“Painting to me is a truth, and maybe…a memory..” — Andrew Wyeth.
What a beautiful documentary on Prime on his life and painting. I have been self-isolating for some time due to several changes in my life and am examining the deeper purpose of ARTISTS in this time of complete uncertainty. What is our role as helpers when many are suffering? I do not have the answers but I know because we cohabitate on a living breathing planet we are all effected. I can’t imagine anyone could not be effected in some way. If the Earth suffers we suffer. Many things that are happening now my grandmother predicted, she has been gone 24 years and told me stories long before that. Anna Mae. Wise Woman.
The Lost Bird Tribes
I always loved moody weather. Fog. Rain. Snow. Gray days. Sun present then not. Today I woke to misty fog with raindrops and if you close your mind you can pretend none of what we face now has happened. Of course it’s an illusion. I still want to paint beauty now and my Spirit Birds. I think we are starving for it. I love to surround myself with flowers, vibrant colors, art, textiles, textures. Jungian analyst Ellen Sweeney my dear friend said to me: “Does this feed your soul, or your despair?” I am looking at that question each day as I remain isolated due to respiratory issues.
How can you feed your soul today? How can you practice lovingkindness to yourself and others? How can you love this Earth more? This living breathing home that sustains us? Tell me what is helping you as you stay home, reflect, and be present to this narrative. Sending love. Thank you for following my art. I hope it brings a breath of beauty to your day.
I woke up in the night full of fear, the only thing that shakes it off for me is painting, art, Romeo. I will continue to paint beauty even in the depths of deep uncertainty. My heart went to CA. Blair and I loved our bohemian community in Trinidad. I was lucky to do additional studies at The Center for Sacred Studies in the Guerneville/Bay area. The energy there is infectious, alive and free. I think of my dear friends there I love. This is based on a dream I had years ago where I was in Tehran. I was in an opulent store full of gold and women were in full burkas. I was the only Westerner there having no idea why I was. The women went outside in the street in unison, their burkas fell off and they became a flock of ravens in the clear teal skies…off they flew. Free. I never forgot that amazing dream and finally painted it. ONCE UPON A TIME IN TEHRAN…holding all of you in my thoughts….🌿
Frida Kahlo suffered so immensely in her life. She survived a horrific car/bus accident, had so many surgeries, was lame and became one of the most incredible artist of our times. She had many miscarriages and despite the depth of her pain she painted continually. She endured alot with Diego Riveria which caused her heartache. She remains one of my favorite artists because she was so completely raw, authentic, bearing her soul in spite of her suffering. She could be not be caged. Her art was her partner too. I relate so deeply to that.
We can not nor would I want to compare peoples suffering. It is all relative and when you are in the midst of it this is your personal narrative. I know many are suffering with worry, family, anxiety of the unknown. I will still repeat my mantra: WE NEED ARTISTS MORE THAN EVER AT THIS TIME. Whatever form that takes. Many of you are artists that follow my page and I thank you for what you bring to others. Who knows maybe in this time of creativity/adversity a great art exhibit, a novel will be finished, new music and lyrics will find new homes. Let’s hold that thought and exhibit what we did in these times to bring HOPE to others. Art is home. There is no place like home. Sending love to you from my studio. 💖
My first Pandemic piece about the Virus. I wrote several pages on this. In this dream I saw horses that were skeletal like I could see their features but they were bones and air. They were balancing one another holding all the energies dark thoughts, suffering, hope and rebirth. To the right is a figure already reached by the virus going through a life review. Re-remembering all memories. All good, bad and mundane needing to make a decision if his soul will stay or not.
The left is a nun like figure dressed in a habit and covered veil. In the beginning I saw a large black and prussian blue moth in front of her. She has a mask covering her mouth. She too is having difficulty breathing. The apparation then becomes this moth being. Expanding. Breathing. Cleaning our lungs and the Earth working on us thoroughly whether we feel Her or not.
We are rebirthing a New World, we are One. This brings to our us to our raw truth, our essence. Feeling between the worlds something so much larger than us is happening….So much larger than us…Soul Beings this is a Ceremony that needs all of us. Lovingkindness. Thinking of all of you. 💖💖
I worked on this 2 straight days while reflecting on this virus. Here is a poem I wrote 19 years ago that I feel connects with this piece. 2001. Image and poem copyright. 2020.
Mother of the Night of my interior silence and shame of top heavy scarlet peonies shedding into your rich terrain So tender to touch. Mother of the Night Whom hears our muffled cries yet knowing. You stand beside me as the cool winds descend torrents of rain, fresh green upon my thirsty soul. Mother of the Night of dreams entering my consciousness, You are here. This I know In my sojurn of hellos and goodbyes of the completely unexplainable. You know me inside and out. Mother of the Night, I release my heart Amongst the astral skies Remembering last Spring’s weeping This May at Peace. Mother of the Night, It is getting easier to breathe. Mother of the Night it is getting easier to breathe.
*One year from now I hope we feel this next Spring. Love. Love. Love.
Lost Horse Tribes
I wrote this on Dec. 6, 2001.
“Once I thought I would die of a broken heart. Now I live because I am broken.” The Horse Spirits of my dreams comfort me in my dreams. Awakening me at 3:33 a.m. to get out of bed telling me to continue to write and make my art catalogue. NOW IS THE TIME as my father always said. It is my gift to others in these times. Artists creating in this New Age difficult as it is, we were made for these times. Here we are ready to change the narrative, adapt, build hope, bring light, love, perception & compassion through empathetic lens…May be shared. @2020.
Lost Bird Tribes
Excerpt from my night monk hour poem:
” Please don’t tell me you are not afraid. Please tell me the truth. Not what you think I want to hear. Not a heartless platitude. Emptiness. If you really and honestly are doing great I want to know your Divine secrets Because the night hours call me Taking me down endless roads and universities With no names. I never know where I am. And tonight I feel so lost.” 3-28@2020. Fear of the Unknown. #NeoVirusArt. THE LOST BIRD TRIBES AND LOST LANGUAGES.
Rainy night Pattering on my window to WAKE UP Marc Chaghall visited in my dreamspace He said, ” Be fantastically playful!” The composition of my twilight hours painted itself Two Asian Strawberry Finches A Blue Horse leaping into an ethereal Walk About Interconnected One Tribe. They said to me their names were The Awakening. @2020.
Inspired by the great artist Marc Chaghall. 1887-1985. Russian, French, Belarusian Jewish origin. He painted ” dreams of our humanity.” Colorist. Surrealism. Cubism. Expressionism. Modern Art. Symbolism. Fauvism. I am deeply inspired by his art. I would define my art as a Visionary Colorist Birthing The New Earth Movement. Loving Awareness, Donna Alena
Lost Horse Tribes & Possibilities
If I lose HOPE I will have lost everything. What is something that brings you a sense of peace and hope today despite adversity? Loving kindness, Donna Alena. @2020.
Oh Empty Spaces The Silent Night Hours We are Living Texts of this time. Breathing into this Holy Moment Listening to my inherited narrative Knowing this is the catalyst of Infinite Possibilities.
The Luminance Hour
From my journal I wrote this:
The Luminance Hour has arrived I think we deep down knew this moment was possible. A sudden urgent STOP Catching our breath Hearing the words the Period of Impermanence The moment of Reconcilation. We have no choice other than to Awaken.
