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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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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