Category Archives: Bereavement

A Wedding, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Some Serious Earthshaking and a Moving Memorial~Welcome to Elul 2017!

Beth and Kraig
Stunning and kind and and beautiful soul, the bride Beth Weissbart Wasik, my God-daughter and her new handsome, strong, kind and good husband Dr. Kraig Wasik Photo by: Studio B. Benton photography

Sandwiched between times and trips to take care of my father, I had the tremendous honor and privilege of officiating at the wedding of one of my God-daughters. I’ve only done this a few other times. It’s a very intense thing to be the person spiritually responsible in a setting like this. The folks getting married are the important ones and honoring their needs and wishes takes a fair amount of time, insight, and emotional and spiritual presence of mind.

I was quite anxious about whether I would be able to pull it off. In addition to my fears about doing something wrong or looking bad, in comparison to the absolutely gorgeous bride and groom, holding this kind of energy and being the person who represents the energy of Holiness is a calling I take very seriously. We all carry Holiness and no one is more or less Divine. Not everyone recognizes this and when you are the designated driver for any event that is a Life-Cycle, one like a wedding or a funeral, it takes preparation, incredible control, no small amount of guts and some kind of crazy. I’m pretty good at most of these, but the incredible control part is something I have to really work at.

So, I asked my husband to help me monitor certain behaviors of mine that I didn’t want to bring to the fore. This meant I needed to be extremely sober and to make sure I didn’t drink more than two glasses of wine at any of the events. I was on duty and having a relaxing fun time was not what this wedding was about for me. Did I mention the wedding was at a vineyard? Did I mention that I love good wine? Did I mention that I’ve been working extremely hard emotionally, physically and spiritually to navigate the territory of my father’s health, the death of my belle-mère and spending about five minutes with my husband in the last six months? Oh well, wine is just some grapes that have fermented, NOT!

It went really well, better than I could have expected. I managed to do what I wanted to do and to serve the bride, groom and their families. I had a good time once all the pieces I was responsible for were executed properly. Folks were generous in their praise of my service. That felt really good and validated that my preparation and presence of mind, heart, body and spirit were in attunement.

I always and only want to be the vessel for the Divine.

This means clearing out my ego and my version of what is supposed to happen. This can be a little dangerous. I can’t get so plugged into the flow of Holiness that I’m tripping out (this happens for me a great deal of the time). It’s a balance of walking with what is at hand, holding my heart and hands out and up to Heaven and asking for the Shefa/Sweet Holy flow of energy to dance into my words and actions. It means grounding myself deeply into our Holy Mother Earth and feeling the pulse of the planet.

Feeling the pulse of the planet!

Eclipse 2017
Photo by NASA from Total Solar Eclipse in August 2017

Tuning into the pulse of the planet is not any kind of walk in the park ever, but especially right now, it’s a truly earth-shattering time. At this particular moment, in our collective history, Our Mother is speaking a very specific kind of language. She’s amplifying the message and giving us hurricanes, fires (I normally live in Northern California which has been on fire and smokey for weeks), earthquakes and flooding. Our planet is not just talking right now, she’s keening and wailing and doing everything she can to help us wake up and correct our behaviors.

In Elul, we blow the Shofar to crack open our hearts to literally break through the carapace-like hard shell we call Klippot that has covered up our tenderness and our heart. It’s the most ancient warning device, call to battle, earthquake alert system. It’s piercing, you cannot ignore it, it cuts through all illusions and it’s loud.

I saw a very powerful piece of footage from Mexico City during the earthquake there. It was late in the night, because I was unable to sleep. Often, this is because, I am attuning to the planet when I’m not attending to someone. It’s just not easy to sleep when there are hurricanes and earthquakes and folks all suffering as a result. My prayer practice is about feeling the hurt and crying and breaking open more and more. It’s about asking the angels to go, to go quickly to anyone in need. It’s about just using every possible strategy I can think of to help ease the suffering on this planet.

In the footage, a man from the news was reporting on some sports event when all of a sudden this piercing and very different kind of siren started blaring. He was calm and explained, in Spanish, that this was their early warning system, that an earthquake was immanent. As the footage continued things got more shaky and eventually he got up from his seat and instructed folks to get to safety and the camera crew went to the window with him and looked out on the city. This was, of course, not a safe place to be, but these were news reporters. It was night and you could see the shaking from the camera movements and the lights of Mexico City went out in huge swaths. It was terrifying and impressive and amazing and horrifying and the sound of the electronic shofar was blaring for the whole time.

So, this is the time we are living in and it’s a privilege to be alive. We get to have opportunities to serve those in need and to work on mending what is broken. It’s not a task, or a burden. It’s a calling and a hunger that comes from our collective shared body, the body human, the planet body and our shared common heart, split and shattered into 9 billion people, but still all part of the same organ.

And, we’ve been in worse situations. I mean a few billion years ago, when the stuff of creation was zooming around our universe somewhere, in our relative spatial neighborhood, one large something hit this planet and almost broke it in half. Luckily for us, that huge hit generated a big chunk that became our moon.

We weren’t in human bodies, at that time, but talk about seriously intense climate change. This was the mother of all events for our planet. Mammoth, magnificent and tremendously destructive forces have always been part of the story of this universe. It might feel like we aren’t spinning around an axis in an orbit around the sun in our galaxy, which is a tiny grain of sand in the Holy One’s hand full of billions of other grains of sand, but we are indeed doing just that.

