The ‘After’ Life – Life After Dad

The absence of my father is such an odd reality. For 3.5 years, he was my primary focus. He was my purpose. His care, his survival, his wellness, his presence were up to me to preserve. A month and a half into life without him, I no longer go to bed worrying for his comfort and safety. He no longer suffers. He is safe. He will not call in the middle of the night requiring my assistance and care. He will never ask Alexa to ‘call Melissa’ again. My phone will never inform me that ‘Dad Needs You’ again.

I miss him. I’m glad he doesn’t need me. I had forgotten what that was like, until I started looking through old photos. There was a time, long ago it seems, when he could not only care for himself, but he also did a great deal to care for others. I’m grateful for the reminder that old photos provide. My swiss cheese memory invites me to live in the moment, rather than living in the past. I had been so focused on our current reality that I had forgotten about our past… his past.

My father was a man of integrity and unconditional care. Aside from our family, he cared about his beloved Unitarian Church community for 50 years, the wellness of his clients throughout 30 years of Vocational Rehabilitation for the State of Florida, for underprivileged youth in The Boy Scouts of America, and for those who beheld his visage and saw the manifestation of Santa Claus. But all of those things had fallen away over recent years.

He let go of his career at 62, when the stress of his job invited an increase in epileptic seizures. He let go of his Commissioner role with the Boy Scouts at 77, when his mobility challenges and a move to be near his daughter made release necessary. He let go of being Santa at 81, when December arrived and he was in the hospital and rehab after a fall. He let go of walking when he was 83, after the fifth fall in a week resulted in a broken hip.

Long before I ever dreamed of becoming his caregiver, when I was still in Elementary School, Pop placed an ad on an actual bulletin board in 1701, a local comic book shop, seeking others interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons (it was the late 1970s). My father was the Dungeon Master to a number of teenage boys (including my brother and cousin), who would later tell me stories of how the days spent with Pop in his scripted fantasy world were among their favorite childhood memories. He provided a safe space for a group of young people who craved a sense of belonging.

I love that my Dad was a geek. I never had to suffer through the annoying noise of a single sporting event. Our adventures included attending Star Trek Conventions (that’s what they used to call Comicon and the like, back in the day). I had a pair of Enterprise dangly earrings, and a color glossy 8×10 photo of Mr. Spock playing his lyre. We saw Star Wars in the theater, though I can’t say if it was opening day (I was only 8, after all). I can, though, recall being really WOWed by the opening credits, let alone the rest of the film – perhaps my first image of a ‘strong female lead’.

Sometimes, he went along for the ride on things that my Mom wanted me to experience. He stayed in the hotel room, after driving two hours from home for my benefit – while Mom and I attended my first concert (I was 9 years old). We were there to see Andy Gibb, live in concert. Oh, how I adored Andy. Oh, how I adored my Dad.

I wasn’t really a ‘Daddy’s Girl’, though it might surprise you. He and I didn’t really have much in common while I was growing up. He was always there, and I always knew I was safe and loved… but I think he and my brother had more in common, as members of the Central Florida Atari Club at the birth of home computers, while my mother was taking me to concerts and igniting my passion for travel.

As I reflect on the last few years of our lives, I feel enormously grateful for the gift of every little thing that transpired since 2014. My parents bought a house up the street from mine. My father’s mobility was in decline. In 2017, I left the corporate world and was later introduced to 72T, the IRS loophole that enabled an early retirement.

In 2018, I was fully present to recognize the signs of the need to step into a more active role in managing the lives of my parents. The prognosis of a friend with cancer led me to the discovery of a path of study for End of Life Doula. Dad started falling down and needing help up. I was able to be there. I was able to acquire the tools we needed to serve his needs. I gradually learned the intimacy and sweetness of washing his hair and helping him dress. I took him to every doctor appointment, every ER visit, every transfer into and out of Rehab for recovery from falls and infections.

In 2020, when he broke his hip and found that he could no longer stand or walk (which had long been a struggle), I asked him to let me care for him as he had cared for others throughout his 30 year career with spinal injury survivors. And… in 2021, this July, when I finally had a weekend of respite, and he decided he was ready to go to the hospital… saying to me, “I just don’t know how I’ll get out of here.” Well… we all know how he got out of there. Sigh…

Last week, I took Mom to lunch with her Salon group. These are a remarkable group of women from the church, where my parents have been members since I was 2. I seem to recall that they formed during the last Bush Administration, to share fears and frustrations about politics, among other things. Throughout the first year of Covid-19, before the vaccine, they met weekly on Zoom, to discuss current events, politics, and how everyone was surviving life in pandemic. I went along as her driver, but was invited to stay.

They had all been expressive about appreciation for the care I had offered my parents. I was asked if the online studies had prepared me and served me well in caring for Dad. The truth was, the actual caregiving seemed to come naturally. I had never been a parent, and I had never been trained in any form of nursing, but somehow, I acquired the skills I needed, in order to keep dad safe and at-home. Much of it was initially terrifying. I worried about failing him, a lot. But, when I had no idea of how to change a diaper for an adult, or how to get someone into a sling for the hoyer lift, Pop and I watched a YouTube video, and set to the task of mastering the art of whatever was at hand.

I do feel, though, that the End of Life Doula studies did serve me well. The required reading alone, helped me shift my perspective of death from something to fear to something to honor. I was consciously walking my father through the end of his days. Each day that I arrived to serve my father, I was fully aware of the honor and privilege I had to do so. That I was financially free to dedicate my time and full attention to his care was a blessing I woke and spoke gratitude for each day. Having the capability and desire to give him the love and compassion everyone deserves at the end of life was a gift to him, to myself, and to my whole family. There were times when the stress of it all was overwhelming, but I was very careful not to wish it away. Not to… wish… him away. But when it was time to let him go… I knew how to respect his wishes and had the strength to do so.

I had trouble finding tears during those difficult days. I suspect my consciousness didn’t want the universe to find me ungrateful. I often found myself aching for his suffering, rather than my own burden. With so many health issues and physical limitations, he was pretty much always uncomfortable. Either from osteoarthritis or neuropathy. It was difficult to witness his suffering without being able to fix it. All I could do was hold space most of the time. But now that he’s gone… the tears come with grace and ease. I cry daily, even if just for a brief moment. The release is a relief, and I almost hope it won’t stop. It feels good to feel.

His 84th birthday has come and gone… without him. The one month anniversary of his death arrived unbidden. Just like so many of my friends and loved ones who lost beloveds before me… we are facing a whole calendar of ‘firsts’ without him. Meanwhile, we wonder if we will find the files of stories he started writing for me a decade ago, after he, Mom and I attended a journaling workshop at church. I told him that I would love for him to write down stories about his life, that I might have when he was gone. Mom reported that he was really into that project, and when he couldn’t type anymore, he ordered software to help.

In recent years, I asked him if he knew where I would find those files, and he never had an answer for me. I did have a moment of clarity after he broke his hip (I’d always heard it said that people don’t live very long after this particular event), and recorded a couple of hours of him answering my questions and telling stories from long ago. I haven’t played them back yet. I’m a little afraid to hear his voice, I guess. I miss his presence too much. I’m not sure what his disembodied voice will feel like inside my broken heart.

I still walk up the street to my parents’ house… Mom’s house, a few times a day. Mom doesn’t require the same level of care that Dad needed, and she’s been trying to make me feel like she can do things on her own, so that I can have a little more of a life of my own. But, its hard for both of us to let go. We are still working on developing our new normal. I have noticed that sitting in his vacant chair feels unnatural to me, even though it is better for my neck and back to do so when Mom and I watch a movie. I am still holding space for him.

I have had canvas prints made and they now hang in her living room and mine, to ensure his image remains present, even when his body is not. I talk to him and ask for his support each morning and evening… reminding him to show up in ways that I can understand. I speak his name to the wind (Daddy-Daddy), and remind him that he is missed. And sometimes, I feel him near.

A month ago, I woke to find that my phone had sent two text messages to two different friends. They were likely messages I had sent, but never went through… but the timing and the messages informed me otherwise. The first one was to a friend who had asked how we were doing, and I replied about my gratitude for a little extra care Pop would soon receive. The second message was brief… “I love you more.” Without a doubt, my father found a way to communicate, in a way that I could understand, his gratitude for all I had done to care for him, and exactly how he felt about me.

Mom and I are slowly getting to the other side of phone calls and paperwork to ensure Dad’s death benefits for her are secured. As we do so, she is moving toward ensuring the same for my brother and me, when she is gone.

But we are being gentle with ourselves. There are days that one task is handled, and then naps are had. Mom reminds me that she could drop dead tomorrow, and I insist that would be very inconvenient… and I am pleased each morning to receive a note on messenger that simply reads: “UP”. Keep them coming Mom! I’ll wait right here.

Thank you for walking this path with us. We love knowing you are here.

The Burden of Light

This week has been so heavy. It has been filled with monumental loss. Not unexpected, like the loss of my father just ten days earlier, but horrifyingly painful, nonetheless.

The ailing oak in my neighbor’s yard, which has blessed my property with glorious shade, beautiful wildlife, and extraordinary character for decades, was suddenly scheduled to come down.

My angel-neighbor, who had been fully present for the care of my parents during my (supposed) respite weekend, felt the stress of it all. She was warned of the insecurity of a tree with wounds that would not heal. There was risk to both of our homes. She was aware of how deeply connected her new neighbor was to the tree for which she had the responsibility to secure.

I knew it would be hard. I struggled with whether I could be fully present for the dismantling. It felt like the honorable thing to do… not to let a sacred being pass from the world without holding space and bearing witness. So, I stayed.

I missed the beginning of the work, due to a doctor appointment. I had one request for keeping a section intact, a branch that extended like a fork, where the hawk would perch, and the tufted titmice would gather to fly back and forth to the feeder. I would trim the leaves and create an art installation, so that it would remain in my life, in a new form. When I got home, that sacred limb was already in pieces on the ground.

The tree guy tried to comfort me. There will be more light. You’ll be able to grow grass. It is of no comfort to me, though. I don’t believe in grass. I find it to be a waste of valuable resources. My tree had been cultivated over decades to block out the light and the crowded lawn of the car-lover across the street. Its arms gave me the illusion of being in the middle of a woodland, with dappled daylight. The sun hurts my eyes, and I am struggling not to pull the curtains.

I sobbed uncontrollably the day Her trunk came down. Her branches showed no signs of decay. They were strong, and could have seemingly gone on for years. But the trunk did eventually reveal that deep wound. It was deep, dark, and smelled of rot. It revealed the threat, the risk, the reason for my suffering.

My sweet angel-neighbor felt every ounce of my suffering. I didn’t mean to make her hurt, too. I kept saying, “this isn’t logic, this is love.” I had given her my blessing for the removal, but I warned that I would grieve deeply. I was not wrong. I felt with my soul the teeth of the chainsaw chewing my flesh, and the descent of my broken body with each thud of falling wood.

The tree removal crew tore up my yard with machinery and severed limbs. It was a nightmare in every sense of a nature lover’s world view. Now that the work is nearly done, there is so much light that it hurts my eyes. It feels hot and unkind. I feel tired and defeated.

But I am also held and loved. Friends came on day one to say farewell to our tree, with a bottle of wine. Another friend came on day two to select bits of sacred wood, to later craft into a vessel of holding for my father’s cremains. He sat with me for a few hours, as I told stories of my family’s history on this land, near this tree. He held space for the loss of my father and the loss of my oak.

He listened as I worked through all of my own hard-earned wisdom. About how history has taught me that the worst things that have ever happened to me have mostly turned out to lead to the best things ever. That if I had not been catapulted out of one space, I wouldn’t have been open to receive when something wonderful came along. He understood the struggle of comparison between taking my father off of life support, and taking down a tree before it has fallen in a storm.

And my angel-neighbor… she got it all, too. She would never have chosen to do something that would cause me pain. She was being responsible to the safety of us both at the beginning of hurricane season. The tree guy seemed unavailable, and then he was suddenly onsite. We both knew it would be hard.

She came over with pizza and vodka the night before. 18 days apart in age, with a shared love of campy movies, we sang together every song in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The next morning, she held my hand as I said goodbye. We scattered rose petals for love, white sage for cleansing, and chips of morganite to heal trauma. We burned sage and three kings incense as an offering. We shared our gratitude and asked for forgiveness. I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.

In fact, she is the neighbor I never knew I longed for. She is kindred. She is another soulmate (I have a few). So, after a day of distress and uncontrollable sobbing… I walked out to greet her. I hugged her and told her that she is my soulmate, and that we will create something new together. She was already working on a plan, a friendship tree that we would select and plant between our two homes. We will create a path from her front door to mine. I will plant a tree for my father’s memory at the center of my yard to block out some of the offending light, and new life will blossom on this holy land. And the soul of our tree will live on in new ways.

I have kept many branches and bits, for I could not completely let go. A large segment of trunk will become an altar, and at the Winter Solstice or at Imbolc, the element of fire will be nourished in memorium. Everything will be okay.

It may seem like melodrama, to display such dismay over the loss of a tree, but I hope you’ll see it as an extension of my love. One who loves deeply must also grieve deeply. So much has been lost these last two weeks. And yet… so much has yet to be brought to birth, and I cannot wait to bear witness to what the universe has in store. Everything will be okay.

Today, there is a great big hole between our two homes. There is a flattened stump where a sacred being once stood. Like photos of my father, there are only scattered logs and sawdust. The absence of them both leaves me with the burden of light. Maybe I should close the curtains, and forget for a moment that they are gone. It feels like too much empty space. It is sometimes hard to breathe. Everything will be okay.

The tears arrive unexpected and unbidden these days. Not long ago, I could not cry, for it seemed I might appear to the universe to be ungrateful. I was always grateful! And now… tears flow freely. Because… I am grateful. I am grateful to have known such love and to have felt such love so deeply. I am grateful for the shadows these two larger than life beings cast upon my path.

Today, I hate the light. Today, the light is too heavy. Today, bright light illuminates terrible emptiness. I am grieving. I am heartbroken and filled with sorrow. But I am also loved deeply, and held compassionately. I am grateful. I am tired. I am at peace. Everything will be okay.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.

Respite to Remembrance

Thank you in advance, dear Universe, for allowing words to flow directly through my fingertips, for my mind is filled with grief and fog. There is too much importance to allow for escape. So, please… let this page hold space for me and my broken heart.

Just a little test escape… a weekend of caregiver respite, desired FOR me by my parents, and required by my body and soul, to enable my ability to continue serving with grace, ease, and joy. Three nights. It will only be three nights. I can trust that everything will be okay for three nights… in order to engage in self care. In order to pour my body into living waters, to be held in the womb of Mother Earth, in order to be reborn. Just three nights, to see how it goes, then possibly plan for longer.

For weeks, I planned and worried. A place to go that will feel healing. A selection of friends who stepped forward to serve ME. A stand-in caregiver to serve my father at each edge of the day. An extraordinary new neighbor, with an offer of support. It would only be three nights. I had an ominous feeling. My stomach didn’t feel quite right. There was a Tower in the reading, and a Four of Swords. Would it be the release and rest I needed, that would transform, or would it be… the thing I dare not speak. I worried that maybe we five wouldn’t get along. I worried that I should cancel. I worried about the loss of a large sum of non-refundable investment. I worried that we would get there, then be called home. I worried that something would happen, and I would be hours away. I worried that he would ask me to stay. I worried that he wouldn’t ask me to stay, even though he meant it.

There were signs, in the days before. Stepping out of my parents’ house on June 22, a snake greeted me atop the hedge. Then on July 8, my cats alerted me to a snake on the threshold of my own home, that I later discovered upon opening the door, was shedding its skin. I do not fear snakes, and feel that a sighting brings affirmation and reflection. I ask myself, in those rare moments, what might be the message? The assumption: Transformation is coming. Soon, that which has become limiting will be released and offer freedom.

Threshold Snakeskin

The day before departure, he wasn’t feeling well. There had been a couple of weeks of discomfort. We’d met virtually with the doctor, and followed guidance, but he didn’t feel good, and I struggled with leaving. I asked him to let me take him to the hospital. They could do tests, and he would have expert care in my absence. I could truly relax. His reply: “No, I’m not ready.” Respecting my parents’ autonomy as they age, has been a boundary I have worked not to cross… sometimes stepping on toes. My Mom calls me ‘bossy’, sometimes. I have decided to be a servant, for better or worse, and I mean to respect their every wish.

The day before departure, my brand new next door neighbor called me to say that she should meet my parents before I leave, so she could offer assistance while I was away. At some point, in recent months, I had asked the Universe to deliver the right people to enable my respite. I have come to know that my request was filled in abundance. (I hope this will inspire you to start asking for what you need, too.)

I can’t remember Friday morning. I believe I stopped by while he was still sleeping. My friends arrived for the long drive north. I texted his caregiver about my concerns, and what to look out for. Don’t forget his pills. Drinks with electrolytes in the fridge. [Even though I’m scared, I trust all shall be well.] I texted that night to be sure he got tucked in. The first full day I’d been away since Thanksgiving, when he came home from rehab after breaking his hip – now a virtual paraplegic. 11pm, and all was well.

At 5:30am on Saturday, my phone lights up with “Dad Needs You”. My brother programmed Alexa to call me at his command. I didn’t know how to program anything else, and instructed him to call me if Mom (who is hearing impaired) couldn’t hear him. I would reach out from where I was to deliver assistance. His voice: “Melissa, I’m ready to go to the hospital.”

By the time all calls had been made, all five of us were in the living room, four beloved friends holding space for me and my Pop. I called my Mom with no answer. I called my house sitter with no answer. I called my new angel-neighbor, who followed instructions to find my key and then my parents’ key, to open the door for paramedics, who would carry my father to safety. “Don’t you dare come home.”, my parents said. He is receiving the care he needs. You can rest.

My coffee was served with a shot of Kahlua. I was carried to the sacred spring where my body could receive cold healing. I made calls upon return to the log cabin in the woods. They were running tests. A UTI. Should probably see a Pulmonologist as an outpatient. Fierce daughter reply: “My father is homebound. While in the hospital, doctors come to him. He may not be discharged until we know why he can’t breathe.” He later threw up, though he’d not eaten all day. He told me by phone he didn’t feel good, but not to come home. I screamed and cried as my friends held me close. It was the hardest thing to do… to not go home.

He was admitted that night. My mom was delivered to and from the hospital by my angel-neighbor. More tests. They would care for him to enable my respite. They would call with updates (I had to call every time.) It was hard to stay, but impossible to leave. My body, my soul, my heart needed respite. I needed my friends to hold my soul together and feed me the love I had given to others. They, too, are my angels.

We built a fire, and asked the flames to cleanse and purify my sorrow, my fear, my fatigue, and that which was ailing my father. We made wishes with treated pinecones, which burned green and blue. I thanked the universe in advance for holding my father close, for making him feel safe, and for giving me the strength I needed for whatever would lie ahead. His caregiver visited him in the hospital on my behalf, bringing him his glasses and tablet. He’ll want his books and puzzles, after all… while the tests are done and doctors are seen.

On Monday morning, we packed up and drove home. I checked on Mom then went to the hospital. I told him that staying away was so hard. He didn’t want to eat. He drank from a cup I prepared for him, but just a bit.

[As I type, two Mourning Doves have perched upon the feeder outside my window. One is preening and looking at me, while the other eats from the feeder, looking up at me, too. I’ve never seen them do this before, usually gathering bits on the ground. Their symbolism from dying.lovetoknow.com reads: “The dove’s appearance to someone in mourning is often viewed as a visitation from the deceased loved one. The person in mourning senses a message of hope or encouragement from their deceased loved one. Others believe the mourning dove is a messenger sent by angels, spirit guides, or even God..” Seriously… they are still there. I see you.]

I went back to ‘tuck him in’ Monday night, and returned Tuesday for our ‘morning ritual’. He didn’t want to eat. He didn’t want to drink. He said: “I just don’t know how I’m going to get out of here.” I watched him rest. I told him I would come back after a nap. As he did every day, he said: “I’ll wait right here.”

I was preparing to return to the hospital when the phone rang. The nurse said he was being taken to ICU. His oxygen was in the low 80s. I didn’t get to see him. I waited. Visiting hours ended. I called to say, “I’ll wait right here.”

The doctor said, he had given them permission to intubate and put him on a ventilator to work out the problem. We learned he had severe pneumonia. I told my brother to come. I informed my father’s five siblings. I went home to tell my Mom.

On Wednesday, my brother and sister-in-law drove up, as my father’s only out-of-state brother drove down with his wife. In the rest of the hospital, Covid restrictions meant that a patient could only have two visitors per day. Gratefully, ICU patients could have two visitors at a time.

We sat by his side, watching the machine do its thing. I remembered how it was reported that many Covid patients did not survive coming off of the ventilator. They assured me this wasn’t Covid, so there was hope.

My parents have gifted my brother and me with preparedness. When they moved closer to me, they updated their will, gave each of us power of attorney, established the line of healthcare advocacy, and advance directive / five wishes.[The male cardinal has just stopped by the feeder for a bite – my symbol for my love language – ‘showing up’. Thank you, love, for showing up today.]

In my father’s notes, he declared that his wish was not to prolong death. He listed what he considered to be life-support treatment to include “major surgery, blood transfusion, dialysis, antibiotics, procedures, devices, medications, (other than to keep me pain free) should not be used to prolong life. I have lived my life with love and service to others, made my own mistakes, suffered my own pains. When it is time to leave, I only wish to do so with love and dignity.” He marked the box if he was close to death that read: “I do not want life-support treatment. If it has been started, I want it stopped.”

I discussed these things with the doctor. We agreed to give it some time, while the family gathered. On Thursday, as my brother and I sat with Dad, before he and his wife would return home to care for my sister’s beloved mother with Alzheimers, and their teenage granddaughter, I heard a beautiful voice from a nearby room.

Out stepped a woman with a guitar, and so I inquired. By prescription, patients in ICU could have music therapy. Lexa offered to give therapy in advance and get permission later.

[The tufted titmice are now here… more than I’ve seen before. Usually 4 at a time, but today at least 6 or 8 (“The prayers that you are speaking over your life are heard and the Tufted Titmouse is a reminder that blessings are forthcoming. It is a symbol of faith. And an encouraging message for you to keep it.”). And the female cardinal is peering down from the oak branch.]

The therapist asked for a favorite song or genre, and I told her that he prefers folk music. She found John Denver, and when I heard the first title, I knew it was right. A life-long friend of mine used to come to our house for safe haven when we were young, and she had been distressed that Dad was so ill while she was traveling for work. The song Lexa performed for Pop was Sunshine On My Shoulders. I recorded and I cried. She dedicated it not only to Pop, but to my brother and me. As hard as it was for me not to leave respite, I know it was hard for he and his wife to go back home. Seeing how music affected Pop, I set up his tablet to stream the Folk Music channel on Amazon. I told him I would see him tomorrow, but he didn’t say, “I’ll wait right here.”

On Friday, I felt a shift. I was talking to Dad as I walked about the house, pouring my morning gratitude into coffee. “Thank you in advance, dear angels, for holding my father in the light of love, and for guiding me toward right action.” I pulled a card from Alana Fairchild’s Journey of Love Oracle, and the message was, SOFT. It was number 47 and the message was on page 111. It read as follows:

“A sanctuary bathed in soft light, your heart is receptive, inviting, and gentle. It brings strength to the weary, comfort to the lonely, and healing to the wounded. It is a magnet for all that is needed – for you, your beloveds, your world. Don’t imagine you must always be the fighter, going against the part of your nature that longs for harmony and peace. This is your time to be soft. To surrender. To let the subtle waves of the heart invite love in, and to receive. In doing so, you will give so much.

This oracle brings you a message of peace. Surrender now. Be soft. Even just for this moment of quiet reflection. You have perhaps been working too hard at growing and living. Take some moments to replenish and allow the divine to help you, dear one. Be soft so you are receptive to the Divine. It is when we let go that we truly perceive the obstacles that lie between us and oneness with the divine lover. Let go and perceive that the divine lover is already awakening in your heart.

You are the softness he desires
You help light his way
You nurture all
That he holds dear
Though tempest clouds dismay

And in the quiet of the storm
His gentleness comes through
And in the shelter of his arms
His heart is there for you”

When I got to Dad’s room, his skin was red with fever, and his heartrate was more than double its norm. They were allowing him to breathe on his own with the ventilator only offering oxygen. This, they said, was the process of trying to take someone off of the ventilator… letting them strengthen, then rest, then strengthen some more.

I texted my mother, my brother, and my father’s siblings, and I told them that I felt we should let him go. Though it pained us all, we were in agreement. We chose not to betray him. We chose to honor his wishes. We are capable of hard things. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. I spoke to two doctors and his nurses. If we took him off life support, he would not survive. If we kept him on for weeks to see if medication and machines could manufacture a new beginning, we would risk bringing him back to the surface, only to suffer the continued pain of life inside a broken, 84 year old body. He would eventually be moved out of ICU, and placed where the care would not be ‘intensive’, but lacking.

Daddy’s siblings came to see him and to say goodbye. They felt the decision was the right action. Since he is the eldest of seven, they were saying farewell to a brother they had known every single day of their lives. We talked about our history of lost loves, regrets, and signs. My Uncle told me that as he and his wife read my post that morning about the oracle card I had drawn, his wife had opened her wallet to reveal their room key, partially obscured in its pocket, it read: “It’s Time To Let Me Go”.

Between visitors, I read to my father. On his first day on the ventilator, I read to him poetry by David Whyte and John O’Donahue. And then I read him my latest blog post about the tree in my neighbors yard that will soon be removed. As I read those words to him, I realized that every word of Deep Grief and the Ailing Oak, had been written for him. Seriously, EVERY. WORD.

When Mom visited Dad, it was hard. They’d lived together for 60 years, and didn’t really talk much when he was not unconscious. She wasn’t sure what to say when it seemed he wasn’t listening. But I assured her that he could hear us. That night, she sent me a message that read: “You know what Dad likes? Winnie-the-Pooh.” And so, that is how I spent the last full day with my Father… reading to him the book that he once read to me. I remember the four of us circled in the living room, taking turns reading chapters as I was learning to read.

After five chapters, I reminded Daddy that when his body was gone from us, he was instructed to haunt us. My brother and I both requested that he show up to us in ways that we could understand. Every morning when I lifted him out of bed and into his chair, he insisted on listening to his music. With a love of Folk Music, I found a station and pressed play. Here were the first three songs that played, before visiting hours ended, and I was forced to leave him behind… hearing him say: “I’ll wait right here.”: Sailing by Christopher Cross – “Just a dream and the wind to carry me, and soon I will be free.” Followed by, Just the Way You Are by Billy Joel – “I said I love you, that’s forever, and this I promise from the heart. I couldn’t love you any better. I love you just the way you are” And the last song my father sent to me before they made me leave was, You Are So Beautiful by Joe Cocker – “You’re everything I hoped for. You’re everything I need. You are so wonderful to me.”

Okay Pop… music it is. You will communicate to me, in part, through music. I’m listening.

That night, I came home and asked our friends and loved ones to hold my father close. I shared the words of Phowa Practice from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and asked them if they would say this prayer, or one of their own, on his behalf. [We are wealthy in our friends.] I asked one friend to drive my mother and me to the hospital the next day, and my life-long friend flew in to stay the night and say good-bye to the father-figure that she deserved. I spoke to the owner of our local crematorium, whom I discovered during End of Life Doula studies a few years earlier. We shared deep, meaningful conversation, and more than one synchronicity. I decided to commit the sacred vessel of my father to her care, when it was time.

I probably don’t have to write down for posterity that it was impossible to sleep, or how a body holding grief and empathy for the dying feels not a single inch of comfort. Everything is clenched from scalp to toes. The grieving become the embodiment of pain and suffering.

On Saturday morning, we moved through thickness and nausea. Not a moment spent without question. Is he ready to go? Are we ready to let go? How will we survive this day? Are we making a mistake? Will he suffer? Is he suffering? Will we collapse under the weight of not knowing? Have I misread the signs? From his advance directive and five wishes, have I betrayed him by waiting this long? Have I betrayed him by not waiting long enough? Will my knees fall out from under me? Have I prepared the right words for his soul to hear? Will he follow them into the light of all that is? Will he be stubborn and choose to remain in suffering, just to be with us for a while longer… like that Thursday before my trip, when I asked him to let me take him to the hospital? He is the one on the ventilator, so why am I the one that can’t breathe? Daddy-daddy… I love you.

We arrived at the hospital and our friends and companions said their good-byes, and we all stepped out after the paperwork was signed and respiratory therapist came in to remove all of the tubing that filled my father’s mouth, throat and nose. My mother and I returned alone, and I called my brother and sister-in-law, who wanted to be with us, though they could not be physically present. The nurse would come in to ensure Dad was comfortable. There was a gurgle of moisture in his throat. His eyes were closed, but when we spoke, he would turn his head. [Should I have opened his eyes for him? Did I fail him again?]

I spoke the words of Phowa, and asked that he know he was forgiven for anything that he may have thought or done, and that we hoped he would forgive us. When my mother spoke those words [“I forgive you, and I hope you forgive me.”], he turned his head toward her and his mouth changed shape, though he could not speak. In that gesture, I know there was forgiveness between them.

Dad’s brother, who had driven down when he’d heard the news, joined us in the room. He was committed to being present for all of us. I read a poem shared by a friend, written by Byron Ballard. The words are stirring and felt just right. We looked out the window, and the puffy clouds created a blue opening in the sky. I read these words and invited my father to go through the portal… just like in Stargate. It is open and ready for your next adventure.

Words of Byron Ballard

[Beloved brother, husband, father and friend:] You have come to the end of this pathway in a journey to which we bear witness.

You have come to the end of a pathway that is barred with a gate and a door.

May this door open swiftly and silently. May this gate give you a moment’s grace in which to rest your spirit before you venture through.

We stand here with you, as your companions, as your family, for you are beloved. But, for now, we must remain here. We cannot go with you to this old land. Not yet.

For you will see the Ancestors. You will see the Beloved Dead. You will walk among the Divine Beings that guide and nurture us all. You go to dwell in the lands of summer and of apples, where we dance forever youthful, forever free. We can hear the music in the mist, the drums that echo our sad hearts. We can see your bright eyes and your smile.

And so, we open the gate. We push back the door. We hold the gate open. We glance through the doorway, and with love and grief and wonder… we watch you walk through. Hail the Traveler! All those remembered in love, in honor, live on. Farewell, o best loved, o fairest, farewell.

I re-read to him the slightly edited letter that I thought I was writing to my ailing oak tree, but found it to be truly for him.

Beloved, sacred, holy being of earth and sky,

Thank you for loving us. Thank you for extending your beautiful branches into our lives. You have long stood sentinel near our home, offering shade and shelter for myself and many. Every summer, you host the return of our screaming cicadas and I am transported to childhood with memories of freedom. As years have passed, you have lost limbs and branches, and I have feared the day when your leaves would drop in the spring, and not return. And yet, you have continued to bloom… thriving through adversity… a body dis-eased but stubborn.

Every day, you remind me to thrive. You validate my own choice to nurture and support the lives and well-being of others. My own scars, bulges, and flaws are held in the light of love, because I have learned to love myself as I have loved you, even when gravity pulls you downward.

In this moment, we cannot fathom your absence. When you are gone, we will feel empty. Many will become temporarily homeless and afraid. Cicadas will rise from slumber and discover the lack of you. The view from our window will be naked and bright, and our hearts will be curtained no longer with branches and leaves, but with sorrow and longing.

I hope you will forgive me for being powerless to save you. I forgive you for not being strong enough to ensure your safety. I love you for the roots that have broken concrete, reminding me that Mother Nature is more powerful than anything man can do to limit Her progress. I love you for the trunk and branches of holding, which have been the playground of squirrels that have long entertained the cats who live here. I love you for your leaves of change that remind me that everything is temporary – as old leaves fall away to reveal fresh new growth each February.

Everything is temporary. Everything is temporary. And so, we must also say goodbye. We have to let you go. Thank you for loving us and for inviting us to love you back. We will miss you when you are gone… every. single. day. But we will also remember you with gratitude and great pleasure, for the memories you have provided. New growth will come again, you have shown us that truth. And just as you have embraced our home and property with your kindness, love and protection… we will be open to receive.

Because of your love, we have no choice but to love again. We love you. Thank you. Hail and Farewell.

I chanted the healing chant and the river is flowing chant, that I once sang to my goddess babies in their mothers’ bellies. I played a piece of music a member of our beloved church community shared with me that morning. The nurse came in to bring him more comfort. The gurgling was still there, and she left to ask the doctor about giving him another dose of something to dry it. My uncle stepped away for a few moments.

I pushed play on the Amazon Folk Channel I’d been playing each night when I left him. It had stopped with the question, ‘are you still listening?’ Wondering how long his body would choose to hold onto his tethered soul, I hoped it would bring comfort. And here… is what had been waiting to be played all day… The Air that I Breathe by the Hollies – To my mother, my brother, to my sister-in-law, and to me… my father sent this message: “All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.” We laughed and we cried, for the irony of a beautiful being whose lungs could not hold oxygen. We watched the number growing smaller and smaller, and we were all honored and heartbroken to bear witness to the grand departure of our beloved Traveler as he walked through the gate. It was 1:52pm at his last visible breath, and 2:02pm at his final heartbeat. My new Angel number… 2:02. When I see it, I will know he is near.

“Peace came upon me and it leaves me weak, so sleep silent angel, go to sleep.”

Thank you for walking this path with us. There is a long, long way yet to go on this journey of grief, and we know we are not alone.

I love you, daddy. Send me the songs and the signs, please. I’ll wait right here.

Deep Grief and the Ailing Oak

For nearly 25 years, I have dwelled within the shade of two oak trees that stand sentinel at the front edges of my yard. Neither are the healthiest of trees; likely accidental volunteers that were permitted to take root and reach for the sky. The one that sits mostly in my neighbor’s yard is particularly special to me. Its branches reach nearly across the entire breadth of my house.

It is a squirrel super highway leading to the neighboring oak, and a diverse bird haven. The branch I spy directly out of my living room window is a perfect perch for our local hawk, and its leaves dance with the grasp of tiny tufted titmice, who grab seeds from the feeder before returning to a loving embrace. There is so much life happening in and around this beautiful being. I celebrate it daily.

Hawk in Upper Branch

Having recently purchased the house next door, my neighbor has had a number of people over to assist with projects required for a new beginning, and each has mentioned a concern for the wellness of the tree that also stretches limbs over her roof. This is a considerable worry in the land of annual hurricane season. To be honest, this beloved tree has been dropping bits of rotted limbs for many years. The Water Oak, we were told, tends to rot out in the middle, becoming a split risk.

So, I informed her that I would grieve deeply, but that I would offer my blessing for her to do the thing I could not do… tree removal.

Yesterday, grief settled into my core. I started researching sacred ceremony for the loss of a tree. I found a beautiful offering from another wordpress blogger, Druid’s Garden (link below). I stepped into the morning air, and spoke words of adoration to this glorious being, and took photos from every angle. I cannot fathom the emptiness that will be left behind. I cried for our pending parting, for the home and shelter that will be taken from so many creatures, and for the horror of chainsaws approaching to tear into diseased and struggling flesh. The thought of it haunts me.

https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/druid-tree-workings-holding-space-and-helping-tree-spirits-pass/amp/

To come to terms with this inevitable departure, I’ve been considering how we help our pets to move on, when their bodies are no longer serving their spirits. It is an act of compassion. I have regretted waiting too long, to make that impossible call to the vet. Extra hours of suffering that I might have prevented would be that thing… if I could do one thing differently… it would be releasing my selfish hold to allow the arrival of peace.

