what death asks of us

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As it happens, especially when the moon is full, I laid awake at 3 am and wrote the bones of this post in my head. I saw a striking image yesterday that demanded my sleep infused awareness. Earlier in the day, Deepak Chopra posted a picture of a giant skeleton laying on it’s back in Tivoli, Italy. He wrote underneath, “Where we are, he once was, where he is, once we will be.”

There is something hugely liberating about this. I almost wrote scary, disturbing, and upsetting which is all true but the word that pushed to the front of the line was none other than liberating.

There is a meditation on death from the Buddhist tradition which may sound morbid  but exists as a way to offer perspective and has even been linked to bringing more joy into our lives. It also reminds us that everything is in a constant state of change. All is fleeting and if we don’t keep check of our attachments, our obsession with things can lead to more struggle and suffering. Every time something breaks, ends, or changes, it is a way to prime ourselves to the ultimate change that we will all experience. It is a way to practice letting go a little bit at a time.

A few weeks ago in our women’s circle, my friend Jenn talked about how she often answers this poignant invitation: “Make every decision from the perspective of your deathbed. As I imagine laying there looking back on my life, will I be glad I did this?” I am trying this. Will I feel guilty about not selling hot dogs at my son’s baseball games? Will I remember the stress involved in selling this house? Will I lay there thinking about all of the things I could have done better? What truly matters at the end should matter all the way throughout.

Losing my mom was heartbreaking. But it was also an opportunity to keep her company on her journey and to experience the sacredness of death. From where I was, the only thing, the absolute only thing that mattered, was her relationships. It was all Love and kindness. It surrounded her every minute of every day. She soaked it up and shared it with us even when she was sleeping most of the time. It was a palpable energy and it too was freeing.

When I sat with her in the days leading up to her death, holding her hand, telling her it was okay to go and sometimes even singing, it reminded me of birthing my babies. Something mysterious and magical, albeit painful and hard, was happening. Something so totally out of my grasp of understanding and day to day living. The intensity of it swallowed me whole. I could only surrender and trust that this was somehow o.k and that she was laboring into a new way of being just as I had labored into becoming a mother just as my babies were also labored into being.

Beloved Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says “Birth is a continuation.” Death is a continuation. This life is a circle. Every end, a new beginning. “Our nature is the nature of no birth and no death.”

When we contemplate death, it affords us a great blessing. It reminds us that we are here for a short blink of the eye in the universe. “Truth brings humility”, says Deepak Chopra. And truth sets us free.

Death asks us to be intentional about our living and reminds us to make our decisions from a seed truth of love instead of fear. When we choose from Love, we come from our highest, most authentic selves not from the ego. We come from a place of deep connection and intimacy and not a place of separation. When we put our egos aside and stop judging and doubting every little thing, we show up with our whole, true, compassionate hearts knowing that we are one and that somehow in some way, we go on forever.

 

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on grieving

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I don’t want to write about grief all of the time. But it wants me to write about it.

In fact, at 2 am, it asked that I take notes. So I did. Standing in the kitchen with a pen and pad of paper.

When grieving, it told me, it’s not that our hearts break once and then heal, it’s that our hearts break over and over again. Be patient. Be diligent. Give this grief the time it deserves.

Last night, I set my phone down near the bathroom sink and accidentally called my mom’s home number. And instead of her voicemail or voice on the receiving end, I heard, “This number has been disconnected or is no longer in service.” I called her cell, same thing. I sat there in silence and sadness and deleted her contact info in my “favorites” while questioning whether I should delete it all together. It felt like I was not only erasing her information but her existence. It left me feeling hollow.

The strange, fortunate and sometimes bittersweet thing is that smack dab in the middle of this grief is so much life. My youngest daughter is dancing around in her first pair of ballet slippers and pink tutu, clutching her hands to her chest and saying, “My favorite.”

