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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Sacred Ceremony

I was first introduced to sacred ceremony in 1992 at a workshop on feminine spirituality.  In my circle it is also referred to as ‘ritual’, but since those unfamiliar with the practice may have only heard the term followed with the word ‘sacrifice’, I prefer the above.  Sacred ceremonies you may be familiar with would be a child’s christening or a wedding.  If you consider how important these rites of passage are for the child / the couple, and their community, understand that there are many moments in all of our lives that deserve to be marked and celebrated… and that the act of doing so will make the milestone or accomplishment more sacred.  At times, there are obstacles to overcome, like a great loss, heartbreak, or regrets that get in the way of our own progress.  This is when I find the art of ceremony to be most rewarding, and deeply healing.

We lost a beloved member of our community to leukemia in November.  In December a conversation with her widow revealed that she wasn’t sleeping well, and that she was having trouble dealing with emotions of anger and bitterness toward an organization that had mistreated her beloved a few years before her death.  The betrayal our dear one suffered led her into a spiral of depression and a crisis of identity from which she never really recovered.  I assured my friend that her love left behind all of those worries with her body, and that she carried them no longer… which is what she surely would wish for those who survived her.  I offered suggestions for cutting off from that energy and asked her to let me know if she needed support in doing so.  At our next check-in she affirmed her desire for help in letting go.

So, we came together at the dark of moon.  Lakeside and surrounding a brilliant bowl of fire, we set an altar of our reverence with a photo of our beloved’s beautiful smiling face – radiant with sunshine, along with a few sacred symbols and her guitar, with which she had formerly serenaded us all at campfires past.  With the couple who had eagerly introduced our beloved to her wife a quarter century before, and another couple from their shared inner circle, this gathering was not a memorial for we had done that exceptionally well in the fall.  This was an intentional ceremony of release for those who remained to face life without the presence of a sacred soul held dear.

These were the words that stated our purpose and intention for this ceremony:
“We gather to reconnect this sacred circle, and to support one another in the process of letting go.  As we let go of that which does not belong to us, or that which no longer serves us… we are lighter and liberated for the work of mapping the path forward.  We honor the darkness, for it was surely illuminated by the light of love.  We have lost a great light in our lives for whom we grieve, but we find that while in the physical world there was rarely enough time to deeply connect… and now… beyond the confines of the body… we are able to commune with her spirit without interruption.  Lynn is no longer limited.  Our beloved is not gone from us, she is right here in this sacred space, and in our hearts.  Her smile is brighter than this flame, and her laughter and her song are lifted upon smoke and breeze.  The process of letting go allows us to pull her closer, as walls and barriers crumble and fall away.”

As I led our circle through a guided visualization, we journeyed into an ancient passage tomb where we would become aware of all that we carried from which we would now seek freedom and release.  As we emerged into the light and back to our circle, we each took the time to write down every thought and realization discovered.  We listed our regrets and our fears, our feelings of bitterness and sorrow, along with any words left unspoken to be carried to the expansive and ever present being of our beloved… no longer in human form.  When every last word was written, they were carried to the flames and set alight with our heart’s desire for transformation… each page burning into ash within a small stone basin, then carried to the water’s edge.  There, we symbolically cut cords attached to people who no longer would have ownership of our spiritual real estate, as we reached to the essence of water Herself… the Lady of the Lake… asking for Her mercy and Her love to receive our words, cleansed and purified by fire, to be blessed and consecrated then transformed and transmuted as dust became fluid.

We returned to fire circle, and we shared stories and sang songs… after all, this was one of her very favorite things… and then we concluded our work with these words:
“With open hearts and untethered spirits, we cast our nets forth into the wisdom of all that is, anticipating the limitless abundance the Universe delivers with grace and ease, for which we are eternally grateful.”  And so, we are.

I know that our ceremony was blessed with great love and that the one that we can no longer see with our eyes remains ever present.  She is in the garden with her love, she is at the fireside with dear friends, and she is sitting across from me as I write.  Her laughter rises on billows of incense, and the flickering candle is the twinkle in her eye.  It is not that we miss her any less than we did when the great void was opened that terrible day in Autumn, it is simply that we have chosen to carry her with us as we carry on.  We were so blessed.  We ARE so blessed!

(Psyche Weeping by Kinuko Y. Craft)

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Holding Space

Since leaving the corporate world in October, the Universe has presented multiple opportunities for me to be of service to my beloved community.  On one hand, I wish that no one in my sacred circle had cause for suffering or need for support through the struggle of poor health or hardship, but on the other hand… I am so very grateful that this moment of freedom has allowed me the ability to be completely present.

The last several years in the working world were filled with traumatic change and overwhelming grief.  Survival was no easy task for an empath.  I recall having a friend in need for whom I could not be wholly present, because at the end of the day… I had nothing left to give.  I feel as if the Universe is giving me the opportunity to rebuild the karma of those lost opportunities through this sabbatical.

In the book I am writing, I begin with an explanation of what brought me to the path of studying to become an end of life doula.  That story begins with what leaving a toxic workplace gifted me… it gave me the world!  And best of all, it presented me with a sense of purpose.  I never really knew what I was meant to do with my life, the way that some people seem to graduate high school with a final destination in mind for college and career.  My mom chose my electives in school, which included typing and word processing, so that I would have ‘something to fall back on’, and so… I fell into secretarial work, when I decided the hospitality industry (you know, because I’m a people person) wouldn’t offer me a 9 to 5 job with weekends off.

But I was lucky in that regard, you know… in settling.  A friend shared my typing speed with the manager of the processing department where she worked, and they asked me to come in, and I was immediately hired.  Within a year or so, a secretarial position opened and I was promoted.  It was in that role that I was blessed to support someone who could see my light, and she nurtured my growth as my mentor for ten years, until the Universe guided me to what was next.  That particular bit of guidance is a different story, entirely!  But where it led me was to support someone who seemed to really need my particular energy and light.  He had worked with five assistants in nine years when the planets aligned to bring us together.  Sometimes I think that what he needed most was kindness, compassion, patience, and a smile that would inform him that everything would be okay.  He was under enormous pressure, some of which was self-generated.  I did see the side of him that made the others seek other work, but we worked through it.  I would ask if he was okay, and he would say, “I’m not sharing my stress am I, because I don’t mean to.”  And at the end of each day he would say, “Melissa!  Thank you for a great day!”  That made everything worth it.  We were together eight and a half years until he retired.  I was blessed to work with his chosen successor until her retirement, six years later.  She was a tiny woman with a powerful mind and a giant heart.  My blood pressure normalized during those years.  She suffered weekly migraines during the last couple of years, and I was there with honey-tea, with ice pack, and reminded her to put down what was stressing her soul and to feed her body.  I introduced her to a friend who commented to her about how positively I speak of her, and her reply was, “Oh, Mel and I just love each other.”  That’s not often heard in the corporate world, but I was blessed to have that.  I remain in touch with these three beloved work partners to this day.  I wonder if I was happy there for so long because they each allowed me to utilize my strengths to serve them.  I provided a little something that eased the stress of whatever they were dealing with.  In a way, I think I was holding space for them to do their work.

Now free from the enormous stress of a corporation, these days more beholden to shareholders than to their employees and the communities they serve, I have the opportunity to hold space… to bring comfort and support healing.  This is where my future lies.

During these days of freedom, I have been able to spend a magickal day with a beautiful friend who showed me what grace looks like at the end of life.  I have been the communications director for another friend at the beginning of her cancer journey, and only five minutes away, remain on-call for her assistance through chemotherapy and recovery.  I have been patient advocate and wheelchair maiden to dear friends, who are life-long support to one another, but are both facing health issues at the same time.  I’ve been able to be more present for my parents who are slowing down and needing a little more support these days.  Since my brother lives a few hours away, I’ve even been learning the art of PC and Tablet support, skills which may elude your average 80 year old.  And after the death of my beautiful friend, I was able to hold space for the healing of her heartbroken wife.  As I said, I wish that dear ones had no need of my presence in these ways, but I am grateful and heart-filled to have had the freedom and ability to serve.

Tonight I am working with a friend to bring expressive arts to a group of women in her circle.  The goal is to release what no longer serves us, and with burdens lifted to put focused energy into the art of manifesting the future we each desire.  A year ago, I was fearful of what life might look like without the burden of a job that I no longer loved.  As I look back at that time, I fear what I would have missed if nothing had changed.  It’s funny how perspective can be altered just by looking at something from a different level.  Spiral in…  spiral out.

Thanks for walking this labyrinth with me, dear ones.  May all of your burdens be lifted, and may all of your hopes and dreams be made manifest with grace and ease.

(photo found on pinterest w/o credit)

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