Present Tense

Anniversary….

One year ago today, I embarked on a journey that affected me so profoundly that I haven’t even processed it fully.

I packed a bag and left my house to drive 4 hours south to sit at my 96 year-old mother’s bedside as she died.

I wrote quite extensively about the process and the journey of being with my mom as she wound down toward death. I had been preparing for this for some time.

As I sat with her and listened to her breathing, I realized that I had been preparing for my entire life.

I was her last born, the last child that she shared her heartbeats and her breath with.  I was the one to be there and hold her hand as she left this incarnation.  The circle was closed.

My mom and I had a very close relationship when I was a child. All of my older siblings were out of the house by the time I was 5 or 6. My dad worked long hours. So, just mom and me.

As I grew up, our relationship, like many mothers and daughters was complicated and at times, difficult. I distanced myself from family; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Whether it’s accurate or not, I felt abandoned by them. It was during my mom’s final years that I realized that the death of her father when she was 12, left her feeling exactly the same way.

He chose alcohol over his young family and he died right int the middle of the Great Depression, leaving my grandmother to raise and provide for 3 children.

My mother NEVER spoke of this until the last couple of years of her life, when her dementia lifted some of her inhibitions and she spoke much more freely about her childhood and the challenges of losing her dad.  And the challenges of losing my dad a few years earlier.

So, I was with her in those final few years and months, as was my brother who lived close by. My older sisters , who visited as often as they could, were with their families, kids and grandkids, last Christmas. As they should have been. My sense is that they were where they were supposed to be, just as I was.

As she lay sedated and dying, I felt so strongly that her ancestors were in the room with us. Comforting her, gladly leading her into spirit. My dad, my grandma, her beloved sister, grandparents and who knows who else. All of them were there.

I was told during meditation to stay out of the way; that she was in good hands and I was there to witness not a death, but the birth of a spirit.

This was all very profound and comforting at the time and has greatly altered my view of death, both my own and others.

However, over the past year, I’ve realized that I was ready for her death, but not for her absence in my life. Even though the last few years with her were challenging and scary and exhausting, I miss her.

I miss how happy she was when I walked through the door. I miss her loopy conversations and questions as her memory slipped further into the ether. I miss helping her and caring for her and yes, waiting on her:)

I felt weird and sad when my parents’ estate was settled; they left a nice little nest egg for us, which was great, but the trade off was being parentless.

2017 has been a wrestling match with my grief. Over losing my mom and the earlier shocking death of my dog, Ember. 2016 was a blur of activity, much of it difficult, but with a few magic moments sprinkled in.

2017 was the year to allow that previous year to settle over me and I admit that I haven’t handled it as well as I would have liked. I fell into some of my default escape and coping strategies a few times.  But, I feel much stronger now.  Shit happens, you know?

As all of you know, grief hits so suddenly and randomly. And it’s hit me pretty much daily this past year. Could I have done more?  Could I have handled things differently?  Could I have saved Ember?  The answer to all is: no.  Life unfolds as it does and as it must.  Regrets and second guessing only cause more pain.  Time to accept.

On December 28th, I’ll mark a year since her last breath. I’m not upset about losing her around the holidays. So many choose to leave in December, in the darkness and holiness of winter. Seems like a perfect time, doesn’t it?

Anyway…I’ve always loved Christmas Eve for it’s solemnity and quiet before the storm of frantic activity that often marks Christmas Day.

I will sit and watch or listen to Christmas Eve services at the Vatican, as I did with my sleeping mother last year and as I have done for many years. The consistency and beauty of that service nourishes me.

For those of you also remembering and grieving, I send much love and comfort. I get it. It is bittersweet as we carry on with our lives and legacy, knowing that we too, have limited time here.

Merry Christmas. The light is returning.

December 24, 2017 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Time for the grief to go

I made a conscious intention a couple of days ago to let go of my grief.

There has been so much over the last 3 years, culminating in my mom’s death in December.  When we suffer profound loss, we tend to revisit it for a period of time afterwards.  Sometimes, for the rest of our lives.

I started wondering why?  Why do I keep bringing back these feelings of pain and sadness, not only in my mind, but in my body.  I can feel the pain as if it were happening all over again.  It’s like picking at a wound that has scabbed over, only to make it bleed again and again and again.

How can it heal, when it is re-opened?

