Lonely Hearts Club Band

candles

Last year I wrote a post about how I always go within at this time of year – actually I wrote that 2 weeks ago too – hah.  Well, I guess it’s a theme for me.  But something is starting to shift and lest you think that I only write about tough things, I wanted to share a bright, beautiful light that is shining on me right now.  It’s called Embracing Loneliness.

Eleven years ago, I admitted to myself that I might be sensitive.  Don’t laugh!  Sensitive people had always made me feel uncomfortable and I had spent a lot of energy distancing myself from people that seemed “overly” sensitive.  It’s been a process of accepting that indeed, I am a very sensitive person, and finding the gifts in that – it’s my creative spark, my drive to connect from the heart with others, what makes me approachable to people.  I have a gentle nature and I try to honor that and try not to get too stressed out, because under stress, my fierce protector comes in and mows everybody down.  Balance is a good thing.  Praying for that.  And working on it.  Always.

Well, now I’m on to a new one – uncomfortable emotion, that is.  Being in a long distance marriage, having one kid live in another state, and traveling a lot myself, I have a lot of time by myself.  All my life I’ve felt lonely and it’s never been comfortable for me.  Never!  I’ve done so much on my own.  I’m an only child, had a lot of freedom as a kid, saw my dad once or twice a year, moved a lot, felt like a ‘weirdo’ because I was ‘different’ (probably being overly sensitive – hah), I’m fiercely independent, a little bit of a loner – ok, a lot of a loner, march to my own drummer, not a joiner, etc.  You can probably get the picture.  All this time, I’ve thought there was something wrong with me for feeling lonely.  I gave ‘loneliness’ a value judegment of wrong…or worse, unevolved – not spiritual enough.  If I was truly connected to God, I would “never be alone” right?  We’re all connected.  So anytime I felt lonely, I felt bad about myself and tried very hard to NOT feel lonely!  Push it down.  Call a friend.  Judge myself.  Blame somebody else (ok, Andy) for making me feel lonely!

And then…something happened…something so small and every day, but for some reason, it got in and I had an “Aha!” moment.  I was having a therapy session with someone that I respect.  He leads workshops all over the world and lives with his wife and son and they all seem to have a very loving, connected relationship with each other.  He was talking about how loneliness can overcome him during his morning meditation time and he will weep with it – even when his beloved family is in the very next room!  He shared that loneliness is universal and just a feeling – a feeling to be felt and expressed and allowed to pass through.  I really did feel like a bull, drunkenly tilting my head to one side and thinking “huh….?  Wha??”  He also went on to say, that loneliness, when felt, can be an indicator of deep love and yearning – something that I can convey and share with others and further my connectedness.

I thought about how so many people in the hospice groups for the newly bereaved are overcome with grief and afraid of how overwhelming it can feel.  What we teach is that the only way ‘out’ is really ‘through’ – feeling the grief is the only thing that lessens the grief.  I am comfortable with grief, I feel it every day.  I allow it in and really ‘go there’, knowing it will pass and my tears will dry in minutes.  What if I applied this to loneliness?

The past several days, I’ve had a lot of time alone in the house, the weather has been bitterly cold, all the animals are using me as a heating pad.

coldRuby

I’ve felt alone and have been missing my family, and have even felt some melancholy and existential angst about the passage of time as well as knowing that I am preparing to be away in India for several weeks – which always makes me feel as if I’m in outer space – as far away from familiar as I can get.

tipi

But what’s different these last few days is that I’m sitting in stillness (usually with at least one animal on top of me) and lighting candles, painting, creating beauty and warmth, and saying out loud “I’m lonely” and really feeling it.  Letting myself go there.  I’m sharing it with others without (and this is big, and new) hoping somebody (ok, Andy) will make it better.  And guess what?  Big surprise.  It’s passing!  Not only is it passing, it’s kind of welcome.  In a  poignant way.  Like shedding a tear for a beloved grandparent – so sweet to remember their face, and sad to miss their embrace, but heart-opening to connect to that loving memory.  This moment of loneliness connects me to my heart.  I long for my husband and connect to the love I have for him.  I notice the beauty of the falling snow.  I’m present and aware that this moment is fleeting.  I am grateful to be in my own good company.  I heat soup.  I feed the cats.  I walk the dog.  I feel content.  So simple.  So big.

