Totem orb…

“There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st But in his motion like an angel sings.”

William Shakespeare

Today is the sixth anniversary of Maureen’s death. I remember the day she died as if it was yesterday.

I was shopping at the local Whole Foods while my siblings desperately tried to reach me on my cell phone. For whatever reason, my ringer was off, so I didn’t realize how many times they had called. As I was getting ready to check out, I looked at my phone and saw the multiple voicemails left behind. The first call was from Regina, her voice indiscernible due to what sounded like hysteria. The next several messages came from Michael telling me to call him ASAP, which I did with the obedience of a baby sister.

“Maureen is dead.” These words were so unimaginable, my emotions didn’t know how to react. Despair poured over me, sobs of disbelief flooding the store. And then came panic – Mom! Dad! I needed to get to them immediately. Wishing I could vaporize and transport myself to their living room, I rushed home to tell my husband what was going on, packed a bag and drove numbly to my parents house as fast as I could. Once there, I collapsed on my mother and we cried together.  My dismal father sat on the couch with a look of shock, crying intermittently – dementia had taken over and had left him confused about the details.

Michael arrived the next day with his wife. I returned home to be with my husband and daughter and update them on what had happened. Then came the drive north, the blizzard and the funeral.

Although the snow seems to be the transport of her soul, I think Maureen comes to us through her totem spirit – the orb. One of my last conversations with her in 2010 was about orbs and what we thought they meant or what we believed they were.

“Yet another theory proposes that orbs depict our spirit guides. Many ancient traditions teach that spirit guides are beings that have evolved beyond the need to incarnate. Our higher self chooses our guide to help us through life. Spirit guides provide comfort, advice and direction to individuals, all in keeping with an individual’s higher purpose.” – Jeanne Grunert – Spirit Orbs

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She was living in a cabin on the grounds of a year-round camp that offered camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, a ropes course, paintball, barbecues and inflatable bouncy houses. It was very popular for religious Jews in the surrounding area, who would come and use the space for family and group gatherings. On one such occasion, a group of Jews built a sukkah during Sukkot and camped out during the observant days. While they were dancing in the sukkah at night, Maureen snapped several photos of the event. Later, after developing the film, she showed me the pictures taken that night. The photographs were dark, but you could make out the men dancing. However, the most interesting feature of these photos were the multitude of orbs floating around the dancing men. We speculated that they were the spirits of ancestors protecting them while enjoying the festivities.

I have felt Maureen’s presence every day since her death. I think she misses being with her family as much as we miss her. This one’s going to take some time…

“Christmas eve will find you
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams”

I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Bing Crosby

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Purpose versus Suffering…

Six years ago today, my niece’s mother-in-law (Gay) passed away. On December 15, 2010, Maureen posted on Facebook:

“oh i get by with a little help from my friends! sing this to me! cause when it comes down, like tonight, seeing a loved one, gone….., i like this song.. do you need anybody….yes, i need someone to love….good night gay! you are with the one you loved!”

Exactly one week later, Maureen would also pass away in her sleep. One week from today will be the sixth anniversary of her death. Her passing is one that has never gotten easier to accept. With my parents and my brother Michael I was content to tell myself that they were no longer suffering in this world, which in some ways made it “easier” to get past the grief and mourning.

So I asked myself if Maureen was also suffering in some way. Her adult life had not been easy and her health not at its best. On the other hand, I also reminded myself of what I’d been taught through my learning of Judaism. It’s believed that each one of us has a purpose on this planet and that once that purpose is fulfilled we can pass on to the next world. For me, this way of thinking is somewhat comforting when trying to explain why Maureen had to die at such a young age.

I hadn’t seen Maureen since August of 2010. My niece had just given birth in June and I hadn’t met the baby yet. I was working at a summer camp about an hour from where she was living at the time and decided to visit with Maureen, her daughter and my new grandniece on my day off. Because they wouldn’t be available until later in the day, I planned a bike ride in the area early that morning. Arriving in Goshen, New York, my route was complete with maps I had googled and printed out days before. It looked simple and straightforward…until I got lost…and the temperature reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

I also forgot that I would be in the mountains and didn’t bring enough water. In the beginning, I made sure to stop every 30 minutes to rest, hydrate and refocus. Unfortunately, as the ride became longer and longer, resting was nearly impossible due to the excessive heat and I had run out of water miles back. I remember toward the end of the ride thinking I could actually die…and there was not a soul around to save me…and my cell phone reception was non-existent. I felt myself slowly slipping in and out of consciousness, praying to come upon a house where I could ask for help. I soldiered on, at times crying to myself, scared that I might not make it back to Goshen.

When all hope was lost, I noticed a ballpark in the distance. I pedaled as fast as I could in hopes of finding fluids to consume. Thankfully, the concession stand was open and I bought several bottles of Gatorade and water. I sat and drank for about an hour, splashing my face with cold water in the ladies bathroom every few minutes. I managed to make it back to my car in Goshen. For a while I laid on the grass in a small park where I had left my car. Four months later I would find myself looking at that park again, this time under a blanket of snow from the other side of the street. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the funeral home where my sister Maureen was laid to rest was directly across the street. There are no coincidences in this life…

On my way to Maureen’s I stopped off for a slice of pizza and salad (I also didn’t pack enough food). I remember not being able to eat all my salad and bringing it to Maureen to offer – it was a Greek salad and very delicious. She was pleased to receive it and ate it with a steak she had cooked up for dinner. Unfortunately, that day I would not meet my grandniece. She was suffering from colic, so my niece decided to keep her home. I visited with Maureen for a couple of hours and then headed back to camp before dark. That was the last time I saw her. I finally got to meet my grandniece at her grandmother’s funeral.

I know Maureen’s soul was there that day. My mother’s grief was so overwhelming, she refused to leave my sister’s side. Knowing that she would be cremated, my mother cried over not having a place to visit Maureen. Finally, as the funeral home director informed us it was time to leave, we stood my mother up and lead her away from my sister’s casket. On the way out, my mother asked to stop at the bathroom so that she could calm herself down and splash some water on her face. As I waited outside the bathroom door, I looked up to see Kathy’s husband standing at the front door, which was closed. Suddenly, the front door hurled open and a strong gust of wind swept through the building. We believed it was Maureen telling us to get mom out and move on.

I believe that Maureen fulfilled her purpose on this earth. I also believe that she may have been suffering in ways naked to the human eye.

Now that the temperature is dipping into the 20s and 30s with occasional snow and blustery winds, I’m off the bike for now, but I continue on with My Gump Walk.

I’ve been living in my current home for seven years now. Around the corner is the local high school. Behind it is an American Legion and a track and field I have driven by numerous times. I had been to it once about six years ago with my daughter on the 4th of July to watch the fireworks. It was dark, smoky and wet, so I don’t remember much about it. So I decided to take a walk and check out what I was missing.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop missing her…

“So I carried on.
You can’t be haunted by the past.
People come and people go
And nothing ever lasts.
But I still think about you
Wonder where you are.
Can you see me from some place
Up there among the stars?”

The Road – Emmylou Harris

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Totem hearts

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I truly do not enjoy riding my bike when the temperatures dip below 50. This is the time of year I dread, not wanting to ride over the next several months. Thanks to global warming, I might get lucky and have a day or two here and there when the temperature is unseasonably warm and I’ll make a run for it. But, for the most part, I’m resigned to the gym throughout the winter. Unfortunately, my gym is closed for renovations the next two weeks, so all I got is the pavement…

Today the mercury barely reached 50 degrees, so I hit the pavement and went for a Gump Walk.

I noticed today, as during Halloween, my neighbors don’t decorate much for the holidays. What decorations I did see, most were non-religious with an occasional “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” sign or plastic Mary, Jesus and Joseph manger figures. Inflatables seem to be the trend these days. At night the streets glow in the light of these gigantic air blown monstrosities. By day, they melt into wrinkled piles of plastic on brown lawns.

As a kid I remember my father stringing “old-fashioned” large stringed Christmas lights around the house and shrubbery. That was pretty much the only kind of decorations you saw back then, aside from an occasional wreath on the door. As I got older, it was somewhat “embarrassing” to have those kinds of lights. Smaller and fancier lights were all the fad – mini lights, icicle lights, curtain lights, draped lights, rope lights, LED lights, lights that twinkled or lit up in timed patterns…and then guess what happened? Those “old-fashioned” large stringed Christmas lights came back into fashion. Not only that, the bigger the better!

As I’ve said before, this time of year is quite sad for me and my family. One week ago today would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. On her last birthday with us in 2014, Kathy and her husband brought mom to my house to celebrate. It was Shabbat, so I didn’t get to take any pictures of the gathering, but I managed to take some pictures of the setting:

We went with a Frozen theme thanks to my brainstorming with the preschool teacher I was working with at the time. It was raining heavily that night and my mother was concerned for my other sister who was enroute and had to turn back because the rain was so hard she couldn’t make it to my house. Mom seemed anxious and didn’t really enjoy herself. Thankfully, Kathy and her husband took mom back to her house where they greeted her with a beautiful cake with candles to blow out.

2014

Two months later, the day before my 50th birthday, she would be dead. We knew she wasn’t healthy, but never in a million years would’ve guessed she was dying.

After multiple hospitalizations and admissions to inpatient rehab, we brought mom home to die. It was her wish and her demand. She was home exactly seven days before she died – coming home on a Tuesday and dying on a Tuesday.

Throughout that week, we sat vigil at her bedside, Kathy an ever-present fixture refusing to budge. A hospital bed had been set up in the family room so that she could receive round-the-clock medical care. Various hospice workers came and went, showing us what to do and advising us on how to help mom “cross over.” They were amazing women with true faith in G-d and compassion for their jobs – I will never forget their tremendous kindness.

At one point during that week, a chaplain visited me and my sisters at the house. Having three different points of view, the chaplain managed to reach each one of us on our own spiritual level. As we talked, she took out a small velvet bag, handing it to us one by one and telling us to “reach in and take one.” As I placed my hand inside the bag, I could feel something hard yet smooth. What I pulled out was a small stone heart.

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I don’t remember her exact words, but the chaplain explained how a mother is the heart of a family. She told us to keep it in a place where we could find it and think of mom. I’ve put this heart in different places throughout my house, only to come across it in surprise, instantly thinking of mom and crying.

I’ve said before that totems can come to us as animal, mineral or vegetable. In mom’s case, it is the heart. Several weeks after she passed, I was helping Kathy clean out mom’s house. As I was looking through some dresser drawers, I found a scarf with blue hearts on it – the one that’s in the photo above. Three days before mom died, on a hike in the snow, Kathy came across this heart in the snow.

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Since my father-in-law passed, my husband, his brother, our sister-in-law and I have been going through his home to clean it out for resale. Having done this less than two years ago when my mother died, the mournfulness of going through one’s parents belongings of a lifetime is overwhelming. During this process, I mentioned to my husband that I didn’t realize how much our mothers were alike – their choice in decor, artwork and furniture, china patterns, crystal and jewelry. They were both introverts and preferred their husbands to drive.

While going through various jewelry boxes, I came across the small silver heart-shaped jewelry box also pictured in the photo above. I immediately asked my sister-in-law if she wanted it, to which she said I could have it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was drawn to it because it was a heart – hidden somewhere for me to find. I brought it home and placed my mother’s heart inside it – perfect fit…

My mother’s heart now rests inside my mother-in-laws heart on a bed of blue hearts in my dining room hutch. Every day I pass it and every day I see it and every day I think of my mothers…

 “And if you should survive to a hundred and five
Look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive
And here…”

Perry Como

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump