Honoring Those We’ve Lost

In a couple of hours, I will gather with friends to celebrate the life of a dear one, recently lost. He left this realm on a day when the veil between the worlds was thinnest – stepping peacefully into the mystery of what comes next. As I prepared a sacred ceremony for friends who had lost significant loved ones in the past year or two, I held those suffering this immediate loss close, as well. Too soon for them to venture into the underworld, I chose to carry them with me.

As we began, at water’s edge around firelight, we called the names of those we have loved and lost, and invited them to stand with us in a sacred circle. In our mind’s eyes we could see each beloved step in to take our hands, heart to heart… love flowing in a sphere of gratitude and protection.

Next, we called to the elements – acknowledging their gifts which surround us and flow through us. When we call to air, fire, water, and earth, we are connecting to the love that resides within.

Into the East we cast our gaze to be witness to the dawning of the light of remembrance. We breathe deeply the clarity of the element of Air, that our loved ones may appear in mind’s eye unhindered. With open hearts and with gratitude, we honor the Air.

Into the South we cast our gaze upon ancient embers. Burning from the beginning of time, the element of Fire inspires us to go within and to reach out to those who have gone before. Illuminated by the beacon that calls our loved ones home. With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Fire.

Into the West we cast our gaze upon the watery mist. Through floating drops of love and memory we focus upon the veil to witness the arrival of those we love as they step toward us. All fear and regret is washed in the element of Water. All that remains is the purest love.  With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Water.

Into the North we cast our gaze upon the lush green lap of the Mother. Grateful for the strength she gave us to survive great loss, we eagerly await her generous return. Our loved ones have been nurtured in the embrace of the Earth, and we are grateful for Her care. With open hearts and feet firmly planted in gratitude, we honor the Earth.

Next, we invited divine energy in the feminine archetype of nurturer and guide, which also surrounds us and resides within each of us:

We call upon the maiden of flowers and the goddess of the Underworld. Persephone, whose sacrifice to the dead brings a mother’s grief and a blanket of cold upon the earth. Persephone, whose great heart and deep love offers the rich red seeds of welcome to all who seek entrance into the world beyond that which the living may see. With reverence we reach to you with hope and gratitude, for the honor of perhaps connecting with those we love once more. We ask to be anointed by your sacred oil of clarity, that our third eye may be fully opened to greet them with the ability to see them and hear them clearly.

Persephone of the Underworld, our hearts are open to receive your blessing. We bid thee hail and welcome.

As I wrote the words that would state the purpose of our gathering, I was once again astonished by the wisdom that flowed through me:

Tonight we gather as the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. We stand ready to receive our loved ones who are lost to us in body, but ever present to us in their energetic form. We wish to remind them of our love and devotion, and to show them that we have chosen to carry them with us into the future with reverence, and without regret, With joy and without sorrow.

We know that they left us early to remind us of the importance of living fully now. We are here to make that contract with them, to affirm that their loss TO us was not lost ON us. We each have chosen to step to the edge of the Underworld tonight, to take their hands and look into their eyes, to hear their words and receive our commitment.

I next led my sweet friends through a meditation where they would each meet with those they longed to see. It is difficult to know when to proceed from a pause in such a journey. One hesitates to interrupt an important conversation when unable to see the progress of the connection. But when it felt like the right time, I brought them back for acknowledgment and closure:

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.

Finally, we said farewell to the spirit of the Universe that took form so that our consciousness could find connection.

Beloved Persephone, goddess of flowers and bones. Thank you for granting us crossing to the edge of your shimmering veil. Thank you for bearing our beloveds through initiation and into the freedom of limitlessness. We will carry your light within us through the long winter, until your return in the spring brings the bursting of color and fragrance upon the earth.

And to the energy that surrounds us and becomes us:

Spirit of Earth, elements of the North, thank you for your gifts of strength and stability, for wisdom and prosperity. Thank you for holding us close through every stage of our becoming.

Spirit of Water, elements of the West, thank you for your gifts of cleansing and emotion, for healing and fluidity. Thank you for washing us clean of fear and regret, nurturing our path forward.

Spirit of Fire, elements of the south, thank you for your gifts of purification and illumination, for direction followed by action. Thank you for lighting the chamber of our connection to those we love, and for keeping the flame alive until we meet again.

Spirit of Air, elements of the East, thank you for your gifts of clarity and new beginnings, for awareness and ideation to guide our future footfalls. Thank you for the breath that fills our lungs for singing the songs of our loved ones’ memory.

And so, our sacred ceremony was complete and we were grateful to have had a few precious moments with those we can no longer see with the eyes, but only feel with the heart.

I know that the loved one we celebrate today will be felt in the same way. And if you are missing someone dear, I hope that in some small way, these words may bring them a bit closer to your awareness. May you honor them as they would have you do… by living fully and in joy. It would be rude not to.

Thank you for walking this path with me. May your every step be sprinkled with bliss.

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Acorn Becomes the Oak

I have found myself in such an interesting place in recent months. I had heard the term before, from friends whose parents were aging and required a bit more attention and care, and while I don’t want to say that I am becoming the parent to my parent… I have to admit, it feels like we are moving into a sort of role reversal.

My sweet Pop has lived 80 of his 81 years with epilepsy, and in the last ten years it has really taken a toll on his body. I call it body betrayal, the way that simple commands the body once executed with barely a thought suddenly (or gradually) become tasks which require serious concentration and a concerted physical effort to perform. In 2008, Pop spent a good part of the year traveling to and from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Test after test failed to reveal what was causing symptoms which impaired his ability to walk, to feel his feet and fingertips, and eventually… his ability to find words while speaking. I will never forget the day he told me that he was deeply depressed, and that he didn’t think he would live out the year. I was heartbroken, but I was also still working in a high demand, stressful job in the corporate world, which didn’t leave me with much time or energy to be of service.

