Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is off to a bright and hopeful start for you.
It’s been a month since I’ve written a blog post because immediately after publishing the last one, we accepted an offer on my parents’ house, and the world started spinning faster than ever! We accepted the offer on December 7, which included agreeing to close by December 30.
Well, on December 7, everything my parents owned was still in their house. To say the house has generous storage space is an understatement, and their belongings filled up all that space. We had on our hands the accumulated possessions of a lifetime – and not only their lifetime, but my grandparents’ lifetimes, as well. There were boxes upon boxes of my grandparents’ things that appeared not to have been touched since the day they were brought into the house. It became obvious that my parents saved everything. And that made for a ginormous job for us, during the holiday season, no less.
There was only one weekend available before the projected closing date to have an estate sale: the weekend of December 17. I had met with a woman who organizes and runs professional estate sales, and she told me to get back in touch with her when we have a buyer. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about staging the house for showings anymore and could organize for a sale. However, given how soon the closing would be and the time of year, that option was out. So I researched how to run your own estate sale, took copious notes, and researched values of things, while working around the clock hauling items and boxes out of the far reaches of my parents’ storage spaces to see what we were dealing with. I had no time to price things, so almost everything was “make an offer.” And in the midst of that inhuman workload, I came down with my first cold in at least four years, and it was a bad one. I was sick for 12 days straight, including the weekend of the sale, when I could barely talk above a whisper! AND there was a snowstorm that weekend, which made driving perilous. And of course, it was the last weekend before Christmas, as well, so people had lots of other things to do besides help with or attend an estate sale. However, a few angels showed up and helped me organize for the sale and were on hand during the sale for moral support. I couldn’t have done it without them – or even come close!
Needless to say, the outcome of the estate sale was disappointing. If we had more time to work with, or if it were a different time of year, it would have been a completely different story. At the end of the weekend, aside from getting rid of some furniture, it looked like we had as much stuff left as we had begun with. So then we started bagging and boxing donations. My sister rented a dumpster, and I rented a self-storage unit to literally buy some extra time to sort through things at a more leisurely and mindful pace.
Let me tell you: They were the craziest weeks of my life. I intend to write more about the whole experience because there is so much to say about it. But for now, I want to focus on the piano.
The Mehlin & Sons 1954 spinet piano was my mom’s first big purchase when she was working at her first job at General Electric after graduating from high school. She was passionate about music and taught herself to play. When I came along, she bought me a toy piano (pictured partially below) that I adored, and I became fascinated with “the big piano” and couldn’t wait until I could learn to play it.
I started taking lessons in third grade, and piano quickly became not only my passion but also my identity. My mom was delighted. She worked at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and arranged for me to interact with dozens of classical pianists and musicians through the years. When she thought my motivation to practice was waning, she asked Andre Watts to have a little talk with me. I met Liberace more than once and babysat for Emmanuel Ax’s son, which involved interacting with Mr. Ax both before he left for the performance and when he arrived back home.
In high school, I was piano accompanist for school choral groups and played piano (and marimba) in jazz band. I accompanied vocalists outside of school, played for weddings, and even competed on piano in the local (county level) Miss America pageant at age 19 and won the talent competition (which was the only reason I was in it). Piano was the first Great Love of my life.
It turned out I didn’t have the confidence or resilience to pursue a career in music or even major in music in college, and that is something I still regret. And stage fright was an issue, too – because I was playing for the wrong reasons. I was more focused on impressing people (including pleasing my mother) and doing it “right” than on expressing the music in me. I think I also was not playing the kind of music that resonated most with me – which I know now to be more meditative, flowing, and New Age. I remember how I dreaded being called on to solo in jazz band because improvisation felt too personal and vulnerable. It felt safer to play the notes on a printed page – someone else’s music.
I went to Ithaca College, a school known for its excellent music program, where I majored in psychology. When I took a piano performance class with music majors, I felt like I was out of my league and dropped the course. I’ve continued to play now and then through the years, but just for fun and relaxation and almost never in front of another human being – although there have been very occasional jam sessions that felt really good. However, when I’m playing (often with headphones so nobody can hear me), there’s no feeling quite like it. I feel totally in the flow and joyful. It feels as if, in those moments, I am doing the thing I came here to do (i.e. be my authentic self), especially when I have no music in front of me and play from my heart. So I guess you could say that I’m quietly picking up the broken pieces of my abandoned talent and putting them together in a more authentic “Zen and the Art of Piano” way. I have other Great Loves now – namely photography and writing – but piano remains my first, and first loves can be especially powerful and hold a special and enduring place in our heart.
So I married a man with a music degree, and after we got divorced, I married a professional musician who doesn’t read music and is all about improv.
My daughter took piano lessons (which my parents paid for) and played my mom’s piano, and my son taught himself and played it, as well. One of the most poignant memories during the last few weeks of my mom’s life was on Mother’s Day, when the house became quiet and heavy with the realization that she would be gone soon. My daughter broke the heaviness by going to the piano and playing “Hallelujah”, and my mom made her way to the living room with her brand new cane, to sit close and listen.
So that Mehlin & Sons spinet piano means a great deal to me. It was my first Great Love and possibly the deepest connection my mom and I shared. It filled her with such joy to hear me play it and to fall as deeply in love with it as she had. I wished I could keep it, but I couldn’t because I don’t have the space or any kind of storage area for it. So it became important to find the right home for it. And when the right person approached me and expressed interest in buying it for her son and granddaughter, I could not put a price tag on it. The personal value was too great to be measured, and it felt better to give it away to a good home.
Two days after Christmas was the Big Day when the piano movers were scheduled to take the piano to its new home. Although I hadn’t planned anything beforehand, I woke up early that morning knowing exactly what I needed to do before going to work. I jumped out of bed and into my car and drove to my parents’ house to play a final, private concert for my mom on our piano.
All that remained in the living room that morning was the piano, a lamp, and an easy chair – which was perfect for such an occasion. The piano needed to be tuned but always had such beautifully weighted action.(I will miss that familiar touch so much.) And I knew exactly what song to play: “Flying Free”, a choral arrangement with a simple, flowing piano accompaniment that I hadn’t played in many, many years. When I asked what I should play, that song came to me so clearly and instantly that I didn’t question it. It was neither challenging nor impressive – in fact, I considered it “easy” when I played it back in seventh grade – but it was a song that always felt soulful and uplifting to play and that I could play through inevitable tears. Even the lyrics (though I was too choked up to sing them) were perfect on so many levels.
After all, discovering and expressing my soul is what my relationship with piano has been about all along. It’s a path that wouldn’t work if it was based on comparing myself to others rather than being truly inspired. It needed to be authentic and include music and mentors who stirred something in me and led me to the threshold of my soul, where my own music resides. Improv, the thing that scared me most, is perhaps what I needed most to learn, to take me to another level where I could feel and express the music flowing through me more authentically. And that’s something I can still work on when I’m alone with my keyboard and headphones – although I yearn to ditch the headphones at some point and not give a damn what anyone will think or whether I’m “good enough” to be heard.
Playing this farewell concert was what I needed to do to honor my relationship with this piano and with my mom (who gave me the gift of music for which I am so grateful) the best way I knew. I cried a lot as I played, but it wasn’t because I was sad or depressed. It was because I was expressing what was alive and real in me, rather than pushing it down and denying it. When you are able to risk being emotionally open and vulnerable, you can go to some incredibly beautiful and transcendent places and flow with the music within you that longs to be set free.
It was like making love to a cherished lover for the last time.
As I played, I imagined for a fleeting moment that I was back in high school, practicing piano while my mom was in the kitchen making dinner after getting home from work. The house was filled once again with love, light, warmth, cozy furniture, framed art on the walls, and the comforting aroma of my mother’s cooking. Even though she didn’t particularly enjoy cooking, my mom was happy listening to my pre-dinner music.
But mostly I allowed the music to flow through me like a prayer. A somewhat out of tune prayer, which was actually a lovely testimony to the instrument being played and loved through the years.
When I closed the cover over the keys for the last time before leaving for work, it was like closing the lid to a coffin and saying a final farewell to a dearly beloved person. I caressed it, patted it, gave it a kiss, thanked it, thanked my mom. Two hours later when I was at work, my sister texted: “Piano is gone.” I blinked back the tears that would flow like a waterfall after I got out of work and was alone.
At least I know who my beloved instrument has gone to and feel that it has found its way to its next rightful home. I hope that if the new owner ever decides he no longer wants it, he will contact me, and maybe I will be in a position then to take the piano back. But if not, at least I got to say goodbye to it for real and play a last concert for my mom. A friend suggested that perhaps my dad was there, too, and they were dancing in the room as I played. I love that idea. I hope they danced.
A few days later, on New Year’s weekend, the new owner sent me an email expressing his gratitude for the piano. It included a picture of him and his young daughter sitting “at the helm of our new treasure” with their hands touching the keys. The little girl was beaming. It was the perfect closure for me and the perfect ending to a very difficult year. That piano was the most cherished of all my mom’s possessions, and she would be so pleased to know that a young girl will be able to enjoy it now and learn to play on it, just like I did. And so am I.
P.S. Since I very rarely let anyone hear me play, it was terrifying for me to share online the humble, imperfect recording of me playing my mother’s piano for the last time!! However, a voice from deep within insisted that I must. So I did. And it felt like recovering a very significant part of myself that had been banished for a very long time. It felt like healing!
I remember the first time I was overcome by a wave of grief after my mom died. It was when I walked by a children’s clothing store in Bennington, VT that I thought she would find delightful. And then it hit me that I couldn’t tell her about it. And I cried, right there on the sidewalk.
It happened for the first time with my dad recently when I was at work. A friendly, elderly man came into the library limping a bit. He said hello, smiled at me, and reminded me of my dad. Fortunately, I only had five minutes left at work and was able to keep it together that long. But as soon as I got inside my car, I lost it.
I can align myself with a more expanded, “spiritual” awareness much of the time, but it can be so sad on a personal level, and some moments and events catch me off-guard. That night, I fell asleep with a question in my heart: How do you handle such grief?
The answer I received: Hold it differently.
Hold it differently. But don’t try to bypass it. Feel its weight, its shape. Examine it from different angles. Get to know it. Don’t be afraid, for it comes bearing gifts.
I’m not psyched to go through this all over again, so soon. I’ve grown weary of goodbyes. But that’s life. People come and go. It’s something we all go through.
I’d rather feel grief deeply and fully and have the scars to show for it than not experience the love and caring that precedes it. I’ve come to realize that mourning life’s inevitable losses is a wondrous opportunity to grow in compassion, empathy, love, and wisdom. It is an invitation to wake up. A dark blessing that expands and connects us. If we accept the invitation, ultimately we learn that we are so much larger than our grief.
I’m also re-learning that grief is hard work. Physical work. The waves that come along and knock you to the ground are physical, not just emotional. You have to find your balance and strength to stand up again as the waves continue to exert their force on you, leaving you disoriented. You have to find your footing because the alternative is to be pulled out to sea without anything to keep you afloat.
It’s interesting to have powerful experiences that feel like communication with the other side of the veil and still be knocked off-balance from missing the physical presence of a loved one who has crossed over. It’s not a question of having enough faith, for the purpose of faith is not to bypass challenging emotions such as grief. Rather, faith is like a life vest that helps us to stay afloat when we are knocked off-balance by a big wave. It assures us that we are bigger than whatever loss we are grieving and that we can handle it. It won’t kill us. It can lead us to discover and develop inner resources.
That is so hopeful and exciting!
We can hold our grief differently, and that doesn’t mean pushing it away or internalizing admonishments to “get over it” and move on, for grief follows no timetable. It means having a different perspective regarding the purpose that grief and loss serve in our life – and that they even have a positive purpose to begin with.
I see all my recent losses as a tremendous invitation to expand and grow my soul and hopefully inspire others to do the same. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had, including and especially difficult and challenging ones because they allow me to do my work in this world better than I could do it without them. They have been my impetus for awakening. This is perhaps the biggest “aha” insight I’ve had thus far in my life. It is revelatory!
As I actively experience grief, it is my intention to explore it with all my senses rather than flee from it. To be curious about it. I want to learn all I can from it, for the better I come to understand my own suffering, the better I can connect with the suffering of others. I invite it to teach me and grow me, to link me with others, and transform me into something more magnificent than I was before.
We live our lives on multiple levels, which is why we can hold a loss in our heart and feel it deeply while simultaneously trusting in Divine Timing and sensing that in a much, much broader context, all is well, all is evolving, and we are part of it. For example, it is possible to feel that it was my dad’s time in a spiritual sense while also feeling sad about losing him and upset about the circumstances.
Inside bereavement there are a number of rooms – different spaces we can settle into. There is the room in which you miss your loved one’s personality and physical presence acutely. There is a room in which you sense everything is unfolding according to Divine Order, and there are no accidents. There are other rooms, as well. You can sit in one of the rooms and then discover there is a movable wall separating two rooms, and you open it and find yourself sitting in a more spacious awareness in which you can be in both rooms at the same time because there really is no separation between the two.
Imagine the room of Acute Grief being dark and cold and not having its own heat source, whereas the Serenity-Faith room has a cozy fireplace and windows that allow in plenty of light. When you open up the wall between the two, the heat from the Serenity-Faith room warms up the Acute Grief room. In this space, I realize it wasn’t just my dad’s time. It was my time, too. My time to become more and grow exponentially while my feet are still walking on this earth.
You can stand in the middle of the two rooms and be in both environments at the same time and feel your heart simultaneously breaking and expanding. You can perceive your sorrow from a much greater perspective while also acknowledging the pain. And this allows you to sit a little longer in the grief room and to be mindful of what’s in there so you can learn more about it and transform it with presence into wisdom, compassion, and other spiritual blessings. That’s something you can’t do when the wall that separates the two rooms is in place, making the grief room too unpleasant to stay in for more than a brief moment and motivating you to seek shelter and distraction elsewhere.
I am certain this situation did not present itself in my life to weaken or diminish me, but so I can learn from it. So I can expand, awaken, and love better. Challenging times invite us to cultivate inner resources. We can’t let our sadness, upset, etc. get out of control and drown our light. We are called to channel our painful emotions and become greater versions of ourselves. To discover what we are capable of.
There have been some mighty strange goings-on in my world since my dad died three weeks ago. This post is just in time for Halloween, although the timing was not at all intentional. I’m sharing my experiences in as straightforward a manner as possible so you can draw your own conclusions. Be sure to read all the way to the end!
1. Technical Difficulties
There have been a plethora of problems with electronics. (And no, Mercury hasn’t been retrograde.) Three different keys to two different cars haven’t worked at certain times, and I’ve had unprecedented phone connection issues. While creating the photo slideshow for my dad’s funeral services, I experienced a series of at least 20 bizarre technical glitches that I’d never encountered before. And last week, this very blog sent out a post from several months ago to email subscribers without any action on my part. I didn’t even know it was possible to resend an old post and was surprised to see it in my inbox!
2. Lights Out
My daughter and son were in town for my dad’s funeral two weeks ago, and after the service, we met at my house before they went their separate ways, back to Georgia and the NYC area. As they were leaving, I turned on the light on the side of the house so they could see better as they drove away. I went to bed just before 10:00 and fell asleep instantly. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I glanced at my phone to see what time it was and noticed a text my husband sent at 10:22 PM asking me to turn out that light. He was sleeping in the RV, and the light was bothering him. So I went downstairs to turn off the light but saw that it was already off. I assumed he had come inside and turned it off himself. The next morning, I asked him about it and explained that I didn’t receive his text until the middle of the night. He was really surprised because no sooner had he sent that text, and the light went out. It went out so immediately that he found it odd because he wasn’t even sure he’d had time to hit “send”. I also found it odd but didn’t want to jump to conclusions and suspected the lightbulb might have blown out at an uncanny time. So I went over to the light switch and was surprised to find it in the “off” position. As soon as I flipped the switch, the light went on – so it hadn’t burned out after all. It just happened to turn off at the exact moment when Jack requested that I turn it off.
3. Swirling Mist
My dad passed away in the morning. That evening when I was at my parents’ house with one other person, we saw a swirl of mist traveling around the kitchen, followed by a significant drop in temperature in the room we were sitting in. At the funeral service at the church a week later, something caught my eye as I greeted the continuous line of people coming to pay their respects. Again, I saw a white mist moving around high above us. It was an overcast/rainy afternoon, and it wasn’t caused by sunlight coming through the windows.
4. Clock Works
Last night’s experience took the cake. After spending the whole day at my parents’ house with my sister, I was alone there in the evening finishing up some work on my laptop at the dining room table. The chair I was sitting in had become uncomfortable, so I moved to the couch in the living room. When I sat down on the couch, I looked at my dad’s empty chair – the chair he always sat in – and said out loud sadly, “There’s no more dad here to talk to.”
Just then, the grandfather clock – which hadn’t worked in years – made a soft, chiming sound from across the room. It was not on the hour (6:05 – not the correct time), and I hadn’t heard that clock all day or for a really long time – months or even years, for that matter. The chime sent chills down my spine. Alarmed, I texted two close relatives, and right after sending my text, the clock chimed again. Then I noticed my cell phone battery was getting low, so I got up to retrieve my phone charger. When I walked through the kitchen, I heard a fast, ticking sound that I hadn’t heard before then. It sounded like it was coming from the direction of the cuckoo clock in the family room. When I went closer, I realized the cuckoo clock – which hadn’t worked in decades – was ticking! Again, this was a clock that had been dormant for a long time, and it just started ticking all of a sudden. At this point, I was quite spooked! Not just one, but two clocks had come alive simultaneously!
