Honoring Those We’ve Lost

In a couple of hours, I will gather with friends to celebrate the life of a dear one, recently lost. He left this realm on a day when the veil between the worlds was thinnest – stepping peacefully into the mystery of what comes next. As I prepared a sacred ceremony for friends who had lost significant loved ones in the past year or two, I held those suffering this immediate loss close, as well. Too soon for them to venture into the underworld, I chose to carry them with me.

As we began, at water’s edge around firelight, we called the names of those we have loved and lost, and invited them to stand with us in a sacred circle. In our mind’s eyes we could see each beloved step in to take our hands, heart to heart… love flowing in a sphere of gratitude and protection.

Next, we called to the elements – acknowledging their gifts which surround us and flow through us. When we call to air, fire, water, and earth, we are connecting to the love that resides within.

Into the East we cast our gaze to be witness to the dawning of the light of remembrance. We breathe deeply the clarity of the element of Air, that our loved ones may appear in mind’s eye unhindered. With open hearts and with gratitude, we honor the Air.

Into the South we cast our gaze upon ancient embers. Burning from the beginning of time, the element of Fire inspires us to go within and to reach out to those who have gone before. Illuminated by the beacon that calls our loved ones home. With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Fire.

Into the West we cast our gaze upon the watery mist. Through floating drops of love and memory we focus upon the veil to witness the arrival of those we love as they step toward us. All fear and regret is washed in the element of Water. All that remains is the purest love.  With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Water.

Into the North we cast our gaze upon the lush green lap of the Mother. Grateful for the strength she gave us to survive great loss, we eagerly await her generous return. Our loved ones have been nurtured in the embrace of the Earth, and we are grateful for Her care. With open hearts and feet firmly planted in gratitude, we honor the Earth.

Next, we invited divine energy in the feminine archetype of nurturer and guide, which also surrounds us and resides within each of us:

We call upon the maiden of flowers and the goddess of the Underworld. Persephone, whose sacrifice to the dead brings a mother’s grief and a blanket of cold upon the earth. Persephone, whose great heart and deep love offers the rich red seeds of welcome to all who seek entrance into the world beyond that which the living may see. With reverence we reach to you with hope and gratitude, for the honor of perhaps connecting with those we love once more. We ask to be anointed by your sacred oil of clarity, that our third eye may be fully opened to greet them with the ability to see them and hear them clearly.

Persephone of the Underworld, our hearts are open to receive your blessing. We bid thee hail and welcome.

As I wrote the words that would state the purpose of our gathering, I was once again astonished by the wisdom that flowed through me:

Tonight we gather as the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. We stand ready to receive our loved ones who are lost to us in body, but ever present to us in their energetic form. We wish to remind them of our love and devotion, and to show them that we have chosen to carry them with us into the future with reverence, and without regret, With joy and without sorrow.

We know that they left us early to remind us of the importance of living fully now. We are here to make that contract with them, to affirm that their loss TO us was not lost ON us. We each have chosen to step to the edge of the Underworld tonight, to take their hands and look into their eyes, to hear their words and receive our commitment.

I next led my sweet friends through a meditation where they would each meet with those they longed to see. It is difficult to know when to proceed from a pause in such a journey. One hesitates to interrupt an important conversation when unable to see the progress of the connection. But when it felt like the right time, I brought them back for acknowledgment and closure:

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

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

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

Finally, we said farewell to the spirit of the Universe that took form so that our consciousness could find connection.

Beloved Persephone, goddess of flowers and bones. Thank you for granting us crossing to the edge of your shimmering veil. Thank you for bearing our beloveds through initiation and into the freedom of limitlessness. We will carry your light within us through the long winter, until your return in the spring brings the bursting of color and fragrance upon the earth.

And to the energy that surrounds us and becomes us:

Spirit of Earth, elements of the North, thank you for your gifts of strength and stability, for wisdom and prosperity. Thank you for holding us close through every stage of our becoming.

Spirit of Water, elements of the West, thank you for your gifts of cleansing and emotion, for healing and fluidity. Thank you for washing us clean of fear and regret, nurturing our path forward.

Spirit of Fire, elements of the south, thank you for your gifts of purification and illumination, for direction followed by action. Thank you for lighting the chamber of our connection to those we love, and for keeping the flame alive until we meet again.

Spirit of Air, elements of the East, thank you for your gifts of clarity and new beginnings, for awareness and ideation to guide our future footfalls. Thank you for the breath that fills our lungs for singing the songs of our loved ones’ memory.

And so, our sacred ceremony was complete and we were grateful to have had a few precious moments with those we can no longer see with the eyes, but only feel with the heart.

I know that the loved one we celebrate today will be felt in the same way. And if you are missing someone dear, I hope that in some small way, these words may bring them a bit closer to your awareness. May you honor them as they would have you do… by living fully and in joy. It would be rude not to.

Thank you for walking this path with me. May your every step be sprinkled with bliss.

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The Enlightened Heart

One thing that has been a delightful surprise and enormous blessing about this journey of discovery through end of life studies, is the willingness and courage displayed by others who have been moved to share their own stories of loss.  Of course, the required reading provides stories from the perspective of hospice doctors, nurses, and palliative care providers… but the truth that is shared by a friend, of their own experience as a witness to a loved one’s departure is far more meaningful to me.  These sacred moments of vulnerability and raw emotion are so deeply personal that I consider it a great honor and privilege to be given the opportunity to hold space and bear witness, not to the dying in these cases, but to those who remain.  I feel as if I am being offered a gift from a friend who shares their experience, as I am offered a reflection of grace that might just be a guide for me when my darkness comes.  At the end of our days upon the earth – the path onward splits, as the survivor has no choice but to step forward in a new direction, as they create their new normal.  What a privilege to see how sorrow leads to strength and strength leads to becoming in the heart of a friend surviving the loss of a love.  The one who has died has given up all of their earthly belongings, and those who love them have lost the physical presence of someone dear.  These moments are woven into the tapestry of our individual mythology, and they are important tales of our own evolution.  I am honored to hold these sacred moments in the light of truth and with the warmth of love.

I just finished reading the fourth and final book of required reading for this course, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.  If you are interested in reading it and enjoy audiobooks, I found it on youtube.  I find that spoken words will allow pieces that feel important to me to rise up, and then I can find them in the book and deepen my focus where I have been drawn.  Within the six and a half hours of listening, I found my draw at the halfway point… just over three hours in.  Interestingly, the first three hours were on the topic of living, while the last three hours were on dying, death and rebirth.  These pages are filled with pathways to compassion.  They offer instruction through meditation – which kind of speaks my language.

I remember the first time I tried to meditate.  It was 1992, and I was taking a class on earth based spirituality.  One of my teachers had a passion for meditation and offered a Saturday morning practice.  I remember sitting on the floor of a darkened room, receiving soothing guidance with eyes closed.  When we were instructed to open our eyes at the end, I was simply frustrated.  We were going around the room, each person sharing what they had visualized on their journey within… and let me tell you these visions were magickal.  As for myself, however, I felt that I had failed to go anywhere… and simply could not push the mundane out of my mind.  My teacher asked me what I had seen, and the truth was that I was balancing my checkbook in my mind.  Ugh… nothing spiritual about that.  He then asked me to close my eyes now, and prompted me to say aloud what I could see.  I can’t actually remember the results of that exercise, but I could see that there was potential if I could just get out of my own way.  My teacher died in 1996, just ten days after his 32nd birthday.  A couple of days before his passing I sat at his bedside, held his hand, and sang to him the healing chant that ultimately led me to his circle (I wrote about that in my blogpost:  A Spiritual Path Less Taken.)  His was the first memorial service that I planned and led, a gift to his grieving beloved.  He was pagan and his surviving partner was Catholic, so it was a service that was beautiful, loving, and diverse.  He loved to sing (though he was tone deaf), and had been a member of a pagan choir called Amulet, which had recorded an album of earth based / goddess centered chants (which you can find on cdbaby).  This group was the healing salve between the words of sorrow and celebration throughout the service.  He taught me early on that raising our voices in song is a powerful way to connect with the spirit of all that is.  I never leave home without a song in my heart, thanks to him.

It was after he was gone that my Tribe dedicated a year to meditation.  Each week we gathered and we rotated responsibility for sharing a meditation with the group.  At this point in time, our lack of experience led us to share meditations written by others.  It was a year well-spent, because at some point I did finally get out of my way and learned to travel.  I offer gratitude for this accomplishment to my friend and teacher, who surely helped guide me there through his energetic form.  In April of this year, my soul-daughter wanted to practice her mediumship skills and engaged my support.  Before she arrived, I wrote down the names of those I have loved and lost, without attachment.  It was this friend who came through.  I knew it almost immediately.  Her first words were that this guy isn’t shy, but this is the first time he has communicated with a medium.  He said he was not related, but a friend.  His energy was smooth and calming, she said.  She compared it to being on a date with him… he said, “You know, I’ve never done anything like this before…”  His energy was smooth and calming, welcoming and kind, charming, strong and firm.  He described to her how he saw the world in a positive way – like everything was beautiful.  I told her that he literally wore rose colored glasses.  Ha!  She uses metaphor when she reads, as her guides show her visuals that she can interpret.  He showed her an obnoxious yellow VW bug to describe his personality… it would be quirky, bright, stand out and something you wouldn’t see every day.  He showed her that his energy was quirky, gentle, delicate, calm, but with a big personality at the same time.  He was not calm, but his energy was.  He made a joke with her, by dusting off an old book and dusting off his shoulders, reflecting that it had been a long time since he and I had connected this way.  She said that he used symbolism to communicate with her, with a lot of imagery, in a very poetic way.  This is how meditation flows, so this makes perfect sense to me.  I could go on and on about what I learned from my friend on the other side of the veil, but that would take more time than you have interest.  She felt as if he was teaching her.  He did so for exactly one hour and eleven minutes – 1:11.  Perhaps I will transcribe his wit and wisdom to share one day.  Until then, he informs me that we will continue to connect through nature… and meditation.  As if affirming my acknowledgement, I just looked out the window to see a single feather floating downward from the oak that stands sentinel in my front yard.

The art of compassion and how to serve is the foundation of the Buddhist structure shared within the pages of this book… a temple of healing with the power of the mind.  We are reminded to touch the suffering of another with love, rather than fear.  Fear leads to pity, while love leads to compassion.  In order to activate and mentally direct this compassion we may consider the following:

Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath.  Visualize a green light coming through your breath and into your heart, where it brightens and expands with each rise and fall of your chest.  As this light shines more brightly, it illuminates the wise ones who surround you.  You may see them and name them as your own spiritual path allows… be they ascended masters, angels, guides, God, Universal Energy, Spirit, ancestors, etc.  Ask for their guidance to allow your words, thoughts, and actions only to benefit and bring happiness to others… to support their transformation from suffering to peace.  Direct the compassion you possess, by positive action and spiritual practice, to the dedication of the welfare and enlightenment of all beings.  Know that your own attainment of these goals will be for the benefit of all.  And with this breath of compassion and enlightenment – we breathe in the sorrow and suffering of others, and we breathe out kindness.  We breathe in the panic and fear that surrounds us, and we breathe out happiness.  The black smoke of suffering is replaced with the green light of the enlightened heart.  The art of Tonglen is to transmute pain and suffering by giving and receiving.  I receive your suffering, and give you my happiness.  I receive your grief, and I give you my peace of mind.  All of this occurs through the breath.  This is a simplified explanation of the practice that is detailed in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.  I feel that a daily practice will be developed from these pages, and I hope that my heart light may be a comfort to you when you are in need.

Like my teacher before me, I have gone on too long.  Know that you are loved, and that I am grateful to have you walking beside me.

In the spirit of connectedness, I am sharing below a few links: to my first professionally recorded meditation to release your inner warrior by letting go of the false burdens we carry; to the recordings made by the choir to which I refer above; and the contact page for my soul-daughter, should you be interested in experiencing her divine gift, first hand.

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/melissabaker1

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/amuletpaganchoir

https://www.facebook.com/Jillianthemedium

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Transformation Dawning

My grandniece stayed with me last week, and though we ultimately had a ‘staycation’ (for me, anyway), I still consider it to have been a glorious escape.  My brother and his family live a few hours away, so we shared the burden of driving and met half way.  I fetched her on a Saturday and gave her back on the following Saturday.  This was the longest period of time we have had alone since she was 18 months old.

13.5 years ago circumstances were such that I felt compelled to offer my support and provide her with a safe place to grow between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while her grandparents met work obligations out of state and dealt with some obstacles at home.  I will never forget the sound of relief in the voice of my sister-in-law, when I somewhat jokingly commented on how cute she was and that she should just leave her with me… “Oh, Melissa… I would be so relieved.”  With wide eyes I looked at my parents who said they would help, and I cried all the way to the airport in the rain to fetch my Tribe brother.  I cried as I told him what I was considering, both of us single and childless at the time, he understood the importance of the task and the sense of overwhelm, too.  Neither of us would have imagined then that he would be married with three children of his own now.  That night I sent an email to friends about the crazy commitment I was considering, and by morning I had been offered all of the support required to make it possible.

That month was probably the most traumatic for all of us, as some navigated separation anxiety and heartbreak, while I spent each day in fear of getting something wrong.  Above all other worries, I feared for her the abandonment issues she would surely have to face in therapy (waves flag of abandonment issues – yo!).  I took my responsibility to her so seriously that I was determined to do anything I could to ensure she would not feel abandoned by me.  I remember one weekend that my Mom came over to offer me a break and an escape, but even when I left the room she would begin to cry, and I simply could not bear to leave.  I remember friends and co-workers saying to me… “Oh, Melissa… this is going to change your mind about having children.”  Well, it didn’t.  Not because she wasn’t precious, because she was.  And not because the work of caring for a child is thankless, because I know without a doubt that that month of my life was quite possibly one of my most important and greatest accomplishments of this lifetime… after all, I managed to keep her alive for an entire month!  She had never been around other children, so of course she immediately caught a cold from daycare, and she also cut a couple of molars during the time that I had her.  Every day I would drop her off and she would cry, and every day I would cry all the way to the office.  Did I mention that empathy is my number one strength?  I would tuck her into bed each night, and collapse in a heap in the silence of the living room, hoping to have a moment to myself, but feeling too exhausted to do anything else, and not wanting to make any noise that might disturb my sleeping angel.  I remember waking each morning and hoping that I could run to the bathroom before she woke up, so that I could tinkle without having to have her on my lap while doing so (because if she was awake, and I left the room… she would cry – and I could not allow her to feel abandoned by me).  Good golly, people!  How on earth can you possibly choose to be responsible for the entire life and well-being of another human?  What a horribly overwhelming task.  I remember how I would hear her cry and it would feel like my heart was beating on the outside of my chest.  I recall the  mornings when I would hear her stir in the makeshift crib that was next to my bed, and I would look over and smile to see her standing up and holding onto the edge, with her beautiful tuft of light brown curls, greeting me with a smile – that and when she tossed her head back to take the medicine for a cold or teething always reminded me of a baby bird.  I would have done anything to keep her safe, healthy, and happy.  Her happiness was my joy!  One night, I pushed past fatigue and put up the Solstice Tree, and delighted in the look on her sweet face the next morning as I carried her into the darkened living room lit by those magickal lights.

I have to admit, having a 15 year old in my guest room was much easier than having an 18 month old beside my bed.  I just caught myself wondering why we had never done this before… and remembered that this, too, is a gift of the year of time and reflection I’ve given myself.  Not beholden to anyone to grant me time off, I had the freedom to ask… and to receive.  It was pretty awesome.  She cooked for her great grandparents and me, and we shopped for school clothes.  She attended an event I co-hosted… a sort of female empowerment and expressive arts evening with friends.  She WOWed me with her openness and authenticity.  She spoke her truth and shared her vulnerability, knowing that she was in a safe place.  Her courage to share encouraged the same in others.  I introduced her to the art of acrylic pour, and she suggested that we do a project together, each creating a piece that would be symbolic of how we felt about each other or what we meant to one another.  Into the colors I chose – each as vibrant and rich as her stunning brilliance and personality – I stirred my hopes and dreams for her… to see her own true value, to seek her own truth and follow her own north star, to be filled with utter joy, and fulfilled by purpose and passion.  When it was dry, I wrote on the back of her canvas:  “Beloved – This painting contains my love for you, and symbolizes the beauty that you are and that which is on the horizon for you.  Love, M”  In turn, what she created for me contained many shades of green, with an additional image that she brilliantly added into negative space, which started as a Stag (sacred to Artemis, you know) and became a tree.  She told me that in meditation the forest is her safe place, and that I, too, am her safe place.  On the back of my canvas she wrote:  “To a GORGEOUS Goddess – You deserve the care you provide for everyone else.  You will get all that you need and want because you’re a beautiful soul.”   (I hope you’re listening, Universe!)

