Mountain Magick

Sunday morning, I woke with the rising sun. My host was already up preparing breakfast for the guests who were departing after a full day at the Scottish Highland Games. I took my coffee onto the porch to greet the misty mountains. I wanted to sing them a song, and was reminded of the Cherokee Morning Song that we recorded with Amulet Choir in the late nineties. It felt appropriate, being so close to the Cherokee National Forest. I bowed to the majesty of these ancient motherly mountains. My affection for this land is boundless.

Sing along with us!

I spent some time listening to the birds that responded to my choir. I love the diversity and the joy. Sometimes it sounds as if they might be telling a joke when another replies with a twitter. (Ugh… that word has taken on new meaning these days, and it kind of turns my stomach. Sad.)

Sitting down to breakfast with a group of travelers and kindred spirits is so heartwarming. If you have the opportunity to stay at a Bed and Breakfast in lieu of a hotel, I hope you will take the time to connect with your fellow guests. You will surely be reminded of the goodness in the world, despite the chaos and sorrow presented by each newscast. What a blessing.

The GPS offered three routes from Banner Elk to Asheville, NC, and I chose the path that took me through the most greenery. The path wound through roads canopied with sheltering trees, through farmland, and small towns featuring waterfalls and antique shops. The ninety minute journey delivered me to my favorite art city, and there I found three of my favorite humans from Tennessee waiting at Malaprop’s Book Shop.

Two of we four ventured to Asheville for the first time in 1993 on a mountain retreat, and we both fell in love with the energy, the art, and the culture in this sacred place. Our first stop was at Woolworth Walk, where an old dime store has been converted into a gallery for multiple local artists. I have a few favorites there, and make it a priority to see what new creations are on display and for sale.

Though this trip was randomly scheduled based on best timing to be away from my parents, divine timing would, for the second time in two years, find me in town for “The Big Crafty” art festival in Pack Square. What a blessing to find my favorite local artist there in person! Though my art budget is smaller than it once was, I could not resist selecting a few pieces of her whimsical folk art to come home with me.

My artistic ability is limited to words, so I have such reverence for those who have the ability to literally paint a picture that captures the heart. Deona Fish is the mother of Sleepy Little Dreams Studio, and her spirit is as nurturing and kind as the art she creates. I learned that she follows my blog, and we planted seeds of a partnership of words to mirror and inspire her magickal creatures. Oh, how I long to work for art!

The boys and I had lunch at Moose Cafe and stopped at the farmers’ market out back. The food is good country cooking with portions that could feed you for days. I left with a box and enjoyed my meatloaf again while back on my mountain porch later that night. It was such a gift to have time with these people I adore.

As I prepared to return to Banner Elk, I confirmed with another friend an address and timing for a visit. This is where the beauty of facebook comes in. We were colleagues from back in 2004 when he supported an executive search for my boss. I knew he had a home in the mountains, but never dreamed that we might be here at the same time. Further, I had not realized that his summer home was in the same place as the friends with whom I am staying. It was an extraordinary treat to be able to spend a few hours sharing our mutual stories of respect for one another and those we have served, while looking out over the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever known.

As much as social media has complicated the world, with a certain kind of screen addiction and the burden of having bad news and poor behavior broadcast into the palm of your hand, it has also been such a gift of connectedness. I announced my safe arrival, and he reached. Two souls blessed to care about one another were reunited and joy was shared. To me, any complaint fades for this gratitude. I texted the two retired leaders we both supported with a photo to let them know we were speaking fondly of them. Each texted back with their regards and photos of their own. Now retired five years and ten… after sacrificing so much to a corporation, they are living fully in the moment enjoying the company of their families. We couldn’t be happier for where each of us are right now. I am grateful.

Shortly after my return to the B&B, my hosts entered with family members who had arrived earlier for a weekend visit. Once again, I was delighted by the love one can feel, even in a room of new acquaintances. This is clearly what our world is missing, this kind of mindful connection. We need to gather in living rooms rather than chat rooms, and we need to share stories that make us laugh and cry. We need to give and receive hugs and bear witness to the divine truth of one another. We need to reach out to Mother Nature and feel Her embrace.

Monday delivered a glorious visit with another friend who lives atop a mountain nearby. I love the way that we feel safe and free to speak our thruths and be authentic, despite the passing of time and the burden of distance. If you have even one friend with whom you can be real, without judgment and feel affirmed, you are blessed, indeed.

After four nights away, it was time to drive home to my beloveds on Tuesday. It was difficult to leave the lap of nurturing that I found in Banner Elk, but I knew that I would be back in just a few months. My ten hour drive was surprisingly pleasant. I really do enjoy my own company these days. Who would’a thunk it?

My mom told me that they realized while I was away just how much easier I have made their lives. So, more than respite was found in my brief escape to care for the caregiver. I was so happy to see their smiling faces when I walked through their door. It made me feel even more grateful for the blessings we share at this moment in our lives. And then, there was the love-fest that ensued upon entering my own front door. Morgan, my little-old-lady-kitty greeted me with great affection, and all was right with the world, once again. Sometimes it feels like we are holding our breath, but didn’t know it until we are reunited with those souls that make us who we are, doesn’t it?

For me, the mountains are magickal. They help me to breathe deeper, and they remind me of the plethora of beauty that nature provides. Having the opportunity to disconnect from responsibility and reconnect with friends who remind us that we are much more than the roles we may fill in the mundane moments of our daily lives is absolutely necessary for our wellness.

Be WELL, dear ones. Whatever makes you feel connected and full awaits your time and notice. Make the wellness of your sacred soul a priority. You are so worthy. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Amulet Choir Music is Here: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/amuletpaganchoir?fbclid=IwAR1FadEI1FTZY4QPFoUwJjJ6GnI8EsY33ANLFwhaNjAceR-tPhRXGr_Fjnw

A wonderful B&B in Banner Elk, NC is Here:
https://www.thepointebandb.com/

What an extraordinary backyard!

Caregiver Respite

Yesterday, I drove eleven hours to reach my nirvana. Before chosen as a somewhat popular band name, this was the transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self – the final goal of Buddhism. In the symbolic sense, I find these things not at ocean’s edge (only an hour from my home), but on mountain top. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, my soul finds peace, renewal, and rebirth.

My parents and I have fallen into such a lovely routine of presence and connectedness, that it was difficult to find the right timing for my absence, but as it often does, the universe conspired for my highest good and everything fell into place. My friends with a Bed &Breakfast in Banner Elk, NC had one bed available, my brother planned a weekend visit with the folks, and suddenly my worries about abandoning my cat and my parents were lifted.