Finally, he saw a local neurologist who reviewed the same lab results that Mayo Clinic ordered and reviewed, and my beloved father was diagnosed with a serious B-12 deficiency. Apparently, his epilepsy medication, his age, and the fact he was living with a vegetarian had left him seriously depleted. I later learned from a friend whose pediatrician had the same diagnosis, that if it had not been discovered, he would have ended up in a coma. The end result of this oversight for such a length of time was permanent nerve damage and neuropathy in his feet and from a lifetime of small seizures, down his left side.

So, Poppy has been using a walker to get around for the last ten years, and he and Mom moved closer to me a few years ago. I’d never really imagined living seven houses away from my parents, but I have to tell you that I am really glad to have them so near. I worry less than when they were 45 minutes away with no neighbors around to check on them. I don’t necessarily stop in every day, but I can glance over on the way to my house to be sure all appears well, and can be there in two minutes if they call for assistance.

There are a few new things that we are experiencing this year. First of all, in my role as careholder, I am witnessing my father’s stubbornness when I ask if he has accomplished certain tasks for self-care, and he informs me that he has not. Twice in the last two months, we have been to the dermatologist, and both times he failed to mention wounds on hidden parts of his body until we were getting back into the car when the appointment was over. He’s been falling down a lot lately (scans show that a compression fracture in L4 and L5 may be to blame), because his left leg just drops out from under him, and a few times we’ve had the lovely men-on-duty at our local fire department stop by for a “lift assist” when he wasn’t able to get himself upright. This was the very best tip ever, that you can call ‘911’ and tell them it is a non-emergency and that you need a lift assist. When they hear you have an 80 year old man on the ground who needs a lift, they transfer you immediately to the nearest available fire department.  Dad has offered on a couple of occasions to bake them cookies or invest in their children’s college funds. Seriously, we love these people!

Yesterday, he finally followed instructions and remembered to call me when he got out of the walk-in tub (I can’t say we loved the installation process, but we love that dad can get in and out of a hot-soak relatively well now). He said, “I’m out of the tub. You’d better hurry over before my toenails turn back to steel!” And within two minutes, I was serving at the feet of one of my heroes in his pajama bottoms, with reading glasses (for protection as much as for magnification) and a pair of industrial strength clippers. I made sure the talons were shortened enough, then applied lotion before putting on his socks. Next, I helped him put his shirt on and giggled as I exclaimed, “There he is!” as his head popped through the neck hole. (He’s a pretty good sport about it all.) I finished up my service by brushing his hair, and made him a bagel with cream cheese.

I am not sure what I thought this time in our lives would have entailed, but I’m sure I might have imagined it to be sad or tedious, but so far, it is not. For me, right now… it is joyful. I am one of the lucky ones, to have a father who is warm, kind and generous to all who are blessed to know him. He was a social worker who served the physically handicapped for over 30 years, after all. I don’t know if he imagined that some of the tools he made available to his clients, all those years ago, would be something my mom and I would be seeking for his comfort decades later.

Beyond any luxury that this year of freedom from the corporate world has given me, the freedom to care for my father, and be present for my parents is my favorite most sacred thing. I’m so grateful to have them in my life, to have them nearby, and to have this time to show them my love, my affection, and to be of service when the future feels shorter and less certain than they’ve previously known. I hope they know that every single day… they are loved.

acornbecomestheoak

Your Light ~ Required

On a normal day devoted to writing, I typically sit down at the keyboard, empty my mind and ask for inspiration to come.  Words flow from my fingertips without a conscious direction… my writing is a mystery that is revealed to me as it comes.  It reminds me of the metaphor my soul-daughter has used for my current path:  She says that I am on a long, dark highway and I can only see what is illuminated by my headlights.  The road is safe, and my GPS is leading me to where I need to be, and my car is safe with a full tank of gas.  All that is required is to keep driving forward, pay attention to what is being revealed as I go, and know that I will be informed when it is time to stop driving.

On these days that I am focused on writing, I am often reaching into my past for a story to tell, through which some level of insight or self-healing may be revealed.  Today is different.  Today, I am writing about something from my future, and I’d like to engage your support.  I promise that it will not cost you more than a moment of thought, and what I know for sure is that the light produced by your mindful awareness will add to the light of mine, and together… we may just permeate the darkness descending upon a sacred soul.  Now, the soul of whom I write is specific, but together – our reach may be more broad.  Each of us may be just a drop of quenching rain, but together we can be a monsoon of healing light, a tsunami of love.  The holy one of whom I write is the beloved sister of a dear friend.  In this year of transformation, she has selflessly offered her gifts to me, as she does to anyone in need, asking for nothing more than the pleasure of my company in return.  She, herself, is a warrior of overcoming – and she has reached to me with a request to grab my bow, and lead this Tribe of loved ones through a circle of healing.  The invading predator is fierce – ALS invades the body and robs it of its strength to move, and eventually… to breathe.  You see… this is why I need you today, and your stunning, radiant inner light.  My love is great and enveloping, but OUR love?  It is all consuming… a cloak of comfort on a cold dark night.  Please take my hand and share your light… I can see it growing brighter as you approach, and it is sweetness to behold – love made manifest.  Further, I hope you would not consider it greedy to ask that you share this post with others.  Imagine the power of our light when it is passed from one sacred soul to another!  We are each torchbearers… passing our light from one to another, until the whole world is aglow with a radiance more powerful than the sun.

