In Memoriam

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How do you sum up a life. 72 years and seven months. 217 summers. 26,452 sunrises and sunsets. 72 years a sister. 50 years a wife. 48 years a mother.

How do you capture a child’s hope and anguish. Or a sister’s longing for acceptance. The endless love of a wife. The unbreakable bond of a mother. The undying loyalty of a best friend. The constant compassion of a teacher. The selflessness of a neighbor. The passionate dedication of a gardener.

There are no words poignant enough nor vessel large enough to capture and contain a life well lived. A life that lifted those around her. A life that brought both flowers and children to bloom and grow. A life ridden and wrestled to the ground. A life of ups and downs that with each twist and turn chiseled new edges and softened rough corners, creating an immortal diamond.

You were my Mr. Rogers, my Lucille Ball, my Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda rolled into one. My source of strength and sense of humor. My safe place. The first person to smile back at me. The first person to feed me. My life line from infancy to anxiety and beyond. I still see life through a lens of how to communicate my experiences to you. How beautiful you would have seen it. How much you would have appreciated it. How funny you would found it. The pride, the relief, the contentment, the humor.

Now left with the emptiness of watching you pass on alone. Without me there to comfort and protect you. While I am lost, I pray you are not.

A part of me says “I don’t know how to act or feel without you here.” But you raised me better than that, so I do know how to act.  I will act as if every memory is a gift, every day I have breath is a blessing and every person I know or meet is an opportunity to love. And I know exactly how to feel. I feel devastated and torn apart. Yet I feel grateful beyond measure for every moment we shared, every part of me that reminds me of you, and every person here today and beyond who has supported me and my family through this difficult time.

You will be missed everyday and forever loved. God bless you and the space you occupied on this planet. It was sacred and lives on in the hearts of those you touched.

Stitch By Stitch

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It’s been a month now without my mother. It’s still surreal to write that. As a follow-up to The Last Mother’s Day Gift I want to send this message  because it has been such an important part of my journey.


As a witness to another’s loss, pain or grief,
don’t miss the opportunity to do God’s work.

Even when you don’t know what to say and words seem inadequate,
know that there are no points for poignancy or perfection.

You are there for a reason. You have been chosen in that moment to help put back together what has been torn apart.

Acknowledge their loss, recognize their grief, sit with them in their pain.

Even if there is distance or time between you now, don’t focus on why they are better off not hearing your clumsy condolences or why your absence will go unnoticed.
Don’t focus on your lack of grace. Grace will show up regardless.

Focus on the broken heart you can help heal, stitch by stitch.

Every card, every gesture, every hug, every conversation, every tear.
Each is sacred. Each brings light to their darkness.
Each expression of love helps lift them back to their feet.

Their heart will forever be scarred, but eventually, it will beat again.

Stitch by stitch.

The Last Mother’s Day Gift

shutterstock_208122196When a diagnosis determines your fate, without any debate. Without asking permission, without hope of remission. Only faith keeps your head above water. Only the love of your son and your daughters. Only the strength of a husband and sister. Only expressing how much we will miss her. Only prayers that the suffering will cease. Only then a sacred passing in peace.  ~WTR

Death is inevitable for every living thing. Death can come suddenly or slowly over time. So many of our common fears originate from our overwhelming fear of death because we know how closely it waits in the wings.

The Monday before this past Christmas I received four Christmas cards, three UPS packages, two FedEx boxes and one phone call.  It was 5:10pm.  My mother had stage 4 cancer.

At first I felt all the things that are disclosed as potential side effects on common prescription drugs – nausea, dizziness, swelling of the throat, headache, diarrhea, difficulty concentrating and a sense that operating heavy machinery was not a good idea.

Then I went into battle mode as I discovered the cancer community in the US has extreme deficiencies in serving its patients. Even patients who are highly educated and tenacious struggle to navigate the system. You die of cancer waiting on hold to talk to someone who will eventually confirm they know nothing about the clinical trial you are calling about even though their phone number is listed on the government website. You die of cancer while researching clinical trials on your own because of inadequate staffing at oncologist offices and cancer centers, confronted with dead end after dead end while you delay chemotherapy because the trials require no prior treatment. You die of cancer waiting for test results for weeks to determine the severity of your reactions to chemotherapy. This pressure to find all of your viable options, collect all relevant information and make a well informed decision on care and therapy while the clock is ticking and the cancer is spreading was unbearable.  

Moving through this process I felt numb. I was in a dark tunnel where my normal world was muted in both sight and sound. My senses were insulated by the gravity of the diagnosis, impenetrable by normal joys like fresh flowers or a night out. I sat staring off into nowhere with no feelings or thoughts. It is the space between no cancer diagnosis and rejecting a death sentence.  Whenever I was met with the reality of the situation for only a moment, the tears would flow. Not the crying I felt on the first day I heard the news. That was conscious. I acknowledged their arrival, gave them permission and felt them wash down my face. Now I had no control. If I gave into a moment of making eye contact with the diagnosis, the pain, the inevitability, my chest tightened, my stomach dropped and then I realized tears had been running down my face only after the valve was completely open. Involuntary weeping. I couldn’t find a conscious shelf for death to sit on.  I could only feel it lingering in my body looking for a home.    

I knew that closure was important for both of us. Leave nothing unsaid. I think that every person interprets that differently based on their personal experience and relationships. I tried to achieve the closure I was looking for two years ago at a dinner two days before Christmas. I wanted us all to acknowledge things I believed happened in our past. Events that caused me pain and that I thought created a common history among us all. I was looking for connection but was met with opposition at various levels. Regardless of the bad timing, my past and my truth were not theirs.

So what did closure mean two months before my mother’s death? I used to believe that childhood wounds that are never properly tended to by others when we are unable to tend to them ourselves create scars that last a lifetime. But do we need to cut those scars back open and watch them bleed to have them heal? Will that provide closure or is it merely an assignment of blame and demand for an acknowledgement or even more, an apology. Is that really what I needed? Alice says in Wonderland, “It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” I took that to heart. Not just that I was a different person then, but so was my mother.

So in my search for closure before she died, rather than stir up old memories and cut open old wounds, I chose to forgive the version of my mother that no longer existed and acknowledge that that person was doing the best she could at the time. I knew she was sorry now without having to replay the tapes and hear the words. What I felt in my heart I gave as a gift to the six year old version of myself holding onto the memories to heal her pain. My mother is no longer that person any more than I am that little girl. So rather than have a painful conversation about the baggage I still carried, I chose to drop the bags and free up my arms to embrace the woman in front of me and love her with actions and intention. I spent my week in February with her making sure that everything I did and said expressed how much I loved her.  

This came full circle two months later when another call came. It was 3:45pm. You think death is an unfortunate reality only affecting others until it comes knocking on your door and says “it’s time.” Each day the hole grew bigger. It was right between my ribs. I felt as if something was sucking my breath from my very core. My mother was moved from ICU to hospice care with only hours or days left.  

Watching the life drain from her body the last three days, the last three hours were my worst nightmare come true. There was nowhere to run from it and no waking up from it. It’s a clear memory etched onto my heart and a part of me forever. And it’s a shared memory that my father, sister and brother will all carry. Like the cancer diagnosis, I haven’t found a place to put this loss yet. Unlike fitting a body into a casket, my heart isn’t big enough to absorb that much pain and it overflows in the tears I shed.   

Sitting in the hospice room looking at my mother lying helpless receiving only pain medication I again felt completely helpless. The clinical trial research, the ceaseless communications with doctors – nothing would be enough to even buy time. The wigs and new wardrobe we bought when she was wasting away from chemo induced anorexia was a mere moment of distraction, a cosmetic alteration that lifted her spirit while her cancer remained unphased.

Looking at her in that bed I saw a soul in a shell. No baggage. It was as if the weight she had lost from the chemo was her bags full of pain from a life lived in anguish and chaos at times. The weight of regret and loss. It was all suddenly gone and all I saw was the raw material and the pure love. In those moments, closure was no longer something I sought but something sacred I felt in my heart as the scars of old wounds disappeared. I felt only the purest love I had ever experienced.

So if you still are lucky enough to have your mother, whether it’s on Mother’s Day or otherwise, I encourage you to find a way to drop the baggage and open your arms, stop focusing on the depth of your scars and focus on the person in front of you. Give forgiveness a chance to change your heart, to recognize that old wounds were caused and suffered by different people, both flawed then and now.  So there may be no use in going back to yesterday. Forgive and love in the present and find your version of “leave nothing unsaid” before it’s too late.  Find your own heart’s path to healing, wholeness and love.  

“Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me.” ~ Alice Walker

Strange Cold Days

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Black ripples rise into white-tipped peaks.
The water looks so cold.
Strong winds manipulate the current
changing its direction without warning.
The sun is a welcome stranger
shedding perspective on the morning.
Oh! To be bold and grab hold
and find warmth in this freeze
and a lift in this breeze.
But the birds have gone
taking their inspiration to a place
much brighter than here.
Even the trees, so stoic, have died.
On my cheeks are freezing tears I’ve cried
and I am left here, alone.
Longing for a day when I see more then gray
and I feel more than cold.

~WTR

i want to fly

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I want to fly, I want to fly…
I repeat with a tear in my eye.

I look into the light and cry.

But where to find the wind,
the strength to move my wings,
the courage to fly above all others.

I spin myself to dizziness.

In which direction shall I go?
And at what time will I know?
They will watch with scrutiny from below.

But their hollow breath becomes a breeze that quickens my pace
and lifts me higher.

For I’ll fly naked, baring my soul to the heavens,
the voice of my critics no more my concern.

~WTR

A Guided Fall #6 – Rejoice

Rejoicing is the outward expression of gratitude. In a state of gratitude there is no toxicity, no fear, no panic, no holding a grudge, no feeling less than or unlovable. Gratitude is giving thanks for the big and the small, the unanswered prayers and the unimaginable gifts. Rejoicing is dancing with it and singing about it; swimming through it and walking along side it.

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Reflect . Refocus . Restore . Revive . Receive . Rejoice

We’ve reset our compass, refocused our energy, infused some restorative practices into our lives, revived a dream and emptied our cups in preparation to receive our bountiful harvest. Now it’s time to rejoice!    

Here is the sixth and final installment in our six week journey to consciously create a time of growth and renewal.

Rejoicing is the outward expression of gratitude. In a state of gratitude there is no toxicity, no fear, no panic, no holding a grudge, no feeling less than or unlovable.

Gratitude is giving thanks for the big and the small, the unanswered prayers and the unimaginable gifts.

Rejoicing is dancing with it and singing about it; swimming through it and walking along side it.

Rejoicing is sitting by a window watching waves carry new gifts onto the shore and sharing champagne and stories of gratitude with someone you love.

However you rejoice, quietly or with a megaphone, find time to melt into it. Let it envelop and embrace you and feel blessed and restored. Let it run through your veins until your heart bursts open and feel revived, renewed and transformed. 

A Guided Fall #5 – Receive

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“Forget all you know or think you know; abandon power and enforced decree. Inward, where the deepest rivers flow, find the currents of eternity.” ~ Fin Raziel (Willow)

Reflect . Refocus . Restore . Revive . Receive . Rejoice

We’ve reset our compass, refocused our energy, infused some restorative practices into our lives and revived a dream or vision that lay dormant too long. Now, are you open to the changes you seek?  Are your hands so full you can’t open the door you wish to walk through?  

Here is the fifth installment in our six week journey to consciously create a time of growth and renewal.

At so many times in my  life, my first (and sometimes second, third and fourth) reaction is to control the situation to achieve what I think is my desired result.  I could be starting a new endeavor, revisiting an old challenge, feeling under assault in some area of my life or just generally overwhelmed.

As I narrow my vision to focus on my goal, I don’t realize that my view is becoming distorted. I think I have all the knowledge and experience to set a path toward my goal or to identify a problem and formulate a solution. But in most cases, I am acting from a place of vulnerability, fear or even shame and I’m unaware of it. The problems, the results, the goals, the responses and the paths are all tainted by this undercurrent of emotion, these stories I’ve created, so what I think I know likely won’t be enough and my experience may not serve me anymore if my real goal is authentic awareness and connection.

What can serve you during these times is to remember the story of the wise old monk that was visited by an eager young man who proclaimed himself to be well accomplished in Zen philosophy and wanted to confirm there was nothing more the wise monk could teach him. As the monk poured the young man tea until the cup runneth over, he calmly said, “Just like this cup, your mind is so full of ideas that there is no room for any more. Come to me with an empty-cup mind, and then you will learn something.”

In order to receive the gifts, the subtle shifts and the major changes we are now consciously attracting from the Universe or praying for, whether it’s at work, in a relationship or through creative expression, we cannot go into these situations believing we know it all or even know enough to identify our goal or set our course.  

We must acknowledge what we know and then empty ourselves to receive all that we do not.

We must unlearn what we have learned to make space for the new.

We must open our hearts and minds to new possibilities and new ways of seeing ourselves and how we relate to others and the world in order to receive all that the Universe intends for us – all of the love, opportunity, inner peace and joy.

Let go of labels, rid yourself of rules, rethink your definitions. Open your mind, empty your cup and receive.   

Puck

I’m finding it difficult to stay on topic this past week, but in the interest of creating for creativity’s sake……

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The somber silence of saturated leaves

sedated by sprinkles beneath bared trees.

On clear, crisp days by the winds they are struck,

possessed and playful, as if agents of Puck.

~WTR