We are star-dust, billion year old star-dust:

Joni sings this better than I could ever say it. It’s as true now as it was then. What is our duty, our obligation, our responsibility at this time of tumult and disaster? The “same as it’s ever been, same as it ever was.” It’s our job to do the work, to take care of each other, to take care of the planet, to pursue justice, to love with hurricane force winds, to storm surge the forces of violence, injustice and cruelty and to eliminate them with acts of loving kindness and imagination and art so deep and so connective that all that’s left of the landscape of hate is some tiny debris that is no longer toxic.

This is also the work of Elul, the month in our Jewish calendar when we really examine ourselves and our actions and we make amends and corrections. The time is now and the urgency of our collective engagement, across all the false divides that separate us or make us think we are anything other than one being sharing one heart, cannot be emphasized enough. And, believe it or not, it’s really not that hard. It’s exhausting to do this work and it’s humbling, in an often devastating way, but it isn’t across the ocean or in the heavens, it’s in our hearts and our mouths and we can do it.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

Wisdom, joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with joy, wisdom and hope or misery, greed and violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions, if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness, must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.” ~Deuteronomy 30:14

None of us wants to see our ugly sides, our broken parts, our lack of generosity, our lack of calm, our indifference, our resistance to what we know needs to be done. None of us like being informed that we’ve messed up, missed the mark. None of us wants to learn that we failed to protect those we love or that we are addicted or that we’ve hurt another person or the planet just by being alive and human and a person who is fallible. Nevertheless, it’s a very simple turning; T’shuvah (to return/to turn/to pirouette) that can make all the difference. When we turn, the rabbis say, the Holy One and all the forces of goodness and all the Angels rush, they rush, like a blast of strong wind to push us and assist us and to help us in our work. So, all we have to do is turn/return.

On that note, I’ll end with a very powerful and personal moment of profound healing and mending a true Tikkun from the memorial for my belle-mère, Judy Barchilon, May her memory be for a Blessing. My mother Helen Redman and I haven’t been able to engage with each other very much since I’ve been on back and forth duty between California and Colorado. My carbon footprint has been huge, in order to be present for my family. This means that, eco-groovy, organic-only, always trying to use my own bags and water bottle me is actually a big part of the link of the problem in the climate change chain. I am as responsible for climate degradation as someone who actively pollutes or dumps toxins into a watershed. My actual carbon footprint is very large.

I’ve traveled between my current home and my former home, by air, more times than I can count since March of this year. Doing so has been the only way I could be part of taking care of my father, my brother, and my heart, and it’s a mitzvah /commandment/obligation/Holy request that I have no problem doing. Honoring my mother and my father is not optional or problematic. It’s work, but it’s like breathing, I cannot fathom doing anything differently. On the other hand, doing so in the way I am means that I’m contributing to the very problem I’m trying to help eliminate. Arrrgggh it’s so hard being human!

So, to honor my mother, I asked if her if she could re-arrange her travel to Boulder to overlap with my current stay with my father. In this way, we could see one another and I could connect with and love on, and be loved by her. She also felt a call to come to the memorial for Judy and to support my brother and I. She asked me to ask my father if he would be okay with her coming and he said “of-course.” This is really all due to Judy.

I’m not going to go into the history here. You can read my beau-père Kenny Weissberg‘s book Off My Rocker, for one version of the story.  My parents separated when I was seven years old and it’s been a long and very painful journey for me and for my father and my mother and brother also. A lot of time and therapy have been involved, on my end. Their divorce also brought and brings profound gifts, like my belle-mère Judy and my beau-père Kenny. My mother and Kenny have now been together for 46 years. They just celebrated their anniversary at the end of July.

I hate the word step-anything. My relationship is a step different with Kenny than it is with my biological father, but Kenny Weissberg is and has been an amazing father to me and grandfather to my children. He’s every bit as much my family as my biological father is. Judy, also, while not as close or long a relationship was had with her was family. She made my father whole and for that she will always be beloved by me. This is why I prefer the French terms, which mean handsome-father and beautiful-mother, instead of step-father or step-mother.

So, my mother came to the memorial for her ex-husband’s wife. At the end of the evening, which was incredible, I noticed my mother and father talking and I could see the care and love flowing between them. This was something I have not ever witnessed. I was six years old and truly have zero actual memory of them being together. Somewhere, in my cells, I remember, but I don’t have any memories of my parents together. There are lots of photos, but the memories are not there. So, this was and continues to be a ripple of healing, goodness and love for me and for them and for my brother and my children and all those who are connected to any of us.

The beauty of any and all tikkuns/healings/mendings is that they are not of this world, or time alone. They transcend time, and space. They transform the past, present and future. A true Tikkun is a movement in time, dropped into the river of Light of the Divine, which accesses the flow of Shefa into all places of wounding, it can literally change everything.

May you trust that the gates of Heaven are truly open and that the flow of Divine Love is strong and continuous and there for you, so much so, that you can take the risk of doing what is most hard for you to do, of being brave and facing what needs facing and making the corrections and changes that need making so that there is more good going into our world than brokenness.

L’Shana Tova u Metuka/A Good and Sweet New Year to you, and Big, Big, Big Mama Nicole Love to all of you reading this and all of you who are part of my support system of likes, loves, emails, and prayer, as well as all the health practitioners who work with me and on me to keep this body of mine moving through space and time so I can take care of those I love. You are part of why I am who I am and can do what I do so thank you!

Mom. Dad. Judy Memorial
My mother Helen Redman and my father Jacques Barchilon taking care of each other at the memorial for Judy Barchilon, Wow, wow, wow!

 

Papa’s Perseverance, Pain and Power

Dad on Bike
My 94 year-old, WWII French Resistance fighter of a father, still resisting tyranny, the tyranny of a body aging. He is a hard-working, hoping to heal himself human and he blows my mind.

This post was written over the course of several weeks. I am now home in California:

Wednesday June 21st, 2017~ I’m relaxed at this exact moment. I just had a two hour Tok Sen Thai Massage at Siam Sensation. This is my first break in six days since flying to Denver on June 14th to take care of my father post his wife’s death on June 7th. My brother and his partner are spelling me for a few hours. It’s been hellish and hard and I’ve had no time to cry, really. Tears leak out in moments, but the work-load is pretty constant. Caring for a 94-year-old beloved who is in fairly constant emotional and physical pain is a full-time, many person endeavor. My father’s just six weeks from having fallen and broken his hip, then gotten hip replacement surgery, followed by a minor heart attack two days later and being intubated despite his DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order and then having to be in a rehabilitation facility for a month and watch his beloved wife, of the last 18 years, Judy wither away and die. This is the territory I entered when I came to Denver for the second month in the last three. I spent all of April and one week of May here helping with the hospital stay and the transition to the rehabilitation facility.

It’s a week later, once again, getting a respite at the home of my brother, his partner and my daughter. Sitting in the back yard of my childhood home. My father gave my brother and his partner this home when he moved to Denver to be with Judy. This was where I spent half of every week as a child. It’s more lovely than it ever was when I was growing up. My daughter has filled the downstairs with the art of my grandmother, her great-grandmother Perla Barchilon, her grandmother/my mother Helen Redman, and her other grandmothers’ (Maren Frank and Rachel Heller’s) art is also all over, as is my brother Paul Barchilon’s and also my daughter’s own art. The place is clean and colorful and not-cluttered. It feels like home in a completely different way than it did as a child. My brother and his partner also live upstairs in the home they designed and it is completely fantastic as well and full of art, beauty and calm.

Papa blue robe
Painting of my father, by my mother Helen Redman, in the entry way to the downstairs, pottery by my brother Paul Barchilon, decor by my daughter

Is this  where we should move my father? Should he go into an Assisted Living/Nursing home, a thought that initially made him cringe (since starting this article my brother and his partner looked at many homes and found two that are within budget, barely and that my father also didn’t hate). We cannot afford full-time care-giving for him at his place through an agency. We cannot afford over-night care for him either through the agencies that provide that. With his funds, possibly a few hours a day could be managed, but that’s not going to cut it, in my opinion. Furthermore, he hasn’t been alone since March 30th when he fell and broke his hip. We are most likely, at this point, hiring someone to care-give outside of an agency, which is half the cost, which is pricey, but within his budget and allows him to live at home, which is what he wants. My brother will have to manage all of this and we will vet the person and make sure their police-records are checked, but it’s not the same as a family member.

Shira Home
My daughter’s clean and lovely living room downstairs from my brother’s place full of books and beauty.

My tears are still intermittent. The reality is that my father cannot live on his own, not yet, perhaps not ever. Despite two months of my time and life and the practically constant care and presence of my brother over the last six months, my father is not healed enough to live on his own. Both my sons have flown out to help for a week each and my daughter is also a regular presence in his life and home now. My Papa thinks he wants to be independent and on his own in his own home, but he’s had the loving and devoted presence of his wife in that apartment and since her death, he has had a steady stream of loving family. This will no longer be the case. There are kind and devoted folks in his building that care about him, but they cannot care-give him or be there in any kind of medically responsible way. He doesn’t want to live with my daughter in her study, which we would convert to a bedroom. He doesn’t want to live anywhere but his own home, who can blame him for that?

I haven’t had the energy to see any of my friends while I’ve been here. I cannot even make phone calls or emails much. The schedule at night has been my father needing help every two hours or so, with blankets, incontinence issues, pain management, difficulty breathing, thirst, etc… So, I’ve been in a pretty constant state of sleep deprivation, with nights off once a week or so on Shabbat if we pay the $300 it costs for one night’s care for him or when it has worked for my brother or my daughter to spend the night. Obviously not a sustainable situation.

Issac Nicole feet
Issac’s wounded foot taking a break, next to my tired feet from hours of moving things around in Dad’s apartment to try to get his office converted into a room that a care-giver/live-in could actually live in!

And I’m not even touching the sadness here, the pain of my father’s loneliness sitting at the table while I do the dishes or the cooking and he looks out the window missing his wife with every fiber of his frail body and incredibly clear and cogent mind. He told my son Issac and I, while explaining that he was going to speak to us as if we weren’t in the room so he could say what was on his mind, “I pretend she is on a trip or out doing errands and this lasts for a few hours and then I remember that she’s never coming home.” There were tears streaming down his face while he shared this.

Dad Post it
The note I found in Judy’s bedside dresser while cleaning things out in my father’s apartment.

This situation is so damn hard.

dad and Judy
Thanksgiving in Colorado a few years ago. 

And, my daughter said the other night, it’s not even bad really, because we are all loving with him and each other and he isn’t destitute (he taught French at CU Boulder for 45 years and has a good pension). He has options and we will figure out how to navigate all of this, with the capable minds and bodies of my daughter, my brother and his partner here in Boulder and myself and my family here in California. In the long-run, this story is a love-story, a family caring for each other and the person most in need with kindness, effort, intelligence and profound love. Whatever difficulties have been in my past with my father or in my brother’s past; my papa had a temper and he has never approved of my spiritual calling or my emotional nature (he thinks I should have been a lawyer!). Still, he has always loved us, gifted us with his time and caring, and been there for us in BIG ways. It’s our turn now.