For the purposes of our focused connection, I am going to refer to our sacred vessel as Juno.  For clarity, if you are reading this after the date of this gathering to which you are contributing… know that time is not linear, and your light will still make a difference.  Also understand that if you are in need of healing light, you may pull it from this cosmic gathering, and when you offer your own healing energy, you are never depleted, for this is a divine force that moves through you… you cannot help but receive through the giving.

Great Spirit, Mother / Father God, Universal Force of Creation, Powers that Be, Elements that surround us and flow through us, All That Is:  Allow this sacred circle of beautiful beings to become a combined vessel of your love, filling up and spilling forth with an abundance of healing light energy.  Allow the light of love to flow freely, without obstacle, and let it drip down the healers’ hands, washing away our sorrows, our fears, our hunger and thirst, our aches and pains, self-doubt and false limitations.  As we are made of celestial matter, we contain the healing power of a thousand suns, and the distant light of a billion stars is ever present in the combustive force that warms us from within.  Let this divine energy rise up through Earth’s core and crust, through saline ocean, and forest floor, through the soles of our feet, rising up through the roots that are our legs, lighting up our energetic being as it is filled – (red) root, (orange) sacral, (yellow) solar, and into our (green) hearts contained by strong and resilient trunks, and let this molten, healing light flow through arms to hands that are our branches, through (blue) throat, (purple) mind’s eye that sees what is not visible, and (white) crown through which we connect easily with all that is… rising up and out to deliver exactly what is required, be it for the good of all.  Amen, So Be It, Blessed Be.

If it is difficult to connect with the soul of someone you do not yet know, think of someone you do know who has made you feel completely loved.  Hold that beloved being in your heart and radiate and reflect that love back to her or him.  As you feel that radiance shared between the two of you, allow that light to expand to encapsulate others in your circle – family and friends for whom you feel a sense of affection.  Now, expand that light even further, beyond those you know well and out to acquaintances, and then to people you don’t know in your community, in your city, in your state.  Let your light of loving compassion grow and spread beyond the boundaries of country, continent, planet.  Let your love reach and grow into the darkness of space, surrounding the galaxy, and then every galaxy – known and unknown.  Know that your light is expansive and boundless. You are one with the universe and all that is.

Now, bring your focus back into your center.  Visualize this place that is in a realm that is not limited by what we know in this world.  In this place, there is plenty of room for all of us to gather.  We are each standing in our own strength, prepared to share it freely with one another.  If you once felt alone in this space, feel the arrival of other light beings, as the palms of your hands are filled with the palms of two others.  As each of us arrive in this sacred circle, a pale blue light radiates from each being, and as hands are linked, the light begins to pulsate and grow stronger as it flows gently in a clockwise motion, from heart to heart and hand to hand.  As the circle is made complete, you look before you and see Juno seated at the center, enveloped in the pale blue light of your loving presence.  Let Juno be represented by that being who has made you feel most loved and cherished, and let that love be reflected back to her.  She is surrounded by Universal light delivered through sacred souls from all over the planet.  You may be holding hands with someone from America, from Canada or Ireland, from India or from Africa… your light is mingling with the light of people from countries whose names have never crossed your lips.  We are all one, and there are no barriers here.  We are all here for one purpose… to bring divine healing light to the soul of another, in whatever form is needed.  When we offer our healing energy, Reiki, Theta, our thoughts and prayers, it must be unattached to outcome, for we cannot know the destined journey of one’s soul.  We can only trust that exactly what is needed to bring healing to that sacred soul, in any form, will be delivered by our care.

As the light surrounding Juno grows and pulsates, it is like a magnet that is pulling from her body any residue of past harm, be it betrayal, fear-based thought, denial of success or personal worthiness, food-born or environmental distress or illness.  As all remnants of negativity and dis-ease (mentioned and unnamed) are removed from her body, her energetic being, her DNA, and her beautiful soul, all areas of exit are filled and sealed with golden light.  The pale blue light, which has grown in strength as each new soul enters the circle, becomes a beautiful emerald green.  As Juno has been emptied of what no longer serves her, she has become an open vessel to receive the light that we offer, as well as the sparkly white light of creation that flows from above.  We are grateful witness to the arrival of this light, and are awed by the beauty that illuminates Juno’s own beauty as she is filled with this light that is like the golden light from a holiday sparkler, or a downpour of luminous glitter.  This light fills every cell of her body with divine healing energy, as it delivers strength and fortitude for the road ahead.  Juno is receiving through her open heart, the wisdom of the universe, the strength of earthly ancient mountains, the air to fill her lungs and speak her truth, the fire to move her muscles and accomplish every task she seeks to fulfill, the water to wash her spirit clean of fear, anger, bitterness, and regret.  Juno is filled with divine light and soothed by the love that surrounds her.  Whatever is required for her peace, comfort, and transformation in the form that her soul has chosen will be provided with grace and ease.  She is one with all of us and we are all one with the Universe.  Together we transcend the limitations beholden to the confines of the human body, through the power of the mind, which is greater than our understanding.  Once again, we place our trust within this truth… that assistance is given to those who reach.  Together we reach beyond what we can see, feel, understand, and know that this mystery is received and freely given through the love that resides within each of us.

