I was blessed this past weekend to attend a bookend event. The Boss Who Loved Me shared with me the wedding celebrations of her sacred daughter. Her beloved son was married at the beginning of the pandemic, and it sparks hope that this special occasion for her daughter, The Doctor, might help bring it to a close. It was kept quite small and cautiously included only those who were vaccinated. After all, she has fought long and hard to keep her parents safe. This declaration was an act of love.
Two days of events were required for this glorious new beginning. The first evening was a gathering of loved ones to partake of the traditional 10-course Chinese meal, and to stand witness to two sacred traditions of stunning significance. First, the Hair Combing ritual, and then the Tea Ceremony. The first, symbolic of the blessings of the parents upon the Bride and Groom, for a long and healthy marriage and an abundance of grandchildren. The second, an opportunity for the Bride and Groom to honor the Parents, the Family Elders, and the Ancestors… as they pour out tea as an offering, they are bestowed gifts in return, that symbolize abundance, longevity, fertility, and prosperity. Once again, the blessings were spoken in English and Cantonese by the parents of the Bride. After all, they had family attending via Zoom from Toronto and Hong Kong. And through this magical medium, the elders who could not travel due to Covid restrictions, were able to also bestow their blessings.
I love these traditions. They are so meaningful and powerful. In Western tradition, the Father ‘gives away’ the Bride, and somehow, that just doesn’t seem enough. The newlyweds may have the opportunity to say thanks in a speech, but that seems so lacking, when we are talking about the transformation of enormously formative relationships, as well as the beginning of new ones. Plus, symbolic sacred ceremony, to me, speaks the language of the soul. Not only are their hearts and bodies now joined, but so, too, are their eternal spirits – through the undying love of their ancient ancestors.
In my past life, you know… in the corporate world, my role was rather isolating and solitary. I supported executives in human resources, and so became a secret keeper. Therefore, the people to whom I was closest are those I was blessed to serve. There is a depth of bonding there through the hardships we survived together, as well as the great accomplishments that may not have been recognized by many. As one who held space for two special leaders through a successful CEO succession, and painful ‘staff adjustments’, all requiring the sacrifice of personal and family quality time, through to retirement, it is my great pleasure in these ‘after-years’ to hold space for their great joy.
He called me when he learned of my father’s passing, and though I hadn’t seen him since his youngest daughter’s wedding, reconnecting with the Boss Who Needed Me at the ceremonial dinner felt as if no time had passed in our connection. He and his wife have been very busy traveling around the country to nurture seven sacred beings, in the form of beautiful grandchildren. He’s been retired eleven years now, and we can’t believe that much time has passed. He once told me, as we prepared for his retirement, “Mel, I feel like I’m getting a second chance.” He was referring to the way that his career had taken so much of the time his family deserved. And I glory in knowing that, this time, he has his priorities in order.
I still feel this sense of isolation in my current life, and I suppose attending a wedding alone, adds to that feeling of walking alone in the world. I was purely an observer at the wedding on the second day of events. I really only knew the parents of the bride, though there was much warmth felt between myself and the family and extended family I met at their son’s wedding last year. So, this is what I witnessed, as a mindful observer.
The day was overcast, which can be a blessing in Florida. It was warm enough for our sleeveless dresses, but not too hot. We were facing the setting sun, but were not blinded by it. This was the first blessing.
The Bride was stunningly beautiful, and completely unfazed by the gentle rain that began to fall as her wise father walked her down the aisle. In her vows, she shared her sense of joy and relief in having finally found her darling Groom, after a length of being told to “be patient”, and “he will come when you least expect it”. She exclaimed that she actually had to go get her Prince (they met electronically, as many happy couples do in this age), and she was so glad she did. That the universe keeps providing ways for us to manifest life altering relationships feels like the second blessing (or maybe that should be the first).
When the vows had been shared and the rings gently placed, the Bride and Groom were announced, at last, to be Wife and Husband. This observer took note that at that moment, an Osprey flew across the sky, just above Mrs. and Mr. This is what I learned about the third blessing: the Osprey is a portend of profound change as one comes into their power, guiding them to manage with grace and ease the remarkable transition that lies ahead. They also mate for life, and symbolize abundance and victory. Weddings do remind me of victory, as we all know how much work has gone into the culmination of this celebration.
The fourth blessing came through the rain. Both the wedding ceremony and the reception were held outdoors. A Florida wedding in November is preferable to a summer affair. When the rain came, it arrived as a gentle kiss, and a fleeting one that would come and go. It arrived along with the sweet-flowing emotion that the element of water represents. It came as every witness held back tears to see the Bride make her ‘march’, and it came again as loved ones offered words with a toast.
I loved the way that it was welcomed as a part of life, a part of us. No one ran from it. Into every life a bit of rain shall fall. How we perceive it determines its blessing or its curse. It is said that rain on your wedding day is a gift of good fortune. On this day, you have chosen to ‘tie the knot’ with the one you love. A wet knot is nearly impossible to unravel. And of course, to me, the element of water is cleansing, healing, and loving. It seems that when one finally finds the person who has filled any sense of longing or emptiness previously felt, with comfort, trust, and surrender… a gentle rain is the universe affirming that healing is complete.
Those who came together in celebration were fully present and delighted in the joy found between this loving couple. Both the Bride and Groom were surrounded by life-long love, in the form of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, neighbors, and friends, both life-long and journey-long (as in the arduous journey the bride took to become a doctor). I am certain that the glow one could see emanating from the newlyweds was partially the light of love that flowed through them and around them.
Though I saw myself as the unattached observer, it was not a sorrowful seclusion. There was nothing in the way of my clear view. All that I could see in the committed couples present and the individuals moving in delighted festivity, was a sense of reverence, kindness, connection, happiness, and pure joy for the momentous gift of standing in community to say to the Sacred Couple : “We, as your beloved community, are committed to supporting you in your togetherness. Tonight is all about you, and about how the two of you add something extraordinarily special to all of us, through your devotion. Thank you for sharing with all of us, the light of your love.”
As for me, I got to see, once again, the manifestation of joy in the life of the Boss Who Loved Me. She’s been retired less than six years, and she is doing a fine job of replacing those work-related heartbreaking moments, for which we held space in the corporate world, with happy, joyful, gloriously fabulous ones. Everyone is healthy. Both children are now married. Her first granddaughter arrived this summer, and all is right with the world. I am grateful.
I found myself, while making my morning gratitude pour-over coffee, reflecting on that sensation of aloneness. Last night, there were so many happy couples dancing in celebration (including the Bride’s parents who will have their 41st anniversary in January), and I wondered if I will always be the observer in this life. It may truly be that what I am meant to accomplish in this lifetime must be done on my own. Perhaps feeling a sense of joy in my own ONENESS is the whole point. Witnessing the blossoming in love of others does not diminish the love in my own life. I already have so much. (I mean, how many people recognize three of their bosses as great loves of their lives? I have been quite lucky in love. They each loved me when I didn’t know how to love myself – validating my worth until I figured out I didn’t have to earn it.) How could there possibly be more? But I do wonder… what if there is another point on the horizon of new beginnings. I guess I’ll do what my father taught me… I’ll keep showing up and I’ll wait right here.
Thank you for walking this path with me, and for sending your blessings to the happy couple.
Mom and I are working on our so-called, ‘new normal’ these days. I think it still seems odd… the lack of Dad. It still feels unnatural to sit in his chair, or to have the first half of the day to myself. Mom doesn’t need me in the same ways he did. This new normal is… different.
We are giving each other more space, while creating new routines of togetherness. Before, much of my energy was focused on Dad’s comfort and wellness, since he could no longer walk for the last seven months of his life. Through my soul-daughter-medium, Pop said that it is now time for us to bond, mom and me. We are learning from each other through the ways that we grieve. As we process our great loss – the departure of her husband and my father – we are observing the truth of one another more clearly. We are learning and growing… together.
I have been dubbed the feeler of my family, for I tend to be more expressive with my emotions. Mom and I are mourning differently. Through the study of death and dying, I have prepared myself for an intentional journey through the end of life with my parents, as well as my own inevitable transition into the mystery of what comes next. While it has helped me find peace and comfort in the idea of death, it has not diminished the grief that I feel in missing my father. For so long, I went to sleep worrying about his comfort and awoke with anticipation of his needs. That’s a hard habit to break. I was hyper-aware of the blessing of my ability to serve, and how fleeting that time would be.
I am learning that, though she is not demonstratively emotive, Mom is processing her grief silently, through introspection. Last night, Mom shared with me that she often wakes thinking of Dad’s last days. Like me, she considers what might have been done differently to have changed the outcome. If he hadn’t been scared, because he couldn’t breathe, might he have refused being intubated? But reality was, that his oxygen was plummeting, and had he refused… none of us would have been present for his passing. His sisters and brothers would not have gotten to say goodbye. My brother and his wife would have missed holding his hand – having been kept away by Covid-19 for so long. So much more would have been lost.
I know these things cross her mind, as she faces her own mortality. We talk about her ‘Five Wishes’ for the end of life, which are similar to my Father’s. She does not want to be kept alive on a ventilator. She does not want to go through what Pop went through. It was difficult to witness. It causes heartache for the survivors – having to ‘pull the plug’. I assure her that what Dad did, by approving intubation, was a gift to all of us. That the emotions we would be feeling had he suddenly been gone, or that he might have left without allowing us to hold him and love him just a little while longer would have been unfathomable. I can see now, that I feared betraying him by letting him go too soon, while he feared betraying me by leaving when I was not in the room. We served each other well, Pop and I. I assured Mom that she need not make the same choice. I will not betray her.
Mom and I watched a few episodes of an Amazon series called Solos last night. The first episode features Ann Hathaway in her basement. This monologue is a conversation with herself… past, present, and future. The character is working to perfect time travel, and we gradually learn that her intentions are to be able to jump ahead, into the future, to escape the torture of witnessing her mother’s decline from ALS.
As this story unfolds, and we come to understand the pain and suffering of both the daughter who is present and providing full-time care for her mother in decline, we also learn of the regrets of the future daughter, who did find her escape, and lived with regret for the rest of her days. Together, they ultimately choose to destroy the probable future, to ensure one version of this daughter remains fully present through her mother’s end of life.
As my Mom was serving me a piece of her favorite cake, that I ordered and picked up for her earlier in the week, she shared something else with me. She said that when she went to bed the night before, and found that I had made her bed for her, with an extra blanket (because it was going to be Florida-cold that night), she felt so loved.
She was astonished that though she feels like she was not a Grade-A mother, that she should be treated as if she was. What I want her to understand is that it doesn’t matter how imperfect we are… we all deserve to be loved and to be treated with kindness and respect – always. I feel that getting to serve my father through his end of life brought this message home for him, and my intention is to do the same for my mom. I wish for her to know that without a doubt…
I am here. You will not walk this path alone. You deserve this!
As I walked home from ‘tucking her in’ for the night, I cried happy tears. I cried for the sweetness of a simple life, and for the great fortune of alignment, which enabled me to be here in this moment, with this woman, to experience this insight and healing between us. I can see the greater gift of my father’s passing, in the path that he paved for us to have these conversations about death, in a way that we couldn’t before his example.
I could feel the presence of my father, as I digested his words from my session with #RedRoseReadings. Mom and I are using our time wisely. We are deepening our bond and our understanding of one another. We are learning what we might offer each other, in these days that belong to just the two of us, that feels like love that heals. And as I gazed up towards Orion’s Belt – twinkling in the clear night sky, I said aloud, “Thanks for showing up, Pop!” Because THAT is MY love language.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.
If you’re curious about the mystery of connecting with a loved one on the other side of the veil, consider reaching out to my brilliant soul-daughter, at https://redrosereadings.com/.
I started writing this post in the last week of October. So, imagine, if you will, a moment of time travel, and go back in time with me. Otherwise, I’ll have to rewrite some of this post, and it may never see the light, in order to ‘bee the light’. Thank you for your kindness and selfless work of magick.
The beauty and mystery of this time of year has always spoken to my soul. Even as a child, when the depth of my understanding was quite shallow. Dressing up in costumes that my mother had sewn was a highlight that cradled the mad delight of walking through the darkness from house to house to receive sweet treats. My mother’s handicraft insured that my costumes were unique and fabulous. Morticia Addams was a favorite of which I was sad to outgrow.
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s at the beginning of my spiritual journey that I learned the deeper and much older significance of the holiday. In the US, we call it Halloween, and it is about wearing costumes and greeting neighbors and strangers with the words “Trick or Treat”. Much like many other holidays we celebrate in the US, the rituals are committed without the reverence of ancient meaning.
There is much written about Samhain, All Souls’ Night, and Dia de los Muertos, and there is plenty to learn from simple internet research, including concerns about cultural appropriation. A part of my seeking has been to find the spiritual path that resonates with me. Though many friends grew up Christian, I grew up Unitarian, and was invited to build my spiritual path from the ground up, free from expectation and dogma.
My ancestry is English / Irish / Scottish, so it may not surprise anyone to learn that what resonates with my soul includes a foundation of earth-based reverence, and a healthy helping of Celtic spirituality with a sprinkling of mysticism.
In Celtic tradition, Samhain marks the turning of the Wheel of the Year, when we (in the northern hemisphere) are moving out of the long days of summer and into the darkness of winter. It’s my FAVORITE time of year! Pronounced Sow-wen, it marks the mid-point between equinox and solstice, as the days are growing shorter. It is also considered the Celtic New Year (the final harvest – marking an ending before the new beginning that comes with the rebirth of the sun at the winter solstice, as the days begin to grow longer again). It is also known as Ancestors’ Night.
I’ve been on this path since 1992, so this is the 30th Samhain I will celebrate. And yet, it is the first that feels truly sacred and somewhat urgent. When I started writing about death and dying in early 2018, I recognized the blessing of having suffered few losses, compared to many. Most were not unexpected, and were people I’ve loved, but was not especially close to.
This year is different. This year… my father is on the other side of the veil. I have never longed to see, hear, or touch someone more. Less than four months gone, it feels as if a lifetime has already passed. The longing I feel induces pain in my chest and head. It’s hard to imagine becoming accustomed to his absence. But of course I will… in time.
Before and after he died, this summer, I felt connected. My intuitive-self felt guided and supported. My inner-skeptic was silenced by what resonated as truth and comfort given in moments of longing and reach. Messages came through nature, oracle cards, and synchronicity. But recently, I have been feeling disconnected, and frankly, abandoned.
I went to the mountains for ten days of respite, and though I found deep peace and comfort, I did not find my father there. Though I traveled with my laptop, I did not open it to write. I was disconnected. And when I came home, my landscape had changed. The remaining Oak tree that was a twin to my neighbor’s ailing oak, the other half of the squirrel-super-highway that used to stretch across my entire yard, had dropped a giant limb. My remaining sacred sentinel is now half the tree it used to be.
It feels as if every larger-than-life, great being in my life has fallen away. My father and these two oak trees have represented symbols of protection in my life. Without their towering presence, I feel unsafe and exposed. It is difficult to navigate a path forward, in such unfamiliar terrain.
All week, my emotions have been floating on the surface of my heart and mind. My emotional support being, now living many hours away, rather than minutes away, held space for my longing and grief, as I shared how absent my father feels. I was missing the messages from nature that I’d come to expect.
Every morning, I brew my pour over coffee with hot-water circles of gratitude for the elements, for my guides and angels, for the safety, wellness and protection of myself and those I love, and finish with – “thanks in advance, Daddy, for revealing your presence to me in ways that I can understand”.
The next morning, I reported to my friend, that the Mourning Doves had returned to the bird feeder, something they started doing after Dad died… previously only foraging on the ground. I felt seen and heard. I felt the return of my father’s energy. As a skeptical believer, I realize how silly this sounds. And yet, I cannot deny the comfort and joy that returned, simply for their arrival.
The next day, there were three messages in rapid succession that WOWed me. The first was a sound that my cats heard before me. As I investigated the odd placement of the knocking sound, I discovered through the library window, that a Wren was pecking at a Mud Dauber’s nest on the window sill. When I googled the spiritual meaning, I learned that they symbolize rebirth, immortality, and protection. They are associated with the arts, and those who write. They are harbingers of rebirth.
A bit later, I was drawn into the front yard. It was a gloriously windy day, and the trees were going with the flow – a beautiful dance. I noticed that the uncarved pumpkin on the outdoor altar was oddly leaning. This is where I make offerings to the spirit of nature (a table cut from my neighbor’s ailing oak), and my friend’s children and I placed a few seasonal gourds out to mark the arrival of October. In Florida, the heat will argue with you about what season it really is, but we like to force the issue, when possible. Upon inspection, it appeared that the pumpkin was definitely losing its youth and elasticity. Since I was there, I peered through the brush to see the tree-sized branch that had fallen from my oak tree, and then followed it around, to check on all it enveloped.
As I turned to peer through the side yard toward the back, I gasped to realize that a Hawk was quietly perched upon the gate of my wooden privacy fence. For the longest time, I stood there watching with reverence, as he returned my gaze… back toward me, left eye holding me in stillness. The longer I stood, the longer he stayed, and what I heard in my mind was this: “See! I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. All is as it should be.” And the wind shifted, taking this majestic creature, not into the sky, but into the tree by the gate. He was ‘waiting right there’, just as Pop always said when I left his presence – “I’ll wait right here!”
I decided to come back into the house, despite the opportunity to stare all day. I googled the spiritual meaning of Hawk, which is: spiritual messenger, clairvoyance and spiritual awareness. I suppose I will choose to trust the message I heard. Then, nature’s winged spirits of air delivered a final, glorious vision.
