Sacred Breath

 

Twice in my life I have witnessed the miraculous first breaths of our daughters, from the depths of my protective womb into an uncertain world. My daughter’s birth days were as divergent as could be, but both are emblazoned into my memory for immediate recall; movie- like scenes indelibly imprinted forever. What remains, however, as the most sacred experience of my life, was having the privilege to hold in my own breath as I saw my only sibling, my older sister Geri’s, last breath. I have never talked about it, as I felt its power was such an intangibly forceful moment of both letting go and welcoming- of transitioning yet in a single second also a leaving behind.

Geri knew of my intuitive, psychic, awakening experiences some years before this day, and her fascination with the stories I felt comfortable enough to share, were met with encouragement I sorely needed. I remained the greatest skeptic as the recipient of the messages and affirmations I was receiving daily until a trusted medium told me, “you need to stop it with the false humility.” She explained that being able to step into this gift had less to do with me, and everything to do with a divine choosing. I was simply a channel that I could tap into, but I should not continue the “who me?” position I had been taking.

It was organic for me to feel this way; most of my life before this breaking open, though full of strong intuition and serendipitous occurrences, was not spent seeing words, symbols or hearing them in the person’s voice, that would speak of people’s past, present moments or future events, (validated later by them). Prior to this, I had never received a message from a loved one who had passed on either for myself or anyone else. It has been a painful process both physically and emotionally. In a development class I joined to tap further into this odyssey, our guide and mentor told us: “you can’t help heal others until you heal yourself.”

Since stepping into the truth of my life, and welcoming the symphony of spirit all around me, it has only opened this portal even more. As Geri stared down leukemia with bravery, acceptance and resilience, it stunned me to my core to see such strength, and whatever gift I felt was emerging in me dwarfed in comparison to this meteor that had hit our family. Over time, though, I began to realize that without initiation, messages would come in during my meditations about the state of Geri’s health or events that would be occurring. It was impossible to describe the agony of remaining a positive advocate for her in communicating with many health care professionals using my deepest intuition to ask the right questions to further her comfort or progress, while also possessing information that belied long-term survival. I stayed firmly rooted in the forward-moving hope and hand’s on commitment to her healing, but I was often seared with the content of my messages nagging at the center of my heart.

When I arrived in Minnesota after Geri endured a surgery to address bleeding in her brain, the walls of protection around my empathic wiring crumbled. The images of her attempt to recover in that hospital, amidst constant prodding of her body, insertion of electrodes in her skull to detect possible seizures, endless questions about who the President of the United States was to test her acuity were numbing. I could feel both her fight and resignation; her will to break out of the hospital in her gown at any opportunity engaged with an exhaustion to close her eyes and just sleep. What more could be expected of her?

As days went on we were able to share some chats and even laughs while watching our beloved Green Bay Packers, where Geri kept saying: “Are they playing in slow motion?” She was present and yet the lack of feeling on one side of her body led the neurologist to concur a second brain surgery was necessary. Blinded by incredulousness, as if stamina could not outlast yet another blow to her equilibrium, we agreed that after risk assessment with her doctor, her procedure would be scheduled   for the next day. A single moment in time can truly feel like a lifetime. In three words, my bold sister, sitting up in her bed on the eve of the dreaded surgery, lifting a single index finger before I left the room, said: “we are one.”

The next morning after my meditation, a doctor called to say the surgery had been canceled. The leukemia side of her complex medical scenario had nudged out any realistic option to do surgery; the risks were too high as her blood count had plummeted overnight. This is the time when you realize you have either been under water during the entire healthcare nightmare and the doctor’s information is a relentless search for a breath of air, or you have stopped breathing and the plunge downward into the depths of the sea has only intensified. For me, I found some level of peace in staying under water as decisions had to be made, and I could not gasp for air- I had to think clearly and float along.

As Geri succumbed to the comfort measures enlisted as part of her care, and we adjusted to her non-responsive reality of what would ultimately be the dying process, time stood still. Spirit was present through countless messages affirmed to me later; it was a watershed of believing what I had so frequently doubted perhaps because I felt I was supposed to. It was still foreign to experience this, so I refuted its weight.  I lied in the bed beside Geri, and I stood gazing at her face to preserve it forever.  She possessed a heightened beauty, her skin glowing at times and a peaceful look and presence which was hopeful to see during such a surreal time. It was the opposite of frightening; it was a full measure of tranquility as though the light that had enveloped her was so great it emanated out around her.  

 October 20, 2015, as the afternoon wore on, an unspoken knowing encompassed the room where nurses checked in sporadically and I sat as vigilant as a shield guarding a treasure I was in no way ready to release. Almost imperceptibly without grandstanding or gasp, my protector and big sister, breathed in deeply, calling in the beacon that would guide her onward with no need to exhale. It was so subtle and yet it was omnipresence, energy flowing endlessly, and my grief sat for a moment as she comforted me in this ease, willing me to stand for a moment to receive this gift, and now be as bold as she had been so many times before.

 

GRIEF

Grief. It is barely lifting your head off the pillow with the ache of realizing it is the day of your beloved  dad’s funeral. The pain of his passing sears deeply, and is equal parts encompassing, steadfast, uncomplicated love; it is emptiness. It is blinding bereavement. It is the quivering lips and strained faces of your children fighting back tears at the grave side of their grandmother; the one they played school with, and who never missed celebrating a single day of their lives. It labors and languishes in the soul of a mother who lost her son to suicide.

Grief resonates with the spouse as he leans in to kiss his bride of 50 years, blinking back incomprehension as she will likely not make it through the night.  It is expelled through the tears of disbelief from the sister who witnessed the last sacred breath of her warrior counterpart; the realization that joint surrender is part of the fight.  Grief imposes as the indescribable inevitability most of us will experience at some point in life, despite asking the universe, God, or a higher power to shield us from this pain. If truth be told, grief is not a friend, but a teacher.

Grief is learned by being the voice for a soul- mate dog that showed Zen-like grace and acceptance her whole life despite a disability, then calling by name the suffering that is moving from the fringes to the center of her being and you can’t let it happen. Grief rips deeply and if you forget for a minute you have lost a person or animal vital to your existence, it reminds you with endless butterflies in your middle, an anxiety that can only be quelled with tears of release.

Grief is shadows that cast a gray pall over all even when it is bright outside, the muted shade that transforms the color of things, like a stroll through Kansas before Dorothy meets the wizard.

 Grief can combat a previously perceived darkness around death by evolving into a more ethereal experience. Those who consciously work through the layers of grief, may be gifted insights through faith, spiritual awareness and healing. They support the beauty of the soul’s journey, and that death being synonymous with nothingness couldn’t be further from the truth.

Grief is not a straight line. It is the first days of fog as you plan a memorial service, write an obituary and decide which vase your loved one’s ashes will be stored in.  Grief sits with you like an unwanted visitor when you try to sleep and can’t think of anything but your family member or friend’s last days or moments. You know it would be better to envision the healthy, vibrant light force that was, but the mind trips and circulates that which the heart cannot accept.

 Grief is Velcro- it sticks to the moment of joy you may allow yourself in the months after your loss, it grabs hold on the days that start out focused and driven only to bring you to your knees with realization. Grief thrives within the melodies that have new meaning when you are in mourning; they comfort and they also unleash the dark knowing from the deepest parts of yourself most in need of expression. Music is ultimately a code that cracks wide open the memories and moments you most cherished and repelled; both equally necessary to heal.

Grief can start with the preparation of a eulogy, because you are organized by nature and you memorialize with clear thoughts as the event of death will be leveling. Grief is prayer, it is meditation, it is the calling in of spirit in ways you have never understood before and with the exception of the love you have for present family, will become an encompassing, sustaining light. The welcoming in of spiritual awakening comforts but it also exposes us to what lies beyond the analytical; it asks us to trust our own intuition and knowing.

Grief restores; in time, it frees.  When it is not squelched, it rebuilds a layer of protection that hurt will try to penetrate again and again. Willing students will learn. It is relentless until it fades in intensity as you find other ways to remember, honor, and celebrate that and those which you have lost in the physical world. Connectedness is felt by those who welcome it in to varying degrees. Energy lives on and despite one’s personal beliefs, it can be said that it stares down grief and wins. Grief is a darkness that can lean into light. Energy is life and it cannot end. It is that which transcends.

BRAVE

A much-loved song by Sara Barellies about the courage of speaking up resonated with me but never more so than when my sister was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Like other cancers, AML can be indiscriminant in those it chooses. One day, no AML, the next day an ominous uncertainty lingering; for my sister it spanned almost three years. This lyric was the essence, the cornerstone of my sister’s odyssey with an unwanted giant: “Show me how big your brave is.”  How do we ever really know how big our brave is unless the slings and arrows of life pierce or graze us? I bore witness to a ceaseless barrage of a warrior’s pain. I watched how she engaged and tamed it; a puddle of malicious intention left on the floor of her hospital room- no match for her power.

Hearing she had cancer, a disease that had threatened then taken the life of our mother could have paralyzed my sister, Geri, with fear. The message sent from her stored cell memory- a knee-jerk imagining of the worst end result accompanying the doctor’s diagnosis. When I walked into Geri’s hospital room for the first time after the news, she was propped in her bed chatting with a close friend; her healthy looking body, blonde highlights and voice steady in the throes of conversation. I had to stifle the urge to say, ‘this is a cruel joke, let’s get outta here.’ In days that followed, I recall my successful family law attorney sister, sitting with her lap top on a tray table moments before the anticipated searing pain of a bone marrow biopsy. She checked in with clients despite the intrusion about to enter her body. No matter the source of the invasion, Geri’s Brave would not take a bow. It stood firm, proud, and uncompromised.

Weeks, then months at a time in the hospital threatened to break my sister’s verve and wit; and at times her will to endure the next challenge, but instead of railing against this new culture she had inhabited, she made peace with it. She was poked, prodded, infused, transfused day or night. The unexpected transformed into normalcy; she rarely complained unless she felt her dignity was at stake. The figurative gloves always stayed on; after all, she was in the ring, the fight of her life- she never blurred the line of accepting condescension for her cooperation.

Sometimes Brave looked like shared tears of laughter with a sister when the nightmare loomed the largest; it meant maintaining her own voice. No amount of drug therapy, procedures, including two stem cell transplants, or endless waiting, could diminish the will of her mission to live. Haze due to side effects of medication, dehydration and pain bullied her sharp memory, presence, and induced fatigue, but her essential essence remained.

 Life became a revolving door of cancer leaving and resurging, clean bone marrow shimmering then crowded with blast cells.  Agonizingly, a stem cell transplant of healthy blood from her son, Sam, didn’t graft, so hell became watching a sea of healing possibilities dwindle to a pond, then a pool. Another transplant, followed by other experimental treatments, stretched the scope of just how brave a human being could be. When she imagined out loud whether she would witness the high school graduation of her only child, she did so when she felt pretty good overall. The hoped for healthy body soon began to rage with a swell of bad cells and the tidal wave gained unwelcome momentum. No dance seemed to be fast enough to evade and eradicate the monstrous intruder. If wellness was the destination, time was the golden ticket we no longer had.

Things happened. When Geri developed a blood clot on her brain, surgery became necessary or her suffering of excruciating headaches and worse would ensue, and the medical team felt despite the stage of her leukemia, she could survive. My sister and I used to have a phrase for the most surreal moments in life. “Excuse me, is this a play?” When I walked into her hospital cove, after her brain surgery, the large staples in her skull assaulting in their size, placement and texture, I felt like a tiny ant in the presence of her Brave.  No stage, no curtain call, no actors.  Geri survived yet another trial threaded with gravitas that had no means of measure, but it was the unrelenting will on her face and the aura all around her that I saw when I entered her that room that day. Cancer started a war but could not steal the intention of her sovereign soul.