Last night I went to bed early, not because I was physically tired, but because I was emotionally worn out. I didn’t have energy for anything other than the oblivion of a warm bed. But I did not sleep soundly as I have the past several nights. Instead I was restless, thinking often of my father who is in the slow process of dying.
Eventually I gave up all notions of sleeping and allowed myself to succumb to the sadness that pervaded my being. I wasn’t feeling sad so much about his imminent passing, although I know that will be hard, but I was feeling worried about his level of physical and emotional comfort.
Eventually I arose, got dressed, wrapped a blanket around me and sat in a chair. At some point I got the inspiration to take a walk outside. In the summer, this would have been an easier task, but in the winter it involved putting on several layers of clothing and deciding where I could walk. The land was still coated with the snow and crunchy ice of the last winter’s storm. And I did not have with me any boots. Nevertheless, I ventured forth.
I was surprised to find it snowing. I had heard something about the potential arrival of more snow, but listening to weather reports has not been high on my list of priorities recently. I looked at the tiny falling snowflakes lit by the streetlight at the end of our drive and felt a small shimmer of joy.
I set forth down the long crispy-crunchy driveway. I turned right to walk on the street that over the last forty years has become extremely busy but was now blessedly quiet, as it once was in my childhood. I walked past two homes and turned right into the parking lot of the elementary school I’d once attended. I no longer felt the need to walk. Instead I simply stood and gazed at the falling snow.
I felt serenity steal over me. Alone in my room I had felt the weight of sorrow, but outside I was reminded that snow, like grace, falls on all of us – the well and the unwell, the caring and the indifferent, the human, the flora, and the fauna. We are each and all intricately connected.
I began to notice the sound of hundreds of brown crackled pin oak leaves, still attached to their mother tree and tap-tapping against one another in a small cool breeze. I heard the tiny comforting sound of hundreds of thousands of snowflakes landing upon those sweet leaves. (Everything was beginning to feel sweet to me in those tender dark-of-the-night moments.)
Grace. The beauty of the natural world was a balm to my spirit. Here it lay, just outside the confines of the house I’d been trying to find shelter in. And all I had to do was venture forth, out of my own little world.
I pray that when I see Dad in a few hours, I can impart to him a bit of the serenity I was blessed to feel tonight.
I am feeling grateful. Grateful for all of it – the painful beauty of dying, the serene beauty of the snow, the beauty of life in all its myriad permutations. Simultaneously in this one house is a woman married for fifty-six years to a beloved husband who is dying, a niece who is quietly anticipating the arrival of her first child, and another niece in the glow of love to a man she will be marrying on the new year. Life and death are all intertwined. And the presence of death is what makes life all the more sweet.
Blessed be, everyone.
My father, recently admitted to hospice care, has declined further. People who saw him just three days ago are shocked at the difference they see today.
I have been with him all morning and have been in extreme discomfort watching him. I can be with someone when they appear to be relatively peaceful, but when they seem agitated or in discomfort, it is very challenging for me not to get agitated myself. I am a fixer! I want to solve the problem! And when I can’t, I feel anxious.
As I write those words I realize that I want to cultivate inner peace so that it can radiate out to Dad and everyone else around me. The last thing Dad needs is to feel my anxiety, subtle though it may be.
Today Dad’s arms and legs were experiencing jerky spasms, flying around in an uncontrollable way as he was lying there attempting to rest. I guessed that this was a symptom of Parkinson’s, but when the hospice nurse arrived she gently suggested it could be a result of the body’s chemistry getting out of whack. Apparently as the body breaks down, it is unable to maintain homeostasis and things start to fall apart.
Fortunately, at one point I browsed through some of the hospice’s literature and I discovered a quotation from a Buddhist teacher. He said something to the effect of: You don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to say anything, simply be present.
I see the wisdom in those words and there is still a part of me that rebels. I have to fix it! I have to make things better!
Nevertheless, those words propelled me to investigate further. Here is something I found:
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan Buddhist teacher, says that when he was a boy he would experience overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety. He sought advice from his wise father, a master of meditation. His father said, “Each and every moment, we have the opportunity to connect with a timeless awareness that is not affected in any way by the changing conditions of our lives.”
Ah. timeless awareness. That sounds good. I read further.
He said, “The only way out of suffering is to move toward it; that the path of true awakening lies in experiencing every single moment, whether pleasant or painful, with complete and unconditional love.”
Ahh. Can I be present within my discomfort? Can I love myself in the midst of my discomfort? Can I refrain from judging the discomfort as “bad”? Can I refrain from judging myself as flawed because I am not feeling the peace I would prefer to feel? Can I learn not to prefer one feeling over another but to be present with whatever it is I am feeling?
Phew. That sounds like it would be a difficult thing to learn. And it does sound wise.
Rinpoche says further: “As my father taught me so many years ago, all we have to do is embrace each experience with awareness and open our hearts fully to the present moment…. You don’t need to do or say anything. When you are completely at ease with your own being, the ripples of your awareness will naturally spread out in all directions, touching the life of everyone you meet.”
So, perhaps I can practice noticing what I am feeling and refraining from judging it – ie, Now I am feeling sad. Now I am feeling anxious. Now I am feeling distracted. Now I am feeling the need for a break. Now I am feeling hungry.
I will still attempt to bring ease and comfort whenever I can. And perhaps I can attempt to accept how I’m feeling each moment without judging it as good or bad.
The lessons continue. I pray I learn them.
Meanwhile, bless my dear Dad, bless his caregivers, and bless all who are suffering.
And thank you, Rinpoche.
*Quotations from the following source: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/02/buddhist-teacher-yongey-mingyur-rinpoche-a-losar-letter/
You haven’t heard from me in a while because in late November we had to admit my father into a nursing home and just three short weeks later the decision was made to bring in hospice services. He has declined rapidly. The triple threat of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and a nasty fall have taken their toll. On Thanksgiving he was still walking and eating, and now he is no longer able to stand or walk or feed himself. Most of the day his eyes are closed and he appears to be in his own world.
I have no way of knowing if Dad is comprehending all that has happened. I cannot know for sure whether or not he is at peace. But one thing is sure, this has been quite a learning opportunity for me!
Every day there are new opportunities for me to stretch and grow, forgive myself and others, learn acceptance, practice self-care, have faith, and love.
I’ve had to come to peace about our decision to bring him to this new environment. I’ve had to learn to let others care for him. I’ve had to forgive and accept those who can’t be with him very often or long. I’ve had to learn to forgive and accept myself when I occasionally need a day off. I’ve had to accept that he is in a different place physically, mentally, spiritually. I’m having to learn over and over again to trust that all is in divine order.
Currently my biggest challenges are the following two things:
1. Allowing myself to be sad without allowing all my self-care to go to pot. I am noticing that I’ve been using the stress and sadness as an excuse for eating poorly. I also haven’t been allowing myself the time I need to take long walks out in nature. However I am finally realizing that it serves no one if I let myself fall apart on too many levels. This is the time to practice exquisite self-care, while simultaneously being there for both parents.
2. Learning to trust that Dad is going through his own process and I can’t take that process away from him. For whatever reasons, this is Dad’s path right now. I can and will do whatever I can to make it easier for him, but I can’t take him away from this experience. We each have to face our own death at some point. Dad is doing it with as much grace as he can given his limitations.
The opportunities to grow and learn are infinite. And this is an accelerated class for sure.
May you all be well as you your live life to the fullest and, when the time comes, die with grace.
Today, this day that is called the Sabbath in the faith I was brought up in, I thought I’d express my profound gratitude for those things which are beyond the ordinary.
Have you ever known something before it happened? Have you ever had an encounter with someone you loved after they passed? Have you ever had a dream which felt so real that you were surprised to find yourself in bed when you awoke? Have you ever seen an angel? Have you ever heard bells, chimes, or rattles when none were near? Have you ever smelled the beautiful scent of flowers when none were anywhere around? Have you ever felt a hand on your shoulder when there was no one near you?
I have had several of these experiences myself. For instance, there was a plant that I loved. I found it to be very beautiful and every time I walked by it I would admire the new growth, the unfurling bright green leaves, the health and hardiness of this plant. And then one magical moment when I watered the plant, I saw a wisp of smoke/vapor dance for just a moment amidst the leaves. I was astonished. It was a moment of magic in an otherwise completely ordinary day. It was one of the most magical, fascinating things I’d experienced to that date. Grace. I feel, to this day, that the plant responded to my love and wanted to show me a visible manifestation of its spirit.
Interestingly, a girlfriend reported a similar experience that year, but it wasn’t with a plant. It was a little mobile I’d created – a wire sculpture of a dancing woman with a crystal imbedded in her belly. My friend had hung this figure from the ceiling and one day she reported seeing a spirit much like what I’d experienced. Whether this was from the love I’d imbued it with during its creation, or the love and appreciation my friend had for it, I don’t know. All I know is that she and I both experienced magic around something that we loved.
Some of us may never have moments like these. Others of us may have them and then try to explain them away because they don’t fit in with our understanding of reality/science/natural laws. And many of us may have had sacred experiences that move us to the depths of our soul and then felt unable to ever share them with anyone.
I have a few friends who claim to have seen fairies. I have at least two friends who’ve had encounters with UFO’s. Some of you may be thinking I have a lot of crazy friends. But consider this: In one survey, over half of all Icelandic people said they believed in elves. * And belief in fairies is still widespread in the British Isles. (Yeats often spoke of his interaction with them.) In Africa and elsewhere, traditional people certainly interact with forces not part of the everyday American’s reality. And many spiritual traditions in Latin America and Native America work with deities and spirits beyond the realm of ordinary physical reality.
Other people have been blessed to have really transcendent experiences – long moments when they felt connected to everyone and everything, when they floated in a state of omniscience and exquisite bliss. Others have had near death experiences when they’ve encountered a Being of great Love and Light. They have felt so immersed in unconditional and ineffable Love they never wanted to return to this sad earthly plane.
Believe it or not, there is much evidence that this is indeed a mystical, magical world. If you have not been blessed to have had any of these experiences, read biographies about shamans, Christian mystics, spiritual adepts from the Himalayas, spiritual masters from India, and channelers. Even the most hardened cynic knows the stories of Jesus’ miracles. Many of us have been taught that those miracles were specific to him and that time. But what if those same miracles could be performed by other spiritual masters? This is not blasphemous. Many sources say that during those years unrecorded in the gospels, Jesus was wandering the globe being taught by other powerful and knowledgeable teachers – in the Himalayas and elsewhere. There is literature, for instance, that speaks of Jesus (Yeshua) meeting Gautama (the Buddha.)
If one opens one’s mind to the possibility that magic exists, there is ample evidence that it is so. And why not? If God is all powerful, all loving, omnipresent, and if the Earth is His creation, then why should this Earth be so ordinary? Could it not be a mystical, magical place if we simply give it permission to be so?
I celebrate Magic. I celebrate Miracles. I celebrate the Great Mystery.