A Butterfly Visitation

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Yesterday, under blue skies and fluffy white clouds, our family attended a tree-planting ceremony put on by the local funeral home in honour of those who had passed away in the last year. For us it was our beloved Bill, father-in-law to my daughter and grandpa to my little grandsons.

The event couldn’t have been more perfect. Everything had been considered and was perfectly coordinated from the beautiful natural setting at the local conservation area, to the ample parking area and organized crew, to the large white tent set up with folding chairs and picnic tables under towering mature trees. A local choir and talented musicians provided beautiful heart-felt music and inspired speakers provided us with thoughtful messages.

One tree, symbolizing all of the over 300 trees that would be planted this season for our loved ones, was planted just outside the tent allowing us a visual reality of our loved one’s memorial tree.

As a final tribute to those who had passed, live Monarch butterflies were released by the planted tree. We were all invited to come up close and witness the event first hand. A hat box filled with the butterflies was placed on the grass and children and adults were encouraged to reach in, take out a butterfly and enjoy the experience of a living jewel in your hand before it took to the skies.

Butterflies have always been special to me and my second husband, Tom, who took me to the local butterfly conservatory for our first date. We released twelve live butterflies at our  wedding five years later. On our first anniversary, Tom and I released one in our back yard to celebrate our love. Four years later, Tom passed away with terminal cancer. Since his passing, I have had several unique experiences with butterfly visitations. My family and I have acknowledged that perhaps these butterflies are Tom visiting us and we often say, “Hi Tom” when we experience these intimate encounters with these lovely creatures.

I was eager to get as close as I could to the butterflies but it was very crowded as over a hundred people encircled the box trying to get a glimpse. It took some time for me to get close enough to get some photos with my camera. Finally I was able to snap some pictures as smiling children and parents held living butterflies in their hands and then watched them as they flew up and over our heads into the sky.

One of the last butterflies to be released flew from a hand to a woman’s head beside me landing in her hair. Within seconds it made the short flight from her to me, settling on the crest of my ear where it decided it wanted to stay. For several minutes, the crowd around me marveled at this special moment as all the other butterflies had taken flight and were gone.

I decided to try and walk to my family’s picnic table to share this amazing experience with them. I didn’t know if the butterfly would still be there as I started to move. As I sat down at our picnic table it took a moment for my daughter and family to notice the beautiful orange and black ornament that was still in my hair. Liam called out, “Gramma, you have a butterfly in your hair.” We all laughed and I said, “I know. Say hi to your Grandpa Tom.”

The butterfly lingered for a lengthy period of time. We were able to get many pictures of this unique experience and share it with others around us. We actually finished our luncheon before the butterfly quietly left unannounced about 20 minutes later.

How special this moment was for my family and me. Thank you to Dods & McNair Funeral Home, Orangeville for making this special event even more memorable for us.

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Treasure Your Memories

This day, as loved ones around me face loss and grief, I was reminded by Facebook Memories of a video I had posted three years ago, sent to me by my daughter Maegan. It’s about a 96-year old man named Fred Stobaugh, who had lost his wife after 75 years together.

Fred wrote the lyrics for a song about his beloved wife, Lorraine, and Green Shoe Studio helped him bring it to life. The song and video went viral as the world embraced Fred and his love story.

Now there are six videos on You Tube about Fred and his song “Oh Sweet Lorraine.” I am including the first video here. I had time to watch the other five videos and it is a beautiful story about love, and relationships, and the memories we cherish.

In the 4th video, a 7th grade student wrote in a letter to Fred about his song and his life with Lorraine and how it had impacted her. She wrote, “You should treasure what you have as long as you have it, and then treasure the memories you have of it.”

Some things in life we can’t change, we can only accept them, and accept them with deep gratitude and love. The simplest, most basic moments, shared with someone we love become the most valued as precious memories. As I felt with my Tom, it didn’t matter what we did, but that we did it together.

Choosing Beauty

In my present research and writing for a book I will be a part of dealing with grief, I have read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it, he often quotes Nietzsche with “He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any HOW” as he explains that it is not the circumstances of life that give us meaning and purpose, it is our attitude and choices we make that give us meaning and purpose. We cannot stop suffering in our lives, but we can choose not to suffer. We can choose to be responsible for our lives, even in taxing circumstances, and seek out the beauty, the small moments, the sensory gifts, that make the moment not only bearable, but even glorious.

Dr. B. J. Miller, in this Ted Talk video, speaks of dying and death. We can’t stop dying. But we can choose how we spend our last days. We can’t solve for death, but we can design towards it by making the life we have left more wonderful, rather than less horrible, He states, “You can always find a shock of beauty or meaning in what life you have left. If we love such moments ferociously, then maybe we can learn to live well, not in spite of death, but because of it.”

Frankl and Miller speak of the same things. Living and dying well is our responsibility. Rather than becoming a victim to our circumstances, we can direct the quality and beauty of our lives to the very end. Frankl quotes the Jewish scholar Hillel the Elder with:

“If I do not do it – who else will do it.  And if I do not do it now – then when?”

The Photograph

I stopped in front of the large photograph on the wall of the art gallery. It was a picture of a make-shift table, more a platform, pushed into the corner of a room. On the table was a simple place-setting: one plate, one fork, one knife, one cup. In the corner of the table was a book, partially read and marked with a bookmark. One chair was pulled up to the table, facing the corner. The wall behind the table was unadorned, devoid of any pictures that would draw the eye. That’s all. There was nothing more in the picture.

My friend said, “Now that’s an odd picture.” And moved on.

I lingered. I thought, This person lives alone. Or at least, the photographer knows what it’s like to live alone. The photo had a stark simplicity to it. Although it was in colour, it left me feeling black and white. It was a picture of life stripped down. But, therein, was its purity. It was a picture of the basic nature of a life when everything else is peeled away and someone is left alone. With no distractions other than that person’s own choosing.  After all, there was a partially read book on the table.

Living alone isn’t necessarily a bad life. It has its benefits. I spread eagle my body across my queen size bed every night, taking all the pillows. I wake up when I want to and retire at night whenever I wish. I have total T.V. remote control power. If I want to cook an extravagant meal with garlic shrimp, roasted eggplant, and Portobello mushrooms, I do. Sometimes I eat Kraft dinner. I have the freedom to jump on a plane or hop in the car and head out to see the world whenever I wish to. Life centers round my own needs and interests and desires. The rhythm of life is my own to create and I beat my own drum, loudly and joyfully. Living alone, one needs not be lonely. Family and friends are only a mouse click or text or telephone call away. Or not.

So, Mr. Photographer (or is it Miss or Mrs. or Ms.), I see your photograph of a life lived alone. But I think my own photo would look a little different. There would be a table with at least four chairs in a corner of a room. I would have one place setting facing out, but there would be a stack of plates and placemats and silverware on the opposite corner, ready for meal-time sharing when the opportunity arose. I would have a vase of bright red tulips in the middle of the table and a crystal glass ready to be topped with sparkling wine. The wall behind me would be filled with framed pictures: my daughters, my grandson, laughing faces in tropical settings, kangaroos and cockatoos, snow-covered mountains, and sunsets over the ocean. The sun would be streaming in from an unseen window flooding my little dining corner with golden rays. There wouldn’t be a book on the table. Good food and private musings would be enough for mealtime contemplation. It would be a photograph full of colour and light, potential, and gratitude. It would be a picture of life lived alone, but never lonely.

Tragedy and Martyrdom

At the recent wedding of my daughter and her new husband, the room seemed to be immersed in love and positive feelings. It was a room filled with large and close family groupings. One of the extended families consisted of 63 adults, another included five siblings and their parents and partners. All the guests seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely and there was a deep sense of community, family, and love among them. I knew that it was a room filled with people who had experienced pain and deep tragedy in their lives, but they didn’t come across as tragic figures or martyrs.

I watched with pleasure as six adult sisters dressed up in costumes and goofed around at the fun photo booth set up in a corner of the reception hall. I’m sure each one of them had experienced deep tragedy in their lives; they had lost their beloved mother in the past year, one of them I knew had lost a child at a young age, but there they were laughing, embracing and sharing the deep bond they obviously had for each other. At another table, a family member, who is dealing with cancer and is in active chemotherapy treatments, was there laughing uproariously with his large family as they shared stories and love. Most important of all, both families were having fun.

Life should be fun. When bad things happen or things make us unhappy, we can wrap ourselves up in it, cut the tragic figure, “Oh, woe is me!” Sometimes we can even take great pride in our tragedy: “Look at me. Look at how wonderfully I am handling my pain, my loss. Aren’t I wonderful?” We become the great martyr.

The sisters didn’t do that. The father, sick and weak with cancer, didn’t do that. We can’t stop the pain in our lives, but we don’t have to let it become our identity, the suffering martyr, the mourning tragic figure.

To live a life well-lived, let us remember that we are not grief itself. We experience grief. It is not my cancer. It is just the cancer. Don’t make pain your identity. Let it not define who you really are.

