Category: Death, Dying, & Birth

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.

Seasons of a Lifetime (Video)

Seasons of a Lifetime (Video)

This morning, I went to my parents’ house for my mom’s hospice intake appointment. But first, I assembled my last Mother’s Day card and gift in an envelope that I decorated with a little extra color than usual and brought it with me. I’ve been working on the gift for quite some time and am excited to share it. But first I’d like to explain how it came about.

My first ever photography exhibit is scheduled for September, and I wish my mom could be around to see it. I already have all the prints framed and considered having a special viewing earlier for my mom. However, my September exhibit will feature autumn-themed photography, and surrounding her with fall images during springtime didn’t feel right.

Then I had a brainstorm: I could organize a special exhibit for my mom to see while she’s still able. In a wild burst of inspiration, I saw all the details: Instead of only featuring autumn themed photos, this exhibit would include images of all the seasons. I would call it Seasons of a Lifetime – and include photos from the various “seasons” of my parents’ lives grouped around each seasonal display. Since I already had the frames, it was just a matter of ordering different prints – which I did immediately, for time was of the essence.

However, the day after I came up with this idea, my mom was admitted to the hospital, and I reconsidered the practicality of planning an exhibit. I already felt overwhelmed by everything on my plate and didn’t have the energy to try to find an exhibit space and make the necessary arrangements. And even if I could muster up the energy to pull it off, there was no guarantee my mom would be well enough to attend – or feel up to being in public. As is normal for people in this stage of disease, her world has been shrinking; she has begun the cocooning process.

Finally, I came up with the idea of creating a virtual exhibit that my mom could view from the comfort of her home at her convenience. I would intersperse my nature photography with snapshots of my parents, traveling symbolically through the year (and more or less chronologically through their lifetime) from spring through winter. And to take it a step further, I would accompany the slideshow with some of my mom’s favorite music. In a final burst of inspiration, I decided it would be even more meaningful if I included music recorded by someone who is very special to her. I contacted her guitar teacher, Larry, and his wife, Nancy – who became dear friends of my parents in recent years before moving to Colorado – and asked them to record some music for it. They graciously got on board with the project, and our dear, mutual friend, Sam, edited the final tracks and got them to me so I could finish the project just in time for Mother’s Day.

In the meantime, I had paired the slideshow with prerecorded songs in case I needed to rush the project (if my mom’s condition were to decline). I was amazed at how perfectly the songs by “Iz” and John Denver fit the pictures I’d already imported and arranged in iMovie, and ended up keeping those songs and saving Nancy and Larry’s contribution for the final song. I put their other songs on a CD for my mom to listen to, for she loves to listen to Nancy’s voice, and all three songs they recorded will be part of the soundtrack for my mom’s services and celebrations.

While creating the video, it struck me how one photo represented a whole era that was our life at the time and felt as if it was the way things always would be. But in both hindsight and the larger scheme, it was so fleeting – just a three-second blip in the video. Life goes so fast and changes right under our feet without us even noticing – so enjoy it while it’s happening because these are the moments and memories that make up a lifetime!

My parents must have several thousand family photos, and my siblings and I have our own collections, as well. The pictures I went through with my parents don’t even scratch the surface of the lifetime we have experienced together, but I had to stop going through photos at some point and actually create this video! Some of the scans are better than others.

With that being said, I’m pleased to share the finished product – which I watched with my parents this afternoon after the hospice nurse left. I guess it’s my way of helping my parents to review their life and see how truly good a life it has been. On the DVD (which I created in iDVD), I also included two videos I made with my mom earlier this year and described in my blog post, “A Very Special Recording.” I hope you will enjoy journeying through the seasons with my family.

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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.

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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Email subscribers: Click HERE to view video.

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.

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