Crossing the Atlantic with the Mermaids
To my Aunt Ann whom has been gone 23 years. When she was crossing the Atlantic, age 15 she said “the mermaids followed the ship to Ellis Island.” This was a devout Catholic woman whom believed in mermaids! Yes she saw them, yes they guided her ship. She was to live in West Mifflin, PA the rest of her life near her parents meeting my incredible Uncle Andy. I see these mermaids as beacons in the journey guiding us to new places, new homes. Something we all need!
Raven & Lost Horse at Night
Evening is when I love to paint. The lighting is uncertain, the colors a question.These are the Night Companions we cannot see that help us. Maybe we do see them, I imagine them & paint them like a novel. Someone asked me yesterday how disciplined should an artist be. I say draw, paint, and sketch everyday and when you do this for years you will witness the metamorphis of your techniques and art. I know these times are so difficult. Keep doing your art, don’t stop. We need your stories and dialogue!!
The Story Begins
Good morning friends. My prologue to my book passed my editor’s approval. Chapters forming. Good vibes while I am home healing and painting please.
I have been dreaming on it for awhile and have begun writing. Hint the story begins in Mongolia where the horses originated before crossing the Bering Strait. They were Medicine Helpers, companions, and nomadic travelers. May be shared. More awaits the story. 💖💖
She is a Mirage. She follows the Nomadic air. No-one owns her. The tundras are full of arctic moss, bearberry, and labrador tea cradling her feet where no map has existed. Like fog that appears and dissipates she is led purely by instinct in the North Lands.
Super Moon couldn’t sleep so I worked on the fauna and plant life that will be in the book. Another chapter ready for my editor. Will not share what I wrote but oh it is good, I feel it in my Slovak bones. This inquiry started when a 5 year old client asked me if flowers could talk. I said “of course!” He said “I knew it because I heard the dandelions today….”
Another Blue Horse on the journey from THE BERING STRAIT. Imagination is such a gift. I think I have been writing and plotting stories since kindergarten. God bless my mom and dad. Dad used to tell me to publish my book! “I don’t always understand what you are doing but I am proud of you.” Eventually, he even bragged I was an art therapist! When I was 18 in college he begged me to not major in art. “You will never find a job.” Imagine his horror that I would be an art therapist. Well it took Post Masters work to be certified so I think he was relieved I would get a job. 30 plus years later out of college I am still creating art and doing art therapy with trauma and grief. It’s been a ride. Thank you dad and mom. All the family!
Almost finished. In the beginning blue horses roamed the lands of Mongolia and Siberia with unabandoned freedom. They were on an Ancient Walk About following the interior maps they inherited for centuries. Migration was something that was the divine makeup of their beingness. There were so many territories to roam. They could be not be stopped, owned, hoarded for this too was unattainable.
Water and Bones
She is composed from the Waters crossed long ago to a home unseen. Leaving everything behind not sure one would ever return. Her granddaughter became a vivacious swimmer and everytime she closed her eyes she saw her grandmother Bubbie and Aunt Aunt knowing they were in her bones, always present, a melody that haunted her softly in the blue light…
The Story Continues
Meet INGRID: SIBERERIAN HORSE RIDER. She comes from the lands of snow. The myth goes no one knows for sure how she ended up in Mongolia but she was seen with the Blue Horses. She was so fair and ethereal that the Original People called her Ingrid. She was the color of the expansive plateaus, caribou moss and the endless turquoise skies. This painting was started by Andrea Dawson-Johnston at my house as a sketch and I asked her if I could paint my interpretation she said yes and so she became a character in my book. So TY Andrea! Perfect day for her debut as faint tender snow is falling. Storytelling heals…
Vandana means Worship. She is a strong character, named after one of my dear friends from Graduate School. She is committed, brave, decisive based on instincts, allie to all birds, and a culture keeper, one who holds the Stories. First sketch of her so she might evolve and change. She is a dreamer of big adventures and nothing gets in her way to try!
Dreaming Sacred Places & People
The original painting I will post below later. I painted it in 2018 and yesterday I went back in and updated it.
Two times I was to go to Kathmundu and the Tibetan Plateau but both times I had siginificant life changes and could not go. Interestingly, the places I don’t go to I dream about. Do you dream of places you want to visit? I totally believe we can go their in Dream Time. I count on it!
Yesterday, I dreamt I was there surrounded by Shamans, Inuit, Mongolian, Tibetan, and from India. They were so beautiful in their regalia from their homelands. I am leaving out a lot of details but when it was time to go I pleaded and cried for them to take me HOME with them. At first they were in disbelief that I wanted to do this then they knew I was very sincere. I asked them what my job would be. They said ” they would place me in front of one of the monk’s houses, people would come to me and my job was to only Listen.”
I know as an art therapist that has worked with trauma, and bereavement for years this is what I do. But this listening was different. It is Sacred Listening. Being present in everyway possible. No judgement. I felt this was very relevant with grief and the New Virus Age. I have had daily conversations with dear friends where they are there for me. I deeply listen to them back. Maybe in this time we begin to learn the true responsibility the sense of hearing and how we use it.
I still hope to get to Kathmundu one day and place some of Blair’s ashes near the Himalayas. Meanwhile, I can dream…yes I can always dream….Love…..
It’s all a dream but it is getting closer to reality. PAST PRESENT FUTURE.
In the dream I wear a Ukrainian cornflower blue crown. I am holding roses that will be planted on Great Zetal’s land. Added rain and rose water. Memories of all the Grandmother’s. Bittersweet. Based on a suggestion by Reda Rackley. Site of BONEWOMAN. Thank you Reda.
Based on a dream. I see the back of myself in what appears to be the future. I am wrapped in an ochre blanket. After so many questions, dreams, travels, I finally see the deepest desire I have revealed. I am sitting in Zetal’s village. Looking at the low line hills. The air is clear. The hour is sunset when I was born. It feels like a mirage, like rain softly falling. It feels so deeply familiar.
My niece will be giving birth during this pandemic. This is for the new mothers. The Ancestors that stand with them. The trees. The seen and unseen. This is also the rebirth of ourselves. The New Consciousness that the virus is teaching us. The birth of a New World. The knowledge that some cycles of life must fade, they no longer serve humanity. Birthing a new way of living. I hope you have made new decisions of living. 🥀💖
For all our Mothers here and on the other side.
SERIES FOR BLAIR. Third Anniversary nearing. Many many layers. I am bewitched by the Patinas of Eastern Europe. I was trying to recreate them to look like ones I saw in Poland. They form these lovely palettes of color naturally. Reference for fields of poppies in Slovakia.
It’s been 2 months since Cider died in my arms. I can still feel the moment when her heart stopped beating. She stiffen suddenly, then slowly let go of everything. I was utterly helpless to keep her from leaving. Her heart was unable to keep up with the blood being lost due to internal bleeding. We did not know she was bleeding inside.
Cider died 2 days before Christmas. It was a terrible shock. As a cockapoo, her breed can live to be 20 years old. We thought we had more time with her. We were wrong. When she died, she was 11 years and 1 month.
What made her death even harder to bear was she had been helping me navigate one of the most difficult years of my life. My father suffered a heart attack in 2018. He was revived and flown to the Mayo Clinic, but his heart had stopped for 15 minutes. It was a miracle he was revived. I tell this story elsewhere, so I will not do so again here other than to say he died 10 days later. I was by his side. On top of this, my workplace fired me for being with dad when he died. These two events released a string of other tragedies (big and small) that swept over me like a tidal wave. It took me a year and a half to resurface.
Seven months before Cider died, I began drawing pictures with a little brown dog in them. After Cider died, I realized I was drawing her. She had been a spirit guide walking with me every day through my grief and despair; just like dad had done for so many people in their time of pain and anguish. I realized during this year I had placed a piece of my soul with Cider because I could not carry all of myself anymore.
Cider gladly helped me carried myself through my time of sorrow and desolation. She never thought me petty or that I was wasting my time or that I should just get over it. Cider simply went with me wherever I went. And, she loved me no matter what I was feeling. Cider loved everyone she met. Dogs seem innately able to do this–to comfort us well beyond their size and status as a creature consider far less important than a human (see NOVA’s Dog Tales). But, dogs seem capable of providing unconditional love far beyond what “normal” humans demonstrate day to day. Cider was nothing less than an angel with fur and a short tale she waged constantly. She helped me repair my shattered world after dad died. Without her, I’m not sure I would have recovered.
As fate would have it, just as I was beginning to feel myself returning to something resembling myself before dad died, Cider died. I say I was returning to something resembling myself because no one is ever completely the same after a great tragedy befalls them such as the death of a loved one. Death, disaster, or sudden tragedy (or all at once) are not meant to keep us intact. We either survive and somehow grow despite all the pain or we collapse. Without each other (or without dogs), recovering from psychological collapse is very improbable. (See a blog about the 11 years Cider helped our family survive at Tribute to Cider: A Super Sad Story and see a blog about conscious grow sprouted from disaster In the Heart of the Sea of Grief and Guilt.)
This post is really about the video I made for Cider. This video shows the progression of the drawings I was creating as I struggled to return back to the world of the living after dad died. I created a video tribute for dad too. Little did I know I was making one for Cider. This video is best described as a musical diary of these images. I’ve come to see them as an imaginative rendering of a perilous inner journey with Cider by my side. Words simply fail to describe what is going inside when a person is forced to make such a journey due to circumstances. When such things befall us, they always push a person much deeper than they ever intended to go had they not been shoved.
Since Cider’s Death — Puppy Buddha
Since Cider’s death, we adopted a new puppy. She turns 3 months old this week: two days after Cider’s 2 month death anniversary. Cider and puppy shared life on this planet for one month. Also, puppy was born the same week Cider was born 11 years earlier.
We found puppy the week after Cider died. My daughter saw her and her siblings in a video posted by a rescue organization (Reach Out Rescue Resources). After watching the video of these adorable puppies, a rainbow appeared in the direction of Cider’s most favorite walk. My daughter and I felt it was Cider telling us she will always remember and love us. And, she was telling us the best way to honor her was to keep growing love by adopting one of these puppies who needed a loving home. So we did, and we love her.
She is not a replacement for Cider, but she is helping us grow love every day. And in the end, love is all that really matters.
These are short videos of our new puppy that I call Puppy Buddha.
Photos of Cider in the Her Last Year
Beloved Cece: I will love you forever…
As I got ready to post this blog, I glanced at our mailbox and was surprised to find a letter because it was Sunday. Then, I remembered my neighbor told me he dropped a misdelivered letter into our box. I saw him on a walk earlier that day with Sasha and puppy. He greeted our puppy for the first time and told me had done this. The letter was from mom. She was wishing us a happy spring and included some of dad’s writings. She said he was trying to write his life story. These are the pages she sent filled with his beautiful, beautiful handwriting. I will never see his beautiful handwriting again or have the joy of receiving these written treasures from him.
Love is the most precious gift we give to each other. It is the love that we share that helps us weave strong lives and tell wonderful stories. Every individual story is woven with every other story being told by all living beings about what happens to them as they travel through time on this little blue planet spinning in space. The stories that are woven with love are the strongest stories. And, these stories contribute to a vibrant and life-sustaining shared reality. This is how we polish our precious jewel of the universe, Earth, making her shine brightly. When we share love… we share what really matters in life… it’s not money, it’s not power, it’s not fame… it’s love!
Recently, my husband and I watched the movie: In the Heart of the Sea. It is based on a true story about a whaling ship the Essex that was rammed by a sperm whale in 1820. The whale sunk the Essex about 3,000 miles from the shores of South America. Several books have been written about this disaster then and since. The movie is based on a book of the same name written by Nathaniel Philbrick and published on May 8, 2000. It won the National Book Award for Nonfiction that same year. The movie does an admirable job dramatizing events that led up to the sinking of the Essex and the crew’s 90-day struggle to survive storms, hunger, and despair. The movie also depicts how Herman Melville came to write his magnum opus, Moby Dick, though there are some inaccuracies in this part of storyline as well as in the main plot (see the video below). I think it is interesting to note that Melville was born on August 1, 1819 (one year before the Essex sunk). He died September 28, 1891. Moby Dick was published in 1851, essentially the middle span of his life.
The movie begins with Melville tracking down the last living survivor of the Essex, Thomas Nickerson (this is not historically accurate).
From Wiki: “In 1850, author Herman Melville visits innkeeper Thomas Nickerson, the last survivor of the sinking of the whaleship Essex, offering money in return for his story. Nickerson initially refuses, but then finally agrees when his wife intervenes. The story turns to 1820: A whaling company in Nantucket has refitted the Essex to participate in the lucrative whale oil trade, and 14-year-old Nickerson signs on as a cabin boy.” Wikipedia: In the Heart of the Sea
According to the movie, the rainy night Melville arrives, Thomas is consumed by his inner demons because he has never spoken about his ordeal. It is eating him up from the inside and causing hardships for himself and his wife. After some back and forth about the money Melville is offering Thomas to tell his tale, Thomas finally relents. Melville is shown listening and taking notes while Thomas sinks into the memories that are haunting him. I will not retell any more of the movie, except to highlight a few scenes that stood out to me as relevant to me personally and to our time, which is presently 2020. This is exactly 200 years after the Essex was sunk by a whale, which is weird… but I’ll get to that later.
The first thing that struck me as pertinent to our time was the importance of whale oil to the life and commerce of the early 1800s. It was whale oil that lit the Western World from Europe to the Americas, and then following the fracture lines of colonization to light the entire world. The movie does an excellent job depicting how the whaling industry operated. It shows how the corporations of this time were eager to mine the fortunes to be had from whale oil. And, it would become painfully clear just how willing these corporations were of doing despicable things in order to safeguard their money, their hierarchical structure, and their systems of commerce focused on profit at all costs.
At the end of the movie, there is a scene that hints at the discovery of oil that comes from out of the ground. It is a nod to the fossil fuel industry that will soon replace the whaling industry in less than 40 years after the sinking of the Essex. It is also a nod to the transfer of blueprints from hard-hearted industry to another. However, before the whaling industry would decline, nearly every species of whale is hunted to the brink of extinction. I could barely watch the scenes in this movie when the men of the Essex successfully hunted and killed a beautiful bull whale, then stripped him of every ounce of fat he had, which they boiled down to make the treasured Nantucket whale oil. By 1820, whales in the Atlantic had grown scarce. Thus, the Essex had to sail around Cape Horn, a dangerous strait between South America and Antarctica, to reach the whales in the Pacific. But, even here the whales were being hunted aggressively, and so they were moving further and further away from the continents to get away from man. But, man followed them.
* * *
The next scene I feel is germane to our time was when the men were boarding the Essex in Nantucket Bay. On the docks, there is a group of pilgrim-like people who are praying for the men as they board the Essex. You can see this scene at 6 minutes and 30 seconds in the video below. The preacher is heard saying:
“Oh Father (…) ensure they return safely with a full ship, so that the white flames of Nantucket’s whale oil continue to light our homes and fuel the machines of industry that drive our great nation forward as our noble species evolves…”
Clip of the Preacher’s Prayer from In the Heart of the Whale at minute 6:30
This idea of our species being noble and evolving ever forward plays out again after the Essex has been sunk. The men have been adrift for many days and nights and days. They are surviving on a single piece of hard tact per man per day, and a very small one at that. They are also allowed a single swig of water each day. Since the ship did not sink as dramatically as the movie depicts, the men had time to strip the Essex of her sails and supplies, but only what they could fit into the smaller boats they took out to chase whales, now turned into their life rafts. However, these three boats were hardly big enough to hold enough supplies so the men might survive their 3,000-mile journey back to civilization, especially since they were caught in the doldrums of the equatorial region of the sea. Thus, it does not take long before the men are slowly starving to death. Just before anyone dies, they come upon an island. It is a deserted island, but it provides a short respite from their ordeal. Soon; however, they eat up everything edible on the island. So, they have no choice but to shove off in their little boats again to try to reach the mainland if they want to live.
This is where the next scene occurs that I feel is closely connected to our time. It is the night before they are to set sail to try to make it back to South America. The first mate Chase speaks with the Captain Pollard about their differences. He is making a peace offering because he knows there is no other way to survive but to set aside all differences and work together from a place of unity. Chase comes from a working-class background. He is a man who knows his trade, which is whaling, and he is very good at it. According to the movie, he was supposed to have received commanded of the Essex, but it was taken from him because of his social class. It was given to Pollard instead because he came from a rich family within the whaling industry. But, Pollard did not know his trade, not like Chase did. Needless to say, there were problems. Pollard accepts Chase’s peace offering, but continues to cling to the idea of the supremacy of man saying something like… “God put us here to circumvent navigate the world and rule over all creatures.” Chase replies, “Does it look like we are so supreme given where we are at right now and what has happened to us.” Neither men at this moment has any idea how much worst their situation is going to get, but I think Chase senses things are probably going to get worse before they get better. And, they do get worse–-they get a whole lot worse.
* * *
After the movie, I thought I might dream about a white whale ramming the Essex. But I did not dream about a whale. Instead, I thought about all the signs I missed one month earlier when my beloved dog Cider died in my arms.
That terrible night occurred two days before Christmas. Her heart was racing so fast and her breathing labored. Her body was suffocating because it could no longer keep up with the depletion of hemoglobin in her blood. This was because she was bleeding internally, but we did not know this. The signs were subtle, even the doctors to whom we took her dead body in hopes they could revive her said it would have been hard for them to diagnosis her in time to save her. The symptoms she had displayed, I completely misread and misunderstood. I will not recap this super sad story. You can read it in the previous blog post, but her sudden and tragic death set me back adrift upon my inner sea of sadness, grief, despair, and now guilt, growing waves of guilt. It is a sea that has steadily risen inside me after a decade of struggle that got a whole lot worst just after our family vacation in 2015.
This would be the last vacation our family could afford due to mounting unfortunate and deteriorating circumstances. Now with hindsight (and this movie), I can see that this moment was when our family shoved off from our desert island. We had no idea we had already been rammed by the whale, or maybe I should say the buffalo or bull–or perhaps the buffalos were trying to bring our attention to our imminent danger just ahead of us in time. This really happened to us that summer.
After this trip, every fragile idea and frame of reality we had ever harbored about what it takes to create and sustain a home and maintain safety and security would be shattered, one painful one after another for 5 years in ways that were unreturnable to what we had known before. When people find themselves in such circumstances, overwhelming guilt is inevitable for how else can one confront such devastating losses and continue moving forward? The only other feelings I can say that I was aware of underneath the guilt was terrible despair, overwhelming helplessness, and a rumbling anger… a dangerous anger because this type of anger can blow up into hate, especially when a person feels abandoned, forgotten, or even worst, discarded, dispensable, disposable.
So, you see, guilt is a pretty good armor during times like these because it masks these other more threatening and extreme emotions bubbling up from unfathomable depths and threatening to submerge one’s already shattered ego. At least by feeling guilty, a thin veneer gets created, making a papery barrier that insulates the conscious part of one’s self from those other parts where these powerful emotions churn–and where one can feel these emotions could transform into forces that could sink the listing Ship of Self.
When our frames of reality are first shattered, the feeling of being cast adrift on a vast and foreign sea is almost inescapable. And perhaps it is necessary for these old frames pretty much have to be shattered or abandoned, just like the Essex had to be abandoned after it was rammed by the whale. This is so because they have failed us in significant and fatal ways. After one abandons the mother ship that had been carefully constructed by one’s former smaller frames of reality, one is suddenly confronted with a vast and bigger reality–one that is a great deal bigger–like Pacific Ocean bigger. And, this reality can be brutal. When one finds oneself adrift on this great Sea of Misfortune and Sorrow and sailing in a boat that is too small to sustain you for long, or even worse, clinging to a piece of wreckage, pretty much the only thing you can do is hold on for dear life. One also lacks the most basic tools to navigate by, so it can be hard to get one’s orientation. It is a lot like the situation the men who abandoned the Essex found themselves in without their tools of navigation, or at least, very few of them, which they needed to find their way back to civilization.
If you can hold on during such extreme times, and there is no guarantee that you can because I am talking about catastrophic circumstances that happen to perfectly normal and good people. These are events that come out of nowhere, they cannot be predicted, and they occur through no fault or short coming of the individual (well at least not from our current frames of reality, the ones we are taught from birth and punished if we don’t follow the rules our modern systems purport… so there is a bigger thing going on). These are events that just happen, and they happen to everyone like weather. They are crippling events, even lethal, regardless of whether they originate from inside oneself or come from outside like the whale who rammed the Essex. Now, I understand it is hard to spot a person in such a state. After all, they have ventured outside of the normal frames of reality in which we have all been taught to operate and to stay inside. Thus, such a person may be as hard to spot as the men of the Essex who were 3,000 miles from where most of the other humans who could have helped them were congregated. However, if you do happen to spot someone enduring such trauma and crisis, it is essential to believe this person and be kind to them. Pay them extra attention, so they know they are not disposable like a piece of trash to be thrown away because they are broken at the moment. It is important to do this because these individuals have survived a disaster, and they now possess information about reality that those of us who have not endured such a trial of survival still need to know in order to grow.
It is difficult and draining to support a person in crisis. I will not lie about that. And, inevitably survivors begin to grapple with the whys: why me, why now, why my beloved, why is the world like this? This is hard too, and these are not easy questions to answer. In fact, often they cannot be answered, only endured. But, catastrophic situations might be essential for our collective survival because they force us to confront our most cherished ideas, beliefs, and frames of reality. They force us to grapple with the unanswerable and re-examine how we have come to our beloved beliefs and mental frames, but ones that have kept vast parts of ourselves submerged in our unconsciousness–good parts and bad parts. When we begin to see these parts as a whole, we start to understand how they are essential to be integrated into our growing field of consciousness. Both superior and inferior qualities are essential to help us make more balance choices and live more wisely. With parts of ourself still submerged, we tend to move through the world in a lopsided way. We get stuck just like the men from the Essex who got caught in the doldrums. We do not move forward any more. Rather, we go around in smaller and smaller circles. It is only when we confront and integrate these lost parts of ourself that we can begin to move forward again. And, if bad things continue to happen, we have grown a deeper reservoir of fresh water inside ourselves, this is wisdom, and we can draw on it to help survive and recover from our ordeals a little more quickly.
Eventually, as we continue to do inner work, we also confront the knowledge that what we did not know or understand contributed to the situation that caused us so much pain and suffering and to those we love. This can be difficult knowledge to bear. However, it is precisely this sort of knowledge that help us grow and transform ourselves and our situation. It is a choice of course to grow, and if we do choose to grow, then a lot of work is going to be needed to build a bigger boat. In fact, you are probably going to have to grow the wood, to turn into timber, to build your shiny new Ship of Self because now you are working beyond the frames of reality most people still must work within. This not easy. And, it can be very lonely. And, you need to build it yourself because only you have the blueprint for who you are and what you need to do. There will be many setbacks and challenges because no one has tried to be you before, and so you have to figure it out the hard way, which means lots of failures. So, I do not find fault with anyone who chooses to go back to a smaller frame of reality because, heck, it’s really scary out there. And, now the world has shown you just how harsh and dangerous it can be. And, it has also illuminated how utterly helpless you are. The biggest problem doing this is succumbing to a bunker mentality. So, moments like these tend to mold and shape us in the most significant ways…for the rest of our life… and these choices can ripple backwards and forwards along our thin strand of time… the one each of us spins and contributes to our shared reality.
But, if you choose to build this bigger Ship of Self, then just like Captain Pollard had to confront the idea of human beings a noble species put here by God to circumvent navigate the world and rule over all other creatures, you have to confront it too because it is an idea that forms some of the foundational aspects of Western Civilization. But, are we really so noble? Do we really possess the intelligence and wisdom needed to rule? I wonder if our species might have been better named Homo intelligentes rather than Homo sapiens. It seems to me we are still trying to get there…to wisdom.
I can say with absolutely certainty that I am not noble enough to rule the Earth, nor do I possess the intelligence, or more importantly the wisdom, essential to reign as a supreme being. But now I want to transition from this speculative stream of thought, to say 2015 was also the year this movie In the Heart of the Sea was released. I didn’t see it then. It turns out a lot of people didn’t see it then.
“In the Heart of the Sea was one of two flops released by Warner Bros in 2015, the other being Pan. It grossed $25 million in North America and $68.9 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $93.9 million, against a production budget of $100 million.” Wikipedia: In the Heart of the Sea
But, had I seen it in 2015, I would not have the thoughts I have now here in 2020; not that they are anything special, except possibly to me. During, these five years of mounting misfortune, wreckage, and deepening despair, I often saw myself floating on a piece of wreckage on an endless sea that I dubbed the Sea of Sorrow. It was an inner sea; I drew it many times, as the image below shows (see blog The Sea Within Us). It was also during this time that I came to understand how this sea had been created by my own unconscious choices, but I was not alone in these choices. I had been taught to make them by my culture, by the collective systems within which I must abide to survive. These are carefully crafted frames of reality created by mere mortals who were crafting corporations and all sorts of other systems to run our shiny new modern civilization. And, there are many systems that rule our civilized world: systems of commerce, systems of class, systems of favoritism, chauvinism, sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and many other isms and frames used to exclude certain people while elevating others.
And so, this is why I very much relate to the suffering and hardships of these men of the Essex. Though I must admit I also rooted for the bull whale protecting his pod after the men harpooned one of his females who had a calf. One might say I am divided individual, and Carl Jung would agree with this. Indeed, to be human is to be divided inside. It is another price for being consciousness. How we resolve this divide can determine everything.
After the bull whale successfully saved the mother and her calf, my sympathies returned to the men and their dire situation. Sure, they were surrounded by water, but it was water they could not drink. Sure, the sea was filled with abundant food, but it was food they could not reach. It was rather as if they floated on a vast desert, and actually that is what happens inside of us when we accept frames of reality that are ultimately too small for who we are and what we ultimately need to do in our life. The men of the Essex had most definitely ended up in the middle of the Pacific partly due to their own poor choices, but in a greater part, they ended up their due to the priorities and short-sightedness of the industry for which they worked. A system of commerce hungry for whale oil that made it impossible for the men to turn back home until they had filled their ship with this precious oil. A hunger that would soon be replicated in full within the nascent fossil fuel industry about to burst out of the ground–imagine that.
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The next day after watching this movie and not sleeping very well due to my great guilt over Cider’s death, my husband and I went for a run with our older surviving dog Sasha. I pointed up into the sky and said: “Look — that cloud looks like a White Whale.”
This was not the cloud I saw, but I think we have all seen clouds that look like White Whales at some point in our life. Captivated by the movie, and now by the cloud, a thought popped into my head: “The world has been struck by the White Whale again.”
It is clouds, is it not, that are being screwed up by climate change? Either they are growing too big and dropping too much water causing torrential floods, which are only supposed to happen every 100 years or so, but now seem to occur every other year around the world. Or, it is clouds that blow up into mega-typhoons and hurricanes that are far more devastating and deadly with terrible winds and tidal surges. Or, it is clouds that just don’t form at all, evaporating before they can release their precious water further inland from the sea, leaving the land dry and parched and extremely susceptible to wildfires and devastating famines due to droughts that never end.
Today, we live in a modern world that is populated by nearly 8 billion people, most of whom no longer understand the wisdom of our ancestors or the people who still live closely connected to nature and understand the balances necessary to sustain life. We live in a world where we no longer hear the wisdom of animals and life all around us, really enveloping us and sustaining us. We have become a people who are blinded by ideas of success, glory, and riches to be had in our grand new industrialized world. It is a world we created, but one begotten by short-sighted schemes and greed. And, there is a price for this too.
Recent data shows 2019 was the second hottest year on record.
As our man-made world, powered now by fossil fuels rather than whale oil, pushes nature’s delicate balances ever more out of whack, balances that nature worked out over billions of years, our framing of reality is snapping–just like the timbers of the Essex splintered after the whale rammed the ship. It is 200 year since the Essex sunk, and in this incredibly short amount of time, Earth is breaking, all because of our extreme enamoration with oil and coal.
The price for our collective short-sighted industriousness is going to be paid by all of us. No one will be spared the consequences of the choices made for far too long. We have changed the world to our liking, but it’s not to the liking of life. Despite this, corporate interests guarding their profit margins stay the course, like Captain Pollard going straight into the hurricane. It is a course that supersedes the needs of life on Earth… a dying Earth… an Earth rammed by the white whale. But this time, there is a twist to the story because this time we are the whale. We are the ones ramming our ship that is carrying us through the vast and desolate emptiness of space, and believe me, if we have to abandon this ship, where we end up is going to be a lot harsher than the Pacific Ocean, probably unendurable. This whale that is living inside us feeds on the powerful emotions that are found in great abundance within our inner Seas…of Sorrow, …of Despair, …of Grief and Guilt and …of Helplessness and Hate. Believe me, or don’t believe me, but modern life is full of people who have fallen into such seas.
If we happen to catch a glimpse of how our personal blindness and short-sightedness has contributed to this current moment, it is often overwhelming, and so, it is quickly concealed or we blame someone else for our sad and sorry fate. But soon, there will be no one else to blame. Soon, our individual seas will spill over and merge with every other sea spilling over to create one gigantic wave of despair for this will be the only emotion left to feel, if we survive that long. Much of this will be because of what our small frames of reality have wrought. Most likely, it will be a prolonged and brutal odyssey, just like the men of the Essex endured… unless we wake up, unless we change our frame of reality, unless we put aside our differences, unite, and help each other do the inner work essential to survive what is coming next.
