Category Archives: Night of Mourning

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.

Thriving Through a Dark Night of the Soul

… rendered reckless by despair, you let yourself fall backward into the arms of nothing. This—according to John of the Cross—is a blessing of the highest order.

Tell that to the mother of a dead child.

Mirabai Starr, Caravan of No Despair

 

Have you ever been rendered reckless by despair? Fallen backward into the arms of nothing? Or even lost a child?

Mirabai Starr writes about her dark night of the soul that began the day the police showed up at her doorstep. Her 14-year-old daughter had just been killed in a car accident. It happened on the very day the first copy of her published translation of St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul had arrived.

“… all the ways you have been accustomed to tasting the sacred dry up and fall away,” she writes. “All concepts of the Holy One evaporate. You are plunged into a darkness so impenetrable that you are convinced it will never lift. You may flail about for something—anything—to prop you up, but you grasp only emptiness.”

Twice I have lived through such a dark night of the soul—each time for seven years. And both times I came out on the other side a transformed person.

This is not about depression, or depressing circumstances, though those can plunge one into a dark night of the soul. It is about losing one’s sense of connection with the Divine. It is about feeling spiritually incapacitated, unable to pray or meditate. For me it began in 2009 with an end-stage cancer diagnosis, and I hit bottom six years later when my son Tristan passed away.

During those years, Tara Robinson, editor of Whole Living Journal, recognized the transformations as they were occurring. She honored those shifts in 2014—while I was still in the thrall of my dark night—by creating the Voices of Women Award for outstanding achievement in personal growth and transformation. She recognized that these hidden soul excavations often go unrecognized, even though they totally change a person.

Many people live through dark nights of the soul. How does one live in the midst of despair? How does one pick up the pieces and create something new and more beautiful?

I want to tell you from my heart that whatever you are going through, you can find light and joy. It is living in you, even if it is layered over by pain, rage, terror, grief, and confusion. It takes determination to find it. And for many, finding the light again is a long, slow, agonizing process. We do have a choice. We can languish or we can move toward thriving.

There are strategies we can use to help us cope and eventually transform. I gained those tools during my cancer journey and continue to use them. I will be sharing some of those tools Saturday at Cincinnati’s Victory of Light in the Sharonville Convention Center. My talk is at 3 p.m. If you cannot make it, contact me to schedule a speaking engagement.

When the Deceased Call

“`Enter paradise; no fear need you have, and neither shall you grieve!”‘

Sura 7:49, Qur’an

Some people will be surprised by who enters eternal paradise, which is depicted as beautiful gardens, according to the Qur’an.

Sometimes those in the Elysian Fields temporarily pay visits to earthly plots. And sometimes they let us know when they have arrived. By phone, even.

What would you give to receive a quick call or text from a deceased loved one, letting you know he or she is okay—or even nearby?

This immeasurable gift came to me in a dream one warm morning in mid-February.

The phone rings and I pick it up. I hear, “Hi Mom, I’m in the flower garden.”

It’s my deceased son’s voice.

I wake up, filled with that oil-and-water mixture of deep gratitude, love, connection, joy—and terrible sorrow. Sound familiar?

I don’t rise quite yet. I bask in the afterglow and wallow in some grief.

Then I go to his garden, started for him behind my bedroom window. Along with the many crocus blossoms I’d already witnessed around Valentine’s Day, I discover that Tristan’s first daffodil has just opened its sun-ripened orifice. He had come to see his beautiful flowers and be near me.

When I started the garden more than a year ago, I had no idea my son would come calling in the middle of winter to see his first daffodil open. With help from several friends I had planted the flowers so I could sit and reminisce and make an offering. For him to visit surpassed my wildest expectations.

Oddly, his timing coincided with the passing of a pastor who, along with his caring wife, had gifted my son with coral bells for his garden. It was like Tristan had visited that particular morning, in time for a memorial gathering, to also say “thank you” to Gary and Liz for their thoughtfulness and for indirectly helping me heal my grief.

While I did not know Gary well, I knew he had worked for years with my friend who also had lost her son. My friend gradually attained serenity and acceptance around her son’s passing.

The moment she learned that Tristan had passed, she arrived to sit by my side, hold me, and sob with me. Yet through her tears, she glowed with the radiance of peace. I looked  her in the eyes and said, “I want that.” And she helped show me how. Because Gary had shown her how. Gary’s loving influence continues now through me. And Tristan’s lost life will be used to help others make better choices and also let go of grief and enter paradise.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

How have you connected with a deceased loved one? A friend of mine places a rose under a specific tree at the Kentucky Horse Park each year when she visits, honoring a special friend. The possibilities are as open as we are creative.

Source:

http://www.islamicity.org/quransearch/action.lasso.asp?-db=Quran&-lay=tblMasterTranslit&-format=SReply1.asp&-op=cn&Topics=1674&-token=Gardens%20of%20Paradise%3C!–Asad–%3E%7C%7C%3Cta%3Etrue%3C/ta%3E%3Ctt%3Etrue%3C/tt%3E%3Cts%3Etrue%3C/ts%3E%3Cdc%3Etrue%3C/dc%3E%3Ctx%3Etrue%3C/tx%3E%3Cal%3Etrue%3C/al%3E&-Sortorder=ascend&-Sortfield=cv&-find

Weighing of the Heart

tristan-hamsterO my heart which I had from my mother! O my heart of different ages! Do not stand up as a witness against me, do not be opposed to me in the tribunal, do not be hostile to me in the presence of the keeper of the balance, for you are my ka which was in my body, the protector who made my members hale. Go forth to the happy place whereto we speed, do not tell lies about me in the presence of the god; it is indeed well that you should hear!

“The Papyrus of Ani,” Chapter 30b, Egyptian Book of the Dead

 

One’s heart is weighed after one passes away, according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In this hymn to the Great God, a human is confronted by a tribunal and his deeds are balanced against the weight of a feather of Ma’at, goddess of truth and justice. His heart must be lighter than this feather to enter into the abode of the gods.

Did my son do his best? Did he face any kind of judgment when he crossed over? The Spirit knows us more intimately than we know ourselves—our deepest truths, our darkest secrets.

It seems to me we judge ourselves more than others judge us, far more than the Spirit of Love would. Does a mother judge her son harshly enough to cast him away from her for all time? If not, then how could Love?

I know my son judged himself harshly. Yet I also saw in him the boy rescuing earthworms after a rain, having funerals for dead mice, giving gifts straight from his heart.

None of us are perfect. We are perfectly human. My son had his issues, yet in my mind the love outweighs the unfortunate behaviors.

May his heart be lighter than a feather.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you find yourself allowing negative thoughts to roll around in your mind, see them for what they are: thoughts. They can be changed. It takes some effort. My friend Kay offers me suggestions for updating my thinking and my words. I believe it makes a difference, because I now judge myself less. As I judge myself less, I judge others less, and the world is a smidgeon happier for it.

Sources

The Papyrus of Ani, Chapter 30b (second copy), from The Egyptian Book of the Dead, copyright 1997 by Neil Parker. Retrieved 8/24/2016 from http://www.bardo.org/ani/ch30b_2.html

https://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/3665_BOTD_schools_Teachers.pdf

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Egyptian_Book_of_the_Dead

 

Ways to celebrate the birthday of a deceased loved one

cupcake selfie Laura webMy peace is the legacy I leave to you. I don’t give gifts like those of this world. Do not let your heart be troubled. Do not be troubled or fearful.

John 14:27, The Voice, Christian Bible

 

My friend Laura wrote out this verse and gave it to me on what should have been my son Tristan’s 21st birthday. Peace is a lovely legacy. I have some peace around his passing, and appreciate her encouraging that gift within me.

Laura and I met when our boys attended preschool. She came by this past week with several goodies for a celebration of sorts—flowers, bubbles to give away as random acts of kindness in honor of Tristan, incense and a candle we lit, and, of course, a dark chocolate bar to soothe my aching soul.

We went to Loveland Sweets and I bought candy Tristan would have liked so I could later share it with my other son. Laura, recalling Tristan’s pirate party when he was six and his love for money, bought giant foil-wrapped chocolate coins—pirate booty.

Tristan enjoyed the yellow homemade cakes I made for him each birthday–a pirate’s island one year, a rocket another year. This year I didn’t want to bake a full cake for two people. Instead, Laura and I went to a bakery. She found the perfect cupcake for us to split—yellow cake, white frosting with sprinkles, and the words “happy birthday” on top. I could not have planned it better.

We sat in the bakery and sang “Happy Birthday” together, out loud, to Tristan. Then we split the dessert.

I am grateful for the thoughtfulness of my friend. She really helped me get through the end of my day so I didn’t have to spend it alone. Her gift of presence soothed my spirit and brought me a small measure of peace.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Celebrate your deceased loved one’s birthday with gratitude for the role he or she played in your life and the opportunity to spend at least a measure of time together. Prepare one of his or her favorite foods, or even an entire favorite meal, as my friend Connie does. Set out another place setting for your loved one. Invite her or his presence while you eat. Sing happy birthday—why not? Maybe your loved one really still is with you.

Thriver Soup Thursday–What Gives Light Must Burn

What is to give light must endure burning.

Viktor Frankl (1905 to 1997)

Viktor Frankl endured Nazi concentration camp life for three years, losing his wife in the ovens. This experience helped him eventually develop Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, using the heat of his suffering to bring more light into the world.

Extreme temperatures, sometimes ranging around 3,000° F, are needed to burn silica sand and metals to create the beauty of stained glass, which is used to provide light in many houses of worship.

st paul tree window webMy son Tristan tried to burn things to get light into his dis-eased mind. Cigarettes. Marijuana. Heroin. It didn’t work beyond a temporary false fix. It only darkened his thoughts further and led to his demise a year ago.

Could I find a stained-glass window that represented him to bring light into the darkness of my pain? I went on a hunt this past June. By a quirk of fate, I walked into St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

And found it. A small window sitting above a rack of large white candles.

The primary image is of a tall tree in the center, representing me on my cancer journey. When I was diagnosed, Maria Paglialungo drew a tree of life on my hospital whiteboard and urged me to tap my roots into Mother Earth for sustenance. The scraggly black-and-white image from the beginning has been transformed into a straight, lush tree, full of vibrant color.

A brilliant white star streams light onto the tree. To honor the one-year anniversary of Tristan’s passing, my friend Judy Peace gave me an astrology reading which layered Tristan’s life with mine. The primary gift she saw Tristan giving me in this life is illumination for my life’s path. And this star in the window is like Tristan, now in the heavens, shining his light on my life.

On each side of the tree is a fleur-de-lys, symbol for the Christian godhead held together by Mother Mary; symbol for the Boy Scouts, of which Tristan was a member; and the same symbol that was embossed on the mysterious gift I received this past Christmas.

The flame of my son’s love keeps shining on my burning grief, and I am grateful.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

There are many houses of worship with gorgeous stained-glass windows. If you look around, you might find an image that has a meaningful symbol for you. Perhaps light a candle near it.

Source:

http://renegadeartglass.net/about-us/techniques/stained-glass/