The Reviews Are In! Mindful Mamas “Life-Changing!”

DSC_0005Last Summer, a little seed of a dream was planted in me, to take what I have learned through 4 years of soul-searching & abundant growth in the midst of supreme tragedy, & turn it into something I could use to benefit others. My greatest heart’s desire I’ve been slowly hatching is to teach & speak, sharing the wisdom I have uncovered through 20 deaths, 4 moves, the loss of my home, job, car, baby & so much more.

I’m sure you can imagine how hard it was to choose to open up and unfold after 4 years of relentless tragedy. But, this famous quote by Anais Nin became my hope & my goal, for myself and others:

Continue reading

Lean In, Baby, Just Lean In

IMG_0250I used to believe that bad things happening to me meant I was a bad person somehow. The truth is, the reason so much “bad” stuff has happened around me is simply because I love so many people so deeply and because, well, that’s life.

I used to be afraid to tell you more bad stuff was happening in my life because I don’t want pity, and because I thought for sure I was doing something to “deserve” all this bad stuff. On some level, I think I believed I had not become enlightened/empowered/aura-fied/chakra-fied/fully present/fearless/brave/spiritual/positive thinking enough to transcend suffering.

I wanted so badly in my journeys these last 4 years to find a way to transcend suffering. Continue reading

Cancer SUCKS, But…

obyvatel/ stock.xhcng

Cancer sucks. In fact, if I were honest, and willing to be profane, I would give Cancer a solid tongue lashing right now. I would fling multiple curse words at it because it has burned its hot branding into the lives of my loved ones far too much in the last three years.

In 2008, Cancer began an endless stretch of its slimy paws so close, so encroaching, and so frequently into my life, it felt like it’s sole purpose was to greedily rape my soul and break my heart a million times over. As of just a few weeks ago, Cancer has touched, and killed, six close loved ones in three short years. All but one of them were under the age of 52.

But (yes, there’s a “but!”), with time, I was able to take Cancer’s “Pandora’s box” of pain-infested manure and work it compost for my life’s flower garden. For me, this practice brings purpose to pain.

At the time that my fifty-year-old Aunt (my Dad’s younger sister) was diagnosed with Lung Cancer in ’08, we were not very close. She had been a solid, staple figure in my life, but I had always ached to truly know her at a soul level.

Even in the midst of her chemotherapy treatments, biopsies, and a brutal battle for survival, my fears of the unknown – of death and despair, and the discomfort of trying to get to know her better – kept me from making time to get to know her. I am ashamed to say, I didn’t visit her once that entire year.

But, in early 2009, after a short remission period, the Cancer returned with a vengeance and finally kicked me square in the rear, hard enough to knock the fear right out of me.

Suddenly, I was overbearingly reminded of the all-too-familiar taste of regret – a feeling I had known too well after my two-year-old nephew died. I hadn’t seen him for two months before his sudden death – a regret I would live with for eternity.

What Would I Regret More? 

I was scared to see my Aunt suffering, but the question of regret tormented me daily. I wondered, would I be sitting at her funeral thinking, “I wish I had known her better,” or would I be weeping in the back corner because I had, well, finally found a way to know her?

My Aunt Debbie holding my daughter

I didn’t have much money, and I had a two-year-old in tow, but I threw out all my excuses, and finally went to see her several times before her death. The gas money to drive two hours to see her just magically appeared, and bringing my daughter with, which I thought would certainly be a terrible idea, actually created the best memories I have with her.

We only had three months together, but that was what her Cancer gave us…time. Death can come in so many sudden, inexplicable, horrific forms that leave us filled with questions and regret. But, Cancer almost always gives us at least a little time with our loved ones.

When she did pass in March, I made another choice to push past my fears, and go be with her, and her family, in her final hours. I whispered in her ear, “It’s ok, you can go be at peace now,” and when I finished the sentence with, “We will miss you,” it had a new meaning it wouldn’t have had a few months before.

After she died, I spent a week putting together a photo slideshow of her life for the Memorial Service – it was my small way of trying to honor her.

I grieved her deeply, and tortured myself slowly through the placing of the photos of her life.

torli / stock.xchng

But, as I sat in the back of the Church, making sure the slideshow went off without a hitch, a pipe burst in my hardened heart. I wept profuse puddles of tears for what I had lost. I had found a way to know her – my only regret, was waiting ‘til the last minute to try.

I HATE Cancer, But…

I hate Cancer. I loathe it, despise it, curse it, bemoan it. But, it has swept me to the death beds of five souls to make last-ditch memories, swear my unending love, unleash my tears, and relish in final shreds of joy with each one.

I can’t really say Cancer has been a gift in my life, because, well, this is Cancer we’re talking about. But, I can say, with a great deal of inner work, I was able to transform my hate in Cancer’s aftermath. For those of us left behind, that’s about the best we can do, I think.

“Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage…You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers. It is not only your love that is organic; your hate is, too. So you should not throw anything out. All you have to do is learn how to transform your garbage into flowers.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh, “You Are Here”

“Expect the Worst” – Good Advice?

News of a family member’s unexpected illness last week sent me into temporary panic waves resembling those of the Indonesian tsunami of ’04.

I have to say, I am getting pretty dang sick of my Mom calling, with that hushed tone and the words, “I have news.” (And she’s probably pretty sick of it, too!)

“Hindsight is always 20/20” – how many times have we heard that line? In the last few years, it’s taken on new meaning for me. It seems no matter the terms or conditions of a loss, I always find something to regret in what I did or didn’t do beforehand.

So, I’ve developed a new preemptive strategy. I have decided to expect the worst. And, I’m saying this with a smile on my face because I believe it’s good advice for myself!

I am all about living in positivity, manifesting joy and abundance in your life through positive affirmations, and everything else I talk about here.

But, when it comes to pondering how much time you may or may not have with a loved one…whether they are perfectly healthy, or fighting an illness, my advice is this: Expect the worst.

Treat every person – every experience you have for that matter – like it has a signed and stamped impending expiration date.

Everything has an expiration date. Expecting the worst grants us freedom to enjoy each person and experience more fully and freely knowing "this too shall pass."

When I received the news about this most recent family member’s massive, debilitating stroke, my first thoughts were for her life, and then, for how much I had been in that life lately.

At Christmas-time I had given The Gift of Time to my loved ones, offering ideas of personalized “dates” together that I wanted to fulfill with each.

My first thought at this news was, “But I didn’t get to have my date with her yet!” Followed by, “Geez Megan, haven’t you learned anything yet about making the most of your time with people? Stop procrastinating! I don’t care how much you have going on in your life, or how many people have died lately, why didn’t you go see her like you promised?!!!”

It was at that moment that I decided this time, I’m going to expect the worst. This time, I’m going to rush to see her as soon, and as often, as possible.

I have to admit, going to visit her is going to be hard. Every time, putting myself in the face of illness and mortality has been oozingly uncomfortable. But, I would rather the discomfort of illness now, then the ache of regret later. Regret lives on after a loss, and becomes it’s own illness in us. I’ve tasted it so many times, I’ve really had enough of it now.

So, I’ve decided that the eternal optimist in me has its place, but so does the ever-so-jaded, reality-based pessimist. Honestly, that damn optimist has tricked me nearly every time. When my Aunt was dying of cancer, it said, “She beat it once, she’ll beat it again!” But, she didn’t beat it, and all those months I was telling myself she would, I was two hours away believing for a miracle instead of at her bed, savoring every last second with her.

My Grandmother was in her eighties, fighting late-stage Alzheimer’s and again, the optimist in me said, “She’s strong, otherwise healthy – she’ll be here for years!” When she suffered an unexpected stroke, I felt bruised and betrayed by that damn optimism. I would have treasured pessimism much more if it had forced me to her house a few more times those last couple months, in fear of impending doom.

If I had expected the worst every time, I would have had a lot more of just that – time, with each person. The plain truth is…if I’m too abundantly sanguine about a person’s health and longevity, I’m more likely to take them for granted.