So, all of this was pure delight, and I loved every moment with my girly, but one of my favorite parts was meeting her request to enjoy a bit of nature together.  A friend of mine had suggested taking her to one of our local springs, and that is what we did.  We grabbed another friend of mine, and headed off for adventure.  We packed some snacks, put on bathing suits, and traveled just 30 minutes from home to reach a piece of paradise, Wekiwa Springs.  Knowing that the water would be shocking to our delicate systems (we Florida girls aren’t used to diving into 70 degree water), we chose to take a hike, so that the (literally) breathtaking plunge might feel even more welcome.  We traveled along the path and boardwalks, and delighted in the flora and fauna, as well as several winged creatures that were surely faery folk in the guise of dragonflies.  We saw them in many different colors, including green, silver and blue.  The presence of dragonfly informs us that transformation is dawning on the horizon – and I do believe all three of us can feel it coming.  As we completed the trail and began to hear the sound of others splashing in nearby water, we determined we were definitely ready for a swim.  This was the first time my grandniece had ever been to a spring, but this adventure brought back memories for my friend and for me.  My friend recalled many wonderful visits shared with her beloved, whom we lost to leukemia last fall… and having been away from this glory far too long, my own memories were of trips to the springs with my parents and brother when he and I were young, when we could dive for fossilized sharks teeth and swim until our lips turned blue.  I even remember a time when I was maybe 4 or 5 and my parents swam next to me – atop a raft, and there were people up on a bank who were tossing marshmallows into the water to feed an alligator.  I may have to check this memory with my folks to determine if that particular recall is based in fact or childhood fantasy.  Anyway, we swam for a while, and I began to worry that my toe rings would fall off, because the usual swelling of heat and gravity was totally lacking in this element… and they started to feel rather loose.  So, we each made our way up the hill to the shaded spot with our blanket and snacks.  We reflected on the connectedness we experienced with nature (and with the boy my grandniece met at the edge of the spring – oh, to be fifteen again), and after a while, we determined our needs had been filled.  We finished off the afternoon at my friend’s house with a few rounds of cards.  It was a perfect day!  Ever since, I’ve been asking myself why I had taken these gifts of nature for granted… feeling like I had to drive ten hours to find a piece of heaven, when it was right here… just a short drive from my front door.  I feel as if I will need to make up for lost time, and spend the next several weeks escaping to a local spring to dance with the dragonflies and swim until my lips turn blue.

As I summarized this delightful week to my soul-daughter, sharing how I felt badly for having shirked my responsibility to the end of life doula study… she once again reminded me, with that wisdom-beyond-years way that she does, that though I may have spent fewer hours at the computer or reading a book on death or palliative care, I had most certainly been ‘doing the work’.  You know what?  She’s right!  I am less sure today that my path is to become a doula, but more certain that there is purpose and meaning in doing this work.  Every single day of this sabbatical has been filled with a certain kind of mindfulness and gratitude that comes with the absolute knowledge that our time here is limited.  If the beauty of a natural spring doesn’t bring a sense of homecoming to your soul, you are denying the importance of the element of water in your very existence.  I mean…  you are made of mostly water!  The Earth is bubbling with this cooling, soothing salve for your tired and aching spirit, and She invites you to enter her healing embrace.  The cicadas are singing for the resonant pleasure of your eternal spirit – reminding you of the freedom of summertime on a hot afternoon, how could you fail to recognize their tune?  And everywhere you turn, the dragonflies are bobbing and dancing, then gently perching upon branch and limb, hoping to get a closer look at your vibrant being, knowing that the symbolism of the human body is to be reminded that you are looking upon the Universe itself – in which all of the elements, air, fire, water, earth and spirit, are contained.  The dragonflies know this about every human they pass, why must so many of us fail to recognize this truth, whether passing another on a trail, or seeing our own reflection in the living waters?  There is so much tragedy in what we fail to see.

I am growing more certain with each passing day that this sacred journey upon which I embarked last fall is really about learning to truly see.  I am learning to see what has always surrounded me… that beauty is before me, behind me, above me, below me, and within me.  I am learning to sense what I cannot see with my eyes, allowing energy to be felt with my heart and words that are not heard through my ears to flow with grace and ease through my fingertips and onto this page.  Through the study of death and dying, I am learning how to truly live.  Every time I wish I could see the future and how my financial security will evolve from something I no longer care to do into something I was born to do, I am reminded that I don’t need to see it to know it is on the way.  I don’t need to define it to be able to manifest it.  I am already in the spring and it is carrying me forward, and I have no choice but to stay open to receive and appreciate all of the rich beauty that awaits, as I mindfully and joyfully go with the flow.

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Mountain Music

I am sitting on the porch of my friends’ Tennessee home, and the breeze offers a slight chill as it plays with my hair while the lowering sun caresses my skin with warmth.  A variety of birds are singing their evening songs which speak of a beautiful day blessed by sunshine and the smell of sweet grass.  Several are dancing around the nearby feeder, reminding me that the term ‘eats like a bird’ doesn’t mean what most people assume.    My friend lost his sweet mother last year, and this space that we are blessed to enjoy was lovingly referred to by that kind and generous woman as Mockingbird Cottage.  Her gentle spirit still surrounds us in this heavenly place. and I can sense that she is near… laughing at the hungry birds at play, and recalling the way the wind once felt against her skin on a cool summer evening.  She and I close our eyes and breathe deeply of this moment of shared peace and solitude.  We anticipate the arrival of fireflies within the next hour.

I drove up on Friday, and the journey was pleasant as the companion I chose read to me his words of experience and wisdom with the voice of a philosopher.  I downloaded required reading for my end of life doula coursework through Audibles, and Stephen Jenkinson’s voice fed my mind throughout my ten hour journey with his thoughts on palliative care from his book called DIE WISE: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul.   Eight hours of reading remains, and he has already given me so much to think about… mostly about the way that death, though it is the one guarantee that comes with birth, is something that most people fear and run from.  Many of his patients who chose palliative care when a diagnosis became a prognosis would later come to curse the effectiveness of their treatment, as it was keeping them alive long past their wish to continue.  In other words, it may have given them more time, but it did not necessarily give them more ‘life’… just more suffering.  That kind of took my breath away.  It made me think more clearly about the wording I would use in my advance directive, the official forms which will state my wishes for end of life care.

It also made me think about the act of dying, and the choices one makes for how to spend their final days once a deadline has been given.  And if one would choose to do things any differently, at that point, (assuming the body was able) why we would wait until we’ve been given a deadline to start living in a way that would finally feed our soul.  Should we not be spending all of our days that way?  I mean, the day we are born the one thing that is certain is that we will also die.  It seems to me that there is always a deadline, its just that the expiration date is hidden beneath the fold of awareness.

I wonder what that might look like for me… a well-fed soul, and I believe that it looks something like sitting outside on a summer evening to hear the cacophony of birds chirping, cicadas humming, and distant dogs barking.  It also looks like valuable time spent connecting with dear friends, and making new ones at a mountain art festival.  It looks like smiling at the tiny green bug that just landed on the keyboard, and resting until it is ready to take flight.  It looks like taking the time to dive into a topic that once felt overwhelming and frightening, so that I may one day be of service in a way that transcends and ascends my former level and ability of caring.  It looks like choosing to fill the rest of my days, be they long or few, with greater purpose and meaning.

Sitting here, in this sacred space outdoors, with the spirit of this sweet lady that I was blessed to know and shall always adore, I can list the messages that nature has delivered for my inability to hear her voice.  The symbolism of the mockingbird is overcoming fear.  The symbolism of the hummingbird, whose presence inspired the urge to write, is lightness of being and enjoyment of life, as well as the reminder to be more present.  The symbolism of the fireflies for whom we wait, is self-illumination, guidance and freedom.  As I glance over my shoulder to see if they have yet arrived, I see a cardinal at the feeder and smile to myself to realize that the symbolism of this particular bird is a reminder to realize the importance of your purpose in life… while for some, it informs them of the presence of a loved one lost.  She knows I’m thinking of her and that I know she is here… affirmed by a glance before me to see that cardinal making his way across the darkening yard, stopping to look back at me from a moment’s perch atop the umbrella in the yard.

I am grateful for this time that I have given myself… to explore the depths of my soul before stepping blindly into a new chapter that might be less than fulfilling, to breathe deeply with gratitude for the beauty of nature and for that which we cannot see or hear without the courage to open our hearts.  After all, love is not something visible to the eye… it can only be felt with the heart.  So, I dare you, dear ones to close your eyes and open your hearts.  There are messages flashing before you, like the fireflies who have just arrived.  I’d love for you to join me in this reverie of light and flight!  Tell me…  what do you see?

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The Umbrella Principle

There are five things, according to Dr. Ira Byock who wrote Dying Well, that can bring comfort and closure at the end of life.  In each of our relationships, as we near the end of our days, we may pass through the veil without regret if we are able to tell those we love the following:  Forgive Me, I Forgive You, Thank You, I Love You, Goodbye.  My study of end of life doula work has opened a portal for conversations with others about their own experiences with death, and I am grateful for these opportunities.  There is obviously overwhelming heartbreak involved in each story, but there is also a call to mindfulness, and at times… grace.

But what about the relationships that never have such closure, because those who were departing did not exactly plan to leave their bodies behind quite so soon… or because they were too fearful to broach such topics with those they love?  If life is filled with lessons, perhaps unexpected loss is a reminder to each of us that such endeavors need not wait for the clarity of a terminal diagnosis.

Though my parents and I hope to be in each others’ lives for years to come, we have taken time here and there to discuss our thoughts.  With their recent update to their “Last Will and Testament” documents, which came with buying a new house up the street from me, Mom and Dad each completed the “Five Wishes” form, which provides a format to help us consider our end of life wishes.  A few items for consideration are who can speak for your healthcare needs when you are not able to speak for yourself, in what situation would you deny life-saving efforts, who would you like at your bedside as your spirit returns to its original energetic form (that’s my wording, of course), and how you’d like the body you’ve left behind to be cared for at that time.

As my friend and I connected from opposite corners of the country to discuss her experiences, I shared with her the memory of the departure of a mutual friend of ours in the late 90’s.  He was only 32, and though he had a serious diagnosis, a side-door illness swooped in and took him from us with unexpected haste.  I can see his final days, dimly lit, in the back of my mind.  He had refused to discuss his wishes with his partner, and as we set to the task of planning and arranging his memorial service, the grief seemed greater for the fear of getting something wrong.  At the time, my (then) partner and I were only 28, but within weeks of our friend’s celebration of life, we celebrated our own with official documents that stated our wishes should one of us be lost to the other without warning.  As for the stories my friend shared with me, she suffered a few tragic losses in her youth, but one that was expected was that of her grandmother.  Now, her grandmother had been incredibly mindful of her wishes, and was mostly clear… mostly.  She had planned and even executed her entire funerary arrangement… right down to purchasing the flowers for her casket and securing transport of her body from hospital to funeral home.  Her loved ones would not need to do anything but grieve at her loss.  However, her advance directive left for her doctors to follow was not so clear, and there was some confusion.  In other words, if you are ready to go, but you’ve not declined life-sustaining treatment with your healthcare providers (and your health surrogate), they are honor bound to provide them.

I know that the end of life is a difficult subject for most of us to consider, but I wonder if it might be easier to think about it a little differently.  You know how it seems to rain when you don’t have an umbrella, and how when you are mindful enough to carry one, no matter how dark it gets the rain never comes?  Well, that’s how I see this form of preparation.  Not that having these discussions with loved ones and securing official documentation of your preferences will keep the inevitable at bay… after all, it is the one guarantee in life that is presented on the day we are born.  But I submit for your consideration that if you have done the work of mindfully caring and sharing your authentic wishes for a peaceful transition from this world to the mystery of what comes next, you will gift yourself and those you love great freedom to live each day fully present.  I updated my own documents before my last trip abroad, in case I were to fall off of a cliff in Ireland, and I recently wrote a ritual of departure for such an occasion though I’m not sure of when I will next enjoy such adventure.  It was a surprisingly cathartic exercise.

All of that said, I would like to take a moment to tell you that if I have ever wronged you or caused you harm in any way, I am deeply sorry and I hope that you will forgive me.  If you ever wronged me or caused me harm in any way, I have come to understand from my own deep regret that such actions likely came through suffering of some kind, and I forgive you.  For your presence in my life and for even the tiniest expressions of kindness and care, I offer you my gratitude.  For the love that you have offered so freely, not only to me but to your family, your friends, your community, our planet and all of Her beloved creatures… I love you more.  There’s one more thing… but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye (I hope).  For now, I’ll bid thee hail and farewell until we meet again.

If you are interested in learning more about determining your own advance directive, you can check out this link:
http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3277 , you can also google Five Wishes.

