Author: susantara

Transcendent Wildlife Moment

Transcendent Wildlife Moment

I had the most transcendent experience at the labyrinth this afternoon when I was blessed to witness something I have longed deeply to see – an image I have not been able to let go of since it was described to me a year ago by the gardener. There has been something magical about the conversations I’ve had with her, and I always walk away feeling blessed. Well, this particular afternoon, she told me she had seen a turtle emerge from the pond, move across the labyrinth to lay its eggs, then return back across the labyrinth to the pond.

I know. It doesn’t sound all that exciting. But for some reason, it planted a deep longing in me (and must have meant something to her, too). I love turtles – especially painted turtles – and I love labyrinths. I walked away wishing I could have witnessed it. I thought about it so much over the past year. I wondered if I’d be so fortunate to see the baby turtles cross the labyrinth later in the summer en route to the pond, and even calculated approximately when the babies were likely to emerge. No such luck. But I could not let go of the image of a wise, old turtle in the labyrinth. I visualized it through the winter. I visualized it through the spring. I wondered why this image fueled me with such deep longing. I realized the likelihood of me being there at the right time to see a turtle cross the labyrinth was very slim. I almost wished I had never heard about it because I couldn’t stop longing for it! Perhaps I’d need to camp out at the labyrinth all day when the temperature was right, and keep watch. Even just a few days ago, I wished I were more talented at sketching or painting so I could reproduce the image that had made such an impression on my heart and mind.

Unless someone were inside my head and able to read my thoughts and feelings, it’s probably impossible to understand how profound and meaningful this image was to me. I can’t explain it.

I never did camp out at the labyrinth. I just continued longing and wished I could have been blessed as the gardener had been with such perfect timing. I decided that experience was meant for her, and if it were meant for me, I would experience it, too.

So, this afternoon I went to the labyrinth with no expectations other than to clear my head after a busy day at work. I crossed the labyrinth to look at the flowers, as I always do prior to walking the path to the center and back. And then I noticed a painted turtle off to the side of the labyrinth!

Well, you can imagine my excitement. I took out my camera ever so carefully, hoping to photograph it. Simply achieving a decent, closeup shot of the turtle would be gratifying enough.

But after several minutes, the turtle turned around and maneuvered toward the labyrinth. My excitement turned to astonishment. When the turtle began to plod along the outer circuit of the labyrinth, I whispered softly and repeatedly, “Oh. My. God,” as tears dripped down my face.

This was even better than the gardener’s description of the turtle crossing the labyrinth, for this turtle was following the labyrinth path!

With nearly breathless reverence, I watched the turtle as it continued to navigate the outer circuit.

Then it turned and exited through the threshold!

Before it slid into the pond, I thanked the turtle for giving me this incredible blessing. Then I walked the labyrinth in the turtle’s footsteps, filled with awe and reverence. After that, I took an exercise walk on a nearby trail, and what I had just experienced hit me again. How profound that I was able to experience the sight for which I had longed so deeply! I cried reverent, grateful tears for quite some time as I walked along the trail. It simply was the greatest gift I could have received.

I had to write about it before falling asleep because such experiences need to be remembered and shared. To have such a deep longing fulfilled so unexpectedly is the most incredible feeling in the world. It’s grace. I don’t understand why the turtle in the labyrinth was such a powerful image and experience for me – only that it was. Before going to bed tonight, my son gave me a hug and, despite not fully understanding my excitement hours earlier, told me that he’s glad I got to see what I needed to. That sums it up perfectly.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Questions That Bubble Up

The Questions That Bubble Up

“He’s still around. Just listen.” 
– George Harrison (to Tom Petty after the death of Roy Orbison)

This is the longest I have gone between blog posts! Over the past week and a half, I have been immersed full throttle in end-of-the-school-year responsibilities. The workload this year is more overwhelming than ever (compliments of New York State’s APPR teacher evaluation system), and I have been putting in ten-hour days at school and then staying up until midnight in order to meet all the deadlines that come in rapid succession. Toward the end of the week, I felt completely exhausted and knew I couldn’t continue at this pace and intensity when grief is still so fresh and so physically and emotionally draining. It’s as if one marathon ended and was followed immediately by another. It is not a time to be some kind of superwoman and deprive myself of sleep. So, despite all that needs to be done within the next 12 days, I am taking a necessary breather and doing some writing before resuming my work.

