Every joint in my body aches this morning. I cannot get them to relax. That would require informing my body that she is gone, and that there is nothing left to hold onto. Perhaps it is my empathy out of balance, and rigor has set in, like the rigid nature of her sacred vessel that I carried in for after-care as soon as the doors opened, five hours after she left me. Like three times before. “Can you please help my baby get to Greenbriar?” (the crematorium for pets)
Yesterday was an excruciatingly long day. I left her for only moments, to tend to my father a few doors down. Otherwise, there were only a couple of times that I let her escape my embrace.
She had stopped eating, and the medication the doctor gave us didn’t help. My home looks like triage, with failed attempts to save a life scattered everywhere. IV fluids hang on a hook next to the couch, a syringe with water to stave off thirst on the ottoman, six different plates and bowls on the floor offer unconsumed food remnants that begged for an appetite. “Okay, how about filet mignon? No? Then, let’s try scrambled egg with your favorite cheese. No? Well, how about…”
I spoke to her doctor that morning, and learned that though she had delivered peace to two of my darlings in years passed, she could no longer bear to be the bringer of death. She referred me to another, who happened to be out of the country. So… the Universe had spoken. We would be doing this the old fashioned way. With patience, with reverence, and with so much love.
So, I gave Dad his morning meds and served him breakfast and informed my parents I would not be back unless they needed me. I walked in the door, and she did not run to greet me. So, I ran to greet her, instead. I picked her up and returned her to my chest, where we would remain until the end.
When I wrote about my experiences with death last year, as a part of a death doula curriculum, I introduced my readers to Morgan. She came to me six years ago with her brother, Arthur. He died tragically four years ago, and since then, Morgan and I have lived a peaceful and mindful existence.
She blossomed when he left us, for he had been the alpha cat (I guess). He was a bit of a bully, really, and I hated that she was submissive to him. She and I fell madly in love in those days that followed, and I’m not sure I have ever known a more kind and gentle soul than she. She would greet me at the door upon entering, and when I would pick her up, she would place her paws on each side of my neck and rub her cheek against my nose. She would mark me for all to know that I belonged to her. I was her human.
She would wake me in the mornings by climbing over me and settling next to my face for my cat tongue facials, which I referred to as Morganderm Abrasion. I would turn my face to be sure she didn’t miss a spot. If I didn’t rise by the time she was through, she would walk over me to stand behind me and poke me with her paw until I gave in. She didn’t always have an empty plate, either.
Morgan had grown thin over the last year following some kind of stroke like event that left her with a slight head tremor. This is when she seemed to forget how to drink properly from the fountain, and she would dunk her head beneath the running water. I would see her with ruffled brow, and slick back the water in her fur to help her with a little impromptu bath. There was a change in the sound of the falling water whenever she did this odd bow, and I heard that noise prolonged the day before I knew she was leaving. It was my portend of what was to come.
As she lay in my arms, nearing her final breaths, I scrolled through photos of when I first brought her home with Arthur. I couldn’t believe how full she was. I nicknamed her my Squishy. In the mornings, as she stood at the corner of my bed, I would lean over and envelope her with my arms and bury my face in her fur, kissing her cheek a hundred times. I could hear her protest, as if to say, “Oh, mother. Too much love. Give me more.”
She was 17 pounds after a year in my care, and this year… she was down to 7. I could feel her shoulder bones the way that I feel my father’s shoulder bones, and I can see how we are at times larger than life, and as we near the end, our bodies let go of old baggage. Perhaps it makes us easier to care for, the lighter we become. It was an odd thing to stop worrying about feeding each too much, to start wanting them to eat more of anything that might add weight.
It is a mean thing that nature does to us, to bring into our lives such sacred beings who don’t get to stay very long. Six years was not enough Morgan for my aching heart. I need a hundred more!
She was my comforter through so much loss (Arthur, the boss who loved me, my former identity). And now my only comfort is knowing that I served her well. I loved her completely. I held her tiny, sacred being in my arms for nearly 20 hours. I was her doula as she transitioned from my world into the light of all that is. I instructed her on where to go and who to look for, and I asked forgiveness for the things I failed to do because I did not understand her language and couldn’t see what was going on inside that precious water-soaked head.
Morgan came into my life when her elderly owner could no longer care for her. It was three months after Nightshade died, and she had been with me for 19 years. My only regret, is that I was not ready sooner, for I could have had more Morgan and more Arthur, and my life would have been even richer.
I know that I will rescue again, and without a doubt, I will be rescued in return. But first, I will take time to sit in solitude with my sweet angel kitty. When she shows up, I don’t want to mistake her energy for that of another. She was given wings at birth, you know. Morgan was a Turkish Van cat. Their distinct markings are a mostly white body with ears and tail of orange or black, with a spot between the shoulders that is called the Mark of Allah. Morgan’s mark was a pair of orange angel wings. She lived with purpose and fulfilled her mission. And she has taken flight… returning to the light of truth.
Oh, how blessed we are to be chosen by these furry beings of love and light. They were given the power to dispel darkness, and they so freely share their magick with us. This truth is what encourages us to break our own hearts over and over again. We would dwell in the dark without their light. With that kind of love… everything is illuminated.
This ache is all consuming. I wonder how long it will stay with me. My muscles and joints feel as if they are still holding on. I guess I must get to the work of letting go. As I said to her, “It’s okay to let go. You are safe. Mom’s not going anywhere and she will miss you every day of her life, but she will be okay, too.” Into the light of truth, we go…
My average day begins too early to rise, so I look through my memories on facebook for inspiration. I then either share the original post or create a piece of art to share, by placing a quote that resonated with me years ago onto a photograph that resonates today. By now, my ragamuffin kitty has decided it is time for me to get out of bed and serve her breakfast and offer her my chest to purr upon.
I put the water on to boil and place her dish of hope onto the spot reserved for her meals. I hope she will eat what I have selected for her today. I then make my pour over coffee and sit down for morning reading. By the time I have finished my coffee, it is time to head over to serve my studmuffin. Just kidding, it’s my Dad.
I usually arrive to find him working a puzzle on his tablet, while listening to music or a tv show playing in the foreground. He smiles when he finally looks up to greet me. This is the picture I will carry with me for all of my days. I hand him his water mug and feed him two handfuls of morning meds. He gets something for epilepsy, something for neuropathy (repercussion of a lifetime with said dis-ease), something to elevate his low blood pressure, a probiotic, CBD oil, and two tylenol.
Next is the breakfast inquiry. Will it be a bagel with cream cheese? Will it be italian toast with butter and jam (not jelly! jam)? I put the bagel in the toaster and start the coffee. At this time, evidence of other life in the house emerges. Two small dogs, one mid-size dog, followed by Mom in her nightgown. We all say good morning, and get on with our daily ritual.
Dad gets his bagel and an Ensure for extra protein. When coffee is half brewed, Mom and Dad are each served a cup. I do a little tidying on the kitchen chaos (my least favorite task, next to filing), and once everyone is settled in, I head out the door receiving gratitude and a “drive careful” from Dad. I am driving exactly seven houses east of theirs.
Today, I will go back at noon to help Dad with a bath. We had one of the three bathrooms in the house they bought a few years back (to be closer) outfitted for his care. It has a walk-in tub, a taller toilet with bidet, and now it has what I call a toilet corral. There are bars everywhere, to assist Dad with safe movement through the space where his walker will not go. Strategically installed, he is able to push himself (with a bit of struggle) to standing, and pull himself forward. Since he also has a loss of dexterity in his hands, we are able to assist with hygiene and wound care (pressure sores from sitting and thinning skin) from this station.
When he carefully steps into his tub, we will close the door and fill it with warm water. As it fills, I can use the sprayer to wet and wash his hair. Then, when the water is above the jet ports, he can relax for a bit as the warm water massages his aching and fatigued body. Last week, we received help with this task, when I asked if we could add more assistance to his home care. He has physical therapy twice a week, and a wound care nurse comes once a week. What I found, as I was going over our routine with the aid was that… I didn’t want to give this up!
I know that I will not always be able to do this all by myself, but when it comes down to asking for help and receiving it… I am quite certain that no one can care for my father as well as I. The thing is, helping him out of the tub has become more difficult. Standing up to exit the tub is more challenging than before, and I cannot always get him to his feet alone. My father is six feet tall and somewhere under 200 lbs. But still… that bath time is divine, and I am not willing to allow him to forego it – even if I can only get him in there once a week (like a defiant toddler).
Next comes getting him dressed. Last week, the aid had to dash off to help another, and so we finished the bath time ritual on our own. Getting him slowly to his lift chair. Pulling depends and flannel pajamas over his feet and up to his knees. The excruciating struggle to stand again, after so much work getting in and out of the tub – and finally pulling up both bottoms so he can finally sit down for a long rest. Seated, we can do the rest. Shirt over the head and reaching through the arm holes to find his clenched fists. Using the trick a nurse taught me in pre-op to get his compression socks on by placing a plastic baggie over his toes, then pulling it off through the hole. And finally, putting on socks with non-skid soles – to keep him just a little safer between recliner and bathroom travels.
Today, Kelly and Jodie will come for PT and wound care. We love how they love him. I will stop by to see if I can get him to eat, or at least to consume another Ensure. He’s not very good with the fluid consumption, when getting up to pee is like a hero’s journey, so I’ve been tricking him with a big bowl of watermelon in the late afternoon. Then I go back in the evening to ‘tuck them in’. I fix Dad something to eat, if he’ll have it, and give him his evening pills (pretty much a repeat of the morning meds). If he’s up to it, we’ll do another trip to the bathroom before I go home and go to bed, after checking that all doors are closed and locked.
A couple of days ago, while waiting for Hurricane Dorian to arrive (gratefully, he took a detour and stayed to the east of us), my phone rang at 3:30am. I picked up the call and said: “Hold on, Dad. I’m coming!”
I know it is Dad when the display reads: Mom’s Cell. I had my brother surround the house in Alexa dots, and he programmed them to dial my number if Dad asked her to call me. I have one next to his chair and now I have one in the bathroom, too. When I arrived, two minutes later – groggy, but being sure to grab my keys this time, instead of my pendulum as I dashed out the door, he was on the floor in the living room.
