Honor Song


At the Natick Praying Indians Annual Harvest Moon Powwow, there was a special honor song in memory of another mother, her son, and my mother. Knowing there were only five of us completing the first path around the sacred circle reminded me that the journey of mom’s passing had often felt lonely. The strong presence of Janet Robinson and her amazing heart beside me, made it possible to find a rhythm based on communion rather than isolation. On the second round, the gathering energy of strong clear voices, the presence of children, and others who joined the procession freed my feet further to receive each beat of the drum.

As I moved around the circumference, I thought back to the day nearly four years ago when I had first come to this Powwow seeking a blessing I could not name. At five months into the journey with mom I had seriously doubted my ability to go the distance. The odds on the possibility of us healing a return to the original blessing that surrounded the circumstances of my birth, seemed slim.

On that long ago day, as Harry began to smudge me, tears had poured down my face. By the time the feather that signifies completion touched my shoulder, something had shifted. Already more certain, when Naticksqw’ – Chief Caring Hands, offered her welcome and blessing that day, I had closed my eyes. Her powerful words resonated in my chest, encouraging me to embrace a sureness about entering a covenant to assist in a ‘good death’ for mom. Returning home that day something felt noticeably different. I still didn’t have a single clue about how to accomplish my mission, yet I had faith that somehow I would.

In each pass around the circle I reconsidered the memories of everyday spent with mom. Some of the no longer useful more painful images, flowed out through my feet and deep into the earth. All that was possible has come to pass. I felt stronger and more certain about what may be useful going forward. I remembered the mission has been completed and the promise fulfilled. On the final verse, I thought of all the people I know who are in the last days now with their own mothers and offered prayers for them. Never have my feet felt more sure.

As the song and the drum still hung in the air, I felt flooded with honor and simply blessed. Each person came and offered something from their heart. Then it was Harry’s turn. Knowing the part he had played in the story, when the depth of compassion in his eyes met mine, and his arms offered comfort, a single sob broke loose and rang out into the sky.

I will long remember and treasure the sensation of my feet placed upon the earth with each heartbeat made of honor, and the amazing people who have borne witness to this journey.

And then there was great celebration and joy.

Another Harvest Moon Powwow with the Natick Praying Indians passes from this life to the next. To Cathy Kerr, Janet Robinson, the family of Chief Caring Hands, and all my beloveds who may soon this way of parental grief come; May their time be comforted by your touch, conversations made compassionate by your openness, hearts filled with your love, and suffering eased through your willingness to accept life’s great mystery. Chi Miigwetch.

She Who Brings the Dawn.

We Are the Weavers, We Are the Web

It is clearly fall. As I have noticed every year of my life, this seems to be a particularly busy season for our arachnid family members. Unlike many people, I have always welcomed spiders. This could be due at least in part to my grandmother, who when we were terrified by Daddy Long-legs, told us “Never kill spiders, they are good luck”.

Although I certainly am a bit less respectful of their privacy since I was bitten by a poisonous one in 2008, they continue to fascinate me. For the last two weeks, each day my car has been adorned with intricately patterned filaments leading from the bushes several feet away to the door handle and side mirror. Wiping away the threads I wonder how they accomplish such a daunting task everyday.

My only comparison comes from the few times I have lost large amounts of un-saved ‘brilliant’ writing on my computer. The first instances were devastatingly shocking.  It took a couple of losses to figure out that often the re-written material was better, although I still complained bitterly. What do you suppose happens each time they discover their work is missing? Does it go quicker the next time? Do they build better, stronger, or more carelessly with each additional destruction? Do they ever think as I occasionally have, why bother, or what’s the use?

Continuing along the path of mourning and grief, there are now glimmers of energy that occur with some regularity, though still relatively short-lived. It feels a bit like two steps forward, one back. In what ways am I similar to the spiders who continue to rebuild day in and day out? Where and under what circumstances do I lose heart and give up before the job is done?

