Day of the Dead

Fairy Frost whispers, "winter is coming"
Fairy Frost whispers, “winter is coming”

Winter is rapidly approaching here in the Rockies. And it is no accident the el Dia de los Muertos is traditionally celebrated today;  winter is the season of death. This Day of the Dead is a time to connect with, honor and celebrate everything you received and learned from your dead loved ones.

Take a few moments today to pause and honor everyone and everything you have loved that is no longer with you. Light a candle, say a prayer of thanks, offer blessings.

Celtic Blessings to You and Yours

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours

Celtic New Year

Samhain

As the shadows lengthen and the days grow short, my Celtic ancestors celebrated the start of their year.  Depending on which source you believe, the Celtic New Year’s Festival of Samhain happened on November 1st, also known in some parts as the Day of the Dead… OR Samhain may have been celebrated at the time of the new moon in late October or early November.  This year, the closest new moon falls on November 3.  So, either way, now is the time to celebrate!

As winter approaches, I find it quite natural to pause long enough to acknowledge all the blessings I have received in the past year. And I also like to reflect on what I would like to create and grow in the coming year. 

In honor of the approaching Celtic New Year, I offer blessings from elemental earth, air, fire, water and spirit to you.

“May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.”

~John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Dancing with Dad

My Dad in his 20's
My Dad in his 20’s

My dad passed away a month ago. He had struggled to hang on and stay here long past the point of misery, so his passing was a relief in many ways. But there are still days when I have images of him in my head all day, and I miss him a lot. And other days I don’t think of him at all. Grief is a strange beast.

This morning I remembered a time many years ago when my dad tried to teach me how to jitterbug. Tried is the operative word here – I never could hold my torso still and get my feet to do what his were doing so perfectly. In my defense, I am not known for my coordination. Besides, I had a glass of wine before the dance instruction began!

Dad loved to tell people the tale of how his Navy buddy taught him to jitterbug. I always loved that story;  Dad had joined the Navy at 18 and shipped out to California for basic training just as WWII ended.  He went from a tiny town in southern Illinois to suddenly being in the Navy on a ship with hundreds of other guys. I imagine that it was all quite a shock for a young geeky country boy. One of his older shipmates took my dad under his wing. He helped my dad settle in to life in the Navy. And he also taught Dad how to jitterbug so he could impress the ladies.

I love the image of my skinny 18 year old Dad with his baby face, dressed in baggy jeans and a work shirt, dancing the jitterbug with some big beefy guy in the tightly cramped quarters of a battleship! LOL  Life truly is stranger than fiction. The dance lessons definitely paid off  because  40 years later my dad was still an amazing jitterbugger.   🙂

I miss Dad. I wish I had danced with him more. This morning, as I flashed on images of the handful of times that we danced together,   I heard Dad’s voice in my ear. He said, “We’ll dance again.” And I suddenly saw an image of two energies dancing and flowing together and then apart, together and then apart. And as the energies danced, they morphed and changed shape, but I could tell that it was still the energy of Dad and I dancing together.

I think that image of my energy dance with Dad is actually a great lesson about the rhythm of life and death. We are energies that come together to dance on Earth, then part in death. Then we will come together again in a new place and dance a new dance. Over and over, we dance together in one form or another.

Later in the morning, I hike up one of my favorite trails, still thinking about my dad and missing him. I stop on a mesa to rest awhile. As I sit under the pines writing,  I am startled by a hawk’s cry above me. I look up and see two hawks soaring and spiraling just above my rocky perch. The hawks appear to be dancing together on the wind. It’s a beautiful dance,.

Another memory surfaces as I watch the hawks;  I flash on the image of my dad dancing with my mom.  In my memory, they are both in their late sixties and have been together for over 40 years. When they danced together, they were so closely in synch that it was like watching a single body move and flow to the music.

The hawks are gone when I next look up from my writing. But a pair of young deer soon stumble upon me. They freeze for a moment. But when they realize that I wont harm them, they relax and forage for food a few feet behind me.  Life dances on all around me.

I love you Dad. And I miss you. I miss your wide open country boy smile. I miss your stories. I just plain miss you!  But I know in my heart it was time for you to move on.  And I am ok –  I know that you and I will dance together again soon.

Queen of Me

Queen Cottonwood Tree
Queen Cottonwood Tree

I have decided that it’s time to be the Queen of Me!

Seriously. I have been exploring the Celtic concept of being sovereign. This was a foreign idea to me until recently; something I had never even considered. But being sovereign in your own life is a key part of the Celtic belief system. And being of Scottish and Welsh descent, I tend to naturally resonate with all things Celtic. So, a few months ago, I began researching Celtic sovereignty. And I have been slowly teasing out what sovereignty means to me. And that’s how I became the Queen of Me. 🙂

My Celtic ancestors viewed Mother Earth herself to be the sovereign ruler of all of life; in ancient Ireland, mere mortal men were made kings only after they acknowledged and honored the sovereignty of the land.  I completely agree with the idea of Mother Earth’s sovereignty; none of us would be alive on this planet were it not for the bounty of food, water and oxygen that our earthy mother provides. Mother Earth rules human life, whether we choose to acknowledge and honor her or not.

But what exactly do I mean by sovereignty?  The dictionare defines it as:

Sovereignty  n.

1. Supremacy of authority or rule as exercised by a sovereign or sovereign state.
2. Royal rank, authority, or power.
3. Complete independence and self-government.
4. A territory existing as an independent state.

Hmmm, yes to governing myself,  yes to being independent and to holding royal rank, authority and power within myself. And the terms ‘state’ and  ‘territory’ imply set boundaries to me, which every human is expected to honor and respect. Yes to honoring boundaries. A BIG Yes to sovereignty over my self and every part of my life.

When I dig further, I discover that ancient Celtic Shaman placed sovereignty at the center of the Celtic wheel of life. In many depictions of the Celtic wheel, the Tree of Life sits sovereign at the center or axis mundi of the circle. The Celtic Tree of Life holds the center, reaching limbs up and roots down to connect heaven with earth. And the tree spreads out horizontally from the center of it all, making connections with the 4 directions of north, east, south and west. I find it so beautiful and appropriate that my Celtic ancestors chose the tree to symbolize holding center and being sovereign.

A Celtic spirit wheel depicts the Celtic view of life in much the same way the Native North American medicine wheel depicts their view of life. When I look at one of these sacred wheels, or physically walk within one,  I get a visceral sense of sovereignty; I understand in a deeper way how important it is for each of us to consciously own ourselves; to claim ownership of our bodies, our thoughts, our emotions, our actions and our beliefs as we live and interact in the world.

In their book, Goddesses Who Rule, Beverly Moon and Elisabeth Benard link the word “sovereign” to the Sanskrit word  sva-raj, which means “self-rule”.  Another meaning for raj is “luminous” or “radiance.”  How fitting – embracing sovereignty is not just about ruling over one’s self but also allowing our inner luminous radiance to shine in the world. When we are sovereign, others are not allowed to control our fate. We empower ourselves. We give ourselves permission to shape ourselves and our fate and create the life we truly desire.

What would it look like if I were truly sovereign in my own life?  Nelson Mandela comes to mind when I try to think of a person that embodies my idea of sovereignty.  Nelson was never Celtic by any stretch of the imagination. But when I look back at his history, I see a man whose entire life revolved around being sovereign; he stayed true to himself and held on to his own knowing and dignity during decades of imprisonment. And after his release from prison, Nelson tirelessly championed the cause of the black people gaining sovereign rule in South Africa long after most men retire from public life.

Ultimately Nelson Mandela became an icon; a symbol of the transformation that is possible when a simple human being lives in the knowing of their true wisdom and worth. He held onto himself and his knowing, even when ridiculed and abused for his views. And he transformed his world. For me, Nelson embodies sovereignty in every sense of the word. As he, himself once put it…

“I am the captain of my Soul.” ~Nelson Mandela

I claim sovereignty over my Self. I choose to captain my Soul through this life in the quiet, eloquent way that Nelson Mandela embodied.  I claim sovereignty.  And  I understand that just my intention of claiming sovereignty over my life changes everything. My journey shifts and deepens. This is another turn along my spiral path.

celtic-tree_of_life_by_jen_delyth

Celtic Tree of Life

an original design by Welsh artist Jen Delyth  ©1990 
www.celticartstudio.com

☾ ☽

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

by
William Ernest Henley

Just Right Goldilocks

Dad
My Dad

My Dad passed last week. And this week I have many memories coming up about him; things he said and did, what I loved about him and also a few things I didn’t like so much.  One of my favorite memories is hearing him call me Goldilocks. Goldy or Goldilocks was my Dad’s nickname for me. Even in his last days, when I would visit him, he would look up, smile and say, “It’s Goldy!” when I walked into the room.

I liked being called Goldy. No one except my dad has ever called me that. So, the nickname passes on with my dad, which is a little sad. But I had many years of being called Goldy or Goldilocks, and the name still makes me smile.  Goldy actually referred to the golden blonde hair I had as a child. But Dad also used the name because he said, like Goldilocks, I would search and try out new things until I found the one that was “just right”. So true, so true!  I still do that.  Apparently I was picky and unwilling to settle even as a young girl.  🙂

I still search and push to find that one “just right” thing. I have found amazing houses to live in because of my constant quest for “just right”. And I love finding just the right restaurant, hiking trail, lawn chair or vacation spot. Searching for “just right” also led me to shift careers and try a lot of different jobs until I zeroed in on a profession that truly suits me. And my inner life is so much richer because of all the spiritual traditions I have explored over the years while searching for one that was just right for me.

But searching for “just right” can also be problematic. I have to be careful that my “just right” search doesn’t degenerate into a search for perfection. Yes, there is a difference between perfect and “just right”. Perfect has an obsessive-compulsive energy to it. When I get locked in perfect mode, it feels absolutely necessary to attain perfection. For example, when writing I sometimes get sucked into searching for the perfect word or phrase. And I feel compelled to keep trying and trying long after a reasonable person would quit. I can waste a ton of energy and make myself completely miserable when I fall into perfect mode.

The search for “just right” is more relaxed than perfection – there’s nothing necessary about finding “just right.” In the fairytale Goldilocks could sleep in any of those beds – she just wants to optimize her comfort! So Goldy takes a few extra minutes to try out every bed. There’s nothing OCD about it. “Just right” is about exploring all the options. “Just right” is nice to have, but not necessary.

My Dad is gone now, exploring in other realms. But while he was here with me, he taught me a lot about life and myself.  I love that he found my “just right” quest interesting and amusing.  Another parent might have turned this personality trait of mine into a problem. But Dad embraced me and my “just right” quirkiness.  I love remembering that.

Happy Travels Dad.

Love –
Goldy

 

Safe Travels, Dad

My Dad

I spent a lot of time with my dad this weekend. Dad is 85 and lives in a locked nursing home unit. He is locked in because my mom is fading away with Alzheimer’s, and my dad cannot wrap his head around the idea of letting her go. Dad literally cannot conceive of allowing her to go without him. He has had multiple strokes as his body-mind fights against the inevitable.

Dad obsesses about my mom’s deterioration, he yells at her and even smacks her because she no longer knows who he is. All this craziness from a calm, gentle soul who adores his wife. This from a man who rarely raised his voice before my mom got sick. Now Dad tries to guard my mom. He constantly worries that someone on the nursing home staff will hurt her or kill her. His behavior has gotten so bad, that my siblings and I reluctantly moved him to a locked unit. Now Dad rarely gets to see the love of his life.

This move has been another heartbreak for Dad. And it is heartbreaking for me to watch. Now that he’s separated from my mom, he is rapidly deteriorating physically. This man who never took medications and was always strong and tough as nails is fading fast now that his last job – the job of protecting his wife – has ended.

I sat with my dad as he slept this weekend. I watched him sleep and thought about everything that he has been through. My dad is strong willed and tenacious; he doesn’t give up easily. As a young man, he pushed and worked and became the first person in his family to go to college. Then he pushed and he worked and he became an award winning engineer with patents in his name. He pushed and he worked and he went much further than his parents every dreamed was possible for him. And then life threw something at him that only got worse when he pushed against it. Life threw something at him that demanded surrender and allowance.

I have not seen my dad for about  6 weeks, and there has been a big shift in his appearance and his behavior; he has transformed in just a few short weeks. He has stopped trying to halt my mom’s deterioration. He has finally stopped pushing. He has let go. I sat and looked at my dad’s body that has aged so much in just a few weeks. I sat with Dad and watched his peaceful face as he slept. I sat with Dad and I knew that he will soon let go completely and leave this body and this life that had become so painful for him. I sat with my dad and I cheered him on; YES!  Let go, Dad. Surrender. Allow life to be however it is. Let go and leave all the pain behind.

This could be a story about the pain of love lost or the harsh realities of aging and dying in America today. My Dad’s past few years have overflowed with both of those things. But for me, this is a lesson in how life can deteriorate into pain and pure misery if I grasp at it and try to hold it still. My Dad’s story teaches me what can happen if I resist and refuse to flow with whatever life throws at me. It’s a lesson about how I can create huge problems and pain when I resist the change that is an inevitable part of life.

I love you, Dad.  Leave this painful place.  Let go and go.  I will miss you so AND it’s OK to go now. Safe travels, Dad.

Fading Away

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to my mom and to all the other families out there dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia…

Mom’s name is Eve and she was born in 1925. Even now in her 80’s, living in a ‘memory care unit’ and suffering from Alzheimer’s, even now my Mom is still feisty and opinionated and a bit of a rabble rouser. My mom may have been born in 1925, but she really resonated with the feminist ideals of the 1960’s. Even though her career was staying home and raising 4 kids, Mom instinctually understood the basic feminist message. Women need choices about how to live their lives, Women deserve choices. My mom understood that even as she allowed herself few of those same choices.

My mom’s name may be Eve, like the first woman in the Bible, but the name NEVER fit her. Mom never fit the mold of the “little woman” who is made from her husband’s rib and is subservient to her man and lives to serve him. No way! My mom complained about the silly rules that dictate proper female behavior from the very beginning; as a kid, she demanded to know why her 5 brothers never had to do housework while she and her sister were cooking and cleaning every week. And how come the boys got to swim in the creek, but she and her older sister couldn’t? Apparently it wasn’t proper in the 1930‘s for teenaged girls to swim in the creek, even when southern Illinois was 95 degrees in the shade. Can you imagine??!

Later on as an adult, my mom wondered aloud why men got to do all different kinds of work while women were expected to marry and become homemakers. And she thought it very sad that an intelligent and beautiful woman like her sister who never married was labelled a spinster and considered broken by this society!

No, my mom was NEVER a mild mannered ‘good little woman’. And I mean that as the highest compliment. Mom was actually more like Adam’s first wife, Lilith. You may not have ever heard of Adam’s first wive Lilith, but she appears in the Jewish Talmud and several other sacred texts. Most references to Lilith were stripped from the Bible. And what, pray tell, was Lilith’s crime? Well, Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam. She refused to “lie beneath him”. And when Adam balked at treating her as his equal, Lilith up and left Adam and went to live by herself. For refusing to cleave to Adam and do what he said, Lilith was condemned by her culture and turned into an evil demoness that ate newborn babies and sucked the virility right out of men. For “misbehaving” Lilith was rejected and labelled an uppity bitch. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I picture a mix of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan when I think of Lilith.

Lilith is the original feminist archetype; she’s a powerful female who KNOWS she is complete unto herself and she needs no man to define her or validate her existence. Lilith resonates with that same powerful anger that drives modern feminists like myself; we feminists look around and see how women allow themselves to be treated and we roar with rage.

Unlike Lilith, my mom never left her husband. She never left, but she roared with rage at the inequities of her married life on many occasions. She roared but she really never figured out how to make her own marriage less traditional. It took me years to realize that Mom was actually raging at herself and her own decisions as much as anyone else. I think Mom craved a small space of her own without the needs of a husband and kids drowning out her own desires. Like millions of women before her, my mom craved a space of her own, but never figured out how to take it for herself.

When I asked my mom in her late 60‘s what she had dreamed of being when she was a girl, she had difficulty even answering me. Is it any wonder? Didn’t 1920‘s society just assume that girls would want to grow up and be a wife and mommy? Give them dolls and teach them how to cook and clean, right? What a waste!

My mom must have felt such a conflict within herself for so long. She resonated with the feminist ideals of finding yourself and building a meaningful career and yet stayed in a traditional marriage and spent her days taking care of 4 kids and doing mind-numbing secretarial work.

Please don’t get me wrong; my mom adores my dad. She always did. But she dreamed of something more than marriage for herself and for her daughters. She cajoled and encouraged and pushed me to take a different path; to be more than a wife and mommy, to graduate from college and find work that I could make my own. I have her to thank for this career that I love.

So, after decades of denying any part of herself beyond wife and mommy, my Mom is slowly losing her mind. Is that just coincidence? I don’t think so. Ironically now as the Alzheimer’s progresses, she becomes a lot less like feisty Lilith and more like docile Eve with each passing month.

Today I watch my mom’s brilliant wit and intelligence fade away and I am sad. Sad for the loss of the outrageous woman who was my mother. I am sad that my opinionated mother cannot figure out how to hold onto herself and her opinions any longer. And I am very sad that my 11 year old daughter will never really know her grandmother’s strength or her powerful presence.

I am also sad because I look around the “memory care unit” where my mom lives and I see what the future holds for her. I do not understand why she clings to a life that consists of eating and sleeping and not much else. She is kept safe and fed as every week she fades a little further away, like an old photograph fading over time. And I wonder what the point of this slow fade to death is. Years as a healer have taught me that God always has a good reason for everything. But I really cannot figure out the point of Alzheimer’s.

I watched “You Don’t Know Jack” a few weeks ago on HBO; it’s a movie about Jack Kevorkian, the euthanasia doctor that the press nicknamed Dr. Death. I watched that movie and I puzzled over how some people could condemn and despise Jack Kevorkian for helping suffering people to die. Granted, Jack is an opinionated old coot and he does not make it easy to like him. But his heart is huge and his intent seemed pure to me. I wonder if anyone who has watched a loved one suffer on the edge of living for months or years could condemn Kevorkian?

Is keeping my mom’s body fed and alive while her brain slowly dies a noble, caring act? Or would helping her to die quickly be more noble? At this point, I certainly don’t know what’s more right or more noble. Ironically, my mom was a big proponent of euthanasia before Alzheimer’s set in. She had a living will drawn up years before her illness became apparent. Yet today if you ask her, she will say emphatically that she wants to be resuscitated if her heart stops. Even as barren as her days seem to me, my mom still wants to be here.

Here she stays. I have trouble killing a bug, so there is no way I’m going turn into Kevorkian here. All I can do is watch her slow decline with sadness. I wish that I could somehow make it all better for her – and for me and my siblings. But all that I can really do is turn Mom over to God again and again and again. And try to remember that God has it handled.