I realized that part of it was guilt. Guilt that if I don’t keep thinking about these deaths, that I’m not properly honoring them.  A belief that I need to remind myself of their loss and their absence on this physical plane.  That I can’t talk to them or hug them or apologize or encourage.  And I feel guilty that their absence also gives me a certain freedom. Especially from parental and family expectations and obligations.

Another part was fear. Fear that if I don’t revisit and remember, that they will fade from my memory as if they were never here.  Fear that I will forget how profoundly they affected me and how fiercely I loved them and they loved me.  Especially with the dogs, since I have other dogs now.  It becomes difficult to keep the dead ones in my consciousness; they all start to meld together.

So, I’ve been picking the scab; often in the quiet of  middle of the night.  I would wake up and remember.  They are gone.  Then move on to the day they died and the circumstances of their deaths and then I felt it all over again.  Almost as if it were happening in that moment.  And it felt terrible, but I rationalized it by telling myself that I have to keep their memory alive.  I have to feel that pain.

No more.  That scab has to heal. No more picking.  No more bleeding.  It will most certainly leave a scar.  But, scars don’t bleed and we often display them with the stories of how we got them. Usually, with a smile because we know that we survived and no matter how awful the wound, we did heal to a certain extent.  We healed enough to tell the tale of that scar.

I’ve shifted over to positive memories.  Funny, joyful, instructive, emotional, happy, silly and yes, sometimes sad or challenging memories.  A well-rounded remembrance of our lives.

So, that’s where I am.  Healing.  Isn’t that where we all are?  Everyday?  One wound may still be fresh, while others have scabbed over and many are well earned scars.  This is our life on planet earth. It hurts, but we get another day to make a life…and then another and another and another.

Allowing my grief to move into a new stage involved a release and an emptying that leaves me open and ready to what is coming.  It’s been a long process, with so many losses piled on top of one another in a fairly short time.  I’d never really had to deal with death in such an intimate way until 3 years ago and I was ill prepared.  A very steep learning curve that culminated in the honor of seeing, hearing and feeling my mom’s last breath.

But, it’s okay.  Lives end. They begin.  And what we do in between is what matters to humanity.  Make a decision to heal your wounds.  Ask for help, seek out tools and practices.  Don’t keep making yourself bleed over and over.  We have an innate ability to heal physically that is so apparent.  What may not be as apparent is our innate ability to heal our spirits as well.  The first step is intention.

I wish you well.  Feel free to reach out.

April 18, 2017 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

2016: On completion…

mom-and-dad2016. A year that lived up to its destiny.  In numerology, this was a ‘9’ year.  9 represents completion and that is exactly what this year has been for me.  Endings, goodbyes, letting go of all that no longer serves me.  Closing the circle on a journey that began several years ago.

On December 28th around 3:45 p.m. my mother took her last breath, as I sat on her bed with my hand on her chest.  It was peaceful and sacred and felt completely natural as I sat with her through her transition into spirit.

I won’t go into all of the particulars, other than to say that hospice is such a fantastic resource and I predict that our next big national discussion will be how we die.  Hospice plays such an integral part in the process and providing help and dignity, to not only the sick and dying, but the families who are often overwhelmed.  The hospice folks seemed to magically appear, exactly when we needed them.  It was almost mystical.

Five years ago, I would NEVER have even entertained the notion of sitting with my mother as she died.  I would have found excuses and justifications for staying as far away as possible.  It seems like that would be hard to admit, but I know myself and I can honestly say that I couldn’t handle it.  I wasn’t mature enough.

But, we change.  We evolve, particularly if we are open to it and often, the universe conspires to change us and open us up via shocking events and losses.

Until October 2013, when I was almost 54 years old, I had not really had to deal with death.  I feared it and dreaded losing my parents in particular, but in a compressed period, death has come and forced me to look at it.

Two dogs, a parent and a dear friend all passed in fairly quick succession before my mom began to fail.  I can see now that every one of these losses served a purpose. I suffered and felt grief that I never thought I could bear.  Each successive death brought back the pain of the others.

But, with each loss, I learned to cope and I also allowed my heart to crack open and my fear to dissipate.  I delved into death and dove into death.  As I survived the deaths of those I loved, I began to understand that death isn’t to be feared.  It is to be celebrated. It’s a change of address for their spirits.  And we all make that move one day.  Death begins at birth.

My mother always said she hoped that she would die peacefully in her sleep, but rarely do we get to choose our mode of passing.

With the help of hospice, she did get her wish for the most part. Unfortunately, some painful and violent falls preceded that peaceful transition, but I believe that was her soul’s way of telling us she was ready.

I was the youngest child.  Her last born and my siblings are all older; 15, 13 and 11 years my senior.  It felt fitting that as the last born, I should be with her as she died.  I was the last one whose heart beat with hers and I was there to feel her last heartbeats.

As I felt those last beats and watched her final breaths, I felt curiosity and relief and yes, beauty.  I did not feel fear or revulsion or panic.  The circle was closed.  Her life was complete, as was my role in helping her die.

We moved back to Michigan in the summer of 2013.  When people asked me what brought me back to my home state after being gone for 27 years, I couldn’t answer them. I honestly didn’t know.  It happened quickly and with some invisible guidance that I just didn’t question.

I loved Colorado and I miss it desperately, but for some reason, we needed to be here.  Now, I can clearly see the plan and the unfolding.  I moved back to help my mom die.  In the process, I lost others who prepared me for this mission. The other deaths forced me to come to terms with the impermanence of everything.

I also think that it’s no coincidence that our northern Michigan farm sits behind a cemetery.  I’ve spent hours wandering through it, feeling the energy, pondering the notion that all of its residents used to walk the earth, just as I am now.  Some died relatively young, but many lived into their 8th, 9th and even 10th decades and now they are a memory.  As we all will be. And that’s okay.  It’s not scary, it is the human condition and better to embrace it, than deny it.

And so, 2016 and I fulfilled our destiny.  This was a year of completion.  My obligation and commitment to my mother is finished; we watched over her, protected her and ultimately, fulfilled her wishes.  She and my dad’s ashes will be combined and buried together sometime in the early summer.  They are back together in the ether, surely dancing and laughing and holding hands.

RIP Mama. RIP Ember.  Thank you 2016; you have been a gift.

If you feel moved to make a donation in my mother’s memory, I would love to suggest Great Lakes Hospice Foundation .  Thank you.

January 1, 2017 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Lessons….

eagleYesterday, I was talking to a friend, who also happens to be an energy worker/healer, about the events of the past week, involving the death of Ember. She asked me to tell her what I had learned and what I thought it means going forward. Here is what I told her:

The day Ember was hit, I heard the delivery truck coming up the driveway and I had a flash of what was about to happen. I KNEW. As I ran toward the driveway, I knew what was happening and although all that I saw was a flash of white, as I got closer, I knew exactly where to look in the driveway.

I saw her and ran to her and I kneeled over her and knew she was gone. There wasn’t a mark on her. No blood, no contusions, nothing bent or broken. It was as if she were sleeping on the bed. But, she was gone.

After we let Junior sniff and nudge her, I wrapped her up and sat in a chair, holding her for about an hour. I stroked her, talked to her, kissed her and Junior sat with us. It was the most peaceful, serene, mystical experience. I was calm and loving and felt as if I were absorbing her into me; as if our spirits or souls melded together.

I know this sounds weird or airy-fairy to many of you, but it felt so perfect and necessary. Saying goodbye. Acknowledging that death is merely the end to our physical bodies and not the end of our essence.

I felt as if she was giving me a gift. Like most of us, I feared death for many years. I was terrified of losing my parents. I made my husband take our pets in to be euthanized because I couldn’t face it. It was better to just not think about it.

I was there when we put our dog Chili to rest and I was glad I was there for her, but this time, it was much more intimate and comforting. It healed me. I felt, smelled, tasted and embraced death in a way that I had never imagined. I had been feeling death in the air and I assumed it was my mom. So, maybe this was practice. A way to be there for her as she transitions.

We push away death in our culture. We deny it and fear it and sterilize it. This taught me to embrace it and know that death isn’t horrible. It isn’t the end. It’s a change of address.

Ember is now unbound by physical constraints. I ache for the loss I feel in my life, by not having her physically here with me. But, I know that my mom will be okay and that I can encourage her to face her fears. I can tell her that she can let go and join my dad and her parents and sister. Those of us still on earth will be fine and we’ll join her one day.  There is nothing to fear.

 

May 27, 2016 Posted by | Musings | , , , , , | 3 Comments

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