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…

Life and Death

LABuddha

I’m thinking about Life.  How I was in LA for a week – lala land – literally and figuratively, taking a break from Boulder.  Just got back on Monday night and by yesterday I was climbing the walls wishing for more ‘meaning’, missing my death work really and truly.

I shared with a few people how out-of-the loop I was feeling being away for the past week,  and soon afterwards, emails started rolling in about the newly bereaved group that starts next week that I will co-facilitate.  Then I made a deciscion to offer a grief/loss meditation group at my house for the month of March (more on that later) and not long afterward, I got a call from the volunteer coordinator at a local hospice that a vigil was starting for a woman who was dying and could I be there from 5-7 tonight?  No hesitation in my mind and heart as I said “Yes!”

So there I was last night, sitting beside a woman in transition, a woman I’ve never met but a woman I am sharing one of the most intimate times with.  All the petty b.s. I am consumed with falling away as I hold her hand.   An exercise in presence.  I can go about 5 minutes before I get distracted.  There’s a guy moaning loudly out in the hall.  My daughter’s calling my cell phone.  The woman’s roommate is shuffling her wheelchair to the bathroom to brush her teeth.  I look around.  On the hospital tray are signs of a former life, garlic salt and reading glasses sit patiently, never to be used again.  But I always come back to her, this woman who seems to be peacefully laboring.  Each breath is an effort.  An aide stops in to say goodbye “It’s time Mama.”  she says as she strokes her forehead.

In this moment, I am lost – anonymous – one tiny grain of sand.  Death is happening whether I took a shower or not.  In this moment, I am found – a spark of the divine, heart pumping, alive.  Open.  Grateful.

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