Even though I was startled and shaking, I sat back down on the couch to see if I could become still enough to pick up on any messages that might be trying to come through. I said, “OK, you have my attention!” and became still and silent, imagining white light surrounding me and filling the room. Then I heard my dad’s voice inside my head. He sounded happy and spoke in the voice he used when he was relaying a funny story or a story of something peculiar that had happened to him (like when my mom’s grandfather came to him in a dream shortly after he died, and when my mom came to him in a dream some time after she died). He said he was with my mom…AND THEN THE CUCKOO CLOCK CUCKOOED FROM THE FAMILY ROOM!!!!
It seemed he wanted me to pass along a message to my sister, who was at his bedside constantly for the last 14 or so hours of his life and was quite shaken by the whole experience. I said out loud to confirm, “So you want me to tell her…” And then the cuckoo clock cuckooed again!
At that point, my shaking hands texted another relative to ask if she’d experienced anything at the house, and she texted me back, saying she had experienced something with the cuckoo clock and her cell phone playing a tune (ringtone) she’d never heard it play before when she sat in my dad’s chair, which really freaked her out.
So it wasn’t just me.
Even though I still felt alarmed, I had to laugh because it was comforting to feel that my parents were there with me and to think of how entertaining or gratifying it must be to make the clocks go off. It seemed to me that making the clocks sound was like making the telephone ring and wondering if somebody would pick up and answer at the other end. And I did.
I continued to have a conversation with my dad in which I told him that I’ll do my best to listen if he tries to get in touch with me and that dreams are usually a good way to communicate if he knows how to do that. Then I told him that I’m going to get going now…and the cuckoo clock cuckooed again!
When I stood up to leave, the (landline) phone rang, and I was afraid to answer it! But I did. Nobody was on the line when I answered. No clicks or anything. Just silence. I said hello at least three times before hanging up. I had been at the house for more than eight hours, and the phone hadn’t rung a single time until that moment when I got up to leave.
After leaving the house, I called my daughter to share the experience with her, and she reminded me that the only other time she’d heard the cuckoo clock sound was right after my mom passed away. I’d forgotten about that. But at the time, it seemed like a big deal.
So, how do you explain THAT? I’m not committed to the notion that hearing my dad’s voice inside my head was actual after-death communication, although that might be the significance I ultimately attribute to it. It could be me working things out inside my own head. Conversations with my higher self. Wishful thinking. Or…who knows what? The way I see it, if you can arrive at some kind of resolution, answer, or insight that truly feels right in your heart and leaves you feeling at peace, it doesn’t matter where it came from. It is part of your healing and growth. I can’t claim to fully understand what I experienced. I certainly know what it felt like and am open to other explanations and possibilities. But in the end, the meaning I make of it is my own, and all I know for sure is that it’s part of my experience and that it left me with a sense of hope, comfort, and peace once I got over the initial shock.
5. Dream Time
On the morning of that same day, I had an intriguing dream in which I was standing on a bridge and was drawn to stunning orange foliage on trees across the river. Then I noticed the trees moving together in a strange way: First the branches stretched out to the sides and then moved upwards so the foliage was a little higher up from the ground. The trees went through the same movements a couple more times, and each time the leaves traveled higher up toward the sky.
When I woke up from that dream, I felt a little peculiar. I recalled three other dreams I’d had of nature acting in a bizarre way that captured my attention and felt that something was attempting to get through to me. I sensed it might have had something to do with my dad. It wasn’t until I told my sister about the dream later in the day that I realized I was standing on a bridge in the dream. The dreams I’ve had of contact with deceased loved ones always have some kind of boundary like that.
So when I had the experience with the clocks later that day, the dream felt even more significant. I told a couple of friends about my experience and explained, “Well, it’s the time of year when the veil is thin” and recalled writing an article with that title last year at this time. This morning, I pulled up that post and was astounded to read about a similar dream that also began when I noticed beautiful autumn trees.
To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking of sharing these experiences until I read that post from last year and remembered that sharing my experiences is something I need to keep finding the courage to do without worrying about being judged because that kind of sharing is my path. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions and theories, and I’m just sharing my experiences without any embellishments or exaggerations, in case it’s helpful to anyone. I’ll let you decide what to make of them.