As I looked up from my second research moment of the day, my breath was taken by an unbelievable sight outside my window. A bird was feeding, whose colors were woven of pure magick. Gem-tone shades of red, blue, yellow, and green caught my eye. A bird I’d never seen beyond photos arrived with the final message for the day. The Painted Bunting, according to google, arrives to encourage us to use our ‘voice’ to speak from the heart, and to add more color and vitality to our lives. So… here I am. Speaking from my heart and welcoming more color and vitality.
Synchronicity arrived the next day, when a friend posted a John O’Donohue poem, that spoke to my grief and my colorful guest. As when the Painted Bunting was spotted, I cried my words of gratitude, “Thanks for showing up, Pop!”
Beannacht by John O’Donohue ~ On the day when the weight deadens on your shoulders and you stumble, may the clay dance to balance you. And when your eyes freeze behind the grey window and the ghost of loss gets into you, may a flock of colours, indigo, red, green and azure blue, come to awaken in you a meadow of delight. When the canvas frays in the currach of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you, may there come across the waters a path of yellow moonlight to bring you safely home. May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life.
It feels as if, these messengers and messages are arriving to quiet my sense of feeling exposed and abandoned. They remind me that I am protected, and that as the giants of the past each fall away, I am invited to plant and create something new. As I reflect on how significant each of these beings have been in my life, delivering a feeling of being safe, loved, and protected… I now find myself wondering what I might leave behind, onto which someone else – 50 years from now, may reflect with gratitude for the loving protection they feel in this sacred space.
Last night, I gathered with a few friends who knew and adored my Dad. I bought flowers that he would love, and my friend intuitively brought fried chicken thighs – one of Pop’s favorite meals. We watched the 1993 animated film of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, and reflected on the many cultures and traditions that honor the dead this time of year. And we sweetened our sorrow, with slices of key lime pie, also in Pop’s honor.
When everyone had gone, I wrote a letter to my father, and left it beneath his photo with a candle burning as a beacon to call his spirit home. If he came to me in my dreams, my memory did not hold it.
I asked him to continue reaching me and teaching me, to help me release self-doubt and find greater confidence in the messages I seek and receive. He taught me a great deal in life, whether consciously or not. A mindful soul may continue learning and growing from the past. An intentional soul has the opportunity to learn and grow through curiosity and openness, beyond what was previously imagined. Thank you in advance, dear Daddy, for showing me the way.
My final nod to this sacred Samhain was a special call with my soul-daughter. She is a medium, and I felt that an annual conversation with Pop might be an interesting tradition to begin. Once again, the skeptical believer is curious and willing to suspend disbelief, until a sense of resonance is found. In the young woman, who could be my daughter – were I able to choose one, I have found deep trust, resonance, and a sense of belief. We hit record at 2:02pm, my angel number for Pop. Coincidence? I think not!
For 90 minutes, Pop showed up. What was really interesting, was that he spoke to the many things I’d written about in my two-page letter. His words, delivered through #RedRoseReadings were meaningful, healing, and comforting. They affirmed that I am hearing him clearly, and that when I am through with grieving, I may learn to trust myself enough to know that what I am receiving is not just a result of wishful thinking or a creative imagination. I’m mostly there, because I already know I’m just not very creative, so I often conclude that whatever comes to mind is actually coming through me from something beyond my understanding.
A friend of mine told me that she hadn’t really felt inclined to seek a conversation with her father after his death. So, I asked myself why I felt such a longing. I was there for my Dad for nearly all of his days in the last three years of his life and have few regrets needing closure, so what could I possibly need to know? What I realized is that I wish to continue learning about things that feel impossible and fantastical. Who could possibly be a better teacher than the man who cared for me for all of my days, and trusted me to care for him in his final years? No one. Just Pop. And it turns out that the shift in perspective when we slip through the veil, provides an opportunity to find words for a world of silent thoughts that never found form in life. Life is fascinating, and death… well, it is just a part of life. Learning and growing is a never-ending cycle of rebirth.
We are always in the process of becoming. As I gradually let go of who I was – my father’s full-time caregiver, I am opening to who I may become. It’s all a great mystery, and I am open to receive.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I hope that the messages you seek are coming through loud and clear. I’m so happy you’re here.
Last week delivered the painful blow of closure. My exploration into the path of an End-of-Life-Doula was sparked by a 2018 conversation with a friend. He shared the challenging news of his diagnosis and prognosis, which prompted my life-altering question that blessed us both. I shared that story in a previous blog post:
My friend and I live on opposite corners of the country, and while we held each other close, we communicated infrequently. Each of our communications informed me of his failing health. He was prone to positivity, but would often allude to the truth of his situation. I worried that I would not know when he’d reached the end of his path. I lacked a connection to anyone else in his local world. So, when he popped into my mind, I would send a text message to let him know I was still here… holding him close and wishing him WELL.
Our last reciprocal communication occurred after the death of my father and his first birthday without him. I sent a note: “Sending love from afar. Hoping you are safe and well. Missing you so much. Love, love, love.” He replied: “Always love hearing from you. I wish i was doing better, but don’t seem to be making much progress. My legs have pretty much stopped working, so now I use a walker 24/7 which isn’t ideal, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Continue to be optimistic. All in all I know things will get better. I hope you are doing well. I’m certain you are!! (heart, heart, heart)”
I wrote back: “Oh, beloved. I’m sorry for this news of added struggle and body betrayal. I wish I were closer and could offer support. My dad died on July 17. Yesterday was his 84th birthday and last month was my parents’ 60th anniversary. I’m so grateful he was mine. He’s my new angel. I’ll send him over to shower you with blessings. I love you.” I sent pictures of my Pop, so that he might recognize him should he show up in his dreams. But in truth, if one can sense the presence of an angel, I wanted him to know that my Pop, who knew the reality of body betrayal, coping with his own for most of his life, while supporting others throughout his career, would be a safe receptacle for his hopes and fears. My friend promised to keep his eyes open for Pop.
My worries about not knowing were put to rest last week, when my phone rang and I heard an unfamiliar voice. My friend’s husband spoke his name, and I knew. I knew that he was calling me with bad news about our mutual beloved. I had texted last week, and again that morning – without reply. I’m so grateful that he took the time to reach, even in the depths of his grief.