I once dreaded a long drive, even with a friend, for the tedious nature of the journey… trying to stay awake, stopping to pee in a public restroom, the way the body rebels from prolonged sitting / riding. But in recent years, I’ve learned to love such a journey, even solo. Yesterday, I enjoyed eleven hours of introspection.

I listened to an audiobook on spirituality, then needed more stimulation, so I sang along with the cast of Hamilton, and then spent some time with Alexander Hamilton’s biography (also on audiobook), which informed Lin Manuel Miranda’s epic Broadway show. I found myself wishing there had been such art available in my youth, for learning about history would have been even more interesting to me if I could hum the tune.

I am grateful that I am able to find just as much joy in solitude as I do with great company. Maybe I have become the change I most wish to see in the world.

I arrived at The Pointe B&B at North View just before dinner time, after leaving home at 6:06am. Oh, the glory of walking into open loving arms after a long drive. I was informed that four of the seven other guests were teachers and one was a childhood friend of our hostess. They had grown up together and had gone all the way through school, but had not seen each other in thirty years. This ‘business’ has delivered the prosperity of reunion to my dear friend. The peace in her heart is tangible, and I am grateful.

After dinner, I learned more about the teacher-guests. They live near the DC area, and if you’ve ever seen video footage of the T-Rex protesting the President in front of the White House, well… you’ll know that I have been blessed to meet a few remarkable and energetic beings who carry humor for protection during difficult times, this weekend. It turns out that this group of friends drove down to attend the Scottish Highland Games on Grandfather Mountain. And of course… we learned that we share a common world view, spiritual path, and even world travel experience. We are kindred. It was difficult to turn down the invitation to join them for the games, but I reminded myself that I have come here to reconnect with the spirit that lives in the woods. Men in kilts will have to wait for another day.

I am sitting in a napping porch swing with my laptop, looking out at a mountain range, listening to the wind in the leaves and various bird call, bearing witness to bees and chipmunks in the yard. It is glorious. This is how my soul finds renewal… in the majesty of Mother Nature, in Her form of ancient, voluptuous, undulating mountain curves and folds. She allows me to sit in Her lap as She gently strokes my hair, and I am at peace. There are grey clouds above and I am hoping to add the sound of mountain rain to my weekend soundtrack.

On my drive, I was thinking about a sweet friend who is facing some health concerns. She has been having trouble sleeping lately, and reached out for support. On that road I drove, which sometimes presented obstacles, I started writing a meditation for her in my mind. What was to be a 9.5 hour drive (per google maps) ended up being an 11 hour journey. Most of the road was smooth and delightfully free-flowing. But once in a while there were obstacles. Some stops were just to empty my bladder and keep going, but then there was… South Carolina. It is the only stretch of I-95 I’ve driven that instantly changes at the border… shrinking down to two lanes in each direction. An accident that didn’t even block the road cost all drivers an extra 40 minutes as everyone slowed down to look, and there was nowhere for a non-nosy driver to pass.

When my friend was given a diagnosis and learned surgery was required, an obstacle was presented in the form of a heart concern. So, she has been momentarily diverted and things have slowed down to ensure she stays safe. But soon, the obstacle will be behind her and the road ahead will be free-flowing once again. She may need to stop for gas or to empty her bladder, but the road will patiently await her eager return to the path of discovery and freedom.

What a blessing it is that we all get to share our sacred journeys with the hearts of others. How lovely to seek healing and respite and to find it in the embrace of those we love. What wonder to be nourished and nurtured by a joyful welcome, deep sharing, caring inquiry, and in the honor of holding space for one another. In my heart, I know that THIS is the meaning of life. We are the universe made manifest in human form for the delight of being touched.

I look up to see two souls at play, a small bird and a chipmunk at the edge of the yard. What a shame it would be to be in the presence of such grace and miss the point.

For the moment, I am comforted to know that my most important beings are caring for one another back home, while I am doing the necessary work of caring for the caregiver (that’s me). When I get home, we will get dad ready for a surgery that will hopefully bring comfort, but will also require closer care through recovery. I am recharging my battery and will be ready to serve with presence, patience, reverence and grace. (so mote it be)

I’m planning to close this sacred writing tool and relax on the napping swing for a while. The meditation for my friend, to help her rest, will solidify in my mind to be written and recorded, and later, my hosts and I will ride down the mountain to share a meal. We are all eager to hear the Highland Tales of my fellow guests around the fire this evening. Until then… Slainte! (Gaelic – “To Your Good Health!”)

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.

If you’d like to join us, you can book your stay at: https://www.thepointebandb.com/

View from The Pointe B&B at North View, Banner Elk, NC

Witness to Waning

I watch her from across the room and see her stumble. She seems a bit wobbly this week, and I feel helpless. I pick her up and shower her with kisses, as I smooth out the water trapped in the fur of her forehead, spreading it into the fur of her neck and shoulders – an impromptu bath. I noticed this trend of dipping her head in the stream of water coming through the spout of her water fountain about the same time that the head tremor appeared. She is the fifth cat for whom I’ve had sole responsibility in my adult life, and I still crave the understanding of KSL [kitty sign language].

The workshops that I am developing and sharing this year are based on the changing seasons and how, just like nature, we humans move through cycles in our lives. It is a practice in mindfulness, to take notice of what is happening around us and what is happening within us. Using the garden metaphor, our year takes us from planting a seed, to sprouting and growth, to blossom and fruit, to harvest, and finally to rest – before the cycle begins again.

Much like the seasons move through a rise and fall throughout the solar year, so does the moon through the lunar month.

In the life of a beloved pet (in my case, a sweet cat named Morgan), the new moon would welcome a suckling kitten – brand new and filled with sweetness and hope. The two weeks that fall between the new moon and the full moon are the waxing time of life, as they become feisty, playful, adventurous, curious and a little destructive. When the moon is full, the cat is a healthy adult. This phase feels like it shines for a good long time, until one day… the light gradually begins to pour out of the cup of the moon. In the waning phase of moon and cat, things begin to change. They start to lose weight and you can feel the sharpness of bone through their fur. Health issues start to appear. Getting them to eat well is a struggle. And suddenly, you realize that you are only months, weeks, or days from dark moon.

The parallels in the health of my cats and the health of my father are not lost on me. Gwydion was with me for thirteen years, and in his waning year, my father was suffering an undiagnosed B12 deficiency. Several trips to Mayo clinic failed to recognize the elephant in the blood work, and by the time a local neurologist discovered it, permanent nerve damage was done. That was in 2008. The same year that Gwydion developed some kind of cancer, and as we were boosting Dad’s B12 to help him grow stronger, I was coming to terms with letting my boy go.