Early Morning Sunrise
Early Morning Sunrise

There is a loneliness more precious than life. There is a freedom more precious than the world. Infinitely more precious than life and the world is that moment when one is alone with God.  – Rumi

Chakra Series – 5th Chakra

Throat Chakra - taken by my son
Throat Chakra – taken by my son

Vishuddha – Throat Chakra – Sound, Creative identity, (self-expression)

This is the chakra located at the throat and is related to communication and creativity.  When open, you are free to speak your mind, express yourself fluently, and feel as if you have a right to your voice.  I’ve been hesitant to write about the 5th chakra because I’ve been in a funky place of self-doubt, insecurity, and writer’s block.  The antithesis of a flowing 5th chakra.  But then I realized, I was waiting until I had something “good” to write, instead of just sharing what is living in my heart and speaking my mind.  That I can do.

This is the time of year I always, always begin my descent down into the underworld, to shed my layers and hang on Inanna’s meat hook.  I feel like my insides are exposed and I get protective, isolated.  Something about the holidays and my birthday approaching.  And an internal wisdom to hibernate and go within that bumps up against our society’s demand that we Celebrate!  with a capital ‘C’.

Yesterday was the Day of the Dead.  The veils are thin at this time of year.  I feel it.  The clocks have turned back this morning, and while I write this, the sky is putting on a show for me;  rose pink, lavender gray and pale orange behind inky trees.

November Sky
November Sky

Where does the time go?  I spent Halloween night quietly, not a lot of trick-or-treaters on our street.  I spoke to Andy, alone on Halloween just like me, in another state.  We texted each other using emoji’s = Modern Love.  We were walking down memory lane about past Halloweens with our kids.  I was looking at old pictures of parties we used to have.  I was feeling melancholy looking at the small fresh faces in all the photographs, dressed in their costumes.  Pirate cheerleader, angel, ghost.  “I know, those days are gone forever” texts my husband.  “Thanks for cheering me up!” I text and include a gun emoji pointed at my head.  (my sense of humor)

I had one tiny little girl who stared at me with wide eyes and, when prompted by her parents, whispered a hushed “twick or tweat”.  My heart ached with the purity of that age – her family’s future spreading out before them in an amalgam of hopes and dreams.  I’ve aged.  I’ve become cynical.  My heart is broken.  This is the first Halloween ever that I haven’t spoken to my daughter.  I can’t.  She’s not here.  She’s in a therapeutic boarding school.  This is our life right now.

Gazing upon my trick-or-treater’s face, I felt like Scrooge looking down on Tiny Tim and felt my heart crack with her innocence.  I ran upstairs and got my daughter’s fancy tea set all packed away in a wicker basket (I remember when I bought it at a fancy toy store in town that has since closed) and handed it to the girl’s mom.  “Enjoy it, use it” I said.  One more childhood token removed from the house.

It feels cliche for me to write about the “cycle of life” but it always comes up for me at this time of year:  birth, death, dreams, heart-ache, babies, teenagers, the truly egregious wounds that family can and does inflict, Spring, Fall, candycorn, rotting pumpkins, plump cheek, wrinkles, baby, crone, dropouts, honor roll, fresh air, meds, the redemptive power of LOVE in family = it all swirls inside my brain and my heart and collects in an aching lump, in my throat.  Glad I got it down in words today.

Chakra Series – 4th Chakra

4th Chakra activated
4th Chakra activated

Anahata (Sanskrit: अनाहत, Anāhata) the heart center – this chakra allows us to love deeply, feel compassion, and access a sense of peace and connectedness.

There is much yearning for me to live in the heart center.  If you notice, it’s right in the center of the 7 chakras.  I draw upon the energy from the lower chakras and pull down the energy from the upper chakras and they all meet in the 4th to generate a warm loving pulse, a strong drum beat that I walk to.  Not all the time, but as much as I can manage.  It is my life practice to keep the heart chakra open.

“Love is what we are; we don’t get it from somebody, we can’t give it to anybody, we can’t fall in it or fall out of it. Love is our true Being.”  Krishna Das

This post has taken me longer to write than the others in the series because I want to do it justice.  Like describing a lover’s face to somebody else, I don’t want to leave anything out, get it just right.  And in the realization of that, I can let go and do my best, it’s just ego setting out its trip wire.

Once, when I was a pre-school teacher, one of my favorite 4 year old girls threw her arms around me and said “I love you so much, I wish I could kiss you on the lips!” and I received the pure uncensored abandon of her love.  What my 4 year old girl wants to say about the 4th chakra is: “I am in love with this chakra, with this life, with YOU, with ME and I wish I could write a thousand love poems for the heart!”  I wish I could throw my arms around the world and dissolve into one million points of light and ecstatically merge with All.  (Maybe that’s what death is like…I hope so.)

This full moon time, I’ve been praying to take the “next step” in my work life, the next step on the path of meaning and service.  I pray to be of service in the world, in the areas of death & dying, grief healing, suicide loss, threshold passages, sacred sexuality, body awareness/appreciation – you know, just the usual stuff.  And ALL of it under the umbrella of sharing from the heart, with each and every encounter, seeing others through eyes of love.

“Wherever you are, and whatever you do, be in love.”  -Rumi.

So how to do that?  Stay in love with the world on a daily basis…not always easy.  Especially driving around Boulder at 5pm.  My god I am challenged!  I am humbled by how quickly I can get knocked off center.  My blueprint for living these days is my beloved book:  The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer.  In it, he speaks about how the heart center is an energy center and this energy (Chi, Shakti, Spirit) is unlimited and it’s our birthright.  It’s our birthright!  We store pain in the heart center and in order to be truly FREE, we need to commit to a practice of feeling our pain and releasing it, witnessing it as energy, nothing more/less, and allowing it to pass.  This enables us to stay in our heart and not close it off anytime we think we might feel something painful.  Living in fear of feeling something  that hasn’t happened yet isn’t freedom.  Singer says:  “The only thing you have to know is that opening (the heart) allows energy in, and closing blocks it out.”  The good news is that I am presented with mulitiple opportunties a day to stop, breathe and relax my heart and open it again.  Which is why it is my most active, ongoing practice and it has immediate, amazing results.  My life is changing before my eyes.

 

Lotus Mudra (for an open heart)
Lotus Mudra (for an open heart)

“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.

There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.

You feel it, don’t you?”

― Rumi

Chakra Series – 1st Chakra

This is my first post since May – I don’t even know how that could have happened, but in part, it’s due to writer’s block, which happened the day I signed up for a writer’s workshop in Esalen next July.  Another reason I haven’t written is that I have been on a summer vacation at the beach.  This summer I needed to relax and restore myself.  I wrote myself a perscription, this is what it said:  Have Fun.  And that’s what I did.  I went to yoga, rode my bike, ate good food, swam, paddled, played, parented, visited with friends and family, made new friends.  I went for a lot of walks with Andy and Ruby (my dog) and slowly, slowly, my nerves thickened, and my muscles toned and my heart started to reconnect itself.

My daughter hasn’t lived at home since April 23 (who’s counting?) I miss her terribly.  Even to write this I can feel the sting of tears behind my eye lids.  She’s away, receiving support, getting better.  We are here, receiving help, getting better.  I guess I haven’t felt much like writing since she’s been gone.  Grief is a parasitic creature, living off of my creative resources.  I’ve been in an intimate relationship with Grief this year, and I’ve danced all the steps – from disbelief, anger, resentment, refusal to despair, collapse, surrender.  Grief brought her gifts ridiculously early, on the very first day of Lili leaving, I was able to see them.  I continue to be touched by the kindness of others, the compassion of mothers, the love of my children.  But it still hurts – in an open-mouthed “O” of shock at times.  Some days I can’t even handle the grocery store because it’s too painful to see somebody who doesn’t know about my life, or does know and asks me about it.