Finally, in this sacred place where we have gathered, we raise our hands toward Juno, and send golden light energy from heart to palm and into her being, so that she may carry the love of this circle within her through all of her days upon the earth and into the mystery of what comes next.  And when you feel that you have given what she needs, place your hands upon your own heart, and receive that same energy that flows through you and each sacred being within this circle.  Allow your own body and energetic being to be filled with this Universal Light Energy.  Feel the light and love of this vast community surround you and enter your heart.  Know that you carry this love within you, and that it seeps through every pore with a radiant light that brings healing to old wounds, and attracts an abundance of goodness to your life.

When you are ready to return to the place where you are sitting, reading these words that have somehow come through my fingertips and onto this page, I hope that you hold onto my gratitude and my love for the light that you have offered, and for the healing it has provided.  You are loved and valued beyond your previous imagining.  Hold onto that and let it grow in your awareness.  Your light will illuminate your path, and beauty surrounds you, every step of the way.

Thank you!  I love you!  It is done!

PS:  If you can please like and share this post, it will multiply the intensity of our combined healing light.  As I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about ‘Juno’, I could feel a heaviness and shortness of breath that was overwhelming.  I could feel the fear of those who suffer, and the sorrow of those who would give anything to be able to help.  I was strengthened by the thought of touching your heart, that you might touch the heart of another, and so on.  You can help.  We can help.  Somehow, in a place beyond our understanding… we shall rise…  warriors – all!

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The Enlightened Heart

One thing that has been a delightful surprise and enormous blessing about this journey of discovery through end of life studies, is the willingness and courage displayed by others who have been moved to share their own stories of loss.  Of course, the required reading provides stories from the perspective of hospice doctors, nurses, and palliative care providers… but the truth that is shared by a friend, of their own experience as a witness to a loved one’s departure is far more meaningful to me.  These sacred moments of vulnerability and raw emotion are so deeply personal that I consider it a great honor and privilege to be given the opportunity to hold space and bear witness, not to the dying in these cases, but to those who remain.  I feel as if I am being offered a gift from a friend who shares their experience, as I am offered a reflection of grace that might just be a guide for me when my darkness comes.  At the end of our days upon the earth – the path onward splits, as the survivor has no choice but to step forward in a new direction, as they create their new normal.  What a privilege to see how sorrow leads to strength and strength leads to becoming in the heart of a friend surviving the loss of a love.  The one who has died has given up all of their earthly belongings, and those who love them have lost the physical presence of someone dear.  These moments are woven into the tapestry of our individual mythology, and they are important tales of our own evolution.  I am honored to hold these sacred moments in the light of truth and with the warmth of love.

I just finished reading the fourth and final book of required reading for this course, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.  If you are interested in reading it and enjoy audiobooks, I found it on youtube.  I find that spoken words will allow pieces that feel important to me to rise up, and then I can find them in the book and deepen my focus where I have been drawn.  Within the six and a half hours of listening, I found my draw at the halfway point… just over three hours in.  Interestingly, the first three hours were on the topic of living, while the last three hours were on dying, death and rebirth.  These pages are filled with pathways to compassion.  They offer instruction through meditation – which kind of speaks my language.

I remember the first time I tried to meditate.  It was 1992, and I was taking a class on earth based spirituality.  One of my teachers had a passion for meditation and offered a Saturday morning practice.  I remember sitting on the floor of a darkened room, receiving soothing guidance with eyes closed.  When we were instructed to open our eyes at the end, I was simply frustrated.  We were going around the room, each person sharing what they had visualized on their journey within… and let me tell you these visions were magickal.  As for myself, however, I felt that I had failed to go anywhere… and simply could not push the mundane out of my mind.  My teacher asked me what I had seen, and the truth was that I was balancing my checkbook in my mind.  Ugh… nothing spiritual about that.  He then asked me to close my eyes now, and prompted me to say aloud what I could see.  I can’t actually remember the results of that exercise, but I could see that there was potential if I could just get out of my own way.  My teacher died in 1996, just ten days after his 32nd birthday.  A couple of days before his passing I sat at his bedside, held his hand, and sang to him the healing chant that ultimately led me to his circle (I wrote about that in my blogpost:  A Spiritual Path Less Taken.)  His was the first memorial service that I planned and led, a gift to his grieving beloved.  He was pagan and his surviving partner was Catholic, so it was a service that was beautiful, loving, and diverse.  He loved to sing (though he was tone deaf), and had been a member of a pagan choir called Amulet, which had recorded an album of earth based / goddess centered chants (which you can find on cdbaby).  This group was the healing salve between the words of sorrow and celebration throughout the service.  He taught me early on that raising our voices in song is a powerful way to connect with the spirit of all that is.  I never leave home without a song in my heart, thanks to him.

It was after he was gone that my Tribe dedicated a year to meditation.  Each week we gathered and we rotated responsibility for sharing a meditation with the group.  At this point in time, our lack of experience led us to share meditations written by others.  It was a year well-spent, because at some point I did finally get out of my way and learned to travel.  I offer gratitude for this accomplishment to my friend and teacher, who surely helped guide me there through his energetic form.  In April of this year, my soul-daughter wanted to practice her mediumship skills and engaged my support.  Before she arrived, I wrote down the names of those I have loved and lost, without attachment.  It was this friend who came through.  I knew it almost immediately.  Her first words were that this guy isn’t shy, but this is the first time he has communicated with a medium.  He said he was not related, but a friend.  His energy was smooth and calming, she said.  She compared it to being on a date with him… he said, “You know, I’ve never done anything like this before…”  His energy was smooth and calming, welcoming and kind, charming, strong and firm.  He described to her how he saw the world in a positive way – like everything was beautiful.  I told her that he literally wore rose colored glasses.  Ha!  She uses metaphor when she reads, as her guides show her visuals that she can interpret.  He showed her an obnoxious yellow VW bug to describe his personality… it would be quirky, bright, stand out and something you wouldn’t see every day.  He showed her that his energy was quirky, gentle, delicate, calm, but with a big personality at the same time.  He was not calm, but his energy was.  He made a joke with her, by dusting off an old book and dusting off his shoulders, reflecting that it had been a long time since he and I had connected this way.  She said that he used symbolism to communicate with her, with a lot of imagery, in a very poetic way.  This is how meditation flows, so this makes perfect sense to me.  I could go on and on about what I learned from my friend on the other side of the veil, but that would take more time than you have interest.  She felt as if he was teaching her.  He did so for exactly one hour and eleven minutes – 1:11.  Perhaps I will transcribe his wit and wisdom to share one day.  Until then, he informs me that we will continue to connect through nature… and meditation.  As if affirming my acknowledgement, I just looked out the window to see a single feather floating downward from the oak that stands sentinel in my front yard.