Now, in 2019 I see my kitty stumble, and reflect on the state of my father’s struggle to stand and walk without falling. Once again, the cup of the moon pours out Her light… and I can feel darkness descending.

The lives of our pets are fleeting in comparison to our own lengthy stay upon planet Earth. So really, my father is in the waning part of the year… maybe late autumn, while Morgan is in the waning part of the moon, like the waning crescent. Somehow it helps, I think, to view our lives this way. A continuous cycle of change. I know each year with the emerging spring, that winter will come again. (In Florida, that can be enormously comforting.)

With all of the reading I’ve done on death and dying, and with greater understanding of the way that energy and consciousness (that which we are beyond this earthly shell) moves through space and time, my approach to nurturing both Morgan and Dad is more mindful.

If either of them does not want to eat, I offer an alternative. If they refuse that option, I let them be. I will treat for comfort, but I will not put either of them through anything that will be traumatic with the intention of prolonging life. Great clarity was attained in my reading of Stephen Jenkinson’s Die Wise, and the painful awareness of his palliative care patients who ultimately felt resentful for prolonged dying. His style is poetic and blunt, so it’s not the easiest read, but it is honest and insightful.

Dad and Morgan can both be quite stubborn. Getting Morgan to take her medicine or eat her food is often a struggle, while she is quite good at water consumption. I don’t have to worry about dehydration, at least. Dad, on the other hand… consumes very little liquid, because getting up to empty his bladder requires so much effort. At least I can easily get him to tip his head back while I dump a hand full of pills into his mouth. I remind him every once in a while that dehydration means a hospital visit, but then I drop it.

Learning to have healthy boundaries means respecting the autonomy of others. My approach to caring for my waning beloveds is more about presence and holding space than fixing things. When it is time for each to go… they will go. We are all meant to go at some point, after all. I can do nothing to stop them. What I can do… is love them. I can love them when they are sweet, and I can love them when they are cranky. I can love them when they move easily to my will and good intentions, and I can love them through their resistance.

My personal practice of mindful presence is to do my best to take notice of changes, to ask for help if I need it, and to offer pathways toward comfort and peace. At least in Dad’s case, I can ask him if something we are doing is helpful or bothersome. Most of the time he isn’t really sure, but there is always comfort in knowing you are not making it worse.

With Morgan, it is harder. Bargaining with a cat is complicated, and the only way I can determine if something is helping is if her behavior changes. When she turns her nose up at the same food she ate with gusto yesterday, I don’t know what has changed or how to make it better. There are days when I have five different kinds of food down for her and dump it all the next day, barely touched. I consult with her doctor periodically, and I try each suggestion. At the end of the day, we don’t seem to be making much of a difference. And so I return to my practice… and hold her close.

Imagining the beauty of the moon in the night sky, even at the noon hour, I love the way She makes me feel. She reflects the radiance of the Sun and illuminates the darkness. I guess that’s what our pets do for us, isn’t it? They illuminate our personal darkness. They are bringers of light. They add beauty and magick to our lives like nothing else my mind can gather. Even when the moon is dark, I know that She is there and I can feel her pull my internal tides… just as I sit in the living room now, while Morgan is at the library window… I can feel her pulling my heart ever to her own. I will hate to see her go.

Even facing the inevitable, fifth great loss in 27 years, I wouldn’t change a thing. It turns out that it really is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.

When Morgan’s brother died four years ago, our veterinarian sent us a card, sharing our grief. The quote within captures this feeling so well:

“We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan…”

The Once Again Prince, from “Separate Life Times” by Irving Townsend

Being of service has always been my joy. Getting to serve my most beloved beings throughout their waning phase of life is not only my joy, but also my privilege and great honor. Their immortality is assured in the radiant fullness of my cherished memories.

Thank you for walking this path with me.

Reflecting on Fruition

Sometimes we plant seeds in our sacred gardens without any idea of what they might yield. What kind of seed is this? Will it grow up to be tall or broad? Will it bear sustenance or beauty? Will it be a vine that wraps around the sharp edges of garden wall, weaving lush beauty into a blanket of gratitude? When we dream of a joyful future, we may not always have a clear picture of what that should look like, but if we’re doing it right – we will take notice of the glorious ways it takes root in its becoming.

I’ve been starting each morning with a review of ‘this day in history’ of my facebook posts. It’s an interesting practice of mindfulness. It shows me where I’ve been and reminds me of how far I’ve come. Mostly, I look for a good quote that I may have posted as far back as ten years ago. It is my morning meditation, to take that quote and place it onto a photograph that seems to fit that feeling. I do it with an app on my cell phone while lying in bed, usually before 7am.

Today’s memories carried me back to two significant moments in time. Four years ago, I orchestrated the final retirement event for one of the three most important bosses I’ve been blessed to support. And six years before that, on this date, I was setting her up in the office of her predecessor, who had graciously stepped aside. He planned his retirement for six months later, to remain present to support her transition into a pretty big role. These two leaders taught me so much about respect and caring – as they cared for one another’s success, and as they each cared for me. As each departed for retirement, I was left feeling such a loss – it was like suffering the death of a loved one.

Here’s what I wrote on this date in 2015. “It is a strange thing… to be a personal assistant. Your whole world revolves around a person to whom you are not married, nor to whom you have given birth… and yet, their suffering makes you hurt, and their joy brings you happiness – and you would do anything to help bring them comfort and peace when they are carrying a great burden. When they retire, you are left with an odd mingling of emotions. Gratitude for the years that you shared, happiness for the life they will finally get to have with their family, and then there’s the loss. Is it like a death or a divorce? This person you’ve cared for every day, is suddenly gone… and while you know they are safe and happy, and in a good place… the hole remains. I sat down to dinner tonight with the boss I retired 5.5 years ago, and the one I will retire tomorrow… and thought to myself… NO WONDER I HAVE ABANDONMENT ISSUES! I have been blessed, indeed. Soon, there will be a Daisy shaped hole in my heart… but all shall be well.”

I think what I feared the most was that I would never find love again. I know that sounds odd when referring to one’s job, but truly… I felt valued, appreciated, and loved in my workplace for a really long time. Being single and childless, it probably made up for something I did not have at home. These two leaders represented my committed relationship for 14 years, and it was not unrequited.

While working with a spiritual life coach, when love was gone and I was trying to find joy in the workplace again, we discussed how it was time to learn to validate myself and love myself, rather than seeking it in my job. And when I wrote my list of what I wanted to manifest in my next work endeavor, I was advised against one item. I had written that one thing I wanted to manifest was ‘work life = love life’. She felt that I should be moving towards an intention of separating the two. But you know what? Once you’ve had that kind of joy in your life, it’s really difficult to settle for less. I cannot see the point of going to work every day, accepting that my heart will not be filled, and that my presence will not be appreciated. Life is just too fucking short!

