Everyday Spirituality

Posts tagged ‘death’

The Caterpillar Ultimately Flies Away

If we truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus then we must also believe that our loved ones and we too will be resurrected….some day. This Easter weekend, beginning with Holy Thursday, is everything we believe as Christians.

During these last few days we entered into what it means to be a living breathing human being joined with our one redeeming grace…Jesus. He alone enters and relinquishes all doubt.

He alone gives meaning to suffering and joy.

Sharing a meal with friends…being betrayed by loved ones…being loved by relatives…suffering without guilt…loneliness in a crowd…false accusations…humiliation…comfort from by standers…assistance from a stranger…forgiveness of offenders…absorbed in prayer…acting according to the will of the Father

If Easter stirs nothing else within our souls it should be that God the Father keeps his promises. Death is but a passage into something far greater and more beautiful than life itself.

Easter is about dying to those things in my life that are not important.

Easter is about realizing that all things pass on into something more; and sometimes we are blessed to catch a glimpse…the Resurrection.

Just when we foolishly or mistakenly think that the tomb is empty it is actually filled with the life of the spirit. Our human eyes have only limited vision. Even in the Gospels those who saw the resurrected Jesus often did not recognize him or mistook him for someone else. Perhaps seeing the resurrected Jesus was much like seeing in a dream…where things can be confusing.

Easter teaches us that when we surrender and let go God does carry us the rest of the way. Easter shows us that what we see with our eyes is not the complete picture.

Easter is like the hidden egg in the yard; in plain sight except to the hunter. In spite of the contrast (in color) the egg is often still missed; missed because we become frantic in our search and intent with filling our basket. We rush around ‘helter skelter’ overlooking so much.

Jesus did live his life doing amazing things. But he also lived his life doing ordinary things just as we and our loved ones have done. It is through living our ordinary life that we are given the promise of an extraordinary eternity.

Easter gives me hope that someday when we are reunited with our loved ones. We will see with new eyes and the brilliance will be more than we could have imagined.

You cannot experience great joy without first experiencing great suffering.

 

Death must always come before the glory of the Resurrection!

The Caterpillar Ultimately Flies Away!

 

 

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The Mobile of Life

Many years ago I was taking an art education class. One of the projects we were required to make was a hanging mobile. Well I do not know if you have ever tried to make one of these delicately balanced rotating visual arts, but it is not just mere child’s play.

Today you can purchase a kit complete all that you need to create your own mobile. The directions are included but as with so many things in life having the materials and the written directions are not always sufficient to complete a project.

You can choose various sorts of objects to hang on your mobile. There is no requirement that they be of uniform size or weight. This is what makes creating a balanced mobile such a challenge. If all the component parts are the same size and shape things are much easier.

I have written before about maintaining balance in life and even have done several workshops on the topic, but hanging a mobile is a unique exercise in balance.

When you are planning the layout of a mobile each hanging object must also be free to rotate in all directions without touching another object on the mobile. The delicate balance of a mobile is much like life. We are constantly maintaining a sort of balance as we move about freely throughout our days. We come in contact with others on their own hanging mobile too.

But sometimes we encounter those we have chosen to place on our own mobile. Since we have the choice of what becomes a part of our mobile we can include our friends. In life our mobile is much more fluid and we are constantly making adjustments to keep each part as a freely moving part. Each part while freely moving is very much attached to the structure of the mobile. Each part of the mobile is affected by another part either on the same level or by the next higher level.

The sculptor Alexander Calder said “To most people who look at a mobile, it’s no more than a series of flat objects that move. To a few, though, it may be poetry.”

By the time you are an adult the mobile of your life is quite complicated. It requires much energy and attention to keep all things moving unencumbered by the other parts. When you add something new to your mobile it is usually necessary to adjust the balance again. Even adding something small will change the balance of that section. If you are not anticipating this imbalance then things become tangled up and may ruin the ascetic beauty of your mobile. You will then need to invest hours to untangle and rebalance.

So the question arises, ‘What happens when something is removed from your mobile’? When something is removed from your life mobile, as the result of a death, everything else loses its balanced beauty. There is this hole with nothing to balance the other end. Things become horribly lopsided. You look at the mess and wonder what to move into the empty place. You cannot ignore the empty space. You cannot replace the missing part with just anything to hold the space. What you chose to place in the empty space must be carefully chosen.

You do have another choice; you could decide to completely rearrange the entire mobile. If you chose this option then you will ultimately look closely at each part from a different perspective. Is this piece something I still want to be a part of my mobile? This whole process may take a significant amount of time. There is no deadline for completion, but it must be addressed. This is your life. Do you want to have a tangled mass of stuff or do you want order and beauty to be restored to your mobile?