The day before I returned to work following my bereavement leave, I attempted to begin cleaning up five months of chaos around the house and didn’t get very far, although I did manage to do the dishes. (And since then, I have resumed cooking meals!) At one point, I stopped to call a bereavement organization to order a book for my dad, and when I gave the woman my address, she queried, “N as in Nancy?” Nancy is my mom’s name, and I could barely answer another question or get off the phone soon enough before the cloudburst of tears began. It was such a raw, vulnerable feeling of never knowing when it’s going to hit or what will trigger the tears. And yet, I had no problem at all later that day getting water from the spring right next to where my mom worked for 34 years, perhaps because I expected it might be rough and was able to prepare myself – cover up the raw nerves. It’s the little surprises – such as a friend’s description of opening his dad’s old duffel bag and smelling his sweat and cologne – that sneak up and knock you off balance because you weren’t expecting them.

Several days later, I was on the phone once again giving my address and was asked the same question. Only this time, I shook my head and answered with a smile. Perhaps next time, I will offer, “N as in Nancy” right off the bat!

This is a well traveled path, and I appreciate and find great comfort in words from others who are walking ahead of me and are more familiar with this terrain. I especially appreciate when friends share experiences they have had of connecting with their dearly departed’s essence.

One evening, I felt a profound sense of peace and realized that – despite everything that has happened – all is well. And when I voiced that out loud to myself, I felt embraced. It was a wonderful feeling, like a spiritual hug. And it’s true: Losing a parent during adulthood is part of the natural order of life. Despite our personal losses, we are part of something so much larger than our little, individual selves. We are part of the rhythm and dance of Life. We are interconnected with all of life. This is so comforting! To know that I am part of this dance is such a blessing! It doesn’t even matter what I believe about what happens after we die. To know I am interconnected with the living universe is enough. My son and I talked about such things on the dock that evening with the light of stars and airplanes both in the sky and reflected on the calm water. We were looking for fireflies, which hadn’t come out yet. When I told him about feeling so peaceful and the sensation of being embraced, the first firefly flew past us, illuminated. We sat on the dock with lights twinkling above, below, and around us, dwelling in the feeling that “All is well.”

I feel much calmer now, in general. I don’t have to check my phone constantly or rush straight from school to my parents’ house, not knowing what small crisis might arise from day to day or hour to hour. No more racing against time and not knowing how far to the finish line.

Nature continues to uplift me and soothe my soul: The brilliant orange glint of orioles darting to and fro; cottonwood seed babies rising into the sun en masse; long (and nearly invisible) gossamer filaments drifting through perfumed air; the first couple lily pads floating on the water’s surface; being dazzled by an iris in the process of becoming (and the genius of nature’s packaging); and floating in my kayak, feeling at peace, and then noticing a familiar pair of wings beating toward me from across the river, for my beloved great blue heron finally has returned!

Nighttime is somewhat magical and definitely restorative. I dreamt again of a unicorn shaped cloud. One night, I woke up with a strong impression of a little technician next to me helping to reset my cells. It looked like a solar panel, with many rows and columns of photovoltaic cells that were being clicked on and off. Another time, I awoke in the middle of the night from a dream in which a woman who was very, very special and either dying or already dead communicated a message to me as I held her hand. I couldn’t remember a single word of the woman’s communication but woke up to a voice that said, “The veil is very, very thin right now.” (If that was an opportunity of some sort, I was too exhausted to take advantage of it.) Similarly, a family member who has been a lifelong religious and spiritual skeptic reported a highly symbolic and ineffable experience that included being enveloped by an indescribable golden light that pushed a force of happiness into him or her along with the understanding that my mom is with us and able to tune in to our thoughts. This relative felt my mom provided a glimpse of what it feels like to be in the afterlife, and I have been smiling all day since hearing about it. Other family members have shared their dreams and impressions with me, and it really feels (as one relative put it) as if my mom has cleared customs and been approved for earthly travel!

