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.

The Weight of Grief

Today, I feel heavy. I feel it in my chest, as if I must push out every breath. I feel it in my joints and fascia. Everything hurts today. Even my fingers hurt as I type.

There has been news this week of a friend who lost her husband suddenly and without warning. His departure is tragically similar to the loss suffered by another friend, who is painfully triggered by these events. At the same time that this news arrived, I learned that my former work partner’s sixteen year old granddaughter has not been seen or heard from in four days (as of today). The presence of my sixteen year old grandniece, who is staying with me this week, brings this sense of fear and concern even closer to my awareness.

On top of this heartbreak is the continued witness of my father’s physical decline. Only seven houses away, I got the call yesterday that he needed help. He had fallen on the way to the bathroom, and mom was able to get the Indeelift to him, so that he could use the electronic device to bring him from the floor to a seated position, but he was not strong enough to stand from there, and they needed help.

I helped him to the toilet and while he was there, we checked his blood pressure. It was surprisingly normal despite not having taken the pill that is prescribed to elevate his low blood pressure, we suspect due to the trauma and stress of the fall and effort to rise. His elbow was bleeding.

When we got him safely back into his recliner, I gave him a handful of pills from his morning pill box and fixed him a bagel and coffee. His head was hurting, so I encouraged consumption of caffeine to wait for the tylenol to kick in.

My grandniece called from my house to be sure he was okay. She was worried that I’d been gone so long. When she arrived a week ago, she shared that she felt dad was depressed because he didn’t seem excited to see her. I told him about it later that night, when I went over to ‘tuck them in’ (how I refer to being sure their doors are closed and locked, and everyone has what they need before bed), and he seemed to become more engaged with each of her visits. They taught themselves how to play poker via a Youtube video, and I think he rather enjoyed winning, most of the foreign coins I had given them to use in lieu of poker chips, as he beat her at several hands. We are going to miss her so much when she goes home.

My soul-daughter stopped by for a visit this morning, and this month marks the third anniversary of her boyfriend’s death in a car accident. She was feeling anxious being back in town, where they had grown up together, and we spent some time talking about grief.

For me, when my father’s soul decides to leave this earthly realm, I will experience my most significant loss. We discussed the importance of this time that he and I have together, to get to know one another in a more intimate way. It almost feels as if we have only known each other on the surface for the past 50 years. Now, we have dedicated time to understand the deeper truths within, even if not on a conscious level. Lately, it feels like I’ve been getting to know his stubborn and defiant inner child, and I love him just the same.

My intuitive soul-daughter tells me that what I feel right now, this ache for the unknown future – a sort of pre-grieving, will be the worst part. She feels that as things progress that I will find strength to be present and serve each situation with grace. This part of our story will be an important part of my becoming. I hope she’s right about finding strength.

Sometimes I feel like crying, but the tears won’t come. I recognized the other day that I was feeling like I did when I was an executive assistant supporting my beloved boss through a very difficult time in our corporate history. I felt that I could not be away from the office, because it would be a hardship for her to feel unsupported. I had five weeks of vacation, but would only take time off if she went away.

Dad has surgery scheduled for the end of July. I feel the need for a break, but am struggling with the idea of being an hour away, let alone the ten-hour distance of the place that fills me up. And yet I know that I will be a better caregiver with that respite. Whatever his recovery may require, I will be stronger and healthier to be present for both of my parents, if I make my own self-care a priority.

So, I am nervously making plans for a mini-vacation. I had planned to take my grandniece north to see the fireflies, but it seems the universe is pushing me toward another solitary journey (she has to return home earlier than planned). I suspect introspection comes easier for me that way, and that’s where I do my best work… it is an inside job.

I know that my parents will be fine while I’m gone. At least mom says they will be fine. Dad says: “Speak for yourself!” I’m afraid he won’t take his pills each morning and night. I’m afraid he won’t ask for what he needs. They are both forgetful, and I’ve arrived some evenings and asked what he had to eat, and neither of them realized he hadn’t really had anything since breakfast.

I’m afraid he’ll fall and they will have trouble getting him back to his feet. I’m afraid of the fear and loneliness he might feel in the moments he realizes that I am not answering his call for help… and now I have arrived at the core of where we are. [pushing breath through heavy lungs]

Harville Hendrix says that our core wound of abandonment comes from the first time we cry out for our parents from the crib, and our cry goes unanswered. At that stage, we need our parents for sheer survival, not to mention all of the other good stuff they provide. That’s not to say that my dad needs me for his survival, but I certainly don’t want him to ever feel abandoned. His body is betraying him at every turn, and I don’t plan to contribute to that turmoil, if at all possible.

This also reminds me of the month that I cared for my grandniece when she was 18-months old. Her mother and grandparents had to be away, and she would cry if I left the room. I was painfully aware of the status of her feelings of abandonment, so I would carry her with me to the bathroom if she woke up before I’d had time for my morning tinkle. I would have done anything to keep her from feeling abandoned. Did I mention that empathy is my number one strength? Sigh…

If I am to practice what I preach, I will be sure to care for the caregiver. One of the many blessings of friendship is that when we are in need, those who love us will rise to our service. One friend has offered a beautiful space for my escape, and another has offered to stay in my home while I’m away, so that my parents may call and still have someone at the door within two minutes to offer support.

I have a candle lit as a beacon to bring my friend’s granddaughter safely home, and I am working on a ritual to support and nurture the transition of my friend’s husband who has gone too soon. I know that they, too, are feeling the loving kindness of friends and loved ones who would do anything to make everything alright again, and I am believing in the very best possible outcome for one and all.

An oracle card that crossed my screen today (from The Universe Has Your Back, reads: “I find a deeper meaning and personal growth amid the discomfort.” And boy do I feel uncomfortable right now. So many of us are suffering that it seems to be manifesting in tangible ways, be it body aches, troubled sleep, or a needed reminder to just breathe. Surely we are being encouraged to offer more kindness to ourselves and others.

The other message that rose today was Layla from Alana Fairchild’s Rumi Oracle. [paraphrasing] She informs us that in the darkness, there is the path. She urges us not to turn from it, but to sit with it… this lack of knowing. Anything about us that is untrue will be annihilated in this darkness. This darkness is essential for the appearance of the light that is on its way. She suggests that we welcome the darkness of our grief and suffering, and bear witness. We must allow the unfolding of the interplay of the darkness and the light for the enhancement of our own growth process, and here we shall also find joy.

Wouldn’t it be nice if growth didn’t have to hurt so much? If you find yourself walking through darkness right now, I hope that you know you are not alone. Take my hand, dear one. Together we shall bear witness to the darkness, and move forward into the light. Thank you for walking this path with me.

From The Universe Has Your Back Oracle Cards

Witness to Waning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for walking this path with me.

An Early Harvest

My favorite tomboy sent me a text yesterday, “I wanted you to know, before you see it on facebook…” I held my breath and read on. Her nephew, the eldest son of her little brother, is dead.

You know… she and I have been friends since she was four, and every interaction we share takes me back to that moment in kindergarten, when I made a life-long friend. At the time, her brother was only three. I see him at that age, in my mind’s eye, moving toy cars around an imaginary track on the floor, making sound effects through vibrating lips – and then jump ahead 45 years to realize he will soon bury his 28 year old son. We were preparing to comfort one another through lost parents – as each gathering brings news of obstacles or decline, but never… this.

I’ve been thinking about how I will add the topic of death into my workshops this year, but it is not slated until the end of summer, when symbolically, we prepare for the first harvest and the dance of the sacrificial king. This year, our harvest has come early. The sun is barely at its height. The fruit is on the limb, but far from ripe. We are not ready. We are never really ready.

I did not know him, this young man – gone too soon, but I understand that for many years of his youth, he walked in shadow and wore the cloak of addiction, which kept him shrouded from his family’s love, until recently. He dropped the cloak through rehabilitation and recovery and walked into the arms of his family, and I know they will each hold this reunion in their hearts with gratitude, as they grieve…. the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a grandson… and the death of hope. Hope was something they held onto for a really long time. The hope of peace and happiness for this beloved being. It may not have been a surprise a few years ago, but THIS was unexpected. Things had been going so well.

I studied death for a year, and I still struggle with knowing how to help. I am remaining connected to my favorite tomboy, ready to be of service to this family in which, I too, grew up – in a way. I am listening for her words of heartbreak (or rather – reading them via text, because speaking is just too difficult for her right now), and holding space for her sorrow. I know that I cannot make it better, but I can be present… and that is good enough.

I have pulled a few books from my little death library, and thumb through the pages for the comfort I seek to provide. My life-long friend is spiritual but not religious, and my resources are eclectic. From Starhawk’s Pagan Book of Living and Dying, my favorite words of comfort are:

BLESSING OF THE ELEMENTS
May the air carry his spirit gently.
May the fire release his soul.
May the water wash him clean of pain and suffering.
May the earth receive him.
May the wheel turn again and bring him to rebirth.

The second book for which I reach is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. There is so much wisdom here, but what draws me the most is The Essential Phowa Practice. The practice is meant for those of us on a path of enlightenment to be prepared at the time of our death to be received beyond the veil. I am adapting the words provided in Practice One to symbolize our prayer on his behalf.

  • Through the blessing, grace, and guidance, through the power of the light that streams from the embodiment of truth:
  • May all of his negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed,
  • May he know himself forgiven for all the harm he may have thought and done,
  • May he accomplish this profound practice of phowa, and die a good and peaceful death,
  • And through the triumph of his death, may he be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead.

May all who love this sacred being see him being illuminated and encased in this radiant light, as he 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 his negative karma, destructive emotions, and all that may have caused his suffering or suffering to others. May all see the light of his heart rise in rays of emerald green toward the golden light of compassion above him. As his soul feels the absence of all suffering with the gift of forgiveness, no longer held to the realm of regret, his being melts into light, and merges with the blissful presence. May all find peace as he becomes one with all that is.

Finally, I love this piece from Megory Anderson’s book Sacred Dying. It is attributed to an anonymous writer, found in Life Prayers from Around the World. I’ve seen it elsewhere in a reference to Saying Kaddish – a Jewish tradition for the dead.

When I die give what’s left of me away
to children and old men who wait to die.

And if you need to weep
Cry for your brother or sister

Walking the street beside you

And when you need me, put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something
Something better than words or sounds.

Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved
And if you cannot give me away
At least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.

You can love me best by letting hands touch hands
by letting bodies touch bodies
And by letting go of children that need to be free.

Love doesn’t die – people do
So when all that’s left of me is love,
Give me away.

For this sacred family, and for that matter – for all who are suffering a loss that has come too soon, I hope that the good memories remain firmly rooted in the garden of their hearts, and that all sorrows, betrayals, regrets, and concerns unspoken are easily liberated from fertile soil, to be acknowledged, honored, and released – then tossed onto the burn pile to be transmuted and transformed into fertile new growth.

Sometimes, we can forge a stronger relationship with a soul that was too damaged to be reached in the mortal realm. May healing come to one and all, and in time… may sorrow give way to the gentle coming of peace.

I wish this story had a happier ending, and yet like all of us, the ending was the only guarantee from the beginning. I honor the story of this sacred soul – every difficult page and chapter, the triumph over addiction, and the final liberation. I rejoice in the freedom from oppression that now is his, especially that of his own mind. I stand witness to the melting of his body into the light of compassion, and know that he has found peace there. Amen. May it be so. Blessed be.

Reflecting on Fruition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check Your Treasure

Yesterday was a day of service and recovery. My sweet 81 year old Pop had an early morning appointment to FINALLY have the entropion on his left eye repaired. It developed one day while he was in rehab last November. I walked in for our nightly visit, and he looked like he had pink-eye. But when I took a closer look, I could see that his eye lashes were rubbing against his cornea.

In my past life, I was paid to assist the needs of executives. It was stressful work, at times, but there were perks, too. For one thing, if my executive wanted something done, I could reach out to others and say, “the Chief ‘whatever’ Officer, wants this done immediately!”, and it would get done immediately. In my new life… there is very little power. I tell doctors, hospitals, rehab facilities, etc. that my 81 year old father needs something immediately, and after five months of suffering and struggle… we might be lucky enough to bring one nightmare to conclusion. It’s maddening, really.

So, yesterday, though mornings are difficult for him, we were both up by 5:15am to get the day started. We had to report to the eye institute by 6:45am. We were there 30 minutes early. We were NOT going to let anything get in the way of getting this done. Since it started, he says that he feels like there is a fishnet hanging over his left eye. It impedes his vision and his balance. He didn’t really need any help with the balance thing. He has neuropathy from toes to knees in both legs, and severe weakness on his entire left side from 80 years of epilepsy related nerve damage. WTF Universe? Don’t you think he’s had enough to deal with in this lifetime? Sheesh!

This morning, I was out of the house by 6:30am to make a store-run for provisions. I walked into my parents’ house and stocked the bathroom with my father’s needs, put a few breakfast burritos in the freezer, refilled his water cup, placed an ice pack on his bruised and swollen eye, turned out the light, and slipped back out the door.

These moments of tenderness never cease to surprise me. I chose not to have children, and while I have loved my goddess babies deeply, it was never mine, to feel this particular sense of affection, patience, devotion, and care. Indeed, at times, supporting my father is like taking care of a child. He has tiny temper tantrums for the frustration of his body not cooperating with what his mind is asking. He grumbles under his breath about how my mother doesn’t wear her hearing aids. Sometimes I have to remind his inner grouch that it is not easy, for mom or for me, to do all that is required to keep him safe and at home. “So, be nice!”

But then there are the moments like this morning, or when I am helping him wash his hair or put on his socks with the grippy soles, and brushing the hair out of his eyes… I get an overwhelming sense that this must be how mothering feels. This must be the contented-heart reason for all that mothers choose to endure.

It occurred to me the other day, that I won’t stay in retirement forever. The workshops that I am facilitating are enormously fulfilling, as they feed all five of my strengths (empathy, connectedness, responsibility, developer, input), they offer me a creative outlet in the design and execution, and they give me a place to put all of the spiritual growth and self-healing work I’ve done over the last 27 years, for the benefit of others. But at this moment, I can’t see clearly how to mold this work into financially sustaining work. So, I am believing that the Universe will deliver the guide, the means, the opportunity, when the time is right. And for now… my priority remains the care and comfort of my parents, with the added bonus of ample time for nurturing the love that resides within.

I couldn’t be more grateful for all that has transpired in order to make all of this possible. I spoke to my friend Brian yesterday, while out on an errand to have dad’s glasses repaired. He was calling to check-in. To tell me that, despite his terminal diagnosis, he is doing well. He is ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ his home (much to his husband’s shagrin), and practicing extreme self-care. As I filled him in on my world, he reminded me how happy he was that I left that toxic workplace. He wanted to be sure that I was living my joy! He considers me to be the most important catalyst for his new beginning… devoting all of his remaining days to HIS joy. I carry Brian with me through all of my days. He has been my teacher, as much as I for him.

Getting to be fully present for my parents right now is my joy. Being blessed to have friends, old and new, join me on a journey of personal growth, healing, and development for a year-long series of workshops is my joy. Quality time with loved ones is my joy. Having the gift of words to share with you is my joy. Being awake and aware of the many synchronicities and blessings that fall before me on a daily basis is my joy.

Though my income may be only a fraction of what it once was (technically, it is my savings – already hard earned), I feel richer today than ever before. The relationships that bless my life are more valuable than gold and diamonds. I can see clearly that every one of these blessings are finite, and I shall not take a single one for granted.

This reminds me of the conversation that concluded my visit with my soul daughter on Monday. She had come over from St. Pete for an appointment, and made time with me a priority. She had also connected with friends from a former workplace, but when it was time for her to meet with them, there was no immediate reply. While I knew that I would always adjust my plans to include seeing people I care about, she was figuring out (at 23) that she was not willing to sacrifice her precious time for those who do not make her a priority. At this young age, she has already figured out that she is meant to be treasured. I’ll confess that it took me a bit longer.

It’s never too late to check your treasure, dear ones. Take a look around you now. Who do you see? Remind yourself of the great bounty you possess. Then… go out there and live your joy! Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.

Original Artwork by the Writer

Mindfully Human

I am told that the reason we move out of energetic form into the human realm is so that we can have a ‘sensual’ experience. In other words, we are here to learn and grow through the art of feeling.

Through my study of death, I have learned not to fear what comes next, as we will shift back into a different, less tangible form. This is a far cry from my childhood belief that we live, then die and simply cease to be.

Despite this shift in perspective, I still don’t have a relationship with the concept of heaven and hell, as I am certain those are human constructs of manipulation (no offense). I tend to believe that those are possible realities right here on earth, depending on your circumstances.

As I walked home from my parents’ house last evening, feeling a mist of rain and wind upon my skin, with the sensation of my heart filling at the sight of the Tabebuia tree in my neighbor’s yard, which is in stunning full bloom the color of sunshine, I was overcome by the urgency of this experience.

It was as if the Universe was reminding me to drink it all in… every sensation and emotion, so that I will be able to carry them with me when my body ceases to house my soul.

As we leave the womb of our mother, we emerge into the light. As we grow we are exposed to so many experiences that offer learning and growth to the consciousness of the soul, and every lesson is deepened by touch, by sound, by taste, by sight, by smell, and by the words we are able to share with one another.

On the other side of the veil, we continue to learn and grow, but it is very different in the absence of corporeal form. Imagine being educated about love without the tenderness of a caring caress. Imagine learning more about courage without feeling fear for the temporary nature of the body. Imagine trying to understand passion and desire without all of the elements that go into the experience of attainment. Imagine wrapping your love around someone without ever feeling their embrace.

There is so much here for us to learn, and it has nothing to do with marketable skills. If we are not placing value on the way the wind makes us feel as it runs wispy fingers through our hair, or how the gentle rain consecrates our sacred bodies with holy water from the sky above, or how the fire warms our skin and brings illumination to our camp songs and ghost stories, or how every inch of earth supports and nurtures our every footfall, we are horribly missing the point of this human experience.

Offering our love to others in the form of words or physical hugs is something that we can only do in human incarnation. When we flow back into the infinite energetic force of all that is, we will be nowhere and everywhere, all at once. But our loved ones may not know it. Doesn’t that make being here now of greater importance? Doesn’t that make you want to go out and dance in the rain with anyone whose touch you will one day long to feel along the surface of your skin?

Textures, emotions, colors, the physical sensation of the elements of nature, tangible expressions of love, affection, and adoration… we cannot take these things with us. Allow your mind, body and soul to drink in every sensual encounter as if it might be a hundred years before you have the chance to feel it again.

If we are mindful and present in every moment, there will be nothing to regret when we finally shed this mortal skin and rise into the freedom of what comes next. What a glorious thought! To know that we get to carry forth such luscious gratitude for every little thing.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I am enormously happy that you are here.

What Is Your Joy?

My friend Brian called from Oregon this morning. He wanted to thank me for the Valentine card I mailed last week. As we were catching up on the details of the lives and loves of one another, he made a suggestion.

We talked about the toxic workplace in which we met, and about those who are choosing to leave for their own mental health… and of course, celebrating our own choices to leave. For each of us, leaving was one of the best things we’ve done for ourselves.

As I shared with him the workshops that I am creating to share a sense of mindful manifestation with others, he exclaimed, “You make such a difference in the lives of those who know you. You should share my story! I’ll never forget what you asked me that night that we had dinner together, while my organs were literally shutting down. You said, “Brian, What is your joy?” That one question changed everything!”

I have told this story before, in an article that I wrote for Elephant Journal, and in another blog post called More than Grateful. Frankly, Brian has no idea how significant his story is and how often I share it, but I’ll share a brief version here, as well.

Brian was one of the first people I met in the company I went to work for after being liberated from my long-time workplace in 2017. It was love at first sight – you know, the way you meet someone and you instantly feel you’d like to know them better? Well, we had little opportunity to do so, since he would be working remotely and only coming to town periodically. But as fate would have it, we managed to find time to make a connection.

Of the many executives I worked with, he was the only one who seemed to be heart-centered. Sharing a meal with him during his visits was the one thing work related to which I looked forward. We loved our time so much that we continued meeting for dinner even after I left the company that October.

It was at dinner in February that he shared with me his diagnosis and prognosis. He had prostate cancer that had metastasized in his bones. That was when I looked deep into his eyes, refusing to react with tears or pity, and asked, “Brian, what is your joy?”

It was not lost on me that this sweet man had been given a deadline, and here he was risking his health by getting on an airplane each month to come into a workplace who obviously didn’t care for his well being. Exposing an immunosuppressed sacred being to the hazards of viral and bacterial boxes of in-flight holding is criminal.

His immediate reply to my query was, “Melissa, no one has ever asked me that before.” He promised to go home and think about it. It turned out that he flew home early, and went right into the hospital. An experimental medication his oncologist was giving him had begun to shut down his organs.

I almost lost my dear friend before he was able to answer this all important question. If that alternate reality had come to pass, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I never would have understood the magnitude of my great loss. In as many ways as I have blessed his life and brought about a more mindful existence… he has done the same for me.

Brian’s courage to share his truth with me that day brought forth that morsel of wisdom that came through me. Ask the question, to help someone find their own solution.

His reply came to me on Valentine’s Day, ten days after I posed the question. He wrote to me: ” My joy: spending as much time with Derek as possible.” It was then that he told me he had been in the hospital for a week after returning home, but I was not yet aware of the close call he survived.

It has been a year since Brian made this declaration, and it has been three months since he began pursuing his JOY full time. When the cancer started spreading again in September, I convinced him to start working on an exit strategy, so that every moment of the time he has left can be dedicated to soul fulfillment.

He shared today that his last check up was pretty good. He feels good, and he is filling his days with more joy and less stress. This makes my heart so happy.

As for me, my joy is getting to connect deeply with others. That kind of surface connection just won’t do. I want to know what makes your heart happy. I want to know what makes your soul sing. I want to know… if you were to be given a terminal diagnosis tomorrow (heaven forbid), how you would choose to spend the rest of your days.

I was blessed to be able to take an early retirement of sorts, so that I can be present with the extra care that my parents need at this time in their lives. But as all caregivers should, I feel it necessary to find more balance in my life. Knowing that they are safe and well is gratifying, but there are days that are more difficult than others, and I need to have something that fills my needs while I am filling theirs.

The workshops that I am facilitating is a part of that plan. In fact, my next workshop is dedicated to finding just that. As the wheel of the year turns, and we greet the growing daylight in the northern hemisphere, we will celebrate the Spring Equinox. Twice a year, day and night are equal, and we are reminded that our needs are not unlike those of Mother Earth.

At my second workshop on March 30, Persephone Rises – and we will be Finding Balance at the Equinox. Just the thought of it makes my heart push through dark, moist soil toward the expansion of the sun. We shall throw off our cloaks of winter and don the brilliance of springtime.

The intentions that we developed in February should be starting to take root, and it is up to us to ensure their freedom to grow.

I know that for me, finding balance means ensuring that I am creating ample opportunity to refill and recharge. Spending time with those I care about brings me joy, as does listening to live music – so I’ll be having more of that. Also, I’ve dedicated to doing one of these workshops every 8 weeks or so for the year, and even the planning brings me joy. Honoring Persephone as she emerges from the underworld makes me squeal with delight! But then… there will be the time spent with others who are willing and eager to seek something deeper for themselves and to become the joyful gardeners of their own lives. More than anything, I love to be witness to the growing glow of others.

So, tell me dear ones… What is your joy? I really want to know.

May the words in this graphic that I designed be a blessing upon all of your days. Thank you for walking this path with me. Your presence is also my joy.

Ready for Something More

Today, I am clearing the way for something more. This ‘more’ is not ‘something’ that is defined, but something that is divined.

Last year, as I let go of what I used to be and do and started working toward what may or may not come next, my days were filled with questioning and searching. In that process, I gathered books on death and books on writing. As the end of the year arrived and found my father in and out of the hospital and rehab, my life found new meaning… to serve my parents through the complicated process of aging. The study that went with those books took a backseat to the importance of their care.

For me, when I serve others, it tends to come with a fullness of presence and holding space for those who await the gentle coming of peace. That ‘full’ offering sometimes leads to an utter, if unintended, depletion of energy. As a consequence, my home, or rather every surface within, had become a place of holding space for me. The ottoman was holding the books I gathered for the writing course I took in the fall. The table was holding all of the papers and files that came home from the hospital or my parents’ home, as I try to bring some organization into what we’ve all been through in the past several months. The chair by the door was holding random objects like birthday cards and ribbons from my recent 50th birthday. The chair by my portrait was holding the different purses that I have used recently – the tiny one for daily use, the mid-size one for an extended day-out, and the large one for trips to the doctor’s office with dad. Frankly, chaos had spilled onto everything in sight.

Yesterday, I started the process of offering my beloved sanctuary more care. At first, it seemed daunting. If I picked up papers in the living room, where were they to go? As I stepped into the library, more papers were stacked with no obvious home to be found. To be honest, there is space for everything if only my mind can find the space for clarity and designation. I simply wasn’t gifted with the a-type personality that ensures that kind of follow-through. In truth, filing always was the least favorite of all tasks in my past-life.

Eventually, though… as I walked back and forth from one room to another, things started falling into place… even if its place was in a random drawer. Whatever. I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not!

I finished my day yesterday having vacuumed the whole house (except, of course – the ottoman where my cat spends much of her time – sigh…). This morning, I once again set to light my candle of intention, lit some incense, and turned the music up. I steam mopped everything and then went back around the house with a stick of sage.

I smudged every inch of the house with the intention that the elements of fire and air would cast out all negativity, illness, dis-ease, and residue of harmful thoughts (against me or from me). I started at one corner of the library and walked through the dining room, kitchen, bedroom, guest room, bathroom, dressing room, hallway, living room, and back into the library with sacred smoke rising and filling every nook and cranny of the space that nurtures me and keeps me safe.

Next, I lit a stick of Myrrh incense and repeated my steps… singing a little chant that rose to the edge of my mind with words and melody magickally matched, “Even More Love”. (Okay, full disclosure… I don’t necessarily retain these things that are divinely inspired (swiss cheese memory – you know), so I’ll just say the chant went something like that.)

I sang into every corner of my sacred space my willingness, my desire, my expectation to invite into my life and this holy home of holding… more love. You see, there is already loads of love contained here, but I just made room for more. I cleansed and cleared, and welcomed the universe to fill it right back up with more goodness, more light, more happiness, more joy, more peace, more comfort, more contentment, more laughter, more music, more friends, more companionship, more divinity, more love.