This is where I am, assessing what is necessary to be kept on this delicate mobile of my life. It is not a matter of one part no longer being part of the balance it is the entire balance. Losing a person from your mobile of life requires the most delicate attention.  At this point I am not sure what the remodeled mobile will look like. I will keep trying to rearrange, add and remove things until the missing sense of balance is recovered…until beauty is restored.

 

Aside

The “White Noise” of Eternity

I am beginning to feel as if the presence of my dear friend is becoming a beautiful ‘white noise’ in my daily life.

I just discovered simplynoise.com, this website offers white, pink and brown noise on their site for free. They even have a white noise app. (You can find an app today for just about anything.)

  The beauty about white noise is that it gradually vanishes into the background and is not something you readily notice. When I was a little girl my sister and shared a bedroom. We did not have central air condition yet so we had this floor fan. You guessed it the sound of this fan became white noise for us. Every night we went to bed with the fan motor humming us to sleep. Each morning when daddy rose at about five o’clock he would come into our room and turn off the fan. Soon if nothing else woke us up the ‘silence’ of the quiet morning had our eyes wide open.

Have you ever noticed when the power goes out in your house just how quiet it is? Just the hum of the refrigerator motor missing creates a huge sound void in the house.

The death of my friend was like turning off the refrigerator motor the ‘noise’ of her presence was silenced. Just as you notice when the electricity goes off you notice when a friend is no longer a part of your daily life in much the same profound way.

So you ask, ‘what exactly is white noise?’ White noise is a noise produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. If you took all the different frequencies a human can hear and combined them together, that would be white noise.

My sister, to this day, still sleeps with a fan on every night. The white noise from the fan motor lulls her to sleep.

The adjective ‘white’ is used because of the way white light works.

White light is made up of all the different colors (frequencies) of light together.

 

A prism confirms this quality of white light since it is able to separate the seven colors of the spectrum. White noise works the exact same way.

So how does this work and how does it relate to my friend? The human brain is an exceptional part of our body, but it does have its limitations. When too many conversations or sounds are being heard by our brain it has limited capacity to focus. Once say several conversations are being heard simultaneously the brain no longer even attempts to process the information. It just becomes noise…white noise.

Now that my friend is not physically present and my brain cannot focus on her alone she has become for me white noise. I find this to be comforting because I know she is with me even though I cannot see her. Just as I know all colors are present in white light even though I cannot see them all at the same time.

Seeing is in most cases believing. I think of St. Thomas, he needed to see the wounds in the hands and feet of Jesus that post resurrection day in the upper room. I believe in the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist even though I cannot see him in the precious Body and Blood.

I believe even though I can no longer see my friend’s beautiful smiling face; she is with me. God is light and just maybe when you die and pass into the light you become part of the essence of that light. Once you become part of the ‘God Light’ we here on earth can no longer see you with our human eyes. You are a part of the light that surrounds us all, but you do not lose your ‘unique’ color.

She is with me. She is part of my white light I can feel its warmth. I can feel her smiling, even encouraging me. I can feel her supporting me.

 Yes, I do know she is dead, but I do not believe death is as final as we might in our limited understanding believe it to be.

If all we ever saw was white light we would never be able to appreciate the colors of the rainbow. God gave the colorful rainbow as a sign to Noah of his covenant to never again destroy the earth by floods. (Genesis 9:13-14)

Next time you see a rainbow or hear white noise think of the presence of a loved one. They are with you, you just cannot see or hear them any longer.

Raising the Cheetos

Some things you just cannot escape.

I knew it was coming. I even made plans for it. I reached out to a friend to have Mass said for her. I bought the ceremonial Cheetos. I surrounded myself with her family. I prayed for her. I talked to her. I reached out to her for the right words of comfort.

Some things you just cannot escape.

Some things you must endure as painful as they may be inside. Sometimes I wish I had some external wound. I could look at this wound and use it as a gage as to how my heart and emotions were progressing. But of course there is no such wound. And even if there were I would want it hidden, covered by my clothes maybe on my abdomen.

That seems an appropriate place since we all get gut feelings from time to time. I once saw a silly movie where the person had some kind of little creature that would emerge from their side. It was never good when this creature appeared. It was more like a spoiled child.

I do not like thinking things are fine. I have now moved on. I can deal with this loss. I know she is gone. Death is part of life…end of story.

But it is not that simple. Grief lays low waiting to ambush you.

Even when you think you are aware; you get blindsided. It comes out and bops you on the head. It punches you in the stomach…knocks the air out of your lungs.

It really sucks.

You look at the life she had and you rejoice. You try to carry on with the things she loved…family meals, games, and celebrating together. She was all about being together with her loved ones.

I went through the motions…I even tried to be happy and smile. The words of the music at Mass touched my heart in its most vulnerable area. Maybe there is a special section of your heart reserved to hold memories of loved ones forever. Forever is such a long time. I know it will get better, but that does not diminish the present pain.

Maybe I should just swallow a pill and get on with my life. That sounds like a plan. No, that is not the solution for me. I have said many times I wanted to experience this loss. I do not want to pretend the pain does not exist.

So yesterday on what would have been her seventieth birthday, I stood in my kitchen and raising a Cheetos to heaven toasted our friendship. “Here’s to the good times.” I said. Who needs alcohol to make a toast anyway? As I ate each little cheesy stick I etched even more indelibly in my heart the times of laughter we shared together.

Some things you just cannot escape!

Do You Ever Feel Stripped?

Romans 8:28, 31 “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Throughout life we are stripped in many different situations. Daily we strip from our clothes in order to cleanse our body. Thus we have the sanitary reason for stripping. Whenever I make my annual gynecological visit stripping is also required. Thus we have the medical reason for stripping.

Refinishing furniture requires stripping off the old finish. A stripped screw can no longer function properly. And of course we have the whole adult entertainment industry where stripping is used to attract and tempt men and women.

There are other examples of stripping I could include, but I want to focus on feeling stripped as a result of a death. A stripping you cannot control; more on that a little later.

The idea here of feeling stripped is about loss; not of clothing but of emotional support. Since losing my friend I have felt stripped of her presence. It is like I do not have my complete wardrobe.

Looking into my ‘closet’ I am not able to find an acceptable substitute. I get dressed, but always something is missing. I feel things do not coordinate together. Something I highly valued has been stripped from my life.

Throughout our lives we are involuntary stripped of things we hold dear…material things….money…personal security…peace of mind…hopes…and dreams…health…the list could go on.

I know in my heart that it is more about how I react than to what I perceive is being stripped from me. This realization requires vigilance.

I often try to connect situations in my life with a familiar biblical story. When I think of being stripped I picture Jesus being stripped of his clothes. He chose to submit to this humiliating act allowing the soldiers to strip him and cast lots for his garments. No greater Love!

Without clothes you are naked and vulnerable to the external elements. Without clothes you lose some protection. There is nothing to cover your sensitive skin. The death of my close friend to me is much like being stripped.   I feel vulnerable.

Being stripped of your soul friend leaves you without familiar cover. Not that you can hide inside your clothing, but the friendship provides a safe place. Within friendship that which is less than perfect and hidden from others is accepted by your friend. Inside the clothing of friendship you are not preoccupied with what others think. You are accepted and loved for just being…you. You can actually be better at who you are.

Occasionally I have left home without something as simple as my earrings. It seems ridiculous, but I feel naked without earrings. I know it makes no sense. Earrings are a very small part of being dressed.

I feel stripped and vulnerable without my friend, but at the same time there is this sense of freedom. This sense of freedom almost makes me feel guilty. Freedom seems to contradict the loss and feelings of being stripped. A freedom from being stripped is the freedom from expectations.

Piet Mondrian

As we approach Lent I invite you to consider; what you can strip from your own life. During Lent we have the freedom to look at our lives and decide what we can strip away in order to have a closer relationship with the Lord.

We can ask ourselves these questions, “What am I hiding behind?

What is compromising my acceptance of God’s plan for me?”

“What am I clutching onto for dear life?”

Like St. Paul I often do not know how to pray as I ought; especially when I feel stripped, vulnerable and sometimes even deserted by God.

Flashes of the Past

I have been known to enjoy some science fiction movies from time to time. I really like The Abyss it is the most beautiful love story. Keeping that in mind I wish there were a way to virtually project into real-time past memories as you called them to mind or as they come forward. I know it sounds silly and that is why we have movie cameras…to capture those moments we want to preserve.

I have had a couple experiences recently not of déjà vu exactly but similar. My friend and I took our ministry to several other parishes beside our own. A few years ago we gave a women’s retreat based on the powerful story of the Woman Caught in Adultery at another parish.

When I had the occasion to visit the parish again I was not really thinking about the possibility of being in the very same room, but as it turned out we were. It felt surreal walking into this room again. So much of what we had done together in that space came flooding back into my body. I almost had to stop and take a deep breath before crossing the threshold. We had also presented an Advent series about the Blessed Mother in that very same room.

As I sat in the space I wanted to close my eyes and relive every detail of our time together in that exact room. I could picture us standing in the front of the room together walking the women into the scripture story that cold winter Saturday morning. I could hear us talking about Jesus writing in the sand. Then I could see the women coming forward with their sand during the closing ritual.

It was an emotionally charged day and now those emotions are mixed inside me with the emotions of her absence. We can never do that presentations together again and it was my favorite. It had been the very first day of prayer we did for our own parish. Even my mother and sister were present.

Memories are malleable to me you can take them in your hand. They can bring you comfort in times of sadness. Sometimes a memory will materialize when you least expect and surprise you. Sometimes memories have a way to make you appreciate even more something you once had.

The last time we presented together was for the team of women’s retreat for our parish. I am already beginning to emotionally prepare for my return visit to this person’s home as I have been asked to present to another retreat group in this person’s beautiful home.

I guess I am just being sentimental. I know sooner or later I will not be having these déjà vu experiences any longer. As more time passes there is less and less of a connection. Not that the person is any less missed or less loved it’s just that other memories get stored on top.

The most recent research on the brain and memory indicates that our memories are stored in several places throughout our brain. When we recall an event our incredible brain reconstructs the bits and pieces of information into one unified memory. But it makes sense then that occasionally we have missed some of the details or ‘remembered’ something incorrectly. Our memories are not fool-proof, but recording details in a journal is a great tool to help reconstruct an event. Of course pictures are another excellent way to preserve memories. Movies are probably the most accurate way to preserve something you want to remember many years later. I know many people scrapbook which becomes a wonderful keepsake for generations to come.

We have an amazing brain that is why just walking into a room can trigger the details of something that occurred in that location. I am sure you have all had the experience of heading to another room to get something only to reach the room with no memory of why you were going there. The easiest way to remember is to return to the place where you had the thought of what you wanted from the other room.

I wonder what our life would be like if we could not ever remember anything. I think they have made a movie about something like that, maybe 100 First Dates. I am not sure.

I do cherish my memories they conjure up all sorts of emotions within my soul. It makes me happy to remember the presentations my friend and I did together. And it makes me sad to think we will never be presenting together again.

The most vivid memories we can recall are often colored by a strong emotion…love…fear…joy…sadness. Strong emotions embed the memory into our psyche giving it a much longer retention rate.

 

I pray for those whose loved ones suffer from memory loss. Dementia is a devastating disease especially when the person is the picture of health. It is hard to experience the apparent ‘death’ of the person you once loved because of Alzheimer’s, a most devastating disease for family members.

We actually rely a great deal on our memory. Take a moment and express gratitude for your memory. You might want to recall one of your most precious memories to date.

Close your eyes and try to recall as many of the details as possible. Who is there…where you were…what it looked like…what could you hear…what were your feelings at the time?

Promises…the Ballet

We use the word promise so casually today. We promise to do things and we promise not to do certain things. We even make promises to ourselves. But somehow when a loved one is ill or dying the promises we make then carry more weight. They seem to be more important…like a final testament of your love for them.

 

Well Sunday, I kept a promise that I made to my dear friend…I went to watch her daughter and granddaughter dance in a performance of the Nutcracker.

Please do not misunderstand my intention here…Yes, I am going as she requested. I have gone before and would have attended this performance anyway, but this year it is in her honor.  The difference is that it was one of her last requests.

A few weeks before her death, while she was hospitalized, we had a most intimate conversation about the future without her presence. It was a special tender time for us together as we shared so much about her futures hopes and dreams. As we lovingly held hands she softly spoke about what things she would miss and how she wanted me to be there…not to replace her presence, but to somehow give flesh to her love representing her deep desire to be there. A symbol of our loving commitment to one another; she was confident that I would be thrilled to go watch her precious daughter and granddaughter dance. She knew my love for them was great, too.

When people are dying they grasp on to those things which represent life for them and to them. For my dear friend supporting her family in everything they pursued was at the top of the list. It brought her great joy to watch her daughter perform ballet and jazz dance as a child. There were many long hours invested in dance lessons, practices, sewing costumes, and all that is related to dance. When you are devoted to dance (or anything else that requires intense attention) you happily make sacrifices in other areas of your life.

While her daughter was an excellent dancer she chose another field for her career, but dance was and continues to be one of her great loves. I know that my friend could see and feel the joy her daughter experienced when her granddaughter began to blossom in dance as well.

It was not long before this beautiful wife and mother of three was back at the ballet bar and once again on point. She was bitten by the ‘Ballet Bug’. You know the little ‘bug’ in the fluffy tulle tutu! Ballet is such a beautiful art to watch…grace, movement, muscle control, timing, flexibility, the music, and much more.

I will always hold in my heart the joy and the twinkle in my friend’s eye just seeing her granddaughter dance and pirouette in the living room. She would break into a full face, ear to ear smile. I loved her warm smile.

I believe Sunday night she was there for I felt her presence sitting with me. I could feel the warmth of her smile. Excuse me for a moment as I wipe away a tear of love and joy. I trust that she had the best seat in the house looking down on all of us. She could even see back in the dressing room as her daughter commented later.

Following the final performance we celebrated with dinner together and managed to joyfully include stories of our loved one. I have heard some people refer to death as just being on the other side of the curtain. Well Sunday night behind the curtain was something made in heaven; lovely ballerinas especially the two we love and most wanted to see.

The beauty of ballet is truly heavenly.

My dear friend, here’s to many more promises joyfully kept.