For me, the first chakra, the root, is about being grounded.  It’s my sense of place in the world and what makes me feel the safest and most secure.  It’s my energetic “home base” and my connection to the earth.  When my first chakra is open I feel a sense of well-being and peace.  It reminds me of a song my Grandmother used to sing to me:

The year’s at the Spring, the day’s at the morn, morning’s at 7, the hillside’s dew pearled.  The lark on the wing, the snail on the thorn, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

This is a photo from 2 summers ago, we were all together in Santa Cruz.  This is my first chakra picture.  In the picture, I’m happy being a mama, I’m smiling at my husband, the kids are clamoring around me, and my world is complete.

These days, I feel like an amputee – learning to live without a limb, something’s missing, someone’s missing.  And I trust the universe.  I trust my girl’s path.  I trust mine.  (most of the time)  I’m standing on this earth, feet planted, my lioness heart pounding in my chest.

 

 

 

The story doesn’t end here…

 

"The semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn't"
“The semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn’t”

This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time and had no idea how to start. It’s about a subject that is sensitive and personal. It’s about Suicide. I personally know a lot of people who have chosen to end their lives.

Everyone had different circumstances and methods – some had Aids related dementia, some were chronically ill, others were clinically depressed (despairing in a darkness that no light could reach), some were a complete shock and some were unfortunately hinted at and worried about before the actual deed was carried out.

When my mother’s partner Fred was experiencing a soul crushing depression three years ago, I wrote to him and asked him to live for his son and grandchildren – telling him that suicide was not a legacy he would want to leave his grandsons.  Advice I gave from personal experience.

I was 25 when my maternal grandfather hung himself.   In his goodbye note he misspelled my mother’s name. He took his life on his wedding anniversary and his body was the first thing that my grandmother saw when she came downstairs to make breakfast. Every night after that, for months, I would wake up at 4am with heart palpitations – hyperventilating, unable to breathe.  Only a trip to the emergency room assured me that yes, my heart was strong and I wasn’t dying of a heart attack.  Just suffering from an overly sensitive nervous system.  I wish I had known then about grief and how it can manifest in the body and how we can experience the phantom symptoms of our loved one’s illness or death.

I have no wise insight into why people commit suicide or how I could have prevented anyone I knew from taking their own lives.  I do know that the people I knew were in a personal hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I also know that I can’t force anyone to want to live. It doesn’t work that way although I wish it did.

Fred hung himself from the garage rafters and my mother found him as she pressed the garage door opener, returning from church.  In his note he asked for her forgiveness.  He ended his story.

It’s been a tough year for me and I haven’t felt able to talk about it much.  Mostly because it didn’t feel like my story to tell.  My daughter has been struggling with anxiety and depression.  At times she’s struggled with wondering what the point of it all is.  This has rocked me to my core.  She is my heart.  My moon.  My love.  My life.  I’ve been stretched to my parenting limits and stretched some more.  The gifts that have come from these several months are still unfolding but already I am grateful to experience first-hand the tenderness of strangers, the circle of tribe, the ties of blood, the howling fierceness of mother love, the tempering of my will, and the sweet grace of surreneder.

The semi-colon movement was brought to my attention by my husband.  The movement is for anyone who has ever self-harmed or has tried to commit suicide.  On April 16 they are asking people to draw a semi-colon on their body in solidarity with them.  A writer uses a semicolon to continue a sentence and uses a period to finish one.  The semicolon is a sign of hope. The sentence doesn’t end here.

PS – the picture above is my new tattoo I got today.  Whenever it started to hurt, I thought of my girl and all the pain she’s been through and put all my love for her back into the ink.  The story doesn’t end here…

 

For Bill, Joe, Ives, John, Sarah, Frank, Stephen, Tim, Mary, Fred, and everyone everywhere who just couldn’t bear one more day and all those who loved them.

 

 

 

 

 

Mother India and the River of Love – Part 1

IMG_9718

Before our Women’s Journey to India started, I shared with Nancy that I felt  2 themes were emerging around this trip, based on the few things I was learning from the participants and our itinerary.  The two themes were ‘mother’  and  ‘water’.  I knew we were going to Mother India and I was curious to see all the ways these themes might express themselves to each one of us.  We had chosen to go to places in India that celebrated life, death and rebirth – many of these life/death rituals happened near or in the Ganges river – otherwise known as Mata Ganga (Mother Ganges.)

We landed smack dab in the middle of Durga Puja – a celebration of the Goddess Durga – the mother of the universe, mother of us all.  What a “coincidence”!  The time of Durga Puja is a holy time celebrated throughout all of India.  Sculptures made out of clay are formed in her likeness – a powerful woman with 8 arms – and she is honored for several days with parades and dancing in the streets.  In Varanasi, the beautiful statues are decorated and worshipped, the streets are clogged with processions down to the river, and Durga is sent off in boats to the middle of the Ganges to be set free in the river, clay returning back to mud.

When we arrived in Varanasi, the weather was ominous with frothing white caps on the river that was at a record high and rain lashing at our hotel windows, creating puddles of water that soaked anything left on the floor.  The scene was all too familiar for those of us from Colorado.   We were dismayed to learn that all boat trips were cancelled indefinitely due to dangerous weather conditions.   I stared longingly out my hotel window at the river – Mata Ganga – churning wide, brown and swift, wishing to be on it.

Hotel view, there's water on the marble floor...
Hotel view, there’s water on the marble floor…

The Ganges is considered one of the holiest rivers for Hindus as well as a goddess:  Ganga.  Unlike other goddesses, she has no destructive or fearsome aspect, accepting all and forgiving all.  It is considered an honor to die at the banks of the Ganges if one is a Hindu, and if that is not possible, to be cremated on her banks with the ashes set free in her current.  It was my first time to Varanasi and I had come with the special task of releasing some of my dear friend and world traveler Lance’s ashes into the river.  What with the late monsoon floods, and rains from the typoon happening to the East, I was dubious if I would get the chance to fulfill this task.

Waiting...
Waiting…
more waiting
more waiting

On our last day, we were told that boats could make the trip and we would indeed be able to take our evening ride with a priest (Pujari – one who officiates puja – offerings/ceremony) so that all of us who were releasing ashes (symbolic or otherwise) would be blessed.  The current had finally died down enough so that the boat motors could power their way back up the river once they had drifted down to the burning ghats (the place of cremation in Varanasi that is at the water’s edge.)  Punam told me later that she had prayed “day and night” to make sure we could have our boat ride and I shared that I had been praying too!

Before I left my room at the hotel, I lit some incense and prayed to be present and open for the ritual I was about to participate in.

praying with Lance one last time
praying with Lance one last time

In some ways, it felt like the end of my journey with Lance.  From holding his hand as he slipped into a morphine sleep, to lying with his body in the wee hours of his death, to painting silks that wrapped around his body while he lay in his casket, to honoring his life at his memorial months later, here I was, in a final moment with him, releasing a baggie of ash and bone in India.

heading out, fires in the distance are the crematories
heading out, fires in the distance are the crematories
Burning Ghats
Burning Ghats
puja
puja – offerings

On the boat, a fresh wave of grief hit me and I sobbed in the dark.  The women each held my story about Lance and his family in their hearts and gave me the strength to honor my friend.

After my wave of sorrow passed, came a joyful knowing that Lance would have LOVED knowing his ashes were in the Ganges, in a place that had meant so much to he and Nancy.  I felt lighter and calm.  A nice reminder for me that resistance is really the only thing that causes my suffering.

Rock Star Pujari with Nancy and me, feeling peaceful
Rock Star Pujariji with Nancy and me, feeling peaceful
Joyful…with Somit

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there.  I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there.  I did not die.

-Anonymous

Sweet Memories

Santa Cruz Harbor
Santa Cruz Harbor

When I was a kid, I would spend every 4th of July in Narrangansett, RI with my grandparents.  Just me and Mimi and Grandy.  It was idyllic.  Not just the romanticizing of childhood that can happen with sepia toned memories, but truly perfection…and unconditional love.  Lots of that.

It took me a long time to figure out why I get so emotional about fireworks (they’re magical to me) and an even longer time to consciously “get” why the 4th of July is such a big deal to me.  I love gathering friends together and burning sparklers, kids running around like crazy, sweet treats and later…fireworks in the black night.  I’m embarrassed to tell you that it wasn’t until a few years back, with the help of my husband who gently pieced it together for me, that 4th of July goes hand in hand with happier times in an often grim childhood spent with alcholhic parents.  This is one holiday I don’t have a single memory of alcohol crashing in like an unwelcomed guest.

For the past 3 years Andy and I have been spending the 4th in Santa Cruz, a beach town in California.  The thrill of spending this holiday at the ocean is beyond description.  The part of my brain that holds all the sensory memories of summer gets stirred and a peace and joy comes over me.  Salty air, sunburned skin, charcoal fires, music playing, the occasional loud ‘POP!’ down the street from a clandestine fire cracker, the holiday goers lugging their coolers and cranky babes, the locals sitting outside Deke’s Market, playing ukeleles…all of it weaves an old familiar tale with new traditions.

Santa Cruz lighthouse
Santa Cruz lighthouse

My daughter is backpacking in the mountains of Colorado, my son is in Europe on a cruise with his dad.  Both unreachable by phone or email.  But my step-daughter arrived  today for her first experience of 4th of July, California style.  Andy and I sat on the shore and watched her step into the ocean… uncertainly at first, then more and more sure of herself.  Soon she was was out past the breakers.   As the sun tried to burn through the fog, I had a vision of my grandparents watching me in the waves years ago: “Don’t go out too far Zan!”  Mimi would call and I would laugh.

I’m filled with gratitude for the all the love my grandparents showered on a growing girl that needed it.  Grateful that they can live on in my heart for as long as I do.  Concentric circles of love rippling out and lapping at other’s hearts like gentle waves.  I miss you guys so much.  And was and continue to be so lucky that I was loved by you.

Best Grandparents Ever

“The wave is the same as the ocean, though it is not the whole ocean. So each wave of creation is a part of the eternal Ocean of Spirit. The Ocean can exist without the waves, but the waves cannot exist without the Ocean.” 

-Paramahansa Yogananda

Aint Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang

Harlan G

Got your attention?  I’m talking about the ‘G’ word…Grief, not Gangsta.  I hope you don’t stop reading just because you found out this post is about grief.  I think people, and Western culture in particular, have an unease about the word grief.  “Ugh…so heavy…grief” my friend says when she hears that I’ve titled my trip to India ‘Transcending Grief’,  “I just think of a bunch of women sitting around crying” she adds.  I get it.  I changed the title to something lighter, more fun sounding…”Journey to India” and people responded postitively, they liked it better.  Phew, less heavy.

I find myself drawn to the word grief, not repelled.  Anytime I see a workshop, a book or something on the internet with the word ‘grief’ in the title, my pulse quickens and I get excited to see what it is.  I truly have a passion for grief!  Grief makes me appreciate life more…love more.  My heart has cracked open so more can get in.

“The wound is where the light enters you.”  -Rumi

I don’t know if it’s the word itself or if it’s the fear of the pain that we back away from.  I often notice people backing away from the word grief and changing it to something more palatable, like “loss” or “letting go.”  Grief packs a powerful punch.  Oomph right in the gut…or the heart.  Ask somebody who has lost a loved one and they’ll tell you they’re grieving.  Grief is the word that fits.  After a few years (or months!) our society wants people to be moving on and getting past the loss, i.e. Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Stephen Jenkinson says:  “Grief and the love of life are twins.”  Two halves that make a whole.  He goes on to say,  “From a young age we see around us that grief is mostly an affliction, a misery that intrudes into the life we deserve, a rupture of the natural order of things, a trauma that we need coping and management and five stages and twelve steps to get over.  Here’s the revolution:  What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught?  What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway?”

If we’re truly living in the moment each day, we are grieving every day as well.  How so?  Well, if I am appreciating the beauty of this moment, with my dog snoring softly on the couch, my daughter sleeping peacefully upstairs, the sun shining through the green willow leaves, I am also aware of the temporal state of this moment.  Everything passes.  Everything dies.  The knowledge that each moment is finite fills me with an ecstatic pleasure as well as an ache to know it will never happen again.  I’m loving life anyway, in spite of loss, because of loss.  In this way, grief has been a life changing gift to me, by giving me a profound appreciation for each moment, knowing that this too shall pass, I will pass.

Summer Poppies come
Summer Poppies come

Often when we lose somebody or something dear to us, we feel compelled to search for the meaning behind the loss.   “What if meaning is not something to find?” Stephen asks.  “Meaning is made by the willingness to proceed.  Life has to continue, not YOU have to continue.  Life is not your life span or your children’s life span.  How about holding the fact that nothing you hold dear lasts.  How about holding that fact close to your bosom?  That’s making meaning of the end of life.”

and go...
and go…

What a difference a year makes

heaven

It’s kind of a personal story…one that is better told through smiles, gestures…tears.  Sitting with a cup of tea and a comfy cushion, a nice blanket to wrap up in, a sheepskin to lie down on…perhaps a few candles burning.  I would tell you this story on a perfect night like this, the wind whooshing through the cottonwood leaves, a dark sky threatening rain, contrasting with the early summer green.  Birds singing their twilight song.

On a cold afternoon on one of the first days of 2012, I lay in my bed daydreaming on the New Moon…making prayers for the new year.  Thinking about what I wanted to call in, to invite, to embrace for the year ahead.  I asked to open my mind to new thought, to higher consciousness, expansion.  I wanted to open my heart to larger love; ways of living, loving, thinking and acting that have been out of reach, beyond my abilities.  I wrote in my journal:  “I know I have called in something bigger than me – I have asked to be opened up and filled.”

Later that year I loved a man in the most intimate way.  It’s hard to describe accurately or to do it justice.  My friend’s husband was dying of a brain tumor.  She asked me to come over and give him Reiki.  I went over to their house and loved him.   That’s what I did.  I loved him the way a mother loves her child – unconditionally and purely.  I let cosmic love pour through me and into him.  I got out of the way.  I was a channel.  I felt filled with love.  I think he did too.  I know he did.  We shared a few intimate hours together over his last few weeks.  On the day he died, I held his hand while he transitioned from consciousness to coma.  I held his feet and felt his spirit take flight – a hawk soaring fast and free.  I lay with him hours after he had passed and stroked his forehead.  Alison and I spent the cool hours of the dark early morning with him – this unseasonably hot June, the June that would bring fire upon fire to our mountains.  We dozed on the bed with him, burned sage, laughed and cried together.  I wrote in my journal how humbled and grateful I was to spend those days with him.  I also wrote that I thought I had found my dharma and how grateful I was to Nancy and Lance for letting me in to their lives so I could share what was longing to be expressed in me – my desire to be of service and for my life to have deeper meaning and purpose.

footsteps

A few days ago, I got a call from my hospice supervisor letting me know a woman was transitioning.  They were asking for volunteers to take turns sitting with her during the day while her family members were at work.  It had been a few months since there had been an opportunity to sit vigil and I jumped at the chance.  First shift.  I’m there.  I have sat with 4 people since Lance died last year.  First I had to go through general training, then a special training to sit vigil.  When my supervisor told me of this new person, she mentioned that this woman was conscious.  This was new.  Something to ponder.  It’s one thing to sit with a stranger that’s dying and they’re unconscious.  But to walk into the room of somebody I’ve never met before, while they’re going through one of the most intimate (if not the most intimate) acts of their life and sit with them…well, this got me nervous.  I prayed as I drove.  I prayed to be of service, to connect with my heart, to just BE.

It’s hard to explain, again, words can’t do this justice.  From the minute I walked into this woman’s room and she locked her blue-gray eyes on me, there was not one second that felt awkward or wrong.  I held her hand.  She didn’t speak but her eyes saw my every move.  I introduced myself and told her I was going to sit with her.  I honored the work she was doing – as she seemed to be laboring – and her body’s wisdom to know when it was time to let go.   I told her she wasn’t alone.   I never know what I will be moved to say or do with any particular person.  It’s different every time.  Sometimes I sit in silent meditation.  We must have “gazed” for over an hour.  It was intimacy on a soul-level.

When I returned the next day for the first shift, I was told that she had just passed.  I went in to see her body and touch her forehead.  As I sat and waited for her family to arrive, I cried.  At first, I was critical of myself…”Stop being so dramatic!  You didn’t even know this woman.  Why are you crying?”  After those thoughts passed, I decided to allow my heart to expand and just feel everything that was surfacing:  the ending of this woman’s life, the shell of her body in front of me, the softness of her gaze from yesterday, the imminent arrival of her loved ones.  The LOVE my own heart could feel for this woman, for the people that cared for her, for the patients in the facility, and for my family.

Today I looked back through my journal and discovered that the day I sat vigil with this woman,  was a year to the day that I first sat with Lance.  If grief is a sprial, then love is concentric circles…rippling out to infinity.  I am truly grateful for this life and for the meaning that I am privileged to have fill my days and the people I am honored to serve.

Grief Spiral

dandy

Grief isn’t linear.  It’s not a straight shot.  You don’t pass through locks in a canal, never to go back, chugging along to what…?  Before?  No.  A land where there is no pain?  No.

I love the metaphor that grief is a spiral, where I circle around, sometimes close to the epicenter (deep pain) and sometimes a bit farther out (awareness of the loss) and sometimes on the outskirts of the spiral (where I can smile at the memories and celebrate the gifts from knowing that person.)  No matter how long it’s been since the death of a loved one, I can be anywhere on the spiral – although I can truthfully say once I’ve experienced the acute phase of a loss, I’ve never gone back to that excruciating grief that feels like it could swallow me up and seems unsurvivable when it’s happening.  I hope that gives people some hope to read that.

Sometimes…I can be grieving and not even realize it.  Recently, life has been feeling so tender and almost unbearable to me.  Spring is late here in Boulder and with Spring comes baby animals.  We’ve got a Mama Raccoon in our attic, right over my bedroom, and her babies make scritchy scratchy sounds and chirp all night long.  I am sleeping in another room because they are so loud!  They sound like they are in the room with us!  Andy is calling them his roomates.  I don’t ordinarily like raccoons, but I am very distressed about these babies.  What to do?  I want them to be relocated, and not euthanized.  But I’m worried they are too young to be moved.  I can barely stand the thought that they will be moved outside… and then what?

Yesterday, we noticed a very small, brand new, baby squirrel up in our tree.  The mama was trying to show it how to scramble through the branches.  Then we noticed a very fat, buff tiger cat (ours) up in the tree, getting ready to pounce on the baby squirrel!  Oh no!  Andy ran out and sprayed the hose on our cat.  This barely distracted her.  Note that it was pouring rain yesterday too.  I was paralyzed with fear that Baby (our horrible cat) was going to kill the squirrel baby, the squirrel baby that isn’t even strong enough, or old enough, to scamper away.  The cat finally came in looking like a drowned rat and she has been locked up under protest all day today.  I’m praying that baby squirrel has enough evolutionary smarts to grow – fast!

As I was unloading my animal woes (my fear of impending death to small, helpless creatures, and my participation on some level with their possible impending deaths) on a friend today, she wondered what is going on for me about death.  “Well” I answered innocently, “a year ago is the time I started working with Lance.”  Hmmm.  As I said it, I realized that is what’s been living in me without me being consciously aware of it.  Two days ago was the 11 month anniversary of Lance‘s death.

Last May, I started giving Lance reiki and spending more time with him.  It was a powerful, life changing month.  It was an  intimate experience that touched me.  I will probably write more about this time, but for now the words escape me.  I am just aware that I am more sensitive than usual and it’s a reminder to go back to the basics of self care; something we teach in the Newly Bereaved groups at hospice.  Drink more water.  Rest.  Get out in nature. Share with close friends – people who will listen and let me be right where I’m at.  Most of all, thanks to my wise friend Sally, I want to BE present with all that I am feeling right now.  I want to witness the sorrow and the tenderness and allow any and all emotions to wash over me.  I might feel things this year that I was too in shock to feel last year.  I can notice the gifts that have come to me in the past year, since knowing Lance, and give thanks for them and for his life.  Gratitude.  And, I’m going to try and help these little animal babies stay alive if I can…