New (Sur)Reality

The funny thing about this crazy development of social distancing and societal quarantine is that… I’ve sort of been living this way since I left the corporate world at the end of 2017. For me, aside from my excessively fierce protection of my father’s safety and wellness (wearing a mask and washing my hands three times more often), not much has changed in our tiny universe.

If it weren’t for the very real threat that is lurking nearby and ready to pounce, it might feel as if the rest of the world was finally catching up to our grand discovery. If I could ignore the ‘why’ of the situation – the risk to mortality and the heartbreaking financial implications that come with it, I might be happy for those who may be closer to learning what I have learned… that we really can live simply and be joyfully content and peacefully happy, with less. Less shopping, less spending, less working, less eating out, less driving, less square footage, less stress.

Three times a day, I walk up the street to my parents’ house to ensure that all is well. I give Pop his pills, refill his cup, fix him breakfast, and if Mom isn’t up, I’ll start the coffee. The first visit is just before noon, as their sleep habits are off. I come back again around 5pm to see if Pop is hungry. Sometimes he is, and sometimes he isn’t. I don’t push it. I offer options, but if he is not swayed by an offer of a sandwich, chips and salsa, or a piece of cake, I do a quick rotation of small tasks, then walk back home.

Around 9pm, I head back over, and don my mask before entering. This time I stay a bit longer, as the routine has multiple tasks. I check his blood pressure and oxygen level, give him his pills (without the blood pressure elevator, if his numbers were good), prepare and serve his dinner (if he’s hungry), and then the dogs have their day. They each get their treats, Sunshine gets her pills with peanut butter, Tina gets to finish what’s left, I ensure there is a safe path to the bathroom for Pop (no dog toys to trip over), lock all of the doors, wish everyone a good night, and then step outside to walk home, having immediately removed my mask.

I haven’t had regular television in 15 years. I never see commercials, political ads, or the news. Except… when I go to my parents’ house. The news is almost always on. This isn’t a problem in the sense that we have differing beliefs, because gratefully, we are of similar values and minds. For me, the problem is simply that I am physically sickened by what is happening in our country, and I can feel my blood pressure rise every time the news proves that it really can get worse. While my Mom feels it is important to know what is going on, I don’t disagree, and yet… it feels physically impossible to torture myself with reality sometimes.

And yet, it is the news that informs me it is time to reach out to friends and loved ones and keep them close… from a distance. It is the news that alerts me to the probability there is more happening in some people’s lives than making their lives small and hunkering down. In my distant Tribe alone, we have one beloved who is a Physician Assistant for an outpatient clinic at a large hospital. She is now in charge of one of five Covid-19 Testing Tents in her city, and she is doing everything she can to stay safe and avoid taking something home to her family. Another one of our beloveds is a microbiologist, who is working in a lab to benefit our nation and her community. And another one of our beloveds, who has had a persistent cough and recent pneumonia diagnosis, is awaiting test results to determine if her illness is related to this virus (originally told it would take 72 hours, and now has been told it will take 7-10 days to get results). One of our beloveds was poised to visit us with his family from Japan, when all flights were cancelled. Together, we felt the disappointment and relief, to know our reunion would be delayed while they were being kept safe from current risk and chaos.

I don’t know how to begin to comfort those who are losing their jobs. When it happened to me twice before, the shock and sense of betrayal of forced freedom eventually led to something better than previously imagined. I can only hope for such an outcome for others.

Since last year, I have been supported by a tiny portion of my retirement savings through 72T, and I am choosing not to look at the losses in my portfolio. While I am sure it will recover in time, I really don’t know what this means for my future and my ability to remain fully present in caring for my parents.

What I have decided is that fear-based thought is detrimental to my well-being, and if I allow stress and worry to affect my health, I will not have the strength to keep my parents and myself healthy and safe while our nation’s healthcare warriors fight tirelessly to slay the beast.

It seems our grocery stores are starting to recover from the panic hoarding that recently occurred. My neighbor just texted me to share that our local grocery has “a crap load of toilet paper” this morning (ha!). I’m not going to rush out to buy some, because my parents and I have enough for now, and we want to be sure that it is there for those who need it.