He shared that his husband had been struggling to walk in recent weeks. He required assistance getting to the bathroom. It was obvious that the cancer had wrapped itself around his spine, and wasn’t about to let go.
He reminded me that my friend did not thrive in a state where he lacked control, and informed me of his powerful choice. They live in a state that offers Death with Dignity, and this is the path my friend chose for himself. His beloved hoped for more time, but absolutely honored and supported his end-of-life preference to avoid greater suffering.
With his doctor’s support, a compassionate end was arranged. In Oregon, one with a terminal diagnosis may be provided a medical prescription for departure. I have offered this compassionate care to the cats I have loved. Instead of a long and languished or painful end, my Vet came to the house to bring comfort and release. I cannot imagine why this is not standard practice with humans who suffer with no hope of future wellness. I am grateful that it was possible for my beautiful friend. He lived, and left this world, on his own terms. A peaceful warrior, from brilliant beginning to elegant end.
As we spoke, I was reminded of the duality of emotions with my father’s passing. Though he could not speak at the end, he left his wishes in writing. Releasing him from life support was my final act of loving kindness and respect for the man who loved me for all of my days. I did not betray him by holding on. I honored him by letting go. My friend asked his husband of 25 years to let him go, and he did not betray him. The doctor was present, and it was a blessing for these two lovers to peacefully part in the physical sense. It’s hard to describe the honor of presence during our final transition… but there is a gentle coming of peace that arrives with the grief of longing. I hope to be so well-loved when I reach my end of days.
My Mom’s friend posted an article this week about people ‘taking matters into their own hands’ at the end of life, by ceasing to eat or drink. It states that one can go 7-10 days without food or water to accelerate rather than to prolong death. But the truth of the matter is that this is still a painful ending, and it is not necessary.
About 20 years ago, my grandfather (my Dad’s father) was in his mid-80s, living with leukemia and macular degeneration. He was ready to go, and asked his doctor what that would look like if he stopped taking the plate full of meds that were keeping him alive (a regret of many, according to what Stephen Jenkinson refers to as palliative care causing prolonged dying, rather than prolonging life). The doctor said if he stopped eating and drinking, he would pass within a week or two.
And so, that’s what he set out to do. He discussed it with his wife and adult children, and the appropriate paperwork was established with DNR (do not resuscitate) signage posted throughout the home where he chose to die. Two weeks passed, and my grandfather… did not. He received news that a dear life-long friend of the family died in her sleep. He declared it was not fair. “Why am I still here?” He relented to the suffering and allowed his youngest daughter and caregiver to administer a bit of soup and water. It took that sweet man a month of suffering to pass from this world. It was a month of painful witnessing and space holding by those who loved him, too. It was an atrocity that he was not permitted to part in comfort and peace, on his own terms.
There are more stories of suffering at the end of life that I could use to prove this point and argue for a countrywide declaration of a Compassionate End for those with a terminal diagnosis who wish to die with dignity, but I want to return to my position of gratitude. I am grateful that this sacred being, whom I adored, who came into my life to play a vital role in preparing me to care for my father, was able to stand at the portal between the worlds, and step through the veil without regret.
I have a candle burning for him, just as I did when my father left in July. I wrote the words that came to mind as I held him close. The flame dances in the jar, and he inspires me to write.
It feels as if my world has come full circle. I met this man before leaving the corporate world, and our conversations ignited end-of-life study and the timely first steps on the path of making friends with death. I was able to walk, without fear, beside my father to the edge of the unknown. And now… both of these sacred beings have stepped off of my path. I am so grateful for every little thing.
Farewell mighty warrior and treasured friend. Your last name was the same as Dumbledore’s Phoenix, and I see that you have lit the heavens with your beautiful light. Your transformation from earthly appearance to energetic form renders you no longer limited. Knowing you has been my great joy, and I am forever changed by your friendship and love. Thank you in advance for communicating with me in ways that I can understand. I promise to keep my eyes and mind open to receive.
Thanks for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every Saturday, since the Spring Equinox of 2020, I have hosted a weekly online gathering of my Sacred Gardeners. These beloved beings joined me for mindful workshops every eight weeks in 2019, and when we couldn’t continue the tradition due to Covid-19, we adjusted. During uncertain times, we found comfort in our togetherness, as we virtually gathered to find reassurance that those we loved were safe and well. We reminded each other that everything would be okay.
When we reached our one year anniversary of weekly meetings, and as we began to celebrate each vaccination, we affirmed how meaningful this connection has become in each of our lives, and how we wish to continue checking-in weekly, even when we are free to safely return to the former gathering schedule.
Following the Holding Space format of checking-in, which I learned from Heather Plett (in the nick of time – finishing up the 6 month course about the time that the world went into lockdown), we would take turns sharing what we’d been doing and how we were feeling over the past week, and then we’d check-out by sharing the plans we have for the week ahead, inviting support and encouragement, as needed.
A recurring theme, as I asked my sacred gardeners to hold space for me over the past year, has been about what I call my swiss-cheese memory… the way that things fall through the holes. I have mostly found comfort in my concern by realizing that I am forced to live more fully in the present, because I am not holding onto whatever may have occurred in the past. Though forgetting something important, like giving my Dad his morning pills, or locking their back door before heading home for the night, especially worries me.
Swiss-cheese memory isn’t new for me. Even as a teenager, my Mom would ask about what might be happening in the life of a friend, with whom I’d spent the day, and I could recall that we had deep conversation, but very little specifics (i.e., she got a new job, but I can’t remember where or doing what). I’ve joked that your secrets are safe with me, because I may not even remember that we ever chatted at all. I will sometimes start telling a story about a memory, only to be reminded that the person I am telling was with me at the time.
I was referred to a Neurologist a couple of years ago, and his assessment was that my memory wasn’t bad, but that I had trouble accessing it. He prescribed Topamax to see if it would help, but after a week of a constant headache and other discomfort (that I can’t quite recall), I let go of the dream of finding resolution.
This week, I actually forgot it was Saturday. Seriously. I failed to set the reminder for the call, and forgot to head to my parents’ place a little early to get Dad out of bed and fed to get home before the start time of my call. I forgot all about this event that I’ve hosted for 58 Saturdays in a row, until the alarm on my phone reminded me that I had 15 minutes before my Sacred Gardeners would arrive in our virtual circle.
Many of us speak of lapses in memory, and fears of being unable to learn and retain new things, but my biggest fear is that someone I care about will feel that something I’ve forgotten might mean that I do not care, that I was not listening when they were speaking, or that I have failed them in our friendship. I have only ever wanted to be remembered as a good friend, and someone who cared about the well-being of others. I hope that translates, somehow… even when I’ve forgotten your name.
I have often been inspired to sit down and write, but by the time I’ve gotten from the point of inspiration to my laptop, the reason has been lost. So, when I finish a piece and post it, there is a level of gratitude and celebration for the act of completion. When I started writing a couple of years ago, if someone asked me what I’d been up to, I would read them my latest blog post, because frankly, my answer would have been quite brief, unless I could also look at my calendar to be reminded that I did something fun last weekend. I thought that I was writing to touch the hearts of others, to inspire, to deliver hope, or to connect with my higher self to nurture self-healing. I figured this was my way of feeling seen and heard, after a lifetime of feeling invisible, in my own self-limiting belief.
But what I know now, is that I am writing for myself. I am writing to capture the memories I’ve been able to access. I am writing to share parts of myself that are faulty and vulnerable. And more than anything, I am writing so that one day, when I’ve forgotten who I am, you might read this to me, revealing the enormous love, bountiful blessings, and glorious magick that has manifested throughout my lifetime. You will remind me that I have been grateful for every little thing in my life, for the way that they turned out to be the important things, not so little at all.
So… in case I forget to say it later… Thank you for walking this path with me. I’m so happy you are here.
I wrote about the many tools that have been helpful in caring for my father in October 2019, when his mobility was still possible but greatly challenged. A year later, things had changed. He fell and broke his hip in the fall, and he has not regained his ability to walk. Caring for him in this new chapter has brought some additional tools into my parents’ home, so it feels as if an update is in order. I am reminded by friends of the importance of sharing what we are learning about keeping our old people safe and well. May this be of benefit.
One of the challenges for eldercare in the United States is understanding Medicare and secondary insurance options and limitations. To bring Pop home from rehab before Thanksgiving, I had to acquire a hospital bed, a hoyer lift, and an adjustable bedside table (among other things). Medicare would cover a bed with electric adjustable head and foot, but you would have to manually crank the bed height (a burden when trying to protect the back of the caregiver). You can get a fully electric bed with a monthly fee. And if your loved one has a larger frame (6 ft. tall and 200 lbs), and a larger bed is needed, the monthly charge is significantly more.
Since my father is prone to bedsores and pressure wounds, I asked for a pneumatic air mattress for prevention. It turns out that Medicare will cover that… but only if your loved one already has multiple wounds that won’t heal. They care not to prevent them, apparently. Rather than leasing one from the hospital supply company, I found a mattress overlay that electronically moves air through pockets.
Medicare covers a hoyer lift for your loved ones who are unable to stand, walk, or transfer. That lift is completely manual… but they do not offer a fully electric option, even with a monthly fee. Since I am in my 50s and hope not to require eldercare before my parents are gone, it was absolutely necessary to have a fully electric version. This amazing tool allows me to get my father out of bed everyday and into his recliner, then back to bed at the end of the day. This gives him some level of normalcy, and I am grateful for this blessing. I found this lift through the same catalog that provided his recliner lift chair. It can be folded up for transport, but I doubt we’ll use that feature. I’m amazed by its maneuverability through tight spaces. We found the u-sling or the divided leg sling to work best for us. I was grateful to have gotten lessons from the staff at rehab…. but Dad and I also spent a morning watching videos on YouTube. It all takes practice, so be patient with yourself.
From the same catalog, I ordered a table for the hospital bed, so that we can do breakfast in bed when necessary. He may stay in bed longer on the days the bath-aid comes, and she is able to use it for her needs, as well.
We have a Costco membership, so that is where I get gloves and wipes, and doggy pee pads, which protect the mattress, and sometimes the tile floor where the aim-challenged dogs might tinkle now and then.
Since Pop can’t get to the bathroom any longer, I went searching for a urinal solution for someone with dexterity issues, that can serve for multiple uses overnight, when necessary. I found a cool device that I would have loved to have that time we slept on the steps of the Supreme Court when we were in our mid 20s. There were no open public restrooms in DC back then, and we had to go to the car to pee in a cup and then dump it out. (Yes, that actually is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.)
Other challenges are related to acquiring the care my father needs without being able to take him anywhere, since he can’t stand or transfer into the car. One exciting discovery was shared by his Physical Therapist. I was thrilled with the care he was receiving while Medicare covered home care for a few months after his homecoming, but longed for someone to care for his feet and toenails. They set up a Podiatrist to come to the house, which is when I learned Medicare covers these visits even when one is not receiving home care. Glory! Glory! We are in Central Florida, and had a great visit with Dr. Rivera from WoundMD. Pop’s feet have never looked so good. They can be reached at 407.720.4253.
UPDATED: Meeting with the Primary Care Physician and the Neurologist (for his epilepsy meds) can be done virtually, thank goodness, but the Dentist is a different story. When Pop complained about tooth pain and I started to panic about how to find a dentist that wouldn’t require transferring Pop out of a wheelchair (not to mention hiring transport to get him there), Mom hopped on line and found a mobile dentist. Imagine that! I think this is another Florida based business, but I’ve not had the time to research it. These magickal beings are from Tooth Fairy Mobile Dental Service. They provide comprehensive onsite dental care. You can find them at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. The dentist and his hygenist came on Friday, and took x-rays and discussed a plan of care, which we’ll receive in writing Monday. I am removing my recommendation for this service, which has been a horrible disappointment. I now feel that they are designed to take advantage of elders who are in need of care.
The next big task was finding a new bath-aid, when Medicare stopped covering home health. This is something they do intermittently… ‘we see you need help, but if you aren’t making progress, we will stop providing that help’. I confirmed with his secondary insurance that they would cover a home health aid for bed baths, since he cannot stand to enter the walk-in tub, but when they referred me to the next step, I was denied further assistance. After several hours of telling my story to several people, I cried and gave up. I decided to let go of the need to have that assurance, just so I could get my poor guy a bath. I called several home health services, and found a few that had a 3 or 4 hour minimum of care for each visit. Since I am the full-time caregiver for my father, that felt wasteful of a fixed income for two retired social workers, so…. I kept looking until I found someone who offered a simple rate for bath assistance. A dear friend recommended the Visiting Nurses Association, and I learned they had a name change in our part of Florida. Now, Mediri Private Care, a partner of Orlando Health, we have found our lovely new bath aid for the foreseeable future. Again, in Central Florida, their number is 407.644.2433.
The biggest obstacle of the year, of course, has been how to protect my father from potential exposure to Covid-19, and how to get him vaccinated. Gratefully, my lifelong friend is on top of what is happening in community care, and she immediately alerted me to Florida’s program to vaccinate homebound residents. A week ago Saturday, we celebrated the delivery of the Johnson & Johnson (one and done) vaccine to Pop, at home. If you are in Florida and have someone who needs to be vaccinated for whom getting in line somewhere would be a challenge… here’s what to do: Send an Email to… HomeboundVaccine@em.myflorida.com to put in your request. They will reply with a link and a form to complete online. The 311 form allowed me to alert the Fire Department of my father’s inability to get out of the house on his own in an emergency, and in the comment section at the bottom of the form, I noted that we would like him to receive the vaccine at home as soon as possible. Our request was fulfilled within a week. They also are provided with one extra vaccine per household, in case someone else is in need. Since my mother and I had already been vaccinated, I was thrilled they were able to vaccinate an elderly neighbor of ours with the allotted extra dose.
For the last year, my greatest stress in caregiving has been that while handling all of the errands and grocery shopping for my parents, I would be responsible for killing my father by bringing home a virus I couldn’t see. I cried several times the day the CDC delivered his vaccine…. tears of joy and relief for him and for me.
When I list out my daily activities in eldercare for friends, that this is quite a lot is often affirmed. While I acknowledge that it certainly is quite a lot, I also understand that we are blessed to have access to the tools we need to make keeping Pop at home possible and somewhat simple.
Thank you in advance, dear Universe, for delivering all we need to keep our people safe and well with grace and ease, and may we be blessings to others, as our lives have been so blessed these many years.
Thank you for walking this path with me. Know that you are held gently in the light of love. Always. And… If there is anything you’ve learned about eldercare that is helpful, I’d love to hear about it!
My parents were watching the news when I stopped by to prepare a late lunch for them today. As I was stepping back out to run an errand, my mother asked: “Don’t you want to watch the death of our country?” My reply: “No! We are witnessing our rebirth.”
I cannot tell you why, as we watched domestic terrorists attacking and entering our sacred halls of Congress, mingled with horror and disbelief was a sensation between my heart and stomach that felt like… well, excitement.
The truth is, anyone with an ounce of intuition and an ear for actual news, rather than the faux-kind, could see this event coming. So, even though a seditious mob ransacked the halls that house our laws, the fact is, there were already a number of seditious traitors inside. So, one can hardly be surprised that the behavior of those within felt like an invitation to those who left the rally at the White House to follow their leader’s instructions.
That’s how I see it from where I sit, anyway. I keep hoping Randy Rainbow will do a song about GOP sedition to the tune of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof.
As the news was unfolding, I could not shake that odd feeling of anticipation. I had this overwhelming sense that this was it. We are witnessing the final death knell of the GOP. Maybe even the beginning of the end of the patriarchy. As friends expressed disgust and dismay, fear of civil war, and the likelihood of things going badly, I did not lose my sense of awe.
So many images have come to mind today. One is of the Hindu Goddess of Destruction, Kali. Another is the Celtic Goddess of Rebirth, Cerridwen. Both archetypes inform us of the beauty and necessity of destruction. One cannot rebuild on a cracked and broken foundation. It will not hold.
In order to rebuild a bathroom, you don’t just remove the wallpaper, you take it down to the studs to see what might be cracked or rotten beneath the facade. That mold that festers can make you sick down the road, so it must be revealed and then sealed.
Other images that have risen for me today are from film favorites. I could visualize the invasion of our democratic process today in clips and photos, and it was met with a scene from Lord of the Rings. I saw the Ents arriving to liberate Isengard. That scene matched the feeling in my body. When that scene arrives, it is the beginning of the end. There is still darkness ahead, and many orcs to be vanquished, but even though the work remains difficult, one can tell that perseverance will be rewarded. The light returns and chases away the shadows. It always does.
The other day, a friend of mine was doing a tarot reading for herself, and into her future fell the Tower. (It is an image that seems unsettling, with a lightning strike and people falling as the building crumbles.) I squealed with excitement, which was counter to her sigh of dread. I reminded her that the most important moments of my life were ‘Tower’ moments. They were occasions when the rug was pulled from beneath me, but revealed a stunning hard wood floor.
To be sure, there is darkness ahead for our country (at least one person was killed in today’s terrorist attack, and it feels as if justice failed to remove her blindfold, not to mention that a lack of leadership has cost us hundreds of thousands of lives to Covid-19), but there is also light. The dark tower is falling. The gift of this nightmare presidency will surely be that the facade of our beloved country has been peeled away, and every crack and spot of mold has been revealed. There will be new foundations poured, and stronger supports installed.
Last year’s word for me was TRUST. I wanted not only to be surrounded by those I can trust, but I intended to be trustworthy, and above all else, I wanted to learn to trust myself. So, I have to say… this odd excitement that is rising within me on a very dark day in American history… I trust what she is telling me. She is teaching me about FAITH. She is informing me that the word for 2021 is TRUTH, and that we shall indeed… build back better. Bring it on, 46!
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.
One week ago today, my phone rang at 7:37am. Three out of the four other times that week that my phone rang was in the hour of 2am, so I’m pretty sure my body thought it was home-free, for the night, from the trauma of what those calls announced.
When the caller ID says it is ‘Mom’s Cell’ calling, I know that Alexa is calling me from my father’s bathroom. It informs me that my larger than life, 83-year old father is lying on the floor and that he needs my assistance.
This fifth call in a week wasn’t really a surprise. His Leo’s pride kept him from calling me BEFORE he pushed the button of his lift chair to bring him to his feet (he didn’t want to wake me), and then pull his red Rollator Nitro walker before him so he could struggle to rise and make his way to the bathroom to empty his bladder. Had he called, I could have been unlocking the front door of my parents’ home before he released the brakes to step gingerly away from the safety of his recliner.
Instead, I got the familiar call that puts my body into a trauma response. Wondering where on the floor I will find him, and if this will be the time that I am unable to help.
The fourth call was one of those times, actually. I pulled out the Indeelift device that helps us lift his body to where his knees are at a 90 degree angle, so he can then push himself to a standing position, but he didn’t have the strength to pull himself onto the platform. I had to call for a ‘lift assist’, and the fire department sent over four strong men to set him back into his chair.
But the fifth call… this was the one we were all dreading. This was the one where he didn’t get to decline a trip to the emergency room. This was the one where the pain was too great. This was the one that led to x-rays. This was the one that came with a diagnosis that comes with horror stories. My father, the man with bones and toenails of steel, had broken his hip.
I think he and I both went to that dark place with this news. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said that he was considering everything this would mean. He didn’t elaborate, possibly because I was in tears considering the same thing, feeling as if I had failed to keep him safe. I was thinking that for years I’d heard it said, when an elderly person breaks a hip, they are not long for this world. He was probably thinking he should have called me before the trip rather than after the fall.
It would be 24-hours before they could do the surgery to put a rod in his leg and repair the break in his upper femur. I was grateful that Covid-19 restrictions allowed one visitor to stay with him in the ER and during visiting hours, once admitted. They gave him a pain blocker and some pain meds to get him through the night. As he was drifting off to sleep, and I wished him sweet dreams, he said to me, “We’re going to have to get you one of those handheld crossbows.” I’m not sure where those pain meds were taking him, but I wish I could have seen the view from his perspective.
On Sunday, he was accepted and transferred to a Rehabilitation Hospital that has a pretty strict regimen for recovery. They provide each patient with three hours per day of physical and occupational therapy. The intention is to have each patient out within two weeks. To be honest, I don’t know that any amount of therapy will help. He has a host of complications that may impair the possibility of getting stronger. He fell four times in a week, and that was before he broke his hip. That said, before surgery I asked him if he wanted a Do Not Resuscitate order should anything go wrong, and his response was a resounding, NO! So, here’s to the strength of spirit for something more.
As for me, I have not had a day off of caregiving duty since this time last year. In addition to wanting to stay close for the possibility of a 2am phone call, Covid-19 has never gone into remission in the state in which we live. It hasn’t felt wise to travel and risk exposure or worse, unknowingly delivering the risk to others. 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, and I have the added joy of constant highway construction just a few yards from my house. It’s like living in a war zone with the sound of dump trucks banging like cannon-fire, constant motion of cranes and power shovels, and then there’s the rattle and hum that shakes the whole house and bounces the art off the walls as dirt is shimmied and compressed into a highway foundation. Oh! And the pounding of pylons! That felt like an all out assault on my entire body. Needless to say… I’m exhausted.
One of the things I have to acknowledge is that I have two significant strengths at play, when it comes to my choice to not go back to work and care for my parents full-time. One is EMPATHY and the other is RESPONSIBILITY. When I am more distressed about our current situation than either of my parents seem to be, it is quite possible that my strengths are out of balance.
I feel obligated to stand at attention and be of service. It’s what I’ve always done. I used to get paid for it. Somehow, in my need to feel needed and worthy of love, I trained myself to give away so much of myself there was nothing left for me. The year my boss was dealing with a hostile takeover, I told myself I couldn’t take time off unless she did, because it would cause HER more stress. My own stress level and five weeks of unused vacation were secondary. Not because she required it of me, but because I demanded it of myself.
I’ve noticed how my body and mind have been telling me that it is time for a break, the way it did during that difficult year at work, but I hate that it may be made possible by my father’s extended stay elsewhere to recover from a broken and mending body.
I’m working on figuring out how to get away during a pandemic, and plans are starting to develop. Meanwhile, I am mindful of how beautiful it can be to find one’s self in need. During these months of lockdown, I have gotten to know my neighbors. Many of us have been here for decades, but the coming and going of our lives kept us passing with a wave or completely out of sight. Now, we have exchanged phone numbers, and text each other to see if anyone needs something from the store. And when a neighbor was outside the morning the ambulance came… I received messages of concern and outreach from several neighbors, wanting to know that we are safe and well, and how they might be of service to me.
Dear friends and beloved community are letting us know that they are holding us close, and they are standing-by, intending to assist in any way. One friend thanked me for allowing her to cook a pot of soup for us this week. I thanked her back, for reminding me how important it is to allow those who love us to be of service, when they are so desperately wishing there was something they could do.
So, thank you, dear ones… for taking the time to read about the heavy burdens I am carrying, for sending your healing energy and caring thoughts for my father’s recovery and wellness, and for holding space for a woman who is still learning how to treat herself with the same kindness and compassion she so abundantly offers to others. Much like the highway that runs through my side yard, I am a never ending work in progress. It seems tedious, but worth the effort.
Thank you for walking this path with me. None of us should have to do the hard things alone. I suspect that when we feel that we are isolated or abandoned, it is because we are too overwhelmed to notice that we are surrounded by a Tribe that has been paving the way all along. Goodness, we are so blessed, and ever so grateful. We hope that you and yours are safe and well.