Pestilence and Redemption

That night I had a dream: I am standing on the ground floor of my white house and there are cars at the curb. Medical personnel are unloading two men on stretchers who are ill and have come to me for healing. As they unload a third stretcher, I see that the third male figure is the gray color of the Death card in the tarot, and I realize that he is, in fact, dead. I close the door before he can be brought into my living room, vehemently saying over and over, “He can’t come in. He can’t come in!”

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 5.04.32 PMJuly 29, 2019

On my way out of the Unitarian Church this morning, a place that still doesn’t feel in alignment with my deeper self, a woman I barely know stops me to talk. She is old and infirm and she saw me as psychologist a few times for pain management many years ago. She tells me she still uses the hypnotic suggestion I gave her. And then, she says, “Please say hello to your husband, Michael.”

“He died last year,” I say, and all at once I find tears in my eyes, sudden and insistent, tears that I didn’t know were there. She sees them and says, “Oh, I didn’t know.” And of course, I understand. I offer her words of comfort for she is feeling bad for me and I don’t want to burden this good woman with my grief. I try not to break down completely but I can feel it coming. A long hard sob wants to escape from my throat and my heart, and I rush down the aisle to escape out the back door of the church.

It’s been a difficult several weeks, and I feel besieged by tasks, small and large, tasks that demand my attention, an attention that is feeling tired and overwhelmed.

For the past month I’ve had a systemic staph infection. My left eye is infected, and though it’s mild, and mostly without symptoms, it still speaks to my immune system being compromised. It speaks to things being out of balance. My doctor really wants this cleared up so now I’m on my third round of eye drops and my second round of oral antibiotics. Ugh.

Also, my dog has fleas. I hear the piano notes in my head as I think this phrase. And really, I’m hoping my dog had fleas. But she had them for the fourth time in three weeks, and I’m not feeling up to dealing with it again.

Flea treatment requires a complete vacuuming of everything. Everything! The carpets, the floors, the baseboards, the furniture. Then there is the washing of the dog with flea bath. It’s arduous and it hurts my back. She hates these baths and I don’t blame her. God only knows what the shampoo is doing to her skin. This is followed by washing all the bedding, hers and mine, and three days ago, spraying everything with some poison given to me by the vet. It takes an entire day to complete, and I feel overwhelmed just writing about it. We’ve had four flea-free days now, and I’m praying this is it.

Five nights ago, I came up from the basement after watching some kind of mindless TV. My basement is still a mess from the flooding that occurred almost three months ago. The new flooring I ordered has been perpetually on back-order and my basement, though finally dry, is still covered only by cold, gray cement, neither welcoming nor beautiful. My sister and her family helped me move most of the furniture out of the finished basement and into the unfinished part so that the old damp carpet could be removed. Now there is only a couch and the TV, and as unwelcoming as the environment is, it’s the only place I can watch movies – a distraction that has been my way of avoiding my long and sometimes lonely evenings.

As I climb the basement stairs, I hear a loud buzzing sound and I find a swarm of flies in my kitchen. A swarm! I’ve never seen anything like this in my clean Virgoan home. There are at least 40 or 50 flies, droning, and incessant, and actually a little frightening, circling endlessly around my kitchen light. I spend over an hour killing them. It is gross and nerve-wracking. In frustration, I wildly swing the fly swatter in the air at times, because they do not land. After awhile, I realize that this is useless, so I wait for them to settle on the window, and then I smash at them. I am Fly Killer, an identity I’ve never had before, and it feels odd and brutal. Eventually, their little blood-filled bodies are all over my countertops and floor, and always when I think I’ve killed the last one, another buzzes toward my head, scattering my nervous system and setting me ajar once again.

At the end, there was still one fly alive but I couldn’t kill it. It was small and quick and it knew I wanted its death. I finally gave up, turned off all the lights and shut my bedroom door so that it couldn’t find me in my sleep.

That night I had a dream: I am standing on the ground floor of my white house and there are cars at the curb. Medical personnel are unloading two men on stretchers who are ill and have come to me for healing. As they unload a third stretcher, I see that the third male figure is the gray color of the Death card in the tarot, and I realize that he is, in fact, dead. I close the door before he can be brought into my living room, vehemently saying over and over, “He can’t come in. He can’t come in!”

Clearly this is a dream about healing the Masculine self and about Michael. Yet another in the long round of dreams that are trying to help me come to terms with his loss. I’d had a “clearing” a few days before from a friend who is a master of Applied Kinesiology. In it, we’d discovered that I have been holding a belief that I am somehow responsible for Michael’s death, that I could have done more to save him.

This belief is replaced during our session by giving Michael “full responsibility for his choices and his spiritual path,” and by taking full responsibility for my own choices and spiritual path. I have no trouble taking responsibility for my own, but there is the niggling sense that if I hadn’t started to pull away from Michael some six years ago, if I hadn’t stopped letting him feed off of my heart, he wouldn’t have died.

It was the pattern we’d established to deal with his Asperger’s, and it had worked for a long time. Essentially, he supplied the logical, and I supplied the emotional in our connection. Thankfully, we both had the spiritual as well. But we had made a deal, an unconscious one, but a deal nonetheless: He would heal my physical self, and I would heal his emotional void. It’s the contract we made, and I truly do accept it. It’s taken me this long since his death to see it so clearly, and then I realize that this is exactly what happens as the death of a loved one begins to dissolve into memory.

The time since Michael’s death has been full of layer after layer of meaning and depth. I see who I was with him in a way I could not have seen while he was alive. At some level, I think we both knew that we had come to a natural ending between us. As one of my good friends said, “The only way the two of you could end was through death.” I see now she was right and that our end wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

And I can look back and realize we had a great time of remarkable growth between us, and then later, a time of stagnation and difficulty. And finally, during his dying, we were close again. We needed the seriousness and tragedy of a long death between us because we didn’t know how else to say goodbye. I find myself feeling deeply heartened to say this.

At a spiritual level, I know this belief I’ve been holding, is nonsense. I know I’m not responsible for his death. I was part of the dance around his death, but I was not the dance. I know that Michael felt loved by me, and I know how deeply I loved him. It was our karma, both his and mine, to play out this particular drama. But still, the sense of guilt has been there, lying quietly underground, waiting like a spider for me to discover it.

The following night I awakened with a hard, fast shock. It was as if a nuclear explosion had gone off and I was annihilated in a flash of light. I lay awake for hours, and for only the second time, I was enraged by Michael’s dying. I felt the intensity of the trauma I had endured “at his hands,” and I couldn’t let it go. The trauma of watching him die, of watching his body decay, of witnessing the savagery of his illness and its effect on me, is more than I can encapsulate in words. I know it’s still haunting my dreams and my body in ways that I cannot yet fathom.

Two weeks ago, I had a vision in a meditation. It was of The Lady, for this is what she called herself. She came as a thick green vine and she grew around me in a spiral from feet to head and up into the heavens – a beautiful green vine calling me to come find her.

I’m struggling with how to make sense of all this – the pestilence suggested by the flies and the fleas, the endless and exhausting cleaning of my home, the flooding of my basement, the undigested rage, and finally, the vision of The Lady.

I’m well-versed in the symbolic and metaphorical world, and I look for the meaning in these symbols. Clearly, the basement flooding is the manifestation of the feelings I’ve pushed down around Michael’s death, and around facing the world alone.

Flies have multiple meanings – from Beelzebub to the quick manifestation of desires, and maybe it’s both. The Devil is here in the distortion of ideas that arise around Michael’s dying. I’m hoping that the “quick manifestation of desires” is something positive, but this remains to be seen.

Fleas are globally identified as negative, though one site talks about the idea of rebirth. But fleas are the purveyors of the plague. They also represent “accumulative damage,” and god knows there’s enough of that in my life. One site talks about a representation of sensitivity to the environment, and another speaks of hurting the ones you love. A third one mentions vampirism, and I wonder if I’m the vampire or whether Michael was the vampire. Of course, he is dead, so it has to be more about my feelings toward Michael who unwittingly lived off of my heart. And about me, who unwittingly, let him.

The Lady is clearly the Goddess, and she is attempting to guide me. I have never been “called” like this before. And now, I’m listening more intently, looking for signs from her, trusting I will be shown. I’m waiting to see what it means to be called.

I keep being told I look “so strong” to the outside world, and I guess I am being strong. I’m getting through the worst three years of my life and I’m still functioning. I’m doing my work as a psychologist while running Eastwind, and I’m receiving visions of how to improve our healing center. I’m reinventing myself through a new program in psychedelic medicine. I’m meeting wonderful people and becoming involved in two groups of community singing. And for the first time in years, I’m starting to enjoy my life again.

But these difficult outer events are taking a toll. I see that they are showing me things in my inner landscape that I would just as soon forget. These are potent symbols, and for me to ignore them would go against the very foundation of my spiritual practice. This is Life trying to teach me something, and it’s all still a bit opaque. But this is the redemption. It is seeing and acknowledging the symbols as they arise, allowing them to have their sway within the psyche, and finally, opening to learn what they are trying to teach.

So, for now, I gather the meaning of these symbols and I’m cleaning up the messes. I’m hopeful that my newest medication will clear my infection. The flies are gone, I think the fleas are gone, and in two days I will have flooring in my basement. I can finally   manifest new light and new life into the underground realm. I know that the underground is one of the realms of the Lady, and perhaps all of these events have been messages from Her. I am trying to listen.

Oh, let it be enough, I pray. Let it be.

The Long Goodbye

I must move on with my life. I don’t know how to accept this. Not really. I’ve got the words, the concept, and even the feeling sometimes. But the level of true and complete acceptance of his loss continues to elude me.

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April 25, 2019

Today is the first anniversary of Michael’s death. I awakened earlier than I wanted, but I’ve become used to this in the past three years of his dying and death. I find a dense fog outside my window in this near dawn light and I wonder if it will rain, for I intend to do a ritual outside in his honor.

It was Michael’s birthday five days ago, and now it is his death day. I guess that it’s good that these events are coming so close together. I’ve taken most of the week off so that I can move into the deeper psychological and spiritual work of this time.

On his birthday, I got a small pastry, put a candle in it, picked some daffodils, pulled a tarot card, and sang Happy Birthday. I started crying in the middle of the song because it felt so empty to be singing to the remnants of what remains of his earthly life, to be singing into the hollowness of life without him.

As I was shuffling the deck of 78 tarot cards, I kept asking for one card, just one, that would tell me what I need to know about Michael. I was thinking that maybe The Star card would show up, for he has communicated with me and others through the stars. But the card that came was Death. I almost laughed when it turned over, and I almost cried. Of course! He is dead and my task is to accept this.

This made me realize that there’s a new level of acceptance that is attempting to come in, that needs to come in. And it’s all about letting go of the various ways in which I’ve tried to keep Michael alive. I need to finally accept that no amount of crying, or praying, or wishing, or remembering, or meditating, or fantasizing, or writing, in short — nothing –will bring Michael back to me. I need to understand this fully and unequivocally. For I believe that this is the level of acceptance that will begin to bring relief to this endless grief.

I have to confess that I’ve been playing Ghost with Michael for this past year. He would be smiling about my “playing ghost” with him for we had joked about it as he was dying, and he vowed he would play it with me.

You may remember the 1990 movie starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in which Patrick’s character is killed and then comes back as a ghost to protect his lover, Demi. The scene that stands out in my mind is the one in which Demi is creating a clay pot and Patrick’s ghostly form sits behind her, holding her, while she makes her art.

I’ve been doing my own version of this. I’ve been feeling Michael holding my hand for many months now. I ask for him to hold my hand, and I feel a very subtle sense of his hand on mine – warm and comforting. Sometimes I feel him holding my hand even when I haven’t asked. I feel him in my office too, the office I shared with him. And I often feel him when I meditate. I don’t know if it’s really him, but it doesn’t matter. It’s something that’s been happening and I have wanted it to happen.

