Category: Death, Dying, & Birth

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.

Transcending the Roles of a Lifetime

Transcending the Roles of a Lifetime

Oh, technology, you have failed me! Last night I spent more than two hours pouring my heart and soul into perhaps the most raw, honest, meaningful, therapeutic blog post I have ever composed – complete with tears and deep revelations. I was totally in the flow. After I had finished writing and attempted to add some pictures, Blogger froze, and I lost everything. It was the stillborn blog post, and there was nothing I could do to bring it back. More tears followed, for I knew I could never rewrite that post; it was way too powerful. It was so powerful that – once the tears stopped flowing and I regained my composure – I felt tremendous healing had taken place during the two-plus hours during which I labored with it. Apparently it was only meant for me in its original form. Although I had lost the writing, I had gained the experience and wisdom. And then I set to work on rewriting it in its new form. I hope some of the original energy will be transmitted through these words.

Since my mother’s diagnosis of advanced Stage IV pancreatic cancer about six weeks ago, I have been reflecting on the mother-daughter connection, which is one of the most complicated and conflicted of all human relationships. I have considered the pervasiveness of mother-blaming in our society and the effects it has on mothers and daughters. It seems mothers are expected to embody the impossible archetype of Mother and are not easily forgiven for being human and fallible. Mothers are blamed for making mistakes despite our best efforts and loving hearts. We are blamed for our children’s troubles and unhappiness. Our words, glances, actions, and inaction can carry such weight and be easily misinterpreted and blown out of proportion, thus giving unintended messages a life of their own that leaves our children feeling fundamentally flawed.

But where there is pain, there is opportunity to heal, even if it takes decades.

My wedding day

Pancreatic cancer is a thief stealing my mother from me too soon. I feel very sad about the prospect of losing her, although when she is ready to let go, I will be a midwife for her and release her into the Light with my deepest blessing. Along with my husband, she is my best friend, the person I pick up the phone to call and share my news and feelings. But it wasn’t always like that. Although I can only speak from my own experience, it seems daughters tend to develop by differentiating ourselves from our mothers – defining ourselves against, or apart from our magnified perception of our mother’s shortcomings and flaws. In other words: “My mother is this; therefore I am not this.” We exile all these unacceptable parts we associate with our mothers to what Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung called the shadow. They become baggage that we drag around perhaps for the bulk of a lifetime until (if we are fortunate) we awaken and reconcile the exiled parts, making room for them in our psyche and welcoming them with open arms, no longer threatened by or having an aversion to them.

The healing began for me when I became a mother and realized that theory and practice are two entirely different matters. Although theory can inform our practice, a little practice tends to upset a lot of theory and squelch feelings of superiority.

Four generations of eldest daughters

I have sat in therapists’ offices with my own daughter and been the target of mother blaming. It was painful, surreal, and frustrating as hell. I left one therapist’s office wounded to the core and sobbed the whole way home in response to the therapist’s abrasive, misinformed treatment of me. I was coached to listen to my daughter’s painful feelings and presumed to be the cause of them (or so it seemed). But it was a one-way street. And this is ultimately abusive to mothers and daughters alike, turning mothers into monsters (like the witches and evil stepmothers in fairy tales) and daughters into victims (damsels in distress waiting to be rescued). I believe in the importance of hearing and acknowledging children’s feelings, and a listening presence characterized by deep empathy is as natural to me as breathing and has formed the foundation for my parenting and teaching. However, there is another piece that is equally important: A child needs to know that s/he is loved, despite any pain attributed to the mother’s fallibility or resulting from the collision of the child’s will with the mother’s boundaries. The mother is human. She will not always please her children. She will make mistakes. She is not the fairy godmother with the magic wand who grants their every wish. Forgive her, for you will make mistakes, as well, when it is your turn to raise children. You will not always be your children’s best friend and make them happy. Forgive her so you may forgive your future self and allow yourself to establish healthy limits with your children without feeling guilty for doing so. Above all, you are and always have been loved.

My mother as a child

I feel it is so important for children to know this. Your mother is human and doing the best she can. You are loved. As a teacher, I am constantly giving my students this message. When they complain about something their mother has done that has upset them, I listen to and reflect their feelings and then remind them that she did it because she loves them and is trying to keep them safe – which is almost always the case. I feel it is very important for children to hear this, especially if the father is unable to support, or actively sabotages, the integrity of the mother-child relationship for whatever reason.

Back to my mother’s illness…

When people ask me how I’m handling my mom’s illness, I often reply by wondering out loud why it took so long to awaken to her beauty. At times, I regret all the wasted years when I could have enjoyed and appreciated her and reciprocated her love so much more than I did. But time is ultimately irrelevant. Awakening is the only thing that matters. Whether we do it years, months, days, or moments before death separates us from our mother, in the end the only thing that matters is that we did awaken. To awaken while our mother is still physically present is such a blessing – although I believe it’s never too late.

So when the tears come – usually late at night when everyone else is asleep – they are a mixture of sorrow on the physical level and spiritual joy, for I am so grateful to have awakened. Perhaps the lyrics to my mother’s favorite hymn say it best:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

It feels as if I have transcended the roles that have circumscribed my relationship with my mother all these years and have stepped across the threshold and entered her world with new eyes, able to appreciate the scenery I find there. I truly enjoy her company and presence, watching her favorite television shows with her, getting to know her friends, talking openly about important matters, laughing, listening to her play guitar, and running errands for her.

Now that my blinders have been removed by her illness, I finally can see how amazing and beautiful my mom is. I am in awe of her and love her more each day. Her essence shines through so strongly, like a bright sun that makes the details that differentiate us seem so trivial, small, and faded. I wish I could keep her around for many years to come. But perhaps a brush with death and the realization of our mother’s mortality is what needs to happen in order for us to awaken, heal, and love more fully. Perhaps it is an initiation that awakens us to the truth of who our mother is as a human and spiritual being beyond the limiting roles we take on during our lifetime together.

My mom and me

I don’t know how much time my mother and I have left together, only that our time will come to an end, for death is inevitable for each of us. It is perched on my shoulder and reminds me that every moment is precious. This time is an incredible gift, despite all the pain, and I must take full advantage of it because I cannot get it back to do over. Something like this reorders one’s priorities. The advice I get from others who have traveled this path (as each of us will in time) is to spend as much time as I can with my mom now and not let other stuff get in the way. Make the time, and take the time. Be prepared by having my day-to-day affairs in order as much as possible so I can drop everything and be with her when I need to. And also remember to take care of myself.

This post is quite different from what I wrote last night. I am not attempting to interpret or invent psychological theory but to communicate how I am reconciling my own experience with my mother’s mortality in hopes that sharing may benefit others. I apologize for any overgeneralizations I might have made about the mother-daughter dynamic (as I’m sure there are other paths up this mountain) and also don’t mean to exclude males.

Grief has opened the floodgates of my heart, tears and poetry flowing. In closing, I offer a spiritual poem that wrote itself through me one night (and which is the only way I can account for the word fealty, which I have never used in my life but insisted on being written and not edited out):

MOTHER

The god and goddess
Become mortal
Hearts of glass shattering
Spilling a lifetime’s worth of tears.

When it comes to a close
We bow deeply
And thank one another
For playing these roles
With such fealty.

It happens to each in turn:
Girl becomes mother
Set up to be knocked down
No matter
Never meaning any harm
Nor deserving such blame.

She removes the mask,
Hands it down
And all is beauty and love.
Really, that is all there ever was
When you see through
The impossible mantle
Of Mother.

© 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.

Opportunities for Practice

Opportunities for Practice

This morning, my husband woke me with the following words: “I know you want to get some sleep, but you might want to look out the window. It’s one of those mornings.” And it certainly was. Within minutes, I was walking through a frosted world waiting for the sun to burst through the clouds and play with the ice crystals that formed from last night’s fog.

It took an hour and a half before the rising sun intersected with a patch of blue sky, but I was determined to be there and ready when it happened. I had plenty of time to walk around and consider the scenery and angles I wanted to photograph.

It was a cold morning, and at times I wished the clouds would hurry up and move out of the way. But then I’d take a deep breath and remind myself that this is a perfect opportunity to practice. To meditate.

After decades of practicing on and off, I have come to understand meditation quite simply as the act of bringing awareness back from the thinking mind to the spaciousness of the present moment. You catch yourself again and again, bring your mind back, and work on strengthening that response so it becomes more instinctive and immediate. Meditative awareness offers freedom from the tyranny of thought.

I couldn’t do anything to speed up the clouds, so I had some choices, as we all do:

  • Give up and go home
  • Be agitated and discontented with the present moment while waiting for it to change
  • Embrace the moment, and love what’s already here.

 

 

You can complain about life not meeting your expectations, about all the misery in the world, about the present moment not being as you want it to be. Or you can find something to love, here and now. You can have a peaceful, joyful heart despite it all.

I have had a lot of opportunity for practice lately. When the house is still at night or I’m alone without any distractions, my parents’ suffering often arises in my mind. I think about how very unfair it is that such good, kind people can receive such cruel blows from life. Pancreatic cancer sucks. My mom is worn out and in pain much of the time. She hasn’t been able to do the things she loves. I realize the importance of acknowledging, allowing, and releasing grief, and I know from experience that grief is hard, physical work.

But this will not stop me from searching for beauty. From spending more than two hours outdoors on a frosty morning waiting for the moment when the light finally shines through and transforms the world into a luminous wonderland. Kahlil Gibran’s words from The Prophet resonate: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” In fact, the sorrow only fuels my desire to find and share joy and beauty.

Grief is energy that feels like a wave crashing through me. But I’m realizing that grief is not the same thing as sorrow. Grief is physical. Tears flow. Like shells and stones that wash up as waves crash against the shore, grief often gives rise to sadness and sorrow – which can be perpetuated by the egoic, thinking mind. Once the wave of grief energy passes, I can choose whether to focus on thoughts of deprivation or gratitude. I can feel sadness for my mom’s suffering and for everything her cancer is stealing from us. I can continue to think sad thoughts for as long as I want. But those thoughts will not change her situation. They will only keep me awake at night and leave me feeling tired the next day – and less present and able to do the things that will make a difference. So instead of feeding the sorrow, I’ve found that once the grief wave passes through, I can breathe into my heart center and transform grief into gratitude. Gratitude for having such loving parents who have helped me to become who I am today. Gratitude for having awakened to how amazing and beautiful my parents are while there is still time to repay their love and kindness and enjoy their company.

It’s all the same: Impatience for the sun to shine, grieving my mother’s illness, etc., etc., etc. It’s all an opportunity to practice returning to the spaciousness of the present moment and discovering the gifts waiting to be noticed and received.

While waiting for the sun to shine this morning, I found so much beauty when I decided to take a look around and expand my awareness beyond waiting and focusing on what was missing from the moment. The same can also be done when a loved one has a serious illness. Every moment is an opportunity to live and love more fully. Every moment offers a gift.

© 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.

A Very Special Recording

A Very Special Recording

I just came across the most awesome idea and simply must share!

Since learning of my mom’s cancer diagnosis right before Christmas, I have been very busy with “mom” projects. One involved scanning lots of pictures from old photo albums, including one that belonged to my grandmother that contained lots of photos of my mom as a baby, a child, and a young woman prior to meeting my dad. Scanning proved to be a fairly time-consuming process, and I had a deadline I was trying to meet (the end of the holiday break), so I sped up the process by taking photographs of pictures, using a tripod. So far, I have digital images of nearly 200 old photos of my mom organized in an iPhoto album.

I was talking with a friend in the midst of scanning and photographing images, and he mentioned the idea of making a screen recording with my mom using QuickTime (a Mac application). A screen recording captures images that are shown on a computer screen while simultaneously recording live voices using the computer’s internal microphone. The end product is a movie file containing both images and sound. It is very simple to do, and the possibilities are endless!

For example, my friend described to me how he and his parents explored significant places via the website, Instant Google Street View at http://www.instantstreetview.com/ and recorded the screen images along with their live conversation about those places. The website allows you to navigate and view certain locations as if you’re taking a walk down the street. (My kindergarten students love to take a virtual walk around town on this website and see all the familiar places.) This technology makes it possible, for example, to record yourself exploring and talking about childhood neighborhoods, places you traveled to, etc. I love the idea.

The night before school resumed and my mom began chemo, I brought my laptop to my parents’ house, and we sat around it and made a screen recording of the photos of my mom in my iPhoto album and our voices discussing each picture. It was wonderful. I learned so much about my mom’s life and my parents’ life together as we looked at the photos onscreen. Some incredible stories came out of this 50-minute conversation, and everything is captured in a video that can be copied for family members. I am so grateful to my friend, Sam, for giving me this idea. 

 

  
As I mentioned above, it is very easy to do this on a Mac. Here’s how:

  1. Open the QuickTime Player application.
  2. Under the File menu, select “New Screen Recording.”
  3. Click on the down-pointed triangle to the right of the red dot, and select “Built-in Input: Internal Microphone.
  4. Click on the triangle again, and select “Medium” Quality, which results in a good quality recording and a smaller (yet still very large) file size.
  5. Click on the red dot to begin recording.
  6. Create your recording by talking about what you’re viewing on the screen. 
  7. When you are finished, click on “Stop Recording” at the very top of the screen.

That’s all there is to it. Movie files I create in this way are, by default, saved to my “Movies” folder.
To playback the movie, open the file, and click on the sideways triangle “play” icon.

As I mentioned above, the file size will be large. The 50-minute recording I made with my parents was 2.03 gigabytes. However, you can reduce the file size enormously by using the free app, “MPEG Streamclip” (Mac or Windows version) at http://www.squared5.com/ and following these instructions:

  1. Open the app, and drag your movie file onto the workspace (five dots in a square icon). 
  2. Under the File menu, select “Export to MPEG4.” 
  3. Set compression at H.264
  4. Try 20% quality (which can be boosted if need be).
  5. For Sound, select MPEG-4 AAC.
  6. To the far right of Sound, select 128 kbps.
     
     

The above image shows the settings I used, and the resulting file was 140 MB. Then select “Make MP4.”

If you’d like to make a DVD, you can drag the original (larger) movie file into an app such as iMovie (and then finish in iDVD).

I am so grateful for the technology that makes it possible to create keepsake recordings like this so easily. When I tried it with my parents, it was such a positive experience that I just wanted to tell everyone about it! It’s something you can do by yourself, too, if the people around you aren’t tech savvy and you’d like to make recordings about your own life.

Within the next couple weeks, I’d like to make the same kind of recordings with my dad, with photos from his life and of his ancestors, and maybe take a virtual tour of his hometown or even of the town in England where we visited relatives. He’s always enjoyed taking us on car rides through his old stomping grounds, and this is a great way to have a more permanent record of the places, people, and stories that are woven together into the fabric of his life. I’d also like to make a screen recording of my parents’ favorite places in Hawaii. I can’t wait!

© 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.

Christmas Spirit

Christmas Spirit

This Christmas was very different from Christmases past. My husband was 2,100 miles away for ten days, and there were three weather events during that time. His flights got all messed up on his way home due to weather, and he ended up spending a sleepless night in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. His flight took off without a hitch in the morning but then was unable to land due to weather and got rerouted to Connecticut. He had to take a bus back to Albany. He finally arrived home in the early evening and by morning had come down with the flu, which had him bedridden and moaning in agony for three days straight, including Christmas.

Amidst all that, my report cards were due before leaving for the holiday break. And my mom was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer, which makes all the other grumps and groans seem so trivial.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the time or energy to get into the Christmas spirit. There was too much going on. We didn’t send out Christmas cards or put up a tree or even any lights. We didn’t take a single Christmas decoration out of the box. I had intended to run errands and do a little shopping to finish the gifts I was making but never got around to it. Instead, I spent the few days before Christmas in quiet retreat at home. Although I didn’t have much Christmas spirit, I abided deep in spirit.

While wrapping presents on Christmas Eve afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that there was something I’d been meaning to do for a very long time. Despite feeling very far behind in getting ready for Christmas with family the next day, I knew that going to a Christmas Eve church service with my parents took precedence over all else. I used to enjoy the Christmas Eve service when I was a child and had been wanting to go with my parents for many years but never did for whatever reason.

The other stuff clamoring to be done was ultimately not all that important. Nothing having to do with stuff is ultimately important, especially if it gets in the way of spending precious time with loved ones…now…because we can.

So I went to church, and my sister came along, too. It had been about 30 years since either of us had been to church with our parents, and they were surprised, to say the least. During that service, I received the most wonderful gift of Christmas. At the end when we were all holding our lit candles and singing “Silent Night,” my parents whispered something to each other then looked at my sister and me and smiled the most beautiful smiles. It was a moment of savoring that we are all here together in this perfect moment. It was beautiful. 

My parents commented afterward that it was just like old times when we were kids except that they didn’t have to force us to go to church. I stayed up much later than I’d intended talking with them and am so glad I did. 

Christmas was quite an emotional day for my family, although my mom’s spirit is strong, and we probably had the most meaningful Christmas together ever. I recorded video of her playing “Winter Wonderland” on piano. That is the one song she has memorized all these years – for as long as I can remember. She apologized for being a little rusty but explained it was because she really hadn’t played piano at all since she took up guitar a couple years ago. Needless to say, making video recordings of her playing guitar is high up on my to-do list. 

A posed shot of my parents followed immediately by a candid


At one point, my dad said, “Be grateful for every day because it might be your last.” Isn’t it the truth? The only moment we are guaranteed is this moment. Of all of us, he is most acutely aware of this after suffering cardiac arrest back in February. That he survived is a gift. I remember that evening as we drove to the hospital not knowing if we would arrive to find him dead or alive. That I could talk briefly with him before he was transported to another hospital was a gift. I was grateful to at least have that. But we were given so much more. Time together is the greatest gift of all, especially when you realize how precious and limited it is. 


Health crises like this put everything else into perspective and reorder one’s priorities. You realize immediately what is important and what is not – and where your attention needs to be. I am grateful for all of the teachers and experiences that have prepared me to face my mom’s illness and the family dynamics related to it with greater consciousness, love, and selflessness than I might have otherwise. Furthermore – and although it may sound absurd to speak of blessings with regard to a cancer diagnosis – one thing for which I am grateful is the gift of time for love and healing. How often do we bump along the road of life thinking we have all the time in the world – and can put things off until later? And then something awakens us and gives us the opportunity to let go of everything that gets in the way of living and loving to the fullest right now. I think of September 11th, 2001 and wonder how many people had an epiphany right before jumping to their death. That we can awaken with any time at all to set things right is a tremendous spiritual blessing. Let’s be grateful for each day and live as fully as possible one day at a time, focusing like a laser on what is most important: Love.



Healing prayers for my mom and our family are most appreciated.

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