On a more “rational” level, so many questions began to bubble up to the surface this week, as I attempted to make sense of what I have experienced over the past six months. Did my mom have any closure in the end? When did she realize she was dying? What was that like for her? Was she able to achieve any sense of peace, or did she become stuck in depression and apathy? Is there anything I can do even now to help her to achieve closure? I read through my journal entries from the past six months with such questions in mind. I am grateful that I took the time to jot down notes about things my mom said from day to day that revealed various milestones, such as when she realized she would not get better and when she felt the cancer invading her body much more aggressively. I listened closely for subtle communications and took them seriously. I assured her that what she was experiencing was normal when she feared she was losing her mind, and invited her to talk about it – but it seemed she could only say so much. Did she suffer in silence? There definitely was a line I felt I could not cross without throwing everything and everyone completely off balance. There’s a lot I did do to help my mom during the months she approached death. But there’s so much more I wish I could have done and wanted to do.

These are questions to which I might never have answers. And what value would me having the answers contribute to the world, anyway? Perhaps it is best to rest in the questions. Let them be.

What is the best response to an active mind?
The fragrance of flowers,
the movement of clouds across the sky,
a field of fireflies,
breathing in and out:
OM.
Return to love.
Return, return, return.  

More questions arose after I watched Martin Scorsese’s 208-minute documentary/biography, George Harrison: Living in the Material World (for the second time in recent months) from start to finish one evening. I am so inspired by the way George Harrison faced his death (and replay frequently his song, “All Things Must Pass”). It sounds like he wanted to immerse himself in meditation as he approached death and be as conscious as possible as he left his body. Was he able to do that? I wonder how heavily he was sedated during his dying days and to what extent the pain meds prevent a person from entering meditative consciousness? How do you balance meditation with medication when the pain is so bad?

I began to wonder (in a purely contemplative manner): Did my mom (who did not like to medicate herself unnecessarily and was very wary of morphine) receive palliative sedation that was appropriate to her level of pain, or was she essentially euthanized by meds that – in addition to relieving the pain – made her unaware and hastened death mercifully? Were we giving her too much pain medicine at the end, beyond what she would have wished? Or was she not letting on how ferocious the pain was, other than to insist she did not want to live like that? Is it possible not to be over-sedated in such a situation, or is the pain so absolutely unbearable that palliative sedation is the only compassionate response? And what implications does pain management have on entering death with awareness?

The latter is a question I found unsettling. Eventually, one answer I arrived at was to communicate to those who would be most closely involved in your care how they can take over a meditative practice or make a specific prayer request on your behalf when you are no longer able to communicate. This also includes making known your wishes for what readings or music you want around your deathbed, the level of lighting you prefer, etc. I remember how distracted I was during the birth of my first child by the conversations taking place around me and M*A*S*H being played on the television in the hospital room. It was a much more peaceful atmosphere the second time (a homebirth) when soothing music played, and I was surrounded only by loved ones (including my spiritual teacher) and a midwife who was attuned impeccably to my process. Surely, I imagine, the same atmospheric concerns would apply to death midwifery. At the same time, I believe that when a dying person is not lucid, processes are still taking place on other levels and dimensions and that there is much more going on than meets the eye.

These are some of the questions I intend to explore with my spiritual caregivers after the school year is over. Returning to George Harrison, however, perhaps some insight comes from his widow’s description of a bluish white light that engulfed him and filled the room when he died. Despite all the questions bubbling up in my mind, it seems to me that the experiences of light, peace, and spiritual understanding that we are gifted completely eclipse any thoughts our minds can entertain.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Now That She’s Gone: A Photo Journey

Now That She’s Gone: A Photo Journey

After learning of my mom’s terminal diagnosis a few days before Christmas, I began pointing my camera at subjects more personal than my usual landscapes and nature fascinations. Today I want to share some of my favorite images from this intimate journey.

On Christmas day, objects that had been around my parents’ house for as long as I could remember suddenly glowed with splendor and meaning. I noticed them. For example, I remembered how I loved to play with my mom’s jars of nail polish when I was a child and would line them up and pretend they were shiny, little people.

In the image below, my mom had just received her first lovely floral arrangement from Maestro Charles Dutoit and Chantal Juillet. She and I had been writing her obituary and discussing her funeral arrangements, and I knew that the conducting baton Maestro Dutoit had autographed and presented to her in honor of her retirement was one of three items she wished to have displayed next to her ashes. She took the baton out of its case, read the inscription, and pretended to conduct with it. In this moment of reflection, the wall calendar in the background stands out as a poignant detail.

Toward the end of January, my dad was hospitalized and underwent surgery to improve circulation in his foot. After he was discharged, he needed to keep his leg elevated. My mom was experiencing some clotting in her leg (a side effect of the chemotherapy) and had to elevate hers, as well. For a while, neither of them could drive, and they sat on the couch looking like bookends. My mom was losing her taste for food but went through a phase in which she enjoyed strawberry smoothies that I made for her. Her appetite was very small, and I always made more than she could drink by herself, so this time my dad got the leftovers.

 

As more medications gathered on the windowsill, the medication schedule became more complicated, confusing, and expensive. One prescription for counteracting the blood clotting caused by chemo cost $1,000 out of pocket and was not reimbursable! My parents regarded chemotherapy as their only hope to keep my mom around longer, whereas I felt chemo caused more problems (i.e. transfusions, painful clotting/swelling, exhaustion, and hospitalizations) and wished my mom would give it up and focus on quality of life. It was so frustrating to watch my parents cling for dear life to something that kept them in a cycle of suffering. I realized the only sane response was to let go of the need for a particular outcome, trust the process, and honor my parents by accepting wherever they happened to be on this shared journey.

I had a dream in which my mom and I visited my grandmother’s house, and she was comforted by what she found there. In waking life, none of us had been inside the house since we sold it to the current owners following my grandmother’s death three years ago. I woke up feeling it was important to get my mom there. I made arrangements that were delayed by another hospitalization, but finally we seized a beautiful spring day and made it happen. We were so pleased to see the improvements the current owners made to the house and to feel all the love that resided there, including a sweet little girl with a passion for horses (whom my grandmother would have adored). It was so good to know that the house in which we experienced so many happy memories was well loved. In this photo, my mom is outside the house with her brother looking at a picture of them with their mom when they were young children.

Alena was my mom’s companion to the end.

The next image is from Mother’s Day. The previous day, my mom had been admitted into hospice care, which couldn’t happen until she had stopped her chemo treatments. This was a very difficult decision, particularly for my dad who had to let go of what he saw as his last hope to keep my mom alive. After my sister and her young children left, the house was quiet and felt very different. A foreboding sense of sadness was heavy in the air. My mom was sitting in her favorite spot on the back porch, and all of a sudden, my 19-year-old daughter knew what to do. She sat down at the piano and played the song, “Hallelujah.” I went downstairs and told my mom, and she made her way to the living room with her brand new cane given to her as a Mother’s Day present. My daughter tried with all her might not to cry as she played the powerful song repeatedly, and as the music flowed, the room filled with light.

The coffee table became my mother’s universe. This was a brand new coffee table that I see as a manifestation of the hope my parents held onto until the tail end.

This last photo is perhaps one of the most personal and powerful images I’ve ever captured. It’s of the sun rising outside my mom’s room after she passed away a few hours earlier. In one window is the image of a universe dissolved – one of THE most profound events of my life – balanced by the pastel magnificence of the sunrise in the other window. The world continued to turn without missing a beat. How could that be? At the same time, I am grateful it did because it is so comforting to know that we are all part of this great rhythm and dance of life. From this perspective, All Is Well.

 
 

And finally, the funeral home altar with my mom’s flight attendant hat, Dutoit’s baton, and her guitar – symbols of different chapters of her life. This image poses the question: What objects would serve as symbols of your life?

Accompanying this series of images in my photo library are sunrises and sunsets, frost, woodpeckers, cardinals, icicles, shadows on snow, empty milkweed pods, silhouetted winter trees, ice, tender green shoots, clouds, fog, crocuses, budding trees, moss and lichen, daffodils, grape hyacinths, bees, lilacs, rainbows, tulips, willows, dandelions, maple leaves unfurling, fiddlehead ferns, wild columbines, and chive blossoms. They have been my companions and mirrors on this journey and have kept me connected to the larger cycles of the natural world. This connection has nourished and uplifted me, given me strength and an expanded perspective, and provided me with proof that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. Quiet moments in nature helped me to know what to do and when to do it each step of the way and charged my battery so I could be present with my mother as fully as possible during the final months of her life.