And then when she wrapped her arms around my neck for a hug, I said, “Oh Iz these hugs are so nice, they make me cry.” And she said, “Cry?, nah.”

I too clutched my heart when I played one of my favorite old songs by the Samples for my son when he was home sick with the flu and he loved it. And then again, my hand on my heart, as I listened to my eight-year-old daughter cry about having her feelings hurt while spring is popping up everywhere out our windows – gardenia, jasmine, and orchids re-blooming in brilliant purple and white.

And while I sit in a circle of incredible women weekly, I find myself in constant awe and reverence as we courageously reveal our true selves to one another. They amaze, inspire, and encourage me with their wit, wisdom and bravery. And they remind me how strong we are at our core.

Glennon Doyle Melton writes that we can do hard things. How many times has this mantra swam in my consciousness this past year? Especially as I said a slow, heart wrenching goodbye to my mom. And almost daily as a parent when one of my kids get sick or doesn’t want to go to bed or feels blindsided by how mean people can sometimes be.

We not only can do hard things, we are made to do hard things. We are created to bend with the wind like palm trees do. One step at time. Separating fact from fiction, reality from anxiety, and facing our fears with deep breaths all while praying they we are not doing this alone. And that somehow, someone or something always has our back.

And as my heart continues to break, I am reminded that only by embracing the breaking can we enable the healing.

This is how the heart mends I think, simultaneously, as it is breaking. It is not a matter of doing well or not. Or being strong or weak or resilient or stoic or keeping busy or keeping it together or crying at unexpected times. It is not that someone was a fighter when going through the cancer that killed them or didn’t. There is not a right or wrong, good or bad way to be sick, grieve or live.

But joyously, gratefully, there is grace. Unconditional love and a willingness to let pain be pain and joy be joy. There is time. Space. Patience. And a deep connection with the people we love. When we welcome the feelings that arise like choppy waves, while giving voice to what is voiceless, we slowly feel the chop recede, and the tide change.

There is nothing wrong with tears. Or sorrow. But when we avoid or deny them, we deny how great this life affirming Love is.

And the tears are as natural as rain falling.

And rain is essential for true green growth.

 

 

pausing in the tender spots

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I am chasing my two-year-old around the park as she tearfully chases another little girl with hair the color of the sun, proclaiming that she needs her stick. Of course I try to show her all of the other desirable and lovely sticks on the ground. But she’s not having it. She is in full on tantrum mode.

The mother of the stick holder looks on, not with a frown per say, but not with a smile either. I look to her for comfort, praying that she will say, “Kooky kids, don’t you hate when they act like little asses?” But she says nothing of the sort and I am left to soothe myself. Let me be honest, I don’t looove playgrounds or the majority of interactions I have on them. So I wrangle my little lovey muffin hellcat into her car seat as she arches her back and I feel mean and like I am at a rodeo wrestling a wild boar. Are there wild boars at rodeos? Clearly, I have never been to one.

I am also working on a website, rewriting an article, watching a video of my sweet brother being traumatized as he is sung to by a drag queen dressed as Bea Arthur on his birthday and dealing with a menacing zit on my chin that looks like a mini boob. So it’s no surprise when my son asked if he could go to floor hockey tonight, that my answer was, “If the angels are conspiring.” I’m in no mood to drive anywhere or think about dinner. Baseball is outside and relatively quiet which my sensitive soul can handle but floor hockey is in a gym with loud buzzers. Not good for a gal like me. And Mercury is in retrograde (I think), and I am menstruating (that is the proper term because I learned this in a 5th grade sex ed video where the young lasses from yesteryear had to use pretty powder blue belts to hold up their feminine napkins).

On Tuesday during yoga (which feels like it was 10 months ago) I smiled deeply when I heard Charlotte tell us to pause in the tender spots. Of course this is easier to do when I am on a floor in a dimly lit room with sweet smells instead of diaper aromas wafting in the air. But I have paused a few times today and let whatever was happening tenderize me. And it helps. Pause. Breathe. Welcoming all. Feeling what is sacred. Breath again.

As for my sanity, I plopped my little noodle on the couch and put the T.V. on so I could write. And it was fine. I give thanks to the powers that be for surviving another day mostly intact and the angels that are conspiring and helping me take my son to hockey.

 

this is how it happens

tim-gouw-165094Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We can practice love as a deliberate strategy to dealing with the pain of loss. It requires practice to respond to anguish with love, but it works. Each time a wave of grief threatens to tear you apart, ask yourself, “What does love ask of me now?”  – from The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. 

I used to never consider traveling back to the same place unless of course it was to see family and friends. I thought, why spend the money on somewhere I have already been? But now, if I feel a connection to a place, I want to go back and experience it again and again. Maybe it has to do with being parent-less and getting ready to put my home away from home, the house my mom lived in since I was a junior in high school with all of our family portraits on the walls, memories, and reliable snacks in the cabinet, on the market. I want centering, grounding, comfort. I want to experience that some things never change.

I just finished reading, The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. According to Brock, they are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Today when my daughter was standing contemplatively at the sliding glass door in a sparkly princess dress too big for her and holding a stuffed Minnie Mouse, I could hear my mom sigh, “What a great picture.”

When I heard a bird singing but couldn’t identify what kind it was, I had to stop myself from picking up my phone and imitating the bird for her on her voice mail. She would get home from playing bridge, listen to it and laugh, call me back and say, “That’s very good, Linds.” I would then tell her that Will had been home from school the last two days to which she would respond, “Poor Will”. She would tell me she didn’t have a lot planned for the weekend and we would talk about her upcoming visit to Florida. I’d hang up but first, I would say, “I love you.” Even though, she would comment on occasion that she didn’t grow up saying this, and didn’t always find it necessary, I did it anyway and she did too. And I think she liked it, even though maybe it was awkward at first.

Yesterday, when I had lunch with a friend, a friend I adore and don’t see all that often, mostly because we are at different stages in life, but also because I don’t see anyone that often other than my kids and husband, she asked me with so much heart how I was doing.

That question again. A sigh, this time from me. I appreciate it. And if it doesn’t come, I am miffed, but when it does, I feel my answer is never quite complete, inadequate. Honest but not sufficient.

It feels as if I am dancing around the edges, as if my feelings are the lacy or sparkly border of a Valentine’s day card made out of pink construction paper. Getting to the center is where the meat is, the real message.

In so many ways, I am o.k. I feel at peace, mostly. And partially I feel this way, I think, because of all the I love you’s and thank you’s I said to my mom over the years.

Recently, during a meditation, I saw my mom’s death from a distance. And thought to myself, wow, it really was beautiful and surrounded by swaths of light and love. In fact, it was light and love. I also heard this message, this is how it happens.

With my son home sick from school, I looked at our fruit bowl and saw so many browning bananas. Like the little spots of discoloration popping up on my own skin. I thought of an easy recipe for banana bread, one that I had found on line last Spring when I was home visiting my mom. She loved it. And then another time when I was back, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast – meals being one of her few sources of pleasure and variety in her day – to which she replied, sweetly and enthusiastically, “I think I’ll have some of your banana bread.” I told her regrettably that I didn’t have any but that I would make some for her again. Anything to perk her up and see sunshine on her face.

So much has changed, so much so that it feels as if giant boulders have been shifting around inside of me trying to settle into their new places. I am letting the experience change me. I wouldn’t want to be the same person I was before. The experience of losing my mom has taught me to be more loving, more understanding, just plain…more.

And that it is never inappropriate, mushy, overly sentimental or too much to say in any way we are able to, I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you and I love you.

soft heart, strong back

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While we are called to show strength during times of struggle, we are also required to surrender to softness. We simply can’t only muscle through. The way through is a soft heart and a strong back, my friend Stephanee told me when I shared with her my struggles over being so sensitive and emotional so many years ago.  Soft heart, strong back, beloved author, Elizabeth Lesser, reiterated during a retreat I was on last week in Sedona.

Where there is fear, there is love and softness seeping into all corners of our lives. It pours through our windows as sunlight and shows up with friends over tea (or wine) in front of a warm, amber colored fire.

Welcoming the way of softness is an invitation to come home and rest. To come home to our hearts, to ourselves and really listen, honor, and accept what we are hearing and who we are.

We are wired for connection. We yearn for true support in our families and community. We want to help and be helped so we can all rise up together.

The way of softness is tender and big-hearted. It is brave, deeply open and spacious. It can also be extremely vulnerable and uncomfortable at times.

Softness is about taking care of ourselves by simply noticing our crazy buzzing thoughts with what Elizabeth Lesser refers to as “unconditional friendliness”. Softness is about melting into who we are and showing up with our battle wounds, scars and tears. And when they flow, not wiping them away or apologizing but letting them be seen.

Softness is learning to look at and accept the imperfect perfections we are born with. This radiant softness is brimming with limitless possibilities for hope and positive change.

I think it takes both strength and softness to look hard and honestly at our stuff and make peace with our own personal limitations. So many of us feel inadequate. Like Keven from This Is Us.

I know the people closest to me love me unconditionally but when I was little and I sucked at math, got in trouble for “issues with self control” and held a pencil wrong, I didn’t always feel all that lovable. Now I make an ugly cheese plate for company, still suck at math which is now called finances, and get really nervous before I speak. Sometimes, I still fear being unlovable. And no one can accept and love these parts of me unless I accept and love the heck out of them first.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and start claiming what I’m not good at. Let’s get that out of the way first so what we can pay attention to what we are good at. No distractions or disillusions. Let others help us in the areas where we need help. Isn’t this the sign of a good leader anyway? That they know how to pick the right people. The people who’ve got our backs and support and love us through all of it. The ones that are better and smarter then us at certain things? The ones who are willing to meet us soul to soul while putting comparison and competition to the side.

Which reminds me…

Right before I left for Christmas break, the first Christmas without my sweetest mom,

I was having a royal messy and crazy-ass moment when picking up my kids from my friend’s house after getting IV fluids to help flush out a nasty virus that was wreaking havoc on my body. As I opened my car door, plastic cows came tumbling out. My daughter was still in her pajamas. And it was late afternoon. A friend earlier had told me I looked terrible. I was bleary eyed and hungover after taking Nyquil the night before. And then my very neat, aesthetically pleasing friend whose tampons are even pretty, picked up a glass in my cup holder that contained some melted chocolate and two to three, I can’t be sure, half – eaten, glazed munchkins, and said, “Lindsay Bomstein, this is why we love you.”

I heard her say it, I really heard it and laughed. And maybe for one of the first times in my life, I didn’t feel all that embarrassed by it.

And while I was on my retreat last week, as we sat around in a circle, I sat up, spoke and once again the hot tears came spilling out. Oh jeez. Again, in front of all of these women I don’t know.

But you know what? Some of these amazing women came up to me and told me that they admired my tears. My openness. My ability to cry and be seen. Holy shit, really? Yes, really. Because that is me. And you need me to be me as much as I need you to be you. That’s all it takes. Who the hell wants to be impressed by how together we’ve got it? I want to be impressed by how together you don’t have it but that you still smile and love the heck out of life. So remember the next time you have to show up and you feel out of sorts that what you deem as your imperfections may just be the most authentic, beautiful gifts you have to offer. That and your soft heart and strong back.

And thanks to Melissa Biggs Bradley for creating opportunities for connection around the world. She mentioned the self-determination theory in an email last week from Sebastian Junger’s new book, Tribe, that really spoke to me. The theory “holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.”