At the Winter Solstice of 2017, six months after leaving that workplace I had once loved and cherished, I created a sacred ceremony that I shared with a friend I’d made while there. He lives at the edge of the Atlantic, and as a student of life, he is always open to the power of intention and the ability to manifest. We both sat for a meditation that I’d written and pre-recorded, so that I could journey, as well. Then, we wrote in silence, onto strips of parchment, the things we wanted to see coming to fruition in the year(s) ahead. We added tiny treasures collected on the beach to represent the beauty and magick that fills every day – if only we pay attention, and then we went out onto the deck to top off the bottles with evening breeze and starlight. There they would stay to gather the sunrise of new beginnings. I recently came across the notes I had made before we wrote on our parchment, and I was pleasantly surprised to recognize how well we had done. Here’s what I wrote:

  • This or something better…
  • Stability & Integrity
  • Colleague Camaraderie
  • Spiritual Enabler
  • Valued & Appreciated
  • Fulfilling & Uplifting
  • Joyful Abundance
  • Purpose & Meaning
  • Open & Obvious Pathway
  • Belonging
  • Peaceful Prosperity
  • Perfect Fit
  • Work Life = Love Life
  • Convenient Commute
  • Bountiful Benefits
  • Loved, Adored, Wanted & Needed
  • Better Than Imagined
  • For the Highest Good

At the time, I imagined I would go back to work for some corporation. That I would find an executive who needed my particular kind of light, as did the two I had lost in recent years. I couldn’t have dreamed what was to come. And here’s the lesson, dear ones. Put your dreams out there. Write down how you want to feel and what you want to manifest, but don’t be attached to a specific outcome. Let the universe surprise you!

You see, when I wrote this list and placed tiny scrolls of my hopes and dreams into that manifestation bottle, I thought I could only find these things in the form of a corporate job. I thought I could only prosper with a paycheck that would reflect how valuable I was to others. I thought I would not be as well-compensated as I had been, and that it would be difficult to ‘go backwards’ in income. And to be honest, I thought I would have to settle for something less than what I had before.

I suspect this list of desires will continue to evolve, but I can see clearly how all of these things have become a part of my current reality. I didn’t go to work for an executive in a corporation, I learned I could access a small portion of my retirement savings without penalty. That ‘income’ is only a quarter of my former salary, and yet it easily covers all that I need. So, I guess you could say that I am self-employed in non-profit organization. I am available and present to serve my aging parents who live seven houses away from me. So, clearly a majority of this list has materialized in my life. If managing and supporting my parents’ lives is my daily work – I have a convenient commute, purpose and meaning, bountiful benefits, and peaceful prosperity.

In the past year, my relationship with my parents has grown more loving and intimate. I certainly feel valued and appreciated, loved and adored. The workshops that I am creating and sharing with others are fulfilling and uplifting, as is the knowledge that each night when I close the front door of my parents’ home, in essence tucking them in for the night, they feel safer because I am there.

This current reality is ‘this and something better’ and ‘better than imagined’. As I move through my days with the energy I used to give to a corporation, I have room for more mindfulness. I can see the wonders that surround me, great and small. Yesterday, after managing some chaos for my folks, I found a tiny possom in the middle of our road. I looked around for her momma, but she was all alone. A nearby hawk informed me that she had been dropped, and I scooped her up before she became the meal she might have been. I carried her to safety, with a friend who cares for such creatures, bringing them to full health, then releasing them to their natural habitat. It felt like a blessing, to have been in the right place at the right time, and to have a resource available for a possibly happier outcome.

When I consider the symbolism of this tiny being placed in my path, I could consider what is written about being cautious (subjects of prey), or showing the world what I want them to see (playing possom), or a number of other possible messages from the universe. But what I find in the synchronicity of leaving my parents after helping them through a household inconvenience that could have been much more stressful on their own, and coming upon a tiny helpless creature who couldn’t see her way to safety… is ‘purpose and meaning’ on an ‘open and obvious pathway’.

Every day, I get to do work that is meaningful. I care for my aging parents and make them feel safer in years that feel more and more confusing. I care for my aging cat, too. As we struggle with her wellness, I wish she could express herself to tell me what she wants and needs, and I see the mirror of serving my parents… wanting more than anything for each of them to feel safe and loved. My work life does equal my love life, these days – and I am grateful.

I remain in touch with the bosses who’ve retired, and they are happy and healthy. What they taught me about how to meet their needs prepared me for nurturing the needs of my parents… my most important job, to date. It’s funny how we can’t imagine at the time the true purpose of our circumstances. Every life experience is so much more than what appears on the surface. If we’re really lucky, we’ll give ourselves the time to reflect and light a candle to honor such reverence and grace.

Thank you for walking this path with me. This flame’s for you.

Ode to Sanctuary

My sweet Pop is back in the hospital. Year 81 has been pretty rough for him, and he is not even half way through it. It’s hard to see beyond this day to day mire, when the truth is that it really won’t get much easier.

Friends ask me what I am doing for self-care, as my entire world revolves around assisting my parents and friends facing serious health issues these days. Since I am experimenting with early retirement and an income a quarter of what it once was, the truth is that self care, at the moment, looks like sitting at home… alone.

So yesterday, I came home from the hospital and crashed hard in the embrace of the couch I bought when Arthur died. A traumatic loss, the cat who looked at me with such adoration – like no human I’ve known – dead within two hours of sneaking past me at the mailbox check. If you are gone, never to claw my furniture again… I’ll show you. I’ll get a new couch. But, oh… to yell at you to stop, once more. Sigh…

I slept on the couch for at least an hour, certain that I had become a stone memorial in repose from a Gorgon’s glance. When I woke, I turned on the telly for background noise, and picked up my journal. More often than not, this is my journal, but my soul-daughter gave me new book for Yule, and it called to me.

Netflix was showing a season of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and she started each session with greeting the house, and asked the inhabitants of each home to reflect on gratitude – thanking the house for its shelter, and to consider how they see their home in the future. So… guess what I wrote about.

I wrote a love letter to my house. My conduit of self-care.

Dear, beloved, gracious home~
Thank you for the protective shelter you have been for me these many years, and for the many years ahead.

I love the way you hold sacred memories of my personal history. I see, as I glance toward the kitchen, Nanny placing a chair at the sink, so I could help her wash dishes. I see granddaddy serving me a bowl of crumbled gram crackers with milk at the dining room table, and the secretary desk opened for me to sit and draw, when my feet didn’t reach the floor from the chair they placed there for me.

In my mind’s eye, I can see the place in the hall where the wooden cabinet granddaddy built held the green rotary dial telephone with the long spiral cord (I can still hear it ring – delivering voices no longer heard upon the earth). In the library, I recall the mural on the wall that always reminded me of the hunting scene in Lucille Ball’s movie – Mame. And I remember Nanny, in the hospital bed… holding her hand as it hung in the air – my final memory of her in this lifetime. Her spirit remains in this space… and in the kitchen, as well.

I see the faces of family and friends who have gathered here for more than 20 years (or 50 years, if we count those before I made you my own). Every guest who has stayed, Tribe rituals that altered our lives and connection with the divine. Laurel dances from the hall into the living room, Rabbit prepares us a meal in the kitchen, StarJasmine pours us a glass of wine. So many sacred circles in this space has turned it into a vortex of tangible magick. People comment on this feeling as they enter, and I just smile with a nod to the ether.

This home has given me peace, comfort, happiness, and joy. Every departure leaves me longing for return… as I enter and walk into a hug. (An acknowledgment of your warmth from our friend, Joe.)

Oh, and the beloved pets who blessed my life, kept safe in your embrace… I love that they are all four still here, only one in corporeal form.

For our shared life to come, I thank you for sheltering and nurturing a loving caring, healthy, reciprocal relationship for myself and the responsible, committed man who enters my life and pursues my heart with laughter and grace, then stays. Nanny smiles upon us, witnessing the long awaited love that we have all dreamed of, but had not previously found.

This love, for both of us, has been truly worth the wait. It heals hearts and souls throughout our genetic line and for lifetimes to come. This partnership brings freedom and prosperity, and this home is nurtured and caressed in new and loving ways – making room and extending time for even more love to grow.

Thank you for all of this and for all that is yet to come, my beloved safe place and sanctuary. I love you so!

That last part is obviously just a dream of a possible future, but these things happen for others… why not for me? (Wouldn’t it be great if… ?) I’ve decided to be happy, regardless of outcome. Life is more fulfilling that way.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I can feel you here in my sacred space adding to the magick that resides here. Come by anytime, and sit for a spell.

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 Love of a Good Cat – Part Two

It was three months before I could bring myself to consider bringing new love into my life.  Whenever I imagined adopting, the first thoughts that came to mind were those of suffering and sorrow.  But one day, it happened.  I thought about having a new furry companion, and the fear did not come.  I posted that awareness on facebook, and got an immediate reply.  A friend had two cats that needed rescue.  They were not littermates, but had grown up together, two strays adopted by an elderly couple who could no longer care for them.  I saw the photos and learned about their story.  I wasn’t sure I was ready, but as I drove to the grocery store, I imagined that I would change their names to Morgan and Arthur, in honor of one of my favorite tales of ancient Camelot.  Driving home, I was arguing with myself about the prospect, and when I settled in to watch the next episode of a series I was watching, the episode that played featured a character that believed he was King Arthur.  Then, that same evening, while scrolling through my facebook newsfeed, I saw a painting that my friend had posted… it was Morgan Le Fey bearing Arthur back to Avalon with his mortal wound.  And so it was… I went to meet Morgan and Arthur, and there the three of us fell in love.  Released from their protective cages, he circled around me and stepped into the nest of my ‘easy pose’ crossed legs and curled up, closed his eyes and purred.  She walked around me and gave me a ‘wap-wap’, which is what I came to call her hip-bump gesture that is like a love nip, but gentler.  The carriers were on the floor and open, and she walked right into hers.  So, we closed the door, and placed Arthur into his carrier, and we were off!  They were both pretty skittish for a while, but they warmed up to their new home pretty quickly.  Within a couple of days, we were family… though it would take some time for Morgan to remain out in the open whenever an outsider would enter her domain.  If there was a knock on the door, she would run into the bedroom and hide under the bed.  That really didn’t change until Arthur was gone.  You see, Arthur was madly, possessively in love with me.  We had a morning ritual, and he would sit in my lap as I did my hair and makeup before work.  Whenever I was seated, he was there.  He had this way of curling into my lap or on my chest, if I was reclining, and he would look up at me with these eyes that are so difficult to describe.  Perhaps people who have had that deep kind of soul-love would recognize my meaning… but I had never felt so loved and adored as I did through his eyes.  I often wondered if he had come into my life to show me how it would feel when it arrived, and not to settle for anything less.  My new babies were already six years old when they came to live with me.  Morgan was extremely laid back, and very passive, while Arthur was the opposite.  He was much like the Winnie the Pooh character, Tigger.  He had springs in his toes, and he had boundless energy.  He would be lounging in my lap and then suddenly dart across the room, with my belly as his springboard.  If Morgan was ever on my lap when he arrived, she would quickly get the message and move out of the way.  I hated the way she was so submissive to him, but she wouldn’t go far.  He would be close to my heart, and she would be right by my side.  Then one day… everything changed.  It was February in Florida, and the weather was beautiful.  I had carefully stepped out the front door to get the mail from the box, and as I stepped back in, closing the door behind me, I announced to Arthur that I was going to open the window.  We called it cat tv, because the sound of it rising would bring both of them immediately to the window for their inspection of the external world.  Always.  I mean that Arthur would NEVER not come to the sound of the window being lifted… until this day.  It took only a minute for me to feel that something was terribly wrong, and my brain went completely fuzzy.  I think of it like the old days of television, when you would flip channels and there would be those that were empty, and only grey and black dots would appear, and the sound of white noise would ring out through the speaker.  That’s what happened to my brain when Arthur did not take his place at the open window.  Morgan didn’t come either, but she was asleep in the window seat in the library, where she is at this moment of writing.  I ran through the house looking for him, because it was absolutely impossible that he could have gotten out of the house.  I literally looked into the refrigerator three times.  Seriously… static and white noise.  I posted my panic on facebook:  “I CANNOT FIND ARTHUR AND I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!”  My parents were buying a house up the street from me, but at the time they still lived 45 minutes away.  I called my mother in tears, as I walked up the street calling his name.  She asked if she should come, and I told her it would be okay.  The weird thing about my exploration outside of the house was that, although there were several stray cats on my block, not a single one of them was about.  I did not find Arthur.  As I was walking back to the house, my massage therapist was arriving for a previously scheduled appointment.  She offered to help me look for him, but I felt so sure (still fuzzy) that when I climbed onto the table, Arthur would appear at my feet, as he always did, to purr through my healing session.   But he didn’t.  A missed phone call and a knock on the door while I was on the table, revealed my knight in shining armor, Jim.  He saw my post, and put his nearly blind mother into his truck, and drove to my house to help look for Arthur.  He knocked on the door and said, he thought he might be in the side yard, and I dressed and stepped out to look.  There was a grey tabby cat in my side yard, and he looked quite panicked.  I called his name, but I think that what was happening to me must have been happening to him, as well.  I looked at him, never having seen him outside before, and my brain could not definitively be sure that this cat was mine.  The static just grew louder.  As I slowly tried to approach, his eyes grew wider, and he turned and dashed through a hole beneath the fence that is between my side yard and the elevated highway that runs beyond it.  The highway is a story above my land, so he was not in any danger, but there was no way to go after him, because there was no gate.  Jim had driven around to confirm, and then returned to my yard.  He was in my backyard when he saw Arthur, crouched down as if in a hole, his head peeking out, and panting.  Then he jumped and dashed.  As I was sending off my massage therapist, Jim came to the door and told me he thought he could see him, and led me to the side yard fence.  There, just on the other side of the fence at the base of a tree, was Arthur.  He was very close to a hole in the fence, as if considering to come back through, but he was no longer breathing.  He was dead.  I screamed and wailed the anguish of one whose heart has been yanked from her body.  Two hours had passed since he mysteriously escaped and the weird static moved into my head.  He was never in danger of being hit by a car, but he was gone.  I called my parents, but my mother was en route to my house, and my father had to listen to my cries for help.  I asked him to call his brother, Uncle Mike and to have him come with wire cutters.  I couldn’t get to the other side of the fence, and I had to get to him!  I tried calling Uncle Mike, but he did not answer.  Then, as I had reached my hand through the hole in the fence, I realized that I could touch his hind legs… therefore, I could pull him through to me.  And that’s what I did.  I tugged his hind legs, and I pulled the lifeless body of my sweet boy, the most profound and pure love I had ever experienced in my life, through the hole in the fence and lifted his body onto my breathless chest.  My whole body heaved with my sorrow.  None of this made any sense.  Jim and his sweet Mama endured my sobs, as they drove me to the place where we could take my beloved for cremation.  Eula had run her own funeral home for decades, and Jim had grown up knowing how to care for those who were grieving.  It’s as if exactly the right caregivers were delivered to me at my most dire time of need.  I was numb by the time we returned to the house, and I was grateful that my mother was there to greet us.  Morgan was safely inside, and I’m unsure of her awareness of her brother’s departure at that time.  Over the days that would follow, though, she began to blossom in the absence of Arthur’s oppression.  And though I loved him dearly, I was glad for the opportunity to see the side of Morgan that he would never let shine.  I was heartbroken for the loss of his love, but she and I came to fall in love deeply over the weeks and months ahead.  She eventually took his place next to my face at bedtime, when previously she had been relegated to sleep by my feet.  He was such a bully to her.  Without his presence, she became even more courageous upon the arrival of friends, and now she doesn’t hide for anyone.  We have our own morning rituals now, though they are different from the ones he and I shared.  Morgan climbs into bed, and next to my face, where she proceeds to give me my morning facial.  Then she climbs over me, to the back of my neck, and presses one paw against my skin, poking me like Simon’s cat (a popular animated character) until I give in and get up to feed her, be it 4am or 7am.

It took me quite some time to recover from the shock and horror of that awful day.  We were in a very uncomfortable era at work, as my beloved boss had stepped down after the takeover of our board of directors.  My new boss did not have empathy in her top strengths.  I cried as she unfeelingly expressed the death of her own family dog, and I knew she would have no patience for my inner turmoil that still plagued me three months after Arthur’s death.  So, I engaged a therapist who specializes in EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) to overcome my trauma.  After two sessions I was able to recount the story of Arthur’s loss without bursting into uncontrollable sobs, and I was finally able to fall asleep without my mind going to that place at the side of my house, where his body lay lifeless and my heart was ripped from my being.  Remembering one of the ‘signs’ I received two years before this moment, I searched for the image I had seen when I was talking myself through fear of illness and loss.  It was the painting of Morgan Le Fey directing the boat that would carry her wounded brother back to Avalon… where the mists would heal and protect the once and future king.

To comfort my grief, I spent the weeks following Arthur’s death doing meaningful retail therapy.  I had a ring engraved with “Arthur – King of My Heart”, and I ordered another ring with a pink stone called Morganite, that was coincidentally a stone for healing trauma, though I bought it for her namesake.  I already had a ring that I had made when Nightshade died, that had her name next to Gwydion’s.  And finally, I had each of their portraits printed on canvas and hung them in a place where they would be viewed by all who visit this sacred space… and it will always be known that THEY are my ‘happy’.

Upon mention of my need to write about these important losses, a friend affirmed that the loss of her cats were a far greater blow to her soul than those of her parents.  We both agree that there is something to the daily commitment, the unconditional love, the complete responsibility we have to our pets, and the inability to communicate with them to clearly understand their wants, their needs, and their suffering.  Without this ability to know for sure, we may make the mistake of selfishly holding onto them longer than is morally correct.  I definitely felt that way about Gwydion’s ending… I kept him too long.  It strongly effected how I dealt with Nightshade’s end of life, as she had not stopped eating when I chose to let her go, but she was waking soaked in urine fairly regularly, and it seemed beneath her great dignity.  Some would say that it may have been Arthur’s time to die, as many cats will leave their humans, to die alone – away from their sorrowful view.  But he was so young and energetic, I have not yet let go of the awareness that he would likely still be with me today, if he had not stared out that window for two years, thinking how AMAZING it all appeared from that safe and limiting place he was perched, only to find out that it was vast and terrifying to be on the other side of the window.  I feel that his heart couldn’t take the expanse, and I own some of that responsibility to this day.  As my fifth and only surviving cat, Morgan is probably the best cared for of them all.  I have learned a great deal about what to do, right and wrong, for their care.  I only wish I’d known twenty-five years ago what I know today.  Each furry soul has touched my heart in a special way… they are never far from reach.  Nightshade, especially, shows up in my dreams on a regular basis.

As I wrap up this chapter of loss, Morgan is standing before me, at the edge of my computer, awaiting my undivided attention.  Time to move forward…

(oil painting by Sandra Bierman)sandra bierman twobabes

The Love of a Good Cat – Part One

I am currently in the  midst of a deep dive of self discovery, which requires a review of my personal experience with death. I thought I had completed the task remarkably unscathed when another question in the curriculum was posed about comfort in receiving emotional support, such as a hug, from strangers.

At first, I couldn’t think of an instance… until I realized that I had only written about the humans that I have lost, and had not written about my beloved pets.  In my adult and independent life, in other words, since I moved out of my parents’ home, I have loved, nurtured, and cared for cats.  Of five furry babies that have blessed my life, I have lost four.  Each loss was devastating.  When I compare these losses to my human ones, I recognize that the suffering at their loss was extensive.  I imagine the reason is multi-tiered, and multi-teared.  First of all, I was completely responsible for their care and well-being.  If they suffered, it was because of my neglect or inability to understand their needs.  If only they could speak, or I could understand their language.  That leaves a world of opportunity for self-flagellation.  Secondly, unlike the people I have lost, my pets have been with me every single day, through prosperity and hardship, anywhere from two years to nineteen years.  Finally, unlike most relationships in life, they loved me without condition, even when I felt unlovable… and they each played an important role in nurturing my identity, and possibly my self-worth.

I must start at the beginning, though the first cat-love that I lost was not by death.  Stevie came into my life at precisely the moment that my whole life was changing, and in fact, she was a catalyst for some of that change.  I was living with four roommates, when this Sterling Persian beauty found her way into my parents’ backyard.  We figured she had been abandoned when someone moved away, but now that I reflect on how she appeared to us, and how she disappeared from my life four years later, I wonder.  My living situation at the time was up for renewal, and when Stevie appeared, it was clear that my roommates were not agreeable to bringing a house cat into the fold, and so it was that this tiny angel entered my life to change the trajectory of my youth.  I was 23 that year, and my parents co-signed for me to buy my own condo.  That condo was not just our home, it was the birthplace of my Tribe, the hub of my new spiritual journey, a meeting place for my young adult group, a nest to welcome a loving partner, and a safe place for dear friends to rest their heads when they were in need.  That level of independence enabled my freedom for growth and community building, which never could have happened while sharing a home with multiple people on different paths.  I shall always believe that Stevie arrived for that purpose.

A couple of years later, I brought home a tiny black kitten, that I named Nightshade.  Attention:  Never name a pet after a poisonous herb… it may just live up to the title.  Ha!  This girl was a tiny terrorist.  She was constantly getting into trouble.  I have heard mothers of toddlers repeatedly urge their energetic child to stop what they are doing, and Nightshade was my source of empathy for them.  I don’t think they ever really became friends, but Stevie tolerated the tiny tornado… for a while.  When we moved out of the condo and into a house, there was a hole in the wall where the dryer would vent.  We assessed it and foolishly believed there was no way they could get out, and in the morning, I was devastated to find that Stevie was gone.  She had been in my life for four years, the entirety of my time in the condo that housed my becoming.  I searched the neighborhood for her to no avail.  I sobbed and wailed for my loss and abandonment, and for my failure to keep her safe.  When I reflected on her time with me and why she had gone, besides the fact that I was sure Nightshade had pushed her through that hole, I determined that she was the resident angel to get me through that four-year period of transformation and growth, and that there was someone else in need that she was meant to serve.

In my grief for Stevie’s loss, came my partner’s desire for my comfort.  Interestingly, I ran into a former co-worker I had not seen in a couple of years, since I adopted Nightshade from her.  She shared that her daughter was moving back home, and that she had a kitten that she would not allow her to keep.  Enter Gwydion.  He was the yang to Nightshade’s yin… our bringer of light.  She was mischievous and he was curious.  She was independent and only allowed herself to be loved on her terms, and he was pure love and affection.  Nightshade was a black domestic short hair and Gwydion was a Norwegian Forest Cat with long white with black and grey fur.  The markings around his face, as a kitten, gave him a look that made you think of Barbra Streisand (I don’t know how, but I wasn’t the only one who could see it).   As a baby, my goddess daughter could lean on him and he would not move or run, but just sit patiently in her support.  After I had gone to bed, I swear he would call out to me, “Mama!  Mama!”  He would lie down next to his food dish and pull out one crunchy morsel at a time onto the floor, and only once out of the bowl would he consume his meal, which made for an adorable companion to Nightshade’s ‘water dance’, a funny way that she would tap her front and hind feet before she would drink from the water fountain.  At twenty pounds, Gwydion wasn’t a lap cat, I think he was aware of his mass, and so he would only sit beside you to receive your affection.  In his later years, I was finally able to convince him to sit on my lap.  He would come to my feet and look up at me with love and expectation.  I would lift him onto my knee, and he would sit, like a tiny human leaning against the arm of the comfy chair, with his elbow perched just so.  From this vantage, I could rub his fluffy belly, and he would purr with delight… as would I.  He liked to lie on the hardwood floor with his belly exposed, which is why my brother dubbed him – Throw Rug.  It was in his thirteenth year that everything went wrong.  It’s disturbing to me how many things I had missed in his decline.  We tend to think that they are just getting older when they slow down or start to limp… must be arthritis.  I had witnessed him lying down to pee once or twice, but his doctor and I assumed the typical male cat issue with UTI, and we treated with antibiotics.  I should have taken him in for x-rays immediately, but his doctor came to the house, and I felt I was saving him the stress of being carried outside of the home and into a strange office with other animals.  It wasn’t until I was sitting on the floor one night, stroking him as he sat upon the ottoman at eye level, when I slid my hand down his hind leg.  There beneath white fluff, was a swollen mass above his ankle joint.  My heart stopped.  I called his doctor, and she arranged for him to be seen the next day at our local hospital.  The tests reflected my worst fears… cancer.  The only logical solution for a young cat would have been amputation, but Gwydie was not young, and there was something happening in his belly that couldn’t be determined without further testing, but it was likely the spreading cancer, hot to the touch.  I am sickened to think about all of the things I could have done differently for his care.  I struggled to get pills into him, and so I often didn’t force it.  He couldn’t stand to pee, so I just kept papers on the floor.  It was only ten years ago, why didn’t I have liquid pain meds and absorbent pee pads?  My anam-cara, a soul friend I met that August in Ireland, had a friend who could psychically communicate with animals, and she sent me a written recording of what she received from her connection with Gwydion, as I sought his guidance for what to do for him.  I would have given anything to hear his voice in a way I could interpret and understand.  The following is what Mary transcribed:

“11/19/2008 pm / Communication with Gwydion for Melissa

I’ve been waiting… my person Melissa talks to me all the time.  I’m one lucky cat.
Q:  Are you in pain?  A:  Discomfort is a better description.  My kitten days are long gone.  This is my path now.  I am like a butterfly – metamorphosis is what I am doing.  Tell Melissa to notice butterflies, especially yellow ones.  I am like that.  I began as a cute kitten – became a loving cat – and now I am aged.  It is natural.  It is the design.  I will be like the butterfly one day – I will be light and free and I will fly away.  I’ll not be away from Melissa but I will fly away from this physical body that you see – handsome as it is.  Its time has almost come.  We’ll walk a few more trails together and face a few more trials together and then I’ll metamorphose.
Q:  Is walking difficult?  A:  This body cannot do all it could but it still serves me.  I do okay.
Q:  Ok if Melissa carries you?  Touches you?  A:  Love in any form is what I absorb.  I try not to cause sadness.  Now I am taking on a lot of Melissa’s sadness.  It is heavy for me.  I do not wish to bring her sadness.  It is the way of things.  I hear her tears and know she does not fully understand / grasp this metamorphosis.  I’ll be here until she does.  The shift will come and I will be free like the butterfly.
Q:  Message for Melissa?  A:  We journey together.  We always have.  We always will.  There may be a kitten in her future – sent by me (smile).  But I must save that surprise until later.  Blinky. Blinky. (note – no idea what this means and no clues were provided)
Q:  Do you want Melissa to help you move onto spirit?  A:  She has lots of helpers.  When the time is right, I’ll go on.  It may be spring – like the butterflies.  It doesn’t really matter that much – time – physical – cycling.  It is time now for me to slow down.  I don’t mind.  Business as usual, for now.
Q:  What can Melissa do for you?  A:  She is already doing everything for me.  I am warm, well fed, and happy.  This body will not last but I will.  Melissa and I will always share a special warmth – our hearts beat together now and in spirit.  WE are love.  That is our language.  Time for sleep now.  G’night.

Another intuitive friend at work told me she connected with him, and that he said I would know it was his time to go when he no longer cared for his food.

When that day came, I was terrified.  I tried liquefying salmon, but he refused to eat.  And when I came home from work that night, he was sitting beneath the Yule tree, and looked back at me as I entered from the kitchen.  I walked over and picked him up, carried him to the paper so he could release his bladder.  Then, I carried him to the water bowl for him to drink.  This was when I realized that the cancer in his leg had severed the bone.  His foot flipped in an unnatural position.  I screamed and cried, and called his doctor.  She would come the next day, but couldn’t arrive before 2pm.  I carried my beloved boy to bed, and there we would stay, our final spooning love fest.  On December 11, 2008, I sent an email to friends and family and attached a picture of my boy.  This is what I wrote:

“I let Gwydion go yesterday.  It was time… We had a love fest in bed for about 18 hours… we talked about our many blessings… we cuddled and caressed, and both felt completely enveloped by our love for one another, as well as the love of our family and friends.

Dr. Martinez came to us in my room at 2pm.  My parents and Julie (his beloved cat sitter) were there in person, and VJ, my Tribe, and others were there in spirit.  I curled my body around his, and placed my arm so my hand was over his heart and my heart was mournfully beating against his back, as I whispered ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ into his ear with kisses.  He left his body in my arms at 3:32pm.  I was so lucky to have such a beautiful parting with him… not in some cold, bright office, but in the warmth and soft comfort of my bed… where I was safe to wail and sob, clutch and kiss him all the way to the other side.

I reflect on how he came into my life… and know that he was a gift from the Universe, and that somehow… our souls had chosen one another.  I am so lucky he chose me.  And we are so lucky that all of you love us… and we are grateful.  Now Nightshade and I are finding a new way to exist.  It is sad and quiet in our house… and so we invite you to stop by anytime to help fill the emptiness.

With great love and abundant gratitude for your love and support, Melissa”

I received dozens of supportive replies from family and friends.  All were compassionate, caring, and offered their loving support to help Nightshade and me through the darkness.  My sister-in-love often commented when visiting that last year, about how she witnessed my care for Gwydion in his infirmity.  In her email, she affirmed, “You gave Gwydion (she actually called him Gideon, and often called Nightshade Lampshade, but I found that terribly endearing) so much love… more love than I’ve seen humans give each other sometimes…”  I hope he felt it, because he deserved the world for all of the love he delivered.  When he was gone, and because Nightshade was so limited in her affection, I realized what a love-sponge he was.  I could pour everything I had into him, and he would receive it and reflect it back to me.  Life was a great deal lonelier in his absence.  But eventually, my girl and I found our way.

The day that came forward in my memory, with the question of how I feel about receiving comfort from strangers was a few years back when Nightshade died.  She had been with me for nineteen years, and she was a cat that only a mother could love.  She looked so inviting to pet, but then she would most likely snap and growl if you tried.  She would follow my friends into the bathroom, but then hiss at them when she realized they were not me… and then she would hiss at them when they were feeling most vulnerable, if you know what I mean.  She also had a thing for sharing her disdain with me by peeing on things.  Seriously, no one taught me more about unconditional love and co-dependency than Nightshade.  If she wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy.  Ha!  She was an integral part of my identity, as I saw it.  When it was time to let her go, she was nearly two decades upon the earth, and had lost her vision and her continence.  I finally found the courage to have her doctor come, when she was waking each morning soaked in urine.  That was no way for a goddess, as she recalled the Egyptians to have worshiped her, to live.  Unlike my experience with Gwydion, I felt that this should be a more intimate release.  Nightshade really didn’t like other humans very much, and so it felt right for it to be just the two of us at the end.  She growled when the doctor arrived, she was never a big fan of her visits.  She received her shot, and I pulled her onto my chest as her breathing stopped and only one broken heartbeat remained.

The next morning, I woke and felt overwhelmed by the emptiness of my home.  She was so small, and yet she took up so much room.  I couldn’t breathe inside the vacuous space of her absence.  So, I got into my car and I drove.  I figured I would just go somewhere for breakfast, but it was difficult to focus.  I drove to one place, and they could not seat me… and so I drove to the opposite side of town, where I found a table and sat down.  It was difficult to prevent my tears from falling, and throughout my dining experience, I would find composure and lose it again multiple times.  Looking back, I feel sorry for the burden that must have been to other diners.  However, it was in this place that I experienced incredible kindness and humanity.  One woman came to my table and said to me, “If you would receive it, I would like to offer you a hug.”  I couldn’t speak, but I accepted.  She hugged me in a way that was not foreign or guarded.  This perfect stranger held space for me, and she literally held me in my grief.  When it was time to pay the check, I learned that a different couple had paid my tab as they departed.  It was one of those moments that was life affirming.  I know that had I reached, a whole host of friends would have come to my door to provide the love and support that I needed.  And yet, I was so lost and confused in mourning, that I could not manage the thought required to do so.  The Universe still managed to deliver exactly what I needed at that moment… a bit of kindness and compassion.  What a beautiful world.  So, to answer the question about my comfort in being hugged by a stranger… I am completely comfortable with the kindness and compassion of another’s embrace, be they old friend or new friend.

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