Of Treasured Keepsakes…and Love

It took me 27 1/2 years to throw them away. 27 1/2 years..

Perfume. New packages I took from Mom’s bedroom dresser after she died. Christmas gifts that she never opened.

Christian Dior’s “Poison” and Yves Saint Laurent’s “Opium.” No light florals for her. No, these were a mixture of determination and resilience with undertones of compassion and humor. The woman who wore these scents made a statement; had presence.

27 1/2 years in the bottom drawer of my bedroom nightstand. Packages of perfume that I could touch when I needed to be close; boxes that she had touched, too. They were precious to her…designer fragrances that she couldn’t afford, that she kept for those special occasions that never came.

Over 10,000 days of my life going on when I couldn’t imagine one day without her. I survived, but not without losing parts of me along the way.

In that length of time, I sold my optometry practice and went back to grad school for psychotherapy. I raised a boy into a man and saw him get married to a lovely young woman. A second career flourished in community mental health, higher education and hospice. A difficult divorce and re-marriage. Two moves. Dad’s death, and his burial next to Mom.

So much life has happened, and so much loss. When do I no longer have anything that she touched with the same hands that held mine when we crossed a street, that made me my favorite foods, that touched my fevered brow, that held me when I cried?

Throughout, the constant has been those two perfumes, and my love.

Then again, maybe it’s too soon to throw them away…

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Thursday Re-View — “Remembrance” (1989)

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Remembrance

February 29, 1988. An oddity, Leap Year. It comes every four years, then departs without a trace. Not for me. The pain of that day is seared in my memory. That’s the day that cancer took my Mom, when she was 59 years old. That’s the day that I lost a part of me forever.

The obituary page…so impersonal. Facts: names, dates, places, times. Nothing, yet supposedly everything. How can Mom be a statistic in black and white to them, her whole life listed in capsule form? Yet they know nothing of her, nothing at all.

Mom. Quitting school at 16 in order to bring home money for the family. Falling in love with a sailor in his dress blues, marrying him at 18, and working at 41 years of life together. Two daughters, a business, long days. Always saving for a rainy day, postponing trips “until we are retired.”

Memories. A cool hand on my forehead whenever I had a fever (it comes full circle, Mom; I did the same for you at the end). My favorite meal. Unending words of encouragement and support. Holding my hand tightly whenever I crossed the road on my way to school. Sitting together on a swing under the tree, having morning coffee together. (I didn’t even like coffee, but I liked the time with you.) Going shopping and having lunch together. A blinding smile that lit up the Academy of Music: “My daughter, the Doctor.” Waking up in the hospital after all four of my surgeries, and seeing you at the bottom of the bed, waiting. Trips to Europe, and cruises with my own cabin. Christmas Eve, filled with Italian dinners and hours of opening presents.

Alex. The child against the odds, as I had been for you. My Alex, your third grandson, who you greeted every morning for 16 months as if he were a king. You showered him with the same love you had given me. Now, he asks who you are in family pictures. His beloved Mimi. He was barely 2 ½ when you left. How can I be a Mother to him, as you were to me, when you’re not here to guide me?

June, 1987. Cancer. Dr. Friedman’s office: lumpectomy or mastectomy? Point-blank: “Theresa, what would you do?” As if any of us can outsmart cancer. But I know better. I know how poor a woman’s chances really are. 1-800-4-CANCER. Very supportive, very optimistic, very wrong.

Chemotherapy. Six long months of pills and injections; you were node-positive. The cancer cells will die (so will you). Doesn’t chemotherapy kill the healthy cells, too? You told me losing your hair hurt more than the nausea and vomiting, and I believed you. The wig was rejected, a turban grudgingly accepted.

Change. You’re different, Mom. You’re giving up. You talk less, you care less, you take longer to heal. You’re too sick to tell jokes or have a beer or yell at Dad or give advice. I don’t know you, and I’m impatient because I want the real you back. I’m selfish, and I feel guilty for thinking you should be better.

Super Bowl Sunday, January, 1988. I am depressed. You’re too sick to come to the annual party (you started this tradition, Mom; you have to be here!). The doorbell rings, and you’re at my front door in a long, navy blue bathrobe, turban on your head, bedroom slippers, and your stomach swollen like when I was 9 months pregnant. But you’re here, and my smile lights up the foyer (you always said I was pretty when I smiled). Later, I realized that my house was the last place you would visit before your final trip to the hospital.

February 1, 1988. The first day of the last month of your life. First, removal of several liters of fluid from your stomach, then surgery to implant a porta-cath, followed shortly by exploratory surgery. “Did it turn out all right, Theresa?” “Yes, Mom, it’s okay.” Really? No. Half of your liver is gone, the cancer is strangling your intestines, spreading throughout your body cavity. Six months of chemotherapy. For what? To make the time you had left more miserable?

Roller coaster. The doctors have elected me as the family spokesperson, the person to hear the news and disseminate it to the rest. I cringe every time I turn the corner in the hallway of the hospital, and hear the latest test results. Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter Theresa says. Mom’s spirit will beat this. But Dr. Theresa knows there’s no chance of recovery. A constant battle; which person do I believe?

Warren Hospital. Your window on the 2nd floor…it’s easy to find from outside. It’s the one with hundreds of cards taped to the window and walls. Doris, the nurse’s aide who helps you sip iced tea, says she’s never seen this many cards for a patient. It’s the room with 29 days of non-stop flower arrangements, brightening those dreary February days, helping to mask the ever-present smell of cancer.

Flowers

Hospital furniture. Adjustable bed and wheelchair. IV tubes, blood transfusions, catheter, oxygen, stomach tube, intestinal feeding tube. A water mattress to cool your body temperature, a fan blowing on your elevated legs (blood clots, remember?). A washcloth on your forehead, Depend undergarments (full circle), hospital robes, blood pressure cuffs, electronic IVs. Beep, beep, beeping…STOP! I want to rip them all out, this is barbaric. I want to end your suffering (or is it mine?) with an overdose of morphine. I ask Dr. Friedman for extra morphine. “Theresa, you don’t know what you’re saying.” Or do you?

Doctor’s words of wisdom: your mother will not leave the hospital…I almost cried when I opened her up and saw the extent of her cancer…if only we could get back some of her spirit, she might have a fighting chance…it would be merciful if a blood clot loosened; it would be quick…should we write a “Do Not Resuscitate” order?…you may have to make the decision to stop feeding her (starve her???)…give her as much morphine as she wants…there are good ways and bad ways to die, and your mother has shown more courage and dignity in her death than I’ve ever seen…I’m sorry, I wish there was more that I could do.

You knew, didn’t you, Mom? You told the nurses you didn’t want this to take too long, that your family was suffering too much. At your request, a priest administered Last Rites…we had no idea. “Are you mad at me, Theresa, for refusing more chemo?” “No, Mom, (choke) I’d do the same thing.” You told us where all of your jewelry was, and what clothes to have Dad wear at your viewing and funeral. You wanted to be in a pink or blue nightgown. Pink? I never saw you in pink. We got you blue, Mom, and the saleslady at Sigal’s offered her deepest sympathies.

Saturday, February 27th. It snowed, so Steve drove Alex and me. You were delirious, but you were coherent enough to want to see Alex. Yes. “Dee dee (your pet name for him).” Alex was afraid of you and the tubes, but your frightened look makes me keep him there awhile longer. You fought the morphine to stay awake, and wanted us all by the bed. Peach schnapps? Okay, Mom, we’ll make sure everyone is offered it at the house. You waited until we left to close your eyes, taking one last long look at your family. You slept peacefully, and Dad didn’t even try to wake you to say good-bye.

Sunday, February 28th. The hospital called us…were we coming? Of course; Dad hadn’t missed a day. The hospital bed was lowered (don’t the blood clots matter any more?) and someone had placed your rosary in your hand. Your breathing was ragged, the machines pumping and beeping, the flowers the only bright spot in the room. June, your favorite nurse, cried in my arms in the hall. She told me that this was how it ended. This is how it ends? All those years of joy and sorrow, hopes and dreams…they just stop? (Is this really happening? I’ll wake up from this nightmare soon, and everything will be all right.) They said hearing is the last sense to go, so I held your lavender rose close and said good-bye, thanking you, loving you, telling you it was all right for you to go. The nurses came at the end of their shift to say good-bye, forming a circle of love around your bed. You continued to touch people, Mom, even at your worst. If only they had known you at your best!

Monday morning, 3am. The phone call. Good. It is done. No more suffering. So many details and decisions, so many people with so many kind words and so much food. Steve makes the trip to the hospital to take down all of the cards. Your room was empty when he got there. The bed was stripped of you, as was my life.tear

Tuesday, the viewing. Wednesday, the funeral. Numbness. Would you believe we’re trying to comfort others in their grief? A woman kneeled with her head in my lap, her tears soaking my dress. (Or were they my tears? No matter.) It’s not really you in that casket, Mom. You’re in a far better place. We got you slippers because your feet were always cold, and I put on your glasses so you could see. The funeral director is amazed at the number of floral tributes; they circled the room many times. Soon, they would grace the rooms of those back in the hospital, and the nurse’s station as well. By Wednesday evening, all is over. My new life without you has just begun.

March, 1989. A year has passed one day at a time. My frequent bouts of grief have given way to less frequent bouts, but when they come, they are just as deep and painful. The thing I miss most is talking to you every day at lunch time (how long will it be before I no longer catch myself reaching for the phone to tell you something important?). This is all so unbelievable; you’re just away on vacation and you’ll be back again, soon. I still get angry when I see older couples holding hands, and I put up a Christmas tree even though I didn’t have the heart for it. I did it for Alex, and for you. I am his mother, as you were mine. That’s what mothers do. I couldn’t go into a Hallmark store at Mother’s Day; maybe someday I’ll be able to pass the cards without crying.

I miss you, Mom, as a mother, and as a friend. Everyone tells me that I’ve been elected to take your place. Silly people…no one can do that. But your memory lives on in my heart, and those parts of you I passed on to Alex will live on in his children, his children’s children, and beyond. Every time I make seafood on Christmas Eve, read a book you would have enjoyed, give Alex a hug, make potato pancakes for Dad, help someone in need, keep watch over the family, say a prayer of thanksgiving for you…at each of these times, I will celebrate the memory of your being.

I miss you, Mom. But if I look around, you are everywhere, in all things. And most of all, in me. You will be with me always, and I know from a deep, abiding faith that someday, we will be together again. Until then, I will remember you, and keep you alive in my heart. I will live as you would have wanted me to, and I will do my best to remember to treat people with dignity, honor, and truth, as you taught me.

Thank you, Mom, for my life.

Thank You, God, for my mother.

May You grant her everlasting peace.

cala liliesl

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Thursday Re-View — Theresa’s Peace Accord

I have an idea.

It has to do with blessings of the holiday season. Strength in numbers. And the power of the blogging world as a force of nature.

It goes something like this.

I now have over 1,400 followers.

1,400 people who actually have agreed to see an e-mail from me every day in what must be already overloaded e-mail accounts.

With views from over 120 different countries. Amazing!

I am grateful, to say the least.

When I first started this blog, I had to take a time-out from work because of health issues, and I wanted to reach out to people from my home, since I was no longer doing it in an office.

My goal was simple – to inspire people, to offer hope, to let them know that they were not alone. To give them the chance to get to know some extraordinary people I’ve met along the way, either through my work, my volunteering, my reading, or my travels. To share a daily quotation that at some point in my life may have spoken to me for a brief moment.

Or comforted me. Or inspired. Or challenged. Or teased. Or humbled.

And guess what? I was inspired.

I don’t know if I achieved my goal for others, but I was certainly inspired by those I’ve met in the blogging world. And the blogging world is simply a microcosm of the real world.

Where else can I speak to or read about or cry with people from other countries and other cultures without ever having met them?

Where else can I view photos (and very, very good ones, at that!) of hills and meadows, festivals and country markets, colorful flowers and exotic animals, mountain peaks and crashing oceans?

Where else can I read about feeding hyenas in Ethiopia or visit a fashion house in Paris or a tiny market on the streets of Pakistan?

Or see the purple flowers against the gray stone of a chapel in Ireland or experience the Northern Lights in Norway or read about the politics of Croatia or the struggle for freedom in Egypt as they happen?

Or get tips on how to take care of elderly pets or teach a cat how to walk on a leash or get a recipe for soup from Singapore or discuss photography with a retiree in Hong Kong or take notes on the latest fashion from a teen-aged Latvian boy?

cat

I’ve offered prayers to people struggling with cancer, sobriety, paralysis, depression and all kinds of loss; exchanged hopeful thoughts in the quiet early morning hours when sleep was elusive; read poetry by young adults in India, Spain and Romania (thank goodness for Google Translate!) who feel the same things as the rest of us, no matter our age or geographic location; read about different faith traditions practiced in so many parts of the world; and shared my own thoughts about people, with people and for people across the globe.

Ask me about how Mumbai’s skyline glitters at night or how the mountains surrounding Islamabad look draped in mist or how the colors of a New Zealand autumn blaze and pop or how the light falls in sacred shadows across an abandoned church in Scotland or how it looks to skydive over Palm Island in Dubai, UAE or how vividly green the terrace farming is in Yemen or how the architecture sings at night in Barcelona.

Or how cheetah hunt or elephants grieve or eagles mate or dolphins swim or butterflies migrate.

Or how people the world over hate war, how they cry for the same reasons, laugh at silly jokes, help those in need, share food and water when they have little, offer hope when others have none, speak volumes without words in their photographs, allow us to visit inside their homes and hearts, show us their children and plans for the future.

We are different; we are the same.

We share stories; we share ourselves.

We reach out; we touch hearts and hands.

We speak in different languages; we speak the same.

We harbor faith not confined by religion.

We believe and we dream.

We inspire and we offer hope.

We are present and never alone.

We are connected.

We are One.

We shall bring peace.

Hands

So, in celebration, I would like to propose “The 1,400 Peace Accord.”

A grass roots movement that starts with the 1,400 loyal followers of this humble blog, Soul Gatherings.

We’ve already shown that we have more in common than different.

We agree – we disagree – – we communicate – we listen – we share – we learn – we care.

Let all of us decide the fate of World Peace.

One person – one post – one follower – one blog – at a time.

We can do this. I can feel it. I can hear our voices, united.

The 1,400 Peace Accord.

Are you in?

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Midlife Mourning

Dreams disintegrate.
Bodies stiffen.
Hair whitens.
Passion breeds affection.
Words escape.
Importance wanes.
Good-byes increase.
The future shortens.
Decisions narrow.
Memories fade.
Joints ache.
Eyes cloud.
Hearing erodes.
Opinions minimize.
Belongings lose importance.
Money depreciates.
Hope dims.
Shadows loom.
Friends depart.
Breathing exerts.
Faces line.
Time hastens.
Distractions multiply.
Dying rules.

But  — stars shine in my soul
and still I walk on.

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Thursday Re-View — Endings

There seem to be more endings than new beginnings as I get older. And one starts to wonder just how many endings can continue until there’s nothing left.

This train of thought started with a Facebook post by my ex-husband, notifying his world that our house was finally sold. Finally. Good news about not having to carry two mortgages anymore in today’s difficult economy.

But this was the house that we built 27 years ago, after years of scouring house plans for just the right one. The custom-built house that we watched become a home from the ground up…the footers being poured, the walls being erected, the sheet rock hung, the roof laid, the rooms painted. We went there every night after work to check on the progress, showing Alex, at one and a half, his future home.

Everything happened there – a marriage, raising a son, bringing in 2 cats (Peanut and Freddie) and a dog (Misty), birthday parties, Easter celebrations, Christmas dinners. Alex’s Communion and Confirmation, his driver’s license, his high school and college graduations. And our divorce.

So many memories, so many years, so much laughter and so many tears. The house breathes them. Inhale peace, exhale hostility. Inhale love, exhale animosity. Inhale hope, exhale despair.

I hope that a family bought the house, and that their dreams are fulfilled within its sanctuary. I hope the walls ring with their joy and laughter, and that the years bring them all that they deserve, and more.

For it is a good house, with good bones, with a heart that has known love. Just blow the dust of the years away and bring in the fresh air of hope and new beginnings.

For this is sacred ground. A family lived here, loved here, lost here.

And may a new family be found here.

How many endings until there’s nothing left?

I hope only for the balance of a new beginning.
house

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Thursday Re-View — In Memory of Peanut

Peanut & Freddie

Peanut & Freddie

In Memory of Peanut
1998 – 2012

[ aka Peanster, Peanutter-Butter,
Pretty Pug-nosed Princess Peanutter-Butter ]

I was not prepared for the pain of losing you.

My son Alex will remind me in no uncertain terms that I never wanted any cats as pets. We already had Misty (a black lab), and I thought she was enough. When I came home one day from work and went to use our front hall bathroom, Alex and his Dad told me I couldn’t use it. So naturally, I asked why the door was closed, then opened it. Inside – two small kittens, a brother and sister from the same litter. One black and white with huge eyes (Freddie) and one tiny with orange/beige fur (Peanut).

I was upset. The only two things in the world that make me wheeze and have trouble breathing are cigar/cigarette smoke and cat hair. They couldn’t stay in the house.

It was them or me.

When things calmed down a little (when I calmed down a little), we all reached a compromise: the kittens could stay on our screened in porch and sleep on the padded hot tub cover. Padded pillows from our lawn chairs were arranged on top, along with food and water bowls and a litter box. They slept together, all curled up in a circle, like yin and yang.

Each night, after we came in from the hot tub, before bed, they came inside for a while to play on the carpeted floor of the den. Each night, the time inside got longer – 10 minutes, a half hour, two hours… They were so cute and so much fun, and the wheezing seemed to be getting less frequent the more I was exposed to their fur.

One night, I relented. Let them in for good. That’s when the two fur balls took over our house, and our hearts. Even Misty seemed to accept them. Peanut was Alex’s and Freddie, with his big eyes, was mine (after all, wouldn’t an optometrist choose the one with big eyes???). Our family had just expanded.

Peanut was always frail; in the first year of her life, we often had her at the vet, trying to find out why she was so tiny. Some breathing problems, lots of blood work and tests, but nothing ever too definite. She would always stay “petite” (like me) with a delicate appetite (unlike me).

When Alex’s Dad and I got divorced, and I moved out, we decided to leave the cats with Alex and his Dad, to keep things as stable as possible for Alex. I actually had my attorney put a stipulation in the divorce agreement to make certain that I could “cat-sit” several times a year.

Wasn’t I the one who gave my family the ultimatum – it’s them or me? Ummm – I guess that was me – so long, long ago.

Then, Alex went away to college, and ultimately, about 2 years ago, Peanut and Freddie came to live with me for good.

I was not prepared for the pain of losing you, Peanut.

You purred the loudest of any cat I had ever known and you looked upon everything that didn’t interest you (which was most things) with a certain disdain. Hence, “Princess.” But you also wrapped your self around my neck when I walked around the house, and stretched out on my legs or chest like a Sphinx when I was watching TV. You were light as a feather – a fur ball – and I loved you.

Each night, you and Freddie slept at the bottom of the bed, all curled up. Sometimes, you slept all night on my husband’s shoulder, paws stretched straight out. If he happened to move the slightest bit over night, you were highly affronted, glaring at him in no uncertain terms until he stopped moving and you could return to your beauty sleep.

You were a treasure. A beauty. A princess.

During the day, you held court on the couch, ensconced on my most comfortable pillow. No one dared disturb you. If I was at my computer, you would hop onto my desk and lay across my keyboard, causing all kinds of gibberish to appear on the screen. I would lift you off, trying to avoid your icy stare. We compromised and I put your cat bed on the edge of my desk, so we could be together while I worked. Cans of compressed dust remover littered my desk; that soft, long fur got into all the cracks and crevices of my computer and printer.

Then, your daily routine started to change.

You lost weight, getting recurrent upper respiratory infections. We kept taking you to the vet and you seemed to improve with the steroid shots and the appetite enhancer. You ate better, but developed an allergy to the meds and scratched your chin to an open sore, so we stopped the medicine. We had another follow-up visit at the vet in another week.

One night, after getting up to go to the bathroom, I got back into bed and put you back on my shoulder where you had slept. I remember that your breathing was so loud – labored – that I moved you to the foot of the bed to get more sleep.

But your breathing was too labored and irregular…

I woke up my husband (who sleeps through anything) and told him something was terribly wrong. We hurriedly got dressed, then I wrapped you in your favorite soft blanket as we drove the half hour to the 24-hour emergency vet hospital. It was early, early morning, and snowing.

I can still feel your tiny claws digging into my leg on the way there. But your breathing calmed a bit.

Once there, when I mentioned “respiratory distress” to the receptionist, the vet flew out from the back and hurried you into an exam room while I had to sign a paper saying whether I wanted extraordinary measures taken if anything serious would occur while at the hospital.

Ridiculous – but I signed it; all you needed was some oxygen and another steroid shot and you’d be good to go. We could work at my desk tomorrow and you could wrap yourself around my neck, purring so loud in my ear that it soothed any stress I might have.

The vet came back into the room where we waited. At first, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand her. Something about tests and blood work and oxygen… I thought we had explained all of that, and we agreed on going ahead with getting you better.

Still, I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand her.

Your condition deteriorated rapidly. Your organs were shutting down – it sounded like congestive heart failure. You were dying in the other room.

Should we prolong your life (your suffering) or consider your comfort? I was used to this from working with Hospice; it was an easy choice – no suffering, please. (Easy? Who am I kidding? It was torture.) The vet was compassionate, saying you had coughed up a lot of blood and things were moving fast.

Could I say good-bye? Yes, but I had to be ready to see that you were on oxygen.

When I entered the hospital area, you were in a small glassed off “cage” or bed on the bottom level where oxygen was being pumped in. There was a small opening big enough for my hands for when I wanted to pet you. You were lying on your favorite soft plaid blanket, your fur wet and matted where you coughed up blood, showing how thin you really were.

I stifled a cry and dropped to my knees on the linoleum floor so that I could see you and talk to you. When you heard me, you actually dragged yourself around toward my voice, then lay back down, spent. It must have taken all of the little energy you had left, but now you were facing me, and I could pet you.

My Peanutter-Butter. My Princess.

I told you I loved you and I thanked you for your years of love, and said that it was okay for you to go toward the light. I told you that Mimi (my Mom) would be there, but realized that you never met her; she died before you were born. So I told you instead that our beloved Misty would be there to greet you. I reminded you how much Freddie loved you and how much he would miss you, but that someday, we would all be together again.

Your eyes were already fixed ahead, directed toward me but not seeing me – looking beyond me at a place where I couldn’t follow. You were already leaving, but waited just long enough to say good-bye.

It was enough – it was too much; I had to go. You were already well on your way, eyes unseeing, breathing labored. So fragile yet so beautiful. Let the doctor help to end your pain. I couldn’t see for my tears.

In the time it took me to sign papers for your cremation, you were gone. Forever lost to me, to Alex, to Freddie.

When we drove home, the snow had stopped and it was daybreak. I couldn’t go into work, I hurt so much. When you didn’t come home with us, Freddie went to the dining room window where you both sometimes shared a bed. When he didn’t find you there, he never went into the dining room again until more than a year had passed. He looked for you for a few days, then settled into an uneasy loneliness. He’s more anxious, as if a part of him is gone (it is). Sometimes he fixes his gaze at a spot above my head, or into a darkened room, and stares, listens at attention. As if you’re there, looking back.

Perhaps you are…

Peanster – your ashes are in a carved wooden box on the mantle, with your name on it. But when I opened the card that came with your cremains and saw the bits of fur they had included, just like a lock of a loved one’s hair, I cried uncontrollably. I couldn’t – and still haven’t – touched it. I also don’t want to let Freddie near it; I’m not sure what he would do if he caught your scent. That we be too cruel a thing to do to your brother.

I miss you. I thank you for coming to me in a dream not so long ago after I mentioned to my husband (yet again) how much I missed you. Be healthy and happy, Peanster. I thank you for the gift of your life. If you can, please let Freddie know you’re okay somehow. I explained to him what happened to you, but for any of us, that clinical information is not always enough.

I love you, Pretty, Pug-nosed Princess Peanutter-Butter. Someday, I’ll meet you at the Rainbow Bridge.

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The Rainbow Bridge

When a beloved pet dies, it goes to the Rainbow Bridge. It makes friends with other animals and frolics over rolling hills and peaceful, lush meadows of green.

Our pets do not thirst or hunger. The old and sick are made young once more; the maimed and the ill become healed and strong. They are as healthy and playful as we remember them in days gone by.

Though happy and content, they still miss someone very special, someone they had to leave behind.

Together, the animals chase and play, but the day comes when a pet will suddenly stop and look into the distance…bright eyes intent, eager body quivering. Suddenly recognizing you, your pet bounds quickly across the green fields and into your embrace. You celebrate in joyous reunion. You will never again separate. Happy tears and kisses are warm and plenty; your hands caress the face you missed. You look once more into the loving eyes of your pet and you know you never really parted. You realize that though out of sight, your love had been remembered.

And now, you cross the Rainbow Bridge together…

~ Author Unknown ~

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Thursday Re-View — Of Ladybugs and Dragonflies…and Love

There are signs.

Signs of our departed loved ones telling us all will be well and that there is life after death, if we only have the faith and willingness to believe.

For Mom, it’s a ladybug. ladybug

When she died 25 years ago from breast cancer at the age of 59, (see “Remembrance”), Mom left behind a husband, 2 daughters and 3 grandsons. Speaking for myself, her “baby,” I was in total shock, having spent the entire month of February driving to the hospital after work and watching her suffer. After her death, I was totally drained physically, emotionally and spiritually.

One of the first things we did as a family without Mom was to drive 8 hours to my best friend’s wedding in North Carolina, the wedding that Mom promised to bake her delicious Italian cookies for (what is a wedding without countless trays laden with homemade cookies made from recipes handed down through the generations?). Needless to say, my family was happy for my friend who called my Mom and Dad her “adopted parents,” but the absence of Mom was a raw ache, an emptiness, a longing that went unfulfilled.

During a rest stop, Dad, my sister and I stood stretching our legs before getting back into the car for the long ride home. As we spoke about how much we missed Mom, a ladybug landed on Dad’s shoulder.

Mom had always loved ladybugs; if one was inside the house, she would bring it outside and place it gently on a flower. If one landed on her, she would simply let it stay put until it flew away. Mom knew that ladybugs were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and had been called the “Beetle of Our Lady,” its name linking itself to spiritual ideals and mothers. To her, that sent a powerful message of devotion and love.

A ladybug on Dad’s shoulder…while we were talking about Mom…at our first outing as a family without her. Each of us looked at the ladybug, looked at each other, and without saying a word, started to cry. Somehow Mom found a way to let us know that she was with us.

Ever since then, in the past 25 years, ladybugs have visited my Dad, sister and me when we most needed the comfort. Dad would call us up on Mom’s birthday and mention that a ladybug was on his morning newspaper, or in the bathroom during the Christmas holidays – Mom’s favorite time of year – when he most missed her, or on the passenger seat of his car when he had a doctor’s appointment. If my sister was going through a difficult time, even though it might be the dead of winter, she would call me up and say, “Guess what I’m looking at right now, on my windowsill?” and I would answer, without missing a beat, “A ladybug.” Mom came through again and again.

After Dad died and I was particularly sad, having to make some big decisions without having either parent to ask for advice, I found myself driving to work and saying out loud, “I really need a lady bug sighting.” I thought of my ladybug collection at home that reminded me of Mom – pins, coffee mugs, journals, bracelets, note cards – but they just weren’t enough. I really, really needed her. As I slowed for one of the three stop lights in my town that foggy morning, I noticed something strange about the car in front of me. I blinked, then got a better look as I came to a top. It was a Volkswagen Beetle automobile. I’d gotten my driver’s license in one when I was 17 years old. But that wasn’t why I smiled. The Volkswagen Beetle was a red one with huge black spots painted on it. A car painted to look like a ladybug idling at the stop light. The ladybug sighting that I just asked for out loud – big enough just in case Theresa missed it.

I looked down and shook my head. Why was I not surprised??? [Note: I never saw that car again.]

For Dad, it’s a dragonfly.

flora goddess of flowers and spring

flora goddess of flowers and spring

Following Dad’s funeral Mass last year, we all proceeded to the mausoleum where Mom was buried. As my sister and I, our immediate family, and the rest of those who had come to pay final respects to Dad entered the marble building, for some reason, my sister turned around and looked at the wall of windows that covered its front. Just then, a beautiful dragonfly flew in and landed on the framework of the door. Quite large, it was a beautiful, iridescent blue (Dad’s favorite color, as well as the color of his eyes). It simply rested there, motionless. A cousin of mine turned to my sister and asked in a voice tinged with wonder, “Did you see that?” as they looked at the visitor. My sister nodded, unable to speak. When she told me about this later, I had no doubt that we had just received our first message from Dad.

In choosing the dragonfly for his sign, Dad chose a symbol of light, one of a select few creatures that are supposed to carry a deceased person’s energy to their loved ones, often seen as a harbinger of change.

This week, the final chapter in the managing of Dad’s estate took place when we had the closing for the sale of his house. My sister and I hoped that we would find a young family to bring the house alive, to transform it once again into a place of brightness and love and happiness. We got our wish when we met the couple who bought it, along with their young daughter. The conference room was filled with people – attorneys, realtors, secretaries, the buyers (the family) and the sellers (my sister and me). It was bittersweet – a relief, after a year, to have this last task completed, yet also very sad, to have this last task completed (see “Who Will Remember?”).

As we sat across the table from the family, my sister addressed the harried and exhausted looking mother, who had just finished telling us that they closed on the sale of their own house late the night before. “Your sweater – are those dragonflies on your sweater?” The woman stretched the front of the garment out so that we could see its print. Multiple dragonflies fluttered across it in bluish-purple beauty.

Dragonflies.

My sister and I both started to cry. As we brokenly explained what/who the dragonflies represented, the woman’s eyes filled with tears. “Well, I guess we know this was meant to be,” she softly commented, pulling her sweater more closely around her, almost like a hug.

She was correct. Dad was here to say that his house was being passed on to the right people, and that he was with us always. I would like to say a ladybug landed on the desk at the same time, but that didn’t happen. The dragonfly was enough.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for sending your love. Continuing bonds can never be broken.

There are signs. Our loved ones never leave us. We must simply open our eyes and our hearts will be filled.

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Thursday Re-View — The Welcome Angel

bhmpics

bhmpics

I met Dannie when her social worker discharge team brought her to my office after more than a year in a residential mental health facility. Probably in her mid-thirties, but looking much older, she was petite, wiry – all coiled muscle – with high cheekbones that validated her ethnic background. Her long hair was held back by a headband across her forehead. Her shoulders were slumped, her skin a pasty gray, with a shuffle in her reluctant steps. Her voice was deep and scratchy, the type that country music would describe as “whiskey and smoke.”

We had nothing in common.

She remained standing after I invited her to be seated, looked up for the first time, met my eyes with a spark in hers and informed me: “You have 5 minutes, and then I’m walking out of here.” Under the spark in her gaze was pain, made all the more marked by the deep circles under her eyes.

I was wrong; we had quite a bit in common.

As I worked with Dannie, I came to know of her struggles with addiction – to alcohol, to prescription drugs, to family conflict and to abusive men. Her present boyfriend was soon to be released from prison, and the rescuer in her struggled with letting him back into her life. I reminded her that if that was her decision, she risked losing the progress she had made with staying sober, not having another suicide attempt (she had two prior to our meeting) and remembering that she, as a human being, had value and worth.

I so hated to see this strong woman – the one who told me that this boyfriend was better than some of her others because “he always made sure to hit me where no one could see it” – lose ground in her healing and recovery. But I believe in the autonomy of my clients – and Dannie needed to feel in control of something, even though I believed that taking control in this instance would be to refuse his coming back to live with her.

Life, like therapy, is never without setbacks, and a new concern was a health issue that flared up, with a prognosis that offered only maintaining her present health and not letting it decline, rather than any type of cure. Coping with that, along with the depression, addiction and everything else, became a daily task.

One day, in Dannie’s latest update on her continuing family conflicts, she asked my opinion about something. Apparently when Dannie went to her mother’s grave site, she saw a wrought iron angel lawn ornament stuck next to the headstone, the word “Welcome” in big letters. Dannie was horrified and appalled, especially since she found out later that it was her very own sister who had put bought this for their mother, when her sister had a few too many beers. Dannie removed it and threw it away, only to return a week later to find another one in its place.

Wasn’t that terrible?

Welcome Angel

She looked at me, at once aghast, angry, yet expecting no less from her family. Then, I saw it – the faintest gleam in her dark eyes, that fiery spark that only Dannie had after a life filled with 10 kinds of despair. The edges of her mouth curved up a bit, and she looked down at the floor. But I could see her shoulders start to shake. I couldn’t help it – this therapist started to laugh, struggling to keep it private, since Dannie wasn’t looking at me.

Her eyes met mine and we both burst out laughing at the same time; a rollicking, easy, raucous laughter that, I found out later, had quite a few of the other offices in the hall wondering what in the world was happening in Theresa’s office. Dannie and I were bent over, laughing, until tears ran down our faces. An angel in a cemetery – okay; but a welcome angel?

The absurdity of it caught us both, and in that moment, for Dannie and me, there was nothing else but our sharing joyously in something macabre, yet somehow, in some way, making sense in the larger scheme of things. It felt good and it felt right; it was beautiful. We collected ourselves, then were able to segue perfectly into her own fears about dying, a topic which she had always skirted in the past.

Unexpectedly, I left that job to take another position that I felt called to, and with a month until my departure, I said my goodbyes to Dannie. I felt certain she would be in good hands with the therapist assigned to take over her case. Our 5 minutes that turned into a few years was done, and I was proud of her progress and transformation. When she thanked me for saving her life, saying that she’d never forget me, I answered that she did the work, and that it was a privilege for me to have been part of even a small portion of her life journey. I also mentioned that whenever I saw a wrought iron welcome angel, I would think of her and the laughter we shared.

Not long after, I heard that Dannie had passed away. “Oh no…” My sadness was immediate.

I was afraid to ask, but I had to ask, how she died. A suicide? No. An overdose? No. As a result of physical abuse? No. The answer – “of natural causes” related to the condition we knew about. Her body shut down; it was time.

I breathed a sigh of relief. At the time of her death, Dannie was sober and still living on her own, having refused to take back the abusive boyfriend. It was unfortunate, but it was a good death. Yes – a good death.

Now, whenever I see an angel lawn ornament, I smile, think of Dannie and send her a prayer. Sometimes, I can almost hear her laughter, but then I realize it was only the wind. (Maybe. Then again, maybe not…)

Thank you, Dannie, for the gift of your generous and strong spirit. You mattered. You made a difference. You shine in my heart, and in my memory.

Someday, find a way to let me know if you were met on the other side by a Welcome Angel…

Somehow, I think the answer to that is yes.

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Thursday Re-View — My Heart is Heavy

My heart is heavy.

If I could gather together sages from the past, these are the questions I would ask them:

Jesus of Nazareth: Why do we forget the love, and how can we get it back?

Love each other.

Mahatma Gandhi: Why do we resort to violence as a way to solve problems, and instead create wars? How can we bring about world peace?

Communicate with each other.

Blessed Mother Teresa: Who will care for those in need, those dying in the streets, whether of Ebola or malnutrition or gunshot wounds or neglect? How can we remember the least of these are our brothers, our sisters, ourselves?

Hold each other.

Beethoven: How can we soothe our savage natures with the universal language of music? Who will play your concertos in the midst of war?

Listen to each other.

Michelangelo: How can we protect your priceless works of art from the bombing, so that generations to come will see and feel your heart song?

Look beyond that which you see.

Albert Schweitzer: How can we save humanity from the Fellowship of Pain and degradation that is foisted upon them by their own kind?

Bind each others’ wounds.

St. Francis of Assisi: How can we honor all creatures great and small?

Honor each other with dignity and respect.

Friedrich Nietzsche: How will we survive today’s world?

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Viktor Frankl: Why?

There is meaning in suffering. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

My heart is heavy, but now filled with hope.

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Thursday Re-View — I Just Want to Talk With Them Again

I just want to talk with them again.

Mom and Dad. Just one more time to sit over a cup of coffee and catch up.

Mom died 26 years ago, Dad died 2 years ago, but sometimes the desire to talk with them tears my heart into pieces. Such a little thing – to talk together – is such a big thing.

If given the chance, what would I do?

First I’d tell them I loved them, how much I missed them, how much I wanted to thank them. And I’d stand wrapped in their arms until the weight of the world drifted away and all I could feel was their love. Protected, where no one or no thing could touch me without their permission. Yet when I picture the hug in the recesses of my 60-year old memory, I am still a little girl in a grown up world.

I just want to talk with them again.

To tell them about Alex’s wedding a week ago. How lovely it was, intimate, with only 30 people. The groom was handsome, the bride beautiful. It rained, but it rained on their first date and when Alex proposed, so rain seems to be a blessing of theirs. And how I didn’t cry until I saw the empty chair in the front row draped in white with their picture on it, honoring Mimi and Poppy who weren’t there. At least not physically…

To share pictures of their three grandsons, who are now all married and successfully giving back to society. To see their five great-grandchildren who are all healthy and bright and strong.

To describe yet another health scare last month, when the ER docs thought I had a second mini-stroke when I couldn’t remember whether or not Alex had gotten married yet. My brain was a blank slate, and of all the things that have ever happened with my health, this is the only one that scared me. And it reminded me that even though I have gone kicking and screaming into this forced retirement of sorts, perhaps I am not meant to be working full time. Perhaps my life, as it is, is enough.

To tell them about my blogging adventure, where 1,100 people have actually chosen to get an e-mail every time I post something. Where my love of writing, and desire to provide encouragement and inspiration meet in a ministry all its own. Where they can read about people and places and things that have touched me and helped me to grow in compassion and love.

To describe what it felt like to volunteer for the Red Cross as a mental health provider at the viewing and funeral for a Pennsylvania State Trooper who was ambushed outside his barracks. To honor him and his wife and two little boys by being present for those who mourned. To serve the thousands of State Troopers who came from as far away as Alaska, California, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, just to name a few. To describe what it felt like to see the best of humanity come together following the actions of the worst of humanity, and to know that the light will always overtake the darkness.

I just want to talk with them again.

But how long would I need for 26 years of updates for Mom, and 2 years of events for Dad? And if I honestly believe that our loved ones watch over us after they die – and I do – then I don’t really need to talk to them, to update them on their family, since they already know all that I would tell them.

Maybe I just want to hear their voices one more time, hold their hands in mine, feel their arms around me. To be swallowed up by their love, their protection, their wisdom. To know that regardless of what happens, everything will be alright.

Everything will be alright.

Dear God:
I just want to talk with Mom and Dad again.
Can you do that for me – please?
Theresa

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Thursday Re-View — To My Son on His Wedding Day

September 13, 2014

The day is finally here. You’re getting married. To a lovely young woman, too. Another milestone in your life. You learned how to walk and talk and use the potty and swim, gave up diapers and bottles and pacifiers, graduated from high school and college, went to prom and got your driver’s license, passed your boards, became a second degree black belt, learned krav maga and so much more… But this milestone is huge. This is being an adult, big-time.

I’ll spare you the “it seems like only yesterday” that I remember so and so or such and such. Well – maybe just one – it seems like yesterday that I held you in the hospital, the baby against the odds…my Alex. Here we are, 29 (lightning) years later.

Now you’re to be someone else’s Alex besides mine. I’d like to impart age-old wisdom about marriage, but if I had all the answers, your Dad and I wouldn’t have gotten divorced. But that had nothing to do with you, only to do with us. None of us gets married expecting to part, and neither should you.

But I have learned some things along the way – important things; vitally important things.

Like the need for trust, respect, honesty, equality and communication in a relationship.

To trust the other person with yourself. To respect the dignity of another human being at all costs. To seek the truth and be honest, always. To recognize your spouse as different, but equal. Above all, to keep the communication channels open, even when you don’t feel like it.

If you remember these things, almost any differences – and there will be plenty of those – can be resolved in a mutually beneficial way.

Marriage is not easy. Sometimes it’s a challenge to remember those vows, even on a day-to-day basis. But it’s worth it. Human beings were made for companionship, to work in partnership, to experience love.

And remember that you can love someone but not always like them. Go easy on yourself; you’re only human. And so is your wife. No one is perfect, and no one has all the answers. Everyone has good days and not-so-good days. But when the two of you work together, you’ll get through just about anything that life puts in front of you.

Remember, too, not to lose yourself in another person. There’s that wonderful part of the two of you that no one else can touch, but it’s so important to allow each other your own identities as well. You’ll be Marissa’s husband, Theresa’s son, Ed’s partner, Poppy and Mimi’s grandson, Aunt Pat’s nephew and godson…but you’ll also always be simply Alex, with your own interests apart from those as a couple. The Alex who never loses himself, yet becomes better because of his partner in life. That’s so important.

There are some rules in fair fighting, and one of the biggest is to let the past rest in the past. Once you have resolved something, don’t keep bringing it up to re-hash it. That’s not fair. Once it’s done, it’s done. End of story. While we’re on rules for fair fighting, here are some more suggestions: no name calling; don’t let the sun go down on your anger; no physical fighting or hitting – ever; no mind-reading; what you say at home stays at home.

Remember, too: don’t keep score; marriage is not a competition. It’s a partnership of equals. And don’t be afraid to ask for your own space…everyone needs to breathe, some times more than others. Also remember that your happiness is not your spouse’s responsibility – you are responsible for your own happiness. As for drama – well, keep that to a minimum. And don’t let friends or in-laws interfere – period.

I wish you happiness and joy, contentment and peace. But most of all, I wish you love. Always love…

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The Wedding Song

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubador is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love.

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is love, there is love.

Well then what’s to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who’s the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?
Oh there’s love, there is love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain

For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love.
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Thursday Re-View — And the Pilgrims Came…

This was written while on retreat in Assisi, Italy.
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And the Pilgrims Came…

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

Faces wreathed in wonder at your tomb, prayerful, reverential, respectful.
The young girl’s smile widened, the older woman’s face smoothed, the man’s countenance glowed.

To that Holy Place, that Sacred Ground, that Place of Silent Wonder.
A communion of souls, a self-made gentling of our armor, a slowing of our racing lives.

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

The hiss of lighted candles, the crack of knees bent in homage, the murmurs of prayer.
A gathering, a fellowship, a commonality of simplicity.

The Prayer of St. Francis. Canticle of the Creatures.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon and the stars. Lady Poverty.

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

One small man, bleeding the wounds of Christ, staunching our bruised souls with your love.
One small voice, deep in the wooded forest, ringing across the world to humanity.

A patched, threadbare tunic, a hair shirt, leg coverings for your stigmata,
worn sandals that flapped against the ground, mapping your mission for all to hear.

One by one, they came.
Walking, shuffling, crawling, running.
To you, St. Francis…to you.

The bells, calling us to prayer, to weep, to rejoice, to reflect.
Their echoes tolling for the souls of the lost, and for those who are found.

And the Pilgrims came…

Assisi

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Thursday Re-View — Rebirth

“I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.”
~ Michelangelo ~
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unfinished

Unfinished Sculpture
by Michelangelo

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I cry out to the Sculptor but he does not hear me from within the stone.
This tomb is cold and dark and heavy.
My words echo endlessly, repeating, repeating, growing quieter with each pass.
My feet cannot move, my hands are paralyzed, my lungs crushed against the weight.
My eyes are permanently open, yet see nothing but darkness.

I wait. Within the stone. Alone.

I was born once, and lived.
I was born once, and loved.
I was born once, and lost.

Now I wait to be found.
Again.
Now I wait to be birthed.
Again.
Now I wait to be heard.
Again.
Now I wait to be free.
Again.

He chips away steadily, with purpose,
until my feet are created upon a well-muscled pair of legs.

With each chip, something drops from me.
Grief litters the base mixing with the liquid of old tears.
Loss piles up as my legs break free.
Identity. Health. Title. Marriage. Jobs. Pets. Dreams.

The Sculptor gently blows away the dust of the ages,
and the motes sparkle in the sunlight as they lift from the heavy stone.

I wriggle my toes, happy for the sturdy foundation upon which I stand.
My feet remember sand squishing between my toes as I ran along a beach,
blades of grass tickling my soles while running through a field.
They itch at the thought of such freedom.

My arms and hands are next.
The muscles and tendons within my fingers protest as I stretch them for the first time.
No longer imprisoned in the stone, they let go of what they have grasped for far too long.
Blame, intolerance, despair, hopelessness break free and drift into nothingness
as my hands lift in supplication and thanks for another chance, another life.

Regrets disappear as The Sculptor blows away more dust,
His fingers running over the curves in a knowing caress.

He carves both ears, and as the waxy stone is removed,
a symphony of Divine beauty courses through the tunnels as my fingers shake in awe.
The notes echo through to my toes.

My eyes – yes, please – my eyes.

He chips away what seems like forever, then chips away some more.
What is wrong? Why can’t I see? There is only darkness where there should be light.

The Sculptor replaces his chisel with a sharper one,
and delicately crafts the blood vessels and membranes of sight.
Suddenly, like a dawn of ages past,
the light rises in colors more brilliant than I remember,
dazzling in its rainbow display.
Tears drip onto my frozen cheeks as I remember
the breathtaking beauty of things forgotten.

Focused, the work continues as He chisels and shapes and carves,
every detail from the flowing hair to the perfect, gleaming teeth a work of art.

Finished. At last, but for one last thing.
He walks to the Tabernacle and carefully opens its door, reaching in for His Precious Gift.
A heart, shimmering, pulsating, rests in His hands.
He walks toward me, and with eyes filled with love
and a voice barely more than a whisper,
gently pushes it into my chest.

“I give you My heart.”

A flood of compassion swirls through my body,
and I take a deep breath with my new lungs.
I breathe out warmth and love and contentment.
How can I feel weightless when carved from marble?
How can eyes see when chiseled from stone?

But I do. And I can.

All that weighed me down is no more.
I am no longer a prisoner of my own making;
I am blessedly, wonderfully free.

Free to take part in a further journey.

But this time, I will love more and take less.

This time, I will see with the Eyes of His Heart.

This time, I choose to remain free.

________________________________________

Angel by Michelangelo

Angel by Michelangelo

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Thursday Re-View — This I Promise You…

This I Promise You…

For those who are alone, I will sit with you.
For those who have no voice, I will speak for you.
For those who feel invisible, I will see you.
For those who are afraid, I will protect you.
For those who know hunger, I will feed you.
For those who need help, I will offer aid.
For those who suffer emotionally, I will help ease it.

For those who go unheard, I will listen.
For those who mourn, I will comfort you.
For those who know sickness, I will nurture you.
For those who know hate, I will love you.
For those who are dying, I will help you to live.
For those who crave human touch, I will reach out to you.
For those who are blind, I will see for you.
For those in pain, I will bring relief.
For those who cannot walk, I will journey for you.
For those who are lost, I will find you.
For those in despair, I will hold hope for you.
For those who weep, I will dry your tears.
For those with no place called home, I will shelter you.
For those who are wounded, I will bring healing.
For those who wait in darkness, I will be your Light.

This I Promise You…  ~ Theresa

Angel wings V

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Thursday Review — Echoes of Memory

He lumbered.

He was tall, rangy, with huge hands, a well-tended beard, piercing blue eyes, with lips that could smirk on a moment’s notice. And he lumbered from side to side when he walked, dropping his feet purposely with each step. His white habit and black wool scapular, tied with a leather cincture, swayed back and forth like a pendulum released.

Trappist

He was a monk. A Trappist monk. He was Brother Steven. And I miss him, even though he’s still alive.

I met him long ago while on retreat in Virginia, a time of emotional upheaval as I went through my divorce. The first divorce in my family. It was a true retreat from the world, and a time of respite for mind, body and spirit. Each day was silent, a time of prayer, reflection, discernment, and attending their hours of Divine Office. Meals were provided, attended to in silence, but help was encouraged in the clean up after each night’s dinner.

Each monk’s day was spent in Divine Office, private prayer, manual labor, and study or reading, with idle talk strongly discouraged.

So of course, each night when I helped with the dishes, Brother Steven didn’t stop talking, and whenever I could jump in, neither did I.

He was a maverick of sorts, and chose to live in the retreat house as Guest Master because he didn’t always get along with the other monks in their residence. He believed in the importance of hospitality to travelers, and reveled in his position.

Trappists I

I heard so many stories…

Like the younger Brother Steven, who when he first arrived at the farm that became the monastery, would climb all the way up the side of the grain silo each morning to sit and wait for the sunrise above the Shenandoah River.

Like the middle-aged Brother Steven, who when they buried one of their brothers in a linen shroud, stopped the burial so that he might take the man’s polished leather shoes. After all, he could put them to good use.

Practical. A maverick of sorts…

A man who fit the stereotype of the older woman who lived alone with 30 cats, Brother Steven only had about ten of them. Much to the chagrin of his brothers, he allowed them to live in the closed entryway at the front of the retreat house, for all who crossed the threshold to meet, allergies or no.

This same man with the acerbic wit and leveling gaze told me once of his favorite elderly cat, Mabel, and how he weaned her from a little kitten, watched her grow up and catch mice and become a good mother, all the while living off kitchen scraps lovingly placed outside each night, regardless of the weather. And how she slowed down and stayed away more often and ate less and less, until one day, Brother Steven knew. When she slowly came up to him to be held one last time, then slowly walked across the field and into the trees that lined the near-by river, he knew that she had come to say good-bye to her faithful keeper. With tears in his eyes, he told me he never saw Mabel again.

And I knew a part of him died with Mabel.

And when he heard about my divorce and saw my own tears, he held me in his arms and let me cry, the scratchy wool a comfort as it softened with my tears. His sarcasm gone, this giant of a man was gentle as a father would be with his daughter. When at last I was spent, he squeezed my arms and let me go, never to speak of it again.

Sacred ground. One soul reaching out to another with compassion and understanding.

Through the years, whenever I returned on retreat, I would know I was home as soon as I saw Brother Steven, and we would catch up on my problems, along with the world’s, each night when we did clean up. Until one year, I saw that he was different. He was often preoccupied, searching for words, more confused. He no longer read to us at dinner time, and when we cleaned up, he concentrated on his work, rather than talking.

That’s when I knew I was losing my friend, and that this time would likely be the real good-bye.

And it was. When I returned, there was a new Guest Master, and a lay person doing the clean up. Brother Steven was in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s.

Now the young man who climbed a silo each morning to watch the sunrise sat tied in a wheelchair, looking out a window at a landscape that only he could see. He failed to recognize anyone, his body frail. The strong shoulders that I had leaned on so very long ago were now stooped with age. I looked at his worn shoes and smiled, wondering if they were the ones he so conveniently “borrowed” from his brother who no longer needed them. Brother Steven’s hand rested on the house cat curled comfortably in his lap, and I hoped he was thinking of Mabel and their love for each other.

wheelchair I

I choked back tears as I leaned down to give him a hug, then a kiss on the top of his head. The head whose brain possessed a wit unmatched when in its prime, now atrophied and unrecognizable. Brother Steven was gone, buried some place deep within, with another Brother Steven in his place.

Then he looked up at me, and just for a moment – a very brief moment – I thought I saw a spark of recognition flare in his eyes, and we were back at the monastery, both of us younger, both of us friends. Then it disappeared. And I was reminded that the soul never fades away, that it lives within, a shining light that no one, or no thing, can extinguish.

Be well, Brother Steven. I will remember for you. God bless you. And thank you for the treasure that is you…

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The Flames Within

In Memoriam
Muath Al-Kassasbeh

The line of flames inches toward me, gathering momentum as it creeps closer.

Gasoline soaks my clothing and fills my nostrils, along with acrid smoke.

The flames jump through the cage and lick at the sand, navigating the snaking line in slow motion.

Time is short.

I pray peace to my loved ones and bow in thanksgiving for a life well-lived.

The fire shall consume me and join the fire within.

The flames shall reach to the heavens in a determined arc, more intense, never diminished.

A final blaze of glory.

I depart this life with honor.

I arrive at a new life, whole.

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Thursday Re-View — The Labyrinth of My Heart

labyrinth 5

Solvitur ambulando . . . It is solved by walking . . .
~ St. Augustine ~

LABYRINTH OF MY HEART

A pilgrim, I stand at the entrance of this Sacred Path,
this Path of Prayer,
this Journey to the Center of Being.
I know not what to expect, but am assured that
walking forward will bring me closer to You.

I cannot see my way to the center;
the path twists and turns with no seeming direction.
One foot in front of the other,
one step at a time,
patient trust that You will show me the Way.

Walking the path without a map,
feeling myself empty in the quiet,
letting go of the control that I seem to need
so very much outside this circle,
releasing the chains as I move on.

Walking the curved path dulls my outside awareness,
while inside glistens with claritas and focus.
My heartbeat slows to a soothing rhythm,
lulling me to a place of peace
as I drink in this well for my spirit.

I hesitate, then stop, dropping to my knees,
resistant to the Way that lies before me.
You and Your Blessed Mother, one on each side of me,
lean down and whisper,
“Come with us, little one. Come.”

I shake my head no as my chin sinks to my chest,
exhausted, fearful,
a cloud of unknowing fogging my heart and my head.
“Don’t ask me to do this,” I beg, frozen, huddled
and twisted about my Being.

For I know if I move forward
I will be forever changed.
I will hand over myself
to journey to a place unknown.
I am comfortable where I remain.

Yet I stand up, shaking, knowing that
I will take this further journey.
The next step is commitment, a marriage,
a promise, a vow.
I will go but You must lead me.

What I lose, I may gain ten-fold;
what paralyzes me may set me free.
If I move on, I let go.
Total, fearless surrender.
Truth. Discovery. Light.

In the center – a communion of all
the tears, loss and desolation into
a treasury of sorts of all that is good;
into a community of love that surpasses
all understanding.

Sitting in the quiet, the whisper of spirit
on my face as I gain strength
for what is Being asked of me.
Be still and know that I am. Be still and know.
Be still. Be.

Centered, in the womb
of this mystical union between heaven and earth,
I receive the blessings of awareness and wholeness
as I return to the collective memory of my soul.
As above, so below.

I struggle to rise, then I am lifted unaware.
Empowered as the path unwinds
beneath my sure-footed steps,
its rhythms beckoning me, calling me
on my journey back to a life renewed.

My leaving becomes an arriving as I dance
in the shimmering light that is Grace.
Bringer of Light. Seeker of Truth.
Bearer of this Sacred Heart.
You are their Light.  Shine.

labyrinth 6____________________________________

Thursday Re-View — Kaleidoscope

colors

You of magnificent beauty.

You soar, you leap, you create.

You allow molten tears to scald my heart,
to carve deep channels of pain and loss.

Yet those random channels follow a course as old as time…
No — older — pulled in a direction already known.

And so the tears flow, scarring my heart.
They sear into my soul,
then collect into a reservoir
carpeted in the velvet of midnight.

No movement. Into the abyss of despair.

Then a glimmer…faint.

No — silence; all is still.

Then, a swirl — a spiral —
of blues and turquoise, of teal and purple —
spearing the darkness with light.
Dancing, sparkling, shooting upward.

You glimmer and spark and shimmer
as you bounce across the heavens.
Moving toward the darkest of broken places,
leaving brilliant cascades of shimmering light
in Your wake.

Until each of those bursts of shimmering light
coalescence into a kaleidoscope of magnificent beauty.

I am struck. I gasp. I kneel, only to collapse.

My tears immerse me in baptism
until my heart explodes in a whirlwind of color,
and the love pours over me, through me.

Its wings envelop me,
and I soar toward that which is
almost painful to gaze upon.

I cannot look, but I must see.

Racing, longing, streaming toward the place of my creation —
of all creation — of oneness. Whole.

I left, only to return.

I wept, only to gasp.

I burned, only to temper.

The vibration. The fire.

I dissolve. I merge. I end.

I begin. I am home.

I am. Yours.

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Thursday Re-View — Americans All

[9/11 Memorial Museum Dedication Week]

She was beautiful.

Dressed in a fashionable ensemble, a dusty rose hijab with black piping covering her hair, she stood hesitant, alone, lost.

I asked how I could help. Her voice quiet, reserved, she told me her son was not quite 19 years old when he was called to the towers on 9/11 as a first responder.

No, this 18-year-old young man did not die that day, at least not in the physical sense. Instead, what he saw that day brought him to a place for the living dead – into the world of addiction. Her son was living and breathing, but for 8 long years, they lost him to the downward spiral that was the world of drugs.

But they never gave up on him.

And now he was on his feet, clean and sober, struggling to view the world with clear and steady eyes. He wasn’t yet ready to view the reality of the museum, so his mother was here in his stead.

If only we could offer easy answers for his difficult questions, but we are not foolish in the aftermath.

She grabbed both of my hands and clutched them tightly.

“You can probably tell I’m Muslim. I almost didn’t come today because I didn’t know how I would be received. I didn’t know if I would be accepted.”

My heart broke.

“We are all Americans here,” I answered softly, squeezing her hand in reassurance. “We’re different, but yet we’re all the same.”

After all, those we lost on 9/11 represented more than 90 countries. And she, in a way, lost her son for 8 long years, but at least got him back.

Three thousand other families could not say the same.

Muslim? Christian? Hindu? Buddhist? Agnostic? Atheist? Something else?

It didn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter.

We all lost some one, some thing, a part of ourselves that day. Let us stand united.

Hate solves nothing, while love and peace benefit all.

We are One.

9 11 wall

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Thursday Re-View — In Memoriam

[ 9/11 Memorial Museum – In Memoriam Exhibit ]

[please see: Collage of the Heart]

He stood alone in his dress FDNY uniform, ribbons aligned perfectly, shoes buffed to a patent leather shine, gloves snowy white.

He walked up to a specific one of the 2,983 pictures on the Wall of Faces, gently placed his gloved hand flat on the portrait, lowered his head, and stood motionless for a full minute.

His prayer done, he moved to another FDNY face in another photograph in another row, placed his gloved hand flat on the portrait, lowered his head, and stood motionless for a full minute.

And then he did it again for another of his FDNY brothers.

And again.

And again.

I lost count. But he didn’t.

He performed the same homage over and over, honoring each of his many fallen comrades.

Too many lost. Gone too soon. Too much heartache.

At last he reached his Captain. He placed his gloved hand flat on the portrait, lowered his head, and stood motionless for a full minute. Then he smartly saluted his superior, his hand steady and strong.

And the tears flowed…

salute

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