My Post (2)

 

Sacred Ceremony

I was first introduced to sacred ceremony in 1992 at a workshop on feminine spirituality.  In my circle it is also referred to as ‘ritual’, but since those unfamiliar with the practice may have only heard the term followed with the word ‘sacrifice’, I prefer the above.  Sacred ceremonies you may be familiar with would be a child’s christening or a wedding.  If you consider how important these rites of passage are for the child / the couple, and their community, understand that there are many moments in all of our lives that deserve to be marked and celebrated… and that the act of doing so will make the milestone or accomplishment more sacred.  At times, there are obstacles to overcome, like a great loss, heartbreak, or regrets that get in the way of our own progress.  This is when I find the art of ceremony to be most rewarding, and deeply healing.

We lost a beloved member of our community to leukemia in November.  In December a conversation with her widow revealed that she wasn’t sleeping well, and that she was having trouble dealing with emotions of anger and bitterness toward an organization that had mistreated her beloved a few years before her death.  The betrayal our dear one suffered led her into a spiral of depression and a crisis of identity from which she never really recovered.  I assured my friend that her love left behind all of those worries with her body, and that she carried them no longer… which is what she surely would wish for those who survived her.  I offered suggestions for cutting off from that energy and asked her to let me know if she needed support in doing so.  At our next check-in she affirmed her desire for help in letting go.

So, we came together at the dark of moon.  Lakeside and surrounding a brilliant bowl of fire, we set an altar of our reverence with a photo of our beloved’s beautiful smiling face – radiant with sunshine, along with a few sacred symbols and her guitar, with which she had formerly serenaded us all at campfires past.  With the couple who had eagerly introduced our beloved to her wife a quarter century before, and another couple from their shared inner circle, this gathering was not a memorial for we had done that exceptionally well in the fall.  This was an intentional ceremony of release for those who remained to face life without the presence of a sacred soul held dear.

These were the words that stated our purpose and intention for this ceremony:
“We gather to reconnect this sacred circle, and to support one another in the process of letting go.  As we let go of that which does not belong to us, or that which no longer serves us… we are lighter and liberated for the work of mapping the path forward.  We honor the darkness, for it was surely illuminated by the light of love.  We have lost a great light in our lives for whom we grieve, but we find that while in the physical world there was rarely enough time to deeply connect… and now… beyond the confines of the body… we are able to commune with her spirit without interruption.  Lynn is no longer limited.  Our beloved is not gone from us, she is right here in this sacred space, and in our hearts.  Her smile is brighter than this flame, and her laughter and her song are lifted upon smoke and breeze.  The process of letting go allows us to pull her closer, as walls and barriers crumble and fall away.”

As I led our circle through a guided visualization, we journeyed into an ancient passage tomb where we would become aware of all that we carried from which we would now seek freedom and release.  As we emerged into the light and back to our circle, we each took the time to write down every thought and realization discovered.  We listed our regrets and our fears, our feelings of bitterness and sorrow, along with any words left unspoken to be carried to the expansive and ever present being of our beloved… no longer in human form.  When every last word was written, they were carried to the flames and set alight with our heart’s desire for transformation… each page burning into ash within a small stone basin, then carried to the water’s edge.  There, we symbolically cut cords attached to people who no longer would have ownership of our spiritual real estate, as we reached to the essence of water Herself… the Lady of the Lake… asking for Her mercy and Her love to receive our words, cleansed and purified by fire, to be blessed and consecrated then transformed and transmuted as dust became fluid.

We returned to fire circle, and we shared stories and sang songs… after all, this was one of her very favorite things… and then we concluded our work with these words:
“With open hearts and untethered spirits, we cast our nets forth into the wisdom of all that is, anticipating the limitless abundance the Universe delivers with grace and ease, for which we are eternally grateful.”  And so, we are.

I know that our ceremony was blessed with great love and that the one that we can no longer see with our eyes remains ever present.  She is in the garden with her love, she is at the fireside with dear friends, and she is sitting across from me as I write.  Her laughter rises on billows of incense, and the flickering candle is the twinkle in her eye.  It is not that we miss her any less than we did when the great void was opened that terrible day in Autumn, it is simply that we have chosen to carry her with us as we carry on.  We were so blessed.  We ARE so blessed!

(Psyche Weeping by Kinuko Y. Craft)

psycheweepingkycraft

The Love of a Good Cat – Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

(oil painting by Sandra Bierman)sandra bierman twobabes