Dad Waving
My father in a moment of less pain in the new recliner/lift chair in his living room at home.  I realized we needed to get him this chair, in the middle of one particularly difficult night. He can sleep for two or three hours comfortably here, and it’s his new favorite place to be!

 

 

Honoring Judy~the Light, Love, Laughter and Lift in my father’s life.

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The altar I made for Judy as she was taking her last difficult breathes on this earth.

This incredible woman Judith Senior Barchilon died the other day. She was responsible for bringing a smile to my father’s face and for joy in him that I had never previously experienced him having. Their love story is important, even though it has sadly ended. Their love hasn’t ended just their being together in this world has-—and it is very hard.

Judy was a very private person, I still don’t know enough about her, even though she and my father have been together for the last twenty years. I hope to learn more about her from her grandchildren and daughter and my father as I want to honor her memory accurately.

I always tell folks who are lonely or who have given up on love, my father and Judy’s story. My father was 75 years old when he reconnected with a woman he briefly dated while they were both getting their doctorates at Harvard post WWII. Judy and he had a date or two, but it didn’t work out for them at that time.

I’m glad it didn’t work then, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t be reading this. My mother and father needed to be together for my sister, my brother and myself to be born. It’s very hard for a marriage to survive the death of a child, and my parents’ marriage didn’t. Post my parents’ divorce my father dated a series of women and even married one woman. She promptly forbade me from entering his home, once they were married. I was eleven at the time. That marriage, was over right after I was forbidden entry to my home.

My father never gave up on love. He is a Moroccan, Mediterranean Man, full of intelligence, vigor, desire, passion, loyalty and persistence. These qualities led him eventually to Judy. One day, over his morning coffee, he was reading his Harvard Alumni journal when he saw a byline by Judith Merrill. He read the piece and recognized the writer as the woman who he had briefly dated over 40 years previous. He saw that she was living in Colorado Springs. Since he lived in Boulder, he sent Judy a note and asked her if she remembered him and would like to get together. The answer was yes, of course, she remembered him, and yes to getting together.

Well pretty soon they were living together and a few weeks later they were married. This 20 year love story has been such a gift to our joint families. My brother and I, as adults, got to experience a softer, kinder, happier man than we’d ever known. The two of them were inseparable. Knowing how bereft my father will now be is heart-breaking for all of us. At 94, he is recovering from his recent hip fracture and minor heart-attack post the surgery for his hip repair. He emerged with flying colors from this health crisis and is healing physically. Judy died within six months of her lung cancer diagnosis, just a month shy of her 86th birthday. She never smoked, was an amazingly health-conscious, fast walking and fit woman for all the years we knew her.

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At one point with my father, while he was in the rehabilitation center that Judy and he were sharing a room at, he said: “We didn’t do anything wrong. We just wanted to live our quiet sedate lives together.”

And, of course, death is not fair, nor is it about doing something wrong, in this circumstance, it’s just plain sad and unfair.

For Judy’s daughter and her grandchildren, the extremely quick and terrible decline in Judy’s well-being that led to her precipitous death, is also extremely sad. We are all so sorry to have lost Judy. What is not sad, is how all of us as a family, a co-joined family have taken care of each other. Even though the systems in place for caring for elderly folks, needing more care than they can give themselves, is woefully inadequate, we found a place for both my father and Judy to convalesce together when they were most vulnerable. Between my brother, his partner, my daughter, my youngest son, Judy’s daughter and family and myself, there were daily visits, extra care, foot massages, flowers, music, hand holding and a constant circle of folks present to offer love, and support.

This has been no small feat. This time of my life is about caring for family, so I’ve been able to spend a month at a time in Colorado and give respite and support. I will head back to Denver in a few days to spend the next month living with my father in his and Judy’s condo. Since Judy died, my children have been making meals for my father, along with my brother, and have spent time with him and slept there as well. He has not been alone, nor will he be from now on, which is how it should be, but not how he wanted it to be. He wanted to be with Judy. We can’t do that for him. But we can honor Judy by loving my father and by keeping him close and being there for him as he navigates whatever time he has left to walk this earth.

My brother wrote the following to let our extended family know about Judy’s last moments:

“I am very sad to inform everyone that Judy passed away early in the morning on the 7th of June.  The situation had become quite difficult for her, and I think the struggle was too great.  She showed incredible courage, grace, and wisdom in her final days.  She decided she wanted to be off life support, and requested that dad, Lynn, and myself be present. We were with her as the oxygen mask was removed and she was able to speak a little.  Her final words to my father were “you’ll be all right”.  Even as she was passing, she was concerned for him and acting to protect him.  Tom, Lilly, Kathryn, Shira, and Ethan were all with us too.  As a family, we were present for Judy as she let slip this mortal coil and finally found the rest and peace she had been wanting for so long.  It was very hard for everyone, but there was also an element of great beauty as well.  Judy chose to go at a time when she could say goodbye to all of us.  We stood silently with her after she passed, paying tribute to the most wonderful woman in the world, and honoring her courage, intelligence, determination, resilience and beauty.  She chose to donate her body to science, and did not want a funeral.  We will probably have a celebration of her life at some point in the future, and we will let everyone know.

Dad is heartbroken and devastated.  He is also handling it incredibly well.  I was expecting him to be suicidal, but he isn’t.  He said Judy told him to live, so he is going to do that.  Ethan and I spent the night with him when we came back from the hospital.  He surprised us both by saying he wanted to take us out to breakfast the next morning.  We went to Zaidy’s one of their favorites, and spent the morning talking about how wonderful Judy was, and sharing stories of her.  Dad moves fluidly between crying deeply (very healthy I think) to remembering and celebrating her.  He needs a lot of help right now, both physically and emotionally, so we are not leaving him alone.  Ethan is there 24-7 until Sunday night, Shira and I are alternating days coming in as well, cooking, holding, loving and being with him.  Nicole is flying out on Wednesday, and will move in to the apartment for a month to take care of him.

Long term, I think dad is going to move back to Boulder and move in downstairs.  He told me that Judy had often made him promise not to be a burden to his children when he aged.  I told him that wasn’t Judy’s choice to make, and that we all loved him very much and would rather have him with us than not.  I also told him that having him in Boulder would actually be easier than driving an hour each way every time he needed help (which has been pretty much daily for a long while now). He agreed that he thinks it is a good idea.  He likes being in the apartment and being reminded of Judy, and we will let him enjoy that for as long as he wants, and as he continues to heal and strengthen. ”  ~Paul Barchilon

Judy and I were about as different as two women can be, on the outside. I’m large, she was petite. I’m loud, she was soft-spoken. How we are the same has to do with our love for our families and our tremendous interest and desire to love and honor those who are part of our lives. Judy always made sure each member of the family had “special” time with my father. When I came to visit, she’d make sure my father and I always had our own dates together. She also made sure, the two of us did as well. We would get mani-pedi’s together and walk around their neighborhood. I could never keep up with her, she was the fastest walker I ever knew. She’s outpaced us all now, walking on the other side, with no encumbrances. I just put up the hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window, in honor of her. She was a hummingbird, giving joy and full of nectar, she came in a small package but had an enormous heart and wow, what a great flyer! She is and will be missed.

As Judy was taking her last breaths she told my father to go on living, to not give up. She knew him so well. To honor her, he is making that effort. So, even from the other side, Judy is helping my father and giving him to us, once again. 

Papa.Judy.chez Paul
My father and Judy at my brother’s home many years ago, dancing, laughing and loving.

Lost in Bed

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Winter Full Moon, Holy Hill, County Sligo Ireland, January 2016

Under the covers, under the stars, under the radar,  under, under, under, snowed completely under.

Lost in blankets, wholly surrounded. How the hell to emerge? I don’t seem to have an answer and have had to push myself physically and mentally to move outside of my bedroom. The death of a beloved community member and the grief around this also got me up and out to attend to the details that are mine, as Chair of the Hevra Kadisha, to do when someone dies. Being surrounded, in this process, by good people and community, sharing the tasks, holding each other in our pain and sorrow. This, then, becoming the new blanket I want to be folded into.

The blanket of community and shared carrying of the load. My friend, the grieving widow was expressing, on one of the nights of Shiv’ah, how special it was to have people in her home and how she was so terribly sad that it had to happen as a result of her husband’s death. She was expressing her anguish and loneliness and it was raw. We all know this, we don’t go visit folks or make the time, feel too overwhelmed or just have too much going on, we make excuses or just cannot get ourselves to the homes of others.

When there is a death, that drops away and we get there. This, by itself, is a correct and good thing. The stark contrast though between having your house full of folks for seven days after your husband dies and the fact that prior to that and after that your home will again be pretty empty, that is not a correct or a good thing. But it is the territory we are all in. We push ourselves when the need is great, the grief is current. We slide back into old patterns and ways of being as soon as we can.

There is no judgement here. It’s just something I’m living and experiencing and noticing. The cycle of connection and effort and how that unfolds in my community and life. I remember many years ago, when I was very sick and my husband was as well. We were very contagious with MRSA. We were hoping our young son wouldn’t get infected and he didn’t thanks to the help we got. There was a crew of folks coming to my home washing all the sheets every day, bleaching bathroom and kitchen counters, basically disinfecting my home daily. This enabled us to recover and allowed me to navigate my allergic reactions to various antibiotics. I only had to let folks in my community know I needed help and what I needed and BOOM it was there.

Now, I don’t ask for help that often. I’ve done it a few times in the over twenty years I’ve been a member of my congregation. This time, I’ve mentioned above, was one and more recently when my son got hit by a car, which crushed his right foot, last April. I had too much to navigate and needed meals delivered so I didn’t have to cook on top of everything else. My community was there for me, is there for me.

bed
My cozy bed. Artworks by Alice McClelland and a student of my father’s named Simone. This flower has been over my bed since I was a little girl.

 

 

simone
Simone, my father’s student who painted the flower above my bed. Simone is painted  here by my mother Helen Redman. My mother’s portraits and colors surrounded me as a child and they inform my life still and always are waking me up.

I attend to my community as I would to my family. I try to be there as much as I can and I also work with my boundaries and knowing that it’s a shared home. This works if everyone in the community is part of the work-force. Not everyone in our congregation or the world is functional or able though, so those folks who need constant help or more help than we can actually provide makes the work a little heavier and harder, because it’s just impossible to actually “fix-it.”

This is where it gets sticky and hard. The feeling of failing, of just not being able to fix or provide enough comfort or help for all the broken things in this world right now, the hopelessness of having someone I cannot bear to look at, or name, be elected President and all the problems I anticipate this will cause. I’ve been telling everyone I know, it’s not going to get easier folks. And, I’m tired, very, very tired of fighting all the battles and extending myself continuously, but the work is not done.

As our beloved prophet Leonard Cohen, may his memory continue to be a profound blessing, says on his last album: “You want it darker, we kill the flame…” It seems extremely dark to me right now, and this song has been a clarion call for me because in the middle of all the darkness there’s the line in this song when Leonard chants “Hineyni/Here I Am.” and then says “I’m ready my Lord.”

These are the words of Abraham and Issac and they are the words of those drawn to service, to the willing offering of everything, absolutely everything, in service to the work in service to the Holy One, even when the territory is full of fog. My hineyni has been whispered lately. It’s been really hard to actually stand up and be heard and loudly proclaim that I am ready to continue serving. I’ve just wanted to be under the covers.

Several things are helping me emerge:

  1. knowing that my hiding will not make anything better
  2. knowing that I am not alone in my feelings
  3. knowing and working always to remember this teaching by Rabbi Tarfonrabbi-tarfon-quote
  4. a recent teaching shared with me by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone that has to do with us being the food for others and not knowing the end of our story, having to trust and serve without knowing outcomes.
  5. This post by Rebelle Society about these times being dark Goddess Kali times
  6. finding comfort in small-scale victories locally, globally or personally
  7. the patience and kindness of my beloveds

I’m a very lucky and resourced person, in the privileged category. This doesn’t mean I don’t have troubles or concerns, but they are manageable. This is not the case for so many other folks. So, I venture out to be food and nourishment to offer these things as well as be these things for those near me. It’s all I can do. I’ve made a new vow to not get into my bed before 9pm at night. So, between 9 and 9, I’ll offer and navigate my world. On Shabbat and during the night, I’ll re-connect to the Divine and get the nourishment that will enable me to emerge.

not-before-nine
My bedroom door with the new “Not before Nine sign” underneath the beautiful Klimt poster that reminds me of my husband and I.

My Mussar assignment this month has to do with creating a fence in front of one activity that takes me over a cliff I don’t want to go over. I identified that getting under the covers wasn’t where I wanted to be, it’s wasteful and not helping anyone as well as causing concern for my husband and friends. It was necessary for me to be in bed for the time I was.

 

I’m not sorry I’ve spent a large amount of time in bed trying to recover—RE-COVER— I just noticed that this word is extremely apt for where I’ve been, lost in bed recovering myself, like re-wombing myself going into a safe warm place to grow into the next phase.

I’m no newborn though, which is good. I’ve got the tools, the friends, the community, the time and the wherewithal to engage more fully, so it’s time to get out of bed!

“Whatever we are doing, however great or small the act, may we remember to take the wisdom of Joseph with us, and the shamanic medicine of  the Baal Shem Tov to help us align ourselves to a Will greater than our own, to become  michyah, life-giving food for the great unfolding.”  —Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

 

 

 

Yom Kippur, Yom Ha-Din, Yom-Ha-Difficulty

Erev Yom Kippur at my cabin in Ireland, getting ready for a day alone of fasting and prayers, by setting the space with beauty and white for purity of intention and space
Erev Yom Kippur;  getting ready for 26 hours of fasting and prayers alone. This photo is from my window-seat. I set my intention/kavannah and space with beauty and white flowers and decor to enhance and imbue my prayers with purity and clarity.

This was the hardest Yom Kippur that I can remember.

My beloved Rabbi Naomi Steinberg says, we should never compare Holy events. She remarks, “this Shabbat was in the top 500,” rather than saying this Shabbat was “the best.” I appreciate this teaching and try to incorporate it into my life, especially around Shabbat observance. It’s a very good reminder to not judge joyful occasions and a great encouragement to be fully present in the moment. The human tendency to compare and contrast and look at something from one celebration and measure it against another celebration can be a way to not honor the people you are together with and it can be decisive.  Not doing this requires tremendous conscious effort. I consistently have to remind myself about this “top 500” idea. Nevertheless, sometimes making a comparison is what needs doing.  Marking the boundaries of this Yom Kippur and defining them feels important because what transpired for me was so intense and significant.

I knew it would be hard to fast and do all the prayers without the support and help of a community of folks, all working together. Those who observe the full fast refrain from eating and drinking from sunset of the holiday, called Erev/Evening until the concluding service called Ne’ila which happens when three stars are visible in the sky of the following day. It was about 25 hours long this year.

On Yom Kippur, congregations around the world, come together and share in the heavy load of prayers. We pray for all people in the world and ask for forgiveness, stating all the wrongs a person can possibly do, we name each act of ugliness and violation that humans do to each other and our planet. We recite these prayers and confessions and supplicate for mercy and look deeply for hours and hours. We rise and we tremble before the Holy One as one giant body of beings, we sway and sing and chant and hope that our sincere presence and effort will help mend the suffering in this world. We support each other with our combined efforts and are all humbled by the process. Doing this all by myself turned out to be very, very hard.

I felt closer to death by 8:00 pm right before the end of the fast than I’ve ever felt in my life. After 25 hours without water or food I was weak and beyond weak, stumbling and dizzy when I tried to stand or walk. It was acutely intense and I was afraid, I wasn’t sure I would ever feel alive again.

My head ached, my limbs were heavy and hard to move, I felt awful, wrung out and completely DONE. I roused myself, in the dark, because my Holiday candle, which had been burning for 25 hours, had just sputtered out. I stood up to say the final three prayers and blow the shofar to mark the end of Yom Kippur. I made it to the end of Yom Kippur and as I chanted the final words of the service, my tears flowed, as they had been doing all throughout this never-ending day. I was dehydrated already from not drinking and because I’d cried so much as well. My water-reserves were at an all time low.