The art of compassion and how to serve is the foundation of the Buddhist structure shared within the pages of this book… a temple of healing with the power of the mind.  We are reminded to touch the suffering of another with love, rather than fear.  Fear leads to pity, while love leads to compassion.  In order to activate and mentally direct this compassion we may consider the following:

Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath.  Visualize a green light coming through your breath and into your heart, where it brightens and expands with each rise and fall of your chest.  As this light shines more brightly, it illuminates the wise ones who surround you.  You may see them and name them as your own spiritual path allows… be they ascended masters, angels, guides, God, Universal Energy, Spirit, ancestors, etc.  Ask for their guidance to allow your words, thoughts, and actions only to benefit and bring happiness to others… to support their transformation from suffering to peace.  Direct the compassion you possess, by positive action and spiritual practice, to the dedication of the welfare and enlightenment of all beings.  Know that your own attainment of these goals will be for the benefit of all.  And with this breath of compassion and enlightenment – we breathe in the sorrow and suffering of others, and we breathe out kindness.  We breathe in the panic and fear that surrounds us, and we breathe out happiness.  The black smoke of suffering is replaced with the green light of the enlightened heart.  The art of Tonglen is to transmute pain and suffering by giving and receiving.  I receive your suffering, and give you my happiness.  I receive your grief, and I give you my peace of mind.  All of this occurs through the breath.  This is a simplified explanation of the practice that is detailed in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.  I feel that a daily practice will be developed from these pages, and I hope that my heart light may be a comfort to you when you are in need.

Like my teacher before me, I have gone on too long.  Know that you are loved, and that I am grateful to have you walking beside me.

In the spirit of connectedness, I am sharing below a few links: to my first professionally recorded meditation to release your inner warrior by letting go of the false burdens we carry; to the recordings made by the choir to which I refer above; and the contact page for my soul-daughter, should you be interested in experiencing her divine gift, first hand.

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/melissabaker1

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/amuletpaganchoir

https://www.facebook.com/Jillianthemedium

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Transformation Dawning

My grandniece stayed with me last week, and though we ultimately had a ‘staycation’ (for me, anyway), I still consider it to have been a glorious escape.  My brother and his family live a few hours away, so we shared the burden of driving and met half way.  I fetched her on a Saturday and gave her back on the following Saturday.  This was the longest period of time we have had alone since she was 18 months old.

13.5 years ago circumstances were such that I felt compelled to offer my support and provide her with a safe place to grow between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while her grandparents met work obligations out of state and dealt with some obstacles at home.  I will never forget the sound of relief in the voice of my sister-in-law, when I somewhat jokingly commented on how cute she was and that she should just leave her with me… “Oh, Melissa… I would be so relieved.”  With wide eyes I looked at my parents who said they would help, and I cried all the way to the airport in the rain to fetch my Tribe brother.  I cried as I told him what I was considering, both of us single and childless at the time, he understood the importance of the task and the sense of overwhelm, too.  Neither of us would have imagined then that he would be married with three children of his own now.  That night I sent an email to friends about the crazy commitment I was considering, and by morning I had been offered all of the support required to make it possible.

That month was probably the most traumatic for all of us, as some navigated separation anxiety and heartbreak, while I spent each day in fear of getting something wrong.  Above all other worries, I feared for her the abandonment issues she would surely have to face in therapy (waves flag of abandonment issues – yo!).  I took my responsibility to her so seriously that I was determined to do anything I could to ensure she would not feel abandoned by me.  I remember one weekend that my Mom came over to offer me a break and an escape, but even when I left the room she would begin to cry, and I simply could not bear to leave.  I remember friends and co-workers saying to me… “Oh, Melissa… this is going to change your mind about having children.”  Well, it didn’t.  Not because she wasn’t precious, because she was.  And not because the work of caring for a child is thankless, because I know without a doubt that that month of my life was quite possibly one of my most important and greatest accomplishments of this lifetime… after all, I managed to keep her alive for an entire month!  She had never been around other children, so of course she immediately caught a cold from daycare, and she also cut a couple of molars during the time that I had her.  Every day I would drop her off and she would cry, and every day I would cry all the way to the office.  Did I mention that empathy is my number one strength?  I would tuck her into bed each night, and collapse in a heap in the silence of the living room, hoping to have a moment to myself, but feeling too exhausted to do anything else, and not wanting to make any noise that might disturb my sleeping angel.  I remember waking each morning and hoping that I could run to the bathroom before she woke up, so that I could tinkle without having to have her on my lap while doing so (because if she was awake, and I left the room… she would cry – and I could not allow her to feel abandoned by me).  Good golly, people!  How on earth can you possibly choose to be responsible for the entire life and well-being of another human?  What a horribly overwhelming task.  I remember how I would hear her cry and it would feel like my heart was beating on the outside of my chest.  I recall the  mornings when I would hear her stir in the makeshift crib that was next to my bed, and I would look over and smile to see her standing up and holding onto the edge, with her beautiful tuft of light brown curls, greeting me with a smile – that and when she tossed her head back to take the medicine for a cold or teething always reminded me of a baby bird.  I would have done anything to keep her safe, healthy, and happy.  Her happiness was my joy!  One night, I pushed past fatigue and put up the Solstice Tree, and delighted in the look on her sweet face the next morning as I carried her into the darkened living room lit by those magickal lights.

I have to admit, having a 15 year old in my guest room was much easier than having an 18 month old beside my bed.  I just caught myself wondering why we had never done this before… and remembered that this, too, is a gift of the year of time and reflection I’ve given myself.  Not beholden to anyone to grant me time off, I had the freedom to ask… and to receive.  It was pretty awesome.  She cooked for her great grandparents and me, and we shopped for school clothes.  She attended an event I co-hosted… a sort of female empowerment and expressive arts evening with friends.  She WOWed me with her openness and authenticity.  She spoke her truth and shared her vulnerability, knowing that she was in a safe place.  Her courage to share encouraged the same in others.  I introduced her to the art of acrylic pour, and she suggested that we do a project together, each creating a piece that would be symbolic of how we felt about each other or what we meant to one another.  Into the colors I chose – each as vibrant and rich as her stunning brilliance and personality – I stirred my hopes and dreams for her… to see her own true value, to seek her own truth and follow her own north star, to be filled with utter joy, and fulfilled by purpose and passion.  When it was dry, I wrote on the back of her canvas:  “Beloved – This painting contains my love for you, and symbolizes the beauty that you are and that which is on the horizon for you.  Love, M”  In turn, what she created for me contained many shades of green, with an additional image that she brilliantly added into negative space, which started as a Stag (sacred to Artemis, you know) and became a tree.  She told me that in meditation the forest is her safe place, and that I, too, am her safe place.  On the back of my canvas she wrote:  “To a GORGEOUS Goddess – You deserve the care you provide for everyone else.  You will get all that you need and want because you’re a beautiful soul.”   (I hope you’re listening, Universe!)

So, all of this was pure delight, and I loved every moment with my girly, but one of my favorite parts was meeting her request to enjoy a bit of nature together.  A friend of mine had suggested taking her to one of our local springs, and that is what we did.  We grabbed another friend of mine, and headed off for adventure.  We packed some snacks, put on bathing suits, and traveled just 30 minutes from home to reach a piece of paradise, Wekiwa Springs.  Knowing that the water would be shocking to our delicate systems (we Florida girls aren’t used to diving into 70 degree water), we chose to take a hike, so that the (literally) breathtaking plunge might feel even more welcome.  We traveled along the path and boardwalks, and delighted in the flora and fauna, as well as several winged creatures that were surely faery folk in the guise of dragonflies.  We saw them in many different colors, including green, silver and blue.  The presence of dragonfly informs us that transformation is dawning on the horizon – and I do believe all three of us can feel it coming.  As we completed the trail and began to hear the sound of others splashing in nearby water, we determined we were definitely ready for a swim.  This was the first time my grandniece had ever been to a spring, but this adventure brought back memories for my friend and for me.  My friend recalled many wonderful visits shared with her beloved, whom we lost to leukemia last fall… and having been away from this glory far too long, my own memories were of trips to the springs with my parents and brother when he and I were young, when we could dive for fossilized sharks teeth and swim until our lips turned blue.  I even remember a time when I was maybe 4 or 5 and my parents swam next to me – atop a raft, and there were people up on a bank who were tossing marshmallows into the water to feed an alligator.  I may have to check this memory with my folks to determine if that particular recall is based in fact or childhood fantasy.  Anyway, we swam for a while, and I began to worry that my toe rings would fall off, because the usual swelling of heat and gravity was totally lacking in this element… and they started to feel rather loose.  So, we each made our way up the hill to the shaded spot with our blanket and snacks.  We reflected on the connectedness we experienced with nature (and with the boy my grandniece met at the edge of the spring – oh, to be fifteen again), and after a while, we determined our needs had been filled.  We finished off the afternoon at my friend’s house with a few rounds of cards.  It was a perfect day!  Ever since, I’ve been asking myself why I had taken these gifts of nature for granted… feeling like I had to drive ten hours to find a piece of heaven, when it was right here… just a short drive from my front door.  I feel as if I will need to make up for lost time, and spend the next several weeks escaping to a local spring to dance with the dragonflies and swim until my lips turn blue.

As I summarized this delightful week to my soul-daughter, sharing how I felt badly for having shirked my responsibility to the end of life doula study… she once again reminded me, with that wisdom-beyond-years way that she does, that though I may have spent fewer hours at the computer or reading a book on death or palliative care, I had most certainly been ‘doing the work’.  You know what?  She’s right!  I am less sure today that my path is to become a doula, but more certain that there is purpose and meaning in doing this work.  Every single day of this sabbatical has been filled with a certain kind of mindfulness and gratitude that comes with the absolute knowledge that our time here is limited.  If the beauty of a natural spring doesn’t bring a sense of homecoming to your soul, you are denying the importance of the element of water in your very existence.  I mean…  you are made of mostly water!  The Earth is bubbling with this cooling, soothing salve for your tired and aching spirit, and She invites you to enter her healing embrace.  The cicadas are singing for the resonant pleasure of your eternal spirit – reminding you of the freedom of summertime on a hot afternoon, how could you fail to recognize their tune?  And everywhere you turn, the dragonflies are bobbing and dancing, then gently perching upon branch and limb, hoping to get a closer look at your vibrant being, knowing that the symbolism of the human body is to be reminded that you are looking upon the Universe itself – in which all of the elements, air, fire, water, earth and spirit, are contained.  The dragonflies know this about every human they pass, why must so many of us fail to recognize this truth, whether passing another on a trail, or seeing our own reflection in the living waters?  There is so much tragedy in what we fail to see.

