Category Archives: Congruent Care

Congruent Care

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

 

It’s Official: 5 Years Clean

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Photo by Judy Peace
Photo by Judy Peace

Psalm 51:7, New American Standard Bible

Hyssop, as used in this verse, probably refers to herbs, such as oregano or thyme, used by the early Israelites to purify those with skin disorders and as part of cleansing rituals.

My disorder appears to be purified, cleansed, washed away. Today my nurse practitioner, Michele, confirmed I am now five years clean, five years free of evidence of disease, and five years clear of all medical treatment.

I am THRILLED!

Filled with gratitude and joy, I went to the nearby Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Ky., to light a ritual candle and give thanks. Mother Mary holds a reverential place in this hallowed hall, and I feel devotion toward her for many reasons. I entered, wide-eyed at the majesty of dozens of intricately painted stained-glass windows. The stunning primary window, one of the largest in the world, depicts the crowning of Mary in heaven.

After circling and ogling with my friend Judy, I went to Mary’s alcove near the front of the quiet cathedral and saw, to my great delight, real sunflowers on her altar. Sunflowers are the symbol for sarcomas, which are cancers of the connective tissues. I had been diagnosed seven years ago with a sarcoma. The flowers provided the perfect symbol for completing the experience.

I lit a candle, kneeled on the bench, said a Hail Mary, and expressed my deep gratitude for five clear years. “Thank You for purifying me; I AM clean.”

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you are longing for a clean bill of health, the above verse can be modified as an affirmation of faith in a positive outcome and as a prayer request of the Divine that can be repeated throughout the day: When you take your shower, you can say, “Purify my body with this shower, and I shall be clean…” When you drink your green smoothie, you can say, “Purify my cells with these greens, and I shall be clean…” When you are receiving chemotherapy, you can say, “Purify my organs with these medicines, and I shall be clean…”

Source:

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

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/

 

Thriver Soup Thursday– Can Our Prayers Influence the Deceased?

The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.

-St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622)

Mary being crowned
Mary being crowned

Is the Rosary, a series of meditative prayers, the greatest method of praying, as this 16th century saint proclaimed? If so, would using the Rosary–or any other method of intercession–have any influence at all on the deceased?

What are your thoughts on this?

St. Francis de Sales must have had some reason for making this seemingly absolute statement. Catholics say the Rosary using a string of beads to keep track of where they are in the process so they can free their hearts and minds to focus on the connection this method makes with the Divine. Each prayer of the Rosary is said to represent the offering of a rose to Mary, mother of Christ, and when the cycles are completed, the person has symbolically given Mary a complete crown.

Maria Luisa Giuliberti, my former neighbor, asked if I would like to come pray the Rosary with her to mark the one-year anniversary of my son Tristan’s passing. Sure!

Synchronistically, Vince Lasorso, a tai chi grandmaster in Cincinnati, sent me a draft of his book, Healing through the Heart of Mary: A Miraculous Journey to a New Spiritual Way. “Mary teaches us, from her supernatural perspective, a spiritual process, The Rosary, that enables us to meld the two realities [the supernatural and the mundane] together in our lives,” he writes, “[to] heal ourselves, our loved ones, and our world through a heart-driven technology of inner peace and resonance.”

Maria and I sat at her dining room table and she showed me a pamphlet containing the rosary prayers. We set the intention of praying that Tristan would let go of shame, guilt, and remorse, and to experience peace. Holding our rosaries, we intoned together for an hour, raising up our intentions and prayers.

I am grateful to my friend for remembering the anniversary and for her willingness to spend time praying with me on my son’s behalf. What a beautiful gift. Was it the greatest method of praying for my son? Did it have any influence on him? I don’t know, yet I felt like I had done something meaningful, a gift from my heart to his and Mary’s. That is enough for me.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If praying the Catholic rosary interests you, here is a link to instructions and prayers: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-rosary

Sources:

www.catholicgallery.org/quotes/quotes-on-rosary/

Francis de Sales, a Catholic saint, was a Bishop of Geneva.

Vince Lasorso, Healing through the Heart of Mary: A Miraculous Journey to a New Spiritual Way, draft, pg. 7.

Tapestry: Cleveland Museum of Art

Burning diamonds

tristan candle web

You have the glittering beauty of gold and silver, and the still higher lustre of jewels, like the ruby and diamond; but none of these rival the brilliancy and beauty of flame. What diamond can shine like flame?

Michael Faraday (1791–1867), English scientist

What diamond can shine like flame? More than a million diamond nanoparticles that are created every second in a burning candle flame.

Chemistry professor Wuzong Zhou at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland discovered during 2011 that diamond nanoparticles exist at the centers of candle flames. The diamond particles are burned away in the fire.

This explains part of the natural human attraction to candle light for sacred rituals, including lighting candles for the deceased.

I recently lit a candle for my deceased son Tristan while visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the time I didn’t know I was burning up millions of bits of diamonds. How like the life of my brilliant son, shining brightly for nineteen years, burning up in the heat and pressure of his life, and then adding illumination to my life.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:
Lighting a candle to commemorate the passing of a loved one can bring a momentary, tiny sense of peace. Many Catholic churches are open during the day and have candles that can be lit. You will be creating and burning diamonds that can ascend, as heat and carbon dioxide, with your emotions and thoughts  toward the heavens.

Source:
Michael Faraday, lectures on “The Chemical History of a Candle,” 1860.
http://phys.org/news/2011-08-candle-flames-millions-tiny-diamonds.html#jCp
https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/news/archive/2011/title,72748,en.php

 

 

Community Press shares Thriver Soup’s message of hope and healing

“There were times when Heidi Bright prepared to die after being diagnosed with a terminal cancer in July 2009.

“Today Bright delivers a message of hope and healing through her book ‘Thriver Soup’ and speaking to groups. This is the third traditionally published book by the Milford author.”

Please read more at

http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/milford/2016/05/17/milford-womans-book-shares-tips-surviving-cancer/84500320/

Lilies for Mother’s Day

Lilies symbolize motherhood.
Lilies symbolize motherhood.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Matthew 6:28-29, Christian Bible

The lilies in my neighbor Jennifer’s yard had grown so much that “on a whim” she was outside, digging up a large swathe of them. Just as my son and I were walking by—which we only do once every week or two.

Had we walked by an hour earlier or later, she would not have been working on the lilies and they would not have been available.

The timing of her whim proved perfect. She offered them to me. In time to plant for Mother’s Day.

Lilies are considered by some to symbolize motherhood. This arises from an ancient Greek myth that the goddess Hera’s milk overflowed, and the milk that fell to the earth splashed and formed white lilies.

White lilies often appear in paintings of the Madonna when being told she will bear the Christ Child, once again tying the flower to motherhood and new beginnings. This new beginning extends to restoration of innocence for the souls of the departed.

My own mother is among the departed–I lost her decades ago to breast cancer. And I lost my son Tristan less than a year ago.

These flowers aren’t the first lilies to show up near a holiday. A stylized lily, referred to as the fleur-de-lis, was on a red vase that appeared on my porch in time for Christmas—a surprise package I believe Tristan had a hand in getting delivered. Now bunches of the real deal are growing in my yard.

The connection is clear to me. I believe Tristan, and perhaps my mother as well, had something to do with my neighbor’s “whim” and the timing of my walk, so I would have lilies in his memorial garden in time for Mother’s Day. And there were enough to plant some in the front yard, adorning an area designated for my other son’s plants. I look forward to their summer glories.

Thriver Soup Ingredient
If you would like to grow lilies, here is a guide: https://www.almanac.com/plant/lilies

Sources:
http://www.whats-your-sign.com/lily-meaning.html

http://www.teleflora.com/meaning-of-flowers/lily