Perhaps the weavers of these incredible structures are superior beings who have already figured out the secret to happiness. Does their constancy come from understanding that change is the only constant in life? Have they learned how to cope, manage, welcome, embrace, and learn from inevitable losses without assigning positive or negative qualities to ‘reality’? If everyone and everything, from mosquitoes to volcanoes has a natural life cycle that runs a continuum from conception to death and beyond, does our success come right down to our ability to tolerate loss in one form or another with our creativity, curiosity and will to continue intact?

As for the web itself, does our true nature – peaceful, loving, gentle, strong (whatever our individual strengths) become more intricate and beautiful as we continue to be ‘woven’ by ups and downs? Do we glisten and quiver with receptivity, even knowing we too may be swept away? Are we constantly rolling out the same reflexive patterns with little in the way of flexibility or innovation?

Just for today, whether weaver, web, or a bit of both, may your creation be inspired by your unique version of majesty. Blessings and love to you all. z

A Walkabout the Four Directions

Though not a walkabout in the traditional sense, caring for mom, is a spiritual journey. Far from the work, life, and homes in Canada, CT, and the South Bronx, despite new and re-connected friends, this path is most often traveled in solitude. Yet it is from this very wilderness, or as I continue to rename it – Wild-er-ness, it is possible to trace the path of my ancestors through my mother’s experience preparing for life’s most mysterious passage.

Fresh from embracing the recent lessons of strengths discoveries, and in an effort to take action on  Coach Martinovich’s wonderful insights, it seems timely to once again, look to the wheel of my life to uncover the usable treasures contained within. What success have I experienced with measurable signs of progress?  When am I giving 100%?  Which situations require greater effort or improvement? Where is only a slight correction or adjustment needed? Is the change required mental or physical? How am I playing to my strengths? Is my success a measure of integrity or a result of cutting corners?

Beginning in the north of my physical self – I have long been working to support a sustainable healthy natural body that enhances my life. It is ironic that I find myself making inroads on efforts to increase energy, endurance, flexibility, balance, and strength, all while watching the deterioration of my mother’s physical functioning and being more housebound. And yet, it is this very observation that fuels the fire beneath my efforts. It is clear there are plenty of uncontrollable physical challenges in life but everyday with her reminds me that the imperative to keep moving no matter what, is one that can go a along way to keeping things from breaking down.

I continue to seek opportunities to increase the physical part of daily life for ex: heating with wood this year brought added dimensions of stacking, lifting, and carrying. This summer I will add chopping wood, lawn care, and wheelchair walks to help overcome inertia in the latter parts of the day.

Turning to the East – my mind seeks increased creative sparks in response to mom’s free-flowing monologues infusing the air with particles of fear, loneliness, and disappointment. At times efforts to re-frame at least in my mind, her glass half empty view of life using humor, provide an alternative. But all too often sound bites of our house reveal an ever-present click track of lamenting. When I have argued, unleashed my negativity, or used silence to numb out the voices that are NOT mine, I have free fallen into fugues of forget-fullness.  Pursuing concentration and focus through writing this blog, researching things that interest me or help others to meet their goals, and studying for my license all provide much-needed relief.

Approaching the south, I consider my ability to express the full range of human emotions  – not just the pretty ones. This area needs some shoring up. I have noticed that my tendency is to avoid or not express the conventionally believed less desirable emotions for fear of becoming stuck there, or worse – a glass half empty kind of gal. The effort to stifle sadness though, is exhausting, and there is so much of it around me. Giving my anger, sadness, fear, doubt, and longing time often allows me to transform and open to what is real – the constancy of the wind chime in front of our house, bird songs, and leaves that continue to unfurl, albeit slowly, undaunted by the set backs in temperature. These reminders that it is not personal, present a possibility of ‘is-ness’ that does not include dredging a bottomless well that is not even mine to begin with.

Rounding the bend to the west of my spirit – reminds me of the necessity to take time in nature, where I feel most connected to the interconnected largeness of life, especially when my heart sags under the burden of being Death’s handmaiden. Through meditation, communications with my long distance partner, the kindness of friends, and sometimes the writing of this blog I am brought to my knees repeatedly, in gratitude for all that is of value to me in this life. This is an area where mom’s beliefs about life and death, are again reminders that drive me to quiet reflection or prayer in the middle of the night, and Pilates, or rowing on Lake Cochichuate, where I  access the one-ness of life.

Coming full circle to the north of my wisdom looking in from the outside as I walk, things look far more successful than I might have predicted. It is difficult to believe, that a faceless post exactly one year ago would lead to so many dreams manifested as a direct result of progress and growth. From the core of this circle looking out in every direction there is still more to accomplish. AND for this one moment, maybe it is ok to take time to rest and celebrate. That is, until tomorrow… or at least until next week’s post.

Wishing you all the blessings of renewal offered by Spring. Blessed be.

International Intrigue and Outreach

For the month of January I used an inexpensive paid Stumbleupon application to steer potential visitors to my blog and tracked the results. Some information, like the fact that the highest usage age category of Stumblers is 17-25 years old, was expected. Other stats for instance; there were six hundred travelers from 69 countries outside North America who spent between 4 seconds and 22 minutes viewing this site, were surprising. There were visitors from every single continent and countries that have always sparked my imagination.

The top three categories searched by viewers were Self Improvement, Women’s Issues, and Quotes. Of the 890 women that visited the site 50% clicked like, as did 33% of the 680 men. All of this, has brought a burning curiosity to my homebound mind, that has nothing to do with numbers of blog subscriptions.

First, I am hugely grateful for the opportunity to think about something other than the latest evidence of continuing daily decline in my beloved ‘girls’.  AND I DO want to improve the relevancy of this blog, so that it is inspiringly authentic about end of life care-giving issues.

I would love to hear from you. I wonder about who you are and what your lives are like. I am curious to know what you DO find on the internet that furthers your self discovery and understanding about the world. I wonder if some of you are housebound like I am, and use the internet as a way to feel connected to something larger than your own troubles. How do you experience care-giving, either as a provider or recipient of care? What nourishes your ability to stay present, and do all that is required without losing yourselves in the process?

It occurs to me that I would like to start an international dialogue about promoting living and dying fully with awareness, dignity, and peace. I hope anyone who stops by, whether a regular reader or guest, will feel free to share an insight or two about themselves, or an experience they have had in an effort to promote human understanding about this birth life death life continuum. Although I am looking for shared participation rather than opinions/philosophies, all are welcome. Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself today, may you uncover peace and blessings in your journey.

Baking for Death and Other House-guests

For fifty-five years, death has lived side by side with us in this house. In my earliest memories it lurked behind stories never told, about grandparents stolen by the Holocaust. By the time my brother and I were eleven and thirteen, the unwelcome guest took on a more ominous shadowy presence when our father experienced his first heart attack. It seeped out of our closets, growing steadily through each successive medical crisis, and subsequent intervention.

Eventually, hanging ever present in the air, death sprinkled fine particles of  fear, dread, and an occasional note of good fortune, onto birthday cakes, and inserted itself in special occasions. It held a place at the breakfast table with my parents every morning for the next sixteen years, until dad finally succumbed at the age of sixty-four.

During the years after, while we continued building our lives, for a moment or two, death graciously relinquished the position of seemingly permanent residence it held in our family home. It seemed through marriages, the birth of grandchildren, life’s ups, downs, and a few very close calls (9/11, breast cancer, a pancreatic tumor) we all breathed a little easier. It would visit once in awhile through the devastating loss of a beloved friend, family member, or neighbor, but always left of it’s own accord each time grief began to ease.

Over the course of  the year I moved home, we began to face the unimaginable about mom’s best friend since kindergarten – Ruthie. It was at that time, that death began slowly reinstating itself. While at Ruth’s graveside, the tombstone with the name Zwecher was clearly visible over my mom’s left shoulder. It was a haunting literal image, during mom’s MOST devastating time of loss. Death followed us back home that day, and has once again become a constant presence in our house.

Only this time, our house-guest seems to have matured. It is certainly still demanding of our attention, but in a far less obtrusive and destructive way. No longer a harbinger of something awful, or hurtful, it is now more of a guide towards a great mystery. Perhaps we have grown more comfortable with each other over time. Daily, mom and I speak openly about the presence, or, what she has come to call “the inevitable”.