I am growing more certain with each passing day that this sacred journey upon which I embarked last fall is really about learning to truly see.  I am learning to see what has always surrounded me… that beauty is before me, behind me, above me, below me, and within me.  I am learning to sense what I cannot see with my eyes, allowing energy to be felt with my heart and words that are not heard through my ears to flow with grace and ease through my fingertips and onto this page.  Through the study of death and dying, I am learning how to truly live.  Every time I wish I could see the future and how my financial security will evolve from something I no longer care to do into something I was born to do, I am reminded that I don’t need to see it to know it is on the way.  I don’t need to define it to be able to manifest it.  I am already in the spring and it is carrying me forward, and I have no choice but to stay open to receive and appreciate all of the rich beauty that awaits, as I mindfully and joyfully go with the flow.

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Homecoming

I drove home from Tennessee on Saturday.  It was a nearly ten hour drive that was fueled by my desire to squish my kitty after two weeks of abandonment… hoping as each mile passed that she would welcome my arrival and not remind me of the betrayal with a cold shoulder attitude.  Instead of the career focused reading on palliative care that got me to the mountains two weeks before, I chose to listen to one of my very favorite fiction novels on the journey home.  Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees never lets me down.  If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve missed the most important feature of the story… the divine mother.  She comes through in a thousand beautiful ways, if you know what to listen for.

With Lilly, Rosaleen, and the Calendar Sisters’ company, the long drive was made even more picturesque.  Driving along highway 26 through the Blue Ridge Mountains is always my favorite part of the journey regardless of direction… coming or going.  The saddest part of going is when you are about to enter South Carolina, and you see the last glimpse of those beautiful mountains in the rear view mirror.  I don’t know how to explain how this particular mountain range affects me, but it is something akin to coming home to the lap of the most nurturing embrace.  I have visited other mountain ranges that may be beautiful, but they’ve got nothing on these ancient and wise, healing mounds of rock and blue-green earth.  It is always a bittersweet departure.

I’m sure I had a hundred thoughts on writing during my long day’s travel.  I started out at 9am, and at 3:42pm I looked at the GPS to see that I had 342 miles left to drive.  I did stop to buy lottery tickets in two of the states through which I traveled… because I have decided that if I didn’t have to worry about an income, I could simply be of service to those I love and those in need, without making a business out of it.  That’s one of the questions in the end of life doula study… if you didn’t have to worry about an income, what services would you most like to provide?  The truth is, it would look something like what I’ve been doing since I left the corporate world.  I would walk through the world of uncertainty with those who are facing new challenges in health or in life, delivering comfort, listening with great care and without judgment, advocating for the patient’s best interest, hand holding, wheelchair pushing, driving, reminding, recording, and above all… holding sacred space throughout transition, transformation, and healing.

My soul-daughter and I had a video conference while I was away, and her epiphany was that I was her end of life doula, as she transitioned from her former life where she grew up, into her new life where she will continue to grow in a city where everything is new to her.  For the two months prior to her move, I listened to and affirmed her plan – even when others couldn’t understand a young woman following her inner guidance which might have defied logic at times, I helped her pack up the old apartment, and was with her when she found her new apartment, being witness to the magick that kept showing her that she was on the right path.  I made a trip over to see her when she was all settled in, and remain connected to learn about all of the wonderful things she is manifesting in her new life.  What a gift she is to me!  We are gifts to each other.

As I drove onto my street, somewhere around 7pm, I was excited to stop at my parents’ home, which is seven houses away from my own.  I carried in mountain gifts of tomatoes, apples, and pickles (Dad’s one request), and visited briefly before heading home to squish my cat.  Here’s the really good news…  she wasn’t mad at me.  She was at the door as I walked in, and when I pulled her into my arms, the love fest began.  I didn’t want to leave her until she felt adequately adored.  Eventually, I did feel I should bring in things from the trunk of my car.  That’s when it happened…  Not when you’d think it would happen, while lifting my 26 inch suitcase up and out… no.  The snap in my lumbar occurred as I simply turned and lifted the lid of the trunk.  It was that simple.  One moment you are feeling fine… and the next… excruciating pain through lower back and hip.  Oy!  Hence, the radio silence since homecoming.  I have found it really difficult to concentrate on anything resembling coherent thought since Sunday morning.  I asked the Universe why I needed to be going through this right now, and the answer I received was… empathy.  My reply was that I really feel like I’ve got this one down already.  After all, empathy is at the top of my list of top 5 strengths from StrengthsFinder.  I guess I need to listen harder to find another reason.  This is what I decided… I shall move through this pain and suffering, reminding myself that there are many living with chronic pain on a daily basis.  I am reaching out to the healers in my community, and remind myself that we are never alone and that there are people in our lives who hold wisdom and possibility in the palms of their hands.  With each form of treatment, I find some relief and some agitation as healing moves through bone and muscle, fascia and flesh.  Earlier today, pain came while walking and this evening it was walking that brought relief, as I headed over to see my folks – feeling badly about coming home and then disappearing again to nurture my wound.  So I know that tomorrow will be twice better than yesterday… reminding myself that suffering is temporary and that this, too, shall pass.