This is not easy or pretty work, but what lies ahead of us is not easy or pretty either. Even though the situation is dire, each and every one of us can take action this very moment. This action is to heal ourselves and to help others heal. It requires one magical, elusive ingredient, which is love. It begins by self-love and being gentle with yourself. Love is what can stop this wave of destruction. But, love is work.
This is what I have learned about healing love:
Is quiet, unless it needs to roar.
Is kind, but not stupid.
Puts others needs above ones own needs and desires, but sees through false appeals for assistance and insincerity, then it simply nods and chuckles.
Listens, hears, and understands what others say.
Waits…sometimes a long time…without judgment… if judgement is necessary, love has a good argument with the Self… and pays attention to all the information, good and bad, then weighs it fairly with the intention of discovering truth and implementing justice.
Rearranges time to do the right thing… rescue a stray dog, listen to a lonely person, help someone in need… these are the moments that really matter… when someone else’s needs truly supersede your own.
Is inclusive knowing all beings are utterly dependent on each other to survive and thrive on Earth. Protects the rights, dignity, and well-being of all living beings.
Penetrates through everything… it is the great mixer of the universe, but even as it passes through every visible thing in the universe, it does not change or destroy a thing or being in any way, not like hate does, which also penetrates everything, but when it does, it rips things to pieces… love unites, bonds, supports, comforts, and sustains.
There are many other qualities to love. I still need to learn more. But, I am ready to keep learning. I am ready to deconstruct and reconstruct my frames of reality daily, if needed. Are you ready to do intense inner work? Are you ready to build a bigger Ship of Self by growing your own inner strength, resilience, wisdom, and capacity to love deeply? All of this is absolutely essential to be ready for the Great Transformation or whatever is supposed to come next because it has begun. There is no time to waste. Earth has already started listing severely to the side from the ramming we have given her.
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One final thought on the importance of doing inner work since I’m all worked up about it. Many people think that we are on the cusp of a Great the Transformation, a Shift, or Metamorphosis, or Great Awakening of Gaia…but if we have not done critical inner work to get ready for it, to grow big enough for it, whatever you think is coming next, will not necessarily be what you think it is supposed to be. Nature does not care one wick for the transformation of consciousness or even if we survive as a species (case in point, note what happened to the dinosaurs). If we leave it up to Her, we might just all be transformed into Banana Slugs (see the 2nd song in the video below: Muy Tranquil — it’s at about 8 minutes… ah Cider is in this video! It is a concept video for one of the characters in the story I am writing).
We are the ones who stepped across the Matrix of Minds into consciousness (I explain what this is in the story I am writing, which you can read when I finally get the 1st book out; otherwise, just make up your own explanation). Now, we must make a choice. One of the choices is to learn how to love ourselves fiercely. And, I am not talking about narcissistic love. I am talking about the kind of love that leaves us in great grief when our loved ones are taken from us through death. This is how we save Earth. It begins with you. It begins with healing yourself, and then helping others to do the same. It is time-consuming, messy work, and one slides backwards all the time, it’s very frustrating… but one does not give up and one does not wince when another to small frame of reality is shed. Of course, this is painful, but without pain we do not grow.
I have included my friend Alena’s paintings, lots of them, because she is showing us through her art how to get back to inner, deeper spaces inside ourselves through dreams and visions and imagination. It is only here where we can see inner storms rising and circumvent navigate them in order to survive them. It is here where we learn that we can live a lot more simply and happily than we have been told. It is here where we can learn how to see, feel, taste, and hear our way back to what is really important, and that is love. When we love fiercely, we fight for truth and justice. We fight for life and self-determination. We help each other grow our fields of consciousness, so that we can all make better choices. Alena brought my attention to Robert Moss who recently published a blog on soul loss and recovery. Much of what I have written above can also be understood as soul loss. This is a beautiful analogy to what happens to us when we face situations and circumstances that overwhelm and crush us. He says: “Understanding soul loss and how our Active Dreaming approach facilitates soul recovery and helps us become shamans of our own souls.”
So, activate your imagination…make time to dream…find ways to re-engage your inner world, and most of all love deeply. When you find yourself in grief, which is a natural consequence of deep love, do not fear it… embrace it. Let it help you shatter your previous frames of reality because they were probably too small for your soul, which needs a bigger body and mind to do what it came here to do, so grow! All the while, love yourself and help others in whatever way they need. We will not survive any other way unless we put aside our differences and unite as a force of healing love for life.
We lost Cider our beloved dog in the wee hours of the morning of December 23, 2019. Except for what we thought was a pulled muscle on her right hind leg that sent her into shaking spasms and rapid panting the Thursday evening before this horrible Monday, Cider was her effervescence and vivacious self. She greeted my daughter with enthusiastic kisses and cuddles when she returned Saturday evening from a short trip to New York City to see the wonderous Christmas decorations and festivities this time of year.
Cider and I had gone for a run, and she waited patiently as I stopped to get some dinner from a local Lebanese food store, greeting every person who entered or left with equal adoration and excitement, but always with an eye out for me who took a little longer due to spying some last minute Christmas gifts. She was limping again when we left the store. I attributed to the pulled muscle and cooling down. I was limping too from a heel problem, so we meandered slowly the 2 blocks home. We should have taken notice when our daughter pointed out red marks streaking up her belly. Instead, we attributed it to the ice we had applied Thursday night when she was limping so bad and shaking thinking we over iced. I gave her more anti-inflammatory medicine just as we had treated her two months back when she over did it and seemed extremely sore and tender for a little too long. I had taken her to the vet then and she got a checkup. She had a second check up on December 15 when we took Sasha in for her senior exam. Sasha was two years older than Cider and we took her in on the 17 to have her teeth cleaned. She came home with 7 teeth pulled and stitches all over her body from warts they removed while she was under, including two on her eyes. She looked like a hot mess.
Around about 3:30 a.m., I woke up to Cider sitting by my head looking miserable and panting. I had not slept well at all, and Cider has done this to me before in the middle of the night. A trip to the vet to have her anal glans expressed always seemed to fix these bouts. But this night, something felt different. I sat up and took her in my arms. She was panting rapidly, and I could feel her heart racing. I turned on the light and felt icy cold all over—like all the heat in my body had just been sucked out. I knew then in my bones she was going to die. But I didn’t want to know that yet in my mind or brain. I woke up my husband. He saw her breathing fast and felt her heart. He looked up all night vets. None were in Arlington. The closest was Vienna—45 minutes or so had passed by now as we weighted our options—make a run for ones of these all-night Animal Hospitals or wait until 7 for our vet to open. My husband sent the closer animal hospital an e-mail, but it was not clear if they got it. Then, he called. They said to bring her in. Now, more than an hour had passed. And, now whatever was holding me back and seeing if we could wait for our vet to open crumbled and I said: “Let’s go.” We started getting dressed. I laid down by Cider. We were nose to nose as my husband scrambled to get his wallet and things. She could barely lift her head, but she followed him with her eyes as he moved about us. I went to get my jacket. When I returned, she was breathing even faster as if she had just run 10 miles all out. I scooped her up into my arms and told my husband to hurry. I woke up our daughter and told her we were taking Cider to the vet. She asked what was wrong. I told her I did not know. Now, my stomach was dropping as I made sure not to trip on the steps going out to the car. I couldn’t understand what was taking my husband so long as I cried, “Hurry we’ve got to go now.”
We drove. Cider continued breathing fast, but she was breathing, and we were driving. There was no traffic on 66. It was dark, and we could go fast. We got off at Nutley. Then, we had to stop for lights. I felt scared. Cider’s breathing seemed different, but I could not tell for sure due to the sounds of the driving. We had to stop for red lights. Have you ever had to stop at a red light when you knew someone you loved dearly was dying? I have. They took forever.
We got to 123. Where do we go now? Neither of us had bothered to MapQuest the hospital. We had no idea which way to turn. But just on the other side of the road to the left was an Animal Hospital. So, what would you do?
We drove into the parking lot, but hospital was dark, it looked closed. We hoped desperately to glimpse a light on, and so my husband got out hoping to glimpse a light on somewhere. Cider’s breathing definitely had changed. My husband was looking for any sign of a human at the Animal Hospital—or anyone really. But, it wasn’t opened. Cider was looking at him, and I was pleading with him to get help now. Then, Cider stiffened in my arms. Her paw hit the half-way rolled down windshield. I cried desperately telling my husband we were losing her. He got back in the car. But, we were lost. I could feel Cider was not breathing any more. I knew her heart had stopped. I told my husband to drive. We had no idea which way to go. We went to a gas station to ask directions. But, it was closed. We circled back to a 7/11. My husband ran inside to ask some men where the all-night Animal Hospital was. It was the other way. We had to make a U-turn because it was a divided highway. The next light was red. I could feel Cider peeing on me. I cried telling her not to leave us. I wondered if I could figure out how to do dog CPR or if I should breath into her mouth. But, I just squeezed harder saying her name over and over. Finally, we found the all-night vet. I knew she was dead, but my husband took her from me and rushed to the front door. Her head flopped lifelessly as he ran. I felt cold again, deeply cold.
Inside, there was no one at the front desk. We pleaded and shouted for help. Someone came from a side office. Then a doctor appeared. They asked if we wanted to do dog CPR. Of course. But I knew she wasn’t coming back. They tried for 15 minutes breathing for her and doing compressions. They doctor came out once to tell us her white blood cell count was super low. She suspected internal bleeding. Then, she came out again and told us her red blood cell count was 15, it should be over 70. She asked us if we wanted them to continue CPR. She affirmed Cider had not begun breathing on her own since they started nor did her heartbeat restart. We said no.
So, there you go. That was our day before Christmas. It utterly devastated us.
I have not been able to bear posting or being on Facebook or anywhere in public ever since. I cringe at the thought of all the obligatory wishes of sadness and condolences… even though that is the right thing to do. I’ve done it too. I’ve used the crying face, or I’ve typed something that maybe sounded sympathetic or encouraging. But I just haven’t been able to bear the thought of posting my sad story and then measuring it against all my other posts—sad or otherwise—because that’s what you do in this online world of clicks and likes and “engagements”. What the hell is engagements?! That’s what Facebook calls it though, we type comments to each other—that’s ag engagement. And, oh how Facebooks algorithms love engagements. The more you type back and forth to each other (even if it’s just two people bantering back and forth), the more Facebook shows this post to “other” people who might be interested. And, if more people join in on making comments, then more people get shown the post, and so on and so forth. I have told very few people within my circle of friends what has happened. The people I have told since this happened; I can count on one hand. Mostly, it’s because I was asked how I am doing—the young man at the front desk of my gym, my dentist, the dental hygienist. I told Alena and my brothers and mother. Alena had offered me the amazing gift of a Winter Solstice reading. She was practicing the ways of her ancestors and relatives after traveling back to Slovenia recently. How could I say no. Little did she or I know she was giving messages I would need to survive the next week. And so naturally, I reached out to her for support in the hours and days after. I know I have many good, wonderful friends. So, please know I mean no disrespect in not reaching out to so many dear friends I know would not hesitate to help me. I simply have not been able to reach out, the waves of pain have been too great to bear. It’s simply easier not to speak or say anything. It’s been the only way to hold myself together.
But I have been thinking why should losing a pet cause such sadness, such overwhelming pain, such immobility? Everyone knows pets don’t live as long as humans. And I know, lord do I know that I should think of all the good memories. Heck, she was 11 years and 1 month. That is old for a dog who had a wonderful life!
And, I will remember all these wonderful times. And, I will cherish each one like the most precious gold. Cider absolutely made my and my family’s life richer, fuller, and brighter in every way. She added sparkle, light, and joy—weaving it effortlessly in her quirky habits, howls, and ways. She was the music in the house. She followed me everywhere. She was my best friend, confident, fluffy consoler. She infused our house and each member of our little family with love, undivided attention, and so much fun. She never ran out of her ability to give and she made sure every member of the family and every guest who ever walked through the door got a good dose of joy. She could get a bit obsessed with her balls. We have quite a collection of tennis balls now after a little over 11 years of her finding a new ball practically every walk and bringing it home—brand new really yellow balls, very dirty balls, chopped up balls, deflated balls, balls rotting under 3 feet of leaves… it didn’t matter to Cider. She would find it and bring it home. And every time you left the house, you knew that you had a welcoming committee of one excited Cider dog who would wait in the window until we returned from any errand or trip.
But, right now, I want to mark the heavy occasions because I think she meant something much more than a little fury fluff ball. She helped me navigate a challenging time in my life… and she helped each member of my family navigate these years because they have not been easy.
2009: Starting off in 2009, she was not even one year old. I woke in the middle of the night (almost the same time she woke me just last week). I had severe stomach pains. I could not stop throwing up. My husband looked up symptoms. And we did the same thing that we did for Cider, wondering if we should get up and go to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning? Did I simply have food poisoning or the flu? I don’t know what made us decide to go back then… maybe because I couldn’t stop throwing up. We threw on clothes and took our daughter with us at 3 or 4 in the morning. She was only 9 years old. They gave me an anti-nausea shot. I was worried because I had heard recently of someone losing their arm from one. I stopped throwing up. Lots of people started coming into see me. No one knew what was wrong, so they ordered an MRI, which meant drinking a huge (and I mean huge) pitcher of contrast. I couldn’t drink it all. I felt like I would explode. I got wheeled into the MRI. My husband and daughter had gone home… it had already been an hour, probably 2… still they couldn’t figure it out. I got wheeled back to my spot at the ER. I don’t know how long it was… but not too much longer after the MRI, the surgeon who had come into see me was back. He was shifting from foot to foot as he said: “We’re taking you into surgery now. You have a twisted intestine. They will put a tube down your throat to get the water out. You might still be awake, so I don’t want you to panic.” I was like… can I call my husband, what about my wedding ring. He said: “Oh, I’ll take your rings. I’ll put them here. Don’t let me forget them. Yes, call your husband. They’re going to be here for you in minutes. Get her a phone.”
The surgery I think was 4 hours long. I think my stomach was close to the point of bursting that’s why my surgeon had to move fast… and fast he did. He was magnificent. I know I owe him my life for had the intestine or stomach burst, I would have died. I had been born with a genetic defect. The right side of my large intestines had never been attached to my abdominal wall as it should have. They reattached it during that surgery after they untwisted it and made sure parts of my intestine had not died from lack of blood. I was really lucky. They didn’t have to take any of it out. I never knew before being put under that I might have woken up to no lower intestine. Had it died. They would have had to remove it. I am so thankful this was not the case. But, after the surgery, I had to stay in the hospital until my intestine woke up again. It took somewhere between 7 and 10 days. During this time, I could not eat or drink a thing and I had to get out of bed everyday beginning the day after surgery and start walking. Have you ever tried to sit up in bed and put your legs over the side to stand after all the muscle in your stomach have been cut, parted, and stitched back together again? I have. It is hell. I didn’t think I would make it, but I had one really good nurse who was kind but firm. I had my husband and my daughter who came every day. And, I had a few good friends came too. I had a lot of time to think, especially since “the interns” arrived in my room every morning between 5 and 6 a.m. I was quite an unusual case. They were studying me. But they were nice, so I didn’t mind. During this time, I came to understand there were two things I must do before death comes for me again. #1 – Raise my daughter to adulthood and make sure she is strong and independent and loved. #2 – Write the book I have always wanted to write my whole life, but just never got around to doing it… giving myself so many good reasons like: “I can’t write dialogue.” “I don’t know what to write.” But I made a commitment then that I would write it… whatever the hell it was.