So, my optimism can come along for the ride and hope for a speedy recovery for this one, but it’ll have to come hand-in-hand with pessimism. I’ve decided a healthy fire stoked under my rear is probably the better burn to feel now, then the painful sting of regret later.

Forgive me if I sound morbid, but, dear, dear, dear ones, this is it right here – this is why facing the discomfort of the impermanence of all things, sooner rather then later, empowers you!

Every moment is a death – life is always changing, there is truly nothing to hold onto in this life, that will not eventually slip away. This is not morbid – it is acceptance of the now, of reality, and that is freedom! It helps us treasure the moments we have now fully. Empowered by an awareness of impermanence, you can savor each moment more deeply.

“It is very useful to keep our concentration on impermanence alive. You think the other person in your life is going to be there forever, but that is not true. That person is impermanent, just like you. So if you can do something to make that person happy, you should do it right away. Anything you can do or say to make him or her happy – say it or do it now. It’s now or never.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh, “You Are Here” 

“Expecting the worst” doesn’t mean you end up living in morbid, worst-case scenario fright 24/7 – it means you live in eternal gratefulness for each moment, because you now know, each moment is truly a gift.

I am currently living in my fifth home in three years. Letting go of the first one was most painful – now that I’m in the fifth one, I hold it loosely. I enjoy it for what it has while I’m here, and also rest in a knowing that it could easily change. I expect the unexpected now, and this grants me abundant freedom.

I adore the elders in my family, and they adore the little ones in mine! We try to make the most of every minute we have together & fill our moments with lots of giggles!

The same applies to my loved ones – it’s good to expect the unexpected to ward off potential regret, but at the same time, I hold my loved ones loosely, knowing I have no control over when they leave this earth, and I can only do my best to enjoy them fully while they are here.

The many death experiences I have had have granted me the gift of understanding impermanence, of enjoying everything “for a season.” Grant yourself the freedom of holding life loosely! Enjoy every person and experience as though it were sand slipping through your fingers…wonderful to feel as it comes, and goes.

Update: I went to visit this family member just after writing this, and seeing her determination to regain her mobility, her dedication to living in the present moment, and her positive attitude, moved and inspired me. Seeing her was a gift to me, not just her. I am so glad I went, and I will go back again soon! It wasn’t easy seeing her so changed, but I felt like I’m starting to live up to my “Gift of Time” with her now, and we still plan to have that “date” soon.

Just Added Another Angel to my Heaven…

My Grandma passed away yesterday. 😦

The last week or so watching her go as been pretty painful – one of the most painful losses I’ve had to witness yet, even in all the death I’ve experienced these last few years.

This is the third grandparent I’ve lost in 8 months. Wow.

And, she is number 13 in 3 years. Can you believe that? Thirteen deaths in three years?! I shared that number with a friend yesterday and he responded, “If I lost 13 people, I wouldn’t have anyone left. That would be all my family and friends.”

That made it hit home for me. It really has been quite a thing.

I told myself the other day, “Wow, I must have some really wonderful friends and family – God seems to want ’em all back!”

I had a really horrific weekend, hence the reason I didn’t come and post. I did journal though, but what I wrote in my journal would need lots of black “censor” tags over it! I always say, a good journal is a best friend in times of grief. You can tell it anything, be honest, uncensored, horrific, angry, scary, mean – and it doesn’t judge you. In fact, if you read it back, it even gives you a good little dose of empathy, if you’ll have it.

I’m not feeling as angry now. I’m just taking this all in and trying to find the “Gifts in Grief,” as I always do. That’s such a funny term I’ve picked to use, because, really, at this point, fresh off a loss, it’s a hard thing to think of – finding gifts in grief.

But, I did find gifts, believe it or not.

This was the first time I really felt at peace with someone leaving. You might think, “Well, it’s easier to let go of someone in their 80’s who’s lived a long, full life,” and in some regards, you are right. But, on the other hand, this loss snuck up on us, when we thought she had years left with us, and it was a very hard loss to watch. I was angry and sad, and when I first heard she was dying, I decided to be angry at the sky/God/the Universe for handing me another death because, well, seriously, haven’t we had enough here lately?!

I sat at her bed side and my whole body held itself against what was happening. I was angry for myself, having to sit at another death bed. I was angry, again, for knowing all the signs of death. I was angry at my circumstances of kids, stress, work and life getting in the way of spending more time with her before she went.

But, again, I forced myself to get quiet and go within. I sat next to her bed, and closed my eyes, and did something very unusual, for me – for anyone, at that.

I smiled.

In my quiet, I could feel my Grandma’s spirit. I could feel her becoming a piece of the Earth, the sun, the sky. I could feel her almost splitting her spirit into a billion pieces and spreading herself out over the entire cosmos. There, there she is in the blade of grass. There, there she is in the warmth of the sun on my skin. There, there she is meandering down the creek in a flood of water. There, there she is, standing behind me, whispering, “You have been such a joy to me, dear.”

A feeling came over me that I could not describe. Something I had not identified yet, even in all this death. I could not name it, until one of my best friend’s named it for me, in a text message, the next day.

Friend: How are you doing today?

Me: Strangely, ok, somehow. Can’t explain it, but just feeling really at peace with it.

Friend: It took me 40 years to figure out that the “somehow” is the answer for a lot of my problems. Sometimes (a lot of the time) I wait it out. Something changes, everything changes. It is not my will activating anything, that much I know. Grace is a nice word for it.

Me: Nice way to put it. Thanks for sharing that.

1. a : unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
b : a virtue coming from God
c : a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace
2. a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior:
Synonyms: forgiveness, charity, mercifulness.
3. mercy; clemency; pardon
Synonyms: lenity, leniency, reprieve.

Yes, I do believe it was Grace that swept over me as I sat there at her bedside and found a smile in me. I felt unspeakable joy, peace…and grace.
The day before, I had read my Grandma this passage out of “You Are Here” (take notes, I want this read at my funeral!). As I sat there, I felt the words become powerfully real and true in this experience.

This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars, manifestations from my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide- and seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

~By Thich Nhat Hanh, Chanting and Recitations from Plum Village. Page 188.

It was in that moment, that this feeling of being the Grim Reaper Girl seemed to dissipate in me.

I’ve called myself that, because I’ve felt like death was following me, and that I somehow, always end up ushering people out of this life. I don’t like all the ugliness of death in it’s physicality – it’s uncomfortable, unspeakable, hard to witness, hard to be fully present to. But, I am able to be present to it, and I think if I can be fully present sitting at death’s doorstep, I can pretty much face anything.

And, it’s not all ugly. It’s really how we look at it. I’ve been blessed to have people come into my life and remind me of what an honor it is to be with someone in death. In Buddhist teachings, they say Death and Birth are interconnected. We could not have one without the other.

I’m not religious, I don’t know what happens on the “other side.” I’d like to believe in a Heaven that looks a little like Robin William’s painted heaven in “What Dreams May Come” or Susie Salmon’s “dogs dancing” heaven in the book, “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold.

It does comfort me, though, to hear what people who’ve had NDE’s (near-death experiences) say – it’s always this overwhelming sense of peace, light and love they describe.

Believing we are all headed for that unspeakable joy and grace, I decided this time, to see the honor of celebrating someone into the afterlife, not just the hurt. It doesn’t take the hurt away, it just holds the hurt in that state of grace. I don’t know if I could do this again with death, and I don’t think I could ever go back, say to my nephew’s loss, and be able to find smiles through the tears over a loss that cruel. But, this time, for a girl who has certainly felt enough of the pain of death, it was nice to feel a little grace, too. 

A thought came into my heart as I smiled, “I’m NOT the Grim Reaper Girl. I’m just an angel on earth (as we all are!), helping other angels find their way home.”

What an honor that is, don’t you think?

So, what’s the morale of my story, my dears?

Celebrate life, every day, in every way.

Celebrate life, even ’til it’s last breaths on this Earth.

Celebrate life, even into the afterlife.

Wake up each day, and celebrate your life.

Always remember, there is joy unspeakable to be found, in every moment, in every experience.

For every sorrow once brought joy, and every death, large or small, to the afterlife, or just a new life on Earth, is a rebirth as well.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.