Momma’s Wedding Wisdom

My eldest daughter got married this past weekend and, speaking as Mother of the Bride, I gave this following blessing and advice to them at the reception:

Maegan and Andrew, we are so happy to be gathered here to share in your joy and commitment to each other. Not only do the people in this room send you blessings but we know that those who are no longer with us, send them from afar. We all wish for a long and happy marriage for both of you. Life is to be celebrated and shared and how wonderful that so many of our family and friends could be here today to be part of such a special celebration.

My darling daughter. When I think of you I have so many wonderful memories:

I remember on the day you were born, the nurse brought you to me after a cesarean birth and placed you gently upright on my lap where you sat looking at me, eyes wide open, little arms folded in your lap. There you sat looking like a little god, the great I AM, radiating purity and wisdom and a calm energy, fresh from the heavens.

I have always loved your soft pillow cheeks which, by the way, you still haven’t lost.

I picture you giggling as you crawled around the living room chair, being chased by your father as the two of you played peek-a-boo.

I got used to saying goodbye to you as you began to travel the world. It began with your 3 ½ month volunteer work stint in Venezuela, and was followed by trips to Europe, South Korea, and most of east Asia. It continued with Andrew to Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Africa.

I admire your great love and generosity, whether that be buying a homeless person on the street a morning coffee and breakfast sandwich, making a friend feel loved with an unexpected gift and a small celebration, or arriving for a weekend at my home to help Mom clean out the garage.

Andrew, I remember the first time I met you. Maegan had returned home from Korea and you made sure you dropped in at Christmas to see her. It was obvious that you were very interested in my daughter and there was definite chemistry.

I admire your incredible talent, your entrepreneurial spirit, and the way you set goals and work with discipline, sweat and persistence to achieve them.

I love your crazy sense of humour and your smile that fills the room as if the clouds had just parted and the sun came streaming in.

And I see my daughter’s incredible love for you and know that she has found a man worthy of spending the rest of her life with.

Together you are a formidable couple.

Together, you have all the adventure of Tarzan and Jane,

The romance of Romeo and Juliet,

The glamour of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie,

The power of Antony and Cleopatra,

And the devotion of Krishna and Radha.

I want to end with some motherly advice gained from experience. I know that Poppa Tom sends his love to you both. We had a little game that we used to play. He would say “Do you love me?’ and I would answer “Yes.” Then he would say, “Do you love me in spite of my faults?” and I would answer, “Yes.” Then he would say, “Do you love me because of my faults?” and I would always smile and say, “Yes.” We both knew that our strengths are our weaknesses and our weaknesses are our strengths, and the very things that attract you to your beloved can also be the very things that drive you crazy.

I’m sure you both drive each other crazy at times. But I want you to always remember to RESPECT each other at all times. Barbara de Angelise, a well-known authority in the field of relationships and personal growth says, “The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It’s a choice you make – not just on your wedding day – but over and over again – and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife.”

Respecting your spouse means watching your mouth. Every thought you have doesn’t have to come out of your lips. There’s a time for silence and a time for loving truth.

Build each other up, and seek ways to support each other in all your doings. Show interest in your loved one’s activities.

Keep love alive, through daily hugs, kisses and regular words of love and romance.

Small gestures can mean so much. A small wild flower picked and placed in a bud vase, one truffle on a pillow, a cool drink brought to you while working on the computer, or a warm blanket placed gently over you when you fall asleep on the couch, all speak the unspoken language of love.

I would like you all to join me now as we raise our glasses to this loving couple. Andrew – Maegan – our love and best wishes to both of you as you begin your life together as a married couple. We celebrate with you today and will always support you in the future. Blessings on your union.

A Poem – 1 + 1 = 3

You, me, together make three.

A Venn diagram – two joined together to create a third new set.

Two “1”s make an “us”, as unique in itself as the separates, you and me.

And how big the “us” is depends on how close the two “I”s want to stand.

We had a lovely “us” . . .

And now, now that you’re gone, suddenly there’s just a “1” again

3 – 1 = 1

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How Are You? (On a Journey of Grief)

(an excerpt from my journal after my husband’s passing.)

 It’s been six weeks since Tom died and friends and family ask me, “How are you?”

I think I’m doing okay. I’m never quite sure what to say to people when they ask me that. Tears still come every day. I miss him like crazy, but I can actually talk about it now without breaking down. My teaching job and my little ones are keeping me busy. I have the most wonderful class. Perhaps my principal was being extra nice to me when she set up the class list, but, however it happened, I really did luck out with this bunch of great little kids. They are adoring, affectionate and easy, extremely responsive, caring children. And their parents are equally as great. I don’t think I have ever felt so loved and supported as I have this year. The kids wrote me beautiful letters at Christmas and parents, too, sent in kind and compassionate cards and letters.

I bought something new for myself after Tom died. It’s a two foot long, black, wooden carving of the word “Dream.” It bought it for my bedroom, not only for the obvious take on night-time dreams but also to remind me that I am alive and have opportunities to “dream” about new possibilities for the future. I know it should have been obvious but it was only a few days ago that I realized that this is the first time in my entire life that I am living alone with no one else to be responsible for but myself. I feel I have a lot of soul-searching to do in discovering who I really am and what I really want for the rest of my life. Tom and I were so happy and so looking forward to a future of retired life together, but if I am to be denied that, then I need to look for new opportunities for self-growth and discovery. The world is a big, beautiful place and I am alive and have an opportunity to decide what I want to do with my life.

Right now I am reading a great book, Broken Open – How Difficult Times can Help us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser. There’s a quote in it from Joseph Campbell:

 “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life.

I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what

we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. . . so that we actually

feel the rapture of being alive.”

Lesser goes on to interpret that in her own way.

Rapture is not a selfish emotion. It is pure gratitude, flowing freely          

through the body, heart and soul. Gratitude for what? For breath,

for colours, for music, for friendship, humour, weather, sleep, awareness.

It is a willing engagement with the whole messy miracle of life.

The world suffers more from unhappy, stifled people trying to do

good than it does from those who are simply content within themselves.”

I couldn’t agree more!

What I hope to do and be is a person of gratitude and contentment. Content in my own skin. If I can be that person, then my love for myself and my place in the world will be transferred to the rest of the world, to others. It can’t help but be reflected outwards like the radiating ripples from a stone being tossed into a quiet, still pond.

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I’m Dying

“I’m dying.”

“So am I.”

“But you don’t understand. I’ve been told I’m dying.”

“So am I.”

“You don’t get it. I am sick. I am going to die.”

“I am not sick. And I am going to die.”

“But I have been told that I will die soon.”

“I could die soon. A careless left turn may end my life in an unexpected flash.”

“The doctors have informed me that it will definitely be soon. There is no hope.”

“There is always hope. Every sunrise is a ray of hope that pushes back ‘soon’.”

“Death is following me like a shadow.”

“Death casts a shadow behind all of us. It’s the consequence of living in the light. So face forward and look into the light. You don’t have to walk the rest of your life backwards, staring at the shadow of death. Turn and step forward into the light of each new day. Come with me. We will go together.”

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Moving Forward

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A friend asked me if I still communicate with Tom after over five years of his passing.

I have had visitation dreams from Tom in the first year after he was gone, and I had one on the fifth anniversary of his passing, but I don’t communicate with him in any other way. I haven’t been to mediums, or fortune tellers, or psychics. I don’t have long conversations with him or feel his presence with me in any real way. Occasionally, I will make a comment directed to him, almost more like speaking my own thoughts out loud. I linger, at times, on his photo on the wall, perhaps send him a little finger kiss. This past month, I did have an incident where I heard two knocks on the door leading up from the basement apartment. It totally freaked me out. I was more scared than comforted. (Tom used to live there when he shared the house with his sister. When I moved in we took over the whole house.)

 

When he passed, I felt very strongly that I wanted nothing, NOTHING, to hold him back from moving fully into the next world. I loved him so much that I wanted to fully release him from any earthly ties or worries so that he could move forward completely into the next phase of his existence, to be all that he could and should be. I swallowed my own fear, let him fully go, and sent him on his final path from me with a blessing to embrace the next stage with no regrets, no obligations, nothing to hold him back in any way. Therefore, if I felt he was still hanging around, bound to me and this world in some way, I would be very sad. I love him and want him to be fully and completely all he is capable of being. If what mediums say is true, that he is here always with me, observing my life, I don’t encourage that or desire it, and I am not aware of his presence in that way. Some take comfort in feeling their loved one’s presence still with them. I take comfort in NOT feeling him still with me and knowing that he has moved on to the next stage of his existence. I realize that it may be different for others, but this is my way of dealing with my loss and my grief. We each grieve differently.

Does that mean I don’t miss him with all of my heart? Not at all. I hold onto his memory with great love. I am deeply gratified to have had the ten years I did with him. They truly were the best years of my life.  I wrote my book to honour him and our life together. It is my monument to him and his memory. But I know that true healing lies in moving on with my life, even if that means, it has to be without him. And my wish and prayer for him is that he, too, moves on to the next stage of his new life. We were truly blessed to have the time we had together, but it is now a time for new things.