Happiness is an Inside Job

2020 was a strange one, eh? Difficult for some. Devastating for others. A year filled with pretty much everything. The near impeachment of a President, peaceful (and some not so peaceful) protests, the death of a Chief Justice, life-threatening storms, fires, and other natural disasters, an election filled with more political shenanigans than I could ever imagine (does anyone remember the days when we knew who was President close to 24-hrs. after the polls opened?? ūüôčūüŹĽ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ), oh yeah, did I forget to mention the global pandemic?

That's what I'd call the kitchen sink!

Certainly no one’s life went to plan in 2020. I can hardly believe that at this time last year I was enjoying frigid temps in sunny Florida, without a care in the world. Who knew that a mere 60 days later the country would be in lockdown, the least of my worries would be the cold weather in FL, and I would dedicate 77 straight days to caring for my parents, sans pickleball? Despite steering clear of mainstream media, unfollowing every annoying (read: politically obsessed) friend in my Facebook newsfeed, and the help returning in June to lessen the load, by December my exhaustion was complete. In utter disgust, on New Year’s Eve, I deactivated my Facebook account and this time I am not looking back. Gone are the inane, endless debates about whether or not a mask is effective (wait, is Covid-19 even real?!? ūü§¶ūüŹĽ‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹ). No more memes stating the obvious fact that Donald Trump will go down in history as the greatest embarrassment the United States has ever had for a President. And on January 6, I managed to wiggle back out of my hometown and into the open arms of my grandchildren. Whew!

Yeah, 2020 was hard on all of us, and some definitely more than me. RIP ūü•Ä Cousin John. Still, when December came, every time I heard something along the lines of, “Thank the stars 2020 is gone! It was horrible! I can’t wait for 2021 to get here!!

In 2021 (when the virus is contained, a vaccine is found, and the madman ousted) I can finally be happy again!!”

More times than I can count I had to bite back my reply:

If you did not find a way to be happy in 2020, rest assured that happiness will not find you in 2021.

Packing for move number 31 (or is it 34? clearly I’ve lost count), I was reminded that a change in location had never markedly improved my happiness factor. If anyone knew that, it was me. As far back as 1991 I learned (the hard way) that ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Turns out time is the same (read whenever in place of wherever). In truth, despite the global difficulties we all waded through last year, I managed to accumulate many beautiful amazing memories, gained a treasure-trove of relationships, achieved personal milestones, developed new skills, read life-changing books, learned all sorts of useful things, had fun, and discovered ways to take care of and appreciate myself and others on a whole new level.

As I look back on my life, it occurs to me that there have been even harder years in the past. I remember standing in my kitchen in 2014, having just ‘celebrated’ my first birthday without my sister, begging my was-band to let me join him for counseling in a last-ditch attempt to save a marriage that had died many years earlier; and when I asked my daughter if she knew the last time I had been happy, she answered without missing a beat: “Hawaii,” she said. Too bad I hadn’t lived in Hawaii since 2005!

Happiness is a fickle companion when we allow circumstances to dictate it.

I spent oh so many years doing that! Enough to teach me that happiness is a state of mind, one that I can find in the blink of an eye – completely apart from any outer circumstance.

Did you know that you become what you practice? There is an old saying among caregivers of the elderly:

When you grow old, you just become more.

More of what you were when you were young(er). I used to think it was due to the loss of impulse control. But having become more intimately acquainted with the elderly, I now believe it is simply a matter of habit.

They say that workers in nursing homes can tell the angry from the forbearing and the kind from the nasty in the first few minutes they spend with a resident. It is as if what we choose moment by moment when we are young eventually cements into a personality – a fixed way of being that is not easily altered. With age, some not only lose the desire or capacity to change, they become inured to their bad behavior altogether – or worse, they feel entitled to it.

AT MY AGE I CAN SAY WHATEVER THE EFF I WANT I'M A CRAZY OLD LADY - Keep  Calm and Posters Generator, Maker For Free - KeepCalmAndPosters.com

Having experienced first-hand the end result of people committed to a life of complaining and otherwise negative thoughts/behaviors – people who cannot enjoy the good in life without finding something to complain about – I cannot see a downside to seeking the kind of happiness that is not blown about by every wind of circumstance.

Sometime in late summer or very early fall of 2020 I asked a family member a question that I hope I never forget. They had spent several minutes lamenting how miserable Donald Trump had made their life, how unhappy they were because he was President, and how Trump had basically ruined their life. I had been listening to this diatribe in one form or another for close to a year at that point, and just couldn’t take it anymore without voicing the question that bubbled up inside me every time anyone of privilege complained about their quality of life under the regime of Donald Trump:

Give me one example of how your personal everyday life has been affected (for good or ill) since the day that he took office almost 4 years ago … … …

IF you never watched the news.

Perception really is everything. And perception is dictated by one thing and one thing only: Focus. Keep your attention on what is bad in the world and you will feel bad. Focus on what is good in the world and you will feel good. But when we realize that good, bad, and even great have always been and always will be present around us, maybe then we will finally turn inside to discover the divine spark that is able to bring forth the joy of being alive despite any outside circumstance. That, my friends, will be a great awakening. And it is one that each of us can choose to have at any point in time.

I will not look for happiness in 2021. Instead, I will focus my gaze on the one place that happiness is always available to me – inside my heart. Nothing can shake it loose – except my willingness to place my attention elsewhere.

Happiness is right here, right now. It is within me and within you. Do you have the courage to go within to find it? I warn you, it will demand that you drop everything else. The happiness inside will require you to let go of all the stories you tell about your past, and you will have to release all of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘how tos’ of your future. The past is a murky, half-remembered thing and the future does not – will not ever in fact – exist, apart from your dream of it. You and me, right here, right now. I choose to celebrate that.

Please don’t go looking for happiness in 2021. It is not there. Happiness is within you. All it will take to find it is a little bit of focus.

Much love, much light,

~C

The Art of Finding a Soul

The pleasant female voice on the radio described the composer as a Renaissance Man. She elaborated with the words “musician, writer, and painter, among other things”. I couldn’t help but think, That sounds like me!