Today I am ready for something more. I don’t have a design on forcing that something to be specific or limiting. I don’t have a vision of something more because I understand that my life experience has been only a small scale range of the possibilities the universe may provide. I am unwilling to define something more to the universe, which clearly knows far more than I about what more may come.

I am ready for something more, and I am ready to be WOWed.
Thanks Universe! I love you most.

The Joy and the Sorrow

If 2018, for me, was about LETTING GO of my former self… the ‘me’ I had been for 25 years, in a career of supporting the wellness of two corporations, then 2019 will surely be about BECOMING the ‘me’ of my future self.

I have to say that being officially retired and thrust into daily care for my parents who are aging and facing struggles with body betrayal and memory loss, has offered the total immersion that has allowed my subconscious to sever the bonds that once tethered me to that former identity.

I no longer worry that I will have to return to that world or what it is that I should be doing with my time and energy. It seems that my time and energy, for this moment, is meant to serve my parents.

Full disclosure, as my 50th birthday approaches this weekend, there are times that I feel a little sad about where we are. I mean, I had once dreamed with childhood friends who also reach this milestone birthday in 2019, that we would make a celebratory trip to Greece or back to Ireland together. But retirement living offers a different budget and being that far away for a length of time feels impossible.

But then… I come back to gratitude. I asked the universe for prosperity that would allow freedom from the corporate world, and it provided in an unexpected blessing (in the form of the IRS 72T loophole). I thought I would still need to work a full time job (for less pay), but it turns out that I can live simply and have all I need on a quarter of my former income (for now).

I asked to be guided toward a meaningful purpose, and I thought I was led to becoming an end of life doula. Now, I’m not so sure that was for a path of prosperity as it was a path to peace. Spending a year studying death has brought me into a respectful relationship with what once was feared.

A doula is ultimately a transition / transformation guide – one who holds space for and supports those who are moving from one phase of life to another… a birth doula walks with the maiden as she becomes a mother, and the death doula walks with the mother who has become the crone as she makes her way back to the mystery of what comes next. (fill in the masculine phases as well, of course)

I recently made the mistake of looking up the meaning of doula online, and the Greek origin of the word means ‘female slave’. I am currently seeking a different word.

My family’s new year is not off to a particularly joyful beginning. On new year’s eve, I brought my 81 year old father back to the emergency room for an issue that has been ongoing since October. He was admitted, and then after a procedure, he went back to Rehab for strengthening his ability to stand and walk. Nine days later, my 77 year old mother was t-boned by a careless driver while on her way to the store. So, back to the emergency room we went. Gratefully, major bruising was the extent of her injuries. Well… and serious trauma, of course.

The fact that I am childless, single, and retired means that I have the freedom to be fully present for my parents. A lovely consequence is a deepening of our relationships with one another… A healing of old wounds, and a more patient and compassionate communication style. I feel that the three of us are learning and growing together in this period of transition. But to be clear… this is hard!

I am not really living for myself at the moment, but this is temporary. I have taken on multiple roles – sometimes nurse, sometimes accountant, manager, booking agent, driver, housekeeper, etc. I am working as hard or harder than I did in the corporate world, but without a paycheck… and yet, feeling valued and appreciated by my parents feels like a great reward.

Somehow, the universe will guide me to finding balance. I will learn about other resources to assist us on our journey, and I will learn how to surrender to the kindness of others. I will be available for the care of my parents, and I will not abandon myself and my own needs to a former belief that everyone else’s comfort is more important than my own. I will continue to open to the mystery of receiving, which was not available to me as long as I was always giving. I will meditate, take hot baths, and nap when I need to, because the energy that I give to others must be replenished. And somehow, I will create opportunities to do a little bit of living for me.

There is great sorrow in the obvious decline of our parents, and in the sense of loss of ourselves as we serve others. There is an overwhelming sense of alone-ness (not always loneliness) at the end of the day, lying in bed awake with the worries of what lies ahead, without a companion to remind [some of] us (me) that everything will be okay.

But there is also great joy in the way that we are reminded that we are not walking alone in darkness, as those who love us are standing by, ready to shine their beautiful inner light of wisdom and support to illuminate the path forward, and to give us a good squeeze when we feel that our guts might spill onto the earth below. There is incredible peace in realizing that everything we need is provided, falling into place with divine timing and often great surprise. And enormous gratitude that things should be turning out exactly as they are, because this moment… in all of its darkness and light, trauma and recovery, solitude and togetherness, is somehow terribly and wonderfully perfect.

Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. I can feel you surrounding me, and I hope that you can feel me in your circle, as well. I love you more.

Take My Hand

This morning I woke with an image of connectedness. With the awareness of our mutual suffering, and that of Mother Earth choking on the waste of our shortsightedness, I felt a yearning for us to move beyond this primal ache that resides somewhere between hearts and bellies, and into the healing light of transformation.

There are days that I have checked the reach of my writing to discover that right here, within this sacred circle, are beautiful beings from all over the world. In truth, if you are reading these words, know that you are here beside me being held within this emerald green light of my heart’s devotion. I am grateful for your presence in my life.

In this reading, if you feel safe and moved to do so, I wonder if you would imagine taking my hand into yours. If so, I would have us gather with every beloved heart that I know, that you know, and that those who have joined us here know… be they still upon the earth, or those who have passed into the mystery of what comes next. Let us stand within this circle, connected through hearts and hands, a circle so broad that it could encapsulate the world with the luminous light of love.

With the power of our togetherness, we elevate the vibration of the waves of energy that we cannot see with our eyes. The atmosphere that surrounds us has become muddled with so much oppression, fear, loathing, and unkindness that we can barely breathe. As we mingle our energy, and hum a soothing Om into the atmosphere, the walls that were being built by intolerance and self-hatred cannot withstand the reverberation of loving kindness and come crumbling down.

If you are troubled or care for someone who is suffering, consider stepping into the center of this circle of human kindness to be filled with the light of love.

I carry this image in my heart of standing in the center of darkness, surrounded by those who love and support me without condition. There is firelight beyond them, which illuminates their profiles, but keeps their faces in darkness. They remind me that though I stand in shadow, I am not alone.

As you imagine yourself standing in this shadow of winter’s introspection, can you make out the silhouette of those who surround you? Can you sense their presence, their adoration, their love as it flows through you, surrounding you with the light of hope? Even if you are geographically distant, without a doubt, you are still enveloped by their love.

Imagine, if you can, walking toward each sacred being and reaching out for their embrace. Spend some time here, and consider who stands firmly within this circle. They may be members of your family, your tribe, or they could be loved ones who have passed beyond the veil, or even spirit guides and guardian angels (energetic beings of universal wisdom) whom you have never seen with the eyes, but whose presence has been evident when you thought you were alone, and suddenly felt the warm glow of comfort and loving kindness.

Let each embrace be held at heart’s center, imagining chins over left shoulders as heartbeats come into unison and knowledge is exchanged without words. When you have connected deeply with each sacred soul, choose a spot within the circle where you would like to stand, and take the hands of those beside you.

As you make this palm-to-palm connection a golden light begins to flow in a clockwise motion around the circle. This light expands to encase all who gather. But it doesn’t stop here. It continues to grow like waves upon sand, slowly reaching further, leaving a glittering glow as it retreats and then surges beyond previous reach.

Witness the glowing expansion as it presents itself to loved ones who may also glory in the return of light. See their faces awash with radiance and reverence.

Let this light be carried into every dark corner of the earth, and let every heart be healed. Love this light into ancient soil, and nourish and revitalize the Mother who gave birth to all life. This human experience is only made possible by her love.

NOTE: I was writing this yesterday, when my computer decided to take a break on me. As I toiled through troubleshooting on how to fix the issue with my brother and pc support guy three hours away, my phone rang. My mother was in the hospital following a car accident. Gratefully, she was relatively well, considering the appearance of her vehicle, which was t-boned by a large vehicle… but we spent the rest of the evening in the ER running tests – just to be sure. It was not lost on me that SHE is the mother who gave birth to my life, and that MY human experience was made possible by her love.

This, folks, is another one of those moments of gratitude in awareness. I am aware that the universe conspired to set me free from the workplace in 2017, and enabled an early retirement income so that I could live simply and be fully present for my aging parents. As for this particular piece of writing… I have needed these virtual hugs more than anyone could possibly know.

The day before the accident, my mom and I set in motion the work necessary for me to handle financial matters on my parents’ behalf, when the time comes that I can assist further with their care. As I sat in my own living room last night, having settled mom into hers, I reflected on how things might have gone differently… how our intentions might have missed their mark. I’m so grateful that, for today – having just heard her voice on the phone, informing me that she is awake and well – everything will be okay.

I hope that all is well with you and yours, also. Thank you for walking this path with me. I can see you bathed in golden light, and I’m so glad that you are here.

My Crone and Me at Sunrise on Amelia Island, FL / Photo by Dawn Dirks