The Passing Of A Princess


I was 7 years old when I fell in love with the idea of a Princess.  Many years later I met a noble woman, known then as the Birthday Princess, who restored my faith in the fairytale of life.

We met during a time of personal emergence when each of us were fledging writers, sharing our identical secret desire to change the world with a book.  We were fast friends whose kinship sustained and nurtured an unexpected bond, despite the fact that we would never meet in person a second time.

Sacha was a natural cheerleader and coach, unwavering in her support of others.  She spread her special brand of magic like a farmer feeding her chickens – scattering goodness all over with abandon.  The only thing she asked in return was that you love your own self more; that you see in yourself the beauty and potential that she saw in you.

Sometimes in life, if we keep our eyes open, we stumble into people along the way that we don’t deserve.  They are the rare gems that enrich us and invite us to elevate our game. 

Sacha was one of those people whose light shown so bright, from a place of such sincerity and generosity, that one was instantly drawn into it.  My crass, inelegant self wondered how Sacha managed to be so filled with joy.  She was never careless with life or people or words.  She was intentional, tender, and bubbly.

When a royal presence like Sacha is taken suddenly from the world, the sweetness of life suffers a bitter blow. I will miss this friend with an unparalleled level of loss, for I am quite certain there isn’t another of her for me in the world.  But I am privileged and humbled to have been part of her fold.  For those left behind, a calling remains, a challenge really, to embody what we’ve learned from one who had mastered the art of love here on Earth.

I imagine Sacha slipping seamlessly into Heaven, taking her place amongst angels as if she belonged there all along.  No doubt she would be shocked to find herself there, but likely she is delighting in the magnificence that surrounds her and wondering how she can share it with others.

After I post this tribute, I will wait with hopeful expectation for her response.  She would write something poetic in the comments section about how my words danced off the page and filled her heart.  And I would believe her, soaking up the free praise given by my most ardent supporter. 

Eventually, it will hit me that I’ll never again hear her words of encouragement, unless, like a solid Sacha student, I learn to do this for myself.  How proud she would be of me for finding the courage to be without her.  She would tell me not to worry that I’m not there yet.  Just be gentle with yourself and celebrate every step toward reclaiming happiness.

Thank you, Sacha, for gracing this world, and my life, with the gift of you.

Deb

Best Dog Ever

faveWhen I was a kid, someone told me that the rain meant God was crying.  Today, my inner child wants to believe that this is true – that it is raining because even God is sad that my beloved one-year-old puppy died.

It was a freak accident that caused the spinal cord injury – a quick twist of fate during a puppy playdate.  The vet assured us against regrets but we are reeling with hurt.  There is no explanation that will help us make sense of the pain in our hearts.

We held Oakley on a ‘Best Dog Ever’ pedestal.  He was our one-of-a-kind dog, aka mutt, unique and unrepeatable.  A friend described him as a bag of spare parts and we cherished that about Oakley.  Each of us loved him with abandon and he returned the affection without playing favorites.

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There is a secret that dog lovers know – such that it cannot be adequately explained to one who hasn’t experienced the unfettered loyalty and sincerity of a canine.  The secret is that dogs fill a need we didn’t know we had.  They reveal to us – an oft undeserving lot – the experience of unconditional love as only an unencumbered creature can.

I’ve read that dogs never lie about love.  They are honest with their emotions and far less confused than we humans about relationships.  This is why we are devastated when they leave us.  Having shared in this mutual exchange of magical affection, we can never fully reconcile the loss of it.  Dean Koontz said, “If you’ve had a wonderful dog, life without one is a life diminished.”

Oakley’s life was cut short in his people’s eyes.  We had hopes and expectations about a future with him.  In our minds, Oakley’s image was already painted onto the canvas of every child’s soccer game, every family party, and every first day of school photo.  How will we ever un-paint him?

Those who have healed from the loss of a dog will remind me that Oakley lives forever in my heart.  Someday, that reality will comfort me.  Someday, my hands will not ache for the feel of his fur; my ears will not notice the deafening silence created by the absence of paws running to greet me; and my mind will relinquish its relentless chatter about the unfairness of life. But right now, as I tumble through the stages of grief, my immense love for Oakley hurts because it has no tangible recipient.  It has only a memory of what it felt like to have him, and sadness that he is gone.

Rest in peace, my sweet friend. You will be missed.

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The Death Watch

death watchI recall a promise made to myself in childhood ignorance – I will not become a bitter adult.’  It was clear to me that adulthood had the potential to suck the fun out of life.  Heavy responsibilities weighed down the big people.  They seemed to smile less and complain more.  Cynicism leaked from their pores as a result of letting life’s ugliness seep in.

As I walked into the wake for a neighbor who committed suicide, I felt myself becoming that bitter adult.  This was not the first time I’d been to a wake of this sort, but no matter the circumstances, death has a way of interrupting a harmonious , if not ignorant, mindset.

In coping with this loss, I cling to the wisdom that the only real suffering comes from believing that things should be different.  ‘Resist nothing,’ say the experts, because resisting only prolongs misery.  Trying to manipulate life is like trying to sculpt concrete with your hands.  Hard as we try, we’ll never crack the code with human reason.  Life will continue to astonish us no matter how much of it we’ve experienced. And it will end when it wants to.

Enter the ‘Death Watch’ – an actual device that bases the date of your death on a series of medical questions in the hope of inspiring people to make the most of their remaining time.  The watch shows the amount of time you are estimated to have left in years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds. Yikes!

In theory, I see how it could be valuable to know how much time one has left on earth.  I had my own death countdown experience that yielded a wealth of insight.  But being cognizant at every moment of the impermanence of one’s existence is no picnic.  This is territory that should be tread-on carefully.  That being said, could it change the world for the better?  One of the first reactions I heard when my neighbor died was, “I should have been nicer to him.”  Would we treat people better if we knew the end – ours or theirs – was near?

Death is a reminder.  It screams so loudly that we have no choice but to listen.  Every passing is an opportunity to delve deeper into this wild existence.  It is a chance to bear witness.  What I witnessed this week was a controversial life and death.  No two opinions or reactions about this man were alike.  Yet still there is a common thread – Every Life Is Meaningful.  Not one person has more right to be on earth than another.  Each life has its place and its perfect timeline, whether we agree with it or not.

Perhaps that timeline is better marked by a Now Watch instead of a Death Watch.

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When focused on the Now, we see that there are no problems.  Problems only exist in the past (coulda, shoulda, woulda) or in the future (I hope not…I fear that….)  Staying present to each moment as it unfolds allows us to bring our whole selves to any situation, thereby warding off regret and worry.

I doubt I’ll ever make friends with Death, it scares me so.  But I respect it and am learning to trust it, because I know that it possesses a wisdom beyond my understanding.  My name is on Death’s calendar along with everyone else’s and I don’t want to know where.  For now, I’d like to live in blissful ignorance, enjoying life whilst Death knocks on someone else’s door.

Eddy Out

white-water-rafting-rapids_03I wasn’t at the Boston marathon this year.  Nor was I with my parents in my childhood home in Watertown.  But I watched, along with the rest of the world, a week’s worth of terror on my turf.  I wake each morning since April 15th feeling violated, as if my own home has been robbed.

During this week of evolving tragedy, husband and I checked in with our brood to allow for debriefing.  Nine year old Peach responded with a casual dismissiveness, leaving us to wonder if her detachment from fear was self-protective.  When she emerged from her bedroom in full-blown tears, we assumed it was bombing-related.  Instead we got this:  “Blubby (the goldfish) is dead!”

Stifling a smile, I offered my deepest sympathies.  As words of comfort flowed, it struck me that these same condolences are being uttered throughout our city.  Be it animal or human, when a loved one has passed, we are called to support each other.

I tried to disconnect these two incidents, assigning weight where it was due, but the two were entwined like the two sides of the ‘Best Friends’ necklace that Peach asked me to disentangle.  She wondered about her fish’s passing, “Why me?  Why are brother’s fish still alive?  What did I do wrong?”  To which I replied, “Death is not personal.  It happens to all living things.  It’s part of the deal.”

This detached truth is the tiny light that burns eternal.  Death, illness, loss…they are simply part of the risk of being alive.  We are no more immune to them than we are to joy and abundance.  When we engage in life, we are equally at risk of experiencing overwhelming love as we are at experiencing loss.  Life doesn’t play favorites.  When we try to assign reason to life, it makes us suffer and keeps us stuck in confusion.

At times like these, I am reminded of the instructions given at the start of a white water rafting trip.  If one falls out of the boat:

  1. Don’t panic
  2. Don’t try to swim – it’s futile to fight the river
  3. Put your feet up and let the river take you.  It may toss you around, but eventually it will spit you out.
  4. Look for the rescue rope.  Someone will throw it to you.

This week felt a lot like falling out of a boat – again.  There was panic and fear.  We scrambled underwater, searching for terrorists and demanding resolution, trying to stop the hurt and climb back to safety.  At last, the river of life spit us out, heads above water, and we could see hope.  All around us, ropes were thrown – expressions of solidarity and generosity coming from near and far.

I used to marvel at Anne Frank’s famous declaration that, “Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart.”  But now, witnessing the collective response to the Boston bombings, I too, am certain that there is more good in the world than evil.  There are more people trying to save the world than hurt it.

It is certain that life will toss us into the river again and we will lose precious possessions in the process.  But we can also be certain that we will be rescued.  We just need to stay centered, release our resistance, and reach for the ropes.

Boston is eddying-out after negotiating a wicked rapid. It still has a long stretch of river to travel before finding its footing on dry land.  Knowing Boston, it will take on the rest of this river with a vengence.  Then it will climb back in the boats, ready to show the river who’s boss.

Oh, The Places We Go

In one week I am informed that two of my friends have cancer.  Another has died.  I’m at that age when really tough things happen at an increasing frequency – divorce, illness, death.  It’s happening all around me, but not currently to me.  So instead of the drama of utter despair, I have the luxury of a more detached melancholy.   A friend’s cancer reality will not change my day to day life, but it does change my view of the world.

Allowing myself to go to ‘that place’ – the deep fear place where the world is unsafe – is a slippery slope.  I fear I will be swallowed up by demons of all kinds and never climb out.  But go, I do, because it pulls me in.

I see myself sitting before God with childlike eyes and grown-up concerns.  I throw no tantrum, nor even ask for help.  I simply sit.  No questions come.  Perhaps because I know there is no answer – at least not one that I will understand or agree with.

All of my beliefs and convictions about life are pulled out of me and laid on a virtual table before me.  I sort through them, easily discarding those that suddenly, no longer have value.  Like the one that makes me floss every day and fret over the dirt on the floor.  The rest of the pieces I re-arrange, trying to make them fit together.  These trinkets are an awkward excuse for a belief system.

My child sitting beside me calls to me from what seems like a distance.  I catch myself daydreaming and scoop up the pieces scattered in my mind, tucking them away in a safe place.  I will examine them again, perhaps later, when the kids are in bed and my confidant comes home.

For now, I will continue my superfluous day wearing a new set of glasses.  Not the rose-colored ones, nor the sunglasses.  Today, I see clearly, almost too clearly – like when the eye doctor adds drops to your eyes that dilate them.  If only I could block out the light.  This new vision is just too much.

One week later, I return to a more comfortably numb state of being.  The “meaning of Life and Death” is not in every sip of coffee anymore.  My normal, slightly cloudy, vision is back.  I walk down the street called “My Life”.  It is flat terrain for now.  But I can’t help looking  back to see what it was that I kept tripping on.  And to be sure that whatever it was, is not following me.

Do It Well

Today’s daily inspirational email advised ‘Whatever you do today, do it well.’  Today I had to attend a funeral.

How does one do a funeral well?  Cry more?  Cry less?  In my experience, one doesn’t do funerals at all.  Funerals are done to you.

General sentiment was one of relief that my aunt had finally been freed from her torturous body.  But the joy for the deceased cannot obscure the sorrow of those left behind.  I gazed at the massive hole in the cemetery ground and thought, ‘there is not dirt enough on the planet to fill in the hole left by the departure of a dear one.’

Hugs and kisses and condolences greet me at the door of the funeral home.  I am both relieved and guilty to be in the arms of family seen only at marriages and deaths.  And I’m grateful for the rituals that force us together when we’ve failed to sustain connections otherwise.

Together, we bolster each other, forming a collective cocoon around Auntie’s closest family – the ones who risk the greatest sorrow.  Our unspoken promise is to hold tight and not let go.  Fall here and we’ll catch you.  You are safe in our arms.  Take what you need from our open hearts.  And fall they do, spilling open with abandon.  Love and sorrow are one voice intertwined.

After all these years, I learn things I didn’t know about the woman who held me at the altar of God at birth and pledged to help my parents watch over me.  Her life is no longer a still shot but a panoramic movie.  A motion picture in which she is the star.  And here we are, her supporting cast, applauding her as she accepts her final award.  She is center stage and has never appeared more perfect.

The bittersweet sound of church bells unleashes my tears.  A song pleads, ‘Hold me close God.’  Yes, God, please do.  Because I feel myself unraveling.  The world is suddenly unfamiliar.  Someone important is missing.

The clock in my world has stopped, yet the people outside of my circle carry on, oblivious that the world is forever changed.  They watch, unaffected, and perhaps even annoyed as our processional of cars slides by.  I gaze into their strange eyes willing them to pause and commend Auntie to Heaven with a prayer of their own.

It’s hard to guess when the healing will come.  It will be different for each of us.  Healing is not to be demanded.  It must be invited and allowed to arrive in its own time, after it has negotiated its way past the darkness.

For now, I wait.  I am at once drained and replete.  It’s as if I am a bottle that has been emptied of its contents and scrubbed out with a brush that reached deep inside.  Empty but clean.  Ready to fill again.

I vow anew to live more consciously and to love more fully so that I may fill myself this time with only the things that really matter.  This, I know, is a promise I will make a thousand times over.  It is my own repeating death and resurrection story.

Returning to this morning’s instructions to ‘do it well,’ I maintain this as an impossibility where funerals are concerned.  But if by this statement one is meant to be present to life and death, to open to vulnerability, and to give from the most sincere part of one’s heart, then yes, I did it well.  And I have an Auntie to thank for it.

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