Mom is hearing impaired, and could not hear him call. Without panic, I went to the IndeeLift we keep plugged in nearby, and I rolled it over to him, so he could hand walk himself back onto the platform. Then, he slowly rose from the ground as I pressed the arrow UP. With the use of his walker, we finished what he started… an early morning trip to the potty. Mom woke up and by the time we had Dad settled back into his recliner, we were all pretty much awake, but grateful that this was a pretty low drama moment. No blood. No mess. Just a whole lot of body betrayal to battle and overcome.
Dad apologizes when he has to call, and I remind him that this is exactly why I have chosen not to go back to work. It is his job to call me when he is in need, and it is my job to respond to the best of my ability. This is by far, the most important and rewarding work I’ve done. I can remember the sense of urgency and the heaviness I felt while supporting the head of HR who was responsible for the CEO succession plan for a Fortune 500 company. There were many days that I cried for the stress of it all. Did I leave anything on the copy machine that may give away the idea that a 65 year old man in waning health might actually retire some day – and cause the corporate stock to plummet? How silly that seems to me now. Who fucking cares? I will never understand how corporations have become more important than people.
I have shed my concern for the shareholder, and give everything now to my most beloved careholders… the people who raised me. Both social workers for their entire careers, they taught me the importance of community care and respecting the dignity of all beings. They deserve to receive the care they offered to others, and I’ll be sure they get it.
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. It’s bath time! “Hold on, Dad. I’m coming!”
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.
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.
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.
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. “
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.
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.
Sunday morning, I woke with the rising sun. My host was already up preparing breakfast for the guests who were departing after a full day at the Scottish Highland Games. I took my coffee onto the porch to greet the misty mountains. I wanted to sing them a song, and was reminded of the Cherokee Morning Song that we recorded with Amulet Choir in the late nineties. It felt appropriate, being so close to the Cherokee National Forest. I bowed to the majesty of these ancient motherly mountains. My affection for this land is boundless.
I spent some time listening to the birds that responded to my choir. I love the diversity and the joy. Sometimes it sounds as if they might be telling a joke when another replies with a twitter. (Ugh… that word has taken on new meaning these days, and it kind of turns my stomach. Sad.)
Sitting down to breakfast with a group of travelers and kindred spirits is so heartwarming. If you have the opportunity to stay at a Bed and Breakfast in lieu of a hotel, I hope you will take the time to connect with your fellow guests. You will surely be reminded of the goodness in the world, despite the chaos and sorrow presented by each newscast. What a blessing.
The GPS offered three routes from Banner Elk to Asheville, NC, and I chose the path that took me through the most greenery. The path wound through roads canopied with sheltering trees, through farmland, and small towns featuring waterfalls and antique shops. The ninety minute journey delivered me to my favorite art city, and there I found three of my favorite humans from Tennessee waiting at Malaprop’s Book Shop.
Two of we four ventured to Asheville for the first time in 1993 on a mountain retreat, and we both fell in love with the energy, the art, and the culture in this sacred place. Our first stop was at Woolworth Walk, where an old dime store has been converted into a gallery for multiple local artists. I have a few favorites there, and make it a priority to see what new creations are on display and for sale.
Though this trip was randomly scheduled based on best timing to be away from my parents, divine timing would, for the second time in two years, find me in town for “The Big Crafty” art festival in Pack Square. What a blessing to find my favorite local artist there in person! Though my art budget is smaller than it once was, I could not resist selecting a few pieces of her whimsical folk art to come home with me.
My artistic ability is limited to words, so I have such reverence for those who have the ability to literally paint a picture that captures the heart. Deona Fish is the mother of Sleepy Little Dreams Studio, and her spirit is as nurturing and kind as the art she creates. I learned that she follows my blog, and we planted seeds of a partnership of words to mirror and inspire her magickal creatures. Oh, how I long to work for art!
The boys and I had lunch at Moose Cafe and stopped at the farmers’ market out back. The food is good country cooking with portions that could feed you for days. I left with a box and enjoyed my meatloaf again while back on my mountain porch later that night. It was such a gift to have time with these people I adore.
As I prepared to return to Banner Elk, I confirmed with another friend an address and timing for a visit. This is where the beauty of facebook comes in. We were colleagues from back in 2004 when he supported an executive search for my boss. I knew he had a home in the mountains, but never dreamed that we might be here at the same time. Further, I had not realized that his summer home was in the same place as the friends with whom I am staying. It was an extraordinary treat to be able to spend a few hours sharing our mutual stories of respect for one another and those we have served, while looking out over the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever known.
As much as social media has complicated the world, with a certain kind of screen addiction and the burden of having bad news and poor behavior broadcast into the palm of your hand, it has also been such a gift of connectedness. I announced my safe arrival, and he reached. Two souls blessed to care about one another were reunited and joy was shared. To me, any complaint fades for this gratitude. I texted the two retired leaders we both supported with a photo to let them know we were speaking fondly of them. Each texted back with their regards and photos of their own. Now retired five years and ten… after sacrificing so much to a corporation, they are living fully in the moment enjoying the company of their families. We couldn’t be happier for where each of us are right now. I am grateful.
Shortly after my return to the B&B, my hosts entered with family members who had arrived earlier for a weekend visit. Once again, I was delighted by the love one can feel, even in a room of new acquaintances. This is clearly what our world is missing, this kind of mindful connection. We need to gather in living rooms rather than chat rooms, and we need to share stories that make us laugh and cry. We need to give and receive hugs and bear witness to the divine truth of one another. We need to reach out to Mother Nature and feel Her embrace.
Monday delivered a glorious visit with another friend who lives atop a mountain nearby. I love the way that we feel safe and free to speak our thruths and be authentic, despite the passing of time and the burden of distance. If you have even one friend with whom you can be real, without judgment and feel affirmed, you are blessed, indeed.
After four nights away, it was time to drive home to my beloveds on Tuesday. It was difficult to leave the lap of nurturing that I found in Banner Elk, but I knew that I would be back in just a few months. My ten hour drive was surprisingly pleasant. I really do enjoy my own company these days. Who would’a thunk it?
My mom told me that they realized while I was away just how much easier I have made their lives. So, more than respite was found in my brief escape to care for the caregiver. I was so happy to see their smiling faces when I walked through their door. It made me feel even more grateful for the blessings we share at this moment in our lives. And then, there was the love-fest that ensued upon entering my own front door. Morgan, my little-old-lady-kitty greeted me with great affection, and all was right with the world, once again. Sometimes it feels like we are holding our breath, but didn’t know it until we are reunited with those souls that make us who we are, doesn’t it?
For me, the mountains are magickal. They help me to breathe deeper, and they remind me of the plethora of beauty that nature provides. Having the opportunity to disconnect from responsibility and reconnect with friends who remind us that we are much more than the roles we may fill in the mundane moments of our daily lives is absolutely necessary for our wellness.
Be WELL, dear ones. Whatever makes you feel connected and full awaits your time and notice. Make the wellness of your sacred soul a priority. You are so worthy. Thank you for walking this path with me.
Yesterday, I drove eleven hours to reach my nirvana. Before chosen as a somewhat popular band name, this was the transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self – the final goal of Buddhism. In the symbolic sense, I find these things not at ocean’s edge (only an hour from my home), but on mountain top. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, my soul finds peace, renewal, and rebirth.
My parents and I have fallen into such a lovely routine of presence and connectedness, that it was difficult to find the right timing for my absence, but as it often does, the universe conspired for my highest good and everything fell into place. My friends with a Bed &Breakfast in Banner Elk, NC had one bed available, my brother planned a weekend visit with the folks, and suddenly my worries about abandoning my cat and my parents were lifted.
I once dreaded a long drive, even with a friend, for the tedious nature of the journey… trying to stay awake, stopping to pee in a public restroom, the way the body rebels from prolonged sitting / riding. But in recent years, I’ve learned to love such a journey, even solo. Yesterday, I enjoyed eleven hours of introspection.
I listened to an audiobook on spirituality, then needed more stimulation, so I sang along with the cast of Hamilton, and then spent some time with Alexander Hamilton’s biography (also on audiobook), which informed Lin Manuel Miranda’s epic Broadway show. I found myself wishing there had been such art available in my youth, for learning about history would have been even more interesting to me if I could hum the tune.
I am grateful that I am able to find just as much joy in solitude as I do with great company. Maybe I have become the change I most wish to see in the world.
I arrived at The Pointe B&B at North View just before dinner time, after leaving home at 6:06am. Oh, the glory of walking into open loving arms after a long drive. I was informed that four of the seven other guests were teachers and one was a childhood friend of our hostess. They had grown up together and had gone all the way through school, but had not seen each other in thirty years. This ‘business’ has delivered the prosperity of reunion to my dear friend. The peace in her heart is tangible, and I am grateful.
After dinner, I learned more about the teacher-guests. They live near the DC area, and if you’ve ever seen video footage of the T-Rex protesting the President in front of the White House, well… you’ll know that I have been blessed to meet a few remarkable and energetic beings who carry humor for protection during difficult times, this weekend. It turns out that this group of friends drove down to attend the Scottish Highland Games on Grandfather Mountain. And of course… we learned that we share a common world view, spiritual path, and even world travel experience. We are kindred. It was difficult to turn down the invitation to join them for the games, but I reminded myself that I have come here to reconnect with the spirit that lives in the woods. Men in kilts will have to wait for another day.
I am sitting in a napping porch swing with my laptop, looking out at a mountain range, listening to the wind in the leaves and various bird call, bearing witness to bees and chipmunks in the yard. It is glorious. This is how my soul finds renewal… in the majesty of Mother Nature, in Her form of ancient, voluptuous, undulating mountain curves and folds. She allows me to sit in Her lap as She gently strokes my hair, and I am at peace. There are grey clouds above and I am hoping to add the sound of mountain rain to my weekend soundtrack.
On my drive, I was thinking about a sweet friend who is facing some health concerns. She has been having trouble sleeping lately, and reached out for support. On that road I drove, which sometimes presented obstacles, I started writing a meditation for her in my mind. What was to be a 9.5 hour drive (per google maps) ended up being an 11 hour journey. Most of the road was smooth and delightfully free-flowing. But once in a while there were obstacles. Some stops were just to empty my bladder and keep going, but then there was… South Carolina. It is the only stretch of I-95 I’ve driven that instantly changes at the border… shrinking down to two lanes in each direction. An accident that didn’t even block the road cost all drivers an extra 40 minutes as everyone slowed down to look, and there was nowhere for a non-nosy driver to pass.
When my friend was given a diagnosis and learned surgery was required, an obstacle was presented in the form of a heart concern. So, she has been momentarily diverted and things have slowed down to ensure she stays safe. But soon, the obstacle will be behind her and the road ahead will be free-flowing once again. She may need to stop for gas or to empty her bladder, but the road will patiently await her eager return to the path of discovery and freedom.
What a blessing it is that we all get to share our sacred journeys with the hearts of others. How lovely to seek healing and respite and to find it in the embrace of those we love. What wonder to be nourished and nurtured by a joyful welcome, deep sharing, caring inquiry, and in the honor of holding space for one another. In my heart, I know that THIS is the meaning of life. We are the universe made manifest in human form for the delight of being touched.
I look up to see two souls at play, a small bird and a chipmunk at the edge of the yard. What a shame it would be to be in the presence of such grace and miss the point.
For the moment, I am comforted to know that my most important beings are caring for one another back home, while I am doing the necessary work of caring for the caregiver (that’s me). When I get home, we will get dad ready for a surgery that will hopefully bring comfort, but will also require closer care through recovery. I am recharging my battery and will be ready to serve with presence, patience, reverence and grace. (so mote it be)
I’m planning to close this sacred writing tool and relax on the napping swing for a while. The meditation for my friend, to help her rest, will solidify in my mind to be written and recorded, and later, my hosts and I will ride down the mountain to share a meal. We are all eager to hear the Highland Tales of my fellow guests around the fire this evening. Until then… Slainte! (Gaelic – “To Your Good Health!”)
Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.
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.
I’ve been struggling lately. It’s an old wound that seems to heal, then fester. Body image. Self worth. Self loathing. Fear-based thought. Acceptance. Struggle. Being mindful makes it better… and worse. And being post-menopausal, well… Sigh…
In 2012, I took a drastic step in an effort to see if metabolic disorder could be overcome via surgical intervention. Nothing else had, up to that point. No one would have believed that I consumed fewer than 1200 calories a day and could weigh over 250 lbs.
The first time I did Weight Watchers at age 18, I weighed 154 lbs. In my mind, I was HUGE. I felt shame over thighs that touched and a belly that wasn’t flat.
With a diagnosis of poly cystic ovarian syndrome and metabolic disorder in my mid-twenties, and with each diet I tried, my body became a vessel of holding. Even after having 80% of my stomach removed in 2012 via vertical sleeve gastrectomy (no malabsorption as my intestines remain intact) my body never became thin. I cannot consume more than a cup of food in a sitting, and I can still manage to put on weight with grace and ease.
Obesity is a disease that effects the body, but breaks the heart. At every turn, you are reminded by society that you are not worthy. Sticks and stones won’t break my bones, but the judgment of others will be internalized and carried like cancer in the bones. All consuming.
After surgery, I did get to a lower weight than I’d been able to before, but two years into menopause, my body is resistant to letting go. Despite a greater sense of self-love and a decade of reprogramming and altering internal dialog to love language rather than fear language, weight that had stayed off for some time has begun to return.
I know that we manifest what we think about, and so in an effort to stave off old fears of never-ending expansion, I decided to find focus for overcoming.
Someone had recommended using Marianne Williamson’s A Course In Weight Loss for self-discovery a couple of years ago, and I already had it in my Kindle library, so I opened it up. Honestly, I have a resistance to the term ‘God’, thanks to the oppression of the patriarchy over the last 2,000 years (I tend to be against anything that uses violence to ‘encourage’ belief), and so I also felt a resistance to her work. But I decided to move forward, using a different noun. I appreciate a good workbook to encourage an emotional deep dive, after all.
In the first chapter, we are encouraged to identify with a list of emotions and write whatever comes up. Then, we ask the Universe (in my case, Great Spirit) to take each burden from us. As I wrote, I incorporated a technique from ThetaHealing. I believe that we gather wisdom from many sources, and may use whatever resonates to build a mindful practice.
There’s a really long list of items to address, and I addressed them all. I don’t feel that I felt anything I wrote consciously, but words (as they often do) rose easily through my fingertips and onto the page. Shame, Injustice, Anger, Protection, Fear, Pride, Unforgiveness, Selfishness, Judgment, Jealousy, Disdain, Greed, Excess responsibility, Laziness, Separation, Pressure, Dishonesty, Exhaustion, Arrogance, Burden, Inferiority, Stress, Embarrassment, Heartbreak, Self-abnegation.
She ultimately is suggesting that we let go of the ‘weight’ of these burdens… the emotional ‘weight’ we carry in our minds. I won’t ‘burden’ you with the whole story, but will share one piece as an example of the work. FEAR is such an obvious one, isn’t it? So many of us are limited by this emotion. This is what I wrote on that.
I am afraid that I will never be adequately loved. I am afraid I will never have true intimacy in my life. I am afraid I will never be someone’s priority. I am afraid my truth will never be seen. I am afraid I will never meet someone worthy of knowing my truth. I am afraid that if I open my heart to another, I will be betrayed. I am afraid I will never attract someone who is authentic and honest. I am afraid I am not worthy of such partnership. I am afraid I will never know what it is to feel completely safe with a man. I am afraid I will never cross paths with a man who has worked as hard as I have to be vulnerable and authentic. I am afraid that the truth is I am unattractive to men. I am afraid no one has been attracted to me because I am fat and ugly. I am afraid that no one will ever be attracted to me because I am fat and ugly. I am afraid that those who have claimed to be attracted to me just saw someone they could use. I am afraid I will be the cause of someone’s suffering. I am afraid that my actions or inaction will allow others to suffer. I am afraid I will never share mutual attraction and adoration with a man, and that I will never know the kind of love and support I have witnessed in couples I admire. I’m afraid that my body will never release excess weight and that it will keep rising without cause. I’m afraid of how my body will look if I do lose the excess weight. I’m afraid I will never love my body as it is… in any shape or form. I’m afraid no one else will love me as I am in any shape or form.
Great spirit, all that is, beloved angels: I surrender my fear to you. Please take it from me. Thank you. It is done.
The next step she refers to as ‘Reflection and Prayer’. For me, it is about connection and visualization. So, I took her suggestion, and grounded and centered, then walking through my mind into meditation… this is what came forward.
I sent my energy into the earth and brought the core of light back into my being. I brightened and aligned my chakras and pulled the light from above into my being – expanding my golden light of protection.
I stood looking at the wall that I have built – broad and high. Great spirit in the form of a woman with flowing white hair stood beside me. She affirmed the strength and beauty of what I had built, but also how it kept others out. Together we assessed each cobbled brick and how it was no longer needed. Together we disassembled the wall. Behind me was a neglected and dying garden, and before me – beyond the confines of my former wall, was a vast, open field of lush, beautiful, decadence in green and pink – like wildflowers rising from softest long grass.
As I stood beside Great Spirit, I could see someone walking toward me, stepping over tall grass. He says that he has been looking for me all over, and is relieved that I have finally been revealed to him. He reaches for my hand, and I take his without fear or trepidation. Together, we forge a new path in our togetherness, he swings the scythe for clearing the way, as I lay down the bricks which once made up the wall that contained me, to pave the road ahead.
I smile back at Great Spirit, and she blows me a kiss. She is happy for me and my liberation.
The next phase is letter writing. She suggests that the ‘thin-you’ addresses the ‘not-thin-you’. The two sides of your identity that are either healthy and healed or traumatized and suffering. She uses a sample letter as an example that starts, “Dear Fat Ass,”… and my first discovery for this part of the work is that I am grateful that I long ago learned that kindness matters. Even with the shame I carry for the size of my frame, I could never in a million years address anyone, even my self, with such hateful words. This is what came up for me when I got over the hurt in my heart for the words one of MW’s clients would use to address themselves.
LETTERS TO AND FROM LARGER THAN LIFE ME
Dear Larger Than Life:
I see you. I see the pain and suffering that you’ve carried since you were small. I feel the ache of unworthiness throughout this body and being. I’m sorry you’ve had to work so hard to protect me, these many years. I’m sorry that you have spent so much time building walls rather than paving paths. I’m sorry that those walls kept you isolated and invisible rather than connected and out among the beauty of all that is.
I can remember those moments of feeling unsafe in our youth. Having a boy stand too close or stare too long. Hearing cat-calls while walking to a friend’s house to play barbies. Wishing that boys wouldn’t like me, so that I wouldn’t have to hurt a friend when I didn’t feel the same. What was the true point of this sacrifice? Not wanting to be hurt, or not wanting to hurt others?
It seems there is so much to fear when we are maiden. Will we be worthy of our parents’ love? Are we so different from others that we cannot find communion? Are the bullies right about me? Am I too ugly to stand among others? Will I ever be worthy of being loved? If I don’t fit in here, will I fit in anywhere? If I don’t have a boyfriend, does that mean I am unlovable?
But then, one day… we realize we are no longer the maiden. From the perspective of the crone, we are all-seeing – all knowing. We see the error of our ways, and we know that there is no more time to waste.
We understand that we were always worthy of our parents’ love, not because of a college degree or a career path, but because we are the symbol of their love made manifest. That was always enough. We were always worthy of love. Our differentness is what makes us so welcome in community. We allow others to see the world from a new perspective, and that has great value when so many are wearing blindfolds. The bullies were never really telling you that you were ugly… they were telling you that they felt ugly. That you chose to never hurt others as you had been hurt was a part of the lesson. This is where compassion gained foundation. Those stones, rather than building a wall, built a bench where we could sit with another to share comfort.
We who have not had the love and loyalty of a good man are not less worthy than those who have. We were fortified with a different kind of strength, in our ability to stand on our own, to manifest our own hopes and dreams, and to pave a safe path without compromising the integrity of our own core values. Rather than being one half of a couple, we have always been one whole – even when we felt too fractured to realize it. In our aloneness, we had the freedom and clarity to be present and focused for many, rather than just one. We merged with the Artemis archetype and became warriors!
I want to offer you my love, as well. But first, I must offer you my deepest regrets. I am sorry that while feeling unlovable, I did not love you enough. I am sorry that the unconditional love I offered others, was withheld from you. I am sorry for the nights that I lie awake in bed, feeling all of your ‘extra-ness’, that my thoughts were filled with such unkindness. I am sorry that I learned from the bullies to be compassionate toward others, but was rarely compassionate toward you. I am sorry that in your endeavor to keep me safe, that I chained you in a dungeon of darkness.
You deserved freedom and light! Today, I offer you the key to freedom. I would unlock those chains, but the truth is… you are the strong one. You, great warrior woman, need only to rise… and those chains will all fall away.
There are five things that we should say when we are ready to leave one world, being liberated from the body, and into another. As we move forward into a new world, free from the suffering of old wounds which no longer serve us, I offer them to you: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you for keeping me safe. I love you. Good bye.
Sincerely yours, Simply Me
Dear Simply Me:
I have waited so long to receive this message from you. Thank you for finding the courage to let go. What a relief it is to finally release an attachment to fear. What a great burden to carry. It is far heavier than even this Larger Than Life earthly body.
It is fear that leads to hatred. It is fear that leads to loathing. It is fear that leads to hurting. It is fear that causes us to harm ourselves and others. It is fear that builds walls. It is fear that casts stones. It is fear that keeps us from growing into authentic glory. Let’s be done with it!
I can see how much effort you’ve put into personal development and emotional growth. I honor your hard work and dedication with my own form of letting go. You no longer need protecting, for you have grown fierce with your own sense of belonging. You don’t need layers of protection to render your body invisible, for you finally understand that it is not only safe to shine, but it is necessary for better living and for the good of all.
I am so proud to witness that instead of writing to me with harsh words of blame and accusation, you chose compassion. I believe the understanding earned through suffering delivered the greatest lesson on kindness. I am enormously proud of your choice to be kind and caring toward others, and I am so pleased that you have learned to offer yourself the same.
Here’s the thing, dear one… everything you wrote to me is truth. You and I are ready to move forward into the light of new beginnings. Hand-in-hand, we leave behind regrets of the past. The horizon offers the dawning of hope and the illumination of love. How lucky are we, to have realized that we were never alone in our suffering? We have always had one another, two parts of one sacred whole. Today, we seal old wounds with gold, and we are made more valuable. We are a vessel of holding, and we are filled to overflowing with sparkling wisdom and the healing fluid of divine love.
We are so blessed. Thank you. I love you. It is done. Blessed be.
All the best – always, Larger Than Life
Once again, we are instructed to ask for assistance to overcome and heal this relationship with ourselves. Nearly 5500 words have been written so far, and I’m only at the end of Lesson 2. It doesn’t feel like a waste of time to have this written conversation with myself. I have grown to appreciate my own company in recent years, and I have no patience for shallow, meaningless talk with anyone.
If my struggle feels familiar to you, I hope you will find inspiration for healing. If you, dear reader, are that person who has never had to diet, but has judged others as lazy or gluttonous due to the cellulite they carry, I hope you might come to understand the level of suffering that resides on the inside of those who don’t look like you.
May we all find our way back to nurturing kindness for ourselves and others. That’s what will save this world from (self) destruction. Thank you for walking this path with me.
Where I live, the month of June carries a great deal of weight. The most obvious, here in the State of Florida, is the arrival of oppressive heat and torrential rain. Many of us are grateful for those daily downpours, as they often manage to lower the temperature from around 99 degrees to somewhere around 88 degrees, if we’re lucky.
June is also Gay Pride month (not just in Florida), and celebrations occur at various venues throughout the month. You’ve probably heard of Gay Days at Disney, which is loads of fun in a sea of red and rainbow. Today, my former workplace raised the rainbow flag in front of the corporate office, to proudly fly a commitment to diversity, honoring the dignity of ALL. The induction of the Pride Alliance into the employee networks several years ago was monumental, even if it felt ridiculously overdue. It’s never too late to get it right.
But the other thing about June… that which makes it not just hot, but also heavy, is a certain anniversary. A horrific, terrible, nightmare in memorial. In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016 a domestic terrorist entered the Pulse Nightclub, right at the heart of one of our Central Florida neighborhoods, and murdered 49 sacred members of our beloved community.
Oh, how we long for the days that our theme parks made us special. No city on the planet wants to be a member of the mass shooting club!
Pulse was a gay nightclub, where friends could gather for dancing, for laughter, for music therapy, and stress relief. It was a place where those who walked through the entrance doors could feel safe to be their authentic selves. It was, for many, a homecoming to acceptance.
They tried to tell us that the shooter was angry about something happening across the globe, but the truth was far more disturbing. He was angry with his culture, his religion, and our society, who would have him carry his unspoken truth inside, never to be fulfilled. He wasn’t allowed to be who he wanted to be, and so he took it out on those who could.
A world of harm comes from pretending to be something you are not, while swallowing shame placed upon you by others. It is the most bitter poison one can ingest. It can only lead to turmoil and destruction, whether it be to one’s self, or to a room filled with sacred souls.
I don’t really understand the societal repression, oppression, and aggression that seems to come from patriarchal religions toward those who are LGBTQ. Especially, since the big three of the patriarchy claim that God is love, that God created everything and makes no mistakes, God is the only judge, etc. And don’t forget the ‘golden rule’ – do unto others as you would have done unto you. Seems like a really big disconnect, if you ask me, when they would have the rights of others limited or removed altogether.
Gratefully, I’ve not seen or heard this ridiculous cry from anyone in my personal circle, but THIS is why there is no ‘straight pride month’, people! Society does not force straight people to bottle up their truth inside walls of protection in lieu of living an authentic life. They get to live each day, out in the open, holding hands with the one they love. They don’t have to worry about being beaten for wearing the clothing that makes them feel confident and comfortable. Their family members are less likely to disown them for being who they really are. Some might say… they are lucky.
I grew up in the Unitarian Church, and my parents’ best friends are a lesbian couple who have been together for decades. So, when I fell in love with a woman in my mid-twenties, I didn’t hesitate to share the news with my parents. My relationship was embraced by my family and by my friends, and I wasn’t in a situation where I had to dance around pronouns when I spoke of my partner. But I do recall feeling fearful of public displays of affection, like holding hands while walking down the street. I had been bullied and taunted for not being thin, and so I understood the mean spirit of broken people. Standing up to adversity requires courage. In public, I felt the need to be cautious in order to stay safe.
We were together for eight years, and we remain friends, to this day. My therapist told me, back in the day, that I was the only client who had ever expressed shame and regret for discovering that I was NOT gay. I mean, really… if I could flip a switch, I would, because the men in my romantic life have been a real disappointment. But that’s another story.
I have friends who have loved one another for decades, whose lives are completely entwined, and yet they were only recently able to legally marry. And I have a friend who is transgender, who after years of this awareness and self-discovery, is beginning to step out into the world donned in garments that make her feel more at home in her skin.
Can you imagine what that is like? To have gone to work every day dressed like someone else? To look in the mirror and see an impostor? To reply to co-workers, when they ask about your weekend plans, while creating language to dance around the truth of the person that you will share it with, and whom you cherish the most in all the world? You know what? You don’t have to be an empath to know that it feels fake, false, empty, lonely, and sad. NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO FEEL THAT WAY!
Let me tell you something. The beautiful LGBTQ souls everywhere are great warriors, one and all. Whether they have found the strength and courage to be authentic and live an out and about reality within our judgmental and often hateful society, or if they are carrying their truth on the inside – longing for such freedom, they have my respect, my admiration, and my undying support. I am just aching to be asked to be a stand-in Mom at a wedding, for someone whose own parents were too broken and close-minded to love their own children for being honest and seeking happiness. I have more than enough love to go around.
This weekend, I watched the sequel series on Netflix for Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. It is set in San Francisco and the nucleus of the story is a transgender woman named Anna, and the beloved community she has created and nurtured over many years. This updated series takes us back to Anna’s courageous and heartbreaking ‘new beginning’, transitioning at a time that was even less inclusive than now. It also shows us details of the relationships of the other residents of Barbary Lane (the home Anna opened to others as a safe space to thrive), who are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender.
As a friend and ally of the LGBTQ community, I watched every episode with a sense of deep caring for these characters. I wanted to protect them from the ignorance of others, and I wanted them to know that I have felt rejected and abandoned by love, too. I have stood in the mirror willing my body to look different than it does. I have sometimes had the courage to put myself out there again, in order to find the love that I deserve, and I have also locked my heart inside a closet in order to keep it safe.
One thing that occurred to me as I watched each episode, exploring self discovery and actualization, affection, sexuality, and sensuality in many forms, I could remember how strange it felt, long ago, to see two men kissing on screen for the first time. I’ll admit, that as a young person, it made me feel uncomfortable, but only because it was not something I had seen before. I love that movies and television are finally beginning to reflect the real world. Perhaps the more we see loving relationships between caring people of all genders and identities, the rest of the world will get over its fear and discomfort with what once felt unfamiliar, and get back to focusing on their own happiness, and allow others to do the same. You know… as they would have done unto themselves.
It’s hard to imagine that reality, right now, with so much bitterness and violence being nurtured and celebrated by the so called ‘President’… but I do believe we will get there. I have no choice but to believe in the probability of peace and the power of love to overcome this darkness.
I doubt that any of us imagined we would celebrate marriage equality in our lifetimes, and yet many of us have either been attendants or guests at gay weddings over the last few years. Or as I like to call them… weddings. Someday the silliness of the distinction will be obsolete.
In the meantime, we celebrate how far we’ve come. We wave our multi-colored flags, not as a sign of defeat, but as a symbol of freedom. There is a quality of fierce assertion required to stand up and declare one’s authentic spirit to the world, and so I think of this remarkable community as a Pride of Lions. A fellowship that learned it must protect their own.
But to be who you are truly meant to be, when the world would have you be just like everyone else – fitting inside the limitations of smaller minds, one must stand with the sureness of a warrior.
So, at the occasion of a month dedicated to the celebration of individuality and fabulousness, and at an anniversary of a horrific moment that my beloved community will never forget, I salute this Pride of Warriors! I pay tribute to their courage to be who they want to be. I honor their divine perfection, because though I am not religious, I know that who they are is not a mistake. And I bow my head in sorrow for our fallen warriors, and our beloved survivors whose dreams are surely haunted.
As for those who are struggling with the concept of acceptance, respect, and loving kindness for ALL beings (yourself included), consume these wise words from one of our favorite New Yorkers (Ms. Cyndi Lauper): YOU’LL CHANGE THE WORLD WHEN YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND! Thank you for walking this path with me.
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.
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.
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
Valued & Appreciated
Fulfilling & Uplifting
Purpose & Meaning
Open & Obvious Pathway
Work Life = Love Life
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.