And there’s the crux of this situation. How have we become a people who would choose to buy more than we need, keeping necessities from others? What is the psychological hole we are trying to fill by spending our hard-earned income on stuff we don’t need? I don’t mean the bulk buying, like our memberships at Costco which save money in the long run. After all, that’s why we don’t need toilet paper during the tp-apocalypse. But when I started living small, after leaving the corporate world 2.5 years ago, I realized just how wasteful my spending had become. Living on a quarter of my past income informed me that I really could live with less and be quite content. Ultimately, the human desire for more, more, more is what got us into this mess, where viruses carried by animals whose habitats have been stolen are finding a way into the lives of those who were not content with ‘enough’.

One article I’ve read was very informative on this topic:
http://nautil.us/issue/83/intelligence/the-man-who-saw-the-pandemic-coming?fbclid=IwAR3pEvda_3cL5qbBKZJ8EogMqNrCU73UA0yNa1KFNkvAqzqXRSVBE8QCA8M

Staying home and caring for my parents altered the size of my circle. My whole world revolves around a tiny section of my geographic location. I can walk to their house, and it is a short drive to the two grocery stores we frequent. Dad’s doctors are all a short distance from home, and we’ve been lucky that he hasn’t had too many needs to leave home since last summer, beyond regular check-ups and getting new glasses. So, this self-isolation thing we are facing now feels like our normal, with the exception that I am now insisting to do all of the shopping that Mom once handled herself.

The weird part is experiencing the world around us starting to calm and quiet. Where we live, traffic is a constant. Whether it be the main road that borders our neighborhood, or the major highway that cuts through it… our surroundings are nearly always inundated with multitudes of people in a rush to get somewhere. I remember how strange it was to experience silence after 9/11, when the skies and roads were desolate, as we cried together or alone for the unknown and all that had been lost. It wasn’t unlike the silence that comes with a storm curfew during hurricane season, as bands of chaos threaten to topple trees and spawn tornadoes, and we hold our breath until it passes.

But a two week stay-at-home order will begin in our county tomorrow night, and I’m beginning to imagine how surreal our days and nights will become. I suspect our world will get oddly quiet. I didn’t see highway construction to be listed as an essential service, so I’m curious to see if my house will be vibration free for a while, after years of constant work on this expansion project. I’m kind of looking forward to actual stillness.

The thing I’ve learned about silence is that it invites self-reflection. Since choosing this simple way of life, I have had the time to dive into old wounds and lift the source of suffering. Once on the surface, I could offer the light and love that it deserved, to bring healing. I have studied death and dying, and have made peace with the bringer of our mortality, and now find nothing to fear. I have nurtured a mindful practice of writing and centering with meditation and breath work. And now, I am conveniently in the midst of learning how to hold space – for myself, for my community, and next week, we begin learning more about how to hold space in complexity. That seems like divine timing, if you ask me.

So, perhaps, if you are finding that you have time on your hands without the regular distractions of typical daily living, you might consider going deep. Hold space for your frightened inner child, and offer that sacred being the loving support it has always longed for. In solitude, we are offered the gift of discovering that we really are stronger than we previously imagined. Don’t be afraid of the darkness. Be courageous enough to ask others to sit with you there. We may be separated for a while, but we are never alone. Speaking our truth in vulnerability is our super power right now. Don’t hesitate to reach for what you need. Someone else is sitting in their own darkness seeking purpose, and you might just be the light they need.

Interestingly, the tools that have become our escape mechanisms enabling us to disconnect from the real world, through computers and smart phones, now offer us what we need to visually connect with what is really important… our loved ones. Explore them! You can meet face to face through Messenger, Zoom, Skype, or 8×8, to name a few resources for free video conferencing.

If you are frightened or worried, I am holding space for you, and asking you to see that you are not alone. We are beginning to receive news of fatalities related to the viral reach in our own part of the world, and knowing someone who knows someone who knows someone… makes this spreading darkness finally feel real. One day soon, the degrees of separation could be zero.

Each day, I feel fear rise, and I honor it, then let it go. I offer my shadow self the same love and compassion I give the outward parts of my being. It is the one thing I can control, for now… how I respond to uncertainty. I can be of service to others by remaining present in this moment, while focusing on the unknowable future serves no one.

May you find peace in the cycle of seasons, which show us year after year how nature blooms and falls away, then blooms again. This season of cold discomfort will pass, and we will emerge stronger and better than before. It is the way of nature, and (to quote my Tribal Crone) we… are all just mammals.

Wishing you and yours safe and WELL during this surreal moment in our shared history. Thank you for walking (at a safe distance) this path with me.