When I returned home 10 days later, little Cider was so happy to see me. She squealed and cried… yes, she cried, as if I had returned to her from the dead. She licked my face for more than half an hour, thereafter she rarely left me side… really ever since. So, that was our first disaster she helped all of us navigate because my daughter really needed her those 10 days that I was gone, and so did my husband. We all needed her. Our other dog Sasha was lovely too, of course, but Cider did not hold back, and you could hold her forever and she would rarely try to wiggle away like Sasha does.
There were many ups and down between 2009 and our next big crisis in 2015, but those don’t really matter to this story. We all have ups and downs. I supposed our fate was gathering in those years, we just didn’t know it yet. And, I kept my two promises to raise my daughter and to write a story though it took until 2012 to finally figure and find my story!
I just remembered something else that happened that year. My daughter had turned 9 that year. All that year at school she had been experiencing bullying that had been escalating. One incident, the girl hit my daughter’s head with the door of her locker when they were changing out books. I talked with teachers, the principal, even the parents of the girls bullying her. Everyone said they were watching, but no one saw the bullying. It got worst. My daughter did not want to go to school anymore. We got Cider halfway through this horrible year. My daughter found her. She brought joy to us the very moments we brought her home, but the bullying continued and grew worst. It cumulated with the parents of the girls bullying her just before I arrived to pick her up after school. She ran out of the school in tears, and those parents had the gall to march into the principal’s office and complain about my daughter. I found this out because I called the principal as soon as we got home, but the front desk would not put me through because she was in a meeting with two parents. I asked if the two were this and that person. The front attendant confirmed that it was. I was so mad. I called my husband told him what was going on and told him to talk to our daughter until I returned. I left her talking to her father and our 2 dogs, Cider was still a little puppy. I went back to the school and barged into the “meeting”. The two mothers had went to work on her, and when she turned to me and suggested that my daughter was manipulating me and everyone around for attention. I let her have it and the other mothers too. I did not lose my temper, but I called them on every lie and falsehood they had concocted to make their daughters appear blameless. I knew my girl. I knew the pain she was bearing and could not escape. I knew her character, even at that tender age. I knew these mothers were exhibiting a special kind of cruelty and the principal was weak and falling for it. I wrote a long letter to the school superintendent after that, citing tons of research about bullying. She received a visit from the superintendent after that. I never saw those mothers again. I picked my daughter up from the back of the school with our two dogs (Cider the puppy still) and I resolved to take her out of the school system that was utterly failing her, and home school her. Luckily she got called to transfer to a magnet school, which was good for I was to be in no condition the coming school year to take on being a home schooler mom. I noticed something else too remembering this… the drama of this period and me standing up to bullies matches almost exactly the drama of 2018 when I stood up to bullies at my place of work, including what would come later in the first weekend of August when I almost died, and then when my beloved father did die.
2015: My husband was forced to retire from his job at the museum. It had been a brutal campaign waged against by people he had worked beside for 23 years. Pretty much it was all simply for money. They wanted the money supporting his small department for their pet projects. We all suffered through it for years after it. He was finally forced out sometime in November.
2016: I was suddenly and unexpectedly laid off from my job as a writer. I had been with the company for six years, but I guess I was a little too outspoken for my station and when the company hit an financial iceberg and workers had to be thrown overboard to save the corporate ship for the captain and his crew, I was chosen along with 6 others to be cast off the ship. It was pretty brutal too. I was told over the phone in not a very kind way 12 days before Christmas. I would be paid all my vacation, which would take me to New Years – and I could get a wonderful $2,000 (probably less after taxes) severance if I just signed this little agreement. I didn’t sign it. It was so convoluted and over the top. I basically was being prohibited from talking about my own life and story for less than $2,000 – who needed that.
I was completely free to attend the Women’s March. That was marvelous. I interviewed more 36 people—men and women who had come from all over the country to make their voices heard about the 2016 election… the one we are still suffering through now in 2019. I turned these interviews into a documentary. I was compelled to do this because of the story I had begun to write. In my story, there is a good man with a vision to save the good people of Earth from catastrophic climate change events that has utterly reshaped the geo-economic-political landscape of the world. Nation states have fallen. In their place, Corporate states now rule the world. The good man is a CEO of the biggest Multinational Company in the world, but he has vision for how to save humanity and the creatures that still cling to life on a devastated planet. It is nothing less than the transformation of human consciousness on a scale that has never before been achieved, but he has found a way. But just before he gets to the point of conducting the human trials…he is murdered, and the world is turned back over the climate cliff from which they have just climbed back from after going over the first time. The evil one is bent on erasing everything the good CEO was trying to do… and so you see, I had to go to the Women’s March. I needed to hear the stories of all the wonderful and good people of this country and what they were feeling, feared, and hoped.
2017: Tough year. My husband was taking care of his mother and her boyfriend. They had both had close calls with death. This made it necessary for him to spend what was to turn out to be more than 2 years in California helping there. He wasn’t able to look for work. I found a job after more than 6 months looking, but it was a very low paying job and it was going to turn toxic.
2018: My daughter graduated from high school… my pride and joy. I made a movie for my father, mother, and mother-in-law and her significant other to watch since none of them could come to her graduation. During this time, I was working like a mad-woman at this little place where I had found a job writing grants and proposals to help them do their charity work for immigrants and at-risk children and youth. It was I had been doing before being thrown off the corporate ship, before the 2009 great recession when all my consulting jobs as a grant writer dried up as it did for many of my consultants’ friends. We were all struggling then. I was working like a mad-woman because the woman who had hired me had left. The company hired a narcissistic pretender, completely incompetent, to replace her because she had told them I would not be interested in taking her position. She was trying to protect me, but she never told me why. Anyhow, her replacement was fired after two months and so all the work now fell to me and the little company wanted to apply for two huge government grants with only a month lead time. I got very little help. I worked more than 89 hours that I was not paid for. The agreement with the other woman was I would take that time as comp time later… but the CEO was being cagey. I was getting the feeling I would not be paid for this time. Then, my father suffered a cataphoric heart attack, but the first responders brought him back and he had been flown to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Of course, I flew out to be with him. I’ve written extensively of this elsewhere. I will burden you here with how traumatic this time was other than to let you know I was fired by this little organization while I was at my father’s bedside and I was with him when he died. In fact, I had to make the call to move him to comfort care… basically, I had to make the call to stop providing life-saving care and let him die. Oddly, the day and hour my father died is within 12 hours of the day I almost died in 2009.
Since his death, I have suffered tremendously… I guess one could say I had a catastrophic psychological collapse. I have not been able to work since I was fired. I was just starting to feel like I might be able to look again when Cider died. Cider my beloved little doggie who has been by my side through thick and thin. I realize this last year I gave her part of my soul to help carry since I could not any longer, and she gladly took and help to bear my trauma and collapse. And, she helped me cling to hope and to write every day. This was a thread of hope my writing, and Cider was right there at my feