Category Archives: Night of Mourning

How Safe are Your Medications from Thieves?

A woman with stage 4 lung cancer was found dead in a wooded area in Kentucky, and investigators believe the motive for the murder—by her cousin with two accomplices—was to obtain her narcotic painkillers.

The suspect knew where she kept them, and she had just received another shipment of 120 pain pills on June 8. She disappeared from her home June 9, and her body was found six days later.

Storing opioids

If you have pain killers, where do you store them? I tried locking things in a footlocker with a padlock. My teenager could crack into it within minutes.

I have talked with others who have had cancer treatment. Do they lock up their painkillers? Usually not. Like me, some don’t realize many painkillers are basically heroin pills and addictive.

Here is a list of opioid medications:

Do you have any of these? If so, are they effectively locked up?

“My child wouldn’t take these.”

That’s what I thought. My child did take them. And became an addict. And if he hadn’t, a friend of his might have found and taken them.

I found a digital lock box is the best solution for controlled substances in my home. It costs more, but I know only I can access the contents.

Other addictive prescription drugs to lock up:
— Tranquilizers and depressants, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium.
— Stimulants, including Ritalin and amphetamines such as Adderall.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:
According to 2015 government estimates, more than two million people are addicted to opioids. Protect yourself. Protect your loved ones. Please put your medications in a digital lockbox.

Sources:

https://www.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article213429614.html

http://local12.com/news/local/new-allegations-about-cancers-patients-robbery-murder-revealed

https://patch.com/kentucky/across-ky/terminal-cancer-patient-murdered-her-painkillers-report

https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/prescription/opioids-and-morphine-derivatives.html

https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA17-5053-12/SMA17-5053-12.pdf

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/03/22/most-addictive-prescription-drugs-on-market.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/ct-opioid-prescriptions-dropped-20170707-story.html

3 Spiders Descending

The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

Proverbs 30:28, Christian Bible

Small spiders where I live have taken hold of their webbing and descended, appearing right in front of my face.

It’s never happened before, that I recall. Yet it’s happened three times within eleven days, starting on June 5, the three-year anniversary of my son’s passing. It occurred once while I walked under a tree in my yard. Once while I sat in front of my computer on my deck. And once while I sat indoors at my regular desk.

I felt there had to be some significance to this, especially because the first little spider was white. Many years ago a Jungian psychoanalyst gave a presentation about a white spider that appeared in one of her dreams. Once awake, she went to the local bookstore and saw a book called The White Spider. She got an intuitive vibe that this was important for her. The book was about climbers’ first attempts to ascend the north face of the Swiss mountain Eiger. Success entailed crossing a steep, funnel-like, spider-shaped ice field called The White Spider.

Hmmm. I have had my nose to the computer screen for weeks now, working on Grieving an Addict’s section about the opioid epidemic. I was attempting to funnel hundreds of pages of information and 20 interviews into about 25 pages. It included the story about a woman who had severely painful surgeries for cancer treatment, and was on opioids for eight years—not as an addict, but simply to manage the consequences of her surgeries. And she lost her son to opioid addiction. Sometimes I have been overcome with grief, and have shared my sobbing with my sturdy backyard oak tree. It accepts my tears as they pour out, yet continues to stand tall and strong, like a ladder from heaven. Afterward I stare at the calm green foliage, breathe deeply, and try to restabilize my emotions. The terrible agony so many people have endured is beyond comprehension.

Then I go back to my computer. Slowly, paragraph by painful paragraph, the first draft of this section is nearing completion. When the middle spider descended, it attempted to weave a web on the side of my laptop as I typed. Like the spider, I have taken hold of the strands of stories and integrated them into the fabric of understanding.

Weaving is the work of arachnids. And writers. I find it especially interesting that all three spiders used their webbing to descend right in front of my face. According to one website, the ancient Chinese people thought that when a spider dropped down, it was like gifts were dropping down from heaven. I hope they are gifts for writing this book.

Ironically, my deceased son was terrified of spiders. Perhaps he was letting me know, too, that he has been healed of this phobia on the Other Side. That all of us can heal on the Other Side, when we enter into kings’ palaces in paradise. Maybe there can be a good ending to this story for all of us, after all.

Sources:

https://goodlucksymbols.com/spider-symbolism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_White_Spider

Fathers Can’t Always Fix It

My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it.

–Clarence Budington Kelland

Fathers in our culture are given the role of Mr. Fixit, like the repair fox in Richard Scarry’s children’s books. They are expected to be the family adviser, problem-solver, protector and provider. They are expected to keep their children safe. If their children get sick, they are expected to help fix it.

These expectations are enormous and completely unrealistic. Some things simply can’t be fixed. Even Mr. Fixit repeatedly fails in his role of repairing.

When we lose a child, we agonize. “What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t I have fixed it?”

This spring, the cardinal nest next to my porch provided an example for me of some things that simply can’t be fixed–even by devoted fathers.

Sometimes, I caught glimpses of the father cardinal standing next to the nestlings, probably feeding them.

I later learned male cardinals typically protect their territory and provide food for the little family. They even feed the mothers, calling them away from their nests for dinner.

This father clearly was doing his job, because his ugly nestlings grew rapidly.

About ten days after hatching, one of the fledglings perched on the edge of the nest. It had no tail feathers, and simply sat there awhile. Frankly, Fledgling 1 reminded me of a human teenager daring to take off on its own with no parental control.

Mother and Father chirped madly nearby.

As I continued with my day, Fledgling 1 disappeared. My son and I looked around for it a few times, but never saw it again. What became of the bird? Did one of the feral neighborhood cats catch it? It’s quite possible—only 15 to 37 percent of cardinal nests produce fledglings, and Fledgling 1 was quite vulnerable. The dangers were real and close. The parents had no say in what their offspring chose to do or not do.

The next day Fledgling 2 perched on the edge of the nest for a while. Later in the day I saw it hop from branch to branch around the shrub.

As I approached, both father and mother took turns flying at the bush and creating a ruckus, flapping madly and chirping with piercing volume. Both did their absolute best to lure me away from their remaining baby. Neither succeeded.

The next day, cardinal chirping slit the air from high in a nearby pine. And then it ceased. Fledgling 2 most likely made it into adulthood.

The parents provided a home, nourishment, and every attempt at a safe environment. Yet perhaps one of the two didn’t make it into adulthood. It is not the parents’ fault. We must accept that we are not in charge, ultimately. We do not control the choices of our children, nor any diseases they might endure. We can provide and influence and plead, but in the end, some things can’t be fixed. All we can do is our best.

May you find peace in the example you set for your loved ones.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:
Hear a cardinal chirp on this page https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/norcar/introduction and watch a father cardinal feed his young here: https://americanexpedition.us/learn-about-wildlife/northern-cardinal-facts-information/

Source:
https://www.wild-bird-watching.com/Cardinal.html

Remember the Rachels on Mother’s Day

Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.

Matthew 2:16-18, New Living Translation

Rachel was an early biblical character who died giving birth to her second son. She was buried by the road to Bethlehem. Bethlehem would later become the birth location for a king, according to Matthew’s gospel. And Herod, the jealous and frightened ruler at the time, sent his soldiers to kill all the male infants and toddlers near Bethlehem to remove this new threat. One cannot imagine the kind of imperishable grief such an act would produce on a vulnerable population.

This story is part of the birth narrative of Jesus. When was the last time you heard a preacher talk about this trauma in connection with the nativity story? It seems to me that mothers who grieve their children appear easily overlooked.

The world is full of Rachels who weep disconsolately for their deceased children. My friend Joan just lost her daughter to diabetes.

With the current opioid epidemic, mothers who are cancer patients need to be wary. I was told in 2011 to “stay ahead of the pain,” and was sent home with a month’s supply of what I now realize were heroin pills. Recently I talked with a cancer survivor who also had leftover opioids and a teenaged son at home. I urged her to get a digital lockbox or return the pills to a pharmacy. Even if her son doesn’t find or use them, a friend of his might. Then the treacherous slide into heroin overdose begins.

If I ever doubt myself as a mother fighting for her children, all I have to do is look at this Mother’s Day card my deceased son made for me about ten years ago. I’m seen as firm with my words and my sword… with a kind smile on my face, all centered in a heart glowing with love.

I’m hardly alone. Even my son’s memorial garden was just visited again by Rachel’s weeping. A mother bird in the sweet gum tree had fought valiantly for her eggs, evidenced by the circle of feathers; but her efforts simply weren’t enough. The nest fell to the grass and her babies were hungrily consumed.

Mother’s Day is approaching. Ugh. For me, and for perhaps hundreds of thousands of mothers, this time on the calendar is a terrible reminder of broken hearts and empty arms. Despite all we do, sometimes we still lose our children. Some mothers lose their only children—I know two such women who lost theirs to heroin. I have heard of one woman who lost all three of her children to heroin overdoses. Losing your children is bad enough. Add on the stigma of death to drugs and you have an unfathomable nightmare.

I am most fortunate that one of my brothers will be here and we will spend the day making and eating delicious meals our mother made when we were growing up—a time of innocence. My younger son will get to indulge with us. (He loves to tell me there’s no food in my house.) Foods I typically now avoid, yet that give comfort and solace to an empty heart. Corn fritters, hamburger pie, cheesecake, springerle. I’ll still be weeping for my child, as I do nearly every day, yet with social support I also will have some consolation.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Mothers fight for their offspring, though not always successfully. Many of these mothers are single. It can be such a lonely time, especially with the isolation that can come from losing a child to drugs.

On Mother’s Day, please pray for or send positive intentions to the Rachels everywhere. Those who have suffered heavy losses need comfort and love—a kind word, a simple text, a card—something to let them know they are not entirely alone.

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Irises: Rainbow Bridges between Earth, Heaven

As soon as the goddess entered and brushed away the dreams that hovered around her, her brightness lit up all the cave.

“The Halcyon Birds,” Bulfinch’s Mythology

In the Greek myth “The Halcyon Birds,” the king of Thessaly dies at sea while his beloved wife Halcyone prays ceaselessly for his return. Halcyone’s prayers are heard by the goddess Hera. Hera can’t bear Halcyone’s pleading for the impossible return of the dead king, so she sends her attendant, the goddess Iris, on a mission. Iris dons her robe of many colors, then paints the sky with a rainbow on her way to deliver Hera’s message to the god of sleep. Hera wants the god of sleep to give Halcyon a dream about the king of Thessaly’s shipwreck so Halcyone will stop her incessant prayers. Iris’ radiance fills the sleeping god’s cave. She delivers her message to the god, then returns by her rainbow to the heavens.

The iridescent rainbow goddess Iris represents a connection between earth and heaven through the bows she creates with her robe—the female version of an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat—when she traverses the air.

The iris flower bears her name. Symbolically, this bloom bridges earth with heaven because of its great beauty. It represents the ability to communicate messages with those who reside with (the) God(s). If you have lost a loved one to cancer, the iris might take on some extra significance for you.

Irises have been growing for decades at Grailville in Loveland, Ohio, which has served as a spiritual bridge between the human and the Divine. It is sacred ground upon which my 19-year-old son Tristan inspired one final time.

Buckets of extra irises from the property recently found their way into my little car, thanks to Mary Lu. They now are planted in Tristan’s garden behind my home. From sacred ground to hallowed ground, the irises connect the spiritual with the profane, the light with the dark, the living with the deceased. They help bring the Spirit to my son who sought the Spirit in the false highs of heroin. The flowers now provide a symbolic way to communicate with him.

The iris has another symbolic connection for me. Early usage of the French royal symbol, the fleur-de-lis/fleur-de-lys, probably referred to the iris, which grew abundantly along the river Lys, rather than to the lily. The fleur-de-lis is a symbol for the Boy Scouts, in which Tristan earned the Arrow of Light honor.

I look forward to the flowers beaming their iridescent radiance in the spring. There is no more meaningful addition to his garden.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

To invoke the energy of the rainbow, or of communication with your loved ones on the Other Side, perhaps meditate with a drop of iris essence or essential oil on your forehead between your eyebrows, or with an iris blossom next to you.

Sources:

Richard Martin, ed., “The Halcyon Birds,” Bulfinch’s Mythology (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1991), p. 65

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis, November 1, 2017

3 Birthday Feathers for Making Wishes

…he said: ‘Now you have seen me, you shall see me no more, unless you are willing to serve seven years and a day for me, so that I may become a man once more.’ Then he told her to take three feathers from under his side, and whatever she wished through them would come to pass. Then he left her at a great house to be laundry-maid for seven years and a day.

“Three Feathers,” More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, 1894

In this tale, a woman is not allowed to see what her own husband looks like. With untamed curiosity, one night she lights a candle so she can see him. Jacobs writes, “He was handsome enough to make all the women of the world fall in love with him. But scarcely had she seen him when he began to change into a bird.”

The bird-man exiles his wife to seven years and a day as a laundress so he can regain his human form; yet he also gives her three feathers for making wishes. Through the feathers she really doesn’t do seven years of labor. The feathers do the work for her.

Like the wife and her husband, I finally looked upon the truth about my son Tristan; soon thereafter he flew away into the unseen realm.

My friend Kay taught me to watch for signs of his continuing presence in my life.

A week ago would have been his 22nd birthday. Like the bird-man, he sent me three feathers to let me know he’s nearby, working his magic. And like the wife, I have labor to perform, writing a book about grieving. It is a labor of love.

The first feather presented itself a few days before his birthday at Lake Isabella in Loveland, Ohio, while I walked and talked about him with my friend Laura. The large turkey vulture feather stuck straight up in the grass next to the road. Turkey vultures are symbols of devoted motherhood. Their plumage would probably make good quills for writing. Perhaps Tristan has sent me a Quick-quotes Quill from Harry Potter.

The second feather floated down out of the clear blue sky, landing right in front of me on the day before his birthday. I knew then that feathers would be the sign of his presence for this birthday.

On his birthday, I discovered the third feather–caught somehow on a gossamer thread hanging from the shelf above my laundry sink.

I believe my son, invisible to me now, left me three birthday feathers for making wishes as I labor on his book. And there will be three parts to his book–perhaps a feather for making wishes and receiving inspiration from my son as I write on each section.

It was a beautiful gift to me on his birthday.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Signs from our deceased loved ones can be subtle. Keep an open mind and heart and watch for them. My friend Kathy, whose sister Karen passed a year ago, writes, “It’s also interesting to me how often animals appear in some significant way when people move on… when Mother died, we heard a Mourning Dove…at 1:30am, a rather unusual time for bird song.

“As we walked to the door to enter the house to say Goodbye to Karen (after all the police/medical investigations were done – standard procedure for an “unattended death”), someone happened to glance to the left and there in the field was a doe, looking right at us. She stood for the longest time, unafraid, then bounded away into the cedars looking so graceful and free. ”

What signs have you received from your deceased loved one?

Source:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/meft/meft08.htm

Something His Hand Touched

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies… Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go…

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

The two-year anniversary of my son’s passing went forgotten by all but three people in my life.

This forgetting raises an irrational sorrow in my mind. How could they forget when my son passed?

But it wasn’t their lives that were devastated. Everyone has gone on with their lives. As is the nature of life.

What surprises me is not that people forgot. I expected that. What astonishes me is that some people actually did remember, and say something to me.

His passing happened the first Saturday in June. This year I returned to the conference center where he left this life.  After talking with other people at the vegetable stand, I walked to the room, the last room he ever saw with physical eyes. The door has been closed ever since that dreadful week, and a sign says under no circumstances is anyone to enter. The closest I can come to the last thing on earth he touched is the door knob to the room he had locked from the inside. So I held the knob to imagine some connection with his final few minutes as a human being.

Mary Lu knew where I had gone, and why, even though I had said nothing. She waited a little while, then came to check on me. This wise woman has always been a gracious presence in my life. She held me and listened as I rambled my jumbling thoughts.

I finally screwed up enough courage to ask—why had the room been closed for two years?

She said it was going to be remodeled.

Another friend later commented that the conference center people must have felt honored that my son felt safe there, and spent his final moments on their sacred ground. Its room had cradled his living body in preparation for its final rest. The room could never be the same again.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

There is some sort of connection one can experience with the objects left by those we love. If nothing else, it can elicit memories, which gives us a sense, however briefly, of being with the person again.

Source: http://clipart-library.com

Weaving for Those Grieving

orb weaver“How can you be a symbol of strength?” said the chief. “You are small and weak, and I didn’t even see you as I followed the great Deer.”

“Grandson,” said the spider, “look upon me. I am patient. I watch and I wait. Then all things come to me.”

“The Spider and the People,” an Osage Legend

 

Like the chief, I almost didn’t see the spider in my garden a year ago—even though it was about three inches long. This black-and-gold arachnid had spun a large circular web. I stopped in time and held my breath.

I had heard arachnids symbolize the scribing arts because they weave webs as writers weave stories. This Yellow Garden Spider is called an orb weaver. Maybe like the large round web, it was letting me know there is a big story I am being asked to craft.

Yet I knew it wasn’t time. I had lost my son less than a year earlier and still needed months, if not years, to process my grief. The creature’s message was, yes, write; yet be patient. The time will come.

Another year has gone by. I have survived all the major holidays and anniversaries. I have blogged about the tears, the connections, the dreams. I have read through all my journal entries from the time I was pregnant with Tristan, reliving every one of the thousands of moments I had recorded about his life.

Late this spring I knew it was time to begin the way orb weavers start their mandala-like webs. They cast strands into the wind so the white wisps catch on something. Several weeks ago, I cast my story strand out to my publisher. Would he like a book from me about grieving?

Patiently I waited.

A few missed calls.

Finally, his voice on the line.

Jim didn’t ask me anything. Not about readership, not about marketing, not about platform. “This book is really needed,” he said. “Get crackin’.”

Like the orb weaver’s web, the first strands of this story are haphazard. Loose connections form the beginning structure of the book—a section about Tristan’s life to provide context and emotional connection, and a section designed to assist others with the grieving process, similar in style and voice to Thriver Soup.

Yet it was incomplete, like the initial lines of a web. My friend Mim Grace suggested another section for those standing on the sidelines. How do we interact with a person who is grieving? What do we say and not say? What about the sorrow of other family members, especially children?

To complete the sacred structure, I needed a professional editor. A man who knew Tristan years ago, who had lost his own son, and who had a lifetime of writing and editing experience, stepped forward.

The pieces are falling into place, as the initial spider’s home structures form a lattice. These beginnings have to be integrated for the rest of the orb to grow around and through them.

I am ready to weave around these structures, writing and editing, improving and revising. The filaments will form, with a characteristic orb-weaver ladder in place for me to move around easily within the wholeness of this gift. I plan to be patient, watching and waiting, and remain open to ideas, as some orb spiders frequently take down their webs and recast them.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Help me make this book the best it can be. Please forward this post to those who are grieving and ask for ideas on what would make this book a valuable guide for those navigating grief. Thank you.

Sources:

http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/The-Spider-And-The-People-Osage.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argiope_aurantia

http://southernwilddesign.com/argiope-the-common-garden-spider/

http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/orb-weaver

It is better to have loved and lost, on Mother’s Day

… O evil day! if I were sullen / While Earth herself is adorning / This sweet May-morning; / And the children are culling / On every side / In a thousand valleys far and wide / Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm, / And the babe leaps up on his mother’s arm:— / I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!

“Ode on Intimations of Immortality,” Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

 

Flowers from TristanMy heart melted whenever my son Tristan brought me flowers he had culled.

When he was nearly three, he joyfully handed me discarded artificial blossoms. He asked me to smell them, so I did.

I asked, “What do they smell like to you?”

He plunged his face into the bouquet and breathed in. He looked at me with all seriousness. “Cheerios.”

For me, nothing has been more wondrous than raising my boys. Even with the exhaustion, the frustration, the terror, the powerlessness. The sorrow.

My motherhood began later in my life than for most mothers. A week after the due date, an ultrasound indicated my firstborn was twelve pounds.

Um, he wasn’t coming out naturally, even though I had a great midwife.

Sighing, I scheduled a C-section.

I had another week to wait. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when he broke bread with his disciples for the final time: This is my body which is broken down for you; This is my blood which is shared with you. Greater love has no one than this, than one lay down her life for her friends.

Or for one.

A baby boy named Tristan.

“Congratulations,” my doctor said after the surgery. “You’ve given birth to a two-month-old.” Tristan looked enormous beside the normal-sized babies.

I loved this precious new being with every breath. I held him at every opportunity. I sang to him, talked to him, read to him before we even left the hospital.

I wrote in my journal: “When I look at this baby, I don’t see a child; I see an extension of myself. I feel a bond that is stronger than death. It really hurts my soul to see him cry. I love being able to nurse him—to feed him with living water from my innermost being. To nourish and sustain him with my body. To give to him from my life’s blood, for it takes blood to make milk.

“Now I know what a mother’s love is. It has nothing to do with how the child turns out or how smart or gifted he is. All that matters is his happiness.”

When Tristan was a week old, I held him in my arms while I rocked. I cried for half an hour—a slow, silent, teary cry. I never wanted him to be hurt, so I prayed for his protection.

How prophetic. He could not find happiness for himself. He did not have the protection he needed.

It is said it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved. At the National Leiomyosarcoma Foundation national conference in 2015 I spoke briefly about losing Tristan two months earlier. A woman came up to me, her eyes brimming with tears, her voice tremulous. She had lost her daughter a decade earlier to leiomyosarcoma. The pain of losing a child can come up anytime, anywhere, and produce copious tears. Time does not erase the agony. Would she trade this desolation for never having her beloved daughter? Never. No, never. I know that love and am grateful for the 19 years I shared with Tristan.

And the bond of love continues beyond the grave. It is deathless. (And as I write this, the song “We’re Walking in the Air” randomly plays on Pandora—it’s one of the songs played during Tristan’s memorial service. He is with me, even now… His essence is deathless. His presence is present. His love lingers.)

Even without this precious child still embodied to celebrate Mother’s Day with, I would be remiss to be sullen. I loved being his mother for 19 years; even in the darkest hours, I loved him with all my heart. He knew. And he still does.

So I will celebrate with my living son, my second-born, who soon will have lived longer than his older brother. He delights me with his humor, his insights, his love. He is the treasure of my life.

I have much to celebrate.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Please share this post with mothers who have lost their children. Thank you.