I had followed the hearse to the crematorium in Vermont and stayed close by so I could bring home my mother’s cremains. While that process was taking place, I passed the time walking around the unfamiliar town. I walked past a children’s clothing shop that had pretty dresses on display, imagined my mom would have loved that store, and instantly broke into tears. That was the first acute wave of grief that walloped me. But then I kept walking and ended up alongside a small river that runs through town. The river soothed me. I couldn’t make out what it was telling me, although I knew it had spoken to a part of me that understood river language.

I realize there will be many more episodes of grief arising out of the blue and knocking me off balance. But there also will be rivers and infinite connections with nature to support me throughout the journey and to remind me there is a force larger than ourselves that connects and unites us all – and that the sunrise always follows the sunset, no matter how deep a loss is experienced on the personal level.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Mom’s Obituary

My Mom’s Obituary

When my mom received her cancer diagnosis in December, writing her obituary was one of the first items on her to-do list. Even before the diagnosis, I had expressed to her my interest in writing “beautiful obituaries” for people. Her response was that I could begin with hers. She already had composed an obituary but wanted me to help her fine-tune it. Being such a modest and gracious person, my mom stuck mostly with the facts. She did a great job, but I wanted to embellish it with a clear sense of who she really was as a person – because she was truly exceptional. Needless to say (because she was so modest and gracious), it took a little convincing before she would approve the glowing sentiments and details I wrote about her, but finally I got the okay.

I had no idea how expensive it is to publish obituaries in newspapers! The price tag of such a lengthy one was beyond what our family could afford. With a heavy heart, I agreed to remove most of the more personal parts of the obituary for the papers but was glad to be able to publish the full version online. I also am publishing it here (sans names) because I want to share my mother’s story. It is the story of a full and happy life well lived.

*     *     *
 
 

[My dear mother,] Nancy passed peacefully on May 27, 2014 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Nancy was born in Cornwall, Vermont. She attended school in Cornwall and Shoreham, Vermont and graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. 

In addition to her husband, she is survived by their three wonderful children. She adored and was so proud of her four grandchildren. She is also survived by her brother (and sister-in-law), a nephew, two cousins, and her cat, Alena.

Nancy will be remembered for her love of the arts, which was infectious. Her love of music started on a pump organ owned by her grandparents that she found in the woodshed of their Vermont farmhouse. She continued her keyboard fascination with an upright piano that she taught herself to play. Her first purchase upon starting work was a spinet piano, which remained with her for the rest of her life and has been shared with her daughter and granddaughter. She learned to play cornet in a Gospel Hymn Band in Vermont and upon moving to Burnt Hills discovered the French horn which she played in the BH-BL band.

Nancy started her professional career as a secretary in the Advertising and Sales Promotion Department at Schenectady General Electric. Her desire to travel took her career in another direction. She was accepted at the Eastern Airlines Flight Attendant School in Miami, Florida and proudly wore the navy blue uniform of an Eastern Airlines Flight Attendant for several years. She had the honor and pleasure of serving Captain Eddie Rickenbacker aboard one of her flights, and Helen Keller, as well. While flying into Albany Airport, she met her husband, who was also an Eastern Airlines staff member. They recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Eastern later rehired her as a Flight Attendant Recruiter covering upstate New York and Vermont.

Her innate love of music found its way to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center where she started working as an usher in 1970, followed by 34 years on staff as Executive Secretary/Assistant to the President, retiring in 2010. Among her SPAC duties, she served as liaison with the SPAC Action Council and the SPAC Board of Directors, and provided hospitality for world-renowned classical music artists who performed at SPAC. She truly loved her job and treated every artist, manager, and agent with such respect and admiration – and they all loved her. It was her privilege to work with Maestro Charles Dutoit and Chantal Juillet on the orchestral and chamber music programs, and Maestro Dutoit said of Nancy, “The mere mention of her name brings a smile to everyone’s lips.” She was an avid John Denver fan and loved The Philadelphia Orchestra. It was a rarity for her to miss an orchestra performance. Upon her retirement from SPAC, she was presented with an amphitheater seat bearing a plaque that refers to her as “The Heart of Art of SPAC,” right next to a second seat dedicated to her husband and “Partner in the Arts.” 

She also attended the Nursing Program at Adirondack Community College but withdrew so she could spend more time with her grandchildren.  

Following her retirement from SPAC and having had a great desire to be a nurse, Nancy became a volunteer at Saratoga Hospital, working with patients on A3 and assisting with blood drives. She always found something in common to discuss with the patients, regardless of age. Wanting to do more for the pleasure of the patients, Nancy started guitar lessons at age 73 and enjoyed playing for the patients, and also for her family and friends. She was a passionate, dedicated guitar student and loved to go out to hear live music by local musicians and dance the night away. She developed a repertoire of close to 200 songs and even did open mic nights. She is an example to everyone who witnessed her enthusiasm that you are never too old to learn something new.

Nancy always had a flower garden featuring a variety of roses, which she maintained with the same love and care she gave to the people in her life. She also enjoyed picking berries at area farms and would visit family and friends with the gift of a quart of berries handpicked with love. She made the best macaroni and cheese and loved to take her grandchildren shopping for clothes.

Nancy and her husband never lost their love for travel and visited the Hawaiian Islands and Walt Disney World in Orlando frequently.  

Whether working as a flight attendant, assisting performing artists, volunteering at the hospital, or spending time with family and friends, Nancy’s life was one of joyful hospitality and service. Her warm, radiant smile put everyone around her at ease. She often described herself as an optimist, and her sunny mood was indestructible. She smiled through any challenges life sent her way and always chose the path of love.

Nancy was an active and involved member of the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church and volunteered for several organizations, including Saratoga Springs First Night, Saratoga Preservation Foundation, Saratoga Hospital Volunteer Guild, and Miss Greater Saratoga County Scholarship Pageant. She also served on the 50th reunion committee for the BH-BL Class of 1955 and was a member of the Wilton YMCA.

The family expresses tremendous gratitude for the angels at Community Hospice and Gateway House of Peace for the compassionate, tender, loving care they gave her every moment she was in their care.

Those who wish to honor her memory may contribute to Gateway House of Peace, 479 Rowland St., Ballston Spa, NY 12020, or Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 108 Avenue of the Pines, Saratoga Springs, NY  12866, or the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church, 175 Fifth Ave., Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

Calling hours will be from 4-7pm on Friday at William J. Burke & Sons Funeral Home, Saratoga Springs. A memorial service will be held at 2pm Saturday at the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church. Burial will be private at the convenience of the family.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Out of the Chrysalis, Into the Light

Out of the Chrysalis, Into the Light

The past week has been the most intense week for our family. My mom experienced a dramatic decline in her cognitive and physical functioning. She hit “the wall” I’ve heard described by others who have lost a loved one to cancer and became completely bedridden. She couldn’t talk, swallow (other than tiny amounts of water), and slept virtually all the time. I thought of her as a monarch caterpillar that had turned into a chrysalis, for it was necessary to go within and attend to the hidden and mysterious work that needed to be done. Earlier in the week, it was emerald green, and as the week progressed, the chrysalis became more transparent as a butterfly formed inside and clearly was getting ready to emerge.

I also became fascinated with fiddlehead ferns that spoke to me of opening and emergence. I was drawn to the spiral pattern, which is symbolic in itself.

It was a week of small miracles and seizing moments that I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back, and I’d like to share a few with you. I began last week already exhausted and stayed overnight at my parents’ house because they needed another person around to help my dad care for my mom. That evening, I wasn’t sure whether I should stay home the following day and care for myself or go to work because it’s a busy time of year with a long list of important, end-of-the-year deadlines and tasks to attend to. Not knowing how long my mom would live, I wondered if I should save my sick days for later in the week when there might be an even greater need for my presence. Later, I told a hospice nurse that the hard part was running a race but not knowing what kind of race it was (marathon? 400 meter? short sprint?) and how I should pace myself. If only we had a crystal ball that could reveal how close we were to the finish line!

I trusted my intuition and did not to go to work. But I didn’t tell my parents because they worried about negative consequences of me missing work, so I acted as if I were going. I planned to take advantage of some much needed time to rest, clear my head, exercise, and charge my battery. I was just about to leave their house in the morning when I noticed the vases of withered lilacs and decided to replace them with fresh lilacs and change the water in the many vases of beautiful flowers throughout the house. Had I been up against the pressure to get to work on time, I would not have been able to take care of the flowers, and doing so felt important. I stopped to let my mom smell the fresh lilacs for a few seconds of bliss. After finishing the flowers, I gave my parents a hug and was about to head out the door when my mom called to me in a voice that was at the same time hoarse, weak, sweet, and loving, “You are great!”

Those were the last energetic, coherent words I heard her speak, for when I returned later that day, her functioning had declined. She looked so sweet and dignified sitting upright in a chair wearing a pretty red dress and white sweater with her hair styled neatly, but she was unable to drink unassisted or to eat at all. She did not seem like herself anymore and seemed sad and agitated.

The point is: Sometimes you don’t get a second chance to do something. I had a feeling it was important for me to take the day off, and that’s what I did. My mom’s windows of lucidity (which tended to be early in the day) were closing more each day, and I never saw her so lucid again. I followed my intuition that day and throughout this whole journey and have no regrets as a result. I knew exactly what to do and when to do it, and everything seemed to happen at just the right time, leaving no unfinished business.

Within a day or two, my mom was fully bedridden and it was exceptionally difficult to understand what she was trying to say. We had to lean in close and listen with all our might as it took every bit of strength and concentration for her to whisper. The last understandable words she uttered to me crystal clear were: “I love you so much.” At that point, she communicated through subtle gestures rather than speech. She loved kisses – giving and getting them – and there was such sweetness to that.

We tried to care for her at home for the remainder of the week, but her physical needs became too much for us to handle. We made frequent, frantic calls to hospice to send a nurse out to help us even with simple things such as repositioning her without causing her undue pain and suffering. I reached my breaking point one night when I felt her dignity was being compromised and realized that something must give. We needed more help – and private nursing care seemed cost prohibitive since we could not predict how long she would need it. I felt so desperate, and a friend assured me that the answer is always a surprise. Sure enough, later that afternoon – which was the Friday heading into Memorial Day weekend – we were informed that a bed was available in a lovely, brand new, two-bed house affiliated with hospice and had her transferred there the next morning. Although it was a grueling decision for my dad to make because my mom had wanted to die at home, when we visited the house and met the angels (mostly volunteers) who staff it, we knew it was the right place for her and that they could provide the round-the-clock care she both needed and deserved. What a blessing to have the burden of her physical care lifted from us, leaving us with more energy to give her love and comfort and to be her family rather than her nurses. Finally, I could sleep.

And that’s when the little miracles began.

My mom had a dear friend in her twenties who was one of her bridesmaids. They hadn’t been in touch in decades, but all of a sudden – without knowing my mom was sick – this woman began searching for her online and was able to connect with me via the Facebook page I set up for my mom so friends far and wide could leave her messages and encouragement and express the ways in which she had touched their lives – so she would know how much she was loved and had made a difference in the world. The day after my mom was admitted to Gateway House of Peace, this woman and her husband drove three hours each way so she could see my mom and our family. Without setting a specific time, my husband and I happened to pull into the driveway right behind her and her husband! Although my mom was virtually unresponsive and sleeping deeply, we gathered close around her and listened to all the memories her friend shared about their times together so many years ago. The stroll down memory lane lifted my dad’s spirits, and it was interesting and amusing for my daughter to hear about what her grandmother was like when she was only a few years older than her.

The night before, I asked my husband to accompany me to Gateway in the morning and play guitar and sing for my mom like she did for her hospital patients as a volunteer. So when the time was right, he took out his guitar, and we sang “Sunshine on My Shoulders” because my mom loves John Denver. Then we sang “Amazing Grace” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – and everyone in the room was belting it out by the end. My mom became alert enough to indicate that she could hear us. It was so amazing. Then the older folks began singing an old song my mom used to sing to my dad. We filled that room with JOY and MUSIC! It was a CELEBRATION! (And I absolutely adore my mom’s friend and her husband!) It felt as if my mom were on a raft rather than a hospital bed, and we were on the shore giving her a joyous send-off.

That evening, I had a vision of my mom as her former flight attendant self awaiting takeoff.


We had one more day with my mom before she passed very early this morning. I spent hours holding her hand, stroking her head, telling her that I love her and that we all will be fine, doing a light visualization, and encouraging her to let go. I assured her that letting go will be so easy when she does it, and she will go on a marvelous journey. It will be so wonderful! But she kept holding on, even after our whole family had gathered around her and assured her it was okay to let go. We played her favorite music quietly all evening, and in the middle of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” a small jet actually flew by! 

Eventually, my dad and one of my siblings left, my teenagers went upstairs to watch a movie, and I went into another room to try to get some much needed sleep, although I don’t think I ever actually fell asleep. I said goodbye to my mom for the final time and noticed some tears welling up in her tear duct. A little after 2 a.m., my son was about to go to sleep and went downstairs to say goodbye to Grandma. (He said this time it felt different; it felt like goodbye “for real”.) My other sibling had fallen asleep in the recliner chair next to my mom’s bed, woke up when my son left the room, and had a few very meaningful moments with my mom. Then her eyes, which had been closed all day, opened wide and bright for several seconds. She looked toward the door and then slipped away around 2:17 a.m.

I absolutely wanted to be with my mom when she passed. I wish I could have felt the energy at that moment and seen her open her eyes right before she took her last breath, but that gift was bestowed on her child who was in tremendous need of such a blessing. When I came downstairs a few minutes later, I entered the room and clapped, so happy for her, and then sang “Amazing Grace” by myself. Something I didn’t notice at the time (although both of my children did and told me later) is that the instant I stopped singing, some objects in the room fell. 

I scattered rose petals around her head and put tulips on her chest, and she looked so peaceful and even happy, no longer in pain. It was a beautiful, gentle transition. The look on her face was both a comfort and a blessing to my dad when he returned. 

Eventually, I went back upstairs to try to get some sleep, and I heard a faint melody that sounded like an electrical current that kept repeating over and over. At the same point in the “loop,” I heard the cooing of a mourning dove, over and over. It was rather haunting and lovely. The melody sounded like fifth chords played on a marimba, and the mourning dove sounded like a wooden flute accenting the end of the phrase. Finally, I sat up to try to determine if these sounds were “for real,” and I no longer could hear the melody but still heard the dove. The way the two elements had fit together so perfectly, over and over again, was uncanny and felt soothing. I notated the music when I got home a few hours later and gave it the title, “Mourning Dove Blessing.” 

And my daughter saw her very first butterfly of the year as she drove home.

I don’t know about you, but I love hearing stories of transitions in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. I think it’s important to share our stories.

My mom lived a beautiful life and in the end died a beautiful death. She loved flowers, especially lilacs, and passed when all the lilacs on our trees were withering. 

I wish everyone could experience such a lovely transition. The hospice staff and the volunteers and staff at Gateway gave my mom such compassionate, tender, loving care – gentle caresses, loving words, and devoted attention. The hospice nurse who arrived to pronounce the death touched her so sweetly, spoke to her so kindly, with tears in her eyes and compassion for her struggle. People who do this work share such intimate, personal moments and become family. One such angel explained that to her, my mom was her own mom, who also had passed. They continue expressing love for their own parents and dear ones through loving the dying people in their care as if they were their own parents and dear ones.

I don’t think of this as my mom losing a battle with cancer. Rather, the delivery service that came for her took the scenic route, for whatever reason. She was a flight attendant early in life and loved to fly, but a week before she passed, she spoke to me of a bus. She was desperate for me to call hospice to find out where the bus was headed. People are quick to blame such “hallucinations” on the pain meds, but my mom speaking of a bus rather than an airplane means something to me. It was a long road for her.

May her journey be marvelous and filled with the most beautiful and wondrous love, light, music, and goodness! And may all who knew her carry on her legacy in our own unique ways, inspired by her love and kindness.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (www.susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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