Thursday, November 20, 2014

a daughter's prayer


My days are filled with tidbits of you.

Things I normally scorn have become sacred relics:
Brummel & Brown spread across my morning host
my face anointed with Ponds cold cream
blue fig body wash to cleanse away my sins
and my regrets.

I lift the white plastic lid from the perfume bottle
and breathe in the scent of bergamot, white jasmine, rose and lily of the valley
incense that brings you immediately to life.

Now I am watched over by the cement gargoyle
you dragged across the country in
that last move.

He resides now in my back garden
his head resting in clawed hands,
wings drooping from the bitter Midwest cold
or perhaps weariness from his task as guardian
and witness to the relentless unfolding of life?

We both seem to be stuck in this moment:
How do we go on?  What do we keep? What do we release?

Packing up your apartment I had hope to find
a message secreted away
a clue to who you are,
how you felt,
words to comfort me in this, my time of need.

But always the mother,
you artfully slip out of spotlight ...

All I find are
my letters, notes and mother’s day cards
bundled together with the same red yarn ribbon 
tied upon every suitcase handle our family owned.

My prayer is that you
carry my words with you,
wrapping them about your soul
to warm and feed you on your journey.

You are the best mother ~
Thank you for being my best friend ~
I love you ~
I miss you ~
I can’t wait to see you ~

Friday, November 14, 2014

treasures (and treasuring)

My life these past few weeks consists of making lists, making calls, filling out forms, visiting notaries, packing boxes and packing boxes ... and packing boxes.

There is so much to do, tending to what is the ultimate move of a lifetime. I know the busyness keeps me moving forward and it keeps some of the grief at bay.  There just isn't much time to sit and feel ... 

Sorting through my mother's belongings, I vacillate between feeling I am invading her privacy and paying homage to the relics of her life. One of her close friends offered me great comfort by saying "She would have wanted you to be the one to sort through her things." 

I am deeply engaged with her memories and it is a sacred process sifting through what constitutes a life. While the work keeps my mind busy, there are moments when I am ambushed by grief (a very accurate description by The Man)  and find myself stalled and unable to conceive how I will go on without her?

All I know to do is hold onto my practice ... meditating with my girl and sketching every day in my journal.  Staying in my own rhythms -  engaged with my own life - while honoring hers by celebrating the details.

In the process of wrapping up my mother's life, I am discovering that the process of letting her go is balanced by this coming to know her in a whole, new way.  I am finally seeing her not just as my mother, but as a complete and separate person ... a child with dreams ...

a wife, a friend, a mother, a woman on a singular and unique journey.  And by taking in the fullness of her life, I am discovering pieces of my own ...


... clues peppered throughout her life, pointing towards me and the person that I am and the person I am becoming. 

I haven't lost my mother ... I'm just seeing our story in a whole, new way.  I don't have to go on without her because she is always a part of who I am ...  just as I am a part of who she was.  


Friday, November 7, 2014

THE practice ... (finally, Friday)

Each month, I try to align myself with the cycles of the moon ... setting an intention for the coming month during the darkness of the new moon and then observing how the moon's passage to fullness amplifies or alters what it is I am needing to bring into my life.

This month, the lesson is pretty clear ... my mother passed away two days before the new moon (with its eclipse) ... so in this cycle, what each day demands of me is nothing short of complete and utter ...

Honoring the darkness ... which will, in time , allow me to appreciate and  celebrate the light.

 Happy Full Freeze, Beaver or Snake Moon.  Time to burrow underground and prepare.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Autumn memories ...

It seems that is all I really can hold onto: the memories ... 

the feeling tone of a moment ...


a day ...

a time alone ...

or together ...


the sensation of the magical entering my cells ...

the entire, sweeping whole of my life flowing before me moment-by-moment ...

with just the briefest of pauses allowing me time to gather them up, and stash them safely in the pockets of my heart. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

she's with the fairies now ...

My mother was a survivor. She grew up in Texas during the depression, often reminding me (whenever I made a comment about all of her shoes) she often went barefoot as she only had one pair of shoes. A child of divorce in a time when "that just wasn't done" she was separated from her brother and spent the second half of her childhood with her grandparents.  At 21 she lost her mother and then her father a few years later. 

But my mother was not a mere survivor.  She transformed her life, choosing to thrive in whatever conditions she found herself in.  These past few years she was active and busy in her community, a fact that surprised me given her natural predilection for a comfortable armchair and a good book. She told me she knew she would get depressed being by herself, so she forced herself to get out and make new friends.  

My mother never failed to surprise me.

When I thought she was beyond words, she sang one last song with me, pouring all her strength into a surprising rowdy rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

The hardest part of her passing is the fact Cowgirl never got to say good-bye. There just wasn't time. 

So one week later, we wrote out our wishes and prayers, creating tiny scrolls.  I made a sacred bundle with a sprinkling of her ashes and a few special objects to accompany her spirit and we buried it all in the center of our fairy circle in our backyard.

Now my mother is with the fairies.  There are many prayers in that earth.  She is shaded by a flowering crabapple tree.  Right now, the branches are bare but come Spring ... come my mother's birthday ... we can look out and say "Amma O is blooming."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

unfamilar ground

So far, the process of grieving is like the movie Groundhog Day. Every morning I wake up, I remember, and my heart breaks anew.  

The day takes on a rhythm ... calls to be made, lists added to, strategies mapped out as I begin the process of clearing out my mother's apartment. Honestly, you could tell me I was preparing to ascend Mount Everest and I would feel the same as I do now.  How?  How do I do this?

One step at a time.  

I think may end up walking around the perimeter of the earth.

When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.

(John O'Donohue, A Blessing For Grief)

I try to take comfort in what was ... 

my mother's sunset

But I am human, and all too often my mind wanders back and I think of opportunities lost, things I forgot to say, things I wish I had done differently.  I wish I had played music on that drive to the hospital.  I wish I had read more poems that last night.  I wish I had known more of the words to her favorite songs.  

I wish I had understood what she was asking me that last night when just as I was about to leave she said, "What do I do?" 

That question -  so raw to me now - I reflexively dodged in that moment.  I didn't think, I just said "You get better. You try to rest and let the doctors and nurses take care of you and you let you body get better."

I wish I had said "You think about all the good that has been in your life.  You think about all the love."

I suppose that is the answer to my own heartache, my inner struggle to know how to move forward.  I remember the love.  All the love.  So very much love.

For now, I hold onto the ache of loss because it is what I have ... it is immediate, intense, real.  It is the flip side to the immensity of the love ... hers and mine.

Thank you mama for this birthday.  It is a hard one. I seek your reassurances and comfort in new places and new ways ... to grab hold and trust the guidance that echoes within me now and know it is your voice, The Voice, keeping me company for the remainder of this journey.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

remembering to breathe ...

As a yoga teacher, I'm always counseling students remember to breathe.

The simplest yet most important practice I teach, the one I turn to repeatedly myself, is the full, three part breath. Relaxing and breathing into the belly at the beginning of the inhale; moving the breathing up into the side body and rib cage; ending with the expansion across the chest and collar bones at the very top of the breath.  The exhale reverses this pattern with the very last bits of stale air squeezed out by the action of the abdominal muscles pulling in towards the body.

A variation is full-body breathing.  The breathe we all knew as a baby ... spacious, full, vast, and effortless.

This is the relaxed, natural way our bodies were designed for respiration.  Unfortunately, it is rarely people's habitual way of breathing.  And this is why practice is so essential.

Most of the time, we breath without thinking.  It happens without our attention or effort.  But there are times when all of our energy is focused upon claiming that next breath. And the next ... and the next.

This past weekend, my elderly mother phoned me up,  complaining she was having trouble breathing.  I sat by her side, stroking her back, trying to coax her body to relax.  She was so panicked, she was taking short, shallow chest breaths, like a panting animal.  Her attempt to breath was exhausting her while also triggering the stress-response in her body and in her mind. 

I took her to the hospital and she was admitted immediately.  Even with oxygen on, she continued to struggle to breathe. I was powerless to help, understanding as I watched her utilizing just a fraction of her breath's capacity, that I could not undo decades of a habit.

This is why we practice.  There will come a time - possibly a multitude of times - when it will take all of our resources just to keep afloat.  The mind becomes agitated, clarity lost and we lapse into autopilot. Practice - whether it be a breathing practice, yoga asana practice, meditation, or mindfulness - has taught me to find the tiny sliver of space in which I can choose how I want to respond, rather than reflexively reacting.  

One explanation of the practice of yoga postures - asanas - is to consciously place oneself in awkward positions so we can learn to relax.

Standing in a hospital, watching a loved one struggling, is certainly one kind of awkward position.  Watching my mother grasping for each breathe, I had to remind myself to take full, deep breaths and to release my fear with each out breath.  It became a kind of mantra for me. Inhale - open to support, open to connection with source; exhale - release the fear, release tension and toxins. Each breath kept me anchored in the moment.  I was watching my mother die.

I don't know if one truly can be prepared to support a loved one through dying.  I certainly didn't feel ready.  I took my mother into the hospital on a Sunday morning and 48 hours later, she was gone.  There was little time to think.  All I had was the space and presence of each breath.  Mine and hers.  A crazy duet of contrasting tempos and rhythms. All I had was the gift of my years of practice, supporting me in staying focused, staying relaxed (as much as possible) and keeping my mind flexible and ready to respond with love and care. 

My mother brought me into this life, and it was my privilege to repay the favor and support her as she transitioned out of hers and into whatever transformation awaits us all.  We sang, I read her poems, we shared stories and remembrances, laughs and tears.  She was deeply afraid. So was I ... but I had to be strong for her. I had to draw upon my practice, my faith, and trust that the words and actions appropriate would flow from me to her. 

My mother rode each breath like a wave, through what appeared to me as choppy seas that brought pain and anxiety, but breath by breath, she made her way to the other shore.  As I held her, as I breathed deeply for her, I was grateful for all of the gifts and blessings she bestowed to me, not the least being this experience in calling upon all my guides, all the inner resources gained through practice and finding myself supported and held.  Her final gift to me was to show me I am stronger than I ever knew, that in love and through love I can endure anything ... including saying goodbye to my own mama.

I miss her.  I miss her hands holding mine, comforting me.  

I think about how as a small child, my daughter would reach out her hand knowing I would always reach down to receive it. I hold out my hand - which looks so much like my mother's - and I wonder "Who will comfort me now?  Who will hold me?" 

But I know - because my mama just taught me -  that a mother's love is a continuous circle flowing backwards and forwards across generations, across time, across any perceivable boundaries. It holds me, it holds her, it holds my daughter, my nieces, my spirit-sisters and the grandmothers in a huge embrace.  I just have to remember to relax, breathe, and surrender myself to that embrace.  I can let go ... for I know I am always held. 

Saying good-bye is the hardest thing to do. The thing we must do the most is the thing we care to do the least, and so it keeps coming around the bend. It is, in the end, life's only lesson. 
- Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen