We had quite the afternoon on Sunday. Skippy was not himself. He could barely stand outside in the morning. He slept and slept.
I woke him to take him out again. He managed both businesses but then his hindquarters plunked down, weakly. He refused water and food. He refused vanilla ice cream. (Vanilla ice cream had inspired him to live on a prior occasion.) He is 16 years and 4 months old. Almost 115 years old if the 7/1 ratio is true.
He seemed to be leaving us. It seemed to be his time.
Slowly, he almost stopped.
He stretched out on our laps, wrapped in a blanket. He was limp, his eyes only flickering open when we moved his head. He breathed in a pattern of deep and rapid then shallow and slow, a Cheyne-stokes rhythm. This was it, I thought. As his immediate family we prepared ourselves. Those who could gather, gathered and said what they needed to say.
Hours went by. He was cradled in arms throughout.
And then he stirred. He had to go out. He wobbled but managed. Back in, he wiggled to be let down. He wandered, getting his sea legs.
He eagerly ate his favorite, ice cold vanilla flavor. He wanted more. He ate his dog food.
It was like he went to the edge of the rainbow bridge and then came back.
Twenty four hours later he ran past me on the sidewalk. The night was crisp and fall-ish. There were crunchy leaves to run through. He scampered like a puppy, because he could. Back in the house, he pranced past Johnny K to get a treat.
This morning he sleeps in the sun, because it is out, and because it shines in the front door this time of year, and because I moved his bed into the warm spot.
He just wasn't ready to leave these simple things. You know, the simple things we sometimes do not notice.
Arms that hold you when you do not feel right.
Crisp fall air.
Leaves from trees.
A cozy bed.
"I think...." he started to say, and paused.
His head tilted as he thought- transferred this to me, so that it would be emphasized. It is the cutest way dogs have to make you pay attention.
"I think it is good to love these things, even before you might lose them."
I patted his head and, once again, fixed his ear so it hung down properly.
"Well said," I said. "I'll pass that on."
I copied down the address of the mother who lived on the other side of the world, and I carefully chose a sympathy card at a Hallmark store. I sat before it, wanting to tell the mother this story. I considered what to write for days. Weeks went by, and the right words just wouldn't come. I was afraid I might be misunderstood, or not culturally correct, and in my naïveté could unknowingly harm. I never sent the card.
I try to trust that she felt us from across the world, loving for her.
Her son was only in his 20's and he was in the United States of America from far, far, away. He was in this country temporarily working, doing a job that reflected his intelligence and skill.
A sudden calamity struck him. His brain suffered a catastrophic injury, leading to a clinical diagnosis of death. His family was made aware that he had died. Here in an American hospital his body stayed temporarily connected to machines that pushed air into his lungs while his family was given the news.
Distance and expense and logistics of travel made it impossible for his mother to arrive and touch him. She could not arrive and mother him at the time of his death.
This far away mother consented to organ donation; allowing her son, who was here temporarily, to save the lives of five Americans.
You may have heard that as you read, but did you feel it? This mother from the other side of the world consented to organ donation, allowing her son, who was here temporarily, to save the lives of five Americans.
I was in the operating room as these precious gifts were recovered so that they could save lives and transform families. I was there next to his body when the surgery was complete and the surgeons made the final careful, closing stitches. At other hospitals, transplant surgeries were going to begin. Here in this operating room, it was an ending.
The two operating room nurses and I, we talked together. We happened to all be the mothers of sons. We felt a connection and a responsibility to this mother so far away. And together, without a plan, we began to serve her.
We washed his body reverently. We talked to his mother as if she could hear us, about how beautiful he was, and about the difference he was going to make. We comforted each other, saying "I know, this is so sad" with our voices hitching as tears rolled down our cheeks. We had to pause to blow our noses.
We wrapped his body in a blanket. We stood around the stretcher, and we reached for each other's hands. We prayed a human prayer for him and his mother, voicing the hopes and sorrows of all mothers everywhere. We spoke with the hope that our words were fitting, not knowing the beliefs and customs of this family. We respected. We honored. We loved. We felt humbled.
And we bonded. These women and I. We were representing the sisterhood of the world.
It was the united sisters of the world that wheeled his body to the hospital morgue in silence. We positioned the stretcher in place. The stretcher wheel squeaked as we locked it. We patted the blanket he was under, in farewell. We zipped up the last section of his white morgue covering.
We closed the door of the morgue leaving his body "alone" inside. We were together in the long, silent basement hallway where no one goes unless death comes.
We turned to each other without words and became a clump. Our arms wrapped around each other and our tears mixed and I remember now we had so much sound and feeling among us it was as if we cried for every child ever lost through all lifetimes.
You may know what I speak of, what it feels like, this holy moment as you serve another. For you are a sister of the world, too. You may not have had a holy moment yet, but there will come a time when it will be your love, your kindness, your attention which will be a gift to another.
He was here temporarily. And isn't that true of us all? Every day there are things that happen that remind us there is no real difference or distance. May our hearts stay open to those opportunities, my sisters and brothers of the world.
Things that stand out to me still, from when I was little? Family adventures when we had to get up and leave while it was still dark out. We got up one morning in the silence before the birds were singing. We got dressed up in our best and headed out in the car to meet a giant bus that was taking us to the Worlds Fair in New York. I was wearing a blue dress and patent leather shoes and little white anklets with lace around the top and I am sure I folded them carefully down so the lace was more visible.
On the bus I had a window seat. The sun was not up. The bus was waiting for more passengers in the parking lot. I was sleepy but fully awake.
Little children do not have much clutter in their heads, and so they can marvel at things.... and this was one of those moments for little girl me. For in that light, my dress was the most beautiful blue I had ever seen. A secret blue, created by a tired moon and starlight from thousands of years ago that in moments would be hidden by the slow emergence of a glorious sun. The sun provides a beautiful blue, but it takes a pre-dawn adventure to bring out secret starlight blue, and it is fleeting. Maybe it only happens once in a lifetime. And you have to be on your toes to capture the perfection.
Sometines you get a hint of it, though? Secret starlight blue. Unexpectedly. Outside a grocery store, even. A blue not quite as secret, but close enough to make you remember.
In Texas there was a 41 year old drowned mother whose three year old was saved, the child was still clinging to her mother's body. Well done, mamma; well done. I weep for you and the fear you must have had in your last minutes. I weep. Do we need to know what color her skin is or what nationality or if she had papers or was born here? No. Unimportant. We only need to know she gave her life for her child, she saved her child and we as fellow humans must somehow raise her child for her. Mothers, hear me. This is what we must do.
Watch the footage and hear the frightening stories and breathe in the wonder and the possibilities that this devastation puts on beautiful display for us. When we are united we are stronger, when we are generous and kind and caring and reach out we are stronger. When we risk our own lives for another human being we are a credit to our human race.
I just saw a human chain of people rescue a man from a truck and there was every color in that human chain of 20 people and probably every sexual orientation and maybe some illegal immigrants and who cares about any of it, they all had beating hearts that worked as one, all at risk, to save one. Would you not weep with gratitude if you were so blessed to be served by twenty loving strangers.
If we as people have ever thought ourselves superior to others then we better not get into their boat if the others are the ones to come to our aid. Do you hear what I am saying? You are the sum of your choices and who you decide to be from moment to moment matters.
I hope you will choose to be from love. Just choose to be as loving as you can in any moment. I see the love within you. I know it runs deep and cannot be diluted for all the rains in Texas. Reach for your best self. We sure need each other to heal this hurting world.
Would you have joined hands with that human chain, waist deep in water?
Of course you would have.
For that is who you are.
Around four o'clock in the morning a certain bird starts to move and sing, starting with a random note. Perhaps the sound of this single bird is what brings the sun into the world.
"It is you who must start the day for us, my lovely," the bird was told. "For you are wise, and see deeply in to all hearts."
And so, each day from then until now, the sweetest bird begins all our days. Other birds gradually chime in. A rooster crows. Morning doves coo. Nocturnal creatures start to put themselves to bed for the day as everything else begins fresh.
An alarm goes off and a student groans. A cell phone vibrates and a runner reaches for running shoes. The sun rises and shines on the infant who then wakes up. Someone opens their sleepy eyes upon hearing the sounds of their baby. The bird that starts the day loves them all.
The holy person starts their meditation prayer. The surgeon pauses to focus before making the incision. The librarian puts the book in its place for the next reader. The sweetest bird is so glad to have started this day.
The barista designs a heart on top of the coffee. The steaming cup is handed to the police officer who has had a long night. The parent makes sandwiches for the family and wraps them in plastic, recalling as they do what they read yesterday about wrapping food. The bird is so pleased with everything it sees.
The physical therapist watches their patient work hard to regain the mobility they lost in the accident. It was not their fault. The pawnbroker accepts the ring off the finger, and wonders why the customer has become desperate. A family chooses words to memorialize the depth of their loss. The bird is always there, open to what the new day brings.
The teacher is notified and searches for the words to say. Anxious eyes stare up and wait. A group gathers, and the professor watches from the window on the fourth floor.
Sometimes it is hard for us to hear the bird.
Yet the day starting bird does not hesitate. It starts each day, holding no story about others. The bird holds no male, no female, no country, no religion, no race in its heart. It is simply a bird, who sings because it knows that goodness, love, and community are mostly what is in this world this day. "Let's start the goodness," the bird might sing.
The store clerk wonders why the white men are buying so many tiki torches. A movie scene comes in to the clerks mind; one where people march out into the night with flames held high above their heads. The angry villagers were dissatisfied with themselves so found an "other" to label scary and unwanted.
The day starting bird does not hesitate. It starts each day. It is simply a bird, who sings because it knows that goodness, love, and community are mostly what is in this world this day. "Let's start the goodness," the bird sings. I know, because it sang the song to me.
Let us stand and sing together, with the bird.
Johnny K took me to a secret Lenape Indian spot when we started dating. Places like this is how love begins.
Now, when I get a chance, I take people I love to this secret holy place. Yesterday I had a chance to bring my mother-in-law.
This little pond is still, like a mirror. And yet this silent, serene pond feeds this ever running water fall. Feeds it through rainy season, heat wave, and drought. Feeds it at the rate of two thousand gallons per minute. The water springs up after traveling through limestone under the earth. It flows and flows and flows and flows and flows from this silent pond. The Lenape Indians once had villages here and it is still visited today. Things are left that are meaningful to people.
Here I am reminded of the eternalness and magic of things.
Perhaps when you are as big as God, you are happy with everything. You just love. You have no needs. You just experience. You are filled up with every perfect needle on each pine tree; every little feather on each bird, every little hair on each head. You love every sweet pond and every drop of water in it as it travels the path that you love.
You understand totally the feelings of all and where the feelings came from.
You root for no team, no country, no religion, no race, and no sexual orientation; because you are happy with everything. They are all your children, they are all created in your own image. You do not need to cheer for anyone to win, because it is all eternal. No thing is ever lost. All wonderful dogs, missed by masters, rest right at your heavenly feet. Unless they have decided to come back again to play. No thing is ever lost. No thing. Nothing is ever lost.
You just hope that everything feels love and therefore learns to love. But you do not need to even hope that, because you are God. You know it is all good. You know that everyone will have opportunities to get loving.
I mean that two ways; to get some loving and to get on to the job of loving.
Joseph Campbell wrote in his book "The Power of Myth" that the basic theme of all mythology is that there is an invisible plane supporting the visible one.
In the whole book, that is a sentence that I return to again and again. Let me whisper it in your ear so your ear might hold it for you:
The basic theme of all mythology is that there is an invisible plane supporting the visible one.
I loved that so much.
ever in the world,
had a story to explain "that there is an invisible plane supporting the visible one."
I take such comfort in that. That somehow, every one of us knows.
The water flows and flows and flows and flows and flows from the silent pond.
I hope the idea of it reminds you of the eternalness and magic of things.
Random thoughts about Grandparents and this life and its endings:
My Johnny K's cousins talk so often and so highly of their Italian grandmother that I have a living breathing sense of her in my head. Pretty amazing for she has been gone a long time. I have been thinking about my grandmothers and how I have sparkles of both of them within me. As I write this I picture them hovering, and nudging each other happily in a way they never would have actually done here on earth.
I read somewhere that the reason we grieve when people die is because they exist still in a place we cannot reach. That if we were not grieving so, we would be able to reach it better. That if they were truly "gone" we would not feel the grief so. This comforted me.
I do not think we lose people and I do not think they "rest in peace." I think they exit this movie theater and find themselves "home" and exclaim "Wow...That was something else!" Hopefully they appreciate what went on when they were here no matter what happened or how it ended. They have a chance to soak in what they gained from the experience. I believe they can still see us. When my Little Gran died I dreamt that my mother and I were standing face to face talking, and my Little Gran was right there listening. Gran was in a "Glinda the good witch travel bubble" just to my right, but if we turned to "see" her she was just out of our earthly sight. This comforted me.
My grandparents greeted you first today, in the above photo. This was before my mother was born and decades before I came along and then more decades before my Little Gran died and appeared in my dream. We had decades of time to play with her.
"It is into us that the lives of grandparents have gone." ~Charles and Ann Morse
Isn't that lovely.
Meanwhile, we are here. And sometimes we claim that it is good. Sometimes we claim that things are sad and bad and we are mad. We are all over the place with what we claim about it. However if we thought it was going to end next week for us, what would we claim? We would love it! We would eat and dance and drink it all in and be on the phone making spontaneous plans and get out to the mountains and the ocean and the woods and surround ourselves with connecting with friends and family we love most. We would talk to strangers and knock on our neighbors door to say how much we appreciated them. We would feel the rain and the heat and the snow and admire the birds and the flowers and have so much admiration for children and how wisely they embrace play. We would LIVE BIG for the week. When really, every day we can LIVE BIG. Do you need a death sentence to do it?
So come dance with me and listen to music and hug way more people and have that dessert and make the very best of it. Reach. Stretch. Appreciate. Love. Permission to choose a new path if the one you are on is not doing it for you. Live as if you would be gone next week.
They say everything at the root is love or fear based. What is at the root of you?
My grandmother, Elizabeth Stewart Gilchrist and her brother Arthur Bruce, approx 1910
Years ago, two sisters had written in to "Dear Abby", asking for advice about something that was destroying their close relationship. The mother of these sisters had died suddenly and she had left a lifetime collection of valuable jewelry. The daughters were trying to decide which of them got what, and they were finding it impossible to divide these emotional and valuable items fairly. Their emotions were raw to start with, and trying to decide who got each lovely thing, one piece at a time, was just too difficult. Their crying was spiraling down into anger and harsh words. Their mother would not have wanted them to act or feel this way about her jewelry and each other. What to do?
I do not have a sister and my mother does not have a vast jewelry collection. This exact question did not apply to me. But wisdom knocks at our door in all ways and that day my door was open. "Dear Abby" had a wise answer, and I added the essence of this answer to who I am as I live my life. To me, this answer was a diamond.
-Take the entire collection and give it to one sister. Have this first sister divide all the jewelry up into two piles.
-The second sister gets first choice of piles.
D-A-2-P-R. The "Dear Abby 2 Pile Rule". DA2PR made me a better parent, spouse, and friend. DA2PR was my ticket to the fair ground, but not the kind with ferris wheels and games of chance. This is a much more important kind of fair ground. A happier life is one grounded in fairness.
Think about that a minute. Imagine the care the first sister would take, knowing she would want to be happy with the pile she was left with. And for her to be happy, her sister had to be happy. She would be weighing all the different ways we value things, wanting it to be fair to both of them. She would be weighing both tangible financial value and intangible sentimental meaning.
I used this with my boys when they were little, taught them this was the way to divide things, when choosing toys "one by one" was not working. It always added some fairness to conflict.
DA2PR is a great way to split that last slice of pie. The one that divides it will be so careful to make the portions even, as the last bite left is the one they get. There is pressure on the slicer to get it just right. There would be three heads bent over that pie plate or that last ice cream sandwich, watching the chosen slicer do this delicate work. No one rushed the slicer! Accuracy and integrity cannot be rushed!
It also taught them that sometimes, picking "one by one" was what they wanted. I want THIS pirate and you choose that pirate, I want this hat for my pirate and you choose THAT sword for yours... step by step to a fair afternoon of play. They did not fight about it because they did not want to choose a ready made pile. At times they wanted more control over small things. Their favorite action figure might be in one pile and their favorite sword in another, and that would be no fun at all. So instead, step by step they would find a balance.
This is how I taught "the art of the deal" at home. This is how I taught partnership and companionship and relationship and stewardship. All these life values began at pirate ship. This is how we create a generation of honest business owners and politicians and leaders and workers. One tiny child at a time at home, learning how to get along as well as possible with whoever is in the house. Life in the world is just more of THAT.
One of my sons was in a city with a few friends a few years ago. They were out socializing and trying new places and it was late and they walked into a bar that was not familiar in a part of the city they were not usually in.
They entered innocently, probably laughing, probably not paying clear attention, went to the bar to order, in their own world. And then. Suddenly he noticed something was off. They were being watched by a few big, scary looking guys.
They were clean cut college boys. The only ones of that type in this bar. And as he turned around, only a few feet away now, there was a group right there. Maybe not wanting their space invaded. Maybe not wanting their "kind" in there. Maybe wanting them to leave.
The biggest guy had many spiked piercings in his face. My son was 6 feet tall and this man was inches taller. His shoulders were almost twice as wide. The tall, pierced man had a leather jacket that was covered with metal studs. He was like a modern day knight, ready for battle, silver glinting from his face and his upper body. I mean, nails and needles and studs all over. Intimidating. Can you see him?
I am not done. He had done something with his eyes. They were coated or covered or tattooed ... I have no idea but they were all white or gray. I cannot remember now, but they were scary and different and monster like. You could not "see" this man.
Now my boy is good with people. And open to difference. But he was nervous. He knew the group right there was not going anywhere. They had positioned themselves to interact.
My son noticed this. He noticed a few things. My son spoke first.
"Hey, man. I love your jacket. Where did you ever get a jacket like that?"
The bar was quiet. Everyone waited. And then.... it had to happen.....bam!
The big, scary, studded guy told him all about his jacket. He had made it himself. He took great pride in it.
My son listened to the history of the jacket's making, for he was interested, he had noticed the patterns in the studding, the artistry, no detail left undone. His comment had been genuine admiration. He was not surprised when he heard of the hours of time that had gone in to getting the jacket "just right."
The studded guy took his jacket off. He never let anyone touch it, he said; and his friends laughed and agreed. But he offered to let my son try it on. And so my son did. He put the scary eyed man's studded, still warm, and maybe even sweaty, jacket ON.... It weighed a ton, he said. It weighed a ton. They took a side-by-side, smiling selfie. He took the jacket back off and gave it back. They all had a beer together. They shook hands goodbye.
I loved this story and I love my son and I learned so much from him when I heard it.
We had our first cup of coffee.
I was thinking I could wish for spring weather but today I choose to love the cold while it is here. This morning I decided to suddenly trim some ivy in the backyard- so I got the kitchen scissors and clipped through it. I was in my bathrobe and had my little old dog with me on his long leash.
Today though, why brace against the cold when we can let it be and feel alive in it? When do we reach for new places and when do we stay put? What gives us clarity and what distracts?
Meanwhile, the little dog grappled with his own worldly perspectives. He sniffed the ground despite his intermittent heart cough. He kept me company. When he had enough he walked as far as he could into the garage and gave his "I have had enough" bark, that remains strong despite his age.
Winter. A season of clarity and quiet to consider clipping away what might entangle us, what we have had enough of. May we consider wisely when we need to change and when spring comes have the energy to reach and grow.
We went in for our second cup of coffee.
Melissa Regan has approached grieving families about Organ Donation for over 12 years. She is a wife, mother, lifelong learner, and lover of the wonder you can find in a single moment. Recently she changed her life by studying Positive Psychology and Let Your Yoga Dance®. Join her in taking a day to be thoughtful... the rest of your life is here.