Building a Strong Foundation

I woke the other morning, realizing I had been dreaming about spiders. Now, normally, that would have informed me that my subconscious was working out some kind of stress. I have a phobia that has played out in spider nightmares my entire life. The irrationality of my fear must be connected to a past life, because even the tiniest eight legged being, spinning from my rear view mirror, could cause some screaming and hyperventilation, if not an accident. Silly, I know.

What was different that morning, was my sense that whatever had happened in my dreams, this time it was not focused on the fear or the havoc caused, but on the strength of the weave in carefully threaded webs. What I can recall was a tiny, armored being wrapping a thread between two poles over and over and over, until it formed, at once a supportive cradle and a powerful slingshot.

In the past, when I have had spiders show up (for real) in my life, I have asked the question to the Universe: “Why are you making me feel unsafe? What are you trying to tell me?” I have heard the reply: “What do you fear most?” Then, I could reflect on what false belief I was holding onto.

The words I heard in my mind this time were: “building a strong foundation”. What comes to mind (thank goodness something came to mind, because my brain has been too fuzzy to write for some time), is community. Not just the cliche ‘we are the web’, but in the way that we come together and pool our energy and resources to catch someone we love, rather than allowing them to fall or fend for themselves.

I’ve been doing some extra caregiving since January. A dear friend went through knee replacement surgery, and I was able to offer some needed support for her (age 75) and her wife of 40 years (age 83). With severe memory issues, it is difficult for her wife to navigate the hospital alone, and I had the flexibility to stand-in until her daughter could be available.

These women are also pillars of our Unitarian church community, and the recipients of much love and support from many others, in one form or another.

While at home healing from the knee replacement, my friend fell while getting out of bed, and somehow broke her femur. Yes. It sounds unbelievable, and she is pretty pissed off about the whole thing. It meant another hospital stay, another surgery, and this time, she had to go to rehab to learn how to maneuver without putting more than 20 lbs. of pressure on the healing leg.

Folks, the state of rehab care I’ve witnessed in the last two years has been an eye opener. That’s not to say that those who are caring for our loved ones in facilities are negligent (though some are clearly more skilled than others), it is that the carer vs. patient ratio is terribly deficient. When Dad was dealing with health issues, he ended up in the same facility twice. The first time, the space was brand new and beautiful. Not a bad place to recover. But the second time, he went to a different floor, which was not new, and conditions upon arrival were not acceptable. Both times, it was nearly impossible to find someone on staff to assist, and I shudder to imagine what he might have endured without my advocacy. (His version of self-care is to shrug his shoulders and say: “Oh, well.”) Both my father and my friend, were forbidden and physically unable to get out of bed alone, and yet response time to the call-button was often longer than 30 minutes. One in this position simply has to cast-off their sense of dignity and pride. It’s pretty awful.

When we are older, compounding these circumstances may be our sense of body betrayal and feelings of regret, fear, and overwhelming emotion which bottles up and spills over onto the people upon whose care we rely. And it’s especially difficult when we have grown old with a partner who has age-related difficulties of their own. My parents have been together for nearly 60 years, and while one has mobility and memory issues, the other has hearing and memory issues. There is not a whole lot of patience between them, but when I remind them that their partner is living inside their own world of challenges and fears, it seems that a bit more compassion rises for the other.

So, yesterday, I picked up my friend from rehab and brought her home, after a two week stay in what she has dubbed ‘hell’. We arrived home to her wife, who had already made some adjustments to make life easier. I had a plan for how we could get her onto the porch and into the house, which would have involved a series of maneuvers. But we ultimately decided to call for a non-emergency lift assist with our local fire department. These people are amazing, generous, and kind. Several friends from church had offered support and shared resources such as a wheelchair (until the prescribed chair arrives), a shower chair (from a friend who went through his own difficult recovery after knee surgery), a new shower head installed by a friend who also helped remove the bathroom door for easier access, and a sister-friend RN arrived just in time to help us get our healing-being settled safely into bed. They have more friends from church who are delivering meals and fellowship. Seriously, if you are dealing with some shit, it is a beautiful thing to be in such a caring circle.

Beautiful Beings from Orange County Fire Station 66

Every once in a while, my friend and I have a conversation about the ‘why me’ of it all. Neither of us believe that things always ‘happen for a reason’, so we choose to seek the ‘what may I learn’ from this current challenge. What comes to mind for me is that body betrayal allows those who have served others to finally receive a karmic return on investment. My father was a Vocational Rehab counselor and supervisor for the bulk of his career, and my friend was a mental health counselor. They supported many grateful beings in times of need. Now, they are each being supported in theirs.

And, perhaps their individual challenges will lend a sense of patience and understanding for the struggles of their partners. But what I hope for the most, is that they each learn to forgive the betrayal of their own bodies, and to love them unconditionally for the strength and support they’ve always provided, as the sacred containers of their precious souls.

Caring for beloveds through this process of aging and supporting them through physical challenges is surely a message to me from the Universe, as I am reminded to offer myself the kind of care and attention I offer others. I have a whole list of things I would like to be doing for myself, including using a year-old gift card for a massage. What the hell?! How can I urge anyone else to self-care when I am not walking my own talk? Well, I’m getting there. I scheduled my well-visits with the doctor and imaging center, and got blood work done. Step by step, I will keep loving myself a little more, offering my body her own karmic reward. Hopefully, she’ll recognize my efforts and allow forgiveness over defeat.

Today, as I showered, I offered my body heartfelt gratitude and as I dried off, I sang to my own reflection. Oh, how we all deserve to be loved and cherished… especially by our own sacred selves.

So, the words I heard that morning were ‘building a strong foundation’, and I reflect on what meaning might be found. We are blessed with an unbreakable net woven with golden strands of individuals in our beloved community. Our friends, caregivers, hospital staff, physical therapists, and firefighters are among those who offer a cradle or hammock of nurturing protection. Our partners (if we are blessed to have one) are the home we get to return to, again and again. And the tenderness, compassion, and unconditional love that we offer ourselves is the beacon of warmth and healing light that we offer the world in reciprocity for this extraordinary earthly experience.

If you, dear one, are facing challenges in your own life, I hope that you are feeling held in the light of love, and that you are gently pouring unconditional love onto every wound and sorrow. Let that love spread throughout your physical and energetic being to soothe every ache and anxiety. Let peace settle into your bones, and witness joyful gratitude rising to the surface. And may that joy outshine fear and longing. Let that gorgeous light of yours become a healing balm that comforts you and those around you, as you witness the vision of your own transformation and new beginning. I’ll be right here to cheer as you emerge!

Thank you for walking this path with me. I am grateful for your care.

Decade in Reflection

So much can change in a year. New Year’s Eve is often the prompt for such a review. Considering what we were doing this time last year, for our family, it seems we have a decent year to celebrate. After seeing a movie with the entire family, I rushed my father to the emergency room on the eve of 2019. It was then that a problem we’d dealt with since October was finally diagnosed and in the months that followed a urethral stricture would find repair.

In 2019, unlike the year before, Pop has been at home, rather than in the hospital or rehab (save for the stricture recovery). He also had a procedure to repair the entropion in his left eye, which started while in rehab the year before. This was my first full year as a parental caregiver. It pays very little (I’m living on a tiny fraction of my retirement savings), but offers great reward. I know that my parents are safe, cared for, and that they both feel loved.

There’s much more to review for the year, but I’ve been reminded that we are not just at year’s end, but at decade’s end, so I’ll take a moment to journey through time. This time, ten years ago, I packed up the office of the boss who needed me, and watched him drive away from the office for the last time. 8.5 years earlier, he hired me to be his assistant, and that partnership changed both of our lives for the better. That’s really a story for the previous decade, but I can reflect on how different my life would be now, had the universe failed to align in our favor for a fruitful partnership. This early retirement to care for my parents would have been impossible, had he NOT chosen me in the early part of the decade that came before. I am eternally grateful for the way my life fell apart and came back together.

In my personal life, the beginning of this decade saw the end of an important friendship and a crack in the foundation of my Tribe. Trust was lost and never rediscovered. I’m certain that this soulmate life lesson was about learning why we don’t put people on pedestals, about the destructive nature of shame, and understanding how betrayal can make one feel like they have lost their mind (very useful experience for learning to hold space for others without judgment). Also affirmed, when someone leaves our lives, though it feels catastrophic for the loss of a future we once imagined, in time, our hearts do heal, and we fill that void with different experiences. Not better, not worse, just… different.