A whirlwind of music blew through the first half of my life. As a teenager, I stood atop my bed belting “I am Woman” out of the open windows, to the chagrin of my neighbors; my senior year in college, I performed a vocal recital in four different languages – none of them English; and for 25 years I led a congregation of worshipers behind a guitar and sometimes a conductor’s wand. Today the only exercise my vocal cords will get is either in what I like to call ‘car karaoke’ or joining my daughter and son-in-law around the family upright. Here is a humorous sample of what I used to do.

A coffeehouse in Johnson City, TN, circa 2010. In the evenings alcohol was served.
The drunk man dancing to and from the bar makes this piece a classic.

I am so passionate about reading that I finally wrote a novel of my own, and should the stars align, a few more to come. Over the years I have engaged in all sorts of arts and crafts, including cross stitch, sewing, gardening, jewelry making and even putting together bird feeders using vintage dishes, wire, and beads. But the 1970’s sewing machine my mother gave me is long gone, I sold all of the bird feeders when I left my yard behind, and most of the other crafts in my life have given way to a new-found passion for acrylic paint. With four family members who are painters in their own right, I often wondered if I would ever create something of beauty on a canvas, especially after the nightmare experience I had at ten. In December of 2018 (while investigating abstract art), I stumbled upon paint pouring and decided to give it a try. Interspersed in this post are some of the pieces I have made (and sold or given as gifts).

12X12 Acrylic on Canvas

We have all heard the saying,

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

Today as I scrolled through the Go Make Some Art! Facebook page, it occurred to me that true beauty is in the soul of the creator, kind of like the difference between the technically savvy pianist and the one who can make the instrument sing. You know what I mean. Writers whose words come to life, painters, singers, even cooks who ply their craft with such heart that those who partake of their works are moved to deep emotion. This is the connection we crave, for without it, what meaning can we give to the things we create?

There is something about working with the hands that bridges the gap between body and soul. When I plant a seed, push a needle, or tilt a canvas, my mind is forced to let go its heady thoughts and focus on that space inside where the real life of me lies. As an outer reflection of what the inner eye sees, the visual arts demand the most of a person. But to lay anything to canvas is to subject one’s soul to the judgements of every passerby, and if the artist does not love his or her own heart well, there is the possibility of self-loathing and despair. But judging with criticism what the hands have made diminishes the life of the soul within, even if just a little.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the hands are the expression of it.

I commented on a post in that same forum that perhaps artists (of all kinds) have a unique avenue to discovering their own worthiness. We all know the feeling of ‘not good enough’ – not smart enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, not thin enough, not, not, not… E N O U G H. But there is something healing in the physical expression of that invisible part of ourselves – at least it can be, if we will let go our judgements of good, bad, beautiful, ugly, worthy, unworthy. Perhaps all that has ever been necessary is connection – the commitment to transform the invisible into something tangible.

Last week my daughter gave me permission to go to India – or anywhere else in the world – if I ever felt the need to ‘find myself.’ As much as I appreciate the freedom she afforded me, the idea makes me laugh! I have learned the hard way that wherever you go, there you are.

Galaxy Rising
9X20 Acrylic on Canvas

As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.

Proverbs 23:7

If you lose touch with yourself, a new address will not suffice to find you. Truly nothing outside of you has the power to discover the you that exists in that mysterious unknown of the heart, where no tangible road goes – except the one that travels outward.

Mystic Garden Spray
8X10 Acrylic on Canvas

Creating a work of art requires connecting with that invisible part. If the artist succeeds in ignoring the critical mind, a true understanding of the self can emerge. With understanding comes a healing of the breach – the chasm between self and other grows smaller or disappears. All that is required is acceptance. When we know who we are and learn to love what we have come to know, then not only can nothing outside of us discover us, but nothing outside of us can ever judge or harm us again.

Today, may you be inspired to create.* Go make some art! ~ and discover parts of you that up until now, you never knew existed. In the making, in the doing, in the expressing, and in the seeing, be kind to yourself, and may that kindness be your road to wholeness. Remember that you are a soul on a journey of self-discovery. A journey that never will never end.

Namaste, and thank you for reading.

~C

All the Little Ways

The universe (God, goddess, angels, universal consciousness, whatever you want to call it) speaks to me in many different ways. I have had dreams, visions, heard a public speaker (complete stranger) reiterate in a talk the exact words of a private conversation I had with a friend earlier that day, seen repeating numbers, and on rare occasions, heard a voice inside my head. I cannot count the number of times I have thought of a friend only to have them call or email me soon after. So many serendipitous things have happened in my life that I no longer believe in coincidence. My family even coined the phrase co-inky-dink years ago in an attempt to make light of these strange occurrences.

I have been getting messages of one kind or another my whole life, but it has taken me some time to really learn to pay attention to them. Many were so subtle that they could have easily passed by unnoticed, yet they were the ones that spoke the loudest to my soul. We all hope that the universe will come through for us in the big stuff (the job, the healing, etc.), but when something small happens just to delight us. It is then that we truly experience the whole of the depth and breadth of the love available to us.

This is my favorite example of the universe speaking to me.

Circa 1996:

It was early, maybe six-thirty in the evening, and I was where I usually was at that time of day, in front of a sink full of dirty dishes. My wasband stood behind me in the doorway to our kitchen talking at me. Apparently he knew the script of our lives as well as I did. He was in his place as much as I was in mine. I could hear my two girls arguing over some perceived injustice that one had suffered at the other’s hand. I had grown so accustomed to the constant bickering that it was little more than background noise now. They knew I would not choose a victim and had been forced early on to learn to work out their squabbles on their own. The wasband was another story. He was always the victim. Me? I was the sounding board.

The townhouse the four of us shared was nothing to write home about. At least it was in a nicer area of Georgia than some I’d seen. God only knows how we paid for it. Life for the wife of a pastor-turned-construction handyman was no walk in the park. Wasn’t God supposed to take care of us? Then why was I never able to buy shoes for my children? Why did I have to choose between health insurance and groceries? I had learned one very useful thing over the course of those ten years: how to pack a kitchen in one hour or less. Since 1987 we had lived in seven different dwellings, three different states, and one foreign country. After almost ten years of moving, I was tired. Tired of jobs ending. Tired of every application being rejected. Tired of listening to the pie-in-the-sky delusions that comprised my wasband’s life story.

He was at it again Рtelling me his plans for the job he had applied for a week ago. Never mind that it could take up to a year to even hear back from a church. He had no interview scheduled, did not even know if anyone would ever look at the application. Still, he had plans for the money he was going to make, for the ministry he would do. He had already mapped out where we would live! He had a plan for everything Рeverything except another rejection. He assured me that this church would be the one, this time it would happen. I had listened to the same speech multiple times over the previous months Рmany, many more if you count all the years of training. Same song, umpteen millionth verse. And like the tune, the outcome never changed. Standing there in front of that soapy water, I could not have imagined two more failed internships, bankruptcy, a three-month separation, military service and deployment, another job loss, three more years of graduate school, 12 more moves, and finally divorce were all headed my way.

Yet even back then, I had run out of words.

I could not muster a response to his assurances. All I could do was bristle in silence against the barrage of pipe dreams. I remember rinsing the last of the dishes while staring at my reflection in the darkened window above the sink. My eyes looked hollow and empty – just like I felt. Whatever joy I had known was gone, trampled under the hardships of a life lived without enough of anything – money, stability, family ties, friends, or, most importantly, love. In my head I spoke to the only one I thought might be listening. “God,” I said, “I can’t dream anymore. It’s too painful.”

As the soapy water drained away, I turned and left the kitchen. He was likely still standing there talking as I plodded mechanically up the stairs. I went through the motions of my nightly routine with my own voice still echoing in my head, “It hurts too much to dream.” The truth was, I had never learned to dream about much of anything for myself. As a child I was told I had to marry because women needed to be taken care of by a man. The church told me I had to obey my husband, follow his dreams, and die to whatever it was I might desire. In my mind, there was no room for my dreams, even if I could muster any up. In my life, there had never been room for me.

Funny how the universe has a way of giving us back things we do not even realize we have lost.

It has long been my practice to read before falling asleep. In fact, since I was in middle school (maybe even earlier), I cannot remember my nightstand bereft of a book or six (yes, I am always in the middle of approximately six books at a time, don’t ask me why). That night I was reading He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado. After flipping on the lamp, I climbed into bed, pulled the covers up, and opened the book to my mark. The entire page was nothing but the title of Chapter 5. It read:

It’s All Right to Dream Again

Suddenly I could not breathe. The words before me bled together like watercolors bathed in tears. The shock of such an immediate and crystal clear answer to my thoughts left me speechless. I smiled a small smile as I placed my bookmark where it had been, shut the cover, and set the book back onto the nightstand. Then I turned out the light and went to sleep. I did not need to see anything else. The universe had spoken.

Message in a book

Since that night twenty or more years ago, I have heard that voice speak again and again. Sometimes direct, like the title of Chapter 5. Other times more subtle and harder to perceive. Perhaps hearing the universe speak is a function of belief – I expect it to, so it does. I have learned to trust that what I am hearing is for me and that it is good. Now I work to hone my intuition, increase my attention span and ability to concentrate (through focused meditation), and develop exceptional listening skills. Meditation is helpful, though in my experience, the universe seems to wait until I am surrounded by noise just to show me that it will always be louder, truer, and more reliable than anything else. After all, what has the power to drown out the still small voice of love? Absolutely nothing.

Do you ever receive messages from the universe? How do the messages come to you? How do they make you feel and what do you do when you get them?

Much love and light,

~ Cindy

Magnificence

Coming (back) into my own.

This is a response to Litebeing’s Magnificent Challenge posted by Ra.

magnificent-challenge-badge

I have written sparsely over the years about my family of origin. My favorite piece was part of a fictional tale crafted from the story retold every Christmas of how my grandfather came to America. The vast majority of the rest of my family posts relate in some way to my sister, who passed in December, 2013. During the year and a half following her death, writing was my way of grieving that loss. I have not, however, devoted any time to writing about myself as I stand within my family of origin.

How appropriate that I should run across this writing challenge. My family is where I learned of my own magnificence, and it is what brought me home to it at last.

My father is the youngest of eight siblings, and I am the youngest of four – by eight years (I do have a cousin a mere four years my senior). Being the last offspring of a large Lebanese-American family makes a person a lot of things: privileged and spoiled for sure, but also very much loved. Being my Fambly’s version of Lebanese makes a person an entirely different list of things: bold, hard working, loud, extravagant, and fiercely loyal. No, we are not all extroverts, but growing up, it certainly sounded like it – thanks for all the memories Uncle Saiad and Uncle George (by far, the loudest of the lot).

My family excelled at many things: tennis and hearts, laughter, good food, affection (Aunt Evelyn always kissed you three times, be you friend or total stranger), playacting (costumes and props included!), great food (did I mention food already?), telling the story, criticizing outsiders, teaching the importance of having a close-knit family, and gathering together around amazing food. My daughter and I often joke that with my Fambly, it really is all about the food, but the truth is, food was just a very large part of the love; and if this Fambly did anything truly well, it was love.

As is typical of immigrants of every race, my family looked within to find its identity. Sure, my father and uncles served in the military and all of them worked hard at their jobs and hobbies, their wives had friends and sometimes jobs, but when it came to who we were, our core values and beliefs, it was the Fambly that defined us. It was there that we turned for guidance toward our goals and the support we needed to reach them, but, above all, we discovered who we were in a deep well¬†of unconditional love. I was far too young to have been a part of my siblings’ and nearby cousins’ lives, and now see myself as the last and arguably least of my clan. Yet, somehow, I always felt magnificent.

One brother holds me firmly, while the elder basks in my presence. (bottom left) Look how I magnetize all of my mother's attention! (upper right)
One brother holds me firmly, while the elder basks in my presence. (bottom left) Look how I, the smallest in the group, manage to capture¬†all of my mother’s attention! (upper right) Even Uncle Saiad (top left) looks to be enjoying the exchange between mother and child.

I am not sure what to make of my own feeling of magnificence¬†or why it was given me. It was simply an unspoken truth that I was special (the cousins still joke about it today at family reunions, so this year I reminded them to¬†never forget it!). Perhaps it can be attributed to the years of space¬†preceding my arrival (I was a ‘surprise’ after all), or that I was the baby of the baby, or maybe my parents just told me of my own magnificence in enough ways that it became true for me. No matter the cause, the fact remains that I grew up believing that I shone brightest.

I was the most magnificent of all.

On paper that line reads as egotistical, but I am speaking with the voice of a child the emotions of a child. A child filled with wonder and at times quite overwhelmed by the sheer¬†vastness of a Fambly able to loom so high¬†above her. I wonder sometimes if I did not make myself magnificent just to be heard over the booming voices of my Uncles when they were arguing over the cards, the clattering noise of my Aunts as they busily prepared enough food for armies, and the uninhibited din of my cousin’s reunited horseplay. Other than age and my much-indulged precociousness, I cannot remember¬†any clear distinction between myself and my same-generation family members. If anything, they outshone me in a hundred myriad ways (actors and artists, doctors and lawyers, musicians and teachers…the list goes on). Yet, astoundingly, while everyone in the Fambly knew I believed myself to be the brightest star, for some reason they encouraged that belief – or I simply convinced myself that they did!

After years of hearing about¬†my own magnificence, other voices entered¬†my life. Many disparaged and criticized my origins, or mocked the qualities that made me ‘me’. Some even urged me to put out the light that used to shine so brightly. Under the constant drone, I forgot my place. For a time, I could not remember who I was, where I came from, and how truly bright I once was allowed to shine. But the Fambly that indulged my youthful aspiration to be most magnificent of all reminded me that I am magnificent because I belong to each and every one of them, and they to me. We make one another magnificent.

Unconditional love taught me that I do not have to shine the brightest, but I do have to know my own magnificence if I want to bask in the love of such a Fambly. This kind of love will not settle for less in the beloved.

when-the-roots-are-deep

Slowly I remember. I begin to see glimpses of the star-child of my youth in the reflected gaze of my Fambly – and, even occasionally, the mirror. May I never forget my roots again. They are strong supports and the stuff from which I am made, and remind me that no matter what I do or where I go, I am a part of them and they of me.

My roots remind me that I am magnificent.

I hope you will take the time to visit Litebeing’s site and read what some others have written about their own magnificence. If you are so inclined, join the challenge and put a link to your post in the comments below.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead

I am fairly certain that I have not donned¬†a costume for Halloween in at least 35 years. This particular celebration, while fun as a child, never really found a foothold in my heart. Add to that, in Christian circles, Halloween was disparaged as “Satan’s high holy day” – something to be avoided as avidly as cursing or reading Harry Potter.

Tonight it occurred to me that little about the rituals and celebrations of Christianity ever took hold in me either, despite spending 30+ years in that paradigm. Granted, as a child, Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year, to borrow a well-worn lyric. Certainly my parents and their tradition of Santa Claus helped (I can still remember my father peeking into my bedroom to ask if I had heard the sleigh bells – his voice was as filled with wonder as my child’s heart!), but even later on in my teen years,¬†I remember sitting in our living room mesmerized by the glowing coals in the fireplace, while¬†white lights twinkled between evergreen boughs laden with ornaments and tinsel. Sometimes when I think about what peace feels like, that is the picture that comes to mind.

Over the years,¬†Christmas came to mean¬†less and less to me – especially once I understood that December 25th was not the birthday of any deity in the flesh, much less Jesus of Nazareth. In the early 2000’s¬†I stopped putting up a Christmas tree, and have been hard-pressed to find ways to create meaningful traditions for myself or my family ever since. Anyway, every¬†Christian holiday is nothing more than a hijacked pagan celebration of one kind or another.

In 2006 I began what turned out to be a 10-year trek¬†out of my Christian faith. Not that I am an atheist per se. I believe – probably stronger than I ever did as a Christian – in the absolute existence of a spiritual dimension. I am certain that death is not the end. But the job of determining whether there is a personal god out there running our universe is beyond my pay grade, the purview of religion, and better left alone by li’l ol’ me.

Perhaps because of my recent fascination with the Celts, faeries, and magic, I have gravitated¬†most towards the old religion or what many call paganism. Admittedly, my stint in Christianity has caused me to shun any and all religious traditions, especially those who claim to know ‘the way’ or ‘the truth’. But the seasons of the year and of life are something I am familiar with. And I have always had a special affinity for the moon. That is the other strong memory I carry from my teenage years: monthly chats with the man in the moon. I had a perfect view of the moon at its full from the swing in our backyard, and I have always been able to see a face on the surface of it. In fact, I am hard-pressed to look at a full moon and¬†not see a face.

At the same time that I find myself drawn to the cycles of the moon, I also feel a renewed sense of connectedness to the earth. I do desire to establish traditions to follow, but I am content to move slowly, listening closely to my own heart and what it whispers about the lessons, comfort, joy, or depth that a particular holiday celebration can lend my spirit. I began following the full moon cycles sometime in 2015, and this year added the new moon cycles to my monthly observances. Late in the summer, I determined to celebrate as many of the eight pagan festivals (beginning with Samhain, pronounced Sow-en) I am able to this year. October 31 marks the end of summer, the last of the harvest celebrations, and the beginning of the new year for the Celtic pagans of old. Samhain is a time to give attention to our ancestors and other loved ones who have passed. Many see it as an opportunity (perhaps even an obligation) to learn about their heritage and honor dead loved ones in some fashion. Still others believe that the veil between our world and the world of the dead is thinnest on this night, making possible communication with those who have passed.

For me, I wanted to take some time to think about how those family members who have gone on affected me while they were here. To that end, I put together a display of photographs, peppered with candles, fresh flowers, and crystals (particularly those related to the root chakra) on my buffet.

My Tree of Life Grid
My Tree of Life Grid has never held as much significance for me as it does now – a lovely reminder of my life, my roots, my heritage.

I started the process the first week of October and did not complete it until this past Friday. I took my time, and thought through the many photo choices, discovering a couple of folks whose legacy I found myself unable or unwilling to honor. They are not on display this year, but perhaps I will come to terms with them enough to include them in future.

A

Through this process, I began to think about the legacy that I want to leave behind. I even asked myself what kind of legacy would be left should I pass today.  Sometimes I wonder if the reason many of us throw our lives onto the wide screen of the internet is in hopes that something we say, do, write, or photograph will touch enough random people that our legacy may somehow live on after we pass. Perhaps it is our way of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all. We as a society have certainly invented many ways to avoid ever thinking about our own death, yet that is precisely why we remain haunted by the prospect.

My sister used to tell me that she believed when we die, there is nothing, it’s over, kaput. Nonsense, I say. Her belief created years of fearful living, but now she knows the truth. Those who are able to celebrate life understand that death is not the end, but merely the beginning of a new phase of our journey. J.R.R. Tolkien said it right well:

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

For C.S. Lewis death was an expansion of the world of the heart. Narnia opened up into infinite possibility, like the layers of an onion peeling back in reverse. Because of him, I will forever think of death as a doorway from the barn into the open field, with mountains beckoning beyond. (The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia)

Last night was the new moon, a black moon (by definition, the second new moon in 1 month). Tonight begins Samhain, the Day of the Dead, and tomorrow the Wheel will start to turn anew. The near overlap of the black moon and the beginning of a new year holds special significance for me. I have learned that new moons are a good time to set intentions for the coming months. Since this was a rare black moon so closely connected with the start of a new year, it became a time for me to consider what I would like to see in my own life in the coming months. As I reflected on my day, I realized that it was filled with exactly what I want for the coming year: meditation, healthy eating, work, writing, and loving encounters. A good omen for what is to come, I think.

Whatever your tradition, Halloween, Samhain, or All Saints Day (November 1), may you find comfort in your roots. May you come to understand the legacy your ancestors left behind. May you honor that legacy, and learn from both the victories and mistakes of those who precede you. Above all, may you find comfort in knowing who is watching over you, and who waits for the joyous reunion to come.

Blessed Samhain!

Share Your World

Yes, I still exist and (sort of) keep a blog.

I did not want you all to imagine that I fell off the face of the earth in the recent past, but truly, the blogs I am working on are not quite up to posting snuff as yet. You will have to content yourself with a short blog resuscitation question and answer session. (Apparently, this has become a thing on the Interwebs in my absence.)

List 2 things you have to be happy about?

  1. My grandson. In a few short days, the miracle born on my Birthday will be 6 months old! There are not enough adequate blogging words to convey my joy when I am with him. Happy is a poor weak word for it. Ecstatic, over-the-moon … these come a wee bit closer to the mark.
  2. I live less than 20 minutes from my parents. My mother graciously cooks me breakfast every Wednesday before work, and I sit and sip my coffee while listening to my father and brother talk politics (government or church, whichever is the choice of the week). On Wednesdays I come to work with a smile and a heart filled with love. I also live close enough to my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson to spend almost every other weekend with them! The presence of my family members in my life has served as a much-needed anchor through the turbulent seas of divorce. Perhaps now you will know why I have been conspicuously absent of late…

If you could take a photograph, paint a picture or write a story of any place in the world, what and where would it be?

The coasts of Ireland – the one place in the world I most want to visit. I often think of my novel as basically Irish, and I love everything Celtic, for one reason or another.

Should children be seen and not heard? 

Not hearing my grandson would be a tragedy in every sense of the word. His gurgles warm my heart; and although his squeals at times may pierce my ears, I eagerly await the day when his amazing words of wisdom pierce my soul.

List at least five of your favorite first names.

Collin, Aubrey, Ian, Desdemona (Desi for short), and Justine

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week I created a gratitude wheel prior to finding out that my contract (job) would be renewed in September. I am grateful for the contract renewal, but even more-so that I have learned to be grateful without needing everything in life to go smoothly (did I mention that divorce is hell?).

I have another 3-day weekend coming up, during which time I plan to engage in deep discussions with my daughter and her husband. We like talking about parenthood, spirituality. money. education, and even politics. I will be¬†cooking new GF foods making a mess in my daughter’s kitchen (not mine!), and rolling around on the floor taking pictures of the wonder of my world (yes, of course my grandson) gurgling, squealing, attempting to crawl, or all of the above. His bubbles remind me that all is right with the world.

My life simply could not be any better than this.

Gratitude Wheel
2016 Gratitude Wheel

So, what’s going on in YOUR world? Please share, then link back to your post in the comments below!

I got this idea from Anxious Mom. Be sure to stop by and give her a holler!

The Presence in her Absence

Most of the time I see my sister in waking moments. But on September 30, 2014, I was getting ready for work when the dream I had the night before rushed into my awareness. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had, and although it is rare for me to remember even pieces of a dream, I recalled this one in its entirety.

I had wandered off the streets of downtown Nashville into a sparsely occupied coffee shop. I sat down at a small table to the right of the door and wondered what to order. When the door opened again, I looked up and in she walked. Her bell bottom jeans brushed softly against the wooden floorboards. She was wearing a loose-fitting plaid shirt, untucked at the waist. The long dark brown hair that hung limply from her head was tucked back behind the ears.¬†Her face was troubled. I stared for several seconds. A double-take later, I realized I was looking at my sister, circa 1977. “You cannot be here,” I thought, “you’re dead!” She did not look in my direction as she sat down at the large table next to mine. Her back was to me.

More people trickled in. I did not recognize any of them, but I somehow knew they were friends of hers from college days. They filled up the empty seats around the table she had chosen, and soon an animated conversation about life and God ensued. I was mesmerized by her presence and could not take my eyes off of her. I sat, watched, and listened, resisting the urge to get up and join the group. I wanted to interrupt, to tell her how much I miss her. But I had the distinct impression that she would not have heard me anyway.

The veracity of the New Testament was the subject of the discussion. Of all people, my sister was patiently explaining the texts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The young man sitting nearest her commented, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” She replied in a calm voice, “Of course I do.” I got the sense from her statement that she was talking about something more definitive than faith or belief, something more like knowing. It dawned on me that now she sees and knows clearly, even as she has always been seen and known. For her, there are no doubts or uncertainties, only truth and love – oh, so much love.

I wanted nothing more than to stay there in that room, watching her, listening to her voice. Having a dream like that helps heal the scar of loss. Waking from a dream like that leaves a brand new one.

IMG_1217
Sunset on New Year’s Eve, 2014.

On the drive home that night, I thought again about the movie,¬†What Dreams May Come and Robin Williams’s dip in paint. My sister adored color. I have known since the day she left this world that she sees it now like never before. That sunset gave me a little preview. She has painted lots more sunsets for me since then – each of them a creative masterpiece. I know that one day we will swim in them together.

One time at the beach, I asked her to draw the ocean for me. She did it, but then kept insisting she had not gotten¬†the waves or the light quite right.¬†I always thought that the waves and the light in her beach drawing had been perfect, but in this life, my sister had never been able to¬†appreciate her own brilliance. The splash of color across that twilit sky¬†on New Year’s Eve told a different story, a story of artistic abandon transcending the need to get things ‘just right’.

~ ~ ~

For many years I have had a vision of a house sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A garden stretches out in front of it, filled with every kind of flower. Now that she is gone, I can see her there, tending to the plants, anticipating my arrival. I should have known all along it was her garden.

Tattoo March 3 2016
Second star on the right and straight on ’til morning. – Peter Pan

Hawks still visit me from time to time. Her way of watching over me, I suppose. Love you bunches & bunches and tons & tons, Ditty.

~ Your Little Sis

Blindsided

I did what I promised her I wouldn’t.

But, please, let me explain…

On December 1st every year, one of our local radio stations begins playing Christmas tunes. The same 10 songs over and over again for 25 straight days (at least, that’s how it seems to me)! Every once-in-awhile I push the button to see what comes out … if I hear Jingle Bells or Let it Snow one more time, I think I’ll go home and stuff myself with fruitcake until I push my body into a diabetic coma. To save myself from Christmas Song Burnout (this is a real and documented condition, trust me), I wait until Christmas week to begin listening to Christmas songs in earnest. There are a couple of songs I downloaded for free from NoiseTrade last year that I hadn’t really listened to yet, so I was looking forward to some fresh tunes. On December 22, in my car on my way to work, I plugged in the i-pod, selected Christmas genre, and hit shuffle. “Could’ve Been Summer” was the second song to come out of my speakers.

Car Radio (1)

Friday, December 19 was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I had talked to my parents the day before. They planned to take my other siblings plus my sister’s husband out for dinner to all be together. I lived a few states away at the time, so was unable to join them. Friday evening I saw on FB some comments begun by my Mom’s post about the difficulty of the day. It occurred to me then that, for me, Friday had not been a more difficult day than the previous 364 days had been.

Despite the dull, continuous ache, I was doing pretty well. Yes, I felt sad whenever I thought about calling you (every day, half a dozen times), but on December 22, that song opened my grief like a fresh floodgate that had been screaming to break. The entire last week we spent together came flooding back in, totally uninvited. The memory of you saying my name felt like a tender punch in the gut. Through the tears I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. I told you I wouldn’t remember you that way, but I can’t help it.” So I let myself remember – all of it.

Then I made myself remember other things. Christmas things. How you adored Christmas. You didn’t always make the gifts you gave, but you always made the packages look so inviting. Your gifts were the ones everyone wanted (and did not want) to open. The wrapping was always too lovely to tear through. The decorations in your home were tasteful and stylish and different every year. You understood the beauty of nature over the glare of commercial glitter and always managed to incorporate the beauty of the outdoors into your boxes and bows, wreaths and mantlepieces. Everything you ever did was a work of art, with you the most beautiful one of them all.

It occurred to me on Sunday to remind Mom that she may have missed the funeral, but she had been there when you went home. She was able to whisper encouragement and hold your hand and say goodbye in that agonizing moment. I’m so glad for that. Though I could not be there to say the final goodbye, I am thankful for the week I was given the month before – every painful, horrible, gut-wrenching, sweet, precious, lovely moment of that unforgettable week. I am thankful for the many years we had together – the phone calls, the holidays, the Birthdays, the anniversaries, moushie jokes, Mah-Nuh, Mah-Nuh, all the love and sweat and tears and joy. I remember it all. I remember you. And even though it “Could Have Been Summer” when you left, I doubt that would have made this Christmas any easier.

Kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!

LOVE you, Ditty-Boo – bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

– Your Little Sis

Season for Remembering

It is the first week of November and I am finally getting around to pulling out my winter clothes and putting all that is summer away. It seems kind of late in the year for that, but then, I am always thankful when the warmer weather hangs around a bit longer. No complaints here.

One of the items in my winter clothes box was the down vest I took from my sister’s closet last Christmas. I debated keeping it since it wouldn’t zip up at the time. Well, technically it zipped, but it was quite tight. A couple of months ago, I lost 10 pounds. Lo and behold, the vest fits me now! 

Today I laid the vest on the couch as I was getting ready to go to work. Within five minutes Ian found his way onto it. Only two days since it came out of the box and already my cat has reclaimed it. The suitcase it covered last winter has long been emptied and put away, but Ian managed to find his way back to the warmth of it. A bit surprising, actually, since he rarely climbs onto the couch to begin with. For him that vest is probably just a warm spot to cozy-up on, but I cannot help but wonder if my connection to her – my grief – is somehow being communicated to him through this piece of clothing. 

Ian kneaded the vest before settling into its folds, and I spent a few moments trying to imagine what my sister would say if she saw it. Of my three felines, Ian is both the most fearful and the most affectionate. My sister dealt with fear and anxiety a lot, and I would have to say that of all my family – including me – she loved the deepest. No, my sister wasn’t perfect, but she always strove to embrace others fully – flaws and all. A whole lot like my cat.

I hated removing Ian from the vest, but truth be told, I need it. Three weeks from yesterday marks the anniversary of the last week I spent with my sister. I am not sure that I will ever believe that time heals all wounds. Somehow time does have the power to diminish the pain. The empty space left in my heart by my sister’s absence is certainly still there. It always will be. I step into it often now. I talk to her there, like I used to. I may not be able to hear her respond, but I always feel her smile.

This month marks the beginning of a season to remember, yet the whole of the end of 2013 was a nightmare I would like to forget. On the cusp of the anniversary of those dark days, I am reminded to go further back in my memories to ponder the good and the bad, to the plethora of shared experiences with my sister. Maybe instead of a season of grief, this winter will turn into one of thanksgiving for the blessing of 50 years with her in my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to appreciate the loved ones who remain, while they’re still with me. Maybe that’s what memories of the ones we lose are really for.

The windy fall has brought the neighborhood hawks out in droves. I see one almost every day now. And whether it’s her visiting me or not is irrelevant. They remind me of her, just like the vest. So, Ian, while I won’t give it over to you completely, I am willing to share. You can enjoy its warmth and the interesting fabric against your kneading paws. I will remember the one who wore it for a time, because in the end, I don’t need the vest, just the comfort it brings. A whole lot like my cat.

