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When I learned Wednesday a former neighbor had died, I sent an e-mail to my sisters.  One of them asked if we wanted to send flowers for the service.  My older sister questioned why when we had lost touch with them.

Why?  I used to babysit their children (and they were the best kids I ever watched), but that’s not the reason.  Yes, they were our neighborhood children (we used to call Lynette “Lynetti Spaghetti”–hope that didn’t cause any problems for her later).

It’s because I know where the family is–in that cold, dark place where the grief comes in waves so strong you feel you are going to drown.  But first you have to get through the numbing shock that makes you think you must be dreaming; this can’t be real.

Yes, we had lost touch.  But they came to both our parents’ funerals.  And they had stopped by our parents’ house here a few times when they made trips to Scottsdale to buy Southwestern turquoise jewelry.

We were just up in Wisconsin over a week ago.  We drove by our old house but didn’t stop in to see them.  And now I was feeling the pain again of losing your father through those kids.  The oldest is five or more years younger than me.  Living 75 years might seem a lot to some, but losing your father at any age is devastating unless you had a horrible relationship.  Even then, the closure would probably never come.

That is part of the reason we made the journey north.  We had not been there in 5 years, for my father’s funeral.  I wanted to see my hometown again and attend to their graves, hoping it had been long enough to get some kind of closure.

I had forgotten how truly beautiful the northwoods are.  We stayed in a cabin, and except for the noisy neighbors it was so peaceful and and restorative.  I made a vow to get out in nature more now that the cooler weather is finally coming.

We also attended a family reunion with some relatives we had never met.  Our grandmother and her brother had a falling out over an issue no one knew anything about.  My grandmother was a proud person, and when she had a falling out with someone she never talked about the person again.  They were truly nice people, and we agreed it was a shame we had not been a part of each others’ lives for all those years.

We visited my dad’s second cousin and his wife on the lake and were joined by some other old friends of my parents.  The next day we had lunch with one of my mother’s dearest friends and her husband.  There was a lot of talk about the past and how things used to be.

We drove around to all the lakes and places we used to go to.  A lot had changed, of course, and my overall impression was the one most commonly noticed when visiting the past, that everything used to look a lot bigger.

We did clean the graves and put silk flowers on them.  We had not seen the headstone from the Veterans Administration, since it was placed after we left.  We also visited our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ graves.  A rosebush my grandmother had planted on her parents’ graves was blooming but needed a lot of trimming.  My uncle, whose family we are estranged from, had been buried the week before.  But we did not have to look for his grave, as he was buried right next to his parents.

I’m glad I made the journey back.  It’s nice to remember it as our childhood playground for a while, and not the place where we buried our parents.  I probably wouldn’t have sent the plant if we hadn’t just been back there, but I hope seeing it at the service this morning made his wife and children understand there were old friends who appreciated their father and felt their loss, knowing that their lives are forever changed.

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My Sweet Girl

It has taken me a while to understand why I’m having still grieving for Katya after over a year.  I finally realized she was with me with all of my losses, beginning with my grandmother in 1998.  Then my mom the year after, my other grandmother two years later.  Plus the other dogs:  Joey, who had been abused but adored me and Dylan whom I knew for only two months; then my dad and my dog Jessee a month later.

She was with me through the worst times of my life, from my mother’s death to my father’s.  I would not have survived without her.  She was always there.

Today I read an article in the May issue of O Magazine  written by a woman who had lost her mother at an early age (“Hope Springs Eternal” by Robin Romm).  She and her husband moved to New Mexico and had a disasterous experience with the house they were renting.  Then her job was in jeopardy because of the college’s mismanagement.  One day on a walk with her husband and dog, she found a strange-looking puppy.  She took it home and then was not able to give it to the animal shelter.  She said she was in love with her.

Unfortunately, her dog did not share her affection for the puppy, and she ended up giving it away to a loving family rather than risk a serious injury to her.  She then fell to pieces, crying all the time for a week.  Then she remembered being in a grief group where a woman said she she cried when she lost her dog but hadn’t cried when she lost her mother.

“The counselor explained that when someone close to us dies, the loss is often too large to comprehend.  But when a pet dies, we understand it.  We experience an animal’s death in smaller, more accessible ways.  We can absorb that grief, and in doing so we touch the shore of that larger island of loss inside us.”

The writer than allowed herself to grieve for the losses in her life and was able to forgive her dog and get back to a normal life.

I will be visiting my hometown and my parents’ graves for the first time in five years this summer (and yes, the guilt of not being there for five years was a part of the decision to go).  I’m hoping it will allow me to celebrate their memories instead of grieving them.

As for my sweet girl (from the Fleetwood Mac song I used to sing to her), thank you for getting me through those years, and as my vet said you will always dance in my heart.  See you at the Bridge.

About Trees

I began the practice of mindfulness while reading “The New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle, although I admit the practice was sketchy and I did not finish the book.  I did begin to experience mindfulness more fully based on my weekly walks in the park.  Unlike the older park about a block from me, this park already had many tall trees when it was created.

When I began being mindful in nature, trees become a focus of my attention.  Because I live in the  desert, I appreciate them more, because I come from northern Wisconsin, rich in forests.

To me, they are a sign of strength, of timelessness.  My favorite part of “The Lord of the Rings” was when the Ents came to the rescue.  I wrote several years ago about a stand of over 100-year-old trees that were destroyed in my hometown.  Those trees had been there longer than any  people, and there was a picture in the paper of a man grinning like he had just conquered Mount Everest because he had cut down the stand.

About a month ago I really began noticing the trees on my way to work and errands.  We had a  record-breaking cold spell of about a week in February.  Water pipes busted in some peoples’ houses.  The gas company turned off the gas supply to hundreds of homes because of the lack of supply.  I was lucky and did not have any of those problems.  But those problems were  temporary and did not cause a lot of long-term damage.  Sadly, the damage it did to trees seems longer lasting.  Some palm trees have new green sprouts, but some magnificent old pines and other large trees do not.

And then there was a new twist–pardon the horrible pun.  In the fierce tornadoes of April, trees, like the ocean, became dangerous.   Of course they did not choose this.  But it seemed ironic the very tree you had cherished over the years could kill you, as it did in several cases.

Of course, those storms were not normal, and trees have many benefits besides shelter and shade.  For the most part, they are “peaceful and diligent” as Mary Oliver wrote in “About Angels and About Trees”:

“The trees, anyway, are

miraculous, full of

angels (ideas);even

empty they are a

good place to look, to put

the heart at rest–all those

leaves breathing the air, so

peaceful and diligent, and certainly

ready to be

the resting place of

strange, winged creatures

that we, in this world, have loved.”

And this little tree, which I thought was dead, bloomed like this in a week.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, one of my angels; and to Mother Earth.

I was lucky to go to an elementary school in New Jersey that celebrated May Day with a Maypole.  There would be a little homemade carnival, too.  There also was an annual flower show, although I’m not sure if it was at the same time or where the flowers came from.

This year, in light of all the recent disasters, I decided to do prayer ribbons.  I found out they are a tradition of many indigenous people and are used by Buddhists and Native Americans.  Then I found a page on Celtic Holidays that suggested doing prayer ribbons for Beltane/May Day since going out and chopping down a tree was impractical (although it does give you a way to use one of your own trees).

I needed something to cheer me up.  Friday was the 12th anniversary of my mother’s death, and tomorrow is my dad’s birthday (I lost him 4 years ago).  I don’t shop at WalMart for ethical reasons, but yesterday I found a craft store listed in the phone book that I didn’t know existed.  It had lots of neat stuff for many arts and crafts, and the owner is very friendly.

So I made my ribbons after my studies this morning.  I have one each for Japan, marine life (especially in the Gulf and Pacific),  wild horses, and the tornado victims.  There are four because of the four elements, four directions, and four Archangels.

You ask the tree’s permission first, and then you remove them in three days out of respect for it.  Then you burn or bury them in your garden.  I’ll probably tie them to my garden fence, although with the wind we’ve been having they might not be there in three days.

I also love the old tradition of May Baskets.  I was going to make one, but I found this one in a grocery store for $20 and decided it was perfect and a bargain because it had so many pretty flowers. So my May, which is also my birth month, is off to a merry start.

Going in Circles

My roommate used to play a song called “Going In Circles” all the time.  The day she broke up with her boyfriend she called her ex-boyfriend.  Whenever I feel in the pattern of being stuck, I think of her and that song.  Or of the Springstein song that says, “One step forward, two steps back.”

It seems whenever I have made some progress in my spiritual or soul journey, something happens that triggers the old doubts and fears, and I feel like I’ve gone backward.  I don’t even know what the trigger was, but I’ve felt this way for a while now.  I think I know part of what’s blocking me, but I’m unsure what to do about it.

This morning it was good to see the trees in the park are starting to show a bit of green.  I saw a tiny hummingbird, a symbol of joy.  I’m hoping that the promise of rebirth in spring will spark a shift in my attitude.  I’ve been calling myself “Grumpy Grulla”, the name of an old lead mare that was captured in the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Area.

“Expect to have hope rekindled.  Expect your prayers to be answered in wonderous ways.  The dry seasons in life do not last.  The spring rains will come again.”  Sarah Ban Breathnach
Except we’ll be waiting until July for our rains.  A long, dry, dusty wait.

 

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, which may seem off topic, but since I’m studying Buddhism I will tag it under compassion.   But it really came to a head today.

I don’t know why, but I was thinking again about homeless people as I was driving to the gas station from work.  It really bothers me that we have homeless people in my town now.  And it bothers me that it doesn’t seem to bother other people. 

I’ve been told one of them, who has been here for years, is homeless by choice, and his parents live here.  I call him the “Can Man” because he pushes a big cart around and does dumpster diving.  He apparently has a routine, because I’ve seen him several mornings in the dumpster behind a motel or crossing the main street in front of it.  His hair is gray now, but what concerns me is he appears to be dressed  in shorts and/or pajamas.  We just had several days and nights with the coldest temperatures on record.

But for a while now we have had apparently homeless people standing at the end of one of our shopping centers.  And more often than not, they have dogs with them.  It isn’t easy for me to confess that I have wondered if they have dogs because they get more money with them, and that I have asked myself if I am more concerned for the dogs than the people.

We do have homeless shelters; there’s one down the street from me.  But I’m sure it doesn’t take dogs, even though it is in a former veterinary clinic.  I don’t mind giving people money, but I do worry about my safety. 

Tonight as I was at the stoplight before the gas station, I saw two police cars there.  I decided not to go there, although I’m sure there might just have been a car scraping another.  But when I went to the other gas station, a man came up to me and said “Sorry for startling you.  Do you have $3 to help me out?”  I said, “Sorry, no,” and he said  “Thank you” and walked across the street, past the McDonalds, probably to stand on the corner of the shopping center.

I thought about him when I got home.  Would he go hungry?  It’s supposed to be 31 degrees tonight.  I hate that my fear may have caused another human being to suffer.

The cynical probably say that every homeless person is by choice.  But I remember reading about President Lyndon Johnson making a comment to one of his staff or aides about a homeless person.  The associate said something like, all it takes is one thing to go wrong, and that person could be you or me.  It could be loss of a job, a car accident, or a serious illness.

I’m going to call the homeless shelter down the street and ask if they do take pets.    If they do, maybe I’ll make some little sheets with directions to the shelter.  I’m going to ask what I can do to help.

When we used to go down to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, we passed through the city of Hermosilla.  At the stoplights, children would ask if they could clean your windshield for a dollar.  My brother-in-law said not to give it to them because that was only making them continue to beg.  But a dollar to them meant a whole lot more than it did to me.

The Promise

 One of the reasons I started my spiritual journey was because I have seen that people with faith handle adversity better. 

I have the second bad cold of the season.  I don’t even usually get colds.  And last time, like every time I’ve been sick, I made a promise to myself to take better care of myself.  I bought a bunch of fruit and vegetable juices and swore I would develop better health habits.  Obviously, that did not happen.

My mother used to tell me I should be a nurse, because I could always find a job.  She was right, but she forgot I had a traumatic experience in a hospital when I was 5 years old (plus I’m squeamish at the sight of blood).  I had my appendix taken out after having great pain.  The naval hospital was about 2 hours away from the small Nike Army base where we lived, so they couldn’t visit me every day.  My sisters weren’t allowed to come to my room, so I had to wave at them behind a barrier.  One day a nurse was trying to untangle my hair in the playroom.  She said I looked like a witch, which really upset me.

I have had more operations and several trips to the ER which have made me want to avoid hospitals.  Both my parents died of complications in the hospital, not from the condition they were brought there for.

So I tend to baby myself when I am sick.  You would think it would make me more committed to taking care of myself.  But I get lazy.

This time I am going to try harder, and I will report my progress back here.  I have been studying Buddhist meditation practices to reduce anxiety and stress so I can sleep better.

Here is an interesting article I read today on whether prayer can heal by a doctor.