In 2012, I made a decision that brought a new group of people into my life, whom I adore. Having struggled with self-loathing and metabolic disorder since my early 20’s, I chose to have weight loss surgery. A woman I met in the support group I joined, became one of my best friends. We have held space for one another through difficult days, which is an important chapter in each of our healing journeys (read my blogpost “Witness to Healing”). The surgery may have been a temporary fix, since my metabolism remains broken, but the purpose of that path was clearly to bring us together. I wouldn’t change a thing.

2013 was a difficult year. It marked the first layoff in the corporate history of the workplace many of us loved. I witnessed so much heartbreak as people who would have chosen to stay forever had to leave. Then 2014 came along and I had a front row seat for the hostile takeover of the board of directors. I do not recommend any of this level of drama for an empathic soul. At the core of these two years was the heavy emotion of feeling helpless and unsafe. This was a period when I felt lost in darkness and could not find my inner light.

In 2015, I realized that sometimes things don’t go the way we planned, but it doesn’t mean they won’t go well. It was up to me to plan and execute more executive retirement events that year than I care to count. There are two positives to note with these changes delivered by so called ‘activist investors’. One is that every executive that I’ve run into since saying farewell at the event I organized on their behalf has reported that they are enormously happy. One I ran into last year said to me, “Melissa, I had no idea what I was missing!” And of course, my greatest loss in 2015 was the boss who loved me. I texted her on her birthday ten days ago, and she replied with photos from the travel adventure she and her husband were returning from with news of the one they were about to leave for with their adult children. Her migraines, a weekly if not daily occurrence while working, are a thing of the past. The other positive is that the company stock performance exceeded the lofty expectations of the guy who felt more like a terrorist in those early days of the takeover. (Again… a boon to my early retirement.)

The next two years swim with memories of tolerance, really. The place I once loved to work felt foreign in energy and culture… but still I couldn’t imagine that life could be better elsewhere. Then, in 2017… a new boss delivered liberation. Her former assistant who now sits at my desk of 16 years, told another she was told just to wait 90 days. I nearly danced out of the building that day, walked out by one of the leaders I supported, the way so many others departed in 2013. I did not feel unsafe, though. I was a little surprised by the sense of relief I felt. Instead of my world collapsing, it was falling into place.

The next year confirmed the sense that I could never return to that corporate world. I started writing and learning and growing, and have not stopped. I spent a year studying death and dying – and learned how live more mindfully. I spent time learning to write and edit for a popular online journal, and decided I prefer to write in my own style, for myself, knowing that comfort or inspiration may be found for those who bless my words with their valuable time and attention. I no longer wish to bend myself to fit the expectations of others.

This year, I planted metaphoric seeds which have grown into a glorious garden of lush connectedness, colorful healing, and bountiful beauty for myself and the sacred gardeners who have traveled this path with me. Eight seasonally evolving workshops and one mountain retreat brought together a new community of remarkable beings who care deeply for the wellness of one another, as they cultivate greater authenticity and joy in their own lives. To me, it feels like the birth of a new Tribe.

In this decade, I have lost friends to cancer, I have celebrated with some the news of remission, and with others, who continue the path of metastasis, facing challenges and overcoming them, I am committed to holding space, either bearing light or sitting in the darkness, with hope they will at least not feel alone. They are great warriors who continue to teach me about surrendering to grace, resting when the body commands, and opening to receive the kindness of others.

As I’ve focused on recreating myself and my world, I have walked with others whose lives have also changed through the death of a loved one or a former career, through aging – either of self, partners, children, or parents, and a host of other types of transformation induced by the unavoidable and unexpected. What has been fortified on this pilgrimage is that we are stronger together, and that we are never alone. Though we are nurturing different dreams for ourselves, we still glory in the manifestation of peace and comfort in the lives of those we love.

I’ve reflected on a decade of loss, but there has also been great adventure. Since 2010, I have been blessed to travel. Many adventures were with my life-long friend, and best travel companion (see my blogpost: “My Favorite Tomboy”). We started the decade with a trip to England, and birthed an annual Art-Cation tradition. Wherever we go, be it in driving distance or via flight, to see family or friends, or to touch the mysteries of history, we seek and find the local artists whose gifts reach through canvas to touch the hearts of others. In 2011, a trip to Scotland with anther friend delivered more magick and new friends. (European travel, for me, was a luxury that a few years without a car payment allowed.) I cannot fathom a life firmly planted. I am grateful for the wanderlust my mother seeded in me.

A decade of reflection could probably go on for just as long. So I’ll come back home to current gratitudes. My parents and I are closer than we have ever been, and not just because they bought a house up the street five years ago. My involvement in my father’s daily care since the last quarter of 2018 has nurtured an intimacy we never had before. And my mother and I have talked through old wounds and healing has been found. I laughed on my way home from setting Dad up with breakfast, to realize that instead of commenting on my weight, my mother complemented my butt. This feels like a good omen for the future. Ha!

Finally, in this decade I have welcomed four cats into my life. One died two years after his arrival, a freak tragedy that he probably thought might be a small adventure, and the other died in my arms in September. It was difficult to give words to the love and affection each of these magickal beings offered me (see my blogposts: “The Love of a Good Cat, Parts 2 and 3”). And last month, the other two beings of fluff and light came into my life and home. We are all still getting to know each other, but I predict a grand love affair in the decade to come.

To bring this reflection to conclusion, acknowledging a million other important things that occurred which I’ve failed to list, I would be remiss not to mention this blog. For many years, I was told by others that I had a gift for writing, and that I should do something with it. I once could not imagine how that might manifest. What on earth would I write about, and who would want to read it? But here we are.

A year and a half of writing about life has taught me a great deal about the power of introspection and sharing – about vulnerability and authenticity. I have been blessed to receive from others the acknowledgment that they found resonance in my words, they have sometimes been introduced to a new way of looking at things, and best of all, they have at times seen themselves on these pages, and found comfort in the reminder that we are all one.

As this decade comes to a close and you move through your own review, I hope that you have found balance. If there has been great change and loss, I hope there has also been great discovery and joy. If your health has been a primary focus, I hope that you have received the love and resources that support your path to acceptance, healing and wellness. I hope that the hardships can be seen as lessons, and that you can see clearly the beauty of your own evolution. I hope that you have found compassion and kindness for nurturing yourself, as well as others. I hope you have found forgiveness… for those who have harmed you, if possible, but more importantly, for yourself, be it for poor choices or for never having made a choice.

With this old decade, I am choosing to leave behind the ‘tradition’ of measuring my worth by how much weight I’ve lost, and my value by the size of my income. Three decades of not-enough-ness is quite enough, thank you!

Into this new decade, I shall only measure my goodness by the love that I give, and my fortune by the love that I receive.

Happy New Year, dear ones. Thank you for walking this path with me. Wishing you an abundance of blessings in the decade to come. May you have all you need and want all you have. You are so loved!

Relinquishing Regret at 80

Part Two of a Manifestation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First… you’ll need a Tribe.

INVOKING THE ELEMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STATING THE PURPOSE

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

THE KEY TO SURRENDER

Our Crone enters sacred space with dedication to the five truths

QUESTIONER STATES:
These five truths cannot be denied:

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

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

OWNING IT

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

She then Drops pages into flames.

She lies down with coat closed.

Someone sings or speaks:

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

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

THE HEALING

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

Someone reads:

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

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

Chanting: By stone and flood we banish all bad blood  

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

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

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

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

SAYING FAREWELL WHEN THE WORK IS DONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are enormously blessed!

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

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

Growing Into Authenticity Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waves of Sorrow and Bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eldercare Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Love of a Good Cat – Part 3

Every joint in my body aches this morning. I cannot get them to relax. That would require informing my body that she is gone, and that there is nothing left to hold onto. Perhaps it is my empathy out of balance, and rigor has set in, like the rigid nature of her sacred vessel that I carried in for after-care as soon as the doors opened, five hours after she left me. Like three times before. “Can you please help my baby get to Greenbriar?” (the crematorium for pets)

Yesterday was an excruciatingly long day. I left her for only moments, to tend to my father a few doors down. Otherwise, there were only a couple of times that I let her escape my embrace.

She had stopped eating, and the medication the doctor gave us didn’t help. My home looks like triage, with failed attempts to save a life scattered everywhere. IV fluids hang on a hook next to the couch, a syringe with water to stave off thirst on the ottoman, six different plates and bowls on the floor offer unconsumed food remnants that begged for an appetite. “Okay, how about filet mignon? No? Then, let’s try scrambled egg with your favorite cheese. No? Well, how about…”

I spoke to her doctor that morning, and learned that though she had delivered peace to two of my darlings in years passed, she could no longer bear to be the bringer of death. She referred me to another, who happened to be out of the country. So… the Universe had spoken. We would be doing this the old fashioned way. With patience, with reverence, and with so much love.

So, I gave Dad his morning meds and served him breakfast and informed my parents I would not be back unless they needed me. I walked in the door, and she did not run to greet me. So, I ran to greet her, instead. I picked her up and returned her to my chest, where we would remain until the end.

When I wrote about my experiences with death last year, as a part of a death doula curriculum, I introduced my readers to Morgan. She came to me six years ago with her brother, Arthur. He died tragically four years ago, and since then, Morgan and I have lived a peaceful and mindful existence.

She blossomed when he left us, for he had been the alpha cat (I guess). He was a bit of a bully, really, and I hated that she was submissive to him. She and I fell madly in love in those days that followed, and I’m not sure I have ever known a more kind and gentle soul than she. She would greet me at the door upon entering, and when I would pick her up, she would place her paws on each side of my neck and rub her cheek against my nose. She would mark me for all to know that I belonged to her. I was her human.

She would wake me in the mornings by climbing over me and settling next to my face for my cat tongue facials, which I referred to as Morganderm Abrasion. I would turn my face to be sure she didn’t miss a spot. If I didn’t rise by the time she was through, she would walk over me to stand behind me and poke me with her paw until I gave in. She didn’t always have an empty plate, either.

Morgan had grown thin over the last year following some kind of stroke like event that left her with a slight head tremor. This is when she seemed to forget how to drink properly from the fountain, and she would dunk her head beneath the running water. I would see her with ruffled brow, and slick back the water in her fur to help her with a little impromptu bath. There was a change in the sound of the falling water whenever she did this odd bow, and I heard that noise prolonged the day before I knew she was leaving. It was my portend of what was to come.

As she lay in my arms, nearing her final breaths, I scrolled through photos of when I first brought her home with Arthur. I couldn’t believe how full she was. I nicknamed her my Squishy. In the mornings, as she stood at the corner of my bed, I would lean over and envelope her with my arms and bury my face in her fur, kissing her cheek a hundred times. I could hear her protest, as if to say, “Oh, mother. Too much love. Give me more.”

She was 17 pounds after a year in my care, and this year… she was down to 7. I could feel her shoulder bones the way that I feel my father’s shoulder bones, and I can see how we are at times larger than life, and as we near the end, our bodies let go of old baggage. Perhaps it makes us easier to care for, the lighter we become. It was an odd thing to stop worrying about feeding each too much, to start wanting them to eat more of anything that might add weight.

It is a mean thing that nature does to us, to bring into our lives such sacred beings who don’t get to stay very long. Six years was not enough Morgan for my aching heart. I need a hundred more!

She was my comforter through so much loss (Arthur, the boss who loved me, my former identity). And now my only comfort is knowing that I served her well. I loved her completely. I held her tiny, sacred being in my arms for nearly 20 hours. I was her doula as she transitioned from my world into the light of all that is. I instructed her on where to go and who to look for, and I asked forgiveness for the things I failed to do because I did not understand her language and couldn’t see what was going on inside that precious water-soaked head.

Morgan came into my life when her elderly owner could no longer care for her. It was three months after Nightshade died, and she had been with me for 19 years. My only regret, is that I was not ready sooner, for I could have had more Morgan and more Arthur, and my life would have been even richer.

I know that I will rescue again, and without a doubt, I will be rescued in return. But first, I will take time to sit in solitude with my sweet angel kitty. When she shows up, I don’t want to mistake her energy for that of another. She was given wings at birth, you know. Morgan was a Turkish Van cat. Their distinct markings are a mostly white body with ears and tail of orange or black, with a spot between the shoulders that is called the Mark of Allah. Morgan’s mark was a pair of orange angel wings. She lived with purpose and fulfilled her mission. And she has taken flight… returning to the light of truth.

Oh, how blessed we are to be chosen by these furry beings of love and light. They were given the power to dispel darkness, and they so freely share their magick with us. This truth is what encourages us to break our own hearts over and over again. We would dwell in the dark without their light. With that kind of love… everything is illuminated.

This ache is all consuming. I wonder how long it will stay with me. My muscles and joints feel as if they are still holding on. I guess I must get to the work of letting go. As I said to her, “It’s okay to let go. You are safe. Mom’s not going anywhere and she will miss you every day of her life, but she will be okay, too.” Into the light of truth, we go…

Art by Sandra Bierman

Holding On and Letting Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witness to Grace

A High King Ascends to the Summerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Harvest – Lammastide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruition Unfolding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!