Recently, after posting the blog about mom’s new health developments, I began to give thought not just to the event, in some unspecified esoteric way, but to the details to be negotiated before, during, and after the time when she is no longer here. Mom has told me that she wants ‘deli’, and from scratch, ‘home made Bethie baking’ (because she knows the act of creating these delicacies will help anchor me), and a celebration back at the house. We have filled out the form for her military service commemorative plaque, and placed it with the documents that will be needed in the moments immediately after she is gone. Beyond that, she has asked me to give thought to what I want to have happen, because as she put’s it “let’s face it, I won’t be there. It’s more about what you and Mike need to heal”

After months of an extensive search I recently landed on the song we will either sing, or play, that will anchor the ritual of mom’s passing. Now hear me dear readers, there was an immediate sense of relief and happiness, yes HAPPINESS to have found this. It is a beautiful piece by Jennifer Berezan called “Fall Down as The Rain”. The first time I played it for my mother she cried. Then she told me two things, first – “it is beautiful and very comforting”, and  then – “I am not sure people will get it”. Even as I write this I smile again, and remember reassuring her to give them more credit. All of which leads me to the reason for such happiness and the point of this particular post.

Everyday there is another phone call or message, that reminds us that our particular herd continues to thin. And while these stories are often sad, they are also quite beautiful and quite simply, most often stories about love, courage, grace, and dignity.

On the way home from Pilates yesterday, while singing along to this song I did burst in to tears and sob for the few minutes that it took to get to the bottom of Bacon street. I was thinking about all the people I was missing in that moment. As the light turned green I thought of my sister LaDonna and called her to share a laugh. Our conversation yielded the belief that if I stand on a foundation of this song today, it will already be familiar and comforting when the time comes.

I arrived home nostalgic, and definitively happy. Mom and I shared lunch and then began looking through her small green file box of ancient recipes on faded smudged index cards. As I read the recipes to her, she recounted stories of events where each one had been served. I asked her if she could pick two today which ones would she want me to bake. She looked very young and sparkly as she selected an apple cake (from someone in her family), and poppy seed cookies (that her cousin Sylvia always made).

After a quick ingredients check, I called my ever ready special baking buddy – Hailey  who was more than happy to experiment with me. While waiting for her to finish lunch, I peeled and sliced the apples, and found a memory of my grandmother.

As a child I had watched in wonderment the first time I saw her peel an entire apple in one long continuous peel. This is now something I do, with precision and care exactly as she did, without a second thought. I was smiling along to the very satisfying sound that is particular to slicing good apples into thin arcs. Tossing them in a bowl with a ridiculously decadent amount of good cinnamon and sugar, brought me immense joy.

As Hailey was putting the finishing touches on our masterpiece, we talked about a time in her future when she will be baking for her own family, or friends. She wondered how she will remember the recipes. I told her that she could copy the recipes, or if we are very lucky she will be able to email or call me, and we will share a memory about the first time we made this particular cake. And I could feel death there, right behind me whispering in my ear, “that is, if you are still here”, but this time it was like sharing a small joke with a life long companion that fortunately, is not needed by my young friend, just yet.

Mom dozed while Hailey and I chatted between projects before beginning the delicate poppyseed cookies. Mom said the kitchen smelled delicious, but we were making too much noise. I loved watching Hailey, who with a sense of high ceremony, meticulously dipped the glass in cinnamon and sugar to carefully press the cookies thin.

The cake was apple luxurious, with a hint of ‘nana’. The cookies perfectly thin and crisp. By that time, Hailey’s mom Erin, had joined us. The air was filled with a sense of celebration, as it often is in the presence of such company.  I sat on the red ottoman watching mom’s face as she sampled our efforts. I was filled with gratitude for Hailey, bent in concentration over her slice of apple cake. In the background, I heard the distinct sound of our other guest, the one we all try hard to ignore. It was a gentle voice, singing softly, that come to think of it, sounded a lot like Jennifer Berezan*.

*check out Jennifer Berezan’s work at edgeofwonder.com