There is an element of Yom Kippur that is about death and getting close to it in a ritual, supported and honest way. We are not exactly trying to emulate the feeling of death, but rather to attend fully to our souls and their life within our bodies. This awareness perhaps will help us be a more alive in the here and now and also gives us a taste of what it might be like when the Holy One takes our souls back to journey among the stars.

I find myself weaving in and out of Holy Time and Connection when I pray, so there is timelessness to all my supplications and praying, and a loosening of the boundaries between space and time. The difference on Yom Kippur is that you can see everyone moving towards their angelic selves and it helps you get through the day when you feel bereft of vigor. We wear white, and in the most traditional communities folks actually wear their burial kittel (part of the Jewish shroud, but also worn for Pesach/Passover). This garment is always white and simple, but modeled after the garment that the High Priest wears. Indeed the Torah portion we read on Yom Kippur from Leviticus 16 describes these garments that the High Priest Aaron is to don in order to come close to the Divine:

He shall be dressed in a sacral linen tunic, with linen breeches over his body; with a linen sash shall he gird himself, and with a linen turban shall he be crowned. These are sacral garments and so he shall bathe himself in water before dressing in them. ~ Leviticus 16:4

These simple sacred garments are what we bury all people in. We are all clothed as the High Priest, rich or poor, we all get the same shrouds, made out of linen preferably or cotton, with no fuss, finery or pockets (who needs a pocket in Heaven?). This equalization in death, that does not happen in life, is an essential teaching. We are all bodies, we are all dust and ashes, in the end and will return to dust, our bodies that is. Our souls are another matter entirely. So, when we loosen our connection to our bodies and focus on our souls that process reminds us to attend fully to being in a body. It’s a funny twist of human nature, that we feel things more in contrast to their opposite. We feel most alive after a long illness, as if we have never ever had it so good. We feel most grateful for everything usually in direct relationship to how long or far away from it we are.

So, I miss my husband extremely now and when I see him again my joy will be beyond measure. I love him the same amount when we are seeing each other every day, but being away from him makes me appreciate and notice his presence and his absence even more.

If we are lucky or we work for it, sometimes all of us, in moments of deepest connecting, we can cross the boundaries of our habitual patterns and conventionality and then we can and do reach that deep place without having to be separated. But we do have to SEPARATE ourselves from the idea that we are individuals or that we are just bodies, in order to have that oceanic, intense, beautiful eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to soul feeling. We can have this feeling  alone in prayer or contemplation, or with friends, with strangers, with beloveds, whenever we get over ourselves, literally.

GET OVER YOURSELF, and move into the person or the tree or flower across from you or near you.

Or, in the case of the Divine, we have to let go of our sense of being alone or thinking that we are only just a body without a soul. We have to get over our tired old story, or our fear, or all the mess and walls that we construct between all that is good and available for us. Yom Kippur is the perfect prescription for doing this.

Mireia, a new friend, and I, getting over ourselves and connecting from a deep place, in Barcelona, April of 2013
Mireia, a new friend, and I, getting over ourselves, in front of a wall, and connecting from a deep place, in Barcelona, April of 2013

So, I am SUPER glad to be in a body today!

The sun is shining and I will go outside and work on creating a Sukkah, since the next Jewish Holiday, my favorite, very embodied holiday (NO FASTING, LOTS OF FEASTING), is in four days. OOPS, I just made a comparison between Holy Events. It sure is hard to avoid doing that. And, I do really enjoy Sukkot a whole bunch. I’m not sure how I will observe it alone, but like all the other adventures I’m having here, I’m sure it will work out beautifully! We do invite in our Holy Ancestors, so I won’t actually ever be alone, and the faeries are always happy to play and dine with me.

What enabled me to actually get through to this moment of aliveness and joy was the NOT BEING ALONE part of my being alone. Let me explain. I was able to connect with my Temple Beth El community, thanks to modern technology and the kindness of some Temple Beth El members who made it possible for there to be a live-stream of their entire Yom Kippur services, all of them.

So, when I was losing it, or too weak to continue my praying I could sometimes manage to log-on to their livestream and see my friends praying. They even said hello to me from the bima and for the Kol Nidre service I could hear my son Ethan’s voice, which made me immensely joyful. I think it was Rabbi Naomi’s husband Saul, who took the camera and turned it at the end of Tuesday night’s services, so that I could see my boychik in the flesh. There he was, clapping and singing  and I got a glimpse of him for one joyous moment before the livestream went offline. I cannot even begin to express the joy I felt. It was beyond expression! It was 5:45 a.m. for me and I’d been tuning in and out to their prayers since 2:45 a.m.

At Temple Beth El, they were eight hours “behind” where I was in my prayer cycle, but finding them wherever they were throughout the 25 hours of my process made all the difference for me. Here’s a link to one of the services, so you can see for yourself these magnificent humans in their white angelic garments and in their angelic personifications and expressions:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/73977780

A friend also turned me on to a wonderful streaming of services. I could watch this community when I wasn’t able to connect with the Temple Beth El community. It is a new experimental community based in New York City and is called Lab/Shul.  Here’s their definition of self-hood from their website: “Welcome to LAB/SHUL, an artist-driven, everybody-friendly experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.” They have a musical line-up and people singing straight from their hearts and souls and their services were AMAZING.

They chant a line or two from one of our traditional long prayers and dispense with the volumes of words that accompany the usual liturgy. Their knowledge of the Hebrew and the prayers was deep, deep enough that they could fly out to the stars with their roots grounded but able to fly straight up towards the Heavens. It was pretty extraordinary when I could catch them. Amichai Lau-Lavie, their Spiritual Leader, also gave a great teaching, in between the chanting, music and praying. I was transported when I could catch up with them. He mentioned Pope Francis and his Encyclical. I’m  in the land of Catholics and Pope Francis and his teachings are a common feature of discussion here. I’m not sure how many Jewish folks were talking about Pope Francis this Yom Kippur, but it was pretty perfect for me, considering where I am.

And, here at my hermitage, three other hermits came and spent a brief amount of time with me in prayer. They did this out of the kindness of their hearts and because, even though this week is a silence and solitude week, they wanted to support me in my Jewish practice. So, two Catholic nuns and one Catholic contemplative came to sit with me and pray with me late in the afternoon of Yom Kippur, This is usually one of the hardest times of the day, when I was feeling pretty gray and not interested in continuing to pray or even be much in a body. Their presence uplifted me. It was lovely to pray with folks across the boundary of religion. It made no difference what specific faith tradition we identified with. We were able to be as one in our GETTING OVER OURSELVES. That’s my new mantra, I hope I can carry it through beyond this moment.

My “getting over myself” Yom Kippur crossed several time-zones. I started before all my community, eight hours earlier than the Californians, five hours before the East Coasters, two hours later than the Israelis, but somehow all of us were joined in a completely other place, a Holy time. After all, Divine time is nothing like human time. So, I crossed lots of boundaries and went a little too close to that feeling of weakness and torpor that comes from the body not having enough nourishment. I almost always observe the complete fast, no water or food, so this year’s feeling closer to death was unexpected. It gave me tremendous compassion and more appreciation for those who are actually approaching death of their bodies, friends who are in hospice care right now, friends who have been and are struggling with long debilitating illnesses and/or cancers that come and go, folks who are starving, literally because they are poor or because they are being tortured.

Why would anyone willingly choose to feel these things?

Doing so, even once a year, renews my commitment to serving the Divine in all my parts, with all my organs, senses and abilities. Until the world is a place of wholeness, kindness and equality, like what we pray and hope for, we all have to dedicate ourselves and look at ourselves deeply so that we can attune to Justice and to Goodness. This day is also called Yom Ha-Din which means the Day of Judgment or Trial. We are on trial for not doing enough for those who are suffering and for whatever we do that increases suffering on this planet.

Now, the good news is; that many, many, more people are doing this good work and are engaged in lessening suffering and violence, than the newspapers, news agencies and stories you hear in the mainstream media, would make you think. We are the majority. Those of us working, praying, living for Goodness, Justice and Mercy are in numbers beyond measure. We will make and are making a difference and every time one of us reaches deeper and longer and connects it makes a change in the flow and fabric of time and in the flow of events on this beautiful and wild spinning orb we call home. We are all b’tselem Elohim (in an image of Holiness). This means we are POWERFUL and CAPABLE of doing miraculous things!

To end my fast, before I began it, being the Virgo, Alpha female that I still am, even alone, I had made my brother Paul’s Dahl. I did indeed have a little bowl of it, which was more than I could actually finish, at the end of my ordeal. I was still a little too close to the other side and felt sick and weak. I ate because I knew I needed to, not because I felt hungry. I was beyond hunger when the three stars in the sky had emerged to announce the END of the fast. So, after my three glasses of water and my small bowl of soup, I slept for a few hours.

My usual sleep pattern is, if I’m lucky, four hours, than maybe another two if I get really lucky. So, at my usual time, which was around 2 a.m., I got up. I was hungry then and I opened my tiny fridge and decided to have a small bowl of yogurt.  This was yogurt that the nuns had gotten for me.  I had asked for organic plain whole yogurt. I am endeavoring to not eat sugar or gluten currently. But, somehow, they and I, missed the blueberries on the label. Those small blue berries were tiny in the picture at the bottom of the container. In fact, the plain yogurt and the blueberry yogurt look very similar, but guess what, they aren’t similar at all.

I was so HAPPY, you have no idea, with that blueberry surprise. That marvelous “mistake,” that the Holy One surely orchestrated for me, of blueberries and just a drop of sugar in a perfect blend of Irish whole milk yogurt, ummmmm, yummmmm. I cannot even begin to tell you how fabulous that bowl of yogurt at 2 a.m. in the morning was. I only hope, wherever you are, in whatever timezone, or faith tradition, or state of wellness or illness you are currently experiencing, you stop and take a moment to breathe and appreciate this moment of your being alive, in a body. Hopefully you can find a moment and are able to say with all your being Todah Rabah/Immense and Great Thanks! If not, have somebody go get you some blueberry yogurt!

I’m closing with a photo of my lunch today, which was at 3 p.m.; this seems to be when I want to eat lunch here. I basically don’t eat dinner, just a snack, or piece of fruit. But, my appetite has returned and so this was my lovely large luncheon. The carrot salad was a new invention and I’ll put up that recipe sometime soon. The Dahl, yogurt raita and lightly cooked kale are all recipes you can discover here, should you want to recreate this meal. The lamb chops are from a local butcher with lamb from a nearby field. The kale and carrots and cucumber (in the raita) are all from the garden here. It’s nice to feel alive again and have this kind of feast for my tummy as well as for my eyes and heart.

Food for my Body and Soul
Food for my Body and Soul
Detail of the Holy Feast!
Detail of the Holy Feast!