The most memorable wisdom from studying the End of Life Doula path was Stephen Jenkinson’s chilling words about palliative care prolonging death. Much of his book, Die Wise was sometimes shocking to me, but I took to heart that I would not choose to prolong death, when that time comes for me. My neighbor and I discussed with the tree expert possible plans for making her house safer, but I realize now that anything other than complete removal would be doing what I would not choose for myself. But still… I grieve. Further, I reflect on the five statements of letting go from Ira Byok’s book, Dying Well. “Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. Good bye.”

This song was playing on Pandora when I entered the house following my tear-filled reverie. Spiral Dance, my favorite Australian band, sing about The Oak and its many gifts to us. “For shelter and shade has the oak tree grown. The ship, the cradle, the hearth and home. Arms so strong they hold the sky. Stood so long that the heart can’t die.” My heart is singing a dirge, but The Druid’s Garden suggests something different… music that eases suffering, and I feel this song will be on my personal playlist. Our playlist; for the tree and me.

I don’t know how much time we have left together, but I have started tying cords, ribbons, and bells to branches within my reach. They represent adornments of my gratitude. When the time is right, I will scatter offerings of dried rose petals and white sage at the base of its trunk, sending my love into deep roots, which have kept us safe through many storms. I will scatter stone beads of Morganite, which will bring healing of trauma to the land which will have lost so much.

When I binge watched Marie Condo’s series on Tidying Up, I was inspired to write a love letter to my home, based on her tradition of greeting a home with gratitude upon entering. I would also offer this gesture to my beloved oak.
https://beethelight.blog/2019/01/04/ode-to-sanctuary/

Beloved, sacred, holy being of earth and sky,
Thank you for loving us. Thank you for extending your beautiful branches into my life. You have long stood sentinel near my home, offering shade and shelter for myself and many. Every summer, you host the return of our screaming cicadas and I am transported to childhood with memories of freedom. As years have passed, you have lost limbs and branches, and I have feared the day when your leaves would drop in the spring, and not return. And yet, you have continued to bloom… thriving through adversity… a body dis-eased but stubborn.
Every day, you remind me to thrive. You validate my own choice to nurture and support the lives and well-being of others. My own scars, bulges, and flaws are held in the light of love, because I have learned to love myself as I have loved you, even when gravity pulls you downward.
In this moment, I cannot fathom your absence. When you are gone, I will feel empty. Many will become temporarily homeless and afraid. Cicadas will rise from slumber and discover the lack of you. The view from my window will be naked and bright, and my heart will be curtained no longer with branches and leaves, but with sorrow and longing. I hope you will forgive me for being powerless to save you. I forgive you for not being strong enough to ensure your safety. I love you for the roots that have broken concrete, reminding me that Mother Nature is more powerful than anything man can do to limit Her progress. I love you for the trunk and branches of holding, which have been the playground of squirrels that have long entertained the cats who live here. I love you for your leaves of change that remind me that everything is temporary – as old leaves fall away to reveal fresh new growth each February.
Everything is temporary. Everything is temporary. And so, I must also say goodbye. I have to let go. Thank you for loving me and for inviting me to love you back. I will miss you when you are gone… every. single. day. But I will also remember you with gratitude and great pleasure, for the memories you have provided. New growth will come again, you have shown me that truth. And just as you have embraced my home and property with your kindness, love and protection… I will be open to receive.
Because of your love, I have no choice but to love again. I love you. Thank you. Hail and Farewell.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.

Gratefully Exhausted

I cried… first thing this morning as I saw images of his departure. My whole being relieved with a sigh, a shudder, a sob. I was bullied as a child, and the last four years have felt like being on high alert, awaiting the final, fatal blow from an abuser.

That 73 Million countrymen and neighbors would have brought such a beast back into my home, after witnessing the bruises and scars of the last four years, gleefully handing him a bat to finish the job, remains something to be dealt with. Forgiveness must come, for we know it will only ooze beneath the surface – and look what happens when disrespect and loathing is left to fester – January 6, 2021 – another day of infamy. But still… accountability is necessary for forgiveness, and healing comes as words meet action. Trust has been diminished, but hope has been rekindled.

A woman who was once a boss, recently died. She remains an important part of my life’s story, despite having been one of those bullies and abusers. Her behavior and actions led to my departure from a workplace I thrived in for a decade. As time passed, I could see the beauty of that blessing. Her tyranny pushed me forward. What started as defiance to make a point to her, became the open door through which I walked into a new and better life. So, I have said a prayer of gratitude to her departed soul. Thank you for revealing to me that life can be so much better.

I feel that these last four years have been that sort of lesson for this beloved nation of ours. Pulling back the veil of denial and darkness. No longer willing to sit idle in apathy while our fellow Americans are brutalized, bullied, and abandoned – we are invited to ‘rise by lifting others’ [R. Ingersoll]. As we witnessed in our pandemic stillness that which we could not turn away from, it was up to those of us in privileged (if unintentional) ignorance to educate ourselves, to be vulnerable with our truth, to seek the forgiveness of those whom our lack of consciousness may have harmed, and to do everything in our power to make it right.

Those first tears of the morning were a release and a relief. My body informed me of the tension she has held these four long years. The abuser has left the building. Thank you for revealing to us that we can be so much better.

Millions will surely write of today’s Inauguration. I feel that my words could never do it justice. I felt a sense of pride and gratitude to see that though it was far from normal, sacred ceremony continues to be a balm for healing… even when masked and physically distanced.

Every choice was made with intention and purpose, and every element delivered hope and glory. I cried… a lot.

Our country should have celebrated our first female president in January 2017. I am certain it will be revealed that the popular vote would not have been her only win, as more and more truths are revealed in the years ahead. But without the chaos of the last four years, I’m not sure that we would have progressed as much as we are about to. So many of us would have missed the opportunity for enlightenment. Gotta love that pendulum swing!

There’s so much more to say and to consider. We now have a President who is responsible and compassionate, and our first (but not our last) female Vice President, who is brilliant and strong. I will not pretend that they will always be the perfect leaders, but I am certain they will lead with mindful compassion for people and the planet, with truth and integrity at the core of each decision.

I believe the world is slayed by the poetic perfection of Ms. Amanda Gorman, whose words carry the weight and the hope for where we’ve been and where we wish to be. I am physically and emotionally spent from four years of fight or flight survival. We all deserve a hot bath and a nap today!

So, here’s to the end of an error, and to the light of new beginnings. May there be accountability and justice, woven with healing and growth. May we continue the hard work of creating a more perfect union bolstered by equality AND equity. Let this new decade finally begin, and let respect and caring help bring this pandemic to a close, as we grieve those we’ve lost, and lift those who continue to fight for the lives of those they took an oath to serve and save.

Thank you for walking this path with me. Please stay safe and well, for you are sacred. I love you!

The Empty Calendar

Today, I pulled down the 2020 calendar to be replaced.

It was a gift from my financial advisor, featuring paintings from The Saturday Evening Post. Once upon a time, I would have passed on such a gift, seeking something more me… with artwork from a Pre-Raphaelite artist or Mary Engelbreit, but since I owe my current lifestyle, in part, to the compassionate insight of my financial advisor, I liked the idea of holding him close. (Thanks Tony!)

What a strange thing… to flip through the pages of a bygone calendar year like the one we’ve just narrowly escaped. To be honest, the world I manage resides mostly on google, but the big things would usually go on the wall calendar. Like a visit from my brother and his family, a trip that might take me out of town, or a workshop I designed to share with others.

In this case, January reminded me of a friend’s knee surgery, Second Sunday Supper, Book Group, and my 51st birthday. February boasted my second annual Seeds of Intention Workshop (where we would assess the different areas of our lives to determine where we wanted to focus our intentions for… the year ahead), filing my taxes, and what would be the last time we would get to see my brother and his wife, who had come up from South Florida.

Then, I flip to March. It’s kind of eerie to look at. There’s a trip to San Antonio for a wedding, followed by a countdown. 14 days to wear a mask each time I entered my parents’ home. Somewhere in this wordpress account, is an unfinished post about the beautiful wedding I attended. It remains unfinished… much like the calendar.

Page after page of 2020 is blank. Void of significant pronouncements. Right up until October 20, which reads: “Dad Broke Hip”. Then, “Pop to Rehab”. In November… there was one weekend marked with something completely different – a two-day escape with a friend to Merritt Island. Then the day before Thanksgiving, “Dad Discharge”. December, again, is blank.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I did nothing with my days. They were filled with enormous care, and loads of love. I have no regrets for the extreme caution we have chosen, in order to keep ourselves and those we love safe and well (not to mention those we don’t know, but care for just the same). Many of those days were filled with learning and growing, with spiritual deepening, with virtual connectedness, and the acquisition of new tools and new skills in the art of eldercare. We miss our people, but so far… though physically distant, we are still all present and accounted for.

But so many are not as lucky as we. Those blank calendar pages remind me of all the lives that were brimming with to-dos and check marks of accomplishment, with no more pages to be flipped. My heart aches for those who have lost loved ones this year, whether to this virus, to dis-ease, despair, or the horrors of brutality. I grieve not only for those who were unable to have the hand of a loved one holding theirs at departure, but for those they have left behind, without the opportunity to be surrounded and held by those who love them, each longing to ease suffering in the smallest, but most meaningful way.

I remember feeling so lucky that Dad had remained relatively well all year, because I couldn’t imagine him being in a hospital or rehab facility, should there be covid restrictions prohibiting visitors. When that fifth fall in a week broke his upper femur, I was relieved to know that he could at least have one visitor each day.

My parents and I have stopped doing the whole gift thing for Christmas. So, this year I bought us the box-set of the 90’s TV series, Northern Exposure. We’ve been watching two episodes each evening. It is a delightful way to end each day. A gift that keeps on giving.

One of the episodes we watched tonight was an old favorite. I think of it each year around the solstice, as the town gathers to celebrate the birth of the Sun, through the indigenous tale of the Raven. The episode takes us through the lives of our beloved community, each unique and fantastic… valued for their individuality and authenticity. Each honors the season of light in their own way, and their community holds space for all of it.

I could weep to remember that this world my parents and I are diving into, with intense longing, is fictional… but frankly, it reminds me of what it means to be Unitarian. I was blessed to grow up, not in a dogmatic religion that excludes the ideas of others, but in a loving community that honors all traditions, and has space at the table for everyone, including Mother Earth, herself.

In a year that has made consumerism feel rather foolish, I was struck by a quote from the town DJ and philosopher, Chris in the Morning: “Happiness doesn’t come from having things… it comes from being a part of things.”

Being a part of several sacred circles this year has delivered great light and joy, in the darkest of times. The big events on the 2020 calendar were few, but commitments to weekly or monthly gatherings on Zoom were consistent and sustaining. We all long to gather again, in safe spaces that are free from shields and obstacles, but what I know for sure is that we can do hard things. We can love others enough to keep them safe for a few more months… or several, if necessary.

As I hung the new calendar where the old one used to be, I opened it to a blank January. So far, it is marked for Inauguration Day and my 52nd Birthday. These pages are holding space for hope. One day, I will get to mark a square with ‘Vaccines’ for the three of us. And then, maybe… at some point… my brother and his family will get a few squares. That will be something to celebrate, indeed.

Thank you for walking this path with me. I am grateful for your presence in my life. Please know that if you are walking through your own darkness, or living with the ache of longing due to a loss that cannot be whispered or spoken, you are held firmly in the light of love. May the Raven soon carry the light of the Sun to brighten your heart and sky. I love you.

Centering Our Souls at Samhain

Part Four of a Manifestation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing for a New Beginning by John O’Donohue

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

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

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

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

Persephone’s Passage

A Journey Into the Underworld

Part Three of a Manifestation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misty mountain morning…

Final Harvest

PART ONE OF A MANIFESTATION STORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold night, warm hearts

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

Letting it All Fall Away at Autumn Equinox

Yesterday was my sixth workshop in a series of eight that are inspired by the changing seasons of the earth and the cyclical nature of our lives.

I’m making them up as I go, and once I finish one workshop, I start ruminating on the next, hold myself open to receive inspiration, and then wait for things to fall into place.

The title of the workshop was obviously shaped by the activity that moves the season, the changing colors and falling leaves. Twice in my life I received this very message channeled through two different sacred vessels. The first time was in 1999, during a drawing down the moon ritual with my Tribe. The message I received was to “open up and let a piece of you fall away.” The second time was in 2005, when I sat next to a medium at a Broadway show in NYC. The message that finally hit home was, “All you have to do is fall in love with yourself and it will all fall away.” That set me on a path to learn to love someone I had loathed. I had to cut the cords attached to a false belief planted long ago.

One of the themes that recurs in these workshops is that we move through a constant dance of gathering in and letting go. Since one of my Sacred Gardeners had mentioned a resistance to the idea of having love in her life again, after losing her beloved to cancer two years ago… inspiration was found. We knew that her wife would want her to find love again, but that the way she felt was likely connected (corded) to her own vow of loyalty and dedication. So, our task for the Autumn Equinox was clear… to cut some cords and let them all fall away.

The first step, is to identify the cords we carry and to whom or to what they are attached. The following is the meditation I wrote to lead us toward discovery.

MABON CORD MEDITATION

In the tarot, the Death card symbolizes change or transformation. It reminds us that everything changes… one season passes into another, the mother becomes the crone… without the dying leaves, we would fail to witness the rich beauty of autumn, which briefly awes our senses with a multitude of colors and textures before each leaf falls to the ground, transforming into rich fertile ground that will feed the roots of the tree from which they’ve fallen.

Throughout our lives, we come to our own autumn season – when it is time to reflect on the beauty and the darkness of what has gone before… to honor those moments and lessons, to give thanks – even for the darkness (for it has shown us the light), to let them gently fall away, and to prepare for what is yet to come. Remember that once the leaves fall from the tree of life, there is a period of rest, followed by the surprising POP of new growth, so vibrant and stunning, stark contrast from the nakedness of dormancy, that we cannot help but celebrate the utter joy of new life being presented.

Before we are able to witness the freshness of spring, like the trees release the parts of themselves which no longer serve them in original form, we must let go of what we have carried far too long. We must take the time to review each wound, each situation, each trauma within our personal history. Then, we can choose to drop the hurt, the heartbreak, the diagnosis, the disappointment, the false identities, and let them all fall away.

So, lets go deep for a moment and see what we can find. Find your comfort and close your eyes. Breathe in the light of love, and exhale apprehension. Inhale the warmth of love, and release the tension your body is holding. Fill your belly with the divine breath of life, and push out any worries that keep you from being fully present.

Now, picture yourself in the center of a lush forest at the peak of Autumn’s full color. The trees that surround you are diverse and precious, just like each of us. They send their roots deep into Mother Earth, and we follow their lead. The roots of our feet reach into the earth below and glide downward through rich soil, through quenching aquifer, beyond the protective crust and into the molten core. We feel a surge of strength and warmth rise up from this sacred place, as it fills every cell of our bodies with a golden glow of healing light.

From above, the sparkly white light of all that is falls gently upon your crown, and you open to receive the light of wisdom which easily flows into you, spiraling and mingling with the golden glow from below. Your entire being is alight with insight and inspiration. And as the light expands outward from your body, you become aware of ethereal cords that are coming from the trees that surround you, and are attached to your being. How many can you see? Are there many or few? Are they radiant or dull? Are they different colors? To what parts of you are they attached? Are they pulling at your heart, like past betrayals by others, or worse… unfortunate moments when you betrayed yourself? Are they pulling at your sacrum, like false or limiting beliefs about who you really are that were planted by the accusations and expectations of others? Take some time to recognize, acknowledge, and name the people, the experiences, the moments that allowed you to give away your own power, to accept something less than what you deserved, to be harmed by another – physically or emotionally. See the cords that have left you fearful or insecure, feeling unsafe or not good enough. Are they attached to a parent, a teacher, a childhood bully? As you follow the cord from where it is attached to your body, follow the sight of it as it moves through space and into one of the trees that surrounds you. Now, allow that tree to take the shape of the one who is corded to you.

Know that you are completely safe in this sacred space, and that you are well-grounded within the earth and protected by the light of truth. As you look into the eyes of those to whom you are corded, consider what you have learned from this connection. Take a moment to speak aloud what comes to mind. How have you limited yourself through this bond? How have you grown? {long pause}

For each cord you find coming from your body, follow it to a different tree, a different wound, a different situation, a different experience, a different person… and address each one with clarity and confidence. Realize that you have grown stronger with each insight. [long pause]

Now that you have identified what has bound you and held you back from expansion and forward momentum… feel your spirit lifting with a sense of lightness. Turn to each tree standing around you, bearing a cord that moves through you, and thank it for the lessons learned, for the protection each wound may have built, for the kindness you learned to offer others because you didn’t want them to hurt as you did, for the caution you learned which might have prevented future harm. Let each know that you are grateful for these moments which once bound you or propelled you, and through that cord that comes from your being, send the healing light of love and wish them well. And as that light reaches each tree in your circle of cords, which looks something like a web, witness each tree losing its leaves, as they change from shades of green, to red, to yellow, to brown, and allow peace to come as each leaf floats gently to the ground. Know that what goes to ground becomes fertile earth from which you will grow more fully into the divine being you were always meant to be.

So here’s to the coming of autumn… to the beauty, to the sorrow, to the gratitude, to the slumber, to the waking, and to the rebirth. Gather it into a great big cushy pile and fall back into it. Bury yourself in the memories… and finally… emerge with a smile, brush yourself off, and move forward… into the light.

When you are ready, open your eyes and return to this sacred circle.

As we emerged from the meditation, a few Sacred Gardeners shared that they were surprised to find so many cords and to discover multiple layers. They spoke of cords that were attached through generations of a family line. I led the meditation and my focus was on holding space for others, so what I shared was what I had first learned about cords from an intuitive life coach a few years ago. She could see that the circumstances of my first adult relationship kept me tightly bound to the man who had cheated on me while we lived together when I was twenty. There were at least ten cords that she could see, and though I had once been a skeptic of things I could not see with my eyes, I could easily identify the many attachments I had carried for nearly thirty years.

Attached to that betrayal was a belief that I could not trust men, that I could not trust myself to choose well, that I did not deserve the loyalty of a man, that I was not worthy of being loved, that I was undesirable, and a whole host of other bullshit that just got heavier and heavier each decade. As soon as I was alerted to the presence of these cords, I set to the work of severance. So, I wrote a ritual to help my Sacred Gardeners to do the same for themselves.

SEVERING THE TIES THAT BIND US TO THE PAST

Here we stand in sacred circle, in which we dwell in perfect trust. Healing light surrounds us and sustains us. Here we are held with love. We stand firmly planted with roots sown deep. We are connected to the core of Mother Earth and we are protected by source energy which surrounds us and flows through us.

We call upon creation, the energy of all that is, great spirit, god, goddess, universal light energy, elementals, spirit guides, ancestors, animal totems, angels, the energetic source that is all we are, all we see, all we feel, and all we imagine and cannot fathom.

We each stand confident in our intention of cutting the invisible cords that keep us tied to the past, to unhealthy relationships, to false beliefs, to fear based thought, to physical, emotional, and spiritual traumas that hold us in a state of wounded protection – and we ask for your presence, your guidance, and your support in safe and complete severance.

All that you are, all that we are, and all that is beyond our imagining – we bid thee hail and welcome.

Each Gardener stands in center of circle addressed by the sword of surrender:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once each dedicant has released and severed their cords, we all circle up for a healing chant. As we sing, we each visualize a golden healing light sparkling over the surface of our bodies, as the opening within our energetic beings which carried the cords are healed and sealed. As we chant, we can see our own healing, and we pass our energy clockwise around the circle to assist with the healing of others – as we receive the same from them.

I am a circle. I am healing you.
You are a circle. You are healing me.
Unite us, be one.
Unite us, be as one.

We offer our gratitude to creation, the energy of all that is, great spirit, god, goddess, universal light energy, elementals, spirit guides, ancestors, animal totems, angels, the energetic source that is all we are, all we see, all we feel, and all we imagine and cannot fathom.

We walk in your light and feel your presence even through darkness. For the purposes of this healing circle, we bid thee hail and farewell.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is done, it is done, it is done.

There is nothing like standing in a circle of women while being held in loving intention. As I symbolically swung the sword to sever the cords for each of my Sacred Gardeners, I was focused on the freedom and liberation of each. I noticed with the circle’s progression that I could sense a tingling energy against my upper arms right before she announced that the work was done.

When the circle was complete, some announced an immediate lightness of being, feeling a sense of sitting taller and feeling lighter. It was glorious to witness such an immediate affect.

Once we had cleared the field and created an open space for more goodness to enter our lives, we set to the work of attracting what comes next.

What comes next for me is a good night’s (or morning’s ) sleep… so that part of the tale shall have to wait for another day. Thank you for walking this path with me. I am so happy to have you near. HAPPY EQUINOX!

The Love of a Good Cat – Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Sandra Bierman

The Weight of Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Universe Has Your Back Oracle Cards

An Early Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking the street beside you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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