Category: Death, Dying, & Birth

This, Too, Shall Pass

This, Too, Shall Pass

Have you ever had one of those days when you swear you must be wearing a “Kick Me!” sign, and pretty much everything feels like it’s not working? I already know the answer: We all do from time to time. But if we have enough mindfulness and wisdom and our mind is not too afflicted, we realize even on our darkest days that this, too, shall pass. Tomorrow is a new day, and a good night’s sleep can do wonders.

It is now tomorrow, but I will begin with yesterday, when my mom’s absence felt more real than ever. More than anything, I wished I could call her and hear her voice. I have a voicemail from a month and a half before she died saved on my phone for such occasions. It begins with a cheery, “Hi, honey!” and ends with a reassuring, “See you later!” Oh, how I wish. She would have known just what to say – as mothers do – and the reality that I will not hear her voice for the rest of my life weighs heavily when it hits. It is a grief shared with every other family member and with virtually everyone who has lost a mother.

A friend from high school sent me a metal, inscribed stone (pictured below) during the final week of my mom’s life. (The other side reads, “COURAGE”.) It has brought me solace on numerous occasions, including yesterday.

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Normally, I am comforted by the impression that my mom continues to shine her light in my life.

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I sense that she is only a thought away – closer than ever. But at the same time, I don’t want to pull her back to this world by being emotionally needy, if that is possible. I want her spirit to be free and unfettered.

Normally, when it hits me that she’s gone – viscerally in the gut – and I feel sad, the sadness is answered immediately by the thought, “Be grateful for the time we had together.” And then the sadness fades as quickly as it arose, like magic. But yesterday was different, and I missed her terribly. She was my best friend, the first person I would pick up the phone and call to share joys, frustrations, and sorrows. I needed some mothering.

The last time I visited my dad, I found on the refrigerator a quote in my mom’s own handwriting that says it all: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” The quote is from Maya Angelou, who died the day after my mom died. (!)

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In my mom’s absence (or perhaps through a new kind of relationship and communication with her?), I’ve noticed the seed of motherly self-love taking root and growing inside me. This seemed to begin soon after I learned she was terminally ill, and it’s a priceless gift, not to be confused with selfishness. The Inner Critic has been remarkably silent, and the Inner Mother has taken over and become my default responder – which makes a world of difference!

So…it has been a crazy week. I was hoping for a more stable, drama-free school year, but after only two weeks back, an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu already has crept in. In the spirit of self-mothering, I woke up yesterday morning with the realization that I am putting too much pressure on myself and that the only sane response is to simplify as much as possible. There are times when all kinds of assistance shows up to help us along. Other times, it withdraws (perhaps due to a lack of clarity or commitment?). I write about times when I feel supported and in the flow, to remember that they happen. I write about times when support seems to wane, to get through and find my footing. It feels like a waning phase at this time – although it can shift in a heartbeat.

This weekend, I planned to embark on a new, three-year, spiritual venture, but the universe threw so many curve balls that I had to cancel (hopefully just postpone) my plans. It feels like there is no space at this time for a new commitment. So, again, the only sane response is to simplify. Therefore, my new weekend plan is to begin Project Sanctuary, which I did not get to over summer vacation. This involves purging mercilessly all the stuff that has outlived its usefulness in order to create space for new possibilities…because LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO! As the leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground, I intend to clear away the clutter and transform our home into a sanctuary. (At the moment, it is anything but.) Get the chi flowing. Come to think of it, what season is more perfect than fall for releasing what no longer serves a purpose? I understand that in between releasing the old and budding the new, there might be a season that feels stagnant. But if that’s the case, it must be honored, for winter is part of the natural cycle and offers unique gifts and opportunities – for example, the cultivation of patience.

Speaking of patience…

As soon as I finished typing the last sentence above, thinking that was the end of this post, I got a message from my friend and fellow photographer, Peter, who was heading out with hopes of photographing the aurora borealis and invited me to come along. We drove to a boat launch on the Great Sacandaga Lake and were disappointed to see that there was substantial cloud cover. He consulted the weather radar, and it looked like the clouds would blow over soon – so we waited. Eventually, I began to balance rocks. The waves lapping against the shore reminded me of the ocean as the moon floated higher in the sky (which actually makes nighttime photography more challenging). I recalled how my mom would laugh when I told her Peter and I went out for a nighttime photography shoot. I never understood what she found so hilarious, but I knew that if I could tell her about waiting for the northern lights along the Sacandaga, it would tickle her funny bone all over again. I felt her laughter in the moonlight, and that made me smile. After about an hour and a half of waiting, we decided that the clouds probably were only over the lake and not about to dissipate, so we left. Although we didn’t glimpse the colorful, shimmering ribbons of the aurora borealis, my mood had shifted, and that alone was worth the trip.

Not ready to give up after we made our way to clearer sky, we took a lengthy detour in search of a north facing field or body of water that would permit a view of the northern lights. The detour didn’t yield the results we hoped for, and by the time I got back home, it was hours later than I’d intended to be awake. But at least we could say we gave it our best shot – for I’ve never seen the aurora borealis and have a very strong urge to witness it in this lifetime!

At 6:14 this morning – with less than four hours of sleep – I heard a ping! sound (like when I receive a message on my phone) that prompted me to open my eyes and look out the bedroom window to the sky over the river. The sunrise was colorful, textured, and dazzling, and I jumped out of bed to photograph it, knowing the colors would only be at peak for a few minutes before fading. Then I went back to sleep.

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After such a challenging day and a night of waiting for the right conditions and searching for something that was not to be found, that ping! was a hopeful sign that the universe continues to assist and support me – for I can’t explain where it came from. (There were no other people or devices in the house.) I just heard it inside my head and opened my eyes at precisely the right time to catch the extraordinary colors and light, not of the aurora borealis, but of a new day dawning.

Yesterday’s gone. Today, I shall simplify.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© 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 (susantarameyer.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tchaikovsky Catharsis

Tchaikovsky Catharsis

I had no idea that Tchaikovsky could take me to the places I went to tonight under the stars at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) with the Philadelphia Orchestra! The venue is a beautiful, open-air amphitheater that also happens to be where my mother spent a 34-year career. It wasn’t the first time I went there since she died two and a half months ago. However, it was, by far, the most emotionally powerful!

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My daughter, husband, and his brother’s family of three visiting from Colorado sat on the sloped lawn with me. I was in a reverent mood and expected a level of decorum around me that honored my mom’s spirit and life work. How wonderful it was to be there as the sun set behind the amphitheater, following a sun shower that painted a rainbow across the sky (pictured, below, over the building in which my mom worked).

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It was the first time I was at SPAC with my daughter since my mom died, and it felt so right to be there with her. She understood completely where my head and heart were at, for hers were in the same place. It also was a special night because my sister was with our dad, sitting in my parents’ seats inside the amphitheater. (It also was my sister’s first time at SPAC since our mom died, and the rainbow pictured above greeted her.)

The first half of the program included Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, featuring Montenegrin guitarist, Milos Karadaglic. During the piece, the sky was dark, and crickets chirped in the distance. It occurred to me that my mom would have loved the performance because she was so passionate about guitar. It also occurred to me that, although my mom’s spirit is always in the air at SPAC, if any evening could pull her away from the formless realm back to SPAC, it would be tonight – for my dad, my sister (who isn’t “into” orchestra), my daughter, and I all were there. That was a first! The only one missing was our middle sibling who lives out of the area. During a guitar solo, my daughter and I started sniffling at the same time, for we both realized the significance of us all being there on this particular evening.

During intermission, my daughter and I went down to the amphitheater to find my dad and sister and talked with them and a couple of my mom’s friends until intermission was over. We stood in the same spot in which I dreamed of my mother smiling and walking by as I spoke with a few people during the first dream I had of her following her death. It just so happened that’s where we ran into one another.

After intermission, the orchestra performed Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74, Pathetique – the composer’s final, completed symphony. It was composed in 1893, the year he died, and premiered nine days before his death in October.  I was getting a little tired but appreciated my surroundings with all my senses. I imagined my mom sitting inside with my dad in their special seats, dressed impeccably. As the symphony played, I closed my eyes and allowed the music to conjure images in my mind – of a ballroom filled with women in gowns and men in suits, dancing, in pursuit of love. I was so glad to be at SPAC and reflected on why I had rejected so many of my mother’s invitations to attend classical performances in recent years. The first time I attended a performance this summer with one of her former coworkers, I ran into my dad, who couldn’t believe I was there because I “hate ballet.” Well, that was never the case, but apparently it was the impression I gave. I think expressing disinterest toward the ballet and orchestra was just another way to push back against my mom and cultivate a separate identity. Sometimes, when something means so much to a person, it becomes more about the relationship than whether or not you actually enjoy the event to which you’ve been invited.

Now that she’s gone, that boundary no longer exists. I can go to the orchestra and enjoy it! I wished my mom could know that.

