Honoring the Dead– A Dream

I thought I’d start with dreaming the night before last because of my brainspotting appointment, but apparently I was even more worn than I thought. The dreams didn’t begin until last night. I am strong believer in looking at dreams to learn. For myself, I find that in dreaming is where I put things together that I don’t let myself think in my waking hours. I can learn a lot if I listen to my sleeping self.

I was awoken by a dream last night where a student of mine had committed suicide. In waking life, I don’t know the person, but in the dream world I knew them well. I spoke at their ceremony to a crowd of many, a lot of young people there. I told them, “I am honored to be here, but I don’t want to be a giver of eulogies. I don’t want to see any of you here in this same place as our friend. I want you to remember that the best way to honor those who have passed is to live.”

I was thinking on this dream this morning and pondering how we treat death. I grew up Catholic. The first funeral I remember was of my Uncle Clarence. I must have been six or seven when he died maybe. He was a WWII veteran and his casket was draped with a flag. I remember a solemness and honoring. I knew he was an important man from how he was being honored. I don’t remember any more from there.

A few years later was when I really started seeing dying– my mom, my grandma, my Aunt Florence, my cousin Mary Sue, a classmate Steve, and other older relatives. I also sang in the church choir for our small rural congregation so I sang at funerals. I once counted it out, I’d been to 13 funerals in just a few short years. It’s funny now that I remember it was 13 funerals, but I don’t remember for certain how many years.

In my tradition people are expected a time of mourning, but honestly I don’t know how long it is. I know that shortly after the passing of the person there’s a funeral, a wake, and a burial. All this happens really quickly, just a day or two. All sorts of people shake your hand, maybe share a hug, and say “my sympathies”, a phrase they’d never use in any other part of life. Then everyone moves on and the dead person is gone forever. They’ve moved on to a perfect world called heaven, but how can it be perfect if the love you knew together isn’t there and they can’t reach you and you can’t reach them?

My adult spirituality has been influenced by many forces; Quakers, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Anishanaabe and other Native peoples, a variety of Christian faiths, and of course Atheists.

I learned quite a few years ago that the traditional folks among the Anishanaabe light a fire for four days and nights upon the passing of someone. This a time to honor their lives and the light helps guide their way into the spirit world. I learned more recently that the journey isn’t over at the end of those four days. For a full year people don’t speak of the person. This isn’t a hiding away. This is in respect. As the person travels to the spirit world, when they hear their name they’re called back. We honor them and let them move forward to let their spirits head home. At least that’s the way I understand it. I am a white girl just saying what I think I understand. I welcome those who know to tell me better or to tell me it’s time for me to hush.

I appreciate this. The beings who pass on aren’t whisked away to some pseudo perfect place and they’ve not lost contact with us. Even after that year, maybe even more so after that year, they are still there just on the other side of the river. That year, it isn’t a silencing. It’s a time to gather ourselves. I grew up in a world in which you grieved for some unknown period of time and then you were supposed to accept that the person was gone and move on. There was no more reason to grieve. You could remember on special occasions, but then let it go. Life isn’t that way. Those who’ve impacted us, impact us forever. Even when their bodies are gone their spirits remain and that’s o.k. that’s good. Carry those beings in a good way and honor them by being alive.

Those are my thoughts for the day.

Advertisements

Adventures in Brainspotting

The reason I started this blog, and a reason I often ignore in my writing is that I’ve been a community activist and organizer in one way or another since the 1990’s and it’s worn me down. I don’t know if it’s just been the work and the struggles along the way on my adult path or things from childhood that I just didn’t know how to deal with. I suspect stuff from overall happy childhood that overwhelmed and confused me actually had a lot to do with it. But, my life hasn’t always been the sustainable one that I believe in. It’s still not, but I think I am healing one way or another and I want to be a voice to remind others they can be well too.

I started seeing a counselor again a few months ago. Winters can be hard. I love the briskness and going out in the snow, but the cold makes us all cold even our spirits at some time or another.

I went yesterday for my brainspotting appointment. It’s an amazing form of therapy. I don’t know how much is real and how much is simply conjured by the mind, but it doesn’t really matter as long as it feels real I suppose. It’s a simple technique. The therapist just moves a pointer to a spot that conjures up feeling for the patient watching it. Then with the pointer at that spot and some comforting sounds playing the patient just watches.

