Death Cafes

Last night I attended a ‘Death Café’ at a local downtown coffee shop. I had heard of them before and was intrigued. They are meant “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives. A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes.” www.deathcafe.com

About 25-30 adults were gathered, all ages, in a back room of the coffee shop, seated at small tables in groups of six or less, which allowed for intimate, close talk. A local officiant, Christine Lafazanos, and her company “Woven Threads,” handcrafted ceremonies, hosted the event which she holds every two months for the public for free.

After a short introduction, with some basic guidelines, she handed the evening over to us. For the next two hours, we introduced ourselves, told the others why we were there, and discussed a large variety of issues about death, dying, and grief through casual conversation. On the table, was a small jar with short statements about death meant to initiate discussion. We shared stories and expressed our fears, grief, and questions. We all acknowledged that our society just doesn’t like talking about death.

It was refreshing to be able to meet with strangers and speak about such a dreaded topic which affects us all. After all, we all die. Why do we ignore it, and treat it with such fear? Why are we and our families so unprepared for it? How does it affect us in both the short and the long term? What can we do to help loved ones die? What can we do for ourselves and our own grief and suffering when we lose a loved one? How can we live better lives by acknowledging the inevitability of death?

Death. It’s a big issue. We had many questions. And I’m not so sure there were clear answers but it was refreshing and helpful to talk about it and apply it to our own lives. We can help each other.

Check out Christine Lafazanos at www.woven-threads.ca and www.facebook.com/WovenThreads.Celebrant for information about the next Death Café in the Guelph area.

Rain Makes Rainbows

I was thinking about my recent trip to Hawaii where I went to dance at a week- long event called One Dance Tribe. After spending almost a year co-authoring a book about grief, I was looking for some pure joy in my life. And I did find it.
The first day, the first dance session, I was invited to dance with a complete stranger, and as we circled, and swooped and jumped around each other, I found myself smiling and then laughing out loud. Pure play. I felt the freedom of a young barn-bound colt let out to romp in the grassy meadow on the first warm, sunny spring day.
I also experienced pain, my own as well as others. On the dance floor, we were invited to consider the pain in the world, our own as well as others, and express it in movement, gesture and dance. No words. I cried in the arms of a stranger, as tears spilled down my cheeks over the death of my brother-in-law, who I had just found out the night before, via text, that the cancer he had been fighting for years, won. I wasn’t going to be there for his funeral.
Several times, after dinner, or at a quiet moment, someone would approach me and sit across from me and slowly start telling me about their lives, often being moved to tears. I just listened. It was an international dance event and, early in the week-Barb Heagy Maui 092long event, most of these people were strangers to me. I felt honoured that they would share their lives so intimately with me.
Every day, it rained for some time, usually just a quick blast of warm drops and it was over. But the sun was always back. And with it, came some of the most beautiful, vividly-colored rainbows that I had ever seen. And there was usually more than one throughout the day. As one of the participants said, “Hawaii is a rainbow machine.”
So yes, I did find joy. But I also found pain. I found they exist on the same plate. It rained almost every day, and every day we had an abundance of rainbows. Rain and rainbows danced in the sky, side-by-side.

One Dance Tribe

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I am a dancer. There have been times in my life that it was my passion and it fed my spirit. Then I danced every day. I became a full-time elementary school teacher in my late 30’s. Shortly after I stopped dancing and left it behind.

But it wouldn’t leave me.

Throughout the years, I kept returning to my dance, finding new ways to check in with my body and spirit; a weekly stretch/strength/free dance class, NIA dance workshops and retreats, yoga, sacred circle dancing and even ballroom dancing.

Last year I saw online an ad for a dance event in Maui, Hawaii called One Dance Tribe. I was intrigued. For months, I waffled back and forth about going. I began the registration procedure four separate times, but it wasn’t until the fourth time, that I persevered and hit the final ‘send’ button. Now I was committed!

In January, 2017, I flew to Maui for the One Dance Tribe, an international dance event with 80 other like-minded souls from all over the world.

The camp, rustic and simple, sat on the clifftop of the beautiful Keanae Peninsula, overlooking the Pacific Ocean on all three sides. Home for me for the week was a small 4 X 4 tent set back among the towering trees of a tropical forest, where the constant sound of the ocean waves on the cliffs lulled me to sleep each night and gentle birdsong woke me just after sunrise each morning.

We danced from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Six different teachers presented their styles and approaches to conscious dance, sometimes working independently, sometimes together in one common spirit. Spiritual teachers and healers helped us to integrate our dancing experiences through massage, body healing techniques, voice exercises, chanting, music and ceremony.

At One Dance Tribe, I immersed myself in new – a new land, wild and beautiful and a new dance experience where I, once again, began to listen to my body and learn from its wisdom. I learned to be spontaneous, authentic, and trustful of the process. I became deeply aware of my chi body energy and flow. Joy, laughter and freedom naturally flowed as I allowed my instincts to respond to the music and the teacher’s promptings. I began to test my strengths and my limitations and became aware of knots of pain, both physical and emotional, learning to see and understand them with honesty and clarity. For me, the Feldenkrais healing sessions and various moving meditations aided me even further in this deep awareness.

I learned of the truth that is revealed through movement by observing others move. By watching others, with focus and intent, I ‘listened’ to their ‘movementspeak.’ As assuredly as if they had used spoken words, their movements told me their story. I danced for them, capturing their essence with a movement response. “This is what I hear you say” became “This is what I see you say.” We spoke in a new language, one without words, the language of the body with its energy and flow.

I learned to care for others, to relate to them through movement. Through dance, we shared our lives, experiences and energies in a spontaneous dialogue. We played and laughed together. We cried together and held each other up.

I learned I didn’t have to know all your story to help you embrace your path. All I had to do was be there for you; to listen, hold, and love you, so that you were not alone in your pain. I learned I didn’t have to give you my whole life. It was enough to be there for just the moment that we were placed together – to be authentic, supportive and sharing of THIS moment.

I learned to show up daily; to ‘be here now’ with others. My presence mattered and contributed to the group process.

I learned to persevere and push my physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, in spite of discomfort. As I moved inward, I tested and revealed my own inner energy and spirit. As I moved outward, I shared more of myself with others, as partners and as a group.

Through all these experiences, I felt and understood my place in a greater world as part of a kindred population of people. As an equal member of creation, I realized my connection to the vast, powerful energy of our natural world.
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On our last day, we sat with a partner and repeatedly asked each other a question.

“What does your heart know?”

My heart has deep gratitude for this unique experience where I retreated from my everyday world to this movement sanctuary. Here I was encouraged to be my true self. I have gratitude for the teachers and healers who offered their skills to teach me that body awareness and authenticity. I have loving gratitude for my body – its energy, its flow and its truth.

“What does your heart know?”

It knows a deeper awareness and understanding of the revealing power of movement. I learn about you and you learn about me by sharing our unspoken dialogue through movement and dance. The body doesn’t lie.

“What does your heart know?”

I know that I am part of a greater natural world. I am powerful, fierce, and flowing as the gifts of the ocean, the cliffs and towering vegetation. I learned to be at one with it, to yield to its power and beauty, rather than dominate and separate myself from it.

“What does your heart know?”

I can share your pain without it binding me up and swallowing me in over-empathy. I don’t need to know all the details. It is enough to just be there for you in your moment of need. I don’t have to solve it for you. All I have to do is be open, loving, and supportive, as you work through it. I don’t need to be afraid of your pain. I don’t need to eradicate your pain. It does not need to overwhelm me.

“What does your heart know?”

I am learning to ‘go with the flow’ – to not fight it. I became aware of the knots and blocks in my body and psyche that I am avoiding because they are too painful or too fearful.

“What does your heart know?”

I am learning to be ‘me’, not the ‘me’ that has been molded by a society of rules and expectations. I am learning to be authentic. I am learning how to love better, myself as well as others. I am better loving my natural world which I am a part of.

“What does your heart know?”

I am learning the power of the group, of community. When we all join together in a spirit of love, non-judgement, open acceptance and support, there is power in that.

We are One.
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Thank you to all who contributed to the One Dance Tribe event.

I thank you for the opportunity to retreat and learn. I was fed, housed, taught, and healed.

Thank you for the physical setting of the camp on Keanae Peninsula on the winding Hana Highway, a place of raw, wild, untamed beauty; a place where nature rules and man is a visitor. With honour, I danced the hula to the sun, moon, wind, clouds, rain, cliffs, ocean and shore. How magical was the appearance of a brilliant, glowing rainbow as it offered its gift to bless our dance to it.

Thank you for the blessing of the inner dance sanctuary which invited us in with its openness and beautiful flowing fabric, carpets, cushions, flowers and ferns. It was a space created with love and a sense of beauty and sanctity.

Thank you for the music, so carefully chosen to inspire, stimulate and feed our senses.

Thank you to each of the teachers for your individuality and uniqueness. As leaders, you gave us your best through sensitive offerings and guidance. Thank you for the union of your skills as teachers. We truly became One Dance Tribe with no competition, no judgement, a true union of a dancing people.

Thank you for all who made this event such a special and unique experience – the cooks, the cleaning staff, the grounds people, administrators, guests and volunteers. We fed and cared for each other, contributing bits of ourselves to a greater community.

Thank you. Grazie. Mahalo.

Christmases Past

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There are those who are facing difficult circumstances this holiday season. It’s not easy being surrounded by cheery music, glittering decorations, party-makers and celebration planners when you feel your world is falling apart. It all looks so joyful and we can’t help but feel isolated by the merriment that we’re not feeling ourselves. The whole world seems to be a part of some great coming event that we just don’t look forward to.

Six years ago today, just before Christmas, my husband Tom passed away and he was gone forever. That first Christmas I was numb. I hadn’t truly accepted the fact that Tom was no longer with me. I had bought gifts and stocking stuffers for him and he had bought gifts for others that were still arriving by parcel post and courier. I chose gifts for his family, wrapped them, and wrote personal notes on Tom’s behalf as if he had given them himself. The Christmas card I had bought for him said it all: “Life gives beautiful gifts. It gave me you. Merry Christmas (our last one).” In truth, the Christmas the year before had been our last one, but I wasn’t ready to accept that reality. Family helped me wade through the grief of that first Christmas with love and understanding as we celebrated together.

The next Christmas was actually harder to go through without him for he was no part of the preparations. For the first time since I had been with him, I wasn’t choosing a gift for him, I had no need to fill his stocking or buy a special Christmas card. Any gifts I bought for others were from me, not us. What I did do is light a memorial candle in his memory. It sat beside his framed photo on the mantel of the fireplace. With the help of family, I made it through that holiday season.

I continued to light a memorial candle each Christmas. He was still with us. Family celebrations continued to be a part of all my Christmases and stories and memories of Tom were always encouraged from family and friends. His memory lived on. Christmases got better.

This Christmas will be the seventh one without Tom as a living presence. But he continues to be with us in our hearts and minds. Special decorations, food, drink, so many things still bring back memories of our lives together. We still share the stories and our fond memories of him. For us, he lives on, just in a new way.

The black grief of that first Christmas is gone but I continue to feel melancholy at times. How could I not? We had a great love. I will always love him. But life moves forward. There have been weddings and new births and grandchildren growing. Reaching out to others has helped. I have cried with those who miss their loved ones as they pass on and I have laughed with delight holding a newborn baby in my arms. We share our lives; the joy, the grief, the celebrations and the losses. I continue to live in hope and faith for all that life offers me.

I made it through that dark valley. I wasn’t afraid to feel the shock and the grief. I accepted all the dark feelings and let them run their course as the tears flowed and turmoil reigned. I reached out to family and friends for support, encouragement and even distraction. They helped me laugh again. I stayed an active participant in life by continuing to work, joining clubs and making new friends. I am stronger for having gone through it all, and can now reach out to others to help them through their difficult times. Together we can make it.

Stay hopeful. Stay strong. Better times are ahead. Believe that Christmas will once again be joyful for you. I wish you a Merry Christmas. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. It will.

Robin in My Tree

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There’s a little robin in my Japanese Cherry tree out front. He seems to be living there. I think he stays because it is protection and the cherries are a source of food and every once in a while, other birds come for a visit. He watches me through the window while I work on my computer.

But I worry about him. Winter is coming, temperatures are dropping. We have had frost and even snow further north. He needs to go. He needs to head south. I’m afraid he may die if he overstays his visit.

There are times in my own life that I have stayed too long. We can get caught up in feeling too comfortable or familiar with a situation. Sometimes we are too afraid of the new and the unknown to move on. Perhaps it seems like too much work. “Why change? This isn’t so bad,” we say. Until it is.

Choose your timing well. But it needs to be a decision that is carefully thought out and assessed fully. Step back and look at your life with a bigger picture than just today. And then make your decision. Take full responsibility for your life.

 

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?”