I continued to savor listening to live orchestra in a setting infused with my mom’s spirit. During the unconventional Adagio lamentoso finale, I opened my eyes and let images of the SPAC grounds at night and all the summers I spent there flood my heart and mind. And then I became aware of another presence. My own spirit was there, too: The little girl given the special honor of accompanying her parents to the ballet or orchestra rather than staying home with the babysitter. The young pianist who dreamed of someday being a soloist with the orchestra. The elementary school student with the biggest crush on her music teachers – one of whom worked at SPAC during the summer. (How thrilling it was to see her and other teacher friends who were ushers and gate attendants!) The adolescent who anticipated the thrill of meeting the performers backstage after the show. Back then, SPAC was my summer universe, and there were so many people there who were so familiar and influential in my life – people brought together by a mutual appreciation of the arts.

It was like a SPAC-based life review that also included a memory of bringing my young children to an orchestra performance that ended with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (complete with cannons). When the walkway lights were turned up at the beginning of intermission, my son (who was about five years old at the time), stood up and started walking up the walkway, exclaiming with delight, “I loved it!” – an unforgettable response to his first orchestra experience.

All of a sudden, I was with all of the old, familiar faces again, along with my mom and the ghost of my many, younger selves. I felt deeply grateful for all the time I spent at SPAC growing up. The symphony’s slow, mournful finale brought out all these memories and feelings as if by some kind of musical magic. I began weeping silently but uncontrollably. I’ve never cried like that in a public place, but I suppose it was bound to happen sometime at SPAC, and why not below the trees and stars, with crickets accompanying Tchaikovsky and so many people who loved my mom in the audience? It was a safe place to cry – spacious and fortunately quite dark! But the tears were not of sadness. Not at all! They were of the most profound gratitude. I sent out a sincere prayer – Thank you, Mom – to greet her wherever she is, and hoped my deep gratitude would bless her soul.

After we all went our separate ways, the tears continued to flow all the way home as an impossibly huge, 3/4 waning gibbous moon floated into the sky up ahead.

Postscript: I didn’t read the program notes until a full 24 hours after the concert, after I finished writing this piece. I found it interesting that Tchaikovsky wrote that he “wept profusely” as he composed the symphony in his mind!

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© 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.

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[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.

Lilac Raindrop Sermon

Lilac Raindrop Sermon

I woke up this morning jazzed about looking for fiddlehead ferns to photograph, even though it’s getting rather late in the season. My husband had my car, so I turned my attention to what was right in front of me: rain-kissed lilacs. I had a certain focus and composition in mind, but it wasn’t until I looked at the photographs afterward that I realized what I had captured.

It wasn’t a fiddlehead fern, but it was exactly what I needed. A sermon in a raindrop, delivered clearly and instantaneously through an image. I returned to the lilac tree with a fresh focus.

I observed raindrops clinging to lilac blossoms for a long time and fixated on one, in particular. Gravity was pulling it, and it looked as if it was just about to fall, but it didn’t. It kept hanging on to its existence as a raindrop.

 
 
 
 

And why wouldn’t it, when it contains everything around it – blossoms, leaves, the lilac tree, and even the blue sky and the sun itself? Can you imagine how hard it must be to let go of everything that has defined you? Everything around you that has had a role in building your identity? Everything you find lovely, including the ability to reveal to the world around you its own beauty and magnificence so it may see and know itself? Who will give your world that kind of love once you are gone?

 

But the truth is, you are water. You are not only what is encapsulated in your body during your brief existence as a droplet. You are so much more than that. You are the ocean. And even more! There is nothing that isn’t you.

A raindrop does not last forever. It doesn’t last long at all. Eventually it will drop and be absorbed by the ground below and help to sustain life, or it will evaporate in the heat of the new day. Either way, it continues to interact with life, to be part of life, to be life itself. It does not end, even though it ceases to be a raindrop on a particular lilac blossom.

 

And that is the natural order of life here on earth. All things come and go in their own time. And yet, what a blessing to see and love the universe reflected in a raindrop for the brief eternity it exists as such.

The lilacs are in full bloom now. We wait for this fragrant week or two all year long, and it always ends before we are ready. A couple days ago, I presented my mom with a bouquet of lilacs. I held them close to her nose so she could inhale the intoxicating perfume, and with what little voice and energy she had, she exclaimed, “Oh, how lovely!” I’m grateful she made it to lilac season. And I’m also grateful for the lilac breeze that whispers, “All Is Well.”

Because, in the grand scheme of things, it is.

© 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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