... for those who mourn the loss of a soul mate
"He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began." - Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The stuff of dreams

“You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Dreams are probably one of the more well-known ways for spirit communication. Time and time again, I have heard from those who are mourning say they have dreamed of their loved ones and the dream seemed “so real”. That’s because, in all likelihood, it was not a dream but a true visit. I have personally experienced this on more than one occasion. This is a phenomenon that has been around for probably centuries and studied extensively. Books have been written about it. And anyone who talks about communication from those who have passed eventually gets around to talking about dream visits.

Why are they so common?
What separates a dream visit from just an everyday run-of-the-mill dream?
There seem to be certain characteristics common to these types of dreams.
But first let’s talk a little bit about how and why they happen. Our loved ones who have passed “live” on another plane or dimension. Most often this is referred to as the astral plane and it is made of energy. When we sleep, we are open to that dimension. We are more receptive. Our loved ones can reach us on that energy/thought plane.
And why is obvious. In this life, when we are away from loved ones, isn’t it almost instinctive to want to communicate with those we have left behind to tell them we have arrived at our destination, we are well, and we love those we miss?
It is the same for our loved ones who have passed; certainly, for our soul mates who know only too well how much we are mourning their passing.
So, they enter our minds during our dream state and we can “visit”.
How do you know if these dreams are in fact visits?
Consistently these dreams have characteristics unlike what we call ordinary dreams. Everyone has had those crazy wild dreams that you think about as soon as you wake up and ask “What was THAT all about?” - those are the dreams that make no sense and drift away as soon as your head clears and you start the day.
But dreams that are visits from our loved ones and soul mates who have passed are very different. They consistently share the same descriptions:
1 – A sense of touch and/or reality. Other laws of reality also apply. There is no morphing of objects, no underwater swimming with mermaids, no flying over skyscrapers.
2 – Our loved ones are happy. They smile. They convey to us that they are all right. They usually look younger and healthy.
3 – These dreams stay with us. They don’t fade away as our day goes on. In fact, people report still remembering these types of dreams months and years later in full detail.
4 – Sometimes, these dreams will relay a message.
5 – Communication may not be verbal but it will always be clear and understood. Sometimes, the messages conveyed will appear to be telepathic but we will easily understand our loved one.
6 – The dream visit will always leave you with a sense of peace and love.
Sometimes, my dream visits from John make me a little sad upon awakening but that is only because I wished I could have dreamed longer about him. I cherish every one of the times he has come to me and the feelings of love stay with me for hours, if not days. I still feel his love and I am grateful for the times we get to spend like that. It is a true gift.

* excerpted from I Will Never Leave You by Joy Collins

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mighty Mouth

I have considered myself a feminist from the very first time it was a thing. As a nurse on a management/administrative track, I have had to endure and surmount a lot of misogyny in my time – sometimes from my fellow women. It didn’t make me bitter. Instead it did the exact opposite. It made me a better fighter, a more fierce competitor. While I might be considered quiet – even introverted – in my private life, in my professional life I was anything but. I was never shy when it came to sticking up for my patients, or championing my staff, or just plain doing what was right. It earned me the nickname “Might Mouth” early in my career and I proudly wore that title.
But even as the introverted me, I was always pretty sure of myself - until John passed suddenly and the solid earth beneath my feet turned to quicksand. Then I felt I was fighting for my very life. And the sad part was I really didn’t care if I won or not.
Grief does that to you. It saps you of the very longing you have to go on. Getting out of bed in the morning, putting one step in front of the other, doing, eating – breathing! – became monumental tasks.
The good thing whether we are aware or not is that time is still going forward, dragging us with it.
And then one day – one day – the quicksand didn’t seem to have quite the same hold on my feet. I was able to go to lunch with a friend. I took a walk around the block. I read a book – and remembered what I had read.
Each day built on the day before until now I am almost seven years past The Day and still here and actually accomplishing things.
My big accomplishment right now is I have completed the book I have been writing for the past two years. The final edits are now completed and I am working on the cover. Part of that entails finding a photo of myself I am happy with to put on the back cover. I showed one I was considering to a friend of mine. Shelley has known me since 1998. She knew me with John and she knows me now without John physically here. She quickly nixed the old photo I showed her (it had been taken in 2007). "No," she said, "that photo doesn’t show you with any power. You are different now. You are stronger. You need a photo that shows that."
Shelley is very metaphysically in tune and what she said really made an impact. It made me think. Strong as I have always felt, it’s different now. Maybe, in part, because I have to rely on myself  – completely. But I think it’s more than that.
One of the places John and I used to love to visit when we went camping in upstate NY was Corning. Of course, we would go to the Corning Glass Museum and we would attend the demonstrations and watch them make beautiful sculptures out of what appeared to be pliable globby molten pieces of mush by heating them in fire and turning them round and round.
That’s what grief has done to me. When John passed, I became a big glob. But the fire of my profound loss actually molded me into something I would not now be but for his loss. I feel him cheering me on from the other side.
I am coming into my power now and it feels good and it feels right. I still miss John. I still love him and I always will. But I am proud of who I am now too. I am back to being the fierce feminist. When it comes to Grief and its aftermath, I am Mighty Mouth again, loudly speaking out for those who are mourning.
Follow me. We can do this.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

You Can Do It … taking on new roles

In every relationship, each individual has a whole spectrum of roles they play. In the case of illness, the roles are very predictable. The illness dictates care receiver and caregiver. But in other relationships, where there is no illness, we just tend to fall into our roles as time goes by. It is part of a healthy relationship that we assume the roles most suited to our individual talents and skills.

When I first married Norm, we were both working full time with an hour commute each way. And, we operated an 80-acre alfalfa farm to boot. Both were full-time jobs. Add in that Norm traveled a lot for work and you get an idea that we had to operate as a highly functioning team just to get everything done. It didn’t take long for the physical work and vehicle maintenance to fall on his shoulders while the house, books, bills and taxes fell on mine. It was an arrangement that worked for the whole family.

In time, we sold the farm and eventually we both retired, pretty much. Over the years, we found our roles changing as time and age caught up to us. Eventually we even gave ourselves permission to hire people to do some of the things that became a challenge for us. A landscaping crew. A housekeeper to clean every two weeks. A pool man. A service department to keep the cars running. You get the idea.
We learned that we could not do everything. But right now, I do still have Norm in my life to help with some of the things that we must still do on our own, things like emptying the trash, feeding the pets, the laundry and making the coffee in the morning. He makes good coffee.

Over the years, we have each had our roles but now the roles are reversing, changing, growing. As age has sapped strength in us both and naturally forced him to slow down, I have found myself picking up the slack in things I have never had to do before. It’s part of the natural ebb and flow of a relationship.

I don’t know what I would do without him here. I sometimes wonder how I would manage to get everything done. And then I realize that somehow, I have always managed to do what needs to be done. We all do.

I think of my friends who have lost their soul mate and are now completely alone in an empty house or who have also become the primary caregiver for an aging parent. I have read stories of widowed fathers who quickly learn to braid hair and give makeup advice to young daughters. They all pretty much have to do everything on their own. And they manage. As can you. Despite the grief of losing the one person in the world you loved beyond reason, you will manage. You will learn to do stuff you never thought you could. You may be upset, angry, and not want to do the new things.  But you have to do them.  You can do them.  You will find people who can do things for you. A handyman. An electrician. A talented hairdresser. A yard crew. A team to handle the things you know nothing about. Like the fathers learning how to mother daughters, you may even add new tools to your personal toolbox. Each new role you take on is another reminder of what you have lost.  It is a constant reminder.  But as you do handle each new challenge, you will hear a voice in your head from the other side telling you, “I knew you could do it!”

Friday, January 13, 2017

When memory lane ends in a dead end.....

I talk and write a lot about memories. They are very important to me. When our loved one/Soul Mate is gone, memories are all we have left to hold on to. And I am not just speaking about our thoughts about times gone by. Memories can take all forms. Photos, sights, smells, song, clothing, food - all of those things and more can trigger a feeling in us that then starts us down the road to "remember when..." Hopefully, the remembrance brings a smile to our face. It takes time for that to happen, though. Memories were cruel sharp daggers in my heart the first couple of years after John passed. All they did was remind me of what no longer was. Now, at least for the most part, I can remember and smile. Doesn't mean I am still not sad but the sadness is blunted and the happiness of a fond memory is sharper.
But the idea of memories has got me thinking. What are we without our memories? If you woke up tomorrow with no thoughts about what had transpired in your life up until now what would you be? Or what if you did remember things but remembered them in a jumbled array of order?
What has started this philosophical train for me is a family crisis. My aunt - my dear sweet second mother - has recently been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. And as anyone who has had to live this nightmare knows, Alzheimer's is a family illness. It affects everyone - spouse, children, caregivers, friends. And the curse of this disease is that it robs the patient of who and what they are. Some days, my aunt doesn't know her own daughter. She can't remember the forty years she has lived in her home. She forgets holidays, routine, how to perform tasks that were once second nature. To carry the metaphor a little while longer, her train of thought, her memories, carry her to a dark place. A dead end, so to speak.
But then, other days she is in a good mood and the old personality comes back. However, everyone knows it's short-lived so they enjoy this time while it lasts.
There is a reason why ALZ is considered a form of death.
We humans are social beings. We need each other and we form bonds based on memory. Is it any wonder then that when we lose our loved one we cling to the one thing we have left - their memory? It's what causes our grief because all we have is the memory. But it can give us hope too. As long as we have the memory, part of them is alive. Like my aunt's better days, a good memory puts the world back in its proper order.
And like my aunt's family, I cling to the wonderful memories I have of John. They give meaning to the life we had and give comfort to the life I have now. Hang on to the memories of your loved one. Don't let anyone tell you differently. They are yours and they are precious.

These are pictures of a memory quilt I had made from some of John's shirts.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I have found that whenever I talk about the work we are doing with From Grief to Peace, what I say inevitably resonates at some level with the person I am talking to, as though I was guided to reach out at just that moment. Grief is universal. Everyone, it seems, is mourning someone they loved. Or they fear a loss that has yet to happen.

This past week I was having my teeth cleaned and in casual, albeit garbled conversation, mentioned what we have been doing here and our purpose in doing it. Staci, the young hygienist asked me if a soul mate could only be a spouse. Then by way of example, she explained the deep emotional bond she has with her grandmother. It is, she believes, something that is far more profound than the usual grandmother-granddaughter connection.

My answer to Staci was that no, soul mates can be spouses, parents and children, siblings, even best friends. It is the soul connection that matters, not the one that is defined by social norms.

I immediately flashed on the recent loss of Carrie Fisher followed within mere days by the death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds. There is no question in my mind that those two women were soul mates destined to be together in this lifetime. And when one was gone, the other simply could not go on without her. The jagged edges of her grief cut her deeply and that poor broken heart carried them back to one another on a different plane.

That is one way to handle the loss of your soul mate.

But far more often, the one left behind must find a way to carry on alone. The grief and finding your way to peace is a part of your soul’s journey in this lifetime.

At first, you may feel as though the path beneath you is littered with broken glass, its sole purpose to make you bleed with every step you take. But just as the ocean’s constant motion can soften the sharp edges on glass shards, so too can surviving a profound loss and the ups and downs that come with it smooth your path from broken glass to softer sand. As you find a way to embrace your pain and let it be a part of who you are now, the pain will ease, the sharp edges will soften and you will become stronger.

You are not the first to walk this painful path. Nor will you be the last. But when you are mourning the loss of your soul mate, it feels like you are the only one going through this incredibly painful ordeal. You feel alone, abandoned, adrift in life’s ocean. Surely no one else could ever hurt as much, mourn as deeply. The loss of a soul mate generates such a heart-deep grief that it is hard to believe others could understand. But believe me when I tell you that you are not alone. There are others on the same path and for some of them it has started to smooth. Look for them. They are reaching back to help you forward.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My word for 2017 is limitless. What’s yours? by Betts McCalla

Everyone I talk with has a word they’ve chosen for 2017. Some words are spiritual and I like a lot of them like perseverance, peace, and believe. They are very uplifting. Some are motivational like movement, run, Zumba, or simplification. These words make me feel so tired. Some are downright amusing like sleep, play, zone or laugh. I often see unintentional humor.

A friend of mine selected the word early. As in early to bed, early to rise, early to appointments, early to church, etc. I considered it for a brief, albeit very brief, moment but I enjoy being the proverbial night owl- the friend you can feel comfortable texting at two or three in the morning. I decided my motto this year should continue to be “Always late but worth the wait.”

The next word I considered was trust. Trust means being able to predict what other people will do and what situations will occur. It’s believing that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc. And then I remembered I grew up in Chicago- a city where you lock your car doors, your house doors, your windows and you bring in your lawn furniture if you’re going to be away overnight. I’m kind of afraid “trust” is just not going to work out as my word for 2017. There is just too much baggage with my trust issues for me to resolve in one short year.

Then it came to me. My word choice for 2017 was gratitude. This would serve for acts of kindness, gestures of friendship and endorphin rushes from random gifts of chocolate. I realized I’m often on the receiving end of acts of kindness like my neighbor, David, moving my trash and recycling containers from the curb to the garage for me. Or the sweet couple ahead of me in line at the market asking if they can help unload my grocery cart. Today. I pulled up to a stoplight and the ubiquitous panhandler caught my eye. His sign read Homeless and Hungry. I didn’t have money to give him but I had an unopened packet of cookies so as I drew level with him I thrust the cookies at him saying these are for you. His face lit up and he smiled and said thank you as he reached for the cookies. His gratitude for my small offering made me feel good. I realized I sort of have gratitude already flowing both ways in my life.

After all this deliberation, I’ve decided as a writer, I have a bajillion words all wanting to be used. And I don’t want to slight any of them. So, my word for 2017 is limitless. When something is limitless, there's an unending amount or supply of it. If you truly believe there are limitless possibilities in life, you see no limit to what people can achieve. What’s your word?