! I may only have twenty years left. (Her Mom recently died at age 99.) I don’t want to carry this burden any longer.

So, she shared with me the raw and naked truth of every ounce of shame and regret that she carried. She had each one written down on small pieces of paper that she kept in a sacred box she crafted nearly 30 years ago, when we first met. She provided her thoughts on building a sacred ceremony to banish what haunted her, and I started a ritual outline. After I took her home, I came back to my laptop to weave in my own words, and shared a final version with her. She was pleased. So, we engaged those who would be joining us at the edge of the Underworld, and let them know that if they were interested in assisting our Crone with this important work, we would set the timing to be inclusive.

She arrived on Thursday with a second wave from Florida. She was there to witness snowfall on the mountain, and to prepare mentally and emotionally for the next day. Since there was still snow on the ground by the time everyone had arrived on Friday (and because it was basically FREEZING to this bunch of Floridians), the part we had envisioned of her lying upon the grass had to be re-imagined. We moved the ritual indoors, next to the fireplace.

I reviewed the outline and handed out assignments. The sacred vessel into whom we invoked Artemis in a Drawing Down the Moon ceremony in 1999 was present, so we were honored to have her invoke Artemis for this rite. Others were invited to call into our sacred space the elements of air, fire, water and earth, and everyone would take part in the healing.

Some of the words came right from the ceremony I wrote for the occasion of my own death, as a part of my End of Life Doula coursework last year, and some were adapted from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Some traditions used by our Crone were from her own spiritual journey with Starhawk and her peaceful protest platform, plus others gathered on an eclectic path when she was in her sixties and seventies with our Tribe and others.

What I know for sure is that when we come to our twilight years (or in our Crone’s case, mid-life), body betrayal is enough of a burden to carry, we should not have to also carry treachery of the mind. For that reason, my Crone and I wanted to share our combined words and ceremony with those who might, at any age, be seeking symbolic and emotional release.

First… you’ll need a Tribe.

INVOKING THE ELEMENTS

Spirit of Earth, Beloved Elements of the North – We call upon your solid essence to bring to our circle your gifts of strength and support.  May our heartfelt gratitude for the body that sustains us bring rise to the arms of the Goddess to wrap us in Her embrace as we support the work of surrender.  Divine rock and bone, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

Spirit of Water, Beloved Elements of the West – We call upon your fluid essence to bring to our circle your gifts of healing and sweet flowing emotion.  May our heartfelt gratitude for sentiment bring rise to calm sensation as we wash away the pain and the sorrow of regret that Our Crone carries.  Divine flood, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

Spirit of Fire, Beloved Elements of the South – We call upon your radiant essence to bring to our circle your gifts of energy and inspiration.  May our heartfelt gratitude for the warmth bring rise of the Mother’s molten core through the roots of our beings as we offer healing flow to aid Our Crone’s release of sorrows.  Divine flame, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

Spirit of Air, Beloved Elements of the East – We call upon your luminous essence to bring to our circle your gifts of remembrance and new beginnings.  May our heartfelt gratitude for the light bring rise to the sacred sun as we breathe deeply and witness the death of the old and rebirth of the new through Our Crone’s surrender.  Divine breath, we bid thee hail and welcome.  

CALLING THE GODDESS (at my memorial, there will be two – and so it is)

Holy Maiden, Beloved Artemis – Goddess of Forest and Stream, we ask for your presence in our sacred circle, as we send what burdens our beloved sister to meet you beyond the veil for healing and transmutation.  Great Warrior Queen, we honor your spirit of courage which long ago pierced the soul of Our Crone, when her devotion to you was immediate and fierce.  Through you, she finds strength, courage and determination to be wholly unto herself.  We ask that you stand with your torch burning brightly, to guide her way to surrender.  We bid thee hail and welcome!

Holy Maiden, Beloved Persephone – Goddess of flowers and darkness, we ask for your presence in our sacred circle as we send what burdens our beloved sister to meet you beyond the veil for healing and transmutation.  Great Queen of the Underworld, we honor your spirit of initiation and ask for a gentle death for the life of regret Our Crone wishes to leave behind.  We ask that you offer her your garnet seeds of pomegranate that she may surrender to you what has haunted her memories and spirit.  We bid thee hail and welcome!

STATING THE PURPOSE

To honor and release that which haunts the memories of Our Crone, to be banished and resolved for all time with the support of her beloved community and Tribe  

THE KEY TO SURRENDER

Our Crone enters sacred space with dedication to the five truths

QUESTIONER STATES:
These five truths cannot be denied:

  • Anything Can Be Healed
  • Artemis knows the patterns of regeneration
  • The trip to the Underworld must be made alone
  • Turn prayer into promise
  • That which you give to her, you must relinquish

“Are you committed to these truths and are you ready to enter the underworld?” Our Crone says, “YES.”

OWNING IT

Our Crone briefly describes what is going on in her head – pulling pages from her sacred box of holding, and acknowledging without words what haunts her, and what she commands to be banished.

She then Drops pages into flames.

She lies down with coat closed.

Someone sings or speaks:

“In the places that wreak of impossibility the serpent of life coils. She crawls upon the swollen stone, she crawls upon the swollen stone, she crawls upon the swollen stone and loosens her only garment.”

She opens her coat and expands her reach to become the embodiment of the sacred pentacle.

THE HEALING

Participants gather around Our Crone’s prone body, each holding a stone in their commanding hand, guiding banishing energy from her center, where fear and anxiety gather, away from her body while focusing the intention into the stones they hold.  

Someone reads:

Through the blessing, grace, guidance, and power of the light that streams from the embodiment of truth: May all of Our Crone’s negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed. May she know herself forgiven for all the harm she may have thought and done. May Our Crone accomplish this profound practice of phowa, surrendering now what haunts her spirit, and when it is her time, may she die a good and peaceful death. And through the triumph of her death when her time has come, may she be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead.

May all who love this sacred soul see her being illuminated and encased in this radiant light, as Our Crone is received with loving kindness by the embodiment of that which receives us and renews us. May all stand witness to the cleansing and purification of her negative karma, destructive emotions, and all that may have caused her suffering or suffering to others. May all see the light of Our Crone’s heart rise in rays of emerald green toward the golden light of compassion above her. As her soul feels the absence of all suffering with the gift of forgiveness, no longer held to the realm of regret, Our Crone’s being melts into light, and merges with the blissful presence. When that time comes to pass, may all find peace as she becomes one with all that is.
Blessed be.

Chanting: By stone and flood we banish all bad blood  

All continue chanting and directing energy into the stones until Our Crone opens her eyes and says: “Thank you. It is done!”

We help her to her feet, and she releases remaining energy through the Kali Breath and says: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be healed in time.”  

She is adorned with a pendant charged with this reminder, as these words are spoken:

“What you have given to Her for healing, you must relinquish!”    

SAYING FAREWELL WHEN THE WORK IS DONE

ARTEMIS AND PERSEPHONE
Courageous and Compassionate Ladies of our hearts, Artemis and Persephone, we thank you for your presence in our sacred circle, and for your bright welcome to the former, haunted self of our sister Our Crone, as she surrendered and released old bonds.  Ever be with us on our spiritual journeys.  We bid thee hail and farewell.

THE ELEMENTS
To the great elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth – Elements of East, South, West and North – That which surrounds us and that which dwells within us – We offer our gratitude for your presence and support in this sacred circle and for the transmutation of old wounds into new beginnings. Ever be with us on our spiritual journeys. We bid thee hail and farewell.

OPENING
“All is over, all is done. What has been must now be gone. What was done by ancient art, merry meet and merry part.”

TO THE RIVER
Transport stones to the river to be tossed in, cleansed, and transmuted for the healing of Our Crone and Mother Earth.

What you give to Her for healing, must be relinquished.

This sacred ceremony was followed by a love-fest for the vulnerability and courage our Crone offered to us. For nearly thirty years, she has taught us so much about grace and reverence. After all, this is the role of our Crones in community… to show us how it’s done – this aging thing. Letting go and moving forward. Forgiving ourselves and settling into a place of peace.

We are enormously blessed!

Cherish your elders, dear ones. Listen when they speak their truths and if you are trusted with their burdens, help them toss those fuckers into the river.

Can you believe this was only the beginning of our retreat? Y’all, we did some serious work last weekend! There is so much more to share. Thank you for walking this path and following this flow with me. I’m so glad you are here.

Final Harvest

PART ONE OF A MANIFESTATION STORY

A year ago, I planted a seed. It was a morsel of a dream. It was a possibility of something new to me. It was a hope for manifesting a remarkable moment in time. It was a fantasy of retreat, reunion, respite. It was an ideation of a fruitful harvest. It was made manifest the first weekend in November, and I am still overwhelmed by the affirmation that we reap what we sow.

Last year I wrote about “The Long and Winding Road” that led me to my friends’ home on a mountain in Banner Elk, North Carolina. It was during that visit, as they were renovating a newly purchased house to become a home and bed and breakfast, that an inkling arrived. I mentioned that this would be a lovely place for a retreat, and the reply I received was, “I hoped you’d say that!”

So, at the beginning of this year, as I was seeing the possible future of facilitating workshops for a mindful journey through the wheel of the year, that would touch on our relationship to nature and the changing seasons, I booked a weekend for retreat in that beautiful mountain sanctuary.

At the time, I didn’t even know if anyone would be interested in attending the workshops, let alone a retreat that would come after an eleven hour drive. So, I made first mention to my distant Tribe. This is my spiritual family that was birthed at the end of 1993, with whom I share a deep bond that transcends time and space (years and geography). Over the decades, they have scattered to the winds, and it had been a while since we had gathered beneath one roof. The response was positive, so I figured I would at least host a Tribe Reunion, if no further interest was found.

I spent the year focusing on one season at a time, as I created a mindful journey for those who would attend my workshops. We started at Imbolc in February, which in the Celtic farming culture was when the fields would be tilled, debris would be burned away, and new seeds would be planted for a future harvest. We wrote down what no longer served us and weighed us down, then we burned it. We offered the ashes to a nearby garden for transmutation. We assessed every area of our lives and where we found the lowest ratings or least pleasure, we made a commitment and set a goal for improvement. We planted our seeds in the fertile soil of our hopes and dreams to be brought to fruition.

I really didn’t think much about what we would do next, until each workshop was finished. I knew there would be introductions to methods of grounding, mindful meditation, an introduction to movement, an art project or creative exploration, and sacred ceremony. The only firm plan I had for retreat was that it would be the first weekend in November, and the theme would be final harvest (thanks-giving for how we’ve grown this year), and Ancestors’ Night (remembering and connecting with loved ones on the other side of the veil).

In that first workshop in February, we crafted candles of intention. We wrote on the glass of seven-day-candles words that represented that which we hoped to manifest in the year. We would light our candles as a reminder of our dedication to turning dreams into reality. Onto my yellow candle (which was for the element of air and the solar plexus chakra – clarity of thought and taking responsibility for one’s life) I wrote: Laughter, Passion, Balance, Playful, Someone’s Priority, and RETREAT.

Here’s a lesson on manifestation, dear ones. Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. The thing is… it might not turn out exactly as you imagine. It might turn out BETTER than you imagined.

A part of me had hoped for love to enter my life. The kind that comes with a commitment, presence, and authenticity with a shared desire for togetherness. But as I lit my candle once more at the opening ceremony of my first RETREAT, I read these words and looked into the faces of those gathered, and realized… it was all here. This work is my PASSION, these people, my sacred gardeners, have delivered and shared LAUGHTER, getting to do this with others brings BALANCE to the priority of caring for my parents because it fills me up. Together, we PLAY with different mediums of arts and crafts that allow us to reconnect with an inner child or innocent version of ourselves. And just when I thought the one thing that had not come to birth was to have SOMEONE in my life who cared enough to make me their PRIORITY, I looked into the eyes of friends who have not missed a single one of my workshops, including a Tribe Sister who drives four hours each way every eight weeks, just to tend this sacred plot of land.

By the time all of the RSVPs had been sorted out, we had a party of twelve committed to making a journey into the Underworld. It was half distant Tribe and half Sacred Gardeners (some of which are both). Beloved beings traveled from Orlando, Tallahassee, Deltona, Charlotte, Colorado and Tennessee to gather in Banner Elk. It reminded me of the first time a group like this walked up the steps to my money-pit condo on a rainy day in December 1993, when I was 23 years old. It was a moment of excitement that was filled with hope. In fact, if I were to check the Tribe archive, I believe I would confirm the number that day to have been an even dozen. Further, that group was a merging of my two worlds at that time – those I’d met through a class on feminine spirituality and those I met through the young adult group at the Unitarian Church. Huh… I love that symmetry.

I drove up a couple of days early with my life-long friend, who is also my sounding board, and creativity partner. When I have an idea about a craft or art form to share in a workshop, she and I get together in advance to experiment and be sure it can be done in a reasonable time frame within my agenda. She is also my art-cation travel partner, and so upon arrival, after seeing off our amazing hosts who crafted my menu, did my grocery shopping, and pre-cooked multiple meals for our nourishing enjoyment (Talk about bountiful blessings! These friends had gone above and beyond in more ways than I could count.), we set to the task of turning this lovely home into a fall fiesta.

The two focal points were the fireplace mantle and hearth and the dining room table. We draped them both in gorgeous ribbon spiraling with autumn leaves and colors, and warm white faery lights. We removed amenities from boxes and tied them in ribbons. Each guest would receive a warm autumn throw in which to wrap themselves on these cold nights, a goblet adorned with swirling fall leaves with their names painted on the stems, and a handwritten note of gratitude for their presence in my life.

That night, after an eleven hour drive that began at 6:30am, we collapsed in a heap. We had the whole house to ourselves that Wednesday night, but as we’ve done since we were in kindergarten, we each took a half of the upstairs king bed and didn’t wake until morning. The next day would be a travel day and we would welcome more friends from Florida.

There is so much more to tell, but this post already feels a bit long. I really want to tell you about what happened on Friday, when we performed a sacred ceremony as a special request for our beloved 80-year-old crone.

But if you can’t wait to book your own retreat in this divine sanctuary, I’ll add a link below. I hope you’ll join me later for a continuation of this unfolding fireside story. Your presence is the flame that lights my way. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Cold night, warm hearts

https://www.facebook.com/thepointebandb/

Growing Into Authenticity Part Two

Once we have developed a healthy relationship with the strengths or innate talents we were introduced to through StrengthsFinder, we ‘Move Forward’ with identifying our top five skills. The tools my friend offers for discovery are three-fold. We can make a list of the many things we know how to do, we can use lists of mental, physical, and interpersonal skills (nearly all of mine are in this last category – I am pretty useless in the other two areas) to sort through what resonates, or we can use storytelling for discovery.

Storytelling is my favorite method. When one of my authentic gardeners tells me a story of triumph from their past, I can easily visualize the remarkable abilities that shine through in their mythic journey, retold.

I’ve already told some of my stories within this blog, like when I took in my 18-month old grandniece, when I became the successful, long-term partner to an executive who had five assistants in 9 years, being a trusted friend who held space for another and witnessed her healing, becoming a homeowner, or birthing and nurturing a Tribe for twenty years.

When I did this work in 2008, a friend helped me find a word for the way that I am able to pull inspiration from thin air, to offer an impromptu toast, or invoke an emotionally moving vibe in sacred circle. That word is: extemporization. Before doing this work, I had not realized that words did not come easily for everyone. They flow through me much of the time. When I read something I’ve written, I am often amazed to see what has fallen upon the page, and wonder… who wrote this? It might be considered a strength, except for the work that went into honing this ability… which comes with a responsibility to use proper grammar and punctuation. (If I miss something, my mother will surely advise edits.)

So, what’s the difference between a strength and a skill? Strengths are innate abilities we can recognize manifesting in our youth, while skills are abilities we’ve honed through practice.

Here’s my 2019 revision of skills (as always, subject to change)
– Being of Service / Providing Comfort with Presence and Words
– Holding Space / Making Others Feel Safe, Heard, and Valued
– Wordsmithing / Using Words Expressively
– Designing and Delivering Spiritually Mindful Programs for Growth
– Bringing People Together / Establishing and Nurturing Groups

Once we’ve identified our skills, we venture into the depths of true-self knowledge… our core values. This is the part that requires some exploration and a process of refinement. Before ‘Moving Forward’ with my friend, I was aware of core values in the process of defining the principles that drive a corporation, but hadn’t really considered the process of defining my own. But let me tell you… this is worthy work. We take a look at our passions, our joys, and our concerns. What makes us come alive and what makes us want to stand up and fight? Within this pool of possibility we are able to find clarity and clues about our purpose.

When I think about what is happening in the world right now, I must temper my outrage when the reproductive rights of women are threatened, when the inherent dignity of any being is held in disregard, when blatant racism and discrimination goes unchecked and justice seems to be missed and integrity lost. I know that I value truth and honesty, fairness and kindness, authenticity and individual freedom to live, love, work, and thrive in a world that offers plenty when not hoarded by a few. Friendship, travel, and ART are all things I simply must have in my life, or it would not be worth living.

Our core value statements are to be written about US, and not how we would have others behave. I was reminded of this in my first draft which stated that I wanted others to speak their truth (because I value their genuine thoughts and feelings), and edits were made. They may be altered over time, and I did decide to make adjustments to those I had crafted in 2008. Here’s the 2019 version:

Authenticity is key. Speaking my truth with integrity sometimes requires great courage. I trust that those who love me will honor and value my inherent dignity, nurturing my freedom to be ME.

All beings are sacred. From the earth upon which we stand, to the air we breathe, the sun that warms our skin, and the water that quenches our thirst, we are connected and interdependent. It is a moral imperative to move through this world with compassion and kindness for all.

I receive great joy and fulfillment through deep, committed relationships. Appreciating the unique and remarkable qualities of others helps me to see those things within myself. When I bond with others on this deeper level, I feel connected and valued.

I devote a good portion of my time to expanding my spiritual awareness. Through understanding and celebrating the archetypal feminine, I have come to know my own power as Woman. This journey toward enlightenment and personal development has enabled me to become the woman I’ve always wanted to be. I am still growing into the light.

Art and Travel fill my soul. The beauty to be found in a foreign town or local gallery reaches beyond the aesthetic of art and architecture. I glory in the stories which manifest in these sacred places – the people, the culture, the craftsmanship. Traveling to places distant and near allows me to touch history and offer my reverence for such influence that has brought me to this place in time. Collecting artwork that carries a bit of an artist’s heart blesses my home with the essence of passion, patience, and love.

The next part of our ‘Growth’ spurt will take us into determining a mission statement or personal purpose, followed by a vision of the future which is made manifest only when we are living our mission.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I appreciate and value your authentic presence and willingness to consider for yourself – what makes YOU come alive.

Growing Into Authenticity Part One

Over the last year, while designing and leading workshops meant to nurture the personal and spiritual development of my attendees through the symbolism of tending our lives as a garden and honoring the changing seasons and our changing realities, another path was revealed. A few of my sacred gardeners (including myself) experienced profound growth a decade ago with a friend of ours who created a strengths-based program she dubbed ‘Moving Forward’, and as we referred back to that work again and again, we each thought it would be cool to see that offered once more, for the benefit of others.

Now, the brilliant woman, who developed such a meaningful program which she shared with friends and her beloved community, had since become an ordained Unitarian minister and moved across the country to nurture and lead a congregation of her own. But when I asked for her blessing to ‘move forward’ with her torch, her reply was, “Oh, yes! We’ve got to spread that shit everywhere!” (Ministers who say ‘shit’ have a special place in my heart, you know.)

Around that same time, I saw a post from a woman I recently started following on facebook at the suggestion of a friend who saw us as doing similar work in the world. She posted about a process from a book she had worked with three years ago to develop a mission and vision of the future, and how she had just come across what she’d written to discover her vision had indeed been made manifest.

I thought that sounded amazing and ordered the book through addall.com (a great way to find used books). As I reviewed the author’s process, I thought it would flow nicely into the program my friend had created. So, I spent some time weaving together a workbook that would invite a seeker to own their strengths, identify their skills, create their core values statements, define a mission statement, and plant the seeds of a future vision.

Seven weeks ago a group of friends stepped onto a path of discovery with me, and it has been a delight to witness and honor the process for each. We were each in a place of questioning. Either wondering where we might go next, how to move forward from a place of paralysis, or how to find more meaning in each moment, wherever we are. In the early weeks of our work, we lost two of our authentic gardeners to illness and grief. It is difficult to go deep when we are lost in the fog, and so each will return to their respective plots of land when they are ready to once again turn the fertile soil of their souls.

Of course, what happens in any of my workshops stays within that sacred and trusted space, but I can share a bit about my own discoveries of self-awareness, as I chose to recommit to this process with my fellow travelers. After all, eleven years is a long time and I am not the same person I was in 2008. Also, the inspiration to add the mission and vision work to the process arrived so close to the start of our first meeting, I had not yet done what I was asking my friends to do. So, I would do the homework and share my discoveries with the group, hoping to encourage and inspire their own.

First of all, I love the format that our friend created for this work. It is a great deal of solitary homework, but it is fortified in the group setting, as we receive encouragement and inspiration from the courageous vulnerability of others. When we speak of our obstacles and perceived limitations, there is always great insight and possibly a deterioration of those barriers when we are able to learn from the life experience of another. Not to mention how our esteem may be bolstered by the loving support of respected members of our community. I love the platform of growing within community. It makes me feel alive.

I was first introduced to Clifton’s StrengthsFinder through an HR Leader who had challenged my boss to ‘discover his strengths’ and share them, before he would accept an executive job offer. At the time, I assumed it was a leadership tool, and since I didn’t consider myself to be a leader, strengths did not receive my embrace until friends started discussing the workshop they’d attended. So, when she was offering it again in 2008, I jumped at the opportunity, and I brought my life-long friend along for the ride.

The creators of this tool utilized thousands of Gallup interviews to determine that there are 34 strengths themes, and that those who are moving through the world utilizing their top five strengths are happy and successful. In other words, they are using in their daily work their inherent talents, rather than trying to fit into roles which require them to become something they are not.

My strengths profile, after completing the online tool, affirmed my top five strengths to be Empathy, Developer, Connectedness, Input, and Responsibility. Some of my friends have recently redone the module to see if their strengths have changed, and they each found slight differences. But for me, the strengths results from eleven years ago actually feels more true for me now than ever before. What has changed is the opportunity to actually use them.

A few years ago, Marcus Buckingham released a new strengths based book called Stand Out, which also offers an online tool for discovery. My results informed me that I was a Teacher / Connector. At the time, working as an executive assistant with zero opportunity to do anything but serve and support my partner, this insight was impossible for me to see. However, now that I’ve been liberated from that past life, and through my own creative inspiration to design, deliver, and lead groups through workshops of self-discovery, I am ready to own those defining themes.

So, my first instruction for Growing Into Authenticity was to sit with your results for a while. Even if they don’t feel true right now, it may be just a matter of opportunity to shine that will reveal the full potential of one’s inherent strengths. And if they still don’t resonate, decide which strength feels true and replace the one the tool falsely offered. After all, many factors may affect the results of an online test on any given day, but the insightful and self-aware human should know themselves better than any computer. Also, forcing yourself to own a trait that feels really wrong does not nurture authenticity.

One of the gifts of StrengthsFinder, for me, was getting to own Empathy as my number one strength. Previously, though I knew that I could feel the emotions of others, and was often confused about whether my emotions were my own or belonged to someone else, I figured that was an esoteric kind of thing that would sound wacky to others. But once I saw it in print in my own personal profile, I no longer felt it necessary to downplay that ability.

Another cool thing about the tool is that it will take your other four strengths into consideration to inform you of how each strength makes you stand out. In other words, though my best friend and I both have Responsibility in our top five strengths – hers reads differently than mine because our other four strengths are vastly different. Here’s what that looks like:

Responsibility in MY Strengths Profile
“Chances are good that you choose your friends with care and caution. Like you, these individuals have a reputation for honoring their commitments. Like you, they do exactly what they say they will do. Your most enduring friendships are built on a foundation of mutual trust. (All true. I have the very best people.) Driven by your talents, you may wish to have a broader range of control and accountability on the job or in your personal life. By nature, you have a strong sense of commitment. It motivates you to make sure that things are carried through to completion even when difficulties arise. Instinctively, you are held in high regard because of your dependability and consistent values. You are someone upon whom others often rely. Why? You do exactly what you said you would do.”

Responsibility in my BUDDY’S Profile
“Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person. Apologies are not enough. Excuses and rationalizations are totally unacceptable. You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable. When assigning new responsibilities, people will look to you first because they know it will get done. When people come to you for help – and they soon will – you must be selective. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should.”

The strength that I once thought kind of boring and questionable was Input, but now I see how wonderfully it serves me… and others. The definition is, “someone who craves to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.” At first I felt it resonated because I collect books that I have not read, but like to keep as a sort of reference library to share with others who are seeking more information. For example, I am not an herbalist, but my small collection of books on the topic (which I’ve never read) supported my friend’s first published book, Nettie’s Tea House. And on a trip to Ireland, when the tour guide failed to share information on the places we were going, and because I spent six months preparing for the trip by reading and watching documentaries on the places we would see, my fellow travelers would say, “Melissa, tell us about the Druids!” And of course, the workshops that I create and share now are each offerings of little bits of knowledge, wisdom, and creativity that I’ve gathered over the years through an inclination to explore and gather experiences that fill my soul. Perhaps something I share will fill the soul of another, and that would make my Empathy, Connectedness, and Developer very happy!

I think what I love the most about Strengths work is that we each have the opportunity to take a deep dive into our own innate talents to really have a good look in the mirror to see how valuable we truly are. For a former self-loather, that is no small thing!

The other treasure to be found here is acceptance. I can now accept that I do not have discipline in my top 5. In fact, it is probably number 34. And I can also accept that those who do not show up on time or even 15 minutes early, as I do, are not being disrespectful or uncaring about the value of my time. They simply do not have Responsibility and Empathy in their top 5. Understanding my own strengths helped me to understand that I don’t have to take the behavior of others personally. Like me, they are operating to the best of their ability with the talents they were given.

And finally, I can accept that those things which do not come easily for me because they are way down on my personal strengths list, are things meant for others. When the boss who loved me was preparing me for her departure, she suggested that I work to develop my analytical skills so that I might offer a future executive budget planning and management. The thought of that made me feel sick to my stomach. My reply to this sweet woman who cared deeply about my future was, “I would be miserable in that work. I would rather leave than try to become something I am not.” And I did leave, when a leader came along who wanted to be managed rather than supported, and chose not to see my authentic value. (Thank the gods!)

Through the process of owning my strengths (though it took me a long time to get here) I have figured out how not to betray myself by remaining where appreciation and mutual respect are lacking. I have learned to be Responsible for my own happiness.

Empathy and Responsibility inform me that this post is now over 2,000 words, and that because I care for those who are so generous as to read what I have taken the time to write, I should share more about what blooms in this blossoming garden at another time. Next time, I’ll write about Skills and Core Values.

Thank you for walking this path with me.
My unique Strengths honor and affirm YOUR unique Strengths,
and I bow to your glorious authenticity with reverence.
Isn’t it great to know that you are perfect exactly as you are?!

Waves of Sorrow and Bliss

I have been feeling a little lost, as of late. Oh, I’m doing my usual routine… wake early and marry a quote to a photo for some kind of inspirational and positive message to share with others, get out of bed, make coffee and check in on the world through social media, then check on Pop to give him his pills and feed him breakfast. But then, I come home and… that’s kind of it. I feel as if I should be doing more with my time. I have managed to write a blog post or work on a mission statement to guide and support others (a part of the homework for a workshop I’m facilitating), and I’ve written a meditation for my upcoming Samhain retreat, but I am also sleeping… a lot.

More than one friend reminds me that I am grieving. Odd that one would have to be reminded. The day after tomorrow will be exactly one month from when I placed Morgan on my chest and held her for twenty hours straight, until she took her last breath, and I finally let her tiny sacred vessel leave my embrace.

I don’t necessarily feel that I’m thinking about it all the time, but I am certainly feeling her absence. I still open the door carefully to see if she is there to greet me and to be sure she doesn’t get frisky and try to dash outside. And every time I enter the kitchen, I look down to be sure she hasn’t magickally appeared behind me, so not to step on her.

If you have been here before, you might notice the quiet where her drinking fountain once trickled, but you might also still expect to see her in her favorite spot – at the window seat in the library. You see, I have not been able to bring myself to vacuum. The blanket and brush she and I curled up with on that final day, remains right where we left them. The tiny stool she would perch upon for tiny cat naps is covered in fluff. I know that normal people would have done this particular housework weeks ago, but I am not ready.

Today, my friend asked me to run by his house to pick up a package that was delivered. Morgan and I had stayed there for a few days at the end of August. I had been terribly stressed about taking her out of the house while work was being done – her safe place, but she surprised me. I let her out of her crate, in which she did NOT wet herself from anxiety of travel (for the first time ever), and she explored my friends’ home with curiosity and without fear. I would come back from checking on my parents and enter the home to find her napping on the third step up the stairs. It felt as if we were taking our first vacation together. It’s a nice memory to have between us.

As I drove to my friends’ house, I thought about our little vacation, and that spot upon the stairs, and the tiny tufts of white fluff that I meant to return to vacuum up, but then… she died… and time stopped and sped up, all at once. I think I lost days in my consciousness. I considered going inside to see if I could find any signs of Morgan within, but decided against it. My next visit will have to be when the boys are back with their three pugs, because two houses without Morgan is just too much emptiness to bear.

Another friend lost her beloved Mother this week. It was such a rapid decline, I can imagine she must feel a strange combination of shock and relief. The diagnosis which explained a drastic and worrisome change in her behavior this summer, was a brain tumor which had previously worn a costume of Alzheimer’s Disease. Once the curtain was dropped and the truth was revealed, her Mother was placed in the angelic care of hospice and transitioned peacefully within a week. A blessing, I believe, when the brain and body are no longer communicating effectively. My friend has been very ill for the past two weeks, and I hope that she is finding comfort in healing, and peace in the knowledge that the one she loves no longer struggles with that conflict.

When her Mother went to hospice, I adapted the Phowa Practice from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying for she and her husband to recite throughout transition. If you are willing, consider saying these words aloud to help this sacred soul along her journey.

Adapted from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

It is such an odd thing, the way that a being goes from being physically in your life everyday, to being completely absent in an instant. We are left to fill the void they’ve left behind, and yet our minds cannot fathom bridging that chasm. I think that’s what this feeling must be… this strange space of going through the motions without getting much done. We are in this cat shaped hole, or mother shaped hole, without a clue as to how to fill it, so that we can climb back to the surface.

Here’s the thing, though. I love the darkness. As we move into the dark part of the year with waning daylight, I welcome the cloak of Mother Darkness to wrap me in quiet, in peace, in introspection, in healing, in comfort, even in alone-ness (which is very different from loneliness), for this is where transformation resides. When we who grieve are ready, we will fill the holes our loved ones have left behind with the light of joyful memory, and when the time is right, we will emerge from the darkness – renewed. The sorrow and the bliss will be woven together, as is life, and we will don our new cloaks of love-cherished with a sense of pride and gratitude for the love we were so blessed to know, and the love we are still blessed to share.

So, if you come by for a visit any time soon, expect to see some white fluff about. For now, it reminds me of her terrible absence, but it also reminds me that she was once here. And I won’t stop listening for her tiny voice. I was certain I heard it this morning as I stepped into the shower.

Finally, we have signs in our neighborhood that warn about urban coyotes. In fact, my two neighbors with cats who have been outdoor cats (by choice) for more than a decade reported they were both lost within weeks of each other. Every time I see that sign, I think of how lucky I was to hold Morgan right through to the end.

It rained all night last night, and when I walked out to my car this morning, I saw paw prints on the sidewalk. They were larger than the usual suspect (I have seen cats, opossum, and raccoons in the area), and I gathered this was the closest I would get to a coyote sighting. So, of course… I looked it up. And here’s what it says:

The coyote spirit animal makes itself known when you feel like you have lost your way. The coyote symbolism signifies the answers to your problems that often come in ways and forms you least expect.

Perhaps I have lost my way, for a little while. But this is temporary. I am sitting with the silence and honoring this moment. If I look for her in my mind’s eye, she is everywhere all at once. She is in the library window seat and she is in the kitchen. She is marching up the steps to my bed and she is right next to me on the couch. There is evidence of her on every surface, so I know that she was just here. When she’s ready, she will climb back onto my chest to purr, and I will wrap her in my cloak of love-cherished and new beginnings… and perhaps we’ll take a nap.

The art of Freydoon Rassouli is featured in Alana Fairchild’s Rumi Oracle. This image reminded me of the cloak that is currently on the loom in my soul.

Eldercare Blessings

If we can recognize the grace in the arrival of a new person in our lives, who delivers the care and wisdom that we did not even know we needed, we must also recognize the arrival of tools and devices that have been discovered to improve the quality of our lives.

In my life, there is a guy I adore who has had a long struggle with mobility. My Pop, in case you are new to our story, has lived 81 years with epilepsy. Between the physical repercussions of the condition caused by a high fever when he was a year old, and the medication that simultaneously prevented seizures and leached B12 from his system, he gradually suffered permanent nerve damage which caused neuropathy in both of his legs, with added weakness on his left side which was affected by the history of seizures. He once described them to me as a cycle of tingling numbness that would start at the top of his head and run down the left side of his body, all the way to his toes.

The last year has been particularly challenging due to a series of events, some of which I’m not completely clear. He had some heart tests done a couple of years ago, which resulted in prescriptions for medication to lower his blood pressure and cholesterol. Things seemed fine for a while, until he started falling down. Long story short, his blood pressure was so low that he would black out and fall to the floor.

One of those falls last year led to scar tissue in his urethra, which was finally repaired this summer. The consequences of these falls, the muscle weakness, the difficulty in mobility, are that Pop simply chooses to move less. Less movement, less effort, less risk.

Of course, this causes other issues, and the biggest one for Pop has been pressure sores. The first wound that came to light was while in rehab after the fall that delivered the stricture. Looking at the calendar, I can conclude that this started in October of 2018, and a year later, we have finally found relief.

This tale is not to go into the gory details and drawn-out story of all of our struggles, but to share with others the glorious tools that have come into our lives to ease our burdens and literally, heal our wounds.

So, here’s a list of items that we cannot live without.
1. The Rollator
2. The Transport Chair
3. The Lift Recliner
4. Bathroom Safety Grab Bars
5. The Walk-In Tub
6. IndeeLift
7. Pneumatic Air Pad Medical Cushion
8. Medihoney Wound Gel (though with #7, not necessary – fingers crossed)

Each time we have found a resource, device, or product that has delivered comfort and improvement for Pop’s wellness and a bit of ease to the concerns of his caregivers (my mother and me), we have done a little happy dance.

Dad’s had a progression of walkers over the years, and we love the one he has now, which provides decent stability for a guy who is 6 feet tall and can’t feel his feet or legs. This is our favorite, so far.
Drive-Medical-Nitro-Rollator-Walker

Having a light-weight transport chair has made going to doctor appointments so much easier. The fear of him falling should his knee or ankle drop out is alleviated for us both. It has gotten hard for him to get out of it, because he is tall and the seat is low, but we’ve remedied that problem with a four inch seat cushion, and lessons from Kelly, his physical therapist who comes to the house twice weekly. The one we have is only 12 lbs, and even mom can fold it and lift it into her Prius hatchback.
Drive-Medical-Lightweight-Transport-Wheelchair

The lift recliner was an item we held off on, because Pop wanted to use his own strength for as long as he was able. But now he uses it to rise, and I have to remind him that it is as high as it will go and he can stop pushing the UP button. Ha! We originally ordered one from La-Z-Boy, but once it was home, we didn’t love it. It didn’t elevate his feet enough. So, Mom ordered another one from a catalog, and it works much better – though something apparently came unplugged and the heat and massage feature stopped working. I have not yet figured out that dilemma.

The Bathroom Safety Grab Bars are a MUST! As our muscles lose strength, the act of rising from a seated position can be challenging. Our dear friend Jim, shared his secret weapon with us. A local superhero who installs safety features. We live in Central Florida, and were delighted when Ron from Install Don’t Fall, Inc. came to the house, walked into the bathroom with Pop and asked all of the right questions. When I visited later that day, the bathroom was outfitted with everything my father needed for safe and secure passage throughout the bathroom, where his walker will not easily fit. Here’s Ron’s website:
http://www.installdontfall.com/content/bathroom-safety

The Walk-In Tub is a wonderful thing! It is still not easy for Pop to enter and exit, due to his mobility issues, but with gentle steps and grab bars in all the right places, he can step in, close the door, and let warm water rise to sooth his aching joints. I help him wash his hair, and he can handle the rest with the help of the jets that improve circulation in his legs, a sponge and the liquid soap dispenser that is within his reach. We were not entirely thrilled with the installation, so I’m not going to advertise the company, but we will definitely sing the praises of this investment, which included an upgraded toilet with bidet and cleansing feature.

After our third or fourth call to 911 for a ‘Lift Assist’ when Pop had fallen to the floor and Mom and I could not help him up, I found the IndeeLift through an online search. This tool is amazing. It is as compact as a dolly / hand truck, and can be unplugged and rolled to wherever Pop has fallen (even in the bathroom), and as long as he can scoot back onto the platform, we can press a button to bring his knees to a 90 degree angle, and help him rise to his walker and back into his recliner. I LOVE THIS TOOL!
https://indeelift.com/

The most recent acquisition for our eldercare tool belt has been the Pneumatic Air Pad Medical Cushion by MobiCushion. Mom found it on a search when I was feeling overwhelmed by these wounds that seemed they would never heal. Since Pop has chosen to stay in his recliner, rather than sleeping in his bed, I was prepared to turn his office into a hospital room, with a bed that would allow him to roll onto his side once in a while, maybe even with the air mattress that alternates pressure, like they have in the hospital. Within minutes, Mom had ordered this item and I set it up upon delivery a couple of days later. Let me tell you… the wounds which had been varying degrees of ‘almost healed’ to ‘horrifyingly deep’ over the last year, were COMPLETELY HEALED within a week. Not exaggerating… one week.
Here’s a link to that beauty!
https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B008KH4YXO/ref=smi_www_rco2_go_smi_8217842112?_encoding=UTF8&fbclid=IwAR3NRqPilYgY3Fn_9AYLFrh5O4Uxr8MJqAyyfe7LQ6BTQq5TAAP-IsvLeW4&ie=UTF8

One last item that we’ve learned about in the last year is also for wound care, and it made a miraculous difference in healing time for Pop’s pressure wounds, and I’d imagine it works the same for any injury of open and bloody nature. Medihoney goes right onto a wound and delivers immediate relief and rapid healing. Although Pop’s wounds kept coming back over the last year (before the magic cushion), they would be well-nurtured by this healing salve. And of course, we always knew that honeybees were magickal. (wink: Melissa means honeybee in Greek) Here’s a link to that…
Derma-Sciences-31815-Medihoney-Dressing

Oh! I almost forgot. I am not a fan of the Alexa AI system (having a strong sense of logic and having seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey at a young age), but my brother did install a few dots around my parents’ home, and Dad will have Alexa call me if he has fallen and needs assistance. For us, it is easier than paying for a system with a middle man, so to speak. I can be there in less than two minutes, if he calls.

I’m heading over to check on Pop now, but it is my hope that something in this post will deliver hope and peace to another caregiver who is struggling with keeping a loved one safe and well. And to those caregivers, I offer my blessings, my reverence, and my gratitude for the love you offer which makes this difficult journey less fearful for each sacred soul you serve.

Letting it All Fall Away at Autumn Equinox

Yesterday was my sixth workshop in a series of eight that are inspired by the changing seasons of the earth and the cyclical nature of our lives.

I’m making them up as I go, and once I finish one workshop, I start ruminating on the next, hold myself open to receive inspiration, and then wait for things to fall into place.

The title of the workshop was obviously shaped by the activity that moves the season, the changing colors and falling leaves. Twice in my life I received this very message channeled through two different sacred vessels. The first time was in 1999, during a drawing down the moon ritual with my Tribe. The message I received was to “open up and let a piece of you fall away.” The second time was in 2005, when I sat next to a medium at a Broadway show in NYC. The message that finally hit home was, “All you have to do is fall in love with yourself and it will all fall away.” That set me on a path to learn to love someone I had loathed. I had to cut the cords attached to a false belief planted long ago.

One of the themes that recurs in these workshops is that we move through a constant dance of gathering in and letting go. Since one of my Sacred Gardeners had mentioned a resistance to the idea of having love in her life again, after losing her beloved to cancer two years ago… inspiration was found. We knew that her wife would want her to find love again, but that the way she felt was likely connected (corded) to her own vow of loyalty and dedication. So, our task for the Autumn Equinox was clear… to cut some cords and let them all fall away.

The first step, is to identify the cords we carry and to whom or to what they are attached. The following is the meditation I wrote to lead us toward discovery.

MABON CORD MEDITATION

In the tarot, the Death card symbolizes change or transformation. It reminds us that everything changes… one season passes into another, the mother becomes the crone… without the dying leaves, we would fail to witness the rich beauty of autumn, which briefly awes our senses with a multitude of colors and textures before each leaf falls to the ground, transforming into rich fertile ground that will feed the roots of the tree from which they’ve fallen.

Throughout our lives, we come to our own autumn season – when it is time to reflect on the beauty and the darkness of what has gone before… to honor those moments and lessons, to give thanks – even for the darkness (for it has shown us the light), to let them gently fall away, and to prepare for what is yet to come. Remember that once the leaves fall from the tree of life, there is a period of rest, followed by the surprising POP of new growth, so vibrant and stunning, stark contrast from the nakedness of dormancy, that we cannot help but celebrate the utter joy of new life being presented.

Before we are able to witness the freshness of spring, like the trees release the parts of themselves which no longer serve them in original form, we must let go of what we have carried far too long. We must take the time to review each wound, each situation, each trauma within our personal history. Then, we can choose to drop the hurt, the heartbreak, the diagnosis, the disappointment, the false identities, and let them all fall away.

So, lets go deep for a moment and see what we can find. Find your comfort and close your eyes. Breathe in the light of love, and exhale apprehension. Inhale the warmth of love, and release the tension your body is holding. Fill your belly with the divine breath of life, and push out any worries that keep you from being fully present.

Now, picture yourself in the center of a lush forest at the peak of Autumn’s full color. The trees that surround you are diverse and precious, just like each of us. They send their roots deep into Mother Earth, and we follow their lead. The roots of our feet reach into the earth below and glide downward through rich soil, through quenching aquifer, beyond the protective crust and into the molten core. We feel a surge of strength and warmth rise up from this sacred place, as it fills every cell of our bodies with a golden glow of healing light.

From above, the sparkly white light of all that is falls gently upon your crown, and you open to receive the light of wisdom which easily flows into you, spiraling and mingling with the golden glow from below. Your entire being is alight with insight and inspiration. And as the light expands outward from your body, you become aware of ethereal cords that are coming from the trees that surround you, and are attached to your being. How many can you see? Are there many or few? Are they radiant or dull? Are they different colors? To what parts of you are they attached? Are they pulling at your heart, like past betrayals by others, or worse… unfortunate moments when you betrayed yourself? Are they pulling at your sacrum, like false or limiting beliefs about who you really are that were planted by the accusations and expectations of others? Take some time to recognize, acknowledge, and name the people, the experiences, the moments that allowed you to give away your own power, to accept something less than what you deserved, to be harmed by another – physically or emotionally. See the cords that have left you fearful or insecure, feeling unsafe or not good enough. Are they attached to a parent, a teacher, a childhood bully? As you follow the cord from where it is attached to your body, follow the sight of it as it moves through space and into one of the trees that surrounds you. Now, allow that tree to take the shape of the one who is corded to you.

Know that you are completely safe in this sacred space, and that you are well-grounded within the earth and protected by the light of truth. As you look into the eyes of those to whom you are corded, consider what you have learned from this connection. Take a moment to speak aloud what comes to mind. How have you limited yourself through this bond? How have you grown? {long pause}

For each cord you find coming from your body, follow it to a different tree, a different wound, a different situation, a different experience, a different person… and address each one with clarity and confidence. Realize that you have grown stronger with each insight. [long pause]

Now that you have identified what has bound you and held you back from expansion and forward momentum… feel your spirit lifting with a sense of lightness. Turn to each tree standing around you, bearing a cord that moves through you, and thank it for the lessons learned, for the protection each wound may have built, for the kindness you learned to offer others because you didn’t want them to hurt as you did, for the caution you learned which might have prevented future harm. Let each know that you are grateful for these moments which once bound you or propelled you, and through that cord that comes from your being, send the healing light of love and wish them well. And as that light reaches each tree in your circle of cords, which looks something like a web, witness each tree losing its leaves, as they change from shades of green, to red, to yellow, to brown, and allow peace to come as each leaf floats gently to the ground. Know that what goes to ground becomes fertile earth from which you will grow more fully into the divine being you were always meant to be.

So here’s to the coming of autumn… to the beauty, to the sorrow, to the gratitude, to the slumber, to the waking, and to the rebirth. Gather it into a great big cushy pile and fall back into it. Bury yourself in the memories… and finally… emerge with a smile, brush yourself off, and move forward… into the light.

When you are ready, open your eyes and return to this sacred circle.

As we emerged from the meditation, a few Sacred Gardeners shared that they were surprised to find so many cords and to discover multiple layers. They spoke of cords that were attached through generations of a family line. I led the meditation and my focus was on holding space for others, so what I shared was what I had first learned about cords from an intuitive life coach a few years ago. She could see that the circumstances of my first adult relationship kept me tightly bound to the man who had cheated on me while we lived together when I was twenty. There were at least ten cords that she could see, and though I had once been a skeptic of things I could not see with my eyes, I could easily identify the many attachments I had carried for nearly thirty years.

Attached to that betrayal was a belief that I could not trust men, that I could not trust myself to choose well, that I did not deserve the loyalty of a man, that I was not worthy of being loved, that I was undesirable, and a whole host of other bullshit that just got heavier and heavier each decade. As soon as I was alerted to the presence of these cords, I set to the work of severance. So, I wrote a ritual to help my Sacred Gardeners to do the same for themselves.

SEVERING THE TIES THAT BIND US TO THE PAST

Here we stand in sacred circle, in which we dwell in perfect trust. Healing light surrounds us and sustains us. Here we are held with love. We stand firmly planted with roots sown deep. We are connected to the core of Mother Earth and we are protected by source energy which surrounds us and flows through us.

We call upon creation, the energy of all that is, great spirit, god, goddess, universal light energy, elementals, spirit guides, ancestors, animal totems, angels, the energetic source that is all we are, all we see, all we feel, and all we imagine and cannot fathom.

We each stand confident in our intention of cutting the invisible cords that keep us tied to the past, to unhealthy relationships, to false beliefs, to fear based thought, to physical, emotional, and spiritual traumas that hold us in a state of wounded protection – and we ask for your presence, your guidance, and your support in safe and complete severance.

All that you are, all that we are, and all that is beyond our imagining – we bid thee hail and welcome.

Each Gardener stands in center of circle addressed by the sword of surrender:

Are you ready, willing, and able to sever, release, and retract any and all cords attached to people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas, and unknown and unseen forces that bind you and keep you from living fully present and in joy? “I AM!”

Do you who are holding space in this sacred circle offer your loving support and positive energy toward the safe, healing endeavor of our dedicant, for her highest good and for the good of all? “WE DO!”

Will you allow and receive the loving assistance and positive energy of those surrounding you who are holding space for you in loving light, who offer their energy for the highest good of you and for all? “I DO!”

Do you wish to name aloud or silently those people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas? “SAY THEM ALOUD OR STATE THAT YOU ARE DOING SO IN SILENCE”

As I wield the sword of surrender to symbolize the cutting of these cords – be they many or few – see in your mind’s eye the cords being swiftly cut with grace and ease, and then witness each cord being retracted into your being and simultaneously into the being or representation of what formerly bound you. As each cord recedes and retracts, send it with love and with gratitude, for each of those cords represented a lesson and a growth opportunity. Let that being or representative know that you are finished with this lesson, that you are no longer holding on, and that you wish them peace.

Space Holders Chant:  And it all just falls away. And it all just falls away.

When she feels it is finished, dedicant says: “Thank you. It is done!”

Once each dedicant has released and severed their cords, we all circle up for a healing chant. As we sing, we each visualize a golden healing light sparkling over the surface of our bodies, as the opening within our energetic beings which carried the cords are healed and sealed. As we chant, we can see our own healing, and we pass our energy clockwise around the circle to assist with the healing of others – as we receive the same from them.

I am a circle. I am healing you.
You are a circle. You are healing me.
Unite us, be one.
Unite us, be as one.

We offer our gratitude to creation, the energy of all that is, great spirit, god, goddess, universal light energy, elementals, spirit guides, ancestors, animal totems, angels, the energetic source that is all we are, all we see, all we feel, and all we imagine and cannot fathom.

We walk in your light and feel your presence even through darkness. For the purposes of this healing circle, we bid thee hail and farewell.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is done, it is done, it is done.