The Picture of Grief

A couple of weeks back, after a conversation with my Mom about her grieving process (if you don’t know, we lost my Sister on December 19, 2013), I suddenly had the strange feeling that 4+ months into this gig, I had not even begun to grieve her passing. Never mind the stuff I’ve written about her death, the talk/song I shared at her funeral service, and all of the tears already shed …

A day or so after that conversation, I ran into a wonderful blog site about grief; specifically the post dealt with grief having no expiration date. It occurred to me that being so far from her (in proximity) for so many years prior to her death along with her inability to carry on our normal phone conversations during her final couple of years combined to make it that much more difficult for me to¬†know she’s really gone. While I have no clue what the next step in my process will be, I suspect it involves some intense ‘realization.’ Not something I’m particularly looking forward to.

On Wednesday, the following photo showed up as the Friday Fictioneers prompt (I won’t even try to explain why a Friday photo prompt shows up on Wednesdays):

Copyright ‚Äď Bj√∂rn Rudberg

My gut reaction was how familiar the picture was – not that I’d seen it before, but that I saw myself in a similar photo-memory of what I now think of as my former life. The emotions that boiled up to the surface when I saw the prompt surprised me a bit. A mixture of nostalgia and excitement, fondness and regret coalesced inside me to produce one clear thought in my head: “I can’t write a story about this. Not now, not maybe ever. This isn’t fiction; in fact, it’s too real — it’s me.”

In a conversation with my son about humor I told him that for me to find something funny, it has to be true, to ring true. Fiction for me is quite the opposite. Sure, the characters have to be true – to themselves, and believable – to the reader. But the more fantastical the story, the more I am drawn to it. Maybe that’s why I prefer tales about dragons, fairies, magic, and aliens more than historical fiction (Seabiscuit notwithstanding).

As I’m sure you’ve already begun to grasp, seeing what looked like the scraps of an old life of mine reminded me again of my recent loss. It was as if writing about the picture would have been a step in the direction of dealing with my sister’s death. I don’t feel ready for that right now, for lots of reasons.

First, I’m daily faced¬†with the raging hormones of a 15-yr. old son. Having raised 2 daughters, you’d think I’d have been up to the challenge. Whole. Different. World. I’m literally at the end of myself and my ideas about how to navigate these waters. Most days I throw up my hands and just ask God to take it. Hopefully He’s listening.

Second, there are huge financial outflows facing us right now: my husband has been renovating the upstairs of our house having been out of work for 7 months; June 1, 2014 he will restart his counseling business; my daughter is getting married in October; and I would love to find a way to block my noisy neighbor before then. Being the primary breadwinner (hubby still serves as a Reservist) can be stressful in today’s economy – especially as a woman.

Third, my parents have both had rough years health-wise. 85 and 84 respectively, my Dad and Mom continue to manage on their own, but we all lose the battle against Father Time eventually. With the recent loss of my sister, their well-being is pretty much on my mind 25 hours every day.

Sunday afternoon I did some shopping to find a dress for the wedding. I knew it was a mistake when I looked into the mirror and saw almost the exact replica of the one my sister wore to her son’s wedding:

My Sister dancing with Hubby
My Sister dancing with her Hubby

It wasn’t exact, but the color, the tiers … I said out loud to myself, “I can’t look like her.” Fortunately, it was the last of the 3 dresses I tried. I hung it up with the other disasters and promptly walked out, giving up the search for the moment. So many memories, at every turn they hit me.

I looked back at the photo prompt Sunday night, glad I had left it alone. I want to push myself to write like I want to push myself to get through the grief – I’ve never been known for my patience. I’m not ready. I’m learning to be okay with that, to give myself permission to breathe. Sometimes even that hurts too much.

*Actually, my favorite part of this video is the (probably drunken) man dancing in front of me. ūüėÄ

Soft and Warm

I turned 50 last week. For many, this event would mark an important milestone. For me it passed by virtually unnoticed. The suitcase I carried to my sister’s funeral still sits in a corner of my bedroom. I have thought about putting it away a hundred times, but putting it away would mean unpacking, and what would be the point? You see, after my sister’s funeral service, my brother-in-law encouraged me to pick out some of her clothes to take with me. I knew it was silly. She and I could not have been built any differently. My sister was a wisp, and me? Well, let’s just say I have always been “solid”. I don’t mind my size (anymore), but the reality is that everything in the suitcase is too small to fit.

Ironically, all of the shoes are too big.

The point of unpacking would be to actually wear¬†the clothes in the suitcase. Instead I am holding onto the items¬†that I hope will¬†fit my daughter. One thing I plan to¬†keep is my sister’s black down vest. I wore it for about a week, but I could not zip it up if I had on more than a lightweight blouse. The Polar Vortex of 2014 made such clothing¬†untenable, so the vest is now¬†on top of the suitcase where my cat, Ian, has taken to sleeping. Looks to me like he found just the right combination of soft and warm.

My kitty at peace ... with my sister's memory.
I get it, buddy. I want to get as close to her as I can, too.

Grief makes a strange companion for me. Sanguines are not usually given to bouts of depression or morose thoughts. I am not sure what to make of the gentle waves of sadness that roll over me when I least expect it. Other times the pain comes as a swift punch in the gut, knocking the wind right out of me. In those moments it feels like she just died all over again.

Supposedly grief comes in stages but I cannot remember what they are. I only know that last week my 50th birthday came and went without a card or call from my Big Sis. In fact, I could not remember the last time she had been able to send a card or call me on my birthday, thanks to the ravaging effects of dementia — only one of the illnesses that took her from us. This year I had to face the hardest truth: I would never receive a birthday card or call from her again.

Probably the best birthday ever was the year that we gave one¬†other the same card!!¬†My sister and I were both in the habit of purchasing birthday cards and gifts way¬†early. Her birthday was in January and mine is in March. That year I had found her card in probably June. It was such an incredibly funny and appropriate card that I could not resist the urge to tell her how perfect her next birthday card would be. She did not hesitate to inform me that¬†she too had found the perfect card for my birthday. One of us¬†joked about how funny it would be if¬†we had bought each other the same card! She kept the secret for 2 whole months but we laughed about it for years to come. You’ve heard the saying, “Great minds think alike”? Well, that was a case of kindred hearts.

