A Letter to My Grandchildren about 9/11

Seventeen years ago, on September 11, 2001, before you were born and just a week after your parIMG_1057ents were married, there was an assault on our country in New York City and Washington. Assault means: a sudden attack. This assault that most people call “9/11” now, was the most terrible thing that I had ever experienced. It felt very threatening because our family was involved, and it was “close to home.

We lived on Long Island then and your Grandfather, “HP” worked in New York City. On this Monday Morning of September, 2001, he took the Long Island Railroad, walked to Midtown, and began his day at his desk on the 35th floor.  At the same time, a plane was taken over by men with weapons, and it crashed into the tallest building in NYC.  A second plane flew into the second “World Trade Center” Tower. Another plane was taken over and crashed in Pennsylvania.  Another flew into the side of the Pentagon, in Washington DC.IMG_1048 If you ever wondered why we stand in the long lines at the airport called “Security,” it is because of what was learned from this event. Putting all our things in a scanner, taking off shoes, emptying our pockets is what you have always done to fly on a plane.  When I was a kid, we had no seat belts in cars and babies rode on someone’s lap!  Sounds crazy! We learned the hard way to keep children safe in cars.  Airlines and governments all over the world learned how to keep passengers safe in planes after the 9/11 attack.

 

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Your grandfather watched this attack from his office in NYC.  He and yes, maybe a million others got down out of their tall buildings and walked home through the streets of Manhattan.  He and his coworkers walked across a bridge, found a ride, and walked some more. Your Aunt and I drove through the streets in Queens until we found him standing across the street from where we parked to look at a map. No GPS in those days and the roads were closed for the Emergency helpers.

We drove home feeling grateful that we were all together, knowing that we were very, very blessed. That evening we went to the beach at Smith’s Point Park to stand with hundreds of other Long Island residents. We watched the smoke rise, told our stories, and said prayers for all the hurt people. That experience will always be with him; it will be with all of us.IMG_1052

When you see the sad and angry people talking about 9/11 with hateful words remember that their hearts were broken by this event.  They were very scared, and shocked that anything like that could happen right here where we live. Some people have stayed in this “fight” place, they want to continue to hate ideas, cultures and groups of people.  That won’t help us have a peaceful life or a peaceful country. And it’s hard to learn when you’re shouting.

On this 9/11, I am sitting at the 32nd floor window, looking out at the Hudson River on a foggy September 12, 2018. This building is a half block away from what used to be called “Ground Zero,” the place where these huge buildings stood.  HP and I went to a party at the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center once.  It was so foggy we couldn’t see anything, just like today.IMG_1054

From my window, we can see the 2 powerful beams of light directed to the heavens each year to remember the people who died.  From way up here on this high floor, we can see hundreds of small shiny things flying through the beams. It looked a lot like a porch light on a warm dark night.  Turn it on, and all the bugs appear! These were too big to be bugs.  Turns out, they are migrating birds, mostly Warblers from Canada that are called to the light. They circle in the light in great loops and figure eights, hundreds at a time. They make a particular sound when they find this place. I wonder what it is they are saying to one another? Or are they calling out to us?IMG_1053

 

This year we stood with thousands of people speaking many different languages in the place where the destruction happened 17 years ago.  We listened to the bagpipes played by New York City Firemen; who lost many friends, family and coworkers.  Right around the corner, I found something different. I found it in a mural done about children that inspired me to write this letter.

Three things I would like my grandkids to know:

# 1.  Life goes on, no matter what.

No matter what happens, the sun comes up and brings a new day.

#2.  Learn from whatever happens to you.

Take the emotions and use them as fuel for the fire of learning about how powerful YOU are. Help someone, be true to yourself, make a difference.

#3.  People hurt people.

It is a not their race, religion or even their country, it is an individual that choses to harm. Individuals can make bad, sometimes vicious choices.

Despise their actions and create the opposite in your life.

Never Forget

the potential for the world to live in

PEACE

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All photos, Carol Martell from the

“One World, Our Children” mural by Chinòn Maria

https://www.lifebelowcanal.com/home/3wj5p7hmma6l76mba5akf5hwtrt879

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Autumn

It was the Autumn Equinox 2002.  We lived on New York’s Long Island, a 20-mile-wide swath of sand and rocks dropped by a glacier a few eons ago. “The Island” radiates west to east, beginning at the grimy industrial edge of Queens and Brooklyn. The land flows 100 miles to the East, separating the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, from Long Island Sound to the north. The sand surrenders to the water once again at the rough rocks and windy cliffs of Montauk Point. Long Island’s flexible, mutable geography supports little elevation, other than a few hills and some sand dunes in continuous flux.

From the pebbles of the north shore, or the southern sandy coastline, you can turn your back on the millions of people, the tangle of highways, and the hundreds of square miles of overstuffed suburbia. From that position, there is open sky; a celestial amphitheater in the reflection of the open water.  On that day in 2002, I stood in that locus and witnessed the zenith of a short lifetime. Autumn happened in the momentary pause between the exhale of Summer and the inhale of Fall.

Madonna, child, and a cat

Leonardo da Vinci, Study for a Madonna with a Cat, about 1478-80

 

I was a Hospice volunteer then.  I sat vigils, and ran errands for those who couldn’t get out anymore.  Mostly the need was for family respite; a planned visit that allowed family caregivers a few hours of personal space. Just a short breather for sanity’s sake. Tending a family member at the end of life is hard. It extracts the very best, and the absolute worst of us; all at the same time. In the sacred atmosphere around the end of life, all of our well-guarded facades are ripped away. We find our long-denied emotions dropped there on the carpet, at the end of the bed.  Sometimes that “short time left,” is achingly long.  For others, the longest life will never be long enough. I had some “regulars.” They are the best teachers and they were generous with their lessons.

There was Rose, feisty 80 lb., 90-year old, who arranged for her own discharge from a substandard nursing home. From her wheelchair, via front lobby pay phone, she reported her own neglect case to the Adult Protective Services Elder Abuse hot line. When they came to investigate, she convinced them she was put there against her will, and she was returned to her home. Her victory, was much to the chagrin of her concerned; but unavailable, adult kids. She admonished her children for their attack on her independence with a promise, “If you put me in a nursing home again, I will just have to die.”  After six months of hard fought freedom, supported by tenacious Hospice folk, they did, and she did. She remains a personal hero of mine.

Ellen, was another petite powerhouse. The top of her head reached my shoulder.  She spoke with the quiet, polite lilt of her Killarney childhood. Despite her bone warping rheumatoid arthritis, she displayed the personal pluck of the new bride, just “off the boat.” She had come through New York harbor, emigrating to the US in the 1960’s to join her brand new, US Army husband.  It was the drugs prescribed in large doses to help the pain of the arthritis that caused her kidney cancer; a “potential side effect.”  I brought her groceries, and she made us Irish tea that could melt rust.

On this Equinox, September 21, 2001, this request for assistance was very different. The woman from the Hospice office sounded frantic.

“Everyone is out on calls, there is no one can get there now, will you do this?”

“This” was pick up morphine from the Pharmacy in Ronkonkoma and drive west at rush hour to Oyster Bay on the north shore.  There was a baby there dying at home, 2 days old. Her parents had asked only for some morphine to ease her labored breathing in her final hours.

I used the shortcuts to avoid the Long Island Expressway, snaking through the side roads and finally onto the Oyster Bay Expressway to where it nearly ends on the sand. Turning off the final exit, I found the gateposts of the community. This was a grand old North Shore neighborhood built when Wall Street folk began to wander off Park Avenue and onto Long Island fairways. Green islands of manicured grass swept upward to meet sculptured shrubbery, leading the eye, and the invited foot to the imposing front entries.

I found the address and pulled into the wide driveway.  Holding the medicine in my hand, I said a prayer for this family, for this baby, for myself to be helpful, and as unobtrusive as possible.  My heart was beating in my ears as I walked up to the dark wood door.  I looked for the name on the bag.  Her name was Autumn. Her birthday was yesterday. I rang the bell and kept my tears in check.

An older man, the grandfather I thought, threw open the door.  He greeted me with practiced affability and a hearty laugh, his words somehow tumbling through a clenched jaw.

“Come in, Come in please!”

I stared at the man, perplexed by the manic hospitality.

“Have I had come to the wrong door?” I thought.

The ice hit the side of his glass, the crystal jingled like the ringing of a tiny bell. I wondered if I was being mistaken for a cocktail party guest.  Sensing my confusion, and taking no chances that I would abandon his doorway, he reached out to pull me into the foyer. The quick movement spilled his neat Scotch down his wrinkled suit pants, and onto the marble floor.  He watched somberly as the amber liquid sought equilibrium. He seemed so grateful to have an alternate place for his attention.

“Come in, come in! Would you like a drink?”

I thought then, “Certainly I am in the wrong house.”

I looked beyond him, across the foyer, up the single marble step and into the living room. The expansive space ran across the front of the house facing north to Long Island Sound. Early evening light radiated through the long windows lending a warm late September glow to the pale carpeting. The shadows were lengthening; daylight was waning, and no one had thought to turn on a lamp. Tossed on the long green sectional were hastily discarded jackets, and a new diaper bag.  Mother and baby sat in a wingchair covered in mauve brocade. Dad stood behind the chair with one hand on his wife’s shoulder and his eyes on his daughter.

I imagined the other woman in the room was the grandmother. She sat in a matching wingchair, heels together and hands folded in her lap. She was so still, I wondered if she was saving the air in the room for her granddaughter.  Her eyes couldn’t leave that tiny body.

I understood now the terror of this Grandfather. The grief in that room was vast and raw. He couldn’t find his way into the room. The intimacy was too much. I could hear her strained breathing from where we stood in the entry and I remembered my task. I reached out and gave him the medicine. He stared into my face, unseeing, frozen in place.

“What is her name?” I asked the Grandfather.

“Autumn, her name is Autumn.” He said.  His face relaxed, his eyes filled with tears.

“Is there anything else you need?” I asked quietly.

The Mom looked up then, softly she said with a smile, “No, we are fine.”

48a97514de0710e707c34ad992dd96eeIn the young woman’s face, I caught a glimpse a 15th century painting of Madonna and child. She smiled at her daughter, talked to her, held her.  This was her child’s life, and she would not miss a second. Whatever would come later, she was here for her, now. By the time the Grandfather had reached the top of the marble step, I was quietly closing the door behind me.

I had too many emotions to drive amidst prosaic commuters.  I had just witnessed “love” in its most pure state. I was ungrounded and profoundly grateful for my healthy children. I drove the three minutes to the beach, and parked my car in the empty lot. I walked across the boardwalk, past the closed snack bar, and out on the sand.

As I watched, the sun dropped into the western horizon.  A sail boat moved across the water toward the harbor. The long shadow of the mast on the water reminded me; this was the Autumn Equinox. Down the beach to the East, there was a jogger, the slight woman ran easily along the shoreline.

From behind her, seemingly from out of the water rose a huge ball of orange.  At first I thought the brightness of the sun was echoing on my retinas. I looked to the left and there was the sun setting, looked to the right and a harvest full moon was rising at the same time. It appeared I was standing on a different planet. The jogger, a woman near my age, came to where I was standing, breathing heavily from her long run down the beach.

We looked at the sun, the moon and each other, grateful that there was another human to witness. It was comforting to have validation. We stood silently until the sun dipped below the horizon, the moon rose and the moment passed into memory. There was a wordless wave and she was off down the beach, and I was back to car and home.

I had a message from the Hospice office when I got home. “Autumn passed peacefully.”   I can only guess how many lives were touched  Autumn, a tiny ethereal being who never touched the Earth. The date has magical proportions for me.  It remains a day to wonder, to appreciate, to imagine:

 What kind of spirit comes into the world for only two days and leaves with the sun and the moon as her companions?

 

Leonardo da Vinci, Study for a Madonna with a Cat, about 1478-80 …

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leonardo da vinci paintings | Head of Madonna 1508-1515. Chalk on …

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leonardo da vinci paintings | Head of Madonna 1508-1515. Chalk on red-

 

Caregivers and Other Heroes

I saw her first in silhouette, the bright sun from the third-floor western window etched a crisp black image of a faceless woman on my retina.

She leaned forward stiffly, bending to the oversized recliner in the corner of the dim room. The chair’s resident was lost to the shadows. She turned to look into the hallway, just as I looked through the open door. A tiny flash of recognition and a flush of emotions shot up my spine.

Hope“I have seen this before,” I thought.

I looked away quickly, waved cheerily to another resident and moved on up the corridor. I had a “planned” conversation at the end of the hall, I would go there first. That is what we do isn’t it? Put the recognized task firmly in our path, effectively blocking from view any unexpected possibilities that might crop up. A “plea” could be followed by “needs,” bringing forth evocative emotions; always better to stay “on the path” for efficiency’s sake.

“I will stop on the way back, a little later.”

But “later” wouldn’t do. Time is mutable in the cosmos of the fragile, frail and elderly. Appointments are secondary to bodily functions and short term memory. The only real time to manifest anything is “right now.” I barely felt it; just a small shutter. Then as awkwardly as a stiff brake applied to rusty track, I eased to a stop. Rich images of my own experience oozed from of the cracks in my demeanor. Something about the figure moving against the bright light had elicited a memory.

It was a summer evening, a cabin in the Adirondacks, multiple generations were gathering on couch and floor to watch “family movies.” There it was! My elders illuminated in silhouette, crossing the projector beam, crisp black images against the brilliant white screen. They were unmistakable in form and movement, reaching out for the arm of a chair in the inky blackness. I was a child then, as was the technology of watching the past. These were short, silent wonders of physical film. The movie camera my Mother piloted had a sound; a mechanical “whir” that elicited good behavior and hastily assembled, always smiling family cliques. Film feels different from our avalanche of IPhone personal documentaries and excessive disc space. On film, time is short, images are precious, life is a temporary condition.

I heard the brittle film creaking dryly around the gears and sprockets of our 1960’s movie projector. We watched long departed family in mid-century vignettes, wrapped in golden patina, roll by on 35 mm. celluloid.  There I am at three. There is my great grandmother, and my parents looking happy and fresh. But 50-year-old film is tenuous, as people are impermanent. Unexpectedly, the precious film would rip, sending the take-up reel flapping as a single frozen image melted before our eyes. In the space of a breath, our elder’s elders were gone.

Endymion

Endymion George Frederick Watts http://www.georgefredericwatts.org

Back in this continuum, I had stopped dead in my tracks in the busy hallway.  A strong scent of desperation reached out to me, I stood there blocking the path. Something tense and taut in the faceless woman’s posture had caught me deeply in my solar plexus. In my belly, there was an echo of the anger, fear, and impossible deep sadness of ambiguous loss.  I heard her then,

“My husband is right here in front of me, and yet my Husband is gone.”

This was a cocktail of grief almost too strong to be understood by anyone not of this tribe. I had intended to pass the unfamiliar room. I could return later, maybe. Something in the scene sought more than a bookmark and a cursory promise. Some ethereal wisp of this woman met me face to face in the hallway. She spoke to my soul again.

“I am here,” she said, “I am still here.”

Such is the destiny of Caregivers.  They give all they have; pouring heart and soul, optimistic intention, and endless time into their fragile loved ones. And for most, the end of this Hero’s Journey finds their own hands empty. I hope their hearts are as full as those who have passed gently into the next world under their care and comfort.

  “Long Term Care or Health Care Center are the current alias for “Nursing Home”.  I think the newer terminology is an accurate assessment.  Extreme medical interventions at the end of life, create “Terms” of residency that are so much “Longer,” than ever before.  Death can be elusive for those who haven’t made their “end of life” choices prior to an emergency. For the people who live and work here, “Nursing Home” hails from another era. The “real nurses,” those who chose this profession to care for the sick, lament the lack the time for giving “real nursing care” to their residents. And for anyone who lives here: make no mistake! Long term care surely isn’t “Home.”

Professional caregivers are saddled with mountains of paperwork, onerous regulation, and workplaces that are perennially short- staffed. Not surprising that caregiving positions go unfilled. In this locale, a CNA, the backbone of “hands on care,” might start at $11.00.

She, (they are predominantly women), will care for as many people as necessary. There is no “I will pick this up tomorrow,” in this field. These hardworking caregivers cannot drop a confused resident in the drawer for another day. Every need must be filled- Now. Short staffed might mean 15 people to toilet, feed, put to bed, medicate in an 8-hour shift. This is Long Term Care, (LTC) such as it is in 2017.

I have a love-hate relationship with these facilities.  I love the people; I hate the concept of sick elderly as commodities. I hate the low pay for the people doing heartbreaking, back-bending work of caring for our family members. How can it be that so little financial resource is engaged in the actual “hands on” care of our precious elders? These choices were made for them by illness or circumstance. Many residents have complicated medical needs beyond the scope of home care.  Many are just too frail for the outside world. They cannot go home. These are folks of “the corridors.” They are all here: the optimistic, the compliant, the fighters and those that have gone on to different realms while leaving their bodies here.

Finding myself blocking this particular corridor, I stepped aside. The aid passed by with the complicated apparatus of physical impairment and a weak smile. I was not “unwelcome” here, but I was sometimes an impediment to efficiency. Stepping up to the room, I saw the resident of this long-term care, “half room.” This room held two residents, thoughtfully separated by a wall that extended halfway to the door.  You may hear your neighbor, and all that he experiences, but seeing them is avoided, unless coming or going to the shared bathroom.

Love-and-Death-2

The silhouetted woman looked up as I knocked on the open door. No longer looking like a Facebook profile with no photo, she had a face when I entered the room; a worried, fragile, thoughtful face.  This side of 70, trim and neat, she wore a plaid blouse tucked into pressed jeans, and carefully combed hair. She welcomed me,

“Come in. Please come in. Thank you for stopping.”

I made a mental note: Always Stop. Sometimes the real beauty is in the basics.

I introduced myself as volunteer, interested, and willing to listen. She waved her hand toward the low bed with the blue blanket and I sat next to her, opposite a tall man with gentle grey eyes.  It was her husband in the recliner. He was looking comfortable and well-tended, but lacking the measure of ease that can be a byproduct of some kinds of confusion.

“He is doing what he has to do,” I thought.

He seemed acutely aware of her circumstances; frustration, overwhelm and sadness. Forty years of communication doesn’t fade quickly. I wonder if he knows already how it will end, and that there is nothing he can do to change this scenario. He smiles, at her, at me, at everyone who enters the room. She introduced me and I shook his hand. Realizing no sound made it through the space between us, I showed him my tag and he read my name.  He seemed to find pleasure in using the words.

“When they know he can’t hear, people don’t bother to talk to him,” she said. “He has almost no hearing and his hearing aids are missing again, for the third time!”

She described multiple visits to area hearing experts, trials of expensive equipment and his final acceptance of his deafness. Acceptance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The frustration in her voice made the words tremble, but his gaze never changed. I realized then; direct communication with this gentleman, has been rerouted through his wife. She had fought the battles.  She had intervened.  She was here day after day, interpreting the world for him.  I wondered where “she the person, the professional,” was in this plan?  Where had she gone, and could she ever come back?

“I am a nurse, I took care of him at home for 8 years, until I couldn’t physically do it anymore.”

I tried to imagine this small woman negotiating even the most standard activities of daily living with this man at twice her weight, head and shoulders above her in height. There had been multiple medical issues, across 15 years, it had been a slow decline.  She had lost family members and close friends, most recently a sibling. She recounted the death of a parent during childhood and I suggested that this was a great deal of grieving to be carrying.

“What I grieve the most is our conversations.  I miss eating breakfast with him and talking. I come here every day for his lunchtime so we can share a meal together.” Describing her trip in from their rural home an hour away had been treacherous a few times this winter, “I waited too long to go and got caught in it!” she said. 

Proudly, I thought. She had conquered her fear of driving alone to their rural home in the dead of winter.

TimeI wondered if the taut tension in her slight body was the result of a few too many white knuckled trips home. She smiled with a nervous laugh, and I saw just a piece of “her” wink back at me.

I wondered what she would be like without three layers of worry and the awareness that she was saying goodbye to her life’s partner in grueling slow motion. She talked about their close two-person family, and her immersion in a productive career; creating current nursing guidelines for facilities such as this one.

After years of struggling at home alone with his physical care, she is here.  She moves daily between “home” and “Health Care Center.” It appears that she is soaking up the last sweetness of her lifetime relationship, while she can. She is a maelstrom of emotions, and yet there is no other place she would rather be than here; at his side. Such is the way of Grace. The best caregivers understand how tenuous and temporary is their precious and nearly impossible to bear burden.

And this is only one bed, in one room, in one facility in a small corner of New York.

 

The-Dweller-WithinIn 2014 there were 1.7 million beds in Long Term Care facilities in the US.  Projection for 2050?

25 million.

Who will be there to care for these people?https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_03/sr03_038.pdf

I like to imagine that those who have gone before, use our experiences in the” here and now,” to encourage, teach, and even give the occasional “heads up” about what lies ahead on tour life path.  They encourage us to be thoughtful and care deeply for the people around us. We will be “that” soon enough. This experience raises questions for me, and indeed all of us! If I’m a bit “off,” and you have been asked to make decisions for me; this is your reference material.

BWOwl“Our bodies were not designed to go on forever. If I am badly broken, don’t fix me.  I have already had an extraordinary life! Save the bionic parts and the fancy interventions for the children. From the beginning of time people got old and died, usually at home. I imagine a gentle process where my world gets smaller, and I get slower until I wind down like a clock and just stop. I can imagine it might look messy and sad from the outside, but don’t be concerned. The Fall doesn’t look like the Spring or the Summer, it is a wonderful season in its own right. No worries, it will all come out just fine.”

On this day, I took the elevator at the end of the corridor.

I returned to my car in bright sunshine. I was left to wonder at that brand of courage, love, tenacity maybe all three that I witnessed in this couple. I backed my car out of the space, took a long last look at the building, and experienced a rush of gratitude and appreciation for the relationships, the good health and the ease in my life.

“I can go home.”

Thank you for the experience, I am grateful.  I wish gentle passings for us all.

All paintings by:

George Frederic Watts (23 February 1817 – 1 July 1904; sometimes spelled “George Frederick Watts”) was a popular English Victorian painter and sculptor associated with the Symbolist movement. Watts became famous in his lifetime for his allegorical works, such as Hope and Love and Life. These paintings were intended to form part of an epic symbolic cycle called the “House of Life”, in which the emotions and aspirations of life would all be represented in a universal symbolic language (From Wikipedia).

http://www.georgefredericwatts.org

 

 

 

 

Peeking Behind the Gossamer Curtain

Three years ago on this day, on a silent clear night in northern New York, we stood quietly around the suddenly still body of our amazing Mother. She died there in the wee hours, in a gentle handoff from the physical folk to the ethereal extended family. It seemed to me then that she somehow exhaled herself into the next realm. Her arrival was planned, practiced and practical; her fragile body was beginning to deteriorate. Once she could no longer walk in the woods or kayak the edges of water, it was time to move out.

Her Spirit died into the next world while the moon was overhead. Her earthly remains left her 14th story “tree house” for the last time in the mid-afternoon of that same day. Lovingly tended by her daughters, just as our Grandmothers would have done, she appeared little changed.  It seemed she was just finding her new abilities, illuminated, but just so much happier. Dressed in her favorite gown, itself a shiny beige veteran of two grandchildren’s weddings, with warm socks, she held tightly curled fern fronds and flowers from a Spring that hadn’t yet arrived.  She had gone on: “To my next adventure.”

It was our job as children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, neighbors and friends to wave good-bye, preferably smiling. If you couldn’t muster that, no worries, she was going anyway. In her last gaze I think she saw all, understood all, felt all, everything that everyone did was all- O.K. in her book. Had she been alive, she would have taken just the tiniest nibble from those ferns, …just because they were so beautiful.

Fernpainting

Fern Carol Martell 2010

“I am ready for my next adventure”

These were the words she used to explain why she was ready to die, and why she would go willingly. I believe she was still smiling when her “earth skin” was slipped into the plain pine box of her own choosing. It was Amish plain pine, freshly sanded and unfinished. By necessity it stood overnight in a funeral home surrounded by gilded guilt and the heavy décor of regretful sadness.

Her casket; if you would call it that, stood proud and simple. Had she still been there she would have remarked about the grain of the wood, caressed it with her hand, her long arthritic fingers seeking the lifeforce, reminiscent of ET’s heart touching scene. Wood grains were a passion with her! She would have found the rough place I remember seeing. That sticky knot that made me wonder if this pine box was still planks when she died?

I remember we opened the dark shades in the “room of sadness.” We opened the top of her box to tuck in bits of memory; tiny flowers and the secret missives from her favorite fans. I recall a flash of future déjà Vu that I would recall that exact moment in the future, which is today.

“My Angels Were Here”

My Mom was unusual in that she welcomed death into her life with curiosity, anticipation and a smile. While others may choose to clutch and cling to their life with the last drug and surgery, she opened the door to the next life with intention. She made her path clear of medical interventions, she asked for comfort and respect, and not much else.

She entertained the angels of transit into the next life quite regularly. She left notes to this effect, found later tucked into “must read” books and under cushions that we would move, “after.” I imagine she offered her visitors a keen interest in the subject of afterlife, and a cup of herbal tea. They seemed to stop in frequently, in her dreams, and at the edge of sleep; appearing from behind what she described as “gossamer curtains.” Those words always accompanied by a graceful arm movement that denoted her feeling the fabric and a subtle sense of the sound of bells.

They came to gently welcome her to her new existence, we mused. It was not unusual in the months before she passed to see her eyes shine in anticipation for her path, and in compassion for ours, as it was revealed. She kept it mostly to herself except when my path crossed theirs at her front door and the mystical mist still lingered about her.

Three years later I have grown skin back over the wound of loss. This is not a victim place, it is the work of grieving. Grief is love that echoes back at us when its target can’t be found. It takes a bit of time before we can scratch out the old address for our loved ones and forward our thoughts to:

Mom, Your Next Adventure, Somewhere in the Ethers, 87503

Now I can look at her transformation with appropriate joy. I can appreciate what a renegade she was; a consummate explorer in the unknown realms. Or did she know exactly where she was going because she had already been there?

Whatever the case, from my current position of safety and observation I can ask:

Where is it written that death must be faced with fear and pain, angst and anguish? At the end of a life, one could choose acceptance. I believe there is another paradigm that exists in parallel to the no hope “Grim Reaper” cheat death scenario. I want to take the Angel option; beautiful beings providing whatever you need for a sweet transition “Into your next adventure.”

Loving conductors, great music and sweet peace? Interested? Ask them.

I think my Mother works there, her name is Gloria.

Death is Generous

Life has Always Been Temporary
chagallmarcFigurinesurgrandsocle

Chagall, Marc La Danse 1967

We weren’t surprised by the early morning email announcing her passing on a cold gray day in northern New Jersey. She was the last survivor of six Elders from the port side of our ship of life.

Although I shared no DNA with this woman, she was woven into my life tapestry through marriage and the golden threads of shared family. The depth of our response, was at first as imperceptible as a minor tremor in an area not prone to earthquakes; it was unexpectedly shaking. We knew how deeply the actions of others and the echoes of choices had impacted these lives. We heard the small whisper in each of our ears, “Family,” it said to me. My partner heard something private, and imperative. We pulled the winter wear out of Florida storage, to bring the only thing we had to give; ourselves.

I had met her only several times. A tiny woman with brilliant smile, her personality radiated literally without boundaries. She was legendary in her ability to bestow friendship on anyone and everyone within reach of her voice, her arms, her heart. With my limited personal experience I am unclear if she was the honeybee, or the flower. I would guess probably both. She lived some hard, soul breaking times. These may have been written on her heart but not on her face. Those that earned the WWII survivorship have a different understanding of fear, heartbreak, courage.

Death is generous
Life has always been temporary

She died smiling in her 97th winter. Her soul mate had gone on ahead. Her mind, compromised by the faulty pathways of Alzheimers had been a mystery to her family for many months. She had floated on the wings of “nearly here,” held and protected by loving hands. There were no “if only” or “what ifs” left in her life. Even those left to cry knew there was no more to be squeezed out of her lifetime.

blueViolinist

Chagall, Marc Blue Violinist 1947

When a well-loved woman passes smiling in her 97th year, there is reason to celebrate. Her family knew who she was and what she wanted, they requested joy to attend her ceremony and joy appeared. It was my rare experience that day to witness a family in evolution. Three generations attended their personal emanations, all holographs of a single life: mother, grandmother, great grandmother, stepmother, aunt, friend.

They attended her physical passing of soul to spirit by sharing her story and wearing her smile. Around the table, old friends and youthful faces talked story. Her story, as they knew it to be. They reached back into baskets of memory to bring forth a perfect rose of a tale, gifting everyone with their treasure.

Neighbors, friends, family human and canine sat in this spell, cast by those we couldn’t see. For those of us with less “skin in the game” it was clear; the living folk were only the first tier, layers of generations, ancestors, friends, even beloved pets came to dance her home. Their names studded the conversations like a 4th grade roll call. Speak their name in story, and you will be shortly sharing a chair.

Death is Generous

Life has always been temporary

What is it about that space? What is the pristine clarity of the territory surrounding graduation from soul to spirit? When we of different realms can still touch each other, unsolvable problems melt like a March snowman. Insurmountable issues fall away, the unforgivable is swept out like so many dead leaves cleared off the unused patio. When the door into the next world opens, we all get to breathe deeper and sing louder. For a time.

In the dissolution of houses and estates, lies the absolute liquidation of worry and expectations. Common elements are rejoined in a new way; wiping away hurts, demanding that walls come down-forever. As lava slides down the mountain in Hawaii consuming all in her path, so it is with death. It’s hard to connect with pain that no longer exists, nearly impossible to link with that which has been healed.

As long as the food trays and the friends hold out, we all get to stand outside the material world. Yes we stand, plate in hand, fielding raw emotions that run free on wild horses. Emotions too long harnessed by distance, therapies, drugs and leaking body fluids, emotions that surface in a moment. Emotions that will continue to show themselves unexpectedly across another lifetime; our own.

Right now we can enjoy the euphoria. It precedes the dark windy place that is profound sadness. The lonely thin trail on the high windy ridge that is grieving. No need to look for this, it will find you.

Death is generous

Life has always been temporary

Found on indulgy.com

Chagall, Marc Heavenly Dream 1967

What is the “grace” of death? What is the music playing just down the hall and just beyond our ability to hear? When we silence our lives and turn our faces to a soul in transition do we too move closer to transcendence? In the presence of death we are kinder, wiser, more forgiving. We speak more carefully, as if suddenly aware of our words and their impact. Habitual motives of self-protection and separateness stand out in the sharp delineation like a cardinal on the snow. Suddenly it seems, there is another choice.

I wonder if the great angelic beings that come to lead us home sprinkle some “Dust of the Divine” about? Or is our loved one is standing right there and we are, as children are being “the best we can be?” Whatever the mechanics of the situation, I believe this is a huge opportunity to dip your toe into bliss.

If it’s possible to put all aside, to listen more deeply, feel more open, show more love, because someone is gone from this life?

“Why would we do anything less, anytime?”

 

To Molly- Thank you for letting me share your family, may your smile warm them always, may your dance give them joy

 

CHAGALL Marc,

LA DANSE, Sotheby’s, London

http://www.artvalue.com

Blue Violinist 1947 ackermansfineart.com

Heavenly Dream 1967  Found on indulgy.com

 

The Trust

I looked for this today. It was a file, named The Trust,” waiting patiently on my virtual desktop.  Good thing it’s virtual. The location of the laptop where it lives has been as mutable and mercurial as the air sign of Gemini in a stiff wind. These past weeks I have been in constant interaction with the concrete and friendly entity known as my Dad’s Trust. While some might regard this legacy to be an untouchable resource, I take my lead from Dolly Levi.

Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow. “

We have been doing a LOT of encouraging around here.

I wonder if the abrupt movement of “saved to spent” has been the origin of my recent dreams? In this week’s highlights, I saw Dad etherically ease dropping on a “not so quiet” gathering of his four daughters. Sitting silently, forearms on thighs, he cleared his fingernails with a small penknife. He listened, nodding occasionally; he smiled some, and sighed more.

It was a 3D dream space where we acted out thoughts and stifled emotions while simultaneously witnessing the event. Behind closed eyes in the early morning I reviewed the dream; it seemed like a Psychodrama gone Schizoid. I think maybe it is just my Spirit remembering the task of my life is to live it as no one else can.

But that’s the end of the story this is the beginning.

The Trust” and so it goes:

“Today is June 13 2014.

I am in Flying Star, (pricey coffee house in Santa Fe) reading the packet from Marilyn, trusty Trustee from The Bank. I crawl through the pages, not comprehending the details, but discerning the worry for the future in the “cover every contingency” investment strategy. I can feel him pouring over the Wall Street Journal, stock analysis, and last year’s numbers. Pages of numbers in columns, pie charts and percents all described in unemotional numbers; the reason and residue of my Dad’s life work. Inside this package there is love, there is pride, there is intellectual fun I think, I hope; I think he really enjoyed the game. “

“I can imagine he puts these questions into prayers and asks for guidance because that’s who he is in this life.

I see him lost in thought, concentrating, an unseeing gaze out a long frozen window. In the quiet of his upstairs office room he sits at the giant oak desk, its finish rubbed silky smooth from his flannel shirted elbows. He is there, leaning into see the numbers on the monitor when he learned the mysteries and miracles of the Internet. He removes his glasses, cleans the lens, rubs the sore places on his nose where the too tight glasses rest and digests what he has seen on the screen.”

“We can recall that shortly after his death this desk had to be cut in half by his mourning son in law before it could leave that room. As if it was too burdened with the time and energy of spirit spent there, it had to be halved before mere mortals could remove it. Had the wood itself had soaked up the mysterious emotions of our father? His intentions and feelings were rarely witnessed nakedly, until he was dying.

We can remember further back when another son in law did his daily work on that desk. Despite the dying in the next room, he needed to make a living. He supported our family between quiet requests for help that could only be answered by another man. Miracles happen in these times. Foes become allies. Propriety slinks away to less imperatives places. There is only room for love and laughter anything else seems to be pushed back beyond view. Fear pounds at the door, but if one can stay in the second, there are quiet opportunities to realize the incredible beauty of a life in metamorphosis. We are witnesses, yes, but the view is blindingly beautiful. Sometimes the scene is too raw and ready for those of us expecting to stay a while longer in the land of the living.”

But let’s get back to the desk.

It was surrounded by crayon drawings, photos, school pictures, clay creatures from children, grand children, and great-grandchildren. It was an environment really. I hope it was a reflection of Karl’s heart. It was the land where his children prevailed. We honored him, we threw love at him in seasonal missives and over-taped construction paper constructs.

“On a sad day in April, he gave these back. He demanded the privilege of an elder at the end of life. He wanted all of his precious bits to be returned to their givers. When the quiet flurry of removal was done, his walls were bare and we held our offerings in our hands. I remembered that day with these papers spread in front of me on a brilliant day in Santa Fe.

Hands wrapped around my teapot of Jasmine tea for warmth, I remembered what I had put away for a time when I hoped it wasn’t too sad to recall.

“Images of the creaky desk chair with over worn cushion. His wife’s warm and fuzzy decorating paradigm was abandoned at the doorsill of his office. This room was our Dad condensed. So long missing, so long missed. A desk the size of an average kitchen table. Snow was falling outside the window for the 4th cold month. Failing physical health; worry about last days, unthinkable dependence… Strife in the family; steps and sisters, old wounds rising up like the bubbles in his ginger ale. Red plastic bowls to hide any blood. Exiting his home in the strong arms of two medics in a hammock too reminiscent of a body bag. His cry of surprise or pain when he found himself on the stairs. That giant man saying, “It’s all right Honey.” It would never occur to refer to my Dad as “Honey” but he calmed, relaxed and closed his eyes. So much easier with strangers.

I can’t find the part of me that knows if he ever really looked at us again. My head thinks that’s when it was safe to apply himself to getting out of his body.

He had felt responsible for so long what did it take to have the faith that everyone would be OK if he left?

Thoughts on this day:

It is Friday the 13th, from the ancient calendar it is the day to honor Minerva. There is a full moon tonight and most importantly this is the day that my father will be released forever from this burden.

I spoke directly to him then.

“Our hands and minds are capable Dad. We will all be fine. Know that your life’s work will be held, or paid, or spread around. Most of all…deeply appreciated.

We will all create possibility to all issue; present and future. There will be four completely different ways, all good.

Seems a good reflection of your investment strategy, but it is our own expression.

Go ahead now Dad to whatever you dreamed of, or prayed about sitting at that big oak desk. You are free now, no more worries about scarcity or disability.”

Be free Dad, you are loved

It is our job now

Thank You My Friend

For as long as I sit at this desk, I will see the place where we put your body back into the earth just this morning. This is the longest day.

Time has stretched out like shiny taffy, pulled until it came to an end and “snap” you were gone. I need to remember on this loneliest of days, how many times we celebrated your exquisite integrity and your command of the language of unconditional love. I need to remember your companionship as a gift, your faithful heart as an example.

Eleven years ago we found you, my mystical guru of devotion and discernment. You were waiting there, at a City of Albuquerque annual adoption event, calculated to propel hundreds of stray dogs and puppies out of shelters, and into adoptive homes. The plan is simple: every adoptable shelter resident in the city is transported to the Fairgrounds, add  radio stations and sponsors, and see what happens.

On that day, we wandered through the cages. We past Pits and Rotties, through the “toys”, too tender and tiny for rural New Mexico, and away from the baying Hounds. There was discernible desperation in these long nose faces. The dogs had a handle on what was at stake, they seemed to know their clock was ticking.BearBWright

Our daughter spotted him; black muzzle, tiny ears, almost past a puppy with matted fur reminiscent of an old used bath mat. His card said “Stray-found downtown.” He was an “inner city” dog. Where he was headed in the breed pool was anyone’s guess. She saw his magic and skipped to the head of the “Do we really want a dog?” line by presenting him to her Dad, with leash, and the casual suggestion that he take him outside for a “get to know you walk.” Then and only then, did she find me pondering a Pomeranian once owned by an infamous animal hoarder, a single Pom, from a Pom family of 50. I was taking “rescue” too literally.

By the time we reached them Bear was calm, and Dad was smitten.

Of course he also had a touch of Parvo, but we didn’t know that yet. Dad looked as if he had reclaimed a soul part named, “My Dog Loves Me,” approximately age 10; his face was dazzling. The pup, soon to be named Bear, due to his uncanny resemblance to a Grizzly cub, offered me a ”heart to heart” communiqué. It translated into an intention somewhere between Star Trek’s salt monster, “I am for you..!” and “We need to do this Mom.”

And so we did, we made an interspecies partnership for the promotion of higher consciousness through living in the present with as much unconditional love as he could model. The timing was perfect. Our children had embarked on their own adventures and we were Midlife adults carrying substantial backpacks of leftover Nuture.

Bear’s gloriously inclusive heart developed over time and ripened with maturity. Mac, an unexpected and initially unwelcome addition developed into an unflagging devotee of the infallible Alpha-ness of Bear. Mac’s selfless love of his fearless leader has no human counterpart. It is an egoless canine adaptation that strengthens everyone in the pack. Bear recognized one ultimate Alpha-Dad and his alternate-Mom.

A particularly notable aspect of Bear’s prodigious relationship skills was his ability to discern the potential for discord or danger. His signature move was to come between any newcomer and his “family”, of which he used a very loose and comprehensive definition. All children, everyone’s children are family, as are people attached to, or smiling at “His People.”

Bear’s creed of Serve and Protect was elegantly simple based on his awareness of his own great power.

There was no need for scary growling, no show of force. He did nothing overt to raise the awareness of the detainee. Most never recognized, that the Bear Block was essentially a character analysis. His wagging tail would erroneously signal friendly canine acceptance.  He would stand as an impenetrable roadblock across any incoming legs, when he found their owners lacking.

For those of us under his protection, we looked for his opinion; we respected his opinion. If he went back for the second pet, all was well. Occasionally there was a over the shoulder look, a wide mouth pant and uneasy eyes that asked, “This guy is lying, deceitful, dangerous or inebriated, what do you want me to do with him Mom?”

For eleven years I have had the privilege of being in Bear’s family as he is in mine. We buried him today, in a hole we dug ourselves, in a gentle green yard that we call home, in a blanket that smelled like us.

I have nothing better to give you then my love and gratitude. Wait for us there, we will come after a while.

For my Family, you know who you are