At this one-year anniversary of his death, I’m realizing that at least for now, I need to let this go. I need to stop playing ghost with him. It keeps him too alive in my mind, and it keeps me from moving forward. And the point, the very necessary and painful point, is that he is dead and gone.

But it’s hard to let go of our loved ones, and the efforts toward communication with our dead feel important. It seems natural that we would strive to continue our connection to them. The bonds of love are so potent and profound, and they weave themselves into our  very Being in unknowable and inextricable ways.

So, there is something about fully accepting that Michael is gone and at the same time finding myself at a vibrational level that can occasionally and consciously commune with whatever remains of his spirit in this realm. But this communion needs to change in some indefinable way. I need to accept that no matter how potent the connection may be, I must move on with my life. It is too lonely and too empty to continue to reach back into our life together in this way. It is too sad to sing Happy Birthday to an empty chair. He is gone. And I remain.

And yet, I don’t know how to accept this. Not really. I’ve got the words, the concept, and even the feeling sometimes. But the level of true and complete acceptance of his loss continues to elude me.

Then I realize that I don’t have to know how to accept this, that in fact, I may not be able to know. Like so many things, I can’t figure this out. No amount of time in my head is going to make this clearer or easier. In fact, just the opposite. Once again, it comes down to trusting the very nature of life. To trusting that life will show me exactly what I need to learn. It comes down to being on my knees again, to asking for help and guidance, and to being humble enough to receive it. I have been on my knees so often in these past several years, and yet, here I am again. It seems to be the only place from which I can begin to know the deeper wisdom.

I go out to the garden where Michael’s ashes are buried, and I clear the space around them. The marker stones from last year have been moved by the harsh winter and I am on my knees as I place them once again in a circle. The giant hosta in the center is just beginning to show its spring growth of stalks and leaves. Among the stones are citrine, and hematite, and quartz, and tiger’s eye. There is aventurine and several pieces of lapis, for that is the stone of Medicine Buddha, and Michael had many of them. There is granite and a mysterious translucent green octahedron. There is obsidian and an unknown stone of orange and black. And there is his pocket Buddha. I know I will take these with me wherever I move for the rest of my life. And I will take the small urn of his remaining ashes.

It is so peaceful here today and I’m surprised to find that I am not crying. Instead I am washed in gratitude and love and the fullness of life.

Now I prepare a ritual by creating a sacred circle with the directions and the archangels and the powers they represent. I light a candle that will burn for 24 hours. It is a Yahrzeit candle from the Jewish tradition for remembering those who are gone, and it is lit on the one year anniversary of their passing. My intention is for the deepest honoring possible. And then, finally, it is about letting Michael go, or at least letting him go a little bit more.

For this is the long goodbye. This year of mourning is ending, and though I know my grief doesn’t end now, this is a signpost of some kind. I’ve made it through this terrible ordeal of Michael’s dying and death, and now it’s time to re-enter the flow of life, it’s time to begin to heal.

Even writing these words brings a fresh round of sorrow. But this is the task and I welcome its completion.

I say these words out loud to Michael and to the Universe as I kneel in the garden. “I fully accept that you are dead and gone. I let go of our life together with immense love and gratitude. Thank you, my love. I ask for help in letting go and moving forward into life’s flow. Help me. Please help me to let go of you, as I ask you to let go of me. Goodbye, my love. I will miss you forever in this life.” Now I cry wholeheartedly, every bit of me is committed to this moment, and once again, I water his resting place with my tears. I close the circle in reverence and silence.

I’m hoping that something is shifting. Today, I am trusting the process, the larger Source. It feels a bit like falling, but I’m falling softly, falling gently into the great mystery. And really, it is so soft that it feels like being held. My heart is being held.

 

 

Resting In Peace

Though I said all along that telling the truth, that being the emotional truth, was the most important part of Michael’s illness for me, I feel guilty that these were my feelings.

Pacific

October 8, 2018

My son, Darby, and I take a trip to the Pacific ocean, the ocean of peace. Our intention is to release the last of Michael’s ashes into this great sea, to forever blend the molecules of his Being into the vast and sacred water.

I bury some of his ashes in the Appalachians on the new moon in August. He loved those mountains, as did I, and I found a huge, ancient oak for the resting spot. In September, under the full moon, I bury most of his ashes in our garden along with several small mementos of his life. Now it is the new moon in October and I am with my son who loved Michael as a father, loved him in his own way. It is right that we are doing this together.

We find a perfect beach — almost no one around, tide pools, clean water, good waves. I know what I want to say, and I wade into the shallow surf until I feel I am standing exactly where I need to stand, water washing over my ankles, beautiful stones at my feet in the sand. With three handfuls of ashes I thank Michael over and over again for leaving me so well.

“Michael, thank you for leaving me physically safe and comfortable in my beautiful home.

Michael, thank you for giving me emotional sustenance, for giving me confidence, for giving me what I need to move forward, for believing in me.

Michael, thank you for supporting my psyche and my thoughts, for listening to my truth even when the words were hard to hear.

Michael, thank you for demonstrating the power of meditation to calm the mind and grow the soul. Thank you for teaching me to trust my spirit every single day.

Michael, thank you for dying when you did – leaving me enough time to get used to your going, and not so much time that I was unable to function.

Michael, thank you for loving me as I loved you.”

I cry throughout, my salty tears blending with the salty water. And now it is Darby’s turn. He has witnessed my ritual, and he does his own honoring with the ashes that are left. He is silent, though there are tears in his eyes as the last of Michael’s ashes are released to the sea.

On the way back from the ocean I find myself in a common argument with Darby, arguing that he needs to give me credit for hanging in there with Michael, for not leaving. I had told Darby of my thoughts about leaving Michael over a year ago. But Darby’s belief is that there is no real choice — you stay with your loved one when they are dying, even if the marriage has become relatively empty, has become friendship, has become physical caregiving, and emotional toll-taking. You simply stay!

I say that Michael understood the toll his illness was taking on me. In fact, Michael was the one who first brought up the idea of me leaving. “Babe, if you need to leave, if you just can’t do this, I understand. If you need to leave, then you should go.”

He said this early on in the process, and I knew he meant it. I was free to leave if I wanted to, but of course I couldn’t imagine doing such a thing at that time. And even then, I knew that we had both created and agreed to the situation, that we were both being tested in exactly the way we needed testing, and I stayed.

But I argue with Darby that there is a choice all along. That each day is a choice, that each act of giving care is a choice, that each moment is a choice that speaks to one’s ability to remain stable and kind while walking through hell.

Though my son seems to recognize the choice, he doesn’t really see it. How can he? He has never had to do anything like this.

He says he would do the “right thing.” For him, there is only one path, and it is the path of staying the course. I say that there are many who do not make this choice. Or that if they choose to stay, they stay with resentment, denial, anger and guilt. I insist that he give me credit for the choices that I made, and finally, reluctantly, he does.

But I can feel the reluctance and I come back to it. He says, “Mom, this is your issue. You keep bringing it up!”

And at that blessed moment, I see it all. For a moment, I see the entire crucible of my life with Michael. All the patterns, all the pain and joy and sorrow, all the ways in which I have tied myself into knots over his dying and death. And in that moment, that elusive clarity, I say, “I think I need to give myself credit.”

Now I am quiet, I take a deep breath, and I let this sink in. I’ve been feeling guilty. My child self has been back in her old mind-set, the one that says no matter what she does, it isn’t enough. It is never enough. And the cost of never being good enough is guilt. For almost six months now, ever since Michael died, I’ve been feeling this niggling and obscure sense of wrongness playing in the background, this sense that I didn’t do enough, or that I said too much.

I feel the horror of telling Michael that I am so unhappy that I have thought about living elsewhere, and now it really hits me. I thought it, and finally, as an act of desperation, I said it! I felt I was drowning, that my spirit was dying, that I couldn’t sustain our situation, and I told him. A crashing sense of regret and sorrow overwhelms me for a moment. How could I have said these things to this good man? To this great soul? How could I tell my dying friend that I was at a point in which I wanted to leave?

But then I know that if I hadn’t told this truth, if we hadn’t had the kind of relationship that would allow this level of truth between us, my soul would have shrunk inside of me and my heart would have closed. I would have stayed, but I would have stayed with a frozen heart.

It all becomes clear now. I’ve been feeling guilty and angry at myself for telling the truth! And feeling angry at Michael for putting us in this terrible and inescapable hell in which the truth I have to tell is painful and deep. I am angry that I dared to speak what my heart simply had to say.

Though I said all along that telling the truth, that being the emotional truth, was the most important part of Michael’s illness for me, I feel guilty that these were my feelings. But then I know that the only way I could survive his dying was to be honest about its effects on me and on us.

I think he knew this. I believe he understood this. I know he loved me, and to love me inevitably means being able to stand in whatever truth I glean and share from this sometimes difficult life.

I flash back again to his last moments on this earth, to his desperate struggle for breath, to his eyes rolling up in his head, to his last words: “love…you….” He died so well. He died with love in his heart and soul, and I was blessed enough to witness this love and feel it in myself. I am consoled by this.

For the first time since his death, I know that my guilt is simply my guilt. It wasn’t what Michael felt. It wasn’t what he took with him. He left this earth in love. And he wanted me to be happy. He said it many times, “I want you to be happy when I’m gone.”

And now, I begin to clearly allow this love to be what I am left with as well. There are tears rolling down my face as I feel into this truth. After almost three years, I finally let myself rest in peace.

 

Impermanence

On the day of the full moon, I buried his ashes in our garden. I also put some of his “little treasures” into the hole with him, and all of it was watered by my copious tears and my gratitude, deep and true.

Impermanence

Impermanence by James R. Eads

9/1/18

I lost my center this past week. Circumstances arose that left me feeling needy and more alone. I’ve had plenty of people around, so it’s not that. But I can feel the neediness pulsing in my blood and running its greedy hands over my skin, and it’s taken days of meditation and thought to find my center again today.

Of course, there were several days in which I didn’t realize the loss of my center – days of confusion and excitement and fantasy that things are really just fine, that I am just fine. I’m still not sure what pulled me away from myself though I suspect that finally burying Michael’s ashes is a big part of it.

On the day of the full moon, I buried his ashes in our garden. I also put some of his “little treasures” into the hole with him, and all of it was watered by my copious tears and my gratitude, deep and true. Since then, I actually feel myself letting go a bit more. I feel the beauty of freedom, and I know that this freedom is the gift of accepting a greater intensity of impermanence. But this feeling of freedom, this acceptance of impermanence, also seems to be so new that my ground has once again been shaken. For now, there’s no kidding myself in any way, Michael is really gone.

No one is as close as Michael was, and maybe no one ever will be that close again. I don’t know. But I do know that I’m very aware of giving others space. I think I’ve been good at giving space for a long time. But before, I always had Michael to come home to, Michael to talk to, Michael to work it through with. This brought me comfort and peace and I didn’t need connections to others the way I currently do. So, and this seems so obvious, one of the main understandings is that my friends aren’t going to replace the level of intimacy that I have lost. And though it seems obvious, living it is something else again.

What I’ve realized with friends, is the utter importance of not being sticky. Love feels sticky to me when there’s a glue-like pull to it. It’s a love that’s not free, a love that needs something, a love that wants too much.

Certainly, I have levels of intimacy with others. But of course, none of these relationships can fill in for one that was 35 years long. It’s just not possible. And more to the point, I just can’t expect it to be.

I’ve asked my closest friends whether they have felt me being sticky. They all say they have not, but maybe they would say that anyway, though actually I believe they are the kinds of people who tell the truth when asked. Mostly people keep telling me how “strong” I’m being, but I’ve got to say, it doesn’t always feel this way.

For instance, I certainly experience this stickiness inside of me. There are times when I go through layers of emotional garbage to get to a more spacious place, and I always do it alone. I don’t put it on others, don’t talk about it, and I don’t expect others to fill up my emptiness. But oh, sometimes, how I wish they could!

I’ve noticed that if I’m set to have lunch or dinner with a friend, and they have to cancel for some reason, I’m certainly disappointed. The disappointment can then turn into feelings of anger, or loneliness, or a sense of rejection, along with several iterations of why things got canceled and whether there is some kind of problem in our relationship. It’s exhausting when it happens and thankfully, it only happens occasionally, but it can go on for quite some time. These are the times when my center feels gone.

Eventually, meditation allows me to move to the stronger place – the place in which I know that I love, and am loved in return. It seems so easy to write these words, and yet the years of work on the self that have gone into these words, have been long and arduous indeed. And now all of that work is being tested in the biggest way possible.

All of this has made me realize that there’s something new in me now that wasn’t there before, and it’s something about impermanence, about holding things lightly, about becoming comfortable with being truly alone.

What I know for sure is that watching one’s mate die over a long period of time has made me extraordinarily aware of the actual experience of impermanence. For as one slowly dies, one thing after another changes and is lost, and one thing after another must be surrendered. As Michael used to say, it’s the death of a thousand cuts. Before, impermanence was an interesting concept, part of understanding the way things work, part of spiritual philosophy, but now it’s a living reality.

Something that I unrealistically thought would last forever, didn’t. And yes, of course on some level, the relationship with Michael is continuing and is alive in me. But in this human realm, it’s over. And one of the main lessons that his death affords me, is to truly grasp that nothing lasts. Nothing.

It’s horrendous, really. We just can’t take it in because it is such a huge and painful lesson. Nothing, not a single thing that I own or do or am, lasts in this physical world. I’m currently struggling with this on a daily basis. But it’s an excellent struggle! It requires me to go to my Higher Self for renewal and sanity. It requires me to look at all of my possessions from a different perspective. It asks me to let go of the previous moment, and to embrace this one. If I don’t want to act crazy, or be too needy, or lose my stability, I must go to my center and ground, over and over again, many times a day.

So, finding the stable place, the strong place, is all up to me. There’s no one to bounce it off of the way I bounced it with Michael. I know this is good for me. I know it’s supporting my real growth, but it’s hard and I have to be very alert to the missteps that are caused by need. And somehow, it’s all connected to love, and learning to love from a clearer place inside of me.

Part of what is proceeding from this greater understanding of impermanence is that, as far as I can tell, I haven’t made any important decisions out of fear! When I really know that nothing lasts, it allows me to let go more easily. For example, I was sorely tempted to buy a new house a few months ago. It was a fine house in the perfect part of town. What a great distraction it would have been! More importantly, it would have been an avoidance of the very real need to process my grief, and there have been so many times when I have wished to avoid this endless processing. But impermanence says there will be other houses, or there won’t, and it doesn’t really matter.

I know that this work with impermanence and aloneness, like all work with the self, is an ongoing practice that requires me to be vigilant, and honest, and most meaningfully, compassionate with myself. And this compassion is really just another way of saying that I’m learning a deeper level of self-love.

This is not a sticky love, but a love built on the truth that everything changes. It’s a love built on the ability to surrender. It’s an acceptance of the reality of constant change at the deepest level. Grasping the truth of impermanence means that much of what I think and feel is so important, is simply ego. And when I genuinely know this, I am forced to find that which is permanent. For there is one thing that lasts, and only one.

I told a friend recently that when I go into deep meditation, my current mantra is a surrender to love. “I am Love, being Loved, by Love.” Try it for yourself, if you’d like. For me, it’s a paradoxical sense of receiving infinite love into my heart, and simultaneously giving infinite love out from my heart. It’s a constant flowing motion that contains utter stillness at its center. For always, the lessons eternally come back to the principles we’ve been shown, to those things we know in our bones. Always, they come back to the One True Thing.

 

 

 

 

God Is Not A Masochist

I’m realizing how small a thing is Michael’s death. For more than 2 years, his living and dying has been so central to my world that it’s sometimes hard to remember that others aren’t in the same place.

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August 20, 2018

Three days ago, I didn’t cry for the first time in almost two years. I didn’t know this until the end of the day when I was reading in bed and suddenly became aware that there had been no tears that day. Then I obsessively counted the days, for I remembered being dry-eyed on the 18th day after Michael’s diagnosis. So, it’s been 728 days since I haven’t cried. It made me wonder if I’m moving into a different phase of grief, and perhaps I am.

I’m realizing how small a thing is Michael’s death. For more than 2 years, his living and dying has been so central to my world that it’s sometimes hard to remember that others aren’t in the same place.

Of course, I know that they are not, and I’ve known that all along. There are only a few of us who are deeply affected by any death, and of those few, I am the one most affected by Michael’s death. It’s the way it is and it’s the way it should be. But I’m realizing how small his death really is.

In the past few days I have heard from a neighbor about the imminent death of her granddaughter’s mother. I’ve heard about a woman whose husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died only two weeks later. I know a woman whose father, father-in-law, and dog all died within a few months of each other. Death is all around us, all the time.

And the death of a single person, while terribly sad for me, is just the death of a 68-year old man who loved and was loved by his wife, his family, and a few close friends. And isn’t this what all of us get if we’re lucky? Isn’t this just how it is?

As much as all of this is true, it doesn’t change the sometimes desperate loneliness that engulfs me. I am more alone than I have ever been, and there’s a strong bend toward isolation and numbing out. Fortunately, my worst addiction at this point seems to be too much time with mediocre television and old movies, and I figure as isolation and numbing go, it’s not so bad. And to some degree, my isolation is by choice.

Thankfully, there are beautiful, kind people who offer their company. Sometimes I take them up on it, and sometimes, I do not. I’m so grateful for their reaching out, so grateful that many make the attempt to keep me connected to life. But this latest phase of grief seems to be about finding the healthy mixture of solitude and company. For often I end up feeling lonely when I’m with others, and then I make a concerted effort to stay engaged, to be truly touched and touchable, and for the most part, I’m successful. Of course, the person I’m really missing just isn’t here, and there’s simply no replacement for him.

One thing I know now is why widows and widowers often die soon after their spouse is gone. They are literally lost, literally unable to function, literally anchorless. I don’t feel quite this intensity of lost-ness myself, but I can feel the pull of it, and I understand.

Similarly, a woman I know said to me this week that she’s aware she’s been spending her whole life waiting to be rescued! This really hit me, for I have had the same feeling. It’s ancient and unreasonable and a complete fantasy, but it’s there – I’m waiting for rescue. I discover it lurking beneath my tears these days, and once I discover it, I’m usually able to let it be, and fortunately, I don’t act on it. But still, it’s a strong feeling, a deep and usually unconscious desire.

As little girls, many of us were raised on fairy tales. In these tales, there was always a beautiful princess who is rescued by a handsome prince. I don’t know if little boys bought into the handsome prince story, but I completely bought the princess scenario.

My fantasy life was filled with the Prince. As a child, I would ride in the backseat of the car on the endless trips to our grandmother’s house in Waverly, Iowa, and dream of the Prince, coming the other way on the highway in his car, somehow traveling through rural Iowa. At some point, I would always lean up against the car window so that I would be more visible. I knew that one day, quite suddenly, he would drive by and happen to glance into our car as he passed, and of course, he would see me! Immediately, he would know that I was to be his Princess. He would stop us, take me into his car, and rescue me forever from my wretched life. It was all quite dramatic and totally unbelievable, but it held my attention for years. I think I can even say that my first marriage was my slightly-matured version of this fairytale.

My “mature” version is that somehow Michael isn’t really dead, or that his Spirit is so strong that it comes through to guide me, or even that some other Prince is driving down the highway looking for me now.

It’s all ridiculous, and I know it, but it’s part of the subtle experience of Michael’s loss that I am currently working with. It’s the Child Self’s sad realization that there is no “rescue,” that this is real life, and that this is exactly what I signed up for. It’s a blessing to know this for it allows me to observe these feelings rather than to believe them. And like all feelings, they pass, and the Higher Self is left to watch them passing, and to be at least a little bemused by their intensity.

Clearly, part of the lesson is learning to live with loneliness without being taken under by it, and part of it is finally loving myself enough to grow up.

I just returned from a week-long meditation retreat in which the teacher stated that as far as he knows, “there’s no upper limit” in terms of consciousness and how high we can go. I feel that now. Growing up is never complete, for consciousness is infinite and alive, and as much as we grow, it is always outgrowing us.

I feel that at a spiritual level I have asked for this crash course in independence, and I’m getting it. But it is a “crash” course, and it is sometimes startling, terrifying and bruising. Regardless, it’s important for all of us to be as awake as we can be when death arrives at our door. I’ve signed up to be challenged to go more deeply into my spiritual center, to ride these waves of grief with as much consciousness as I can summon, and to delineate this journey with whatever truth and clarity I can embody.

My friend Fran always says that “God is not a masochist.” Think about that for a moment because it gets deeper as you do. From the highest level, the first implication is that God is Good and that we can have utter faith in that goodness. The second implication is that God never does anything that hurts God, meaning that any death, all deaths, are part of a greater plan. The One thing is always evolving, and even if we don’t understand Its movements, It is always growing toward the higher Good. Finally, it is a statement of absolute trust in the unknowable evolution of consciousness.

I cling to this idea at times when I’m overcome with sorrow, and I meditate on it in times of peace. God is not a masochist. And finally I understand, neither am I.

Telling the Truth

Finally, in a moment of clarity and pain, I tell him that I can’t do “this” for another seven years, that I will always take care of him, but I might find another house to live in, another place to stay. I know this hurts him which engenders even more guilt, but I feel I will collapse into a lesser self if I don’t say it, if I don’t tell this level of truth.

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July 13, 2018

I was walking the dog this evening when I woman I barely know stops me to express her condolences. But it rapidly becomes clear that what she really wants to say is that her husband has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I say, “I know what kind of a strain that can be.”

“Tell me,” she says, “tell me what it’s really like.”

I am a bit taken aback since no one has asked me this in exactly this way, and I know she is asking from a place of real need, a place of real questioning.

As I continue my walk home I realize that I haven’t yet told the truth, or at least, not the whole truth as I now know it, of my own experience. For truth, like everything in life, has many layers and many permutations. It changes and grows as life reveals itself. I’ve been waiting for the right time, and now it appears. For more than two years I’ve been telling a partial truth but it is only now that I can begin to tell more of it. I promised Michael that I wouldn’t say much of this until after he was dead and I have honored that promise. But I have to tell the truth, for what good is any writing if the truth isn’t told?

For the past thirty-five years, I have been Michael’s partner in relative health and then, over two years ago, I became his partner in mortal illness. And for more than two years, I am his caregiver. Endless trips to the doctor, endless chemotherapy treatments, endless time in his hospital room, endless worry and stress, and endless pain of different sorts for both of us.

His body degenerates markedly. System after system begins to fail, and then fails even more. It’s hard for him to eat, to walk, to move, to sleep. He has horrible breath, his skin and muscles and teeth are breaking down, and perhaps worst of all, he’s impotent. So, we leave our lovership behind, and become more of what we’ve always been. We are best friends, living together while one of us is dying.

After more than a year of no progress with his illness, my thoughts grow darker. One of the horrors is that I find myself wishing for his death. Several friends say he is hanging on to life for me. I’m not sure if this is true, but now there are times when I close my door, sob uncontrollably, and tell his spirit it’s ok to let go. I tell his higher self that I’ll be fine, that I can make it without him, that he doesn’t need to worry about me. And maybe he’s hanging on for me, or maybe it’s for something else, something unnameable. He continues to search for a life purpose and even though he doesn’t find one, he hangs on.

The truth of caregiving, and the truth of a long dying, is that those who are closest get angry and scared and worried and burned out. The truth is that as a caregiver, I feel guilty that I can’t live up to the very real burden of caring that is placed upon me. The truth of a long dying is that I am carrying a level of burden that only those others who have endured it can understand.

For one of the heaviest burdens is supporting a person who may not be ready to look at their dying, their approaching death, and the enormous toll on those who love them. And the truth of my caregiving, the one I feel the most guilt about, is that there are times when I think about walking away. Michael continues to stubbornly project a future that lasts for five to seven more years of what we are enduring. And because I always have, I believe in his force of will, his ability to manifest, and seven more years of living together in this half-life, feels unsustainable to me, feels literally, like a living death.

Finally, in a moment of clarity and pain, I tell him that I can’t do “this” for another seven years, that I will always take care of him, but I might find another house to live in, another place to stay. I know this hurts him which engenders even more guilt, but I feel I will collapse into a lesser self if I don’t say it, if I don’t tell this level of truth. But in spite of this, I don’t leave. I can’t leave. As much as I would sometimes like to leave, I must be here for my friend. Still, it is almost unbearable.

The two years begin to feel endless. He tries not to drag me down, though I am dragged down nonetheless. He is sick and his body is literally falling apart. But in spite of this, I admire him. For the most part, he suffers well. He keeps going, keeps believing, keeps trying to do everything he can to get better. At some point last December, we are so close that I have dropped any thought of leaving him and I tell him this. I am fully committed to being with him to the end, whenever that is. There is a new level of trust and intimacy between us, and I’m ready to endure whatever life may bring.

Regardless, his treatment isn’t working and he’s not improving. At our January hospital appointment, a “salvage transplant” is offered. After several worried days, Michael decides not to pursue it. He says there is no data to support it. I am so relieved! I realize I haven’t been breathing, dreading all that another transplant would mean. Finally, I can take a breath.

We leave for Florida for a month and begin to make plans for his death. It is an excruciating time between us. And it is a time for deep healing – a time when everything is said, when all the love and pain and fear are told and known. In some ways, we are the closest we’ve ever been. We come home with my belief that we are now on the road to Michael’s long degenerative death.

Then, at our next medical appointment in March, the doctor dangles a second stem cell transplant in front of him again. The doctor tells Michael it may “improve his quality of life.” These seem to be the magic words and when the doctor leaves the room for a moment, Michael literally whirls his head toward me with the most intense look I’ve ever seen. He wants this transplant! Even though he said he didn’t want it two months ago, now he wants it.

The doctor re-enters the room and I ask the pointed questions that Michael isn’t asking, the questions about the potential effects of the second transplant.

“Will the swelling in his tongue go away so that he can eat more easily?” “No.”

“Will the swelling in his legs improve?” “No.”

“Will his skin improve?” “No.”

“Will the deposits in his heart dissolve?” “No.”

“Will the deposits in other parts of his body go away?” “No.”

“Will his impotence disappear?” “No.”

“So, what will get better?” “It is likely that he will have more energy.”

I am appalled. I think to myself that this isn’t worth risking what life he has left. But Michael wants this, and as I sit in numbed and shocked awareness, he agrees to another transplant.

Another transplant, after I thought we’d spent the past month coming to peace with his dying. Another transplant, meaning weeks in the hospital while he clings to a slim thread of hope and life. Another transplant, which may literally kill him but which offers the possibility of “more energy.” Another transplant. It feels foolish and stupid and wrong, and then I am angry. I want to scream at him, “Can’t you see you are dying? Can’t we just get on with it?”

But I don’t. He can’t see it. Not yet. It’s too much to believe, too much to take in. So, I agree to help him. I agree to back him up as completely as I can.

So, this caregiver becomes a cheerleader, a false witness to a process that is so obviously flawed, and so obviously painful, that the truth, the whole truth, can’t be said clearly enough. For when does one support the quest for a cure, and when does one say it is foolish? When is it honest to say what one sees and feels? And when is it simply cruel? And, really, what can anyone say about another’s desire to keep trying to live?

Relationships, real relationships, are far more nuanced than any story can tell. Real relationships involve compromises and choices and changes, some of which literally lead to life-denying patterns and pain.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He dies 32 days after the transplant and he is gone. Does our change in relationship mean I don’t grieve deeply and truly, that I don’t suffer in my heart and soul? For surely, I do. I have lost my best friend and I miss him with an intensity that surprises, scares, and humbles me.

A few weeks ago, I found a letter that Michael never sent to me. It was roughly written in one of his many notebooks while he was still in the hospital, and it was dated two weeks before he died. He’d had a particularly awful day and in it, he said he realized that he was dying and he had accepted it. He felt he still had a fair amount of time to live but he was philosophically open. He was in and out of deep and frequent meditations at that point and he knew he was going to a place without a body, a place without the pain of earthly existence.

He apologized for putting me through all that he had put me through, and he wished for me to find my freedom and my peace. The letter ends with this: “Wherever I am, whatever I am, know that I hold you close in my love and consciousness for all eternity. (Imagine the hubris of that statement!). But if it can be stated in truth, I’m saying it with all my being.” These are the last words he ever wrote and they always make me cry.

We came together as soul mates, and he died as my soul’s companion. My mind flashes on our last moments together every single day. He died with our last words being words of love, words gasped out in the final terrifying minutes of his life. I’m so glad for this, so filled by it. I believe he had a beautiful death.

Clearly, our souls were meant to be together, to accomplish certain things together, to love and learn together. But our mission is over now. Knowing the depth of Michael’s soul, the depth of his spiritual practice, I can only assume that he accomplished what he was meant to accomplish. I can only assume that he was done with this life.

So now I can tell the truth. The truth of his illness and his impotence and how it confined our relationship, the truth of my reluctance to fully commit to seven more years of our half-life together, the truth of his fears and his final acceptance of death. And ultimately, the truth that love takes many forms. For we loved each other, through all the missteps and sorrows and joys, and in the end, it is all that matters.

Stargazer

There is kindness, and thoughtfulness, and remembrance. And there is the love that continuously streams into this world, everywhere I look, from every direction, the love that animates all of life.

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June 30, 2018

Michael has been gone for 66 days now — 66 long, lonely days. Some of them pretty good, some of them really hard. I notice that I’m still counting the days but now I can count two months as well, and oddly, this feels like some sort of milestone. His death is now months ago instead of days. I’m amazed that it’s been this long a time, and I’m amazed that it’s been this short. The death of a loved one is truly timeless. But somehow, I’ve lived through it and somehow, things are becoming slightly easier, slightly better. When people ask I say, “I am in deep grief, and I’m also just fine. And both are true.”

Lately I’ve been noticing a subtle shift in the energy of many of those around me. I’m betting that everyone who is in grief comes to this realization at some point. I’m noticing that some people, even ones I’ve known for years, no longer ask me how I’m doing with my grief. Or if they do, they want to hear the happy version, the strong version, the version that doesn’t scare them.

I can tell right away which people don’t want to hear the depths, and really, it’s probably most people, and really, it’s fine. They want to hear that I’m having a good day, that life is getting back to normal, that things are moving along. It’s been over two months and I guess that for most of the world, it’s better if I’m moving on.

I don’t blame them! God knows it’s hard to hear each other’s pain, and it can be frightening. We really don’t know what to do with pain — our own or each other’s — we get scared of it and we don’t know what to say. I mean, who wants to know that I’m still suffering the loss of my beloved companion? Who actually wants to hear about death and grief? Who wants to encompass the truth that it goes on and on?

For that matter, I wish I didn’t have to hear about it inside of myself. I wish I didn’t have to feel it. I wish I could just move on to the happy, strong version of myself all of the time instead of just part of the time. But that’s not real and there is no escape for me in this kind of happy talk.

Maybe others are uncomfortable because they have a sense of needing to fix the problem of my grief, to cheer me up, to distract me.  But I don’t need distracting. I’m learning to do that on my own. And I don’t need cheering, for I am learning to live in the moment more consciously, and there’s great joy to be found here. And finally, there is no cure for grief. It can’t be fixed because the horrible truth is, there’s no cure for life itself! Grief is inevitable in every life, and honestly, it doesn’t need fixing. It simply needs acknowledgment.

We want to believe that we have control over things, and that life won’t overwhelm us. We want to believe that we’ve developed our mental and emotional strategies so well that we are protected from the hard events. We want to believe that we know how to cope. We want to put death behind us, far away from the life we are living.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’m one of those people who wants to know the depths, who wants to plunge into life’s mysteries, tragedies, and subtleties. I’m one of those people who wants to know and tell the truth. Thankfully, people who are close to me still ask, and these precious ones listen and hear my honest feelings. Others do not. And as I said, I truly don’t blame them. But grief isn’t like this. It doesn’t just come to a neat and final end.

In some ways, I have moved on. I’m making plans for a yoga retreat, a meditation retreat, a trip to meet my new grandson. This is good and necessary and part of healing. But it also has a kind of hollowness to it. It rings empty inside of me, a bell with no one to hear it.

Michael always heard my bell. He always responded to my heart’s songs. And whether he understood them or not, he tried to vibrate to their frequency just as I vibrated to his. And it strikes me that for 35 years I wasn’t ever really lonely. What a blessing! I’m learning it’s a remarkable thing to be able to say — I wasn’t ever seriously lonely.

Four days ago, I lived through our first wedding anniversary without Michael. I had been doing pretty well. I’m back at work and enjoying it. Maybe being a therapist is easier now because other events have paled in comparison to my husband’s dying and death. Maybe it is because I am ready for a shift into another level of my work, and maybe it is because I am able to witness my own process with greater detachment and depth. Regardless, work has been good.

At any rate, I see clients on our anniversary and I am doing fine. I haven’t cried and I idly wonder if I might be going to make it through the day in far better shape than I had predicted. And then, I go for a walk. As I am walking, I realize that I am walking alone, and that I may walk alone now for the rest of my life. I realize that it is my anniversary and there’s no one to share it with, no one to honor it with me, no one to send me flowers. Suddenly, I am overwhelmed with loneliness and sorrow.

Where do these thoughts come from? I want to dismiss them, let them go, leave them alone, but oh, I am sad. I start to weep, just a few tears, and I start to miss my soul’s companion with such fierce yearning, such wracking pain.

I come home and really break down. As I’m crying, I think that it is good. I’m getting these feelings out. They need to be expressed and I’m glad that I can cry like this on our anniversary. Now I am sobbing, keening, raw with emotion, love, and longing. Once again, I am plunged back into realizing that Michael is really dead and that I will never see him again. It’s almost unbearable.

But then … the most beautiful bouquet of flowers arrives at my door – a huge vase of Stargazer lilies. The card says, “Thinking of you today. It’s still a day to celebrate in these difficult times. Love from the Santangelo family.”

The flowers are from Michael’s dear son and his family. Somehow, they have remembered our day, have sent me flowers. And to put a finer point on it, they are “stargazers,” for that is what Michael’s spirit left behind him when he died. He left stars behind, stars that I watch on my hard nights alone. And these flowers, these precious flowers, have made the unbearable, bearable. I am crying again, but now I am crying because there is such love in this world. There is kindness, and thoughtfulness, and remembrance. And there is the love that continuously streams into this world, everywhere I look, from every direction, the love that animates all of life.

Today I gaze at these star flowers with a bit of melancholy, a little sadness, a touch of “tristesse” as the French say. It’s a word I’ve always loved. It’s the sorrows of life, the ones we can all expect, the wry and wistful knowing that this is just how it is. It’s not bad or wrong, and it doesn’t need to be fixed. Not in any way.

So, let us celebrate even this, even death and loss. For it is this that absolutely requires our attention and our celebration. It is this that gives our lives meaning. “C’est la vie,” say the French. It is just life.