There is nothing like standing in a circle of women while being held in loving intention. As I symbolically swung the sword to sever the cords for each of my Sacred Gardeners, I was focused on the freedom and liberation of each. I noticed with the circle’s progression that I could sense a tingling energy against my upper arms right before she announced that the work was done.

When the circle was complete, some announced an immediate lightness of being, feeling a sense of sitting taller and feeling lighter. It was glorious to witness such an immediate affect.

Once we had cleared the field and created an open space for more goodness to enter our lives, we set to the work of attracting what comes next.

What comes next for me is a good night’s (or morning’s ) sleep… so that part of the tale shall have to wait for another day. Thank you for walking this path with me. I am so happy to have you near. HAPPY EQUINOX!

Holding On and Letting Go

My average day begins too early to rise, so I look through my memories on facebook for inspiration. I then either share the original post or create a piece of art to share, by placing a quote that resonated with me years ago onto a photograph that resonates today. By now, my ragamuffin kitty has decided it is time for me to get out of bed and serve her breakfast and offer her my chest to purr upon.

I put the water on to boil and place her dish of hope onto the spot reserved for her meals. I hope she will eat what I have selected for her today. I then make my pour over coffee and sit down for morning reading. By the time I have finished my coffee, it is time to head over to serve my studmuffin. Just kidding, it’s my Dad.

I usually arrive to find him working a puzzle on his tablet, while listening to music or a tv show playing in the foreground. He smiles when he finally looks up to greet me. This is the picture I will carry with me for all of my days. I hand him his water mug and feed him two handfuls of morning meds. He gets something for epilepsy, something for neuropathy (repercussion of a lifetime with said dis-ease), something to elevate his low blood pressure, a probiotic, CBD oil, and two tylenol.

Next is the breakfast inquiry. Will it be a bagel with cream cheese? Will it be italian toast with butter and jam (not jelly! jam)? I put the bagel in the toaster and start the coffee. At this time, evidence of other life in the house emerges. Two small dogs, one mid-size dog, followed by Mom in her nightgown. We all say good morning, and get on with our daily ritual.

Dad gets his bagel and an Ensure for extra protein. When coffee is half brewed, Mom and Dad are each served a cup. I do a little tidying on the kitchen chaos (my least favorite task, next to filing), and once everyone is settled in, I head out the door receiving gratitude and a “drive careful” from Dad. I am driving exactly seven houses east of theirs.

Today, I will go back at noon to help Dad with a bath. We had one of the three bathrooms in the house they bought a few years back (to be closer) outfitted for his care. It has a walk-in tub, a taller toilet with bidet, and now it has what I call a toilet corral. There are bars everywhere, to assist Dad with safe movement through the space where his walker will not go. Strategically installed, he is able to push himself (with a bit of struggle) to standing, and pull himself forward. Since he also has a loss of dexterity in his hands, we are able to assist with hygiene and wound care (pressure sores from sitting and thinning skin) from this station.

When he carefully steps into his tub, we will close the door and fill it with warm water. As it fills, I can use the sprayer to wet and wash his hair. Then, when the water is above the jet ports, he can relax for a bit as the warm water massages his aching and fatigued body. Last week, we received help with this task, when I asked if we could add more assistance to his home care. He has physical therapy twice a week, and a wound care nurse comes once a week. What I found, as I was going over our routine with the aid was that… I didn’t want to give this up!

I know that I will not always be able to do this all by myself, but when it comes down to asking for help and receiving it… I am quite certain that no one can care for my father as well as I. The thing is, helping him out of the tub has become more difficult. Standing up to exit the tub is more challenging than before, and I cannot always get him to his feet alone. My father is six feet tall and somewhere under 200 lbs. But still… that bath time is divine, and I am not willing to allow him to forego it – even if I can only get him in there once a week (like a defiant toddler).

Next comes getting him dressed. Last week, the aid had to dash off to help another, and so we finished the bath time ritual on our own. Getting him slowly to his lift chair. Pulling depends and flannel pajamas over his feet and up to his knees. The excruciating struggle to stand again, after so much work getting in and out of the tub – and finally pulling up both bottoms so he can finally sit down for a long rest. Seated, we can do the rest. Shirt over the head and reaching through the arm holes to find his clenched fists. Using the trick a nurse taught me in pre-op to get his compression socks on by placing a plastic baggie over his toes, then pulling it off through the hole. And finally, putting on socks with non-skid soles – to keep him just a little safer between recliner and bathroom travels.

Today, Kelly and Jodie will come for PT and wound care. We love how they love him. I will stop by to see if I can get him to eat, or at least to consume another Ensure. He’s not very good with the fluid consumption, when getting up to pee is like a hero’s journey, so I’ve been tricking him with a big bowl of watermelon in the late afternoon. Then I go back in the evening to ‘tuck them in’. I fix Dad something to eat, if he’ll have it, and give him his evening pills (pretty much a repeat of the morning meds). If he’s up to it, we’ll do another trip to the bathroom before I go home and go to bed, after checking that all doors are closed and locked.

A couple of days ago, while waiting for Hurricane Dorian to arrive (gratefully, he took a detour and stayed to the east of us), my phone rang at 3:30am. I picked up the call and said: “Hold on, Dad. I’m coming!”

I know it is Dad when the display reads: Mom’s Cell. I had my brother surround the house in Alexa dots, and he programmed them to dial my number if Dad asked her to call me. I have one next to his chair and now I have one in the bathroom, too. When I arrived, two minutes later – groggy, but being sure to grab my keys this time, instead of my pendulum as I dashed out the door, he was on the floor in the living room.

Mom is hearing impaired, and could not hear him call. Without panic, I went to the IndeeLift we keep plugged in nearby, and I rolled it over to him, so he could hand walk himself back onto the platform. Then, he slowly rose from the ground as I pressed the arrow UP. With the use of his walker, we finished what he started… an early morning trip to the potty. Mom woke up and by the time we had Dad settled back into his recliner, we were all pretty much awake, but grateful that this was a pretty low drama moment. No blood. No mess. Just a whole lot of body betrayal to battle and overcome.

Dad apologizes when he has to call, and I remind him that this is exactly why I have chosen not to go back to work. It is his job to call me when he is in need, and it is my job to respond to the best of my ability. This is by far, the most important and rewarding work I’ve done. I can remember the sense of urgency and the heaviness I felt while supporting the head of HR who was responsible for the CEO succession plan for a Fortune 500 company. There were many days that I cried for the stress of it all. Did I leave anything on the copy machine that may give away the idea that a 65 year old man in waning health might actually retire some day – and cause the corporate stock to plummet? How silly that seems to me now. Who fucking cares? I will never understand how corporations have become more important than people.

I have shed my concern for the shareholder, and give everything now to my most beloved careholders… the people who raised me. Both social workers for their entire careers, they taught me the importance of community care and respecting the dignity of all beings. They deserve to receive the care they offered to others, and I’ll be sure they get it.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. It’s bath time! “Hold on, Dad. I’m coming!”

Witness to Grace

A High King Ascends to the Summerland

It was 45 years ago that my favorite tomboy entered my life. She brought with her a lifetime of creativity, play, laughter, joy, and sharing. She has shared many vacations with me, of course many memories, and significant to this tale, she has shared with me… her beloved family.

On Thursday, my life-long friend and I hopped on a plane to Huntsville, Alabama. I don’t believe either of us, while envisioning which path to take on our annual art-cation adventures, would have chosen this particular place as a destination (two progressive feminists went to Alabama…), but after this past weekend, I can assure you that it will be a part of future road trips.

Nearly a decade ago, my buddy introduced me to her cousin through facebook. Their mothers are sisters, but they did not grow up together, so it was a family reunion that brought them together as adults. And through connecting online about family heritage and sharing memories, they found like-minds in one another. Further, my friend could see in her cousin… a bit of me.

It’s funny how we are able to connect through writing and sharing on social media to find something much deeper than words and photos. Somehow, if we are really lucky, we manage to find communion. Not one person I met over the past four days felt like a stranger to me.

The reason for our journey north was one of pilgrimage. We arrived with open hearts and serving hands to honor the memory of a soul who departed around this time last year. Once again, he was a man that neither of us had the pleasure to have met in person, but through this sharing medium and from the heart of this lady that we love, he became legend.

Our kindred spirits were partially connected through common ground… A spiritual path, a world view, a love of ancient history and myth, and for the Emerald Isle, where we had both previously traveled. Connected by the web of life and the world-wide-web, we shared photos and our stories. Then one day, the story took a dark turn. Her husband suffered a life altering spinal injury in a car accident, and the lives of many would be dramatically affected through an epic journey of survival for the next seven years.

Being so far away, the best that my life-long friend and I could do was hold space and send the light of love, healing energy, and our desire for the very best possible outcome for this gentle giant and those he loved. And when his earthly body was ready to surrender his larger than life soul into the light of truth, we committed to being fully present to offer support and to celebrate his life. After much needed rest and recovery, and with the nearing first anniversary of his loss, it was time.

Looking back on the weekend I just left behind, it seems funny to consider how we walked into this woman’s world and felt immediately at home. Though they are cousins, my favorite tomboy only has memory of meeting in person this daughter of her mother’s sister once. Any previous meeting would have been at an age before memories were kept.

Since I have had front row seats in her life, those we met and the lives they discussed as they reviewed memories and tales of their individual and shared histories, I never grew bored, for even those I had never met were characters with whom I was familiar. After all, I had partially grown up in her home with her people, too. Amidst the connectedness, the laughter, and the enlightenment (as blank pages in family awareness were being filled), we prepared for the celebration to come.

Last year, as I studied the path of end of life doula, I was instructed to consider this part of dying… how do I wish to be remembered? If I were to write my own memorial service, what would that look like? I have to tell you… these people… they know how to throw a party! I may write an addendum to my own parting plan.

As our hostess went to the airport to fetch her sister (friends at age eleven, who became sisters when one’s mother and the other’s father fell in love and married), my buddy and I were given the task of putting together one facet of the table decorations. We laughed at how perfect it was for us to receive this assignment. Lovers of Mother Earth, the party planners had collected earthen pottery and lichen laden sticks of oak for table center pieces. We delighted in examining each limb and cooed over the sweetness of tiny green tufts of fluff that called these fallen twigs home. “Look at this one!” “Awwww… so cute.” “Which one do you think will go best with this taller stick?” “This one! NO. THIS one.” With smiles of agreement and sighs of adoration for these tiny bits of beauty, we gleefully completed our first task.

Later that night, we were given our second task. We went to the home of our dear one’s best friend. We became acquainted around the same time as our initial facebook connection, as a nod to those kindred details mentioned above. We were immediately smitten with our new/old friend and her magickal home which was filled with creative wonder. I brought with me a meditation I had written, which felt appropriate for grounding and connecting for the work ahead. It was a guided visualization to journey to the edge of the underworld to meet with loved ones lost. We went home with bits of plaid cloth to unravel, for the art of fringed edges. These tiny details would be woven into a stunning tribute.

The next day, after coffee and a bit of unraveling, we were delighted to be delivered and guided through a local treasure, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment. To our surprise, we had wandered into an impromptu art-cation! Our mystical guide led us through rows of interesting and wonderful art galleries throughout three floors of market space. We got to meet several artists, and had a bit of a shopping frenzy with one artist who WOWed us with the beauty of her work. We also got a sneak peak at a bit of art in chocolate that would be a sweet focal point of the celebration. Handcrafted chocolate truffles sealed with a kiss from our sacred celebrant. His signature was pressed into a crowning coin of chocolate (like sealing wax on an important royal document), then dusted with gold. Seriously, this man must have lived well to have been so loved.

That night, we gathered with more family and friends in the home that had been prepared for his comfort, though he died just days before the planned move, they had hoped to ‘come home’ to a space outfitted for the many needs of a paraplegic. We met people whose names we had seen attached to loving comments on the page that we watched with dedication for the hopeful delivery of miraculous news, which sometimes offered triumphs and finally… heartbreak. We did not know their faces, but we knew the depth of their devotion. These were the ones who never left, even when things got hard. They served in every way possible, a man whose body was broken and his wife whose courageous heart moved through back-breaking days and sleepless nights to ensure his safety and survival. These people whom we were blessed to meet, exceed the definition of friendship. Over a seven-year saga of trial and tribulation, losing a home to the burden of medical bills, packing and moving more than once, not to mention all that goes into supporting the needs of someone whose body no longer can do what was once expected, a loving community encircled this sacred family and did whatever was needed to allow them to focus on the important work required.

Then, the big day arrived. Together, we went with new friends and (re)claimed family to meet and dress the sacred space that would hold the intention of honoring this sacred soul. My favorite tomboy and I loved getting to be a part of nurturing the vision dreamed up with great detail by this group of goddesses. Onto each round table went a black cloth that draped to the floor, a grey square of felt topped by hand-fringed flannel in green, black, and grey plaid, with an earthen vase of moss covered sticks encircled by seven white candles and a ring of green and white sea glass. As we worked on the tables, another friend arranged homegrown pale green hydrangeas for the altar, and smaller clusters were added to the stick vases.

There were so many delightful details involved in this mindful manifestation. There was a sweet slideshow of a life well-lived projected onto a freshly painted wall, which was to the left of the altar which held rich fabrics adorned with a huge arrangement of hydrangeas, his glasses and watch encased in a dome of glass, a white candle – a beacon to call his spirit home, and a shot of Irish whiskey as a sacred offering. The altar sat beneath a portrait of Himself, painted by a friend after his passing. It depicted a scene captured in a photograph during their journey to Ireland, when he stood regally upon the Hill of Tara, where the High Kings were once crowned.

We lunched and rested, then returned to the venue to greet the guests. A trio of musicians enchanted the hall with Celtic music and Irish folk songs throughout the evening. And once those who had gathered in memorium had settled in with snacks and beverages, we learned more about the man we honored. The evening’s emcee was a friend who had searched, purchased, and literally furnished the home of her friend, whose energy went entirely into enforcing the safety and well-being of her husband until his final day. The Huntsville Feminist Choir performed two songs dedicated to the memory of one of their biggest supporters. Friends and family members stood up to speak about a man they respected, admired, loved, and deeply missed. Energy was raised in laughter, as we learned of pranks and puns. Everyone in the room was brought to tears by the words of gratitude expressed by one of his final caregivers. She told us of how she insisted on giving his family a much needed break – despite his protests, and as she bathed and nurtured his body, he fortified her esteem and encouraged her efforts to further her education. As she lifted her eyes to the heavens and announced to him the educational grant she just won with gratitude for his support, our eyes released the emotion we’d all been holding.

This last tribute reminded me of my dad’s stay in rehab last year. He told me about one of his attendants, who recently immigrated for a better life. She had been worried about an English test she would have to pass to move forward with her education to become a nurse, and Dad had offered words of encouragement and to help her practice. The day he told me the story, with tears in his eyes, he was announcing that she came in to tell him she had passed the test. I know that we all hope to feel like we’ve made a difference in the lives of others, and I know that the man we honored that night would have been enormously proud of his caregiver, and he would have understood the multitude of ways that he made a difference in the lives of many.

Though we never knew him, my favorite tomboy and I got to know him through stories shared. Most of all, we understood his strength of character, his warmth of compassion, his generosity of kindness, his wicked and wonderful sense of humor, and purity of integrity through witnessing such grace in those we got to know, whom he loved.

At the end of the evening, we gathered into a circle and raised a parting glass, filled with a shot of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. The Celtic Trio played that well-known tune as we held up our offerings of remembrance and respect. We held sacred space for his devoted wife, still weary but growing stronger, his three heartbroken and adoring sons, two by birth and one by choice. We held space for his grandchildren and family present and those who wished to be there, but could not. And we held space for this remarkably loving and supportive community who held this family in their safe keeping through many difficult days and years, until peace was found at the High King’s crossing into the Summerland.

“Here’s to cheating, stealing and drinking. For if you cheat, may you cheat death. And if you steal, may you steal a maiden’s heart. And if you drink, may you drink with me!”
~ Irish Blessing

We shared another day of restful togetherness before my life-long friend and I got back on the plane to come home. It was a surreal parting, for we had come to feel as if we belonged there, among these remarkable and loving souls. How special, for a woman in her grief to make us feel so welcome and at home. Of the lifetime of memories that my favorite tomboy and I share, I am certain that this holy weekend when we were witness to true grace, will remain one of our favorites.

Somewhere in the conversation of these four days, I reminded her that I intend to go first, for I cannot fathom living a single day without her. How lucky am I? To have been given the profound gift of her friendship, and that she should share so generously with me the honor of knowing and loving her family, too.

At 1am, I walked into my parents’ home, having come straight from the airport. I emptied my father’s catheter bag and helped him into his pajamas, gave him his evening pills, stood with the spit cup and the rinse cup while he brushed his teeth, and made sure all of the doors were closed and locked before making my way up the street to my house and my waiting cat. As I climbed into bed, I reflected on the years of service our cousin/friend had devoted to the man we had just honored. I smiled with gratitude for the blessing of being able to do the same for my parents (wishing that I could do so as well as she), and for the love and devotion of our own community who are presently holding space for all of us. We are so blessed.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here. If I could, I would share one of those intoxicating truffles with you. Cheers!

Ed Glynn (pictured here: on the Hill of Tara) has taken his seat among the High Kings in the Summerland. We honor his memory. We give thanks for the many blessings he delivered to this sacred earth. A warrior among men,
we bid thee hail and farewell.

First Harvest – Lammastide

On Saturday, I led my fifth workshop in a series of eight. I’m making them up as I go, but they are inspired by the cycle of the sun and ever changing seasons marked by the calendar of the ancient Celts.

The beginning of August marks the halfway point between the Summer Solstice (the longest day) and the Autumn Equinox (when day and night are equal). In farming cultures, this was when certain seeds (like wheat and corn) we planted at Imbolc (February) had grown to fruition and were ready for scythe and bundle.

It is from this tradition the song John Barleycorn was originally sung, which tells of a symbolic sacrificial king. We harvest most to sustain us through the coming winter, but some must be returned to the land to ensure next year’s harvest and survival.

Steve Winwood performs Traffic’s version of John Barleycorn Must Die

This reminds me of how we, as caregivers, simply cannot give every bit of ourselves to others. We must hold back something that remains ours alone. If we give it all away, whatever will we grow next year? How can we bake bread to nourish ourselves, if we have already offered every grain for the benefit of others?

Since I spent last year studying death and dying, this felt like the perfect timing to begin the discussion of death. My goal was not to dive into fear and sorrow, but to overcome it.

The one guarantee we are given at birth is that we will also die. And yet, many of us fear that eventuality to the point of denial. Loved ones pass with or without warning having never discussed the topic of inevitability. And those who remain are left in their greatest moments of shock and sorrow to guess what those they held sacred might have wanted to occur when their bodies were left behind and their light returned to the collective.

So, I shared with my Sacred Gardeners (my workshop attendees) the story of my friend Brian. His confession of a terminal diagnosis with metastatic prostate cancer last February inspired my year of study. I told them of how I asked him: “Brian, you’ve been given a deadline. What is your joy?” And how he went home to think about it, nearly died when a trial treatment started shutting down his organs, and then texted me his answer a week later. His husband is his joy!

Throughout the year, we talked about making arrangements that would free his husband from the many tasks that would overwhelm him upon the loss of his love. And in September, when the cancer spread into lymph nodes… we discussed how he could make living in his joy his main focus and priority. He had been working because he figured he needed the health insurance, but his prognosis promised care through hospice. So, he informed his job he would be going out on disability and has been living his days to the fullest, ever since.

Brian did everything he could do to ease his own transition and to prepare his husband for the easiest possible survival through grief. Now, there is nothing left for them to do, but to live more fully with joy and intention.

Since I like to offer a meditation or grounding technique at the start of each workshop, I chose to share with my Gardeners a meditation I wrote to be a part of my own farewell ritual to be performed when I am gone.

In the visualization, I ask those who are mourning my loss to offer me their burdens, that I might take them away with me – so that they no longer need to carry such heaviness. And when they opened their eyes (and some wiped away tears) I asked them to write those burdens down and drop them into a ‘box of surrender’ that I had previously crafted.

Each of us spoke these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. “

Those burdens will stay in the box until we burn them at the Winter Solstice, but I can imagine from the words of introduction shared by each as the workshop began, that we are all carrying heaviness in our hearts that no one can imagine at a glance.

Next, I handed out copies of the Florida approved form for Advance Directive, a handbook on making end of life decisions, and a sample of the ‘Five Wishes’ document, which offers suggestions which are helpful when one cannot imagine their own end of days.

We talked about what is important to consider, and about what we’ve experienced through the loss of those we have loved. We found comfort in knowing that when we carry an umbrella, it rarely rains. And so we understand that once we have done the work to prepare for our peaceful ending, we have nothing left to do but to be like Brian, and live more fully in our own joy.

After lunch, and after sharing the deep discussion of death and dying and preparedness, we moved into the creative / artistic portion of our gathering. Everyone decorated and dedicated their own boxes of surrender. Tosha Silver refers to this in her book Outrageous Openness, as a ‘God Box’. The idea being that we get nowhere by worrying over what might be coming, be it something we want or don’t want, and that having a tool for release can be liberating. Some would say: ‘Let go and let God’, but some of us are less comfortable with the term, and so we offer our fears, our hopes, our burdens, our concerns to the light of love.

I provided wooden boxes, already primed, with paint, glue, glitter, and various bits and gems so that each Gardener could put into this ‘intention’ their own creative energy. Let me tell you, they are works of pure beauty. When they open the lid to enter their handwritten worries, they are greeted by the words: “Surrender to Love”, and “Resolved for the Highest Good in Divine Timing”.

My hope is that my beloveds will acknowledge that which weighs heavy on their hearts, honor them, and then lay them down with the knowledge and belief that, all is well in this moment (which is all we really have), and to rest in the belief that everything will be okay (even when answers don’t arrive on our preferred timetable).

It was a long and wonderful day. I stopped in to check on my parents and Mom reported ‘another’ mass shooting being reported Saturday evening. And on Sunday morning, when I went over to set them up for the day, Mom said… Melissa, there was ANOTHER mass shooting. At first, I thought she might have forgotten she had already told me. But then it sunk in. Two mass shootings in one 24-hour period. Another harvest. Another sacrificial king. Another tragedy to build on so many others, for which nothing has been done beyond inciting more of the same. Heavy sigh…

My book group met Sunday afternoon. We discussed how thrilled we were that though we read another book about slavery, it turned out to surprise us with the uplifting courage of two sisters who lived in Charleston, SC in the 1800s. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings WOWed us the way that her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees had done many years before.

My friend and co-worker invited me into her book group about 16 years ago to add diversity. So, as the only white girl in the circle, I had to bring up my curiosity for how my dear friends were feeling. My only burden is that of white privilege, and I feel overwhelmed by the blatant racism that is being spewed, celebrated, and even protected by the GOP. I can only imagine how my friends might be feeling, and so I inquired.

My friend who is black, but grew up in Barbados, it turns out, does not carry the weight of discrimination as one might expect, though she could tell a story of living in NYC and having a frequent caller stop calling after meeting her in person to discover the color of her skin. And my friend who is of Indian decent and grew up in England, remembers a child calling her family names as they exited a tour bus, but acknowledges that someone silenced the kid and they went on about their day. But we all cried as our friend, who is Latina and whose husband is black, told us of how she and her husband cried at the news of the latest massacre, and the manifesto that was revealed by the white nationalist terrorist before his shooting spree. We cried with her for the awareness that she and her beloved would be a target of such senseless violence. We cried for those who WERE the target of such hatred. We cried for all that feels lost to us in our beloved country.

After my book group selected the next book and put a date on the calendar, I hugged each a little tighter. Then at bed time, I wrote onto a piece of paper: Keep Them Safe, Stop the Violence, Deliver Peace, Comfort Fear. As I placed it into my own Box of Surrender, I said these words: “I surrender this burden to the light of love. I know that all is well in this moment. I trust that all shall be revealed in divine timing. Please let it be soon. “

If you’d like to read more about creating your own end of life plan and designating your own advance directive, you can find good information at this site:
https://www.nhpco.org/patients-and-caregivers/advance-care-planning/advance-directives/downloading-your-states-advance-directive/

Thank you for walking this path with me. Now, hand me your burdens and let them go. I will carry them away with me into the light of love.

Fruition Unfolding

Yesterday was one of those days that felt like a mixed blessing. It was spent in service to the health of my father. There were parts that were difficult for both of us, but throughout each moment, I was aware of my gratitude.

It started with a trip to Longwood to exchange his broken CPAP machine, then back to help him with his bath – washing his hair and scrubbing his scalp. Helping him dress, giving him his meds with a bottle of Ensure, feeding him a late breakfast with strong coffee, then getting him safely into the car and off to the hospital for an afternoon of testing.

If I were still in the corporate world, my Friday in service to my father would have been taken as a personal day or an accrued vacation day. I would have been moving through each task with thoughts of what I would have to make up for at work on Monday, for having been absent today. I am certain that such awareness would have made me less present in caring for my father. So… even through the parts where he and I had to struggle through a task, for his body betrayal requires assistance for tasks that might be simple for others, I was mindfully happy to be there in the struggle with him.

I wish that my father, at nearly 82, could have the strength and dexterity to provide a simple urine sample to prepare for next week’s urethral stricture repair (a four hour surgery), but getting up from the wheelchair and onto a toilet seat in a restroom that lacks enough room and support bars in the right places is tedious. So, collecting a simple urine sample requires strength, compassion, and patience.

He is frustrated by the limitations of his body, burdened by severe bilateral neuropathy after a lifetime with epilepsy, and muscle loss. All I can do is offer my assistance and let him know that I am sorry for his struggle, and how I wish I could make it easier for him.

By the time we got home from the pre-surgery appointment at the hospital, we were both exhausted. I got him settled into his recliner, and went home for some light reading and a nap.

I read an article that my mother posted about death and dying, and I shared it with my workshop attendees. On August 3, we will honor the cycle of seasons at the Celtic calendar’s first harvest, a cross quarter holiday referred to as Lammas or Lughnasadh. We will begin the discussion of death, but not in the sense of sorrow… as death is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping. My plan is to help us find comfort in preparedness, for when we carry an umbrella it is less likely to rain. So, if we have a departure plan ready, all that is left for us to do is to live fully in the NOW.

The article spoke of the five parts of a conversation that will allow us all to ‘Die Well’. They are: Please forgive me; I forgive you; Thank you; I love you; Goodbye. I was already familiar with this ritual, as it was written in my required reading for a course on End of Life Doula I started last year.

Another article I read was my own blog post from this time last year, called: Homecoming. Last summer I was more at ease about being away for a couple of weeks, and this post was about my return from the mountains. This year, four nights away felt risky and selfish, but it also felt necessary to offer my soul respite.

As I read what I had written, I realized that much of the uncertainty that I was experiencing at that time, and the hopes that I offered up to the universe, had actually manifested over the last year, with grace and ease. And here’s the thing… none of it was within my imagining. I resolved to allow the universe to surprise me, and that – She did.

Here’s the link to that post: https://beethelight.blog/2018/07/24/homecoming/

In fact, reading that post inspired me to walk over to my parents’ house to ‘tuck them in’ for the night. As I stepped off my sidewalk and onto the rain dampened street, I looked into the darkened sky to see one of our neighborhood bats fluttering about for an evening snack. I always feel blessed by a bat-sighting. When one lives in the city, connecting with nature can feel like a rare opportunity.

When I entered the home of my folks, Mom paused the movie she was watching and rewound a scene and asked me to watch. The movie was “The Bad Mother”, and a daughter was reading to her comatose mother from her journal. She read off a list of resentments for a multitude of wrongs she felt her mother had done to her in her youth. Then, my Mom paused the scene and asked me if the things this character expressed to her mother were things I felt toward her, my own mother. She felt sure that I had every right to feel many of the things spoken (except for the hitting part – that was not a part of our shared story, thankfully).

As I paused to reflect, not only on the scene, but on my life and childhood, and also on the articles I read before coming over – I was taken by mindful awareness of the gift of this very moment. I acknowledged certain experiences that left wounds and resulted in false self-belief, but I also shared the discoveries made in my own personal development and healing. The knowledge that she had poor parental role models for her own mothering. Understanding that some of the wounds I received were wounds she carried from her own childhood.

Then, she said: I’m so sorry for all of the things I did that harmed you. And I assured her that I let go of resentment long ago, and also that I forgive her. I asked her for forgiveness for the things that I have done that hurt her, as well. She said that she forgives me, too. And then… she showed me a photograph of a hairstyle that she’s considering with her next haircut.

I made sure that the doors of my parents’ home were shut and locked, and that my canine-siblings were well-loved. I made sure that Dad had all he needed for the night, and told everyone that I would see them tomorrow. I walked home with happy tears leaking from my eyes, and great peace in my heart. I realize that for my parents and myself… all that is left for us to do is to live as fully as our earthly bodies allow. All is right with our souls.

This morning, Dad used ‘Alexa’ to call me for assistance. Mom was asleep and is hearing impaired, so she couldn’t hear his call. I helped him up off the floor with mechanical assistance (IndeeLift is one of many purchases we’ve made in the past year to enable better living for my father), got him settled into his chair, and served him a bagel and coffee. A new day of being of service has begun.

I can use my words from this time last year to conclude this post, with only slight adjustment… though I am no longer in the mountains, I am still surrounded by overwhelming grace and beauty… and though I have not yet won the lottery or determined how a future income will present itself (72T and my retirement fund presented this answer in October 2018), I am not fearful of the future and I know that divine timing will allow all that is needed to fall into place exactly as it should (much already has, and I am open to whatever awaits), and for all of this… and I mean all of it (including that which divine timing will later allow)… I am eternally grateful. Thank you for walking this path with me.