I started yesterday with a slideshow of pictures from my childhood. Some were memories, some were actually more memories of pictures that I’ve seen a thousand times in family photo albums. Then, came the memories of funerals and people I’ve known who’ve passed on; my grandma, my mom, friends. I could feel just a light pressure in my chest.

Then I felt the pressure on my arms, like someone gently holding me, and the tension moved to a spot at the top of my head. Now, some of you who’ve read my blog before know that I have epilepsy. I was diagnosed about five or six years ago. My conscious mind was scared then, worried that this power might cause a seizure. But, a voice within me told me I was o.k., that I could go forward. In my mind I began to walk, hiking the miles of roads and trails, feeling the powers of the bear, the buffalo, and even for a moment the wolf around me, seeing the rivers run.

There’s more to that, but that’s enough for now. I came back into myself tired from the journey. My counselor told me that it was unlike others she’s seen. She could tell there was a lot going on in my mind and had a hard time knowing when to step in. She could also feel the temperature in the room change with what I saw.

Like I said, I don’t know what’s technically real or not, but it doesn’t really matter I suppose. Reality is subjective. What matters is the healing, feeling stronger, healthier, knowing where that strength comes from and remembering to honor the source. Those are my thoughts for the morning. Wishing you all a blessed day.

The New Year Update– Spring Edition

In some ways January 1st seems so long ago. But, here in west central Minnesota I can just look out the window and it seems like only yesterday. We’re still knee deep in snow with the promise of a really exciting blizzard in the upcoming day or so. Right now, it’s in the upper 30’s so the snow is melting and rain is coming down. The streets are running with rivers and many Morris residents are busy moving everything in their basements to higher ground and making sure their sump pumps work. I, meanwhile, am being thankful at being a renter without a basement.

So, where things from that list of lofty goals I made back in January. Well, here’s the update.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts– I think I better get to work on this one, but I’m not horribly far off. This is number 6 with just 41 more weeks in the year.
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books — I’m a little behind on this one too, actually about the same amount as I am with writing my blog. I am six books in right now and working on number seven. I must highly recommend “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. What an incredibly inspiring person. I’d also say read “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living.” It’s a beautiful tale of life in its final moments. “The Education of Will” was quite good too.
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits– I’m doing ok here now. I did have a really rough time for a few weeks when the majority of my diet was pizza and burgers. I don’t know how much I got depressed because of what I was eating or how much I was eating so poorly because I was depressed. But, I am doing a lot better now and feeling better too.
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)– I’m not starting running until I don’t have to plow through snow drifts to do it.
  5. learn to play guitar– I found someone who teaches guitar, that’s a start. Right?
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects– I’ve got 1 done. I actually switched to crochet, but I’m going to count it.
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training– We started with dog training. Then it got snowed out so many times that I decided to start again in the next class series. He is learning tricks pretty well. Now, if I could just get him to learn not to chew on his human.
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time– Not perfect, but doing well here. It helps to have my book reading goal. I can’t read and do Facebook at the same time. Spring will help too. I have a commitment to not looking at social media when I am out walking and I love to get out when the weather is nice.

So, that’s where it’s at. While I’m not quite where I aimed to be at this time, I’m feeling pretty good about what I’ve been able to do and am glad that I set goals this year. What about you? Who else set New Year’s goals and where are you at?

Every week I have my students write down two goals for themselves. One is a project goal to remind themselves about what they want to accomplish on the effort that they are working on with their community partner for the semester. The other, and this is maybe the more radical one for college students, is a self care goal. Most of my students are pretty generic in their self care goals. They want to sleep, to eat vegetables, or to study. But, that’s o.k. It’s makes no difference to me if they have some simple goals or even if those goals stay the same all semester. I just want them to write that self care goal every week for 15 weeks. I want them to leave the program thinking that it’s important to take care of themselves as well as to have a direction in the work they choose.

That’s why I put together my New Year’s goals this year and why I am coming back to them now in March to check in and see how I am doing, because I am important enough to take care of. We all are. I hope that you’re finding a good way to care for yourself today.

This Year’s Journey, One Month In

We’re already 27 days into the new year. It’s sometimes amazing how quickly time flies. The holidays are gone. The students are back. And now, everyone is hiding away from the frigid temperatures as we dip into the negative double digits. It seemed like a good day to check in on where I am with my New Year’s resolutions.

Here we are with blog post number 4. That seems a reasonable pace toward my fifty for the year. I don’t know that I’ve written much of anything to inspire myself or others, but I’ve written. Maybe the words of inspiration will come.

Thanks to wonders of audio books, I am on track with my book reading too. This exercise is a reminder of how I have come to multitask. Write and listen to a book. Knit and listen to a book. Do housework or office work or drive or whatever else and listen to a book. I question how well I take in all that I listen too. I have found though that it easier to listen to an audio book than a movie. The good books for the month? “The Education of Will” by Patricia McConnell. I’ve loved Dr. McConnell for a number of years. She’s a wonderful dog trainer. The book is an powerful look at who she is as a person and how her relationship with her dog, Will helped her move through some deep pains. It made a lot of sense. “Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying Yes to Living,” another excellent book. It’s a beautiful story of the end of an elderly woman’s life, how it brought her family together and changed their lives and many others.

Getting back to my healthy eating? Well, it’s a lot better without being surrounded by Christmas cookies.

Running? Nope. But, I have been doing more yoga lately and getting out walking quite a bit.

Guitar? Sometimes I think about picking it up. That counts, right?

I am more than half way on finishing a baby blanket for my first knitting project of the year.

Buddy is doing well with his good canine citizen training which is his first step toward being a therapy dog. It remains questionable whether he will pass the test, but each week gets a little easier. We started the class a few weeks late and his first session was a near total disaster. It was impossible for him to focus with other dogs in the room. The second week he did better, except when practicing stay and come. Then he decided he’d rather go check out the gymnastics equipment on the other end of the gym. And, there was the moment during puppy playtime. Young Buddy is a teenage boy and he was rather smitten with another dog who was several inches taller than him. Suddenly, I had a mess on the floor to clean up! Yep, young Buddy ejaculated across the gym floor. He also pooped in the hallway, but at least we were alone then and I had plenty of poop bags. Last week’s session’s only moment of excitement was coming in to the building. Poor Buddy somehow got his front paw stuck under the heavy entry door for the building. I have never heard a puppy scream like that! Thankfully, there was no significant damage, as confirmed by a classmate who is a vet.

As for cutting my screen time, I think maybe a little, but not all that significantly. Still it seems good. I am happy with the start of the year. Let’s see where it goes.

The New Year

It’s probably been more than 30 years now since my father and I made that trip to Canada. I remember sitting in passenger seat asking Dad about the old days. I wanted to know about his life, about where he’d come from and how he’d become the man he was. He told me stories of my grandfather who I’d never had the good fortune to meet. Grandpa died in 1935 following an appendicitis attack. My father was seven years old and emulated grandpa who was a well respected dairy farmer in the area.

It was in that conversation so many years ago that I asked my dad about what he wanted to do with his life. He told me about wanting to be a dairy farmer like his father had been. He told me about how life had gotten in the way of following his dream. He made choices, choices that were difficult but that he felt were right. He set his dream aside for marriage and children. He chose a full time job off the farm to keep his growing family fed and clothed. He put his family first and though he did crop farming he never got cows.

When I looked into his eyes and saw the sadness of a dream never realized I made a decision that defined my life. I decided in that moment that I would never look back on my life to see I hadn’t fully lived.

That decision has led me to living in eight different towns in three different states, leading community organizing efforts and fighting multinational corporations, traveling on three continents, hiking hundreds of miles, and now working at a university.

It’s been good so far, but recently watching my now aged father and a much younger family member who’s been dealing with major health issues, I’ve been thinking. My life has become rather routine and there is much to do, to see, to learn. It seems a year to write down some of those things that I’d like to have happen as a reminder to myself and a public commitment. So, here it goes. Presuming that I succeed with my efforts, there will undoubtedly be updates throughout the year. I hope you’ll read on and share the experience with me. I wish you the best in the new year! Here’s what I’ll be doing to grow.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts (here’s the 1st one!)
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books ( I’m starting with “The Education of Will” by Patricia McConnell and “38 Nooses” by Scott W. Berg)
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)
  5. learn to play guitar
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time

Those are my big goals for the year. My hope is that these will bring me more happiness along with some new skills, improved physical health, knowledge, and some cool projects. I hope you’ll find positive growth in the new year as well. Take good care!

Transitions

I had a dream a few days ago.  It’s that time of year when the dreams come to the surface and I have to ask myself where the stories are coming from.  It’s strange sometimes being a white girl who’s had the good fortune of having traveled with traditional Anishanaabe people.  It makes the questions much tougher, the more you know about yourself the more questions that you have sometimes. 

Anyway, in my dream I’d gone home and was visiting my 90 year old father and while there he passed on in my arms.  It wasn’t a nightmare, not at all.  In the dream, I got to say my goodbyes, watch the life leave his eyes, and hear the death gurgle as I lay his head down on the pillow.  It was gentle and it was ok.  He was ready to move on and see those who he misses and hasn’t seen in many years. 

It’s a strange thing to have a dream like that.  Dad is still kicking.  I talked to him later that day, told him I love and that I see him in my siblings and my nieces and nephews.  I think perhaps the dream was a reminder to let him know that even when he’s gone, he’ll still be here.  We won’t forget him.  He has made all the difference in our lives. 

Still it’s a hard time.  Dad has been graced with good health and a strong mind for most all of his life.  In his ninth decade he’s slowing and his mind isn’t working as it once did.  I find myself wondering how to deal with this.  I want to go home and see him for the holidays and at the same time I want to see the man that I knew when I was growing up and he’s gone. 

The man who taught me so much no longer recognizes some of the people and places that he’s known for years some days.  He doesn’t have Alzheimers or anything like that or at least nothing has been diagnosed.  He has old age. He knows that his mind isn’t working as it used to.  He misses his memory and his cognitive capabilities.  As his mind leaves, it is almost as if who he was is already dying while his shell remains. He is getting to mourn his own death while we watch it together. 

I am reminded that death is not all about sadness.  It is about a transition to the next phase.  I wonder how this transition goes?  How do I simply sit with this both feeling the sadness and being open to the joys.  I suspect that there must be joy and other feelings too.  It’s just a question of feeling them.  


Who Am I?

My friend Walt used to tell a story.  He’d tell people of an Anishanaabe elder who spoke of the fire at the beginning of the world, “No” he’d say ,”before the beginning.”  All the people sat together around that fire with the creator.  One by one we went off to populate the world.  The Anishanaabe were the last to leave.  They liked it there by that fire, telling stories, swapping jokes, and just having a good time with the creator.  Finally, the creator had to chase them away.  That time by the fire has left a memory, a connection that others have forgotten.

The elder in Walt’s story was approached by people from all over world; African, Asian, Latino, Caucasian all asking for their stories.  The elder always responded the same.  “I don’t your story.  I can only tell my own. But, if it’s true that we all come from around the same fire, our stories must be similar.”

I think about that often.  It’s told me who I am.

I grew up a Catholic, white, farm girl in southeastern Wisconsin.  I always wanted to see the homeland of my ancestors.  A little over a month ago that dream came true.  Some of my family and I went on a tour of Luxembourg.  That’s where my understanding of who I am got a reworking.

It turns out that it’s likely my ancestors were Jewish.  Quite a thing to find out during a week of touring WWII museums and cemeteries!

I am left now to wonder who they were.  Jews were first recorded in Luxembourg in the 13th century.  They were largely wiped out and returned several times over the upcoming centuries.  By the time my family left in the mid-1800’s there were several hundred in the country.

What happened?  What made this group so persecuted so consistently throughout the centuries? What pushed my family to deciding to leave behind their identity and claim something new when others didn’t?  What does that identity mean for me?

These are all questions that have just begun to float in my mind.  I don’t know yet what to do with them or where to seek answers.  It is probably enough for now to simply name the questions.

It is my walk back to that fire to find out who I am.  That is where we find ourselves, in the journey back to the fire, in that time to sit and visit and come to know each other, ourselves, the created, and the creator.