And to connect to others, we’ve got to feel our strength and also soften up a bit too.

the deepest thing i know

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“The deepest thing I know about loss is that grief is love. It is love. It is not sorrow. Is is beauty, not ugliness.”  – Cheryl Strayed

December 3rd marked the anniversary of my dad’s death. It has been 24 years.

Last year at this time I wrote a blog post about staying present and how very grateful I was to have my mom around especially since she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the year before.

But another year has passed and it it Christmas again, and this year she is not with us.

On the morning of the 3rd, while my two older kids were at Sunday school studying Hebrew and with our littlest in tow, my husband and I bought our Christmas tree/holiday tree/Hanukkah bush.

As we wandered around the parking lot looking for the right tree, I remembered being a little girl and picking out a tree with my dad; him in red and black buffalo plaid with rosy cheeks and me in an oversized jacket, also with rosy cheeks.

When I was little, we often waited to get our tree until a few days before Christmas. At that point, it was slim pickings. My dad took the whole process very seriously from getting the right tree (tall but not too tall as fullness was more important than height) to the lighting of the tree (colored lights versus white and silver rain versus gold tinsel) to when we were allowed to descend the stairs Christmas morning. (He had to be showered, shaven and dressed, the dog had to go out, and lights had to be on).

Back at the lot across from the church, we had found the proper tree and I went to find someone to wrap it up for us. While I was meandering through the maze of sweet smelling Firs and Spruces, another family had chosen the same one. As the man stood next to his daughters and wife, he said to my husband, “Oh, did you want this one?” Um yeah we did. But my husband told him to take it. Fortunately, both men were not about to get into an argument over a Christmas tree, across from a church on a Sunday morning, during the most wonderful time of the year.

A few moments later, the grower of the trees came up to me, a man with a simultaneous child like earnestness and a Grandpa’s glimmer in his blue eyes, and said, “Your husband is a sweetheart, I can see why you married him.”

His kind face reminded me of my dad and a warm smile danced across my chest. My Dad and husband never got to meet but I always felt like my dad had a hand in getting us together with the help of one of my best friends and a boat.

And the next day, while lighting candles for my parents, reciting a Jewish prayer and glimpsing at our happy tree in the background, I felt my dad had a part in helping us purchase our tree this year too.

While I am feeling the sting of their deaths, I am reminded of the merriment on my dad’s face during the holidays. I think of him standing on a ladder declaring, “This is a dictatorship, not a democracy,” when I mentioned wanting the outdoor lights hung a certain way. I feel my mom’s warmth from the inside out. I am grateful for the grower of the trees sharing such generous words with me. And beyond grateful for my husband and kids.

The past fills me with goodness and sadness too of course. But mostly, I am thankful today for knowing that although, sadness is part of grief, at it’s tender heart, grief is about love.

And on Thanksgiving, as hearts kept popping up in unassuming places, I felt it too. I had a stain on my jeans and when I wiped it clean with a wet towel, the remaining mark was that of a perfect damp heart. Then I saw two hearts on the ground, two different times throughout the day, one made from brown leaves, and the other made from stringy threads of bark.

These signs remind me of what’s important.

We will not be running ourselves ragged this year (or any year, hopefully) and we will not attend every event. I may even say no more than yes as a means of self preservation and self care.

If there is anything positive about grieving and I do think there are some things, it affords us an opportunity. An opportunity born from perspective. The perspective to see what is most important, what we value and cherish deeply, and then to proceed accordingly.

What feels important to me right now is staying well and in the flow of what feels good and right, comforting and nourishing. It is about honoring and remembering my mom and dad, being true to my heart, and spending quality time with family and friends. This is the profound gift I believe my mom is giving me this year.

This gift is about not striving for anything in particular, certainly not perfection. It is just about living day to day, staying grounded in my heart, and simply trying my daily best. My messy, winging it, sure to make mistakes, go with the flow, last minute, joyful and probably teary, but always with heart, humor, and hope, honest to goodness, best. I thank my parents for showing me the way.

May your holiday be full with love and what you hold dearest and deepest. Thank you for being out there and reading my blog. Somehow this exchange sustains me. I hope it helps you too. 

And to all of our loved ones that we have lost this year and for the way they continue to show up, inspire and encourage us, we are greater because of you and will keep living and loving because of you.

To those struggling, stay close to your heart and take it slow, breath by breath. Love yourself, fill up on goodness. Get fresh air and drink some water. Distract yourself with a good book, a walk, a funny show, or a being with a dear friend. Look at beauty, find something to be thankful for. Support someone else. Get support for you. It could always be worse and things will get better may feel like empty platitudes right now but there is truth in them too. You know the way, Love. You are never truly alone.

My sincere and heartfelt wishes for a Happy Everything and beautiful, peaceful, loving New Year. 

 

 

 

 

love is love is love

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photo by Abby Paterson

“Sometimes our intuition shines brightest in our darkest moments.” – Molly Carroll from Trust Within;Letting Intuition Lead

While getting a pedicure a few weeks ago, I felt wholly taken care of. It was such a treat. We will call the angel woman giving me the pedicure, Alice. (She must be an angel to work with feet every day). Her touch was gentle and tender and she had kindness flecks like little remnants of star dust in her eyes. She told me about working hard and how she loved her kids.

Something about recalling this memory now feels sleepy, like a lullaby, like falling asleep as a child surrounded by stuffed animals and celestial mysteries swirling around my nighttime ceiling sky lit up by glow and the dark star stickers.

I miss my mom. I miss being a daughter. But here, here is love and I’ll take it. In whatever form it arrives. My mom’s love is not contained, it is everywhere. It is in these hands touching me and the color in my son’s eyes.

It brought back memories of my friend Phyllis, a woman I  met when I was in my early twenties when I volunteered for Hospice. She quickly became a dear friend and a spiritual teacher. I gave her weekly massages and spent cherished hours chatting with her about everything under the sun.

Once, she told me about a trip she took to Lourdes, France. Lourdes is a sacred pilgrimage site known for it’s healing waters and miraculous cures. She spoke of how loved she felt when the women there got her dressed after she bathed in the magical water. Their touch, she said, was patient and careful as they graciously put her clothes back on. It seemed that when she spoke, she was reliving the experience and how each moment was marked with an infusion of sacredness and grateful attention. We paused together marveling at the thought of this, the thought of every action being created from love, light and a deep sense of gratitude and peace.

As Alice massaged my feet a few weeks ago, my shoulders dropped and I relaxed completely in the oversized leather chair, the one that massages and vibrates (sometimes so much so that it makes me wish I had worn a sports bra). I let go. I stopped thinking so much. And I just allowed this transfer of energy, of complete kindness from a stranger, to swirl out of her fingertips and into me.

I feel this too in yoga when my teacher friend comes around while I lay still in savasana and she cups her palms on the sides of my face. It is hard to explain but it too feels celestial, almost other worldly, and it feels like grace. And home. I feel like a child again. Tears often well up in my eyes and a smile springs to my face.

I feel this in the morning when the sun slowly wipes away the sleepy sand from her eyes as I lay on the couch next to my kids, our legs intertwined with blankies and my nose rests on their soft sweet smelling heads.

Love.

Love is available to us in so many different ways. And I cannot help but believe our loved one’s spirits shower down on us through blessings manifested in our dreams, beauty, and kindness.

Life, inevitably at times, is overwhelming and sad. In these moments though, we can still give love, receive love, and be love. Because we always are, whatever our mood or station in life, part of this web of interconnection. Part of this loving exchange of energy and part of what makes good things happen. You provide love and you receive love. You are love.

This exchange happens with your permission and participation. If you are curious, open, and accepting. And if you allow it. The dream you had, it was a miracle, a blessing and a gift. But only should you choose to see it as such. Your mind may interfere but your heart knows. Maybe all we really have to do, no matter what we’re doing, is be love.