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Category: Death, Dying, & Birth

What’s Different Now

What’s Different Now

I came home from work today in a mood, already exhausted by the week ahead. Got out of my day clothes and into my play clothes and headed to the park, where several varieties of daffodils were in full bloom around the labyrinth, along with grape hyacinths, pansies, and the first few daisies.

The songbirds fluted rhythmically, and the sun ducked in and out of puffy clouds passing through the blue sky, illuminating the daffodils so they looked like colored lights hanging close to the ground from slender, green poles.

The perfection of the moment shook me out of my mood and into a realm of possibility. I thought of my mom, who loves flowers, and how she would appreciate all this.

 

What’s different now is that I pulled my phone out of my pocket and called my mom. She answered with a bright voice, although it was obvious that talking was hard work, and I asked her if she’d like to see the most beautiful flowers. She said yes, and I told her I was on my way to pick her up.

Within a half hour, we arrived together at the park, and I showed her the flower-lined labyrinth – my sanctuary – for the very first time. After admiring the flowers for about ten minutes, she was tired and cold, and we returned to the car so I could take her back home. But during those ten minutes, the sun shone at just the right angle and bathed the park in heavenly light, and I felt blessed to share the moment and the beauty of the flowers with my mom. I also knew that her presence there during that brief time would forever bless my sanctuary with a bit of her essence.

What’s different now is that I am awake enough to realize that “someday” won’t suffice, for there is no guarantee it ever will arrive. We have to make it happen by not ignoring or postponing impulses – nudges from the universe to live more fully. In the future, I won’t walk the labyrinth wishing I could have shared the beauty of this place with my mom because I already have done so; I made it happen. By seizing the moment, I created a memory – and, incidentally, my mood improved instantly, for I felt more alive, more connected with life.

I seized the moment not only for myself and my mom but for everyone who is unable to share such simple pleasures with a loved one and would give anything for the opportunity to do so one more time. And I am writing about it to remind you to embrace the opportunities that may come as whispers and nudges, and not let them pass by.

© 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.

Two Doors

Two Doors

 

Two Doors

I spent much of my life
by the swinging doors
yearning for a glimpse
of what will come after
and what came before.
 
Saw eternity
in a newborn’s face
and supreme fulfillment
in a fresh corpse’s gaze;
Which was more lovely
and transcendent
I cannot say.
 
But somewhere along
the way I learned
the present matters
most—and this
is where I resolved
to stay.
 
Later, summoned back
to the swinging door,
I realize we are
so much more
than these bodies
that carry us through
time and space
So let’s live more
courageously,
playfully,
magnificently
here, in between
the two doors.
 
—Susan Meyer © 2014
 

 

© 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 Flower Parade: A Visual Meditation

The Flower Parade: A Visual Meditation

Today I would like to share a video I made over the weekend for my mom, who loves flowers.

I have started measuring time in flowers. All along, I hoped my mom would live long enough to see her flowers come up in the Spring, and many of the purple and white crocuses already have come and gone. Now the daffodils are in full bloom, and the lilac buds are getting bigger each day.

I recently showed my mom a photo I took of a tiny lilac bud to let her know they’re on the way, and we talked about how lilacs are simply the best, most fragrant flowers of all (well, tied with orange blossoms and jasmines, in my opinion). My mom used to bring lilacs to my grandmother. The gift of lilacs is something she and her mom had shared for as long as I can remember. I long to clip some lilacs from the bush in our front yard and bring them to my mom so their fragrance will fill the house and lift her spirits.

Lilac time is the next milestone I hope she will be able to experience once more. Then again, she loves her roses, too. But we’ll take it one flower at a time and not get ahead of ourselves, for each should be savored.

I love it when the light shines through!

I originally had intended to make this the first video for which I partnered with a talented local musician who produces shimmering, relaxing ambient music. However, during production, I realized I had to use a version of Pachelbel’s Canon in D from my mom’s CD collection. I think she convinced both my sister and me to have it as the processional song in our weddings, and she also wants it to be played as people arrive for her funeral service. So there was no question in my mind that my flower images needed to be paired with Pachelbel and to save the partnership debut for the next video!

It’s a very relaxing video, and I hope you will enjoy it.


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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.

A Journey of Music and Literature

I’ve been sharing some really personal stuff lately on this blog, and I want to be clear about my intentions – not because anyone has inquired but because I feel the need to do so. Sharing my experience with my mom’s illness is not something I do out of narcissism. I’m not trying to set myself apart from anyone else who has made this journey. Nor do I seek attention or praise, although I do hope that writing fearlessly from my heart may be comforting or helpful to others – perhaps even my own family members. In the words of author, Elizabeth Gilbert, it seems to be what “Love is calling forth” from me now. Some insist it takes courage to share such a personal journey, but you know what? Some people are fearful of revealing details of their personal lives or innermost thoughts. Others fear change or speaking in public. There are countless, diverse fears that plague humanity, and I think when we take risks in the direction of authenticity, we help others to push past their own boundaries and barriers. It is a way to build bridges, heal, connect. Several times in the past week or so, a voice has arisen and commanded: “Write!!” Each time, my eyes widened in surprise, and I nodded and responded, “Okay!” I almost felt pushed in the direction of my laptop. So I write, not knowing why – only that I must and that it feels right to share the parts that don’t violate the privacy of others. I thank you for coming along for the ride.

It feels as if I’m in a sacred and tender place, and I still wish I could retreat to a cabin in the woods for a while and distance myself from many of my responsibilities. People often say it’s good to keep busy during times like this, to keep your mind occupied. They say having a routine to escape into is a blessing, for it makes everything else go away for a little while. But that is not true for me. I have a need to dive in and experience it fully, much like when I refused to take pain meds during childbirth. I wanted to be fully present to the miracle of a new universe (two, actually) being born through me and to experience it as intimately and completely as possible. I did not want to medicate the experience in order to dull the pain! I wanted to experience my own power and learn to surrender to the intense, raging contractions. And I’m not saying my way is ultimately any better than “taking the drugs.” It’s just my way; it’s what I needed to do. And I think it was good training.

Each person in my orbit seems to be dealing with my mom’s illness differently, in his or her own manner and rhythm. It feels strange and frustrating to brush up against the edges of another person’s fears, preconceptions, and limits. When I was kayaking on the calm river yesterday evening, I was completely alone except for some geese beating their wings against the surface of the river (a sound I love) and the first beavers I have seen this year. Although the beavers seemed less territorial than usual as I glided past, I was impressed by the power of the two tail slaps I witnessed. They spoke to me of clear boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. I have to keep centering myself in love and compassion so I can honor and respect each person’s unique journey – and to remember that, even if we have different opinions about how to proceed, we are all united by our love for my mom. 

Maybe all my responsibilities keep me grounded, but I don’t want gravity to keep my feet on the ground! I feel so supported by extraordinary energy that I sense most clearly when I am in nature, in the place between sleep and wakefulness, when I feel sad, and when I am alone and quiet. I have been craving solitude so I can perceive this energy more strongly and put this earthly experience into a larger context. I want to float.

Some people close to me have trouble knowing what to do or say. I especially appreciate the music people send my way. In general, music, art, and nature have more of an impression on me than logic and rational thought, or even words in general. But that’s just me. I honor the truths that sustain the lives of others. Some people need religion like plants need sunlight. Some need spirituality. Some need neither. It’s all fine to me. It’s hard – and would seem foolish – to argue with a painting or a symphony. Words are trickier, more jagged. But when someone offers me a scripture, for example, I accept it as a gift, even if it’s from a source from which I don’t tend to seek guidance, inspiration, or comfort. It does not matter how the religious context of the words relates to my beliefs (which are constantly expanding). When words are offered in the spirit of love, they become vessels of love.

Our fears, religious/spiritual beliefs, the way we grieve and give birth – along with myriad other aspects of the human condition – are so personal and diverse and deserve to be honored. That being said, in addition to listening to music, I have been doing more reading than usual, almost exclusively from what I call the “near-death” genre. In chronological order, I have read:

Each of these books has been a most illuminating companion on this journey, and I recommend each one enthusiastically if you are receptive to ideas and experiences beyond the ordinary. (Interested skeptics might want to begin with Proof of Heaven.) Each book resonates strongly with my own impressions and experiences, fills me with hope, and has brought tears of joy to my eyes by placing the human experience within a much larger perspective. Each of the books emphasizes that unconditional love is at the heart of the universe, which is something I find easy to believe perhaps because I was raised by such gentle, loving parents.

I have been strongly in touch with music since my mom’s diagnosis and would like to share some of the music that I have found particularly significant and uplifting in recent weeks. The first two classical pieces feel celestial and divinely inspired and were mentioned specifically in The Afterlife of Billy Fingers as hints of sound experiences in other realms.

The first one is the finale of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in E flat (Chorus Mysticus) depicting the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust epic, when Faust is welcomed into heaven. (I find the visuals of the “conductor” highly distracting and suggest closing your eyes once that part begins and letting the music fill you.)


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The following tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela, composed by Jean Sibelius provides another hint of “cosmic sound,” as described by Billy Fingers.


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And then there are some more contemporary songs friends have sent my way that contribute to the soundtrack of this leg of the journey:


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Blogger is not allowing me to post more than four YouTube videos, but HERE is a link to another song that really grabbed me: “Let Her Go” by Passenger.

I’m sure there will be much more music as the path ahead unfolds. And art. And nature. And floating, I hope.

© 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.

Reawakening Gratitude

Reawakening Gratitude

It happens every now and then: The scale tips in the direction of overwhelm and exhaustion, and I forget what I know. Such is the human condition.

Recently, I had such a day. I felt overwhelmed by all that’s on my plate. Hemmed in by the choices I have made in life. I wondered if I ever might break free from it all and start anew. Surely, it’s never too late to try something new, right? I know you cannot buy happiness and that happiness is not to be found elsewhere. Not in Colorado or India or Australia or anywhere else. Although a sunny, blue canvas might be more motivating for some people, ultimately happiness is an attitude, a manner of journeying through life. It is within us and does not exist apart from us. Spiritually speaking, we are never without that which we believe we lack.

I know this.

But some days, I feel bad for what I don’t have, especially for not having the means to start over again and do what I want to do instead of what I feel obligated to do. Most of all, I wish I could disappear into the woods for six months, for the forest doesn’t ask anything of me. Or even a month. I wish desperately that I could have a few weeks with my parents at this sensitive, sacred juncture without the demands of work that seem to multiply from year to year and are especially intense at this time of year as we sprint to the finish line of yet another school year. But our household relies on my income, and going without a paycheck as I approach two months of unpaid summer vacation seems especially unwise.

I was feeling powerless and overwhelmed. Feeling that something’s got to give. Some of this crushing responsibility has got to be lifted. I saw no end in sight to the demands and monotony – for I had been shortchanging my sleep, which invariably impairs my vision.

So, despite everything I needed to attend to, I took a two-hour walk in the woods, where I fell under the spell of moss, lichen, and ferns and was comforted by the tender green resurgence of life in springtime and the rhythm of birdsong.

Being in the woods helped, but it wasn’t long before the effect wore off. Something similar happens when I float in my kayak on the river. It’s as if the heaviness of worldly concerns lifts from me like mist rises from the river in the morning. I am left weightless, without a care, attuned to the energy of nature that reconnects me with my center, which feels like the center of the universe. All is well. When I step back on shore, the gravity of the human drama returns gradually, although the experience on the river allows me to put the heaviness in perspective. Even when I’m not tuned to the bliss channel, I know it exists.

Then, last night I had a dream. In the dream, someone asked me if I had heard the news about the tragic events unfolding in Chechnya. I saw a news report on a large screen, and then I was transported to another place – a sunny, mountainous location in front of a large hotel. My husband and I were talking with a woman who was traveling in an RV and was going to stay in the nice hotel. We couldn’t afford the hotel and had to stay in our RV. Then we drove along, and I found myself in Chechnya. At first, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The neighborhoods looked like ordinary neighborhoods. Then I was in a group of people running on the sidewalks then stopping and being totally quiet, trying not to be noticed. A man leading a group of children a few blocks away came running and shouting in our direction, alerting everyone to the danger that chased them. People could be shot on the spot. Running, stopping, huddling, repeating – we walked breathlessly past police officers that we knew could not be trusted and tried to remain as unnoticed as possible. We knew that voicing any complaints or disagreement was especially dangerous. This was hell. In the dream, I realized how privileged I am in my waking life and that anyone in the dream setting would be so thankful for even the smallest kindness or comfort because there was none of that there. I awakened from the dream feeling tremendous gratitude.

What a reality check!

The bottom line is: If you are healthy and have food on your table, you already are much more fortunate than so many people in this world, who would give just about anything to have those things. 

While waiting in line at the grocery store, I thought about how blessed I am to be able to go to a store and buy food for my family. It truly is a privilege. The same is true with dishes. Rather than get irked about having to do the dishes, be grateful that you have dishes to do because it means you have food to eat. It feels a lot better to walk around filled with gratitude for the little things that we so often take for granted than to complain about what you don’t have or how things aren’t going the way you want them to go. To remember how blessed you are and that – while there may be things you feel are lacking in your life – so many people would give anything to be in your shoes.

My parents and I have been having some difficult conversations lately as we explore care options for my mom. My dad lamented that we waited too long for my mom’s recheck after a spot (that was biopsied and determined to be benign) was discovered on her pancreas a year ago. What if she could have begun treatment back then? Perhaps that would have made a difference. Or, I countered, perhaps she would have undergone aggressive chemo all summer and not been able to enjoy going to orchestra and ballet performances nearly every night. Perhaps she would not have had the energy to practice guitar and build her repertoire, or the confidence to perform at open mic nights. My mom lived so fully last summer, and we were all in awe of her. Her energy was astonishing and inspiring. Let us be grateful for what we have had the privilege to experience with her and not burden ourselves with regret – for we don’t know for certain what experiences the “road not taken” would have set before us. Nor do we know what grace is in store for us on the path we have chosen.

Similarly, let us have compassion for ourselves and not shame or pressure ourselves if the life we are living right now seems deficient in some way. Even if we feel we are here in this world to do more, why not release into the moment and feel good about having done our best each step of the way? Appreciating today does not preclude having ambition and preparing for tomorrow. Why not be more fully present to the work we are doing right now, every moment, rather than complicate and burden our lives by berating ourselves for making mistakes (which is inevitable) or falling short? Let us feel good about who we are and what we do instead of bad about what we feel we are supposed to be or accomplish. Although regret might be a station along the way that serves a purpose, let us not rest there for too long and risk missing the opportunities of today, believing they never visited us in the first place.

© 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.

In Two Different Worlds

In Two Different Worlds

This evening, I drove home from my parents’ house with their health situations on my mind. My mom spent a week in the hospital and was discharged a few days ago. She is home recovering from the latest onslaught in her struggle with advanced stage cancer. Today my dad experienced a health scare that sent him to Urgent Care but fortunately did not result in hospitalization. Life is quite intense at this time, and as I drove home I contemplated what I can do to help my parents, who are not good about asking for or accepting help.

Then I noticed the moon rising in the baby blue sky just above mustard toned willow trees. The sight was absolutely breathtaking. In my rear view mirror, I saw the golden-tangerine glow of the large, low sun sinking behind a patch of trees. I was so moved by the beauty surrounding me as the sun and moon simultaneously illuminated the sky with contrasting color and light. It seemed as though the setting sun was casting a golden glow against the eastern sky where the moon was rising, saturating the blue of the sky and the golden-yellow of the willows even more. It was the magic moment of the day, and I was caught in between the sun and the moon, completely in awe.

Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to stop and photograph the landscape. I pulled over in front of a farm and pointed my camera to the west to capture this image

then turned around to shoot the soft tones of the moonrise.

I wish I could have captured the moon hovering just above a willow tree. But perhaps you can use your imagination.

My heart overflowed with joy, gratitude, and awe. I arrived home with tears in my eyes for the beauty of this world we inhabit, despite all the suffering.

The past year, since my dad’s brush with death, has been a rough one. And now he is caring for my mom. My parents are such kind, loving people who don’t want to inconvenience anyone or cause any suffering. They don’t want to burden their children with their health issues. While I care for and love my parents deeply and feel anguished by their suffering, I wish they could know there is another side to all this that I am in touch with every day – as a result of all this – and that gives me strength. I wish they could realize that I am being pushed to grow in the most amazing ways and am being liberated from many ways in which I used to bring suffering upon myself. I am learning that it is possible to grieve personal losses while giving thanks for spiritual blessings and keeping a joyful heart.

Lately, I have been experiencing life on two different dimensions, as if I am walking with each foot in a different world. On the personal level, there is great sadness that my mom’s life has taken this cruel, abrupt turn. On the spiritual level, I realize that everything is unfolding as part of a greater plan and that those we love never leave us. That spiritual gifts sometimes come disguised as great challenges.

Writing about being aware (during her near-death experience) of the sense of urgency her brother felt about getting to the hospital in time to say goodbye, author Anita Moorjani explained:

I recall knowing that I didn’t want my physical body to be dead before he arrived. I was aware of how that would make him feel, and I didn’t want him to go through that. But yet again, as my affection for my brother started to take over and I was becoming overwhelmed with not wanting him to experience the pain of his little sister dying, I found myself being simultaneously drawn away. Each time my emotions took over the situation, I discovered myself starting to expand again, and I felt a release from all attachment. Once more, I was surrounded by the reassuring feeling of a greater tapestry unfolding, where everything was exactly as it should be in the grand scheme of things.” (Dying to Be Me, p. 64)

This is exactly what I have been experiencing as I accompany my parents through this chapter with a foot in each world. When I feel myself fixating on the level of personality and feeling deep sadness for their suffering and our personal losses, I am pulled into an expanded awareness in which I realize there is so much more to the picture than we can perceive through these dense bodies we inhabit. And I feel so much love coming through. One of my mom’s friends told me that many people are praying for my family’s peace and comfort, and I wonder if I am experiencing the power of their prayers.

I wish I could bottle this awareness and give it to my parents and anyone else who is suffering. The closest I can come is sharing the images that transport me and expand my awareness and the feelings and words attached to them (although words are often insufficient), hoping that some of the awe, awareness, and healing energy will come through.

© 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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