Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit


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A Year of Mindfulness-Being Present in the Face of Death

It is the women of our families who keep the traditions, preserve the memories, and hold us close.
-Unknown

My last mindfulness blog post was nearly three weeks ago. The topic was This Person Could Die Tonight. At the time I said that this particular practice was resonating with me. It was hitting too close to home as I had three ill people in my immediate family.

Shortly after uploading that post I traveled out of town to be with two of those ill family members. Little did I know that for one family member, it would be my last visit.

On Wednesday, August 15, my Mom, Anne Butler, passed away peacefully after a short illness. It was the most heart-wrenching event I’ve experienced in some time. It was also the most spiritual.

Mom had been sick since the middle of July. Each episode that played out over those early weeks seemed to resolve and then something else would appear.  In the end she developed pneumonia that her body could no longer fight.

During the final days I spent with her I kept reminding myself to be present to the situation. To be mindful in the face of death. I was constantly reminded of my last mindfulness post. How the hell could this be happening?

They say that being present with a loved one during their final days is one of great honor. I honestly couldn’t see the honor when the process began. It was gut wrenching.

You want to respect the wishes of your loved one. You want them to be free of any pain or fear. You don’t want them to struggle. You want to help them make the transition.

You realize that you can only take them so far on this journey. At some point, you understand that your loved one must make this journey on their own. The timing, the decision, is entirely up to them and nature.

We come into this world screaming. We hope to leave this world with peace and dignity. A few days before Mom passed, I remember saying to myself that “it” was getting closer. I could feel the inevitable around the perimeter of her room. Tendrils would touch her and then pull back. It wasn’t time. But it was coming.

Later Mom rested comfortably. Her breathing was less labored. She slept deeply. Her skin was warm to the touch. During a moment when I whispered into her ear, she snored into mine. It made me laugh.

My Mom was a very good swimmer. She taught me how to float and then how to swim. One morning before she passed, I had a vision. Mom and I were in a body of water and we both wore white. This time our roles were reversed. I stood in the water with my arms outstretched. Mom lay in my arms floating on the water. I was helping her to float. No words were said between us. We simply enjoyed the coolness of the water as I gently held her.

Mom passed a few days later at 9:30am in a lovely hospice facility. She did not leave this world alone as family was with her. Each of us took part in assisting her on this final journey.

My heart has been full of sadness. I’ve literally felt it break as the anguish flowed down my arms. Yet I’ve also had a sense of internal peace and calm. I know Mom passed as she wanted. In peace and with dignity.

Mom and I (1994)

Mom (2009)

Shrine for Mom (2012)


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A Year of Mindfulness: This Person Could Die Tonight

Sniff, sniff…how did you do with last week’s practice to become aware of smells? I loved that you shared some of your favorite scents and the memories attached to them. If you continue this practice throughout the year, notice how smells change during the year. I’m thinking of wood burning in the fireplace in the winter or the scent of apple cider in the fall. Or one of my favorites, the smell of spring.

This Week’s Practice: This Person Could Die Tonight

I remember earlier in the year when I flipped through How to Train a Wild Elephant and saw the title of this week’s practice. It gave me the creeps. I knew this practice would cross my (our) path at some point. And now here it is. The appearance of this practice comes at a moment in my life when I am dealing with three ill family members. In all three cases we know that the inevitable will happen, someday. In all three cases the thought that it might happen sooner than later has also crossed my mind.

So why would we need to become mindful that any person in our life could die tonight? Certainly it causes us to consider our own mortality. Something we might tend to do anyways as we get older. Having spent several years working as a Speech-Language Pathologist in nursing homes & rehab settings, I had to accept death and my own mortality early-on. The first time you have a patient die, you tend to reexamine life.

What happens if you consider that the person you’re talking with on the phone could die tonight? Does your heart open a little more? Do you pay more attention to what they’re saying? We’re all a bit guilty of talking to people but not really listening to them.

When speaking face to face with someone, how often do you look past them or look down at something else? If you knew that person were to die tonight, would you be more inclined to look directly at them when speaking?

This week’s practice, as depressing as it sounds, helps us break through our own denial that human life is fragile and that death could come at any moment. This isn’t about filling your head with anxious thoughts about mortality. It is about improving your awareness of impermanence and cherishing the people you encounter every day.

This week, instead of talking “to” someone, bring presence to the encounter. Realize that you, too, could die tonight. Be more present and more alive in your life.

Reflection: The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. –Mark Twain


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Preparing to Say Goodbye

The spirit of death weighs heavy on me this week. A friend who has been battling cancer for nearly 3 years has entered hospice in preparation for her final days. At home our dear, sweet oldest cat also appears to be preparing us for his last days. I am heartbroken. We knew these times would come. Someday. Yet all the mental preparation in the world really doesn’t prepare you.

Run

I want to run. I want to run hard, fast, and away from the pain that grips my heart. I feel it ache and tears well-up in my eyes. I want to scream and push the pain aside. I want to tell death to F.O.  And then I find a moment of calm. My heart relaxes and relief washes over me. I don’t like this roller coaster. I want to busy myself with something else. I cannot. I must embrace my fear.

Time is Precious

I look back on the days when I would visit my friend. A group was formed after she returned home from surgery. We would take turns visiting, providing food, conversation, helping around the house. Whatever we could do to be of service. It was a bit hard at first. What will I say? What will we talk about? There were good days and not so good days. Months of good health in spite of the situation. Laughter, jokes, walks, and ice cream. Sharing of art. Sharing of spirituality. On the days when I really didn’t feel like going, I was glad I did.

At home, I find myself missing Woody cat, even though he is just one floor below me curled up on our bed. He has fought kidney and thyroid disease for more than a year, but less than two. So many blood tests & pills to give. Through it all he has been our Zen kitty. So tolerant. So accepting. I wonder how I would’ve put up with all he’s gone through. Changes in his health were mostly gradual. And then one day you notice something isn’t right. This latest change happened over last weekend. It is the one I’ve dreaded.

Preparing

How does one prepare to say goodbye? I honestly do not know. This isn’t like “goodbye, I’ll see you later.” This is the final goodbye. I know you won’t be coming back. You tell yourself you’ll be alright. That this is the circle of life. Then you tell yourself that is a bunch of BS. The pain grows stronger inside. The grief. It swells and then I burst.

I’ve spent most days this week in silence. No music. Some TV. Meals are quiet with some conversation. A pall hangs over us. This has been a pretty sucky week. Sometimes it hurts to be a heart-centered person. I know my heart center is large and it absorbs much of the pain and sorrow around me. That is why my heart breaks so easily. I feel it down into my hands and all around my chest.

I wake each morning and thank the Universe for another day. I thank the Universe for bringing my friend and my pet through the night. I spend time thinking of good memories and the joy these two beings brought into my life.

I don’t know if I’m truly prepared for what comes next. I only hope that when it comes, I can let it wash over me. Welcome it. Then let it go.

Woody


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Monday Reflection: Open Up To Life

WHEN YOU OPEN UP TO LIFE AS IT IS

When you open yourself to the continually changing,
impermanent, dying nature of your own being and of reality,
you increase your capacity to love and care about other people
and your capacity to not be afraid.
You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open.
And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression.
You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds,
from now until the day you die.
And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities
to start doing things differently.

-Pema Chodron
excerpt from “The Pocket Pema Chodron”


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Daily Tarot: Death

The Death card jumped out of the deck this morning when I started shuffling.  “Jumpers,” as they’re called, are cards that jump out of the deck as if they are asking for attention.  And since that is what this card did, I’ve made it today’s Tarot card.

Death is a card that usually scares people when it shows up in a spread.  But it is a card that should not be taken literally by its name.  The Death card symbolizes change.  Its archetype is energy concerned with transition from one state to another.

Death, in this case, heralds the end of one phase of life to make way for a new one.  It represents major change and transformation.  And to benefit from change we must be open to it and recognize through every life experience we are given an opportunity for major growth and learning.

In drawing the Death card we are released from that which is no longer useful in our lives; that “thing” we continue to hang on to because we fear change.  And when we fear change we deny ourselves new opportunities.

The card from this particular deck is scary and beautiful at the same time.  While the skeleton head is frightening, the white rose on the shield symbolizes purity and the white horse symbolizes strength and freedom of spirit.

The Death card reminds us to let go of the past and to not fear being true to ourselves.  Remember, when one door closes, another opens.

Zodiac affinity: Scorpio