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.
Mercury Retrograde is a good time for reflection and release. So, this weekend I started clearing out my closet. I left the corporate world in 2017, and I’ve spent the last four years, it seems, metaphorically unpacking. I started by figuring out what I DON’T want to do. I determined that I didn’t want to return to the corporate world, and I didn’t want to continue doing what I’d done for the previous 25 years. I spent a couple of years writing out where I’d been and who I was; curious about where I’m going and who I might become.
In the last year and a half, I have found purpose and direction. I have chosen to take what I learned managing the lives of executives – transforming those skills into eldercare management for my aging parents. Being of service is my joy, and I can think of no better way to serve in the foreseeable years to come, than to the endeavor of helping them each feel safe, nurtured, and loved for their remaining days. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to do so. Not only because I want to, but because my retirement savings and the 72T loophole allowing access to it, provides such freedom.
For quite some time, I have been aware that the clothing I actually wear is a tiny portion of what fills an entire closet (or two) and dresser in my home. My style never was corporate, especially since the last phase of my career was spent where business casual and jeans were permitted. But between no longer identifying with anything ‘business’, binding denim, or the maxi dress, bohemian goddess style that once resonated, there is quite a bit of letting go to be done in my dressing room.
What surprised me, as I started flipping through clothes hangers, was the hesitancy I felt. A lifetime has passed since I last donned any of these items, and yet… there was momentary uncertainty in pulling down each piece, folding it, and placing it in the box of surrender. Contemplating how much money was spent on each piece. Pondering a number of items never worn – as if I tried on someone else’s style, then failed to claim it as my own. Can I do this? Can I say farewell to that woman who abandoned her wardrobe? Will she return with regret for all she’s lost? Am I leaving her naked and vulnerable?
This culling feels like an act of severance. The woman who purchased these garments and wore them, doesn’t live here anymore. The current resident is different. Her once long hair, no longer dyed blonde, as all falseness and pretense has been cut away. Shorter, white and silver curls now frame her full and make-up free face.
This woman no longer tries to fit in where she doesn’t belong. She is finally exactly where she is meant to be. She is valued, appreciated and loved for exactly who she is, exactly as she is. Consequently, clothing once sought to make her feel pretty, professional, or desirable is being replaced with that which makes her feel nurtured, comfortable, unhindered, and unburdened. No more binding required, she is abundantly at home in her own skin. The opinions of others are not more important than her own comfort.
There is glorious freedom in this second half of life. Discovering that one can live a simple and joyful life with less (less income, less expectation, less judgment, less time given away to those who don’t matter) is liberating.
Perhaps I once bought clothing to fill a hole. I guess they call it ‘retail therapy’. It all seems silly and wasteful now, but I won’t belittle the woman I was. I will simply sit in gratitude for the woman I have become. I am now hole-less. I am becoming more whole.
As I pack up the remaining items that have caused me to pause, I will bless each piece with love for the new body it will embrace. As for each new owner of my former closet couture… May she feel nurtured, protected, comforted, and held in the light of love. May she know that she is already goddess incarnate, not because of what she wears on the outside, but for who she is on the inside. May she walk through the rest of her days in belonging, feeling valued and treasured exactly as she is, for exactly who she is. May she know that she is sacred and whole. May she feel safe, secure, and free to speak her truth and may she walk in beauty, having all she needs and plenty to share.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.
This former wardrobe will be joyfully donated to a local charity called Adriana’s Attic, Inc. Their mission is: “To help adults and children in need of clothing, hygiene items, food, and medical supplies. We believe that spending a few hours volunteering your time to help the working poor and homeless in our community and around the world is critical.”
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.
Last week, one of my Thursday circle-mates posed a question for our weekly conversation. It was based on a graphic she had shared earlier in the week, which found resonance. It was based on the idea of how we tend to be painfully aware of what triggers our anger, our fear, our trauma-based emotional and bodily responses to something in any given moment… and asking us to ponder what might be our HAPPINESS triggers.
When I saw this, I immediately thought of a recent sensation I had while standing in my kitchen, after a friend had left for home, following our first visit in more than a year… now that we are both fully vaccinated. So… here’s the funny thing about this thought (see my post about my swiss-cheese memory: https://beethelight.blog/2018/08/14/a-blessing-or-a-curse/), I couldn’t remember exactly what it was. Ha!
I swear, it was profound… that thought and that sensation in that moment! I should have written it down. Sigh… What I decided to do, was to write down whatever came to mind on a list of Happiness Triggers. I am now keeping this running list open on my desktop, so that I can add to it when things come up.
(What that feeling might have been, I decided, was this: Not only the one-on-one time I get to share with someone I love, but the time that follows when I can reflect on our togetherness with equal gratitude for the time I now have to spend with myself.)
Walking home from morning ritual at my parents’ house up the street today, I was being triggered left and right, literally (magick happening in neighbors’ yards, as I passed). So, I came home to write it all down.
*Asterisk marks a happiness trigger
It all started when I *woke up in my own bed, *in my own home of 25 years, with *plenty of time for my morning coffee ritual before it was time to be responsible to others. I shook off sleep with *the sound of a favorite book being read to me through Audible. Making my morning pour over coffee has become a form of prayer. As I pour hot water over the grounds of my *favorite coffee, I start with a counter clockwise drizzle to release the oils, and I offer gratitude for the aches and pains I feel, which remind me I am human, and I ask for the release and resolution of it, too. Then, in a clockwise motion, I pour hot water over the grounds with my daily gratitudes to the elements. *I am grateful for the eastern element of air which fills my lungs with the breath of life. *I am grateful for the southern fire which inspires me to action. *I am grateful for the western water that cleanses and heals as waves of loving emotion flow over me. *I am grateful for the northern earth that holds and sustains me, keeping me grounded.
I continue the coffee ritual as I pour cream into my cup, using techniques inspired by Kyle Grey and Jennifer Weigel suggestions for manifesting magick throughout the day. *Thank you in advance, dear Universe, for revealing your magick to me today in ways that I can understand. Thank you for inviting me to be mindful and aware of the messages you are sending, and may I receive them with clarity.
I enjoyed the time I had to myself, with coffee, and reading updates from friends on social media, and then got dressed to start the ‘responsible to others’ part of my day. I stepped out into the beauty of the day, *warm sun and a cool breeze, under a blue sky with puffy white clouds, surrounded by lush greenery on lawns and treetops. As I ventured up the street, a *large dragonfly floated far above me, as I crossed paths with *a flock of young Ibis. I delight in their presence on my block, and always eagerly greet them with, “HI-bis!” They went about their business of bug plucking, and scooted around the *squirrels at play. A *butterfly fluttered by as I turned up my parents’ driveway (*just 7 doors up from my own).
Though I do quite a lot during morning ritual with my folks, there are more days than not, when happiness is triggered for the sheer fact that *all I do is in service to their love and care, which enables a flow that comes with grace and ease. These days, *when I come to the end and tuck them in for the night, and return to my home at the end of the street, I feel enormous gratitude and peace for the blessings we have to be able to live this lifestyle, and for my strength and ability to manage all three of our lives relatively well. I am grateful that on most days… *this feels pretty easy, even though it is quite a lot.
After getting Pop changed and out of bed and into his chair, giving him and one of the dogs their meds, cooking breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, and ensuring everyone had what they needed for a peaceful day, I headed back out into this glorious Florida day. I passed by the flock of Ibis (HI-bis! Say hello to Isis for me!), still doing their part to aerate our lawns, remembering that it was this yard through which I *witnessed an opossum crossing last night (Hi Possum!). Then, in the next yard down, I stopped to *watch a black snake slithering its way through green grass (Oh! Hello!)
As I watched the snake and waved fare-the-well, my neighbor drove up in his little red Moke, I remembered the *bunch of bananas he left on my porch last week, and hoped he enjoyed the Hummingbird cupcakes I baked and shared thanks to his gift of inspiration. Then *another neighbor passed, as I stood in my own yard, *chatting with a blue jay who was singing in my oak tree, and we spoke of the blessing of this beautiful day.
I entered my sanctuary with a mind to *love on my kitties, and to *write all of this down. Next on my agenda is to *indulge in a good nap, and maybe even *a hot bath with epsom salt and essential oil. The bright red *cardinal in the tree outside my window shows up to remind me that my love language is ‘showing up’. So, thank you for showing up, dear ones. I love you more.
By the way, my eyes roll back in my head at *the smell of sweetgrass when I drive through the mountains of North Carolina, and pretty much the sound of *anything performed by Stevie Nicks or Fleetwood Mac starts a bonfire of joy for me. I would love to know what you have noticed triggers happiness for you!
Thank you for walking this path with me, and thank you in advance, dear Universe for making this a magickal day.
*Messages from the Universe Dragonfly: self realization; emotional maturity and understanding the deeper meaning of life Ibis: great wisdom and the ability to work magic Squirrel: preparedness, abundance, multi-tasking, new-life, rest, better days, and laying groundwork Snake: fertility or a creative life force, transformation Butterfly: change, renewal, hope, endurance, and courage to embrace the transformation to make life better Opossum: expect the unexpected Blue Jay: truth, faithfulness, and solidarity because they are vigilant in their tasks Cardinal: devotion, loving relationships, good fortune (for me – love is 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!
One year ago today, I flew to Texas for a wedding. It was right at the beginning of the transition, from our former reality to the current (sur)reality of life in pandemic. This special occasion had been on my radar for quite some time. I did not know the couple well, at all, but I was invited by one of the great loves of my life… the boss who loved me.
Travel plans had been arranged in January, at which time, I was certain the concerns being raised about Covid-19 were overstated. Surely our leadership would make every effort to keep us safe. But days before departure, with an indication that our world would be shutting down after that weekend, the decision NOT to cancel overpowered the anxiety that affected my breathing. That empathetic symptom would rise, but not stay, over the next few months, as I questioned: Is this Covid, or is this anxiety? Is this Covid, or is this my annual allergy to oak pollen? Is this Covid, or am I just afraid that I will be responsible for infecting and killing my parents?
I flew in on Thursday night, and no one was wearing masks, but some were wiping down seats with disinfectant wipes. By my return on Sunday, there were several people in surgical masks for the flight home. The stress of travel in numbers was palpable. Gratefully, I had become conscious of touching my face twenty years ago, when I had lasik surgery and was warned about rubbing my eyes. So, I knew to be mindful of the transfer of germs from hands to eyes and nose, as a culprit for illness. Many trips through the subways in New York, holding onto poles and railings for support, helped nurture hyper-vigilance.
I arrived in darkness, and drove my rental Prius to the AirB&B. This was my first adventure with renting a room inside a house, as opposed to renting a whole house. I pulled up to the house, and received instructions via text message with a code for entrance, and how to find my room. There was no one around, but motion lights activated as I progressed through the foyer and up the stairway. I was quite pleased with my room with en suite bathroom. Though I never did meet my hosts, I felt safe and kind of appreciated the solitary nature of my stay. It felt like pilgrimage to me.
Because I was in a different time zone, I woke before the sun. I did some writing, googled nearby restaurants, and walked through darkness a few blocks to reach the one I chose. I was taken by the overwhelming cacophony of birdsong. I’d never heard anything like it. My friend told me later that they were migrating north from Mexico. I guess we don’t get that in Florida on the same scale. It was a glorious noise. There was one bird call that sounded to me like a slide whistle. It was dark, and they were in the trees, so I couldn’t see them. Later in the weekend, I figured out that they were Great Tailed Grackles… my new favorite.
I wasn’t going to meet up with the family until the traditional Chinese rehearsal dinner, so I had a full day for exploring the area. I’d heard a great deal about the Riverwalk area of San Antonio, and I’d hoped to find some good art galleries to devour. So, I started toward one end of the walk, thinking I would meander for a while and hit several along the way. Since I had such an early start to my day, I was apparently out too early for the art community, so I grabbed a latte at Halcyon Southtown, then walked along the river until Blue Star Contemporary opened. It was a beautiful day. I passed a few people on the trail, but it was clear that the world was starting to grow quiet.
My favorite exhibit was called Common Threads by Candace Hicks. She hand stitched 18 journals on canvas, each filled with synchronicities from stories she’d read and conversations she’d had. I read every single one, wearing white gloves and laughing or gasping at the brilliance of each piece. By the time I was done, I was ready for a nap… and then I would be off to start the family celebration. As I slipped into my private suite in a stranger’s house, my thoughts were on the words and letters that are stitched into the sturdy, canvas pages of my life with the boss who loved me, and how her beloved son’s marriage would be the beginning of a new journal for them.
When I arrived at the restaurant, my heart was already reaching. The last time I had seen her, we dialed up the boss who needed me (who hired us both), and as we got caught up on each other’s lives, I shared that I was considering not returning to the corporate world. I remember worrying about what they might think of me, for considering such a choice, when they had both worked so hard and given up so much of their personal lives until they each retired near age 60. I don’t know why I would be surprised, there was no judgment, only love. As I am for them, they will always be delighted for my authentic happiness.
You will probably think this sounds goofy, but when I walked into the restaurant, and saw my tiny sacred being for the first time in two years, my whole body lit up. It was much like the moment in a movie, when two loved ones are reunited after multiple obstacles have kept them apart. My spirit released a heavy sigh, and said: “Finally… it’s you.” There might have been an orchestra playing, I can’t really say. It may have only been heard inside my head.
Sadly, the boss who needed me was advised not to travel, so upon arrival, I only knew two people gathered for the wedding weekend, having met the groom and the sister of the groom only once or twice over the years. The parents of the groom, I knew well. I was seated at a large round table with other loved ones… and despite my difference (the only white girl at the table), I felt accepted and embraced by the people who had gone to college with the boss who loved me, or who had been treasured neighbors where she lived before she started the last phase of her career.
The neat thing about a destination wedding, is that there are multiple gatherings over the weekend, which allows one time to get to know the other important people in the lives of those for whom you are standing witness. The weekend included a traditional Chinese rehearsal dinner with 12 courses on the first night, including a roasted suckling pig – a symbol of the purity of the relationship being honored. The second day brought the blessings of not only a wedding, but also, a traditional Tea Ceremony honoring both sets of parents and the newlywed couple, before the reception. The final event was a brunch at the same Chinese restaurant, to send-off the guests departing for home.
Each event offered a series of traditions that were honored. Always the teacher, the boss who loved me and her husband explained every step… in English and in Cantonese. I wish I had taken notes. After the extensive meal, there was a comb ceremony, where the bride’s hair and the groom’s hair was combed by their parents. Again, the traditional blessings were spoken in two languages by the Groom’s parents:
May your marriage last a lifetime May you be blessed with a happy and harmonious marriage until old age May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren May you be blessed with longevity
The wedding ceremony was a ‘marriage’ of Western and Eastern traditions. The happy couple walked down the aisle in tuxedo and white dress, then changed briefly into traditional dress for the tea ceremony, then reappeared as before. The symbolism of the tea ceremony was of the children honoring the parents and their elders, while the parents and elders / ancestors offered blessings to the children. And then… there was food, wine, and dancing.
It was a pleasure to get to know the couple through their own eyes, as they spoke of their own love story, and to see in the groom the influence of his loving parents, whom I know so well.
Gathering for Sunday brunch before heading home was bitter sweet. These were now my people… those who threw the party and those who joined me in attendance. I felt accepted and embraced in this sacred collection of souls, and I was painfully aware that this kind of gathering would be the last, for a while.
I could have floated home, after a bookend afternoon alone on the Riverwalk, but for the heaviness in my heart. With a racist in the White House, xenophobia was already on the rise. I knew that my privilege was to travel while pasty white, while the person in the highest position in government was referring to Covid-19 as the China Virus.
I would be enormously cautious on my way home, and I would wear a mask for two weeks afterwards to ensure my parents’ safety (seems silly now that I didn’t do it the other way around, and wear a mask while traveling… the world was different in that moment). But I knew there was a very real concern for the safety of those from whom I had just parted. I worried for them, and I still do, as xenophobic attacks on Asians continue to rise. Those who enflamed, enacted, and enabled these actions are unforgivable and complicit in the harm that has come to our Asian American community, either physically or emotionally.
I would like to declare to the universe that LOVE, not hate, is viral. Let it be known throughout the world and for all time that we are all the same. We are all worthy of respect and caring, love and devotion, equity and fairness. We have all we need and plenty to share, so lets spread that love around. No one can be a threat to the love you have when you are inviting love to grow within and sharing it freely.
Finally, at this one year mark, many of us have or will soon receive a vaccine for our individual and communal protection. May the lessons we’ve learned stay with us long after the world has reopened. May we take not for granted the sheer joy of gathering in celebrations of love – new love, long love, family love, community love, earth love, lost love (especially poignant, as funerals and memorials have been delayed for so many), and every incarnation of love made manifest. May we hold onto what has been found in silence and solitude, as we have gathered up the beauty of our true selves formerly hidden in perpetual activity and distraction. May we find more ways to live fully, as we are no longer defined by the work we do, but by the love we give. And may all of the inequities and disparities revealed by this pandemic be permanently brought to light and find healing and grace for the change that is long overdue.
Happy Anniversary to the Happy Couple, and to those of us who made it safely through an extraordinary year. There is hope on the horizon and love lights our way. Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here. MAY YOU BE BLESSED WITH LONGEVITY.
I cried… first thing this morning as I saw images of his departure. My whole being relieved with a sigh, a shudder, a sob. I was bullied as a child, and the last four years have felt like being on high alert, awaiting the final, fatal blow from an abuser.
That 73 Million countrymen and neighbors would have brought such a beast back into my home, after witnessing the bruises and scars of the last four years, gleefully handing him a bat to finish the job, remains something to be dealt with. Forgiveness must come, for we know it will only ooze beneath the surface – and look what happens when disrespect and loathing is left to fester – January 6, 2021 – another day of infamy. But still… accountability is necessary for forgiveness, and healing comes as words meet action. Trust has been diminished, but hope has been rekindled.
A woman who was once a boss, recently died. She remains an important part of my life’s story, despite having been one of those bullies and abusers. Her behavior and actions led to my departure from a workplace I thrived in for a decade. As time passed, I could see the beauty of that blessing. Her tyranny pushed me forward. What started as defiance to make a point to her, became the open door through which I walked into a new and better life. So, I have said a prayer of gratitude to her departed soul. Thank you for revealing to me that life can be so much better.
I feel that these last four years have been that sort of lesson for this beloved nation of ours. Pulling back the veil of denial and darkness. No longer willing to sit idle in apathy while our fellow Americans are brutalized, bullied, and abandoned – we are invited to ‘rise by lifting others’ [R. Ingersoll]. As we witnessed in our pandemic stillness that which we could not turn away from, it was up to those of us in privileged (if unintentional) ignorance to educate ourselves, to be vulnerable with our truth, to seek the forgiveness of those whom our lack of consciousness may have harmed, and to do everything in our power to make it right.
Those first tears of the morning were a release and a relief. My body informed me of the tension she has held these four long years. The abuser has left the building. Thank you for revealing to us that we can be so much better.
Millions will surely write of today’s Inauguration. I feel that my words could never do it justice. I felt a sense of pride and gratitude to see that though it was far from normal, sacred ceremony continues to be a balm for healing… even when masked and physically distanced.
Every choice was made with intention and purpose, and every element delivered hope and glory. I cried… a lot.
Our country should have celebrated our first female president in January 2017. I am certain it will be revealed that the popular vote would not have been her only win, as more and more truths are revealed in the years ahead. But without the chaos of the last four years, I’m not sure that we would have progressed as much as we are about to. So many of us would have missed the opportunity for enlightenment. Gotta love that pendulum swing!
There’s so much more to say and to consider. We now have a President who is responsible and compassionate, and our first (but not our last) female Vice President, who is brilliant and strong. I will not pretend that they will always be the perfect leaders, but I am certain they will lead with mindful compassion for people and the planet, with truth and integrity at the core of each decision.
I believe the world is slayed by the poetic perfection of Ms. Amanda Gorman, whose words carry the weight and the hope for where we’ve been and where we wish to be. I am physically and emotionally spent from four years of fight or flight survival. We all deserve a hot bath and a nap today!
So, here’s to the end of an error, and to the light of new beginnings. May there be accountability and justice, woven with healing and growth. May we continue the hard work of creating a more perfect union bolstered by equality AND equity. Let this new decade finally begin, and let respect and caring help bring this pandemic to a close, as we grieve those we’ve lost, and lift those who continue to fight for the lives of those they took an oath to serve and save.
Thank you for walking this path with me. Please stay safe and well, for you are sacred. I love you!
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.