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!

Winter Solstice & The Becoming

In October, I committed to an 8-month course on Holding Space Leadership. The first module was on the basics of Holding Space, and yesterday marked its conclusion.

As I reflect on this introduction and the pending Celtic Holy Day, which marks another turn of the wheel of the year in the ever changing cycle of seasons, I can’t help but contemplate Heather Plett’s notes on Liminal Space. It feels like the Winter Solstice (now happening in the northern hemisphere) is a perfect example of this concept.

She uses the caterpillar to butterfly metaphor in great detail, which makes it so easy to understand the middle ground of a transition cycle. I hadn’t realized the process of transformation of these magickal creatures until I read Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight in 2018, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, since my past life felt finished. That’s where I learned that the caterpillar doesn’t just sprout longer legs and wings while cloaked in mystery… it actually ceases to exist in its previous form. It becomes a liquid before becoming solid again, in a brand new way.

From this course, I have learned that when we are in the process of un-becoming – casting off a former self, while not yet stepping into a new, final form… we are in liminal space. There is no time limit on transformation. We can be in this space for a year or a decade. It takes however long it takes. No pressure. No judgment. No shame.

What I took from Martha’s notes on this transition, is that if someone were to try to help (or force) the butterfly out of its safe place, it would ooze out and cease to exist… never to emerge in that glorious form. So, we come to understand that when we are in liminal space, it is our gift and responsibility to do the work of transformation. No one can do it for us. And from Heather’s notes on this process, I realized that as one who is holding space for someone in transition, it is not our responsibility to force their becoming, but to provide the safe place for this transformation to occur in their own time and on their own terms.

Now that I’ve been given language for it, I realize that this time of year, between one holiday and another, and another, and another… is like being in liminal space.

When I was in the corporate world, everything shifted the week before Thanksgiving. There was a sense of limbo to living, as everyone moved into some kind of chaotic survival mode. Either coming alive with anticipation of time with family, vacation, decorations, gifts, etc… or conversely, killing themselves to get it all done, or wanting to – for the stress of it all, with the enormous discomfort and despair it might bring for a host of reasons. This feeling of clouded disconnection would take root and hold on until the second week of the new year.

This is my third holiday season without co-workers, so I’m no longer witness to the excitement or tension. My family and I have moved away from the stress and chaos of holidays dictated by expectations. I didn’t put up a tree or purchase presents this year. It’s funny how simplifying one’s life can feel so liberating.

Even without all of the trappings of the holiday season, this time of year still feels like liminal space… a time of reflection and transformation.

This year, we are not only facing the end of another year, but the end of a decade. In reflection, we may review this time to see where we’ve been and what has changed. In 2010, the boss who needed me had just retired, and the boss who loved me was growing nicely into her new role. I loved my job, I loved my workplace, and I loved the people. I was still learning how to love myself. I hoped I would always get to be there, in that job. But the universe had other plans. Thank goodness.

I think I moved into liminal space when the boss who loved me retired in 2015, and the rest of the decade has been spent in peeling away all of the layers that had turned into something ‘unbecoming’ to me. My soul took flight when I realized that I didn’t have to stay in that form that always felt a little false. I looked and felt completely out of place in the corporate world, where making money for shareholders was more important than nurturing and stoking the light of love in every individual. Yet, I don’t regret the work of the caterpillar that delivered the abundance of savings that became the chrysalis of transformation. In fact, I am grateful for that former self in that past life.

I remember when I started writing in 2018, how I would refer to that former life, wondering where I might go next and what I might do with the time remaining. I simply decided to follow inspiration and my IGS (internal guidance system) to see where it would lead. In the last two years, I have studied End of Life wisdom, writing and editing, and have started on the path of Holding Space Leadership (something I already do, but don’t know what I don’t know). My favorite exploration has been crafting and facilitating workshops and retreats focused on mindfulness, creative expression, sacred ceremony, and joy manifestation in the form of self-awareness and intentional living.

I am not the same person I was before the universe wrapped me in a cloak of transformation. I am no longer the caterpillar, but I am not yet the butterfly, either. I’m somewhere in the goo, tossing out what doesn’t belong, picking out colors and textures that will suit my new wings, when I am ready to take flight.

I challenge you, dear reader, to determine where you are in your own sacred cycle. If you feel as if you are in liminal space, even if it feels like years have passed while you’ve been here, embrace your beautiful gooey self and keep doing the work of transformation. Don’t be afraid to let go of what no longer serves you. Just chuck it! You’re going to need that extra space to build your wings.

I wrote a meditation for my goddess group Solstice gathering that was inspired by this work, and I recorded it for sharing. Keep in mind that I’m not a professional – I am exploring tools that I’m figuring out as I go, and it is far from perfect. I guess it is liminal, too. Also, it was written for a specific gathering, so please forgive the gender reference at the end.

A Meditation Inspired by Rebirth at Winter Solstice, Liminal Space, and Chakra Alignment

So, tomorrow the sun will set and we will experience the longest night of the year. It is the perfect time for reflection and introspection. Move into that glorious darkness and give your gooey self a good swirl. Glory in your blessed opportunity to recreate yourself as the days begin to grow longer, when your divine spirit is reborn along with the radiant sun.

For those who find this time of year to be difficult or painful, know that I am holding space for you in my heart. Wishing you sweet memories to be cherished of the past and new memories to be made and revered in the future.

HAPPY SOLSTICE!

Centering Our Souls at Samhain

Part Four of a Manifestation Story

At the heart of this retreat was the myth of Persephone. When I started studying death last year, as a part of the End of Life Doula studies, I dedicated my learning to Her in the role of Goddess of the Underworld. But here’s the thing… I have chosen a version of the myth which is not tied to patriarchal brutality. I am not interested in perpetuating or celebrating a relationship based on abduction, rape, and entrapment. There is another telling that I prefer. It was one I learned from another, so I cannot verify the source – but I suspect it comes from Dr. Pinkola Estes or another goddess-mother of feminine spirituality. The version that my swiss-cheese memory recalls goes something like this…

Persephone was in a field collecting flowers to make a circlet for her mother’s hair, when she came upon a lost soul who could not find the doorway to the underworld. She returned to her mother, the Goddess Demeter, and told her that she must go into the underworld to guide these lost souls and offer them initiation. Though She did not want to let her go (the plight of most mothers), Demeter watched Persephone’s descent and immediately longed for her return. As she mourned the absence of her daughter, the world fell into a stark, quiet version of itself as a blanket of snow fell and the flowers receded into the earth.

Meanwhile, Persephone took Her place at the crystal doorway to offer seeds of transformation to those who no longer walked upon the earth. Initiation involved consumption of a pomegranate seed, and these garnet seeds would light the inner flame of those moving into a new way of being. When Persephone returned from the underworld to visit her mother, Demeter felt such joy that the earth burst forth in blossoms of celebration, as life and color bloomed once more.

Here we have a story of creation and of changing seasons, mothers and daughters, of love and loss, of passion and responsibility, of transformation, death and renewal. This is a version of an ancient tale I can relate to.

My current belief (current – because I am ever evolving based on my own life experience) about the transformation that death brings is that we are all energetic beings, and in human incarnation we are able to learn and grow through emotions that are not experienced beyond the confines of the body. So, once we have gathered these lessons and intentions, we are free to leave the body behind, as we return to energetic form. Those we love and have lost in body to death, remain ever present in energetic form. My intention for connecting with our lost loves at Samhain, was to use the tool of creative visualization or meditation to sit with them once more.

And so it was Persephone who manifested within the cave of sacred memory to offer us initiation and safe passage. When we reached the central chamber, which was warmed by firelight, with walls donned with portraits of our ancestors and dear ones lost, we sat upon a crimson couch and welcomed whomever chose to step through the doorway veiled in magickal moonlight.

The results of meditation differ, based on experience. Someone who is well-practiced may have honed the ability to get out of their own way to let vision come and judgment or expectation fall away. But one should never negate the vision or experience they find in the sacred space of the powerful mind.

JK Rowling, I feel, captured it perfectly in The Deathly Hallows, when Harry asks the ghostly image of Professor Dumbledore:

“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Some of us had very clear, even life-altering conversations with one or more people on that comfy couch. Some of us saw ourselves surrounded by smiling loved ones who were present, without words. As for me, I found an opportunity to seek forgiveness and receive acceptance at the edge of the underworld.

I had no expectation of my own personal journey, since I had written the meditation, led the visualization, and was ultimately holding space for the experience of others. However, as I provided the silent pause for those on this journey to find connection, someone came through the veil for me.

In January of 1993, I volunteered in the buddy program for Hope & Help, a local resource for people living with HIV. I was introduced to my first and only buddy somewhere around my 24th birthday. I was the first ‘stranger’ his parents left him with, so that they could go to church together. When they left, he told me that he was being punished by God. This broke my heart and made me angry, all at once. I am not a fan of religions that lead people to believe they are worthy of abandonment and abuse from a supposed all-powerful being. He was a young and passionate choir leader for his gospel church. He had a blood transfusion during a surgery after his appendix burst. He died in November of that same year, a week before his 28th birthday.

It was Kirby who came through the veil for me. He was smiling and happy to see me, and the feeling was mutual. A part of my guidance was to consider the conversations we never got to have… the ones where we have the opportunity to say to our loved ones: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. 26 years have passed since Kirby left this earthly realm, and he came through so that I could tell him something I needed to say.

When I was 24, I had not yet learned about life, let alone death. I had minimal access to my gift for words. When I sat with him, whether in his home or in the hospital, I felt a complete lack. I did not know what to say or how to say it. I sat and held his hand and looked into his eyes, but I always felt that I provided little comfort. But here’s the thing I’ve carried… shame. When I held his hand as he lay in his hospital bed, lung capacity too weak to push out words, I was not fully present. As I held his hand, I thought about the fear I carried for a disease on which I had been well-educated. I knew that holding his hand was zero risk for my wellness, and yet I can recall leaving the room and washing my hands with urgency. The only real threat was to him… my germs could compromise his health, and not the other way around. I would give anything to be able to sit with him again with the presence, compassion, and understanding I now possess.

I asked Kirby for his forgiveness, and even now, I can almost hear his voice. “Oh, Melissa. There is nothing to forgive!” As he tilts his head, glances at me with compassion, and offers me that gorgeous grin… tears flow, and I know that this is happening inside my head, and also that this is real.

When I lead a meditation, my main worry is whether the silence I offer is long enough for a message to be received, or so long that I lose the mindful attention of those I’m hoping to lead. When Kirby faded into the veil, I ended the silence with these words…

We know that time moves differently in the Underworld, and that though we long to be with our loved ones, we know that now is not that time. Tonight is a moment when time stands still, and here we were blessed to connect between the worlds.

But time will move on and we shall go with it. Much like when we connect in the realm of the living, it feels as if no time has passed… so will be the day when they come to greet us and take us from the temporary realm to the eternal.

Until then… we honor them by choosing to live in joy and happiness. It would be an insult to their sacrifice not to.

We made our way out of sacred space the same way we came in, and we shared the stories of our experience. We cried together, and we amazed one another with knowledge of healing offered and received between the worlds.

The next day, a meditation informed everyone of a gift from Persephone. We were all given a garnet pomegranate seed, in the form of a teardrop bead attached to a small silver ring. The symbolism was that we would be offered safe passage any time we wished to connect with our loved ones, and when our time comes, we, too, will be received and initiated by Her love.

We then took the gift we were given, and selected a series of other beads to encircle our wrists in the form of a bracelet that would forever remind us of this time we’ve shared at the edge of the underworld.

The final piece of the remembrance portion of the retreat was to write the names of those we had invoked onto gathered autumn leaves. We drove to a nearby river, walked to the center of the bridge, and blew kisses into the wind, as our leaves floated down and around, returning our beloveds to the eternal flow of the river that separates us.

When we returned to the mountain house we now recognized as home, some of us stepped into the kitchen, and continued the preparation of a true Thanks-Giving meal. When my hosts suggested a full turkey dinner with all the sides, I thought it sounded great, but I hadn’t really considered the symbolism.

We were at the end of our time together. We twelve had chosen to be vulnerable and authentic. We supported and celebrated transition and transformation. We cried together, and we built a bond that transcends time and space. We agreed that we wanted to do this again. And we gave thanks for all of it.

The day before these gorgeous beings gathered, I started a seven month course on Holding Space Leadership, and our course creator and guide, Heather Plett, shared with us a poem. As she read these words, I understood that I would share them, too. They are perfection. So, before we sat down to our final full-togetherness, I read these words to my courageous and wonderful guests, and now… I offer them to you.

Blessing for a New Beginning by John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Each farewell the next morning took away a little piece of my heart, in the form of longing and protection. And by noon, we were three again. We set to the task of breaking the set, and packing it up. Our journey down the mountain would come the next morning, and there was much to do.

Gratefully, the universe rewarded me with a little more time with my dear hosts, who drove over from their daughter’s home. I was pleased to share my gratitude for the remarkable journey we had all shared in this beautiful space that held us all in warmth and love. And because it is what sacred gardeners do, I planted seeds of intention for two retreats in 2020. My life-long friend took notes during our eleven hour drive home, on our ideas for how to manifest more self-love at Beltaine next May. I can’t wait to light that candle and dedicate that hearth to bless, once again, the journey we will share.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy to be here with you for this brief moment in time. May the season of light bring you an abundance of blessings.

Persephone’s Passage

A Journey Into the Underworld

Part Three of a Manifestation Story

When the sacred ceremony for our beloved Crone was complete, we shared a delicious meal that our hosts had prepared for us, and when we were warm and well-fed, we gathered at the heart of the house, beside the hearth fire.

I spoke of my gratitude for this remarkable gathering of those who have been walking this path with me all year, and those who walked with me long ago. I lit the candle of my intentions, with the word RETREAT front and center. I asked my travelers to close their eyes as we grounded ourselves into the present moment, and then we moved our minds into a sacred grove of trees to which we would return throughout the weekend. This circle of ancient beings held space for each of us as we remembered those we have loved and lost. They reached out their branches to us and begged to hold symbols of our love, as we pulled photos and trinkets from imaginary pockets. Into each tree our love and longing was gently placed. And then, we opened our eyes to dedicate these intentions to the Ancestors’ Altar before us. We each pulled out photos and placed them upon the mantle and hearth, as we called the names and shared stories of those we love beyond the veil.

And as we felt the honor and arrival of each soul into our circle, we bid them a warm welcome, and eventually made our way into warm beds and deep sleep.

Saturday morning brought the sunshine and a report from our Crone that she slept soundly without the burden she once carried. Once we were all awake and ready to return to our work, we circled at the hearth once more. As I was preparing for this retreat, I thought of our intention to journey into the underworld to spend some time connecting with our lost beloveds. What came to mind for me at the thought of gathering with my ancestors was the idea of which I’d read, that we can choose to heal what had been passed down the family line, and effectively heal that wound in both directions – past and future.

In my Mabon workshop, for the Autumn Equinox, we did a cord cutting ceremony. We cut the cords that remained tied to those who had harmed us, or to ideas of who we SHOULD be based on the beliefs of others. When we were done, many felt that we could spend more time on this, because there were more cords to be severed. So, it was an easy decision to make this a part of our retreat. I loved the idea of sitting with my grandmother and letting her know that I had chosen to heal this familial trauma for myself, for my mother, for her, and for all of our relations throughout time.

This ended up being more powerful than I had imagined. It turns out, some of us are really conscious of what is holding us back, and can easily see how it may have been passed down through generations.

The ceremony took some time, because it needed to be focused for each and every one of us. I cut the cords for one of our Tribe members, and then she stepped forward to wield the sword of surrender for all others. As each sacred soul stepped forward, they were asked:

Are you ready, willing, and able to sever, release, and retract any and all cords attached to people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas, and unknown and unseen forces that bind you and your familial line, that keep you from living fully present and in joy? “I AM!”

Do you who are holding space in this sacred circle offer your loving support and positive energy toward the safe, healing endeavor of our dedicant, for her/his highest good and for the good of all? “WE DO!”

Will you allow and receive the loving assistance and positive energy of those surrounding you who are holding space for you in loving light, who offer their energy for the highest good of you and for all? “I WILL!”

Do you wish to name aloud or silently those people, places, events, emotions, feelings, fears, traumas? “SAY THEM ALOUD OR STATE THAT YOU ARE DOING SO IN SILENCE”

As I wield the sword of surrender to symbolize the cutting of these cords – be they many or few – see in your mind’s eye the cords being swiftly cut with grace and ease, and then witness each cord being retracted into your being and simultaneously into the being or representation of what formerly bound you. As each cord recedes and retracts, send it with love and with gratitude, for each of those cords represented a lesson and a growth opportunity. Let that being or representative know that you are finished with this lesson, that you are no longer holding on, and that you wish them peace.

Space Holders Chant:  And it all just falls away. And it all just falls away.

When s/he feels it is finished, dedicant says: “Thank you. It is done!”

As the sword of surrender waved through the air that surrounded each of us, it symbolically cut away our attachment to the stories of betrayal, abandonment, abuse, unworthiness, not-enough-ness, unlovableness. We cut the cords of mental illness, of addiction, of perfectionism, of estrangement, of drama, and poor choices we’ve made, as well as those made by others which caused us suffering and turmoil. We cut and cut and cried and cried.

And when everyone had been freed from these bonds, I became “Someone’s Priority” once more, and the words were spoken and the sword was wielded for me.

Suddenly, as the work was done, I was surrounded by the embrace of this Tribe. This marriage of old and new had become one in the understanding of our sameness.

We can never look upon a single human and believe that we know the perfection of their lives. Every one of us carries a burden, tied to a past of longing. We each long to be free from suffering, and often believe we are alone. We carry the shame in silence, because we fear the thoughts and expectations of others. And yet, it is through the sharing that we are able to witness our similarities, and it is through being truly seen that we understand that the only shame is what we ourselves carry. When we have the courage to share in a safe space, it is as if each person present lifts a stone that once pressed down upon us, and we are once again able to breathe deeply and rise into our wholeness.

I was so honored to stand witness to the severance of cords and release of these beautiful beings. With tear stained faces, each fell into my embrace, and I was so proud of the hard work they had been willing to do for themselves. I was teased for making them cry, and I replied that my work was done! I only think a movie was good if it made me cry – because it means that it managed to touch me deeply. And so it is with sacred ceremony.

And another intention upon my candle was harvested… PASSION. This work is my passion. Holding space for others to do the work of their own healing is my passion. Standing witness to the beautiful and painful truth of my beloved community is my passion. Knowing that they each feel safe, seen, heard, held, and loved… is my passion.

There is still a bit more to tell, but I am emotionally spent on this glorious memory. I hope you’ll come back for more. Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so glad you are here.

Misty mountain morning…

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.

Final Harvest

PART ONE OF A MANIFESTATION STORY

A year ago, I planted a seed. It was a morsel of a dream. It was a possibility of something new to me. It was a hope for manifesting a remarkable moment in time. It was a fantasy of retreat, reunion, respite. It was an ideation of a fruitful harvest. It was made manifest the first weekend in November, and I am still overwhelmed by the affirmation that we reap what we sow.

Last year I wrote about “The Long and Winding Road” that led me to my friends’ home on a mountain in Banner Elk, North Carolina. It was during that visit, as they were renovating a newly purchased house to become a home and bed and breakfast, that an inkling arrived. I mentioned that this would be a lovely place for a retreat, and the reply I received was, “I hoped you’d say that!”

So, at the beginning of this year, as I was seeing the possible future of facilitating workshops for a mindful journey through the wheel of the year, that would touch on our relationship to nature and the changing seasons, I booked a weekend for retreat in that beautiful mountain sanctuary.

At the time, I didn’t even know if anyone would be interested in attending the workshops, let alone a retreat that would come after an eleven hour drive. So, I made first mention to my distant Tribe. This is my spiritual family that was birthed at the end of 1993, with whom I share a deep bond that transcends time and space (years and geography). Over the decades, they have scattered to the winds, and it had been a while since we had gathered beneath one roof. The response was positive, so I figured I would at least host a Tribe Reunion, if no further interest was found.

I spent the year focusing on one season at a time, as I created a mindful journey for those who would attend my workshops. We started at Imbolc in February, which in the Celtic farming culture was when the fields would be tilled, debris would be burned away, and new seeds would be planted for a future harvest. We wrote down what no longer served us and weighed us down, then we burned it. We offered the ashes to a nearby garden for transmutation. We assessed every area of our lives and where we found the lowest ratings or least pleasure, we made a commitment and set a goal for improvement. We planted our seeds in the fertile soil of our hopes and dreams to be brought to fruition.

I really didn’t think much about what we would do next, until each workshop was finished. I knew there would be introductions to methods of grounding, mindful meditation, an introduction to movement, an art project or creative exploration, and sacred ceremony. The only firm plan I had for retreat was that it would be the first weekend in November, and the theme would be final harvest (thanks-giving for how we’ve grown this year), and Ancestors’ Night (remembering and connecting with loved ones on the other side of the veil).

In that first workshop in February, we crafted candles of intention. We wrote on the glass of seven-day-candles words that represented that which we hoped to manifest in the year. We would light our candles as a reminder of our dedication to turning dreams into reality. Onto my yellow candle (which was for the element of air and the solar plexus chakra – clarity of thought and taking responsibility for one’s life) I wrote: Laughter, Passion, Balance, Playful, Someone’s Priority, and RETREAT.

Here’s a lesson on manifestation, dear ones. Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. The thing is… it might not turn out exactly as you imagine. It might turn out BETTER than you imagined.

A part of me had hoped for love to enter my life. The kind that comes with a commitment, presence, and authenticity with a shared desire for togetherness. But as I lit my candle once more at the opening ceremony of my first RETREAT, I read these words and looked into the faces of those gathered, and realized… it was all here. This work is my PASSION, these people, my sacred gardeners, have delivered and shared LAUGHTER, getting to do this with others brings BALANCE to the priority of caring for my parents because it fills me up. Together, we PLAY with different mediums of arts and crafts that allow us to reconnect with an inner child or innocent version of ourselves. And just when I thought the one thing that had not come to birth was to have SOMEONE in my life who cared enough to make me their PRIORITY, I looked into the eyes of friends who have not missed a single one of my workshops, including a Tribe Sister who drives four hours each way every eight weeks, just to tend this sacred plot of land.

By the time all of the RSVPs had been sorted out, we had a party of twelve committed to making a journey into the Underworld. It was half distant Tribe and half Sacred Gardeners (some of which are both). Beloved beings traveled from Orlando, Tallahassee, Deltona, Charlotte, Colorado and Tennessee to gather in Banner Elk. It reminded me of the first time a group like this walked up the steps to my money-pit condo on a rainy day in December 1993, when I was 23 years old. It was a moment of excitement that was filled with hope. In fact, if I were to check the Tribe archive, I believe I would confirm the number that day to have been an even dozen. Further, that group was a merging of my two worlds at that time – those I’d met through a class on feminine spirituality and those I met through the young adult group at the Unitarian Church. Huh… I love that symmetry.

I drove up a couple of days early with my life-long friend, who is also my sounding board, and creativity partner. When I have an idea about a craft or art form to share in a workshop, she and I get together in advance to experiment and be sure it can be done in a reasonable time frame within my agenda. She is also my art-cation travel partner, and so upon arrival, after seeing off our amazing hosts who crafted my menu, did my grocery shopping, and pre-cooked multiple meals for our nourishing enjoyment (Talk about bountiful blessings! These friends had gone above and beyond in more ways than I could count.), we set to the task of turning this lovely home into a fall fiesta.

The two focal points were the fireplace mantle and hearth and the dining room table. We draped them both in gorgeous ribbon spiraling with autumn leaves and colors, and warm white faery lights. We removed amenities from boxes and tied them in ribbons. Each guest would receive a warm autumn throw in which to wrap themselves on these cold nights, a goblet adorned with swirling fall leaves with their names painted on the stems, and a handwritten note of gratitude for their presence in my life.

That night, after an eleven hour drive that began at 6:30am, we collapsed in a heap. We had the whole house to ourselves that Wednesday night, but as we’ve done since we were in kindergarten, we each took a half of the upstairs king bed and didn’t wake until morning. The next day would be a travel day and we would welcome more friends from Florida.

There is so much more to tell, but this post already feels a bit long. I really want to tell you about what happened on Friday, when we performed a sacred ceremony as a special request for our beloved 80-year-old crone.

But if you can’t wait to book your own retreat in this divine sanctuary, I’ll add a link below. I hope you’ll join me later for a continuation of this unfolding fireside story. Your presence is the flame that lights my way. Thank you for walking this path with me.

Cold night, warm hearts

https://www.facebook.com/thepointebandb/

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.