What do you do when a piece of your heart gets ripped out? I find it difficult at times to gather my thoughts together enough to write about anything. I often find myself thinking about my own death. I think about where she is now, too, and what she might be doing. I think about that a lot. My sister was a brilliant artist. Everything in her life was a work of art. From a prepared meal to a painting to her garden, she sought beauty in everything she put her hand to. I remember once hearing her talk about the importance of color to an artist. Her wonder at color was fascinating! As she spoke, I knew that a mystery was being revealed to me but despite her words, understanding remained beyond my grasp. I like to imagine that now she is experiencing color like never before.

In “What Dreams May Come” Robin Williams’ character literally swam in the vibrant colors around him.

During one of my last visits with her she could no longer speak in complete sentences. Suddenly, in the middle of a conversation I was having with her husband, she mumbled something. Neither of us could understand what she was trying to say. Frustrated, she left the room. We looked at one another, shrugging. When she returned, there was a small picture frame in her hands. ¬†She pointed¬†to it over and over saying, “This.” I did not have a clue¬†what she meant. In response to her growing agitation, I stood¬†and followed her through¬†the house saying. “This, this,” she repeated, over and over.

We finally ended up in the room that would have been her studio. Satisfied at last, she pointed to the pictures on the dresser and breathed, “this” one last time. She relaxed. She had found what she was looking for. What I saw broke my heart. On the dresser were six unfinished Botanicals – dried flower arrangements in frames.¬†None of the pieces looked anything like her work. They were thin shadows of¬†the depth of her talent. But even with a mind being slowly eaten away by dementia, more artistic ability dwelled in her pinky finger than I would ever possess in my whole¬†body. Even then, my sister’s talent was beyond me.

I envy my cat. I would like to be able to curl up and fit on the back of a down vest sitting on the top of my small red suitcase. I am certain it would be just the right combination of soft and warm.

Words Fail

Returning from Thanksgiving break, I saw that Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge in her Remember the Time Blog Hop¬†series.¬† I had missed it due to my trip East. The theme, ‘last days’ caught my eye. It was a bit uncanny, for I had just finished spending my last days with my sister. Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, but it hit even harder after the week I had had. I commented that I was not yet ready to write about my own last days, but then I ran into this:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.

‚Äď William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Shakespeare convinced me that I had to at least try to write about the last week while it was fresh. Even though I am too late to make it into the hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to begin the process. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words. Hers fit perfectly at the front of what comes next.

Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our¬† “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase).¬† What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims.¬† What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.

Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding.

May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of my last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life. Sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the Source of all life. Pure love, pure light. Boundless positive energy. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! I look forward to hearing about your adventures when next we meet.

~  ~  ~

November 25, 2013, Day 1

I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty odor that pervades medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my mother and I stepped into the room. My sister sat slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew. Her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably, something I later understood was the involuntary response to the pain she was experiencing. I tentatively moved closer and spoke her name. She looked up at me sideways. I thought I detected recognition in her eyes, but her gaze immediately gave way to tears, then sobs.

If she understood our words of encouragement and comfort, she was unable to communicate it. We sat on either side of her, aching for some way to penetrate her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace that crossed her features unsettled me, as did the unintelligible words escaping her lips at odd moments.

Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited her home. Wordlessly she had taken me to the bedroom where her art supplies were stored. Several framed botanicals lay atop of the dresser. The work in those frames was but a shadow of her former talents. The tears I watched slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.

November 26, 2013, Day 2

Tuesday the whole family came to visit. My sister’s tears appeared again, then ended as abruptly as they had begun. It dawned on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was worse than heartbreaking. It just didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.

How had her 57-yr. young mind & body been so completely decimated?

As we sat and talked to one another, we looked for ways to include her in the conversation. I could not stop thinking about the past 5 years of decline. It occurred to me to blame the last 18 months of cancer treatments for pushing my sister’s mind farther and farther from us. That day, leaving was harder than it had been the day before. When I had planned the trip, I had secretly hoped to find her already in God’s arms, free from suffering. Looking at her on Tuesday, I understood the prospect could take weeks – perhaps months – rather than days.

November 27, 2013, Day 3

Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. I felt more comfortable with the situation and was encouraged by her lack of tears when we arrived. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said did she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. With her head still cocked to one side, she suddenly fixed me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.” But of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to feed her, but when I left that day, I promised myself I would sing to her before I went back home.

November 28, 2013, Day 4

On Thanksgiving Day we found her sleeping. Her previous two afternoons had been difficult, so we let her rest. God, please, let her rest, I thought.

November 29, 2013, Day 5

Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… even though I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped, she greeted me with one of her most beautiful smiles. Alone for the first that week, I held her hand and whispered prayers against the pain. I begged for a peaceful end to her suffering. Then I turned off the television, pulled my guitar from its case, and tuned the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need. What place could impatience have in one so oblivious of time itself. My sister smiled contentedly, and murmured, “Yeah, yeah”.

For the next hour I sang the songs I love, while I watched her eyes shine with delight. I stared at her, hardly looking at the lead sheets I usually depended upon. I refused to miss a second of my time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink, never to return.

My memory drifted back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by the family singing carols, while her grandchildren toddled to the music. When we struck up a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance too. I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand. They danced until they were breathless to a song neither of them knew.

Rewind further back to another Christmas … my sister distributing her intricate hand-made ornaments. Further still … my sister making perfect spoon bread. Further … a late-night excursion to a bar where she brandished her custom-made pool stick and proceeded to trounce us all. Yet further … my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes my sister had made especially for them. All the way to one of my earliest memories … my sister, seated at a drafting table, creating a pen and ink landscape using a technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents will never cease to astound me! Suddenly my mind snapped back to the present. I found myself unable to reconcile the person before me with the one who lived in my memory.

On Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin. In that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her on a fundamental level that transcended the familiar banter that had characterized our relationship for almost as long as I could remember.

My sister’s youthful brokenness shattered my heart. I simply cannot understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will never see any of my children walk the aisle; I hate that she will not hold her great-nieces & nephews in her arms the way that I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her, once blazing with creativity has gone out. I ache to talk with her about the turn my own talent has taken.

But Friday was our last day.

I miss you more than I can tell. Soon over – we will be together again!

Since I cannot reach you now and I will not be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I swear that I will not remember you this way. Instead I choose to remember the vibrant loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring wise older sister you are.

I promise never to forget the inspiration you have been in my life.

X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)

I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

Your Little Sister,

C

6¬†For God, who said, ‚ÄúLight shall shine out of darkness,‚ÄĚ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10