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.

flowers

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.

 

Riding the Waves

The thing is, the very singular thing is, that this kind of loneliness can only be filled by Michael, and he’s not ever going to be here to fill it again. There is literally an unfillable hole in my life, and that is the truth of grief.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 4.55.42 PM

June 16, 2018

It’s 52 days since Michael’s death and I’ve been alone the whole day. I haven’t spoken to a single person, not one, except of course, Michael. But he doesn’t answer. For the first time since he died, and for a whole day, I haven’t cried. Though of course I’m crying now as I think about him. I’m so lonely and I miss him so much.

I talk to the dog. She doesn’t answer either, but she does wag her tail and lick my hands, so that’s something. The thing is, the very singular thing is, that this kind of loneliness can only be filled by Michael, and he’s not ever going to be here to fill it again. There is literally an unfillable hole in my life, and that is the truth of grief.

Sometimes I wish I had the mind of my dog. She is utterly present-centered. When Michael was alive and lying in a hospital bed in our living room, she loved him. She licked him and cuddled him and wanted to be near him. After he died I held her up to his body and she had no interest at all. None. He was simply gone and she knew it. And, weirdly, if he walked in the door right now, and how I wish he could, she’d be delirious with joy. There’s no gap for her. There’s no missing. He’s just not here.

A new friend reminded me of something Ram Dass said about the loss of a loved one. He said that not only is one dealing with the loss of that person, one is also dealing with the loss of the part of one’s self that was known by that person. And now that is gone. This makes me cry even harder. For no one else will ever know me in the very particular, subtle and conscious way that Michael did. That level of being known, that rich particularity, is lost forever in this life.

In spite of my best efforts, the house is filled with Michael, even as I clear out so many of his things, his books, his clothes — he is everywhere! There’s the art we bought in Green Bay, and the fossil we found at the gorge. There’s the large vertebrae of some huge mammal we stumbled on in the mountains, and the garden ornament I bought for him because of a dream he had. The list goes on and on. Every room of this house, every thought in my head, has a tendril that leads back to Michael. There are times when it is extremely painful and times when it is comforting, but always, it is a little too empty now, and much too sad. And part of me just desperately wants to escape, wants to run away, wants to find another lover, another house, another life.

I find myself cruising the Zillow site looking at houses for sale, and I even find one I think would be right for me. I text my realtor, who also lost a true love, and she talks me down from the edge, thank god. I won’t be buying a new house today. But the impulse is still there and I have to wrestle with it. I plan a trip to California to meet my first grandchild in September and I realize I am pinning so many hopes on this new life that is being born, so many hopes for this hole in me to be filled, all the while knowing that it won’t. I look ahead to birthdays and anniversaries and holidays with something approaching dread, and I pray I’m in a better place inside of myself when they occur.

A friend eloquently writes: “I think about you being alone in a house still animated with scents and wispy trails of Michael’s presence, thicker in some places and thinner and more spread out in others, as if one moment you step into liminal spaces where the veil between worlds thins and the next you find yourself solidly in this physical world of ours.”

This is exactly right! I’m in the liminal space most of the time when I’m alone – between the worlds. I talk to Michael then, and there’s still enough memory of his voice that I can hear him say, “It’s ok, Babe. You’re doing fine.” I imagine it’s actually him speaking to me then, his spirit reaching out across the void to comfort me. And maybe it is.

I have a session with our psychic, the one who correctly predicted Michael’s death, to ask her about my life now that he is gone. She tells me that I’m still in shock from his death but this is lightening, and when it does, Michael will come through to me more easily. She also tells me that finding another love is not my primary mission. Rather, I am to “feel safe in earth” in order to experience profound relaxation while on my own. This level of relaxation is based in utter faith in the Divine as it unfolds. She says this is the key to deeper enlightenment.

She also says that the hardest part of enlightenment isn’t the leap into it, it is the integration of its many lessons and this takes time. I will know that I am making progress  when I am filled with fearlessness. She reminds me of other readings I’ve had in which I am told how important it is, how actually crucial it is, for me to find joy within myself and my own life. She sees another love coming for me but not for awhile, for it is my task to learn to live alone, to root deeply into my own center.

I know she is right. I’ve never really lived alone until now. I’ve lived with girlfriends and boyfriends, and husbands, and children. But I’ve never lived alone.