As I walked home tonight, twilight was bathing my surroundings in that magickal light.  The waxing moon was reflecting the radiant sun no longer in view.  I thought about how I am already missing the fireflies that danced through my friends’ yard… here in Florida we spray for mosquitoes, so firefly sightings are extremely rare.  But as I looked around me, I was thrilled to recognize that the magick and beauty of nature that I could see, hear, smell, and feel in the mountains can also be found right here at home.  As I looked up at the radiant moon, I saw our beautiful bats in exuberant flight – dashing to and fro in a dance of joyful mosquito consumption, and I could hear the cicadas screaming their deafening chant of summer evening delight (our cicadas sing a different song than the one heard in Tennessee – and I love that sound, which reminds me of summertime in childhood when the streetlights came on and it was time to leave friends and head home).  It had rained in the late afternoon, so the earth was moist and I could smell the color green that pours forth through lush trees, plants, and grass, and the air was delightfully cool as a result of that earlier precipitation.  As I walked along the familiar path between the home where my parents live and the home where my grandparents once lived, I realized that though healing in my back is not complete, it is in progress – and 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, 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, and for all of this… and I mean all of it… I am eternally grateful.

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The Umbrella Principle

There are five things, according to Dr. Ira Byock who wrote Dying Well, that can bring comfort and closure at the end of life.  In each of our relationships, as we near the end of our days, we may pass through the veil without regret if we are able to tell those we love the following:  Forgive Me, I Forgive You, Thank You, I Love You, Goodbye.  My study of end of life doula work has opened a portal for conversations with others about their own experiences with death, and I am grateful for these opportunities.  There is obviously overwhelming heartbreak involved in each story, but there is also a call to mindfulness, and at times… grace.

But what about the relationships that never have such closure, because those who were departing did not exactly plan to leave their bodies behind quite so soon… or because they were too fearful to broach such topics with those they love?  If life is filled with lessons, perhaps unexpected loss is a reminder to each of us that such endeavors need not wait for the clarity of a terminal diagnosis.

Though my parents and I hope to be in each others’ lives for years to come, we have taken time here and there to discuss our thoughts.  With their recent update to their “Last Will and Testament” documents, which came with buying a new house up the street from me, Mom and Dad each completed the “Five Wishes” form, which provides a format to help us consider our end of life wishes.  A few items for consideration are who can speak for your healthcare needs when you are not able to speak for yourself, in what situation would you deny life-saving efforts, who would you like at your bedside as your spirit returns to its original energetic form (that’s my wording, of course), and how you’d like the body you’ve left behind to be cared for at that time.

As my friend and I connected from opposite corners of the country to discuss her experiences, I shared with her the memory of the departure of a mutual friend of ours in the late 90’s.  He was only 32, and though he had a serious diagnosis, a side-door illness swooped in and took him from us with unexpected haste.  I can see his final days, dimly lit, in the back of my mind.  He had refused to discuss his wishes with his partner, and as we set to the task of planning and arranging his memorial service, the grief seemed greater for the fear of getting something wrong.  At the time, my (then) partner and I were only 28, but within weeks of our friend’s celebration of life, we celebrated our own with official documents that stated our wishes should one of us be lost to the other without warning.  As for the stories my friend shared with me, she suffered a few tragic losses in her youth, but one that was expected was that of her grandmother.  Now, her grandmother had been incredibly mindful of her wishes, and was mostly clear… mostly.  She had planned and even executed her entire funerary arrangement… right down to purchasing the flowers for her casket and securing transport of her body from hospital to funeral home.  Her loved ones would not need to do anything but grieve at her loss.  However, her advance directive left for her doctors to follow was not so clear, and there was some confusion.  In other words, if you are ready to go, but you’ve not declined life-sustaining treatment with your healthcare providers (and your health surrogate), they are honor bound to provide them.

I know that the end of life is a difficult subject for most of us to consider, but I wonder if it might be easier to think about it a little differently.  You know how it seems to rain when you don’t have an umbrella, and how when you are mindful enough to carry one, no matter how dark it gets the rain never comes?  Well, that’s how I see this form of preparation.  Not that having these discussions with loved ones and securing official documentation of your preferences will keep the inevitable at bay… after all, it is the one guarantee in life that is presented on the day we are born.  But I submit for your consideration that if you have done the work of mindfully caring and sharing your authentic wishes for a peaceful transition from this world to the mystery of what comes next, you will gift yourself and those you love great freedom to live each day fully present.  I updated my own documents before my last trip abroad, in case I were to fall off of a cliff in Ireland, and I recently wrote a ritual of departure for such an occasion though I’m not sure of when I will next enjoy such adventure.  It was a surprisingly cathartic exercise.

All of that said, I would like to take a moment to tell you that if I have ever wronged you or caused you harm in any way, I am deeply sorry and I hope that you will forgive me.  If you ever wronged me or caused me harm in any way, I have come to understand from my own deep regret that such actions likely came through suffering of some kind, and I forgive you.  For your presence in my life and for even the tiniest expressions of kindness and care, I offer you my gratitude.  For the love that you have offered so freely, not only to me but to your family, your friends, your community, our planet and all of Her beloved creatures… I love you more.  There’s one more thing… but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye (I hope).  For now, I’ll bid thee hail and farewell until we meet again.

If you are interested in learning more about determining your own advance directive, you can check out this link:
http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3277 , you can also google Five Wishes.

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