Tag: Grief

Nine Years Later

Nine Years Later

I’m sitting down to write post-sunset as the clear sky begins to darken. The surface of the river is like glass and perfectly reflects the leafy trees and sky. The birds are singing their goodnight songs. Other than that, and some traffic passing by (less than usual, though), the world is quiet – feels hushed, sacred.

Nine years ago tonight, in the wee morning hours, my mom passed away. I never forget to acknowledge and remember the night of May 26-27.

Earlier this evening, I walked at the park down the road and noticed the first of the purple irises are in bloom, just as they were nine years ago this evening. But back then, I wasn’t aware it was iris time because I was camped out at the hospice house. No time for nature walks, for every moment was poignant, full of mystery, not to be missed. We gathered in.

At the park, I stopped to smile at and lightly touch the soft petals of one of the irises, recalling how they were the first flowers that greeted me at the park – the first place I felt compelled to go – after leaving the hospice house in the morning, several hours after my mom died.

A colorful sunrise, purple irises, and a butterfly were there to uplift my spirits that first morning without my mom – evidence that there was still so much beauty and predictability in the natural world even when our human lives felt turned upside-down and suddenly unfamiliar. In my mindfulness meditation classes, I describe it as taking refuge in something larger than the circumstances of our lives.

The labyrinth at the park was my refuge that day.

Nine years later, the evening of May 26 remains a tender time of reflection. Tonight, I’m thinking of all that has transpired since that evening, including having a seven-year-old granddaughter and awaiting the arrival of a grandson. Sometimes in dreams, I try to catch my mom up on what happened since she left. Usually when I dream of her – in those dreams that seem uber real – I learn that she hadn’t died after all. All that time, I thought she had, but no – it wasn’t true! She’s back – and it’s the most wonderful feeling. Because I’ve learned to appreciate her.

* * * * * * * * *

Yesterday, my husband and I were about to drive past the street my parents lived on for 37 years, when I had an impulse to turn into the development. In the six years since we sold the house, I’d never seen anyone outside during the occasional drive-by. However, this time a man was sitting on the front porch and flashed us a peace sign as we drove slowly by. My husband urged me to stop so we could introduce ourselves. It seemed like a good idea, so I did.

We ended up talking with him for quite a while, sharing stories of the house and the neighborhood and how both had changed in the past several years. It felt good to make the connection and know who was living in my family’s old house and a little about their story.

* * * * * * * * *

Earlier this week, another significant thing happened. My very pregnant daughter and I went into my storage unit to retrieve something and noticed two plastic bins of clothing. Curious, we opened them and discovered all of the dresses my mom had made for my daughter when she was in early elementary school.

I decided to wash them and see if they would fit my granddaughter.

Inspecting them prior to putting them in the washer, I was drawn to the tags hand-stitched into some of the dresses that read, “Specially Hand Made by Grandma”. The sight of the tags brought tears to my eyes. But it was a very different wave of tears than when grief was fresh. Deeply touched by my mom’s kindness and generosity, I simply marveled at how she loved us.

Nine years later, that’s what remains.

* * * * * * * * *

When she was alive and we were enmeshed in our mother-daughter roles, and it seemed like we’d all be around forever, I couldn’t see how much love there was, and how much larger the love was than the roles and all of their implicit rules and unspoken needs. I was more focused on our differences and trying to get my mother to understand me and approve of the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my life. I often felt frustrated because I couldn’t change her – the way she saw the world – and she probably felt much the same. Not because she believed I wasn’t good enough, but because she wanted me to have a good life.

This is something that has become crystal clear to me in the past nine years. 

Every year it (grief?) sneaks up on me at some point during late May. But as the years go by, it feels very different – in a good way.

I feel drawn to write this for the moms and grandmas who wonder if they’ll ever be appreciated. Sometimes it happens after we’re gone. The human condition is messy, and it’s often hard to see the fuller truths of each other when we’re immersed in life, roles, and relationships. We perceive each other through the warped lenses of our egos and roles (and sometimes others’) and turn partial truths into broad assumptions, stories, and caricatures. We have relationships with our ideas of who someone is instead of with the actual person. We do the best we can. It’s the way it is.

But it doesn’t have to be the way it remains, and sometimes it’s death that opens our eyes to the wider picture. Friends share loving memories, and you begin to realize there was much more to this person than the relationship you had with them. The walls you built to protect your ego from perceived (and perhaps well-intended) threats begin to come down because they no longer serve a purpose. You don’t shame yourself or dismiss the way you felt – you just understand more, and the feelings naturally change, kind of like how wine ages.

At least, that’s been my experience (though honestly, I don’t know anything about wine).

I also write this for those who still have their moms – a little postcard from the future.

And for those newly bereaved, I’m offering hope, for grief mercifully doesn’t stay the same.

* * * * * * * * *

I washed the dresses and put them on the line to dry. And I thought: That’s a whole lot of love there, stretched across the back yard.

I marveled some more. And took a few pictures. A huge ball of sunlight showed up, no matter how I angled the phone camera…and it seemed to complete the picture.

The next evening, I took the bin of dresses to my daughter’s home. My granddaughter met me at the door and was thrilled when I told her what I brought for her. About a third of the dresses fit her, and she exclaimed into the air, “Thank you, great-grandma!”

I wish I’d realized sooner that all of those handmade dresses were in storage so she could have worn more of them. But she wore her favorite one to school today. And I love that my granddaughter feels connected with the great-grandmother she never met. They would have been two peas in a pod.

* * * * * * * * *

In the morning, I plan to buy some vegetable plants for the garden. It’s been bothering me that I haven’t planted anything yet. But now I understand why. My mom loved working in her garden. She grew roses and tulips and trained morning glories to grow upright. There were lilies of the valley, bleeding hearts, a lilac bush, a little herb garden, and more. There were countless summer days when I pulled into my parents’ driveway and found her gardening.

Yes, there are the memories from nine years ago. But there are so many more memories of May 26-27 throughout the years when you’d find her working in her garden. What better way to observe her angelversary than to work in mine? We might be inclined to grow different things, but that’s okay. 


© 2023 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Paul

Paul

It’s been months since I’ve published a new journal entry. In the interim, I’ve been developing talks and meditations for my weekly mindfulness meditation classes and writing for my mailing list. However, this week, I’ve had the urge to share with a broader audience who and what is most predominant in my heart: my cousin Paul and the rest of my Canadian family.

In the spring of 2016, I traveled to the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia for the first time to visit relatives. After a long day of traveling, I was quite tired when I finally arrived at my great-aunt and -uncle’s home, but their son, Paul, was right there to meet me. He was so excited. It was the first time a cousin visited, and it was a big deal for him. A year younger than me, Paul was my dad’s first cousin and therefore my first cousin once removed. (My grandfather was the eldest of a dozen kids, and Paul’s dad was the youngest.) Looking at him was like seeing my grandfather again.

I instantly thought of Paul as a cousin soulmate. He whisked me away to experience sunsets and moonrises during my visit, and when it was time to leave, I didn’t want to. I felt like I had found my tribe.

Two years later, I visited again. Paul and his wife, Janet, picked me up from Vancouver airport, for which I was immensely grateful. (There’s a lot involved in traveling to the Sunshine Coast, especially with photography gear in tow.) We stopped at Granville Island, had lunch overlooking Vancouver harbor, and drove through Stanley Park before making our way to the ferry and his parents’ home in Sechelt. Paul also brought me back to the airport when I left, again stopping and staying overnight in Van.

In between meeting him that first time and saying goodbye at the airport the last time, we spent time together on his father-in-law’s yacht (which was a real treat for me) and smaller prawn boat. He was really in his element on the water. There were dinners together with more family. A trip to the farmers’ market. Cards and texts and phone calls.

I honestly can say that nobody else on this planet made me feel the way Paul did. I felt welcomed, protected, truly cared for, and understood. Spending time with him and family in British Columbia was transformative. It changed my life. I had dreams of somehow, someday getting a visa and spending more time close to my family tribe in British Columbia.

Paul talked often about going to Cape Cod together, where he had fond memories of visiting an uncle (also my dad’s uncle) who had been an artist and an overall fascinating person. He wanted to take me to Hornby Island. We came close to traveling to England together for a family reunion, but it was so last-minute that it didn’t come together. He wanted so much to experience an “American Thanksgiving” and promised he would make the next visit, for that purpose. But then of course Covid came along.

This year, I wished for the U.S.-Canadian border to reopen so the idea of visiting the Sunshine Coast could come back into the realm of possibility. However, there were complications and factors beyond border status that made it unfeasible. So I traveled there often in my heart, where there are no borders aside from the ones we, ourselves, maintain.

Last Friday evening, Paul passed away after suffering a massive heart attack two and a half weeks prior. His obituary is truly touching, complete with poems written by family members.

My heart is heavy with that old visitor, grief, that comes in waves. What I have learned from previous losses is that the heart is an ocean spacious enough to hold all the waves that move through it, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Although I’m accustomed to relating to Paul from a distance, his parents, daughters, sisters, and other family members are not, and my heart goes out to them. 

In moments of remembering, I practice breathing in memories of Paul and his beautiful qualities – really filling up with that energy – and breathing out compassion for everyone else grieving his absence. After a few breaths, I extend this out-breath wish (also called metta) to everyone grieving a loss. There are so very many, and we never grieve alone. 

This is a different kind of heart wave: the kind that unites us in our common humanity. The deepest losses I’ve experienced have taught me that the heart can become the telephone through which we can communicate even with those who have passed through the veil we call death. May we honor those we’ve lost by embodying what we loved about them, however we can, even if it’s simply recalling their goodness and by doing so, shining a little brighter and allowing their essence to continue rippling in the world. That is the prayer in my heart at the moment.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

The Telephone of the Wind

The Telephone of the Wind

Over the summer, my son’s pet rabbit died. My five-year-old granddaughter loved to visit Toulouse every time she came over, and as far as I’m aware, it was her first brush with death.

We’ve had many talks about death. She loves seeing pictures of my parents and grandmother and has asked many questions about them. My daughter and I have shared stories about them with her and have told her many times that we wish they could have met her because they would have loved her. My dad was the only one who lived long enough to meet her. Their lives overlapped by about nine months.

I’ve explained to her that my parents and grandmother got old, and their bodies stopped working. But they were/are more than just their bodies. Although we can’t see their bodies anymore, we still can connect with their essence and continue to have a relationship with them, through the “telephone of the heart”.

And then there’s the telephone of the wind, which is an actual, physical phone that a Girl Scout troop installed in a local park over the summer. It’s based on an old-fashioned telephone booth placed in Otsuchi, Japan after the tsunami hit ten years ago, to stay connected with loved ones who passed away. The telephone isn’t connected to anything, but it provides a quiet space for private, heartfelt conversation and an opportunity to say the goodbyes and words that were left unsaid when the person was alive. Or to have ongoing conversations.

Ever since hearing about the telephone of the wind, my granddaughter has wanted to go there to talk to Toulouse. But rain kept getting in the way of our plans. This week, she asked again, and we finally made it happen. It was supposed to be an opportunity for her to talk to the bunny, but it ended up being much more.

The phone is an old-fashioned rotary model like I remember from my childhood. I showed my granddaughter how to find the numbers and turn the dial. Then she picked up the phone and started talking to the bunny.

When she was done talking, I taught her how to be quiet and still and to listen for any words or notice any pictures or feelings that might arise in her heart. It was easy and natural for her to do. Then she gave the phone to me so I could talk to the bunny and share memories.

After ending that call, she asked if I wanted to call my parents. Normally, I use the telephone of my heart for that purpose, and it works really well. But I decided to take her cue and try something different.

The phone looked just like the one in the corner of my grandmother’s kitchen, from which I made phone calls when I was growing up. I put my index finger into the circles that called my home phone number when I was a child – the number my parents had for the rest of their lives. I felt an unexpected sense of anticipation and a wave of emotion that brought tears to my eyes. Visceral memory. I explained to my granddaughter they were tears of gratitude because I was thankful for having such loving parents.

After dialing all the numbers, it was as if I was waiting for them to answer.

I started talking. Through thankful tears, I told them I missed them, even though I loved being able to talk with them through my heart.

Earlier that day, I discovered a baby mouse in my car. After removing the mouse, I realized I hadn’t vacuumed my car over the summer as intended. So that was something I needed to do. I remembered how my dad used to vacuum my car. If I visited my parents and went for a walk or ran an errand with my mom in her car, he would seize the opportunity to vacuum my car and fill up my gas tank. It was his language of love.

It’s been more than five years since the last time he did that, and I realized how much I miss and appreciate his car-related acts of caring. Nobody else has ever done that for me. 

So that’s what I said into the telephone of the wind. I told him how much I appreciate that he did that.

I also told my parents I had my granddaughter with me, and they would love her so much. I asked her if she wanted to talk with them, and she said yes. So she got on the phone and introduced herself and told them the things she thought they would love about her.

When she handed the phone back to me, I told them I’d say bye for now, but I always love talking with them through my heart and in dreams.

Before making another call, I told my granddaughter about the time I was really missing my mom, and then a flurry of heart-shaped cottonwood leaves rained down from the sky. That, too, was a response, I explained.

Then I picked up the phone to call my grandmother. I told her how much I miss her and how I appreciate her coming to me in a dream one time and giving me a present – all wrapped up and tied with a bow. I didn’t open the present in the dream, but when I woke up, I knew it was a camera. My parents had just given me a little money from the sale of her house, and I used it to buy my first entry-level DSLR camera.

It was arguably the best purchase I ever made.

I went on to describe how much photography means to me and to express my gratitude for the camera, which changed my life.

I also thanked my grandmother for being such a wonderful grandmother and said that by being so kind and loving to me, she taught me how to be a wonderful grandmother for my granddaughter.

I told her about my granddaughter and what she would love about her, and then my granddaughter got on the phone to introduce herself.

She ended with a question, and I actually heard the answer in my heart: my grandmother’s friendly voice, loud and clear. She loved children.

After we ended that call, we moved on to the next thing: the swings in another part of the park.

“Race ya!” my granddaughter exclaimed before taking off like a rocket. Naturally, she won. She always does.

Making those calls with her on the telephone of the wind was really gratifying. It was an opportunity to model out-loud a process you can go through when someone you love has passed away, to stay connected with them. With their essence, which is pure, unconditional love.

It felt like a very important thing to do. Someday when I have outgrown my body, I hope my granddaughter will talk to me like that and know how to listen with her heart and through synchronicity, to receive all the love that seeks her. I hope that will be many years from now so we can make many more beautiful memories together that will become part of her, and a way I will live on through her.

It’s such a beautiful thing to connect with your loved one’s essence, which is love. The love that always was there at the core, beneath the personality patterns that offer us the conflict and contrast we need to awaken and evolve and to expand the universe.

That’s how I’ve come to see it, anyway.

The telephone of the heart allows us to give and receive love. When we focus loving awareness on something or someone, we are attuned to the vibration of love and receptive to it. In this sense, anyone who has loved us or whom we have loved really and truly is part of us. With love, there is no distance or separation whatsoever. 

I had no idea about this until after I lost my parents. It is one of the great blessings our deepest losses can reveal to us. 

Postscript

I dictated this whole story into my phone while taking a walk outdoors. When I got back in the car to drive home, I turned on the radio. The song playing was Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”:

If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time

I kid you not.

It was another response that resulted in another round of grateful tears.

Isn’t it amazing? Each and every one of us is part of a great, mysterious legacy of love. A web of love. I don’t know how it works, only that it exists.


© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

For Those Who Are Grieving

For Those Who Are Grieving

Today on this Winter Solstice + Grand Conjunction, I’ve spent the morning writing down some words that have been coming through. Grief had something to say to those who have lost loved ones this year. May these words of hope ease the darkness of this darkest day even just a little for those who are grieving. 

 

For Those Who Are Grieving

Dear One:
Everyone who has ever loved you
And the myriad travelers ahead of you
On this well-trodden road of humanity
Ask you to please be patient with Grief
And to trust that, even when you feel it
Deep down in your bones and in every
Cell of your body, and it feels like it will
Annihilate you, Grief serves a noble purpose.

Your future self reaches out through time
To assure you that Grief allowed to ripen
Bears great fruit, and the journey that began
With feeling so torn apart and forsaken
Eventually offers the realization
That everyone who has ever loved you
And everyone you have loved and lost
Exists here inside the heart, in purest form,
Always present and accessible and part of
A greater presence of Unconditional Love
You can call upon at any time. 

For you have not been abandoned,
As much as it feels like it now. In time,
The precious ones you have lost once again
Will be your greatest and closest allies.
Yes, Grief is exhausting work
But if you can be patient and allow it
To belong in the tapestry of your life, it will
Open the door to the transcendent dimension
Where you will receive its astonishing gifts
And learn to communicate in new ways.

May you in time marvel at how
This heartache that knocked you down
So forcefully and repeatedly
Like waves of the incoming tide
Has alchemized into a deeper
Connectedness beyond the physical
And the grand realization of your
Wholeness and enoughness, how it has
Revealed the radiant truth of your being
And grown your compassion.

When the days feel bleak and forlorn,
As if part of your heart has been amputated 
You cling to the sound of their voice,
The details of their face – afraid of forgetting 
What, rest assured, will not be forgotten.

In the darkest season of your grief
When it feels like all light has deserted
Your heart and couldn’t be further away,
May you find solace in what others
Have discovered up ahead in the distance:
What you are looking for outside of yourself
Is growing silently and miraculously within you.

May you continue on, putting
One foot in front of the other
And resting as you need to,
Showering yourself with the mercy
Your loved one wishes for you,
Until at last you arrive at the revelation
That your deepest, most painful loss
Has become your greatest awakening.

For in the end, we love and grieve
Only to discover: Love is who we are,
And separation is nothing but illusion.
Though this may feel so far
From truth and possibility now,
So very many who have traveled this road
And survived the journey, your future self,
And everyone who has ever loved you
Beg you to trust it is so.

—Susan Meyer ©2020

Guided Visualization

Here is a light- and love-filled guided visualization based on a vision, or “energy story” I experienced during meditation that calls upon the kind of Unconditional Love expressed in the poem.

 

River of Light Guided Inner Journey from Susan Meyer on Vimeo.


© 2020 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Rare and Fleeting

Rare and Fleeting

This afternoon, a friendly, older couple came into the library with a little girl about eight years old. They asked me to help them locate a DVD and handed me a piece of paper with only the call number written on it: 792.8 COPP. I didn’t need to know the name and didn’t ask.

It ended up being a DVD of the Coppélia ballet. They were taking their granddaughter to see it later this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and wanted her to know the story ahead of time.

I saw the New York City Ballet perform Coppélia at SPAC many times when I was a little girl. It was my favorite ballet aside from The Nutcracker. I told the girl I loved Coppélia when I was about her age and mentioned that the costumes are beautiful, and I think she will enjoy it. 

The grandparents’ energy was lovely. Their personalities seemed a lot like my parents’. My mom always made sure I knew the story of the ballets before seeing them, and the grandmother’s excitement reminded me of her love for ballet performances at SPAC. And the little girl reminded me of little me. 

My mom worked at SPAC since I was in elementary school and retired a few short years before she died five years ago. When she retired, my parents were given lifetime, complimentary tickets for the ballet and orchestra performances. They always sat in “their” seats in the amphitheater. After my mom died, I accompanied my dad and sat in her seat. Their seats have plaques, and my mom’s bears the inscription: 

Nancy Meyer
“The Heart of Art of SPAC”
From your SPAC Family

My dad’s, on the seat next to hers, reads:

Ed Meyer
Nancy’s Husband
“Partner in the Arts”

I haven’t been to the ballet or orchestra since my dad passed away. However, thanks to a partnership this year between SPAC and the libraries I work at, I’m going tomorrow evening with my family. I would have loved to see Coppélia, but I’m not free that evening. But it makes me happy to think about the little girl and her grandparents going to see it. 

It was a really sweet interaction. However, when I sat back down at the reference desk, my eyes teared up. It was the kind of moment that has become so much rarer than during the early years of bereavement.

Grief is so very, very different now than it was for a few years after my mom (and soon after, my dad) died. It even feels benevolent. There’s still an initial sting, but it subsides swiftly into gentle ripples of gratitude and appreciation. I’m so grateful because grief was intense and overpowering for a while, a flood tide force that knocked me down and threatened to pull me under. There were a few complicating factors that made it downright brutal and certainly the darkest, most challenging years of my life.

It’s not like that now, for I’ve become familiar with grief and have learned to co-exist peacefully with it. Although every now and then a “moment” happens, it’s so much more fleeting than it was before. The sea is quieter. More of a gentle splash than a smack-down.

Within seconds of feeling tears welling in my eyes at the library, a familiar patron approached me with a joke that made me smile. Then he showed me a very marked up book of poetry he carries with him that has some of my favorite poet’s work in it. And just like that, the “moment” had passed.

If a distraction hadn’t come along, I probably would have greeted it silently: Hello, Grief. Then I’d generate lots of self-compassion and compassion for others all around the world who are grieving. That’s what Grief seems to ask of me these days. It wouldn’t have stayed long. It comes to connect me with our common humanity and to help me cultivate lovingkindness.

The moment of grief at the library was poignant but very brief. The brevity made me aware of the contrast between the dark years and now. As soon as I got home, I sat down to write this because I want you to know, if you are grieving the loss of someone dear: It’s going to get better. Grief is impermanent. It changes. Your relationship with it will change. It won’t always feel so intense. In time, there’s even a possibility that Grief will be your friend and reveal its silver lining. Perhaps you’ll even learn to dance together.

My heart wants yours to know this is possible.


© 2019 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, Reiki practitioner, and mindfulness meditation teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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