Many years ago an astrologer told me about my North node. The North node points to what your soul came into this life to learn, and mine is in the first house, the house of independence.  The numerology of my birth date has a similar message, for my life path adds up to the number “one.” This signifies that I am a leader and independence is my greatest strength.

But it doesn’t feel like this to me. I don’t feel like a leader. I feel done in, at sea, overwhelmed. So much of me wants to fall back into what is easy, to meld into another relationship, to give myself over to a new lover or a new house. Yet I can hear the truth in the psychic’s words. She gives me the same information I’ve heard from all of these other esoteric sources. I must find joy in my life without losing myself, without giving myself away to the life of another. Then, and only then, can true love come again. This finding of myself could not happen without Michael’s death, and now I realize this truth at another level. His death was an absolutely necessary part of our soul contract, a necessary sacrifice.

As I write these words, another tidal wave of grief comes rushing in. It tosses me into the deep water and as it does, I know this is sacred space. All of it. This grief is teaching me to learn to love my life without Michael. It is teaching me to swim in this vast ocean without drowning, and it is teaching me to find my way to shore once again. I know that the hardest thing is for me to sit exactly here on this shore, as steadily as I can. Sit exactly here and allow wave after wave to wash through me, leaving me clearer and calmer with each undulation of this endless sea.

The Cost of Love

Now it’s just me. I think in some totally irrational and magical way, I didn’t really believe in Michael’s death. I could surely see it coming, but I didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of him actually not being here any longer.

us at Duncan's thing

May 20, 2018

I’m being amazed by how casually Michael and I spoke of his death. It wasn’t really casual, but we had to establish some way of speaking that would allow the future to unfold. So conversations would begin with, “When I die, you might want to sell everything, and take to the road!” Or I’d say, “When you die, I’ll probably move to a smaller house.” Or “What would you like to have done with your ashes? Do you care where your ashes get put?”

And though we spoke sanely, matter-of-factly, it was anything but easy. But it had to be done. Things had to be arranged.

Sometimes his sentences would begin with, “If I die…,” and I’d say, “I don’t think there’s an ‘if’ about it.” Michael would pause, then smile just a bit, and gently say, “You’re probably right.”

It was all so easy, or seemingly easy, but really, it was agony and we both knew it. Toward the end it became more serious. “Please make sure that Adrian gets the right pen, and give this one to Darby, and this one to Colin.” “I’ll make sure,” I’d say.

Later he’d say, “You really need to learn how to do the books!” I’d say, “I will, I will.” But I never did. I hated doing the books. It involves the computer and a program that I don’t have a clue about, and endless rules about what account goes where, and what bill comes out of this or that account. He wrote it all down for me. In fact, he spent hours creating a cheat sheet with diagrams and pictures and “everything you’ll ever need to know.” And then today, I get the ATT bill and it’s not on the sheet and there’s no trace of what account it comes out of. The best laid plans….

Navigating this grief is a slow learning. There are so many things that make me cry. I found his baseball cap with the Tree of Life on it and it still smelled like him, just a little, and suddenly I am sobbing. Or a song comes on the radio while I’m getting my nails done for his memorial service, and I almost have to leave the shop I’m so overcome.

There are obvious pitfalls such as looking at his photo, or handling one of his precious pens, reading one of his notebooks and finding a letter to me that he never sent. It’s full of love and wishes for me to have a peaceful life. I cry and cry.

My heart literally hurts sometimes. It’s as if it can’t contain this huge sorrow and it bursts out and I find myself rolled into a ball on the bed. “I miss you so much, Michael, I miss you so much.” I say it over and over and it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference. There’s a horrible bodily insistence that wants to touch him again, talk with him, be with him in any form whatsoever. But he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone. There’s no way around these times from what I can tell. They have to be lived through.

I think that I thought I would be able to protect myself from the enormity of this sorrow by all the grieving I did in these past 2 years. Ha! The joke’s on me. There is no protection, no way that two energies so intertwined can separate without horrible pain. I am ripped apart.

In some respects, this could mimic the pain of divorce which I remember all too well. But this is much more final. Much more empty. There’s simply a rather large hole that is no longer being filled, and now it’s up to me to learn to live around this hole, within this hole, within this new (w)holeness of me.

It’s weird because really, I’ve been taking care of myself for about 2 years now. Michael was more and more incapacitated and I had to take over more of the responsibilities. But it’s weird because in some way I still felt that it was a “we” doing things. And it was. We grieved together. We talked about dying and death. We had our inside jokes about the drugs and the side effects and the routines Michael’s illness engendered. We understood what We were going through.

Now it’s just me. I think in some totally irrational and magical way, I didn’t really believe in Michael’s death. I could surely see it coming, but I didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of him actually not being here any longer. In some odd way I thought we would still be doing it all together, that somehow, we would do his death together. I know this is nuts but it doesn’t matter. We were wrapped in each other’s lives in thousands of little ways and the shock of him actually being gone is almost incomprehensible.

A week after Michael’s death, I take my first trip out of the house. I am fragile — it’s the only word that fits. I am raw, an open festering wound. I am wrapped in a sorrow I’ve never known before. I see a woman I barely know in the grocery store and she grabs my arms, looks searchingly into my eyes, and says, “Are you peaceful yet?” I was thoroughly taken aback! Really? I stumbled and said something like, “I’m nowhere near peaceful right now.”

Then yesterday a neighbor stops me on the street and asks, “Are you just sad all the time?” And my answer is no. I’m not sad all the time. And I’m not completely peaceful either. I’m absolutely deeply in the middle of a huge grief. And when I’m sad, I’m really sad. And when I’m not, I’m more or less fully engaged with whatever is happening in the moment. There are even times of real peace. This has made me realize quite starkly the profound difference between depression and grief, for depression is filled with hopelessness, and I’m not hopeless.

Yesterday was also the first day that I fully realized that I’m on my own. I know this is obvious, but it didn’t really hit me until then. Yesterday I was struck by being a “widow.” Such a mournful word. I think it’s the “w’s” that define its mournfulness in some way – their sound at the beginning and the awful silent end. I’m a widow and I’m on my own and I have to take care of myself.

And yet, I don’t feel like a widow. I feel like a person who is carrying a huge sorrow, and I know that this sorrow has opened and strengthened me in ways I can’t even begin to fathom yet.

Part of me wishes to skip ahead a year, to a time when this pain is more distant, more abstract. An ache in my psyche but no longer a red bleeding wound. But of course, this is impossible. This pain must be lived through. This pain is the price of love. I am being taught the price of love. And I would pay it again, even knowing all of this, I would pay it again.

 

 

He is Gone

Michael

This is the picture of Michael that I took on the day of his enlightenment: April 12, 2016.

On April 25, 2018 at 3:41am Michael passed from this life to the next. I will be writing about it once I am able. He awakened me at around 3:20am and I found him struggling to breathe. I got oxygen started but it didn’t help and there was a horrible deep “death rattle” in his chest. I kept saying “I love you so much, I love you so much” while trying to ease his discomfort with energy work. His last words were “I love you.” Then his eyes rolled up into his head, rolled back down, and he died. I am in grief beyond words.

Here is the obituary that he wrote for himself in February.

Dr. Michael J. Santangelo, 68, died on April 25, 2018 at home in Iowa City from complications of amyloidosis. Michael was born on April 20, 1950, oldest child of Michael F. Santangelo and Anna Norma (Zorio) Santangelo.

He grew up in Philadelphia and in its suburb of Levittown, PA. After finishing twelve years of parochial school, he attended Virginia Tech, earning a bachelors degree in Mathematics, as well as a masters and doctorate degrees in psychology. While in graduate school, his son Adrian was born.

After graduation, Michael worked as a clinical psychologist in mental health centers in Muscatine and Cedar Rapids, IA. During this time, he served as director of clinical services and headed a partial hospitalization program for the chronically mentally ill. After leaving community mental health, he worked as an associate in three private practices, was a consultant with the Iowa Department of Human Services, and co-directed behavioral research in hemophilia and AIDS at The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. At about this time, his long-term disenchantment with the traditional practice of psychology led him to pursue training in Asian massage, traditional Chinese medicine, naturopathy, and energy medicine.

In 1987, Michael married Candida Maurer, the love of his life, and became step-father to her two sons, Colin and Darby. Together, Michael and Candida founded what is now Eastwind Healing Center in 1994, and Eastwind School of Holistic Healing in 1997, a massage school they directed and taught in for ten years. The focus of their healing practice has been the integration of psychology and alternative healthcare, which made the Center the first of its kind in Iowa.

Michael’s interests were always esoteric and eclectic. From an early age, he was interested in spirituality and metaphysics. For many years and until his death, he was a member of Builders of the Adytum (BOTA) and the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), two prominent organizations that follow the teachings of the Western mystery tradition, especially Qabalah and Tarot. He also served on the editorial board of the Rose+Croix Journal, the academic publication of AMORC.

Michael studied and practiced meditation since his adolescence, and this background informed his more than forty years in the professional practice of healthcare. His approach to working with others was very eclectic, and he used his varied background to assist people with many different problems, from emotional and mental, to physical and spiritual. He also taught extensively at all levels, from community education to undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology. Later in his life, his teaching focused primarily on spiritual matters. His lectures were always amply spiced with his irreverent sense of humor. He also wrote, publishing books on personal growth and astrology, yahtzee, and writing a spiritual blog.

Outside of his professional interests, Michael enjoyed reading, research, hiking, electronic gadgets, and recumbent bicycles. He walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago at the age of 64. His favorite hobby, however, was fountain pens. He loved his pens, inks, and paper, and was always ready to seek out “converts” to the art of handwriting. He thoroughly enjoyed producing hand-written letters sealed with custom wax seals, and transcribing famous speeches and spiritual texts using his writing instruments.

Michael is survived by Candida Maurer, his beloved wife of almost 31 years; his son Adrian (Pamela) and his grandchildren Heather and Gavin; his mother; his sister Lisa-Marie; his brother Steven; and by his step-sons Colin (Angela Sarff) Kealey and Darby (Megan Galizia) Kealey. He was preceded in death by his father.

There will be a Ritual Celebration of Life at Hotel Vetro ballroom on May 12th at 3pm.

In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to Iowa City Hospice in his name.

Per me, nihil possum facere.
(Of myself, I can do nothing)

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Intimations of Immortality

It is both the hardest year, and the most spiritually transformative year, of my adult life.

immortality

September 4, 2017

It is my birthday today and I’m noticing again that birthdays contain a natural bend toward philosophizing, toward looking back, toward summing up. As I look back, all I can say for sure is that this has been a weird year – it is both the hardest year, and the most spiritually transformative year, of my adult life.

One year ago my birthday was spent in the hospital watching Michael receive  shots in his belly. These shots are meant to stimulate stem cell production so that when Michael’s stem cells are harvested and replaced, there will be a large number of them.

It’s gruesome. Michael can’t help making a face when the shots go in and I don’t blame him. It starts to become obvious over the course of several days that some of the nurses are really good at giving belly shots, and some are not. It’s painful to watch. At any rate, that’s how last year’s birthday was spent. It was the beginning of this journey of many hours in the hospital, many worries about the meaning of Michael’s illness, and not many answers.

This year is much different. One of my sons and his wife come from LA for a visit, filling the house with youthful energy and interests. Then, my brother and his wife kindly appear from Colorado. Finally, our friend Kathy is at our door with cupcakes that look like flowers, and it’s a party — the first party in our house in a long, long time and it feels great.

But now they all are gone and only their shadows remain to remind me of their good hearts and glad words. The house is suddenly quiet again, too quiet, and I feel the flatness of grief at their leaving. So today I am left with both a fullness and a sadness that feel pure. Neither is tainted with guilt or regret or unworthiness. It is the fullness that comes from knowing one is loved. It is the sadness for my husband, for the man who once was, for the life between us that once was. I am grateful for the simplicity of this feeling for often my feelings are confused and windblown like the leaves that are now beginning to fall.

The sadness is obvious. Our lives have changed immeasurably in ways both large and small. Michael looks worn and weary. He no longer stands straight, and when we hug, he is now shrunken to almost my own height. His arms are thin and bent. His skin is dry and paper-thin. He walks slowly, shuffling around the house like an old man, and when he goes for a walk, he takes a stick to steady himself.

This week also brought a further look into how things can be, how they turn on a dime, on the precarious rolling of the cosmic dice. Michael got a cold on our trip to see the total eclipse. It starts slowly when we return and then builds for a week until finally he is barely eating and so tired that even simple tasks like climbing the stairs are a strain, an effort almost beyond his current abilities.

I keep saying he looks bad and he keeps denying that things are worse.  A horrid huge bruise develops around his left eye. It is a dark angry red that morphs into dark purple and black, and it is very swollen. “I’m just tired,” he says, “I’ll be fine.” I look at him and feel is forehead. It is hot and I ask him if he has taken his temperature. He hasn’t and when I return a few minutes later he’s discovered that he has a fever. This forces an immediate and reluctant trip to the hospital for a fever is considered to be dangerous, even life-threatening.

On the way to the hospital I am angry with him for denying his symptoms, denying his feelings. It is an old dance between us and it’s still one that we indulge from time to time.

I remember the awful week in the hospital after his transplant. He was near death and waving me away from him, holding me away with hand gestures. “I’m fine,” he softly moaned, when he clearly wasn’t. Now in the car to the hospital unbidden tears fall down my face but I hide them from him. “This is who he is,” I tell myself. “He doesn’t want to be helpless or vulnerable. He wants to believe that his will is strong enough to overcome these problems.” But no one’s will is this strong.

At the hospital his fever has fallen to within “acceptably elevated limits” and he doesn’t have to be admitted. But there are ominous rattling sounds in his lower lungs and he is put on a strong antibiotic with weird side effects that interact with his chemotherapy. We are warned that in the next several months the antibiotic could cause his tendons to snap and break. Apparently this makes a loud noise, hurts a great deal, and requires surgery for repair. What a strange world of modern medicine in which we are plunged!

One of my friends tells me that her father is suddenly looking older and intuitively she knows that something is wrong. Another friend’s father has just been diagnosed with a type of leukemia, and another’s niece is in the last stage of cancer. My friends are now facing into exactly what I am facing – watching the inevitable waning of the physical form, the short or long journey into the dying and death of a loved one, anticipating the horrendous sense of loss that follows.

So what is this simple sorrow and this unexpected fullness that I’m feeling today? It feels like one of life’s deep truths — the truth of the decline and death that is coming for us all. Some of us may be luckier. We may have a sudden death, an accident, a heart attack, a short sweet illness with an easy end. But many of us will die exactly like this with a wearing away of vitality and energy until finally there isn’t much of anything left other than the animal body still clinging to its waning life.

But this is the way it is, isn’t it? This is what is happening all the time. People are born and people die. Life is both fragile and ferocious. It dies and insistently springs forth again and again. It can feel cruel and wrong. But it isn’t. It’s what we came here for. We’re here to watch those we love pass from this earth. We’re here to learn about living in a body that we know is going to die.

It would be easy to become either nihilistic or simplistically religious in the face of this. But I don’t believe that it’s all for nothing, and just as fiercely, I don’t believe in the Big Guy in the sky who will save me in the end.

Instead, I see life as a constantly evolving emergence from the depths of Mystery. We are lovingly created to experience it in all of its miraculous and myriad forms. We are here to learn that each form is sacred. And finally, we are here to rejoin the Mystery in the full awareness of our true formless Being.

This is Michael’s journey now – maybe sooner, maybe later – and it is the journey for all of us. He is feeling better today but I watch him nodding into sleep on the couch knowing that one day he won’t wake up. I wonder if I will be there to watch him die, and then I wonder who will be watching me in the end or whether I will die alone. I feel the terrible and intricate beauty of this life. I feel the ineffable sorrow and the loving fullness. And on this, the anniversary of my birth, all of it brings sweet tears to my eyes once again.

Metaphors

If we debase life’s “accidents” by not believing in their meaning, we undermine the deeper meanings that strive to inform us. Life is far too complex for us to imagine that we can control it, or halt any of its huge underlying movements.

eclipse

August 23, 2017

I’ve been thinking about metaphors — the metaphors of Michael’s illness, the metaphors of caregiving, the metaphors of the larger world. In my way of looking at the world it is a metaphor-creating machine, always showing us the way, always showing us when we’re in alignment and when we are not, always showing us exactly what is going on if we can be still enough to comprehend it.

To understand our life, all that is required of any of us is to pay attention to what is happening in our personal and our interpersonal worlds, and to really look at how reality is arranging itself for us. Then we begin to unpack the deep messages and responsibilities it holds. Once we do this, we can see exactly where we are, and we can choose how to proceed.

A few weeks ago when my son and I cleaned our basement, a huge metaphor presented itself. Finding black mold in the trunk that was holding Michael’s mementos, and finding it only there, was a clear message. But then after the clear message comes the complex and layered unpacking of the metaphor that presents itself. God is speaking to us. The problem is that we don’t always know how to understand what is being said.

For instance, it is interesting that it is my son and I who are the ones to find the mold and who get rid of the mold. Michael’s illness prevents him from doing this kind of work right now, so we are the stand-ins. And what are we standing in? We are standing in something that it is dark and dangerous, something that was hidden in the unconscious chaos of our basement. And clearly, it is about cleaning up Michael’s representations of old memories in some way. But then the questions arise: Is Michael not involved because he had already let go of these mementos and so they were returning into the mold of the dark earth? Or is he supposed to see that the mementos are no longer necessary in some way? Or is it important for my son and I to encounter this dark mess and clean it up for him or for ourselves, to let go of something that we didn’t even know we were holding onto?

I’m still pondering the meaning of this and all I really know is that something that was hidden in the Great Below got cleaned up. Beyond that, I’m still trying to figure it out.

This past weekend Michael and I were blessed with witnessing what is perhaps the most potent metaphor of the natural world – the total eclipse. It is a sight that neither of us will ever forget as we bathed in the timeless energy of totality. The sudden stillness, the growing darkening of the sky, the weird shadows, and finally in totality, the stunning black hole surrounded by the most brilliant diamond light floating in the depths of Mystery.

It is such a beautiful metaphor – the dance of the Sun and the Moon coming together in radiant beauty and utter peace. And for a moment, the Masculine energy of the sun is “eclipsed” by the Feminine of the moon — an integration that is desperately needed in this tumult of personal and collective earthly events. It brought tears to our eyes for we knew we were seeing God in one of Its many magnificent guises.

The next day we bumped smack into another metaphor when we had our monthly meeting with the nurse practitioner at the hospital. We got the new numbers that indicate Michael’s progress, or in this case lack of progress, with his disease. Last month the misshaped protein was at its lowest level since we began this whole process a year ago, and we had dared to hope. Yesterday, the bad protein had almost doubled in number. So what’s the metaphor here?

First, protein is called the “building block of the body.” It is vital in the maintenance of body tissues and energy. Michael’s body is producing too many “misfolded” proteins and both his tissues and his energy are suffering. The building blocks aren’t working the way they are supposed to and this is happening in the marrow of his bones. In other words, at the physical level, the metaphor is that there’s a deep part of him that is trying to die. In fact, it is the deepest part of his physical being. It is the very marrow of his bones that is producing this illness and this metaphor simply cannot be avoided.

Second, and this seems to be a continuous learning, it means we can’t count on anything within the course of this illness. Of course receiving this news was a blow in many ways. I had dared to think that things were getting steadily better and obviously, this isn’t the case. There’s not a straight line in any direction.

Finally, there is an absolute necessity to let go of expectations. The truth is that it doesn’t matter what we think or what we want. And in some situations, it doesn’t even matter what our conscious intentions are. All that comforting New Age philosophy about our intentions creating reality is true to a certain extent. But when it collides with fate or karma or whatever you want to call that deeper underlying force, all the intentions in the world may not change things. There are forces at work that we simply cannot understand or control, and they have things to teach us that we’ve either forgotten or that we desperately need to learn.

All I know for sure is that it is this spiritual understanding, these metaphors, that  allow me to keep my head above water. For surely, without them, I would drown. They allow me to see that things happen for a reason, that there really are no accidents. For if we debase life’s “accidents” by not believing in their meaning, we undermine the deeper meanings that strive to inform us. Life is far too complex for us to imagine that we can control it, or halt any of its huge underlying movements.

I cry this week because I have to. I feel how pure and beautiful life is, and sometimes, how desperately sad. I feel the rawness and the grief and the utter simplicity of it all. I see the metaphors and realize that they are all telling me something about myself and about the human condition. Over and over, I surrender to this Mystery, this wisdom, knowing it is teaching me exactly what I need to learn. And always, it is teaching me about love.

I talk with my son about Michael’s results. He says, “Well, some metaphors will kill you.” He’s right of course. We’re all going to die and hopefully, we’re all going to receive the immense opportunity to face death and to receive the meaning of our metaphors. And finally, in the end, we can know that life, every bit of it, is a blessing.

The Labyrinth

labyrinth

6/29/17

I go to a retreat center for much needed relief. I’m in a hermitage, the small solar-powered straw bale houses set off on a quiet place on the property. I’m immediately struck by the fact that I have chosen to hermit myself away from the hermitage of illness that’s been created by Michael in our home. I am completely burned out.

After I unpack I go to the labyrinth which is close by and for the first time ever, I am blessedly, unrestrainedly, alone. What a gift! As soon as I enter, I begin to weep. Just soft tears, realizing how sad I truly am, as I walk so slowly through this journey of the soul. I ask over and over to know my spiritual path. “Show me my path, show me my path.”

As the twists and turns unfold I am taken into the Eastern quadrant and there I begin to sob, to cry my heart out, alone in these woods, alone on this path. I am desolate with sorrow and loneliness. There’s no other word for it. Desolate. I realize I’m not prepared for how lonely the caregiver in me has become. Once I move into the South I begin to calm and other thoughts enter my mind – thoughts of the mystery of Spirit, thoughts about being taught this deep hard-edged lesson, thoughts about my astrological north node which has always cautioned me that my learning must be about independence.

Then I am in the West. I notice the animal tracks that I’m sharing this path with – deer, rabbits, chipmunks, birds. I notice the small branches that cross the path and instead of removing them I recognize them for what they are – the things which cross the path, the things that mark a brief stop or a need to step over or go around. I move even more slowly now. As I enter the North it becomes a place of recovery, a place for rest in which I am more sure-footed. But as I enter the East again, I am besieged by grief – overwhelming, heart-stopping grief. And again, it begins to abate in the South. I am curious but still crying.

I honor all the sacred directions and the powers they represent. The East – the realm of Air and Thought. The South – the realm of Fire and Spirit. The West – the realm of Water and Emotion, and the North – the realm of Earth and Groundedness. But I am drawn to stop in the West.

In the West, the King of Cups comes to me. I had drawn his card as the outcome for my summer solstice tarot card reading and had been wondering what the lesson is. He is “the fire of water” and his picture is one of a King sitting on a throne that is riding on top of the water. He is not taken under the water, into his emotions, in any way. He recognizes them, feels them, but does not dwell on them. And he holds the paradox of fire and water – Spirit and Emotion – a paradox that is held in balance as he sits on top of his feelings rather than being overwhelmed by them.

By the time I finally reach the Center, it all comes tumbling in. All the disparate parts of the self, all clamoring for attention, for simple recognition. I cry more deeply and then finally, I am calm. I sit for some time and leave the labyrinth without retracing my steps, knowing this is not the holy way, and not caring at the moment, just needing to be moving on, just needing to understand the lessons of the labyrinth.

I realize I have been dwelling in my sad emotions of late. It’s hard not to. There are times when I look at Michael sitting on the couch and I can barely stop myself from crying. His life has become so much smaller – days of reading, writing, meditating, computer surfing, and various distractions of food and TV. He even looks smaller. He’s curved inwardly and his spine is rounded and knobby. His arms are thin and he’s losing strength and grace.

Somehow the lessons of Water and Fire come pouring through me now – “Feel it all,” they say, “feel everything, and then turn it over to Spirit! Let yourself burn in the purifying fire. Let yourself be taken up to heaven and released.”

Outside the labyrinth there is a path called the Cosmic Walk and I decide to take it. There are markers all along the way starting with the appearance of modern humans, then prehistoric peoples, then mammals, then lizards, then sea life, then plant life, then bacteria. All of this occurs within a relatively brief span of the walk and there’s a great walking distance between this and the creation of the earth and the solar system – billions of years. Finally, many billion years later, and many more steps along the path, is the creation of the Milky Way and then all the way out to the Big Bang, or as the walk says, “The Great Flaring Forth.” I love this – the Great Flaring Forth. It reminds me of the Dazzling Dark on the Tree of Life. We are so small in our little lives, our little deaths. I emerge from the walk feeling cleansed and renewed.

I go into the retreat center’s meditation room. Again I am blessed with solitude in this soft silent space. When I emerge I see a prayer book for those who come here, a book to petition God for intercession into our heartsick lives. As I look through it, page after page contains the words, “Prayers for my dear husband….” I catch my breath realizing that countless others have come to this exact place before me with these exact words: prayers for my dear husband. It breaks my heart wide open and I cannot write these words for Michael. Not yet.

I walk the labyrinth alone again the next morning. So slowly. I wonder if I will once again encounter the deep grief of my thoughts in the East. But, remarkably, I don’t. There is a sinking, a swamp to be avoided, but I can walk through it without tears today. Then, unexpectedly, I break down in the West, the place of emotion and realize that maybe this is exactly the right place to break down. Today when I reach the Center, it is very peaceful — steady and calm and full. I walk out in the sacred way this time, unwinding my path from the Center to the beginning, to the end, and feeling the wholeness of this journey.

I go back to the meditation room now, then back to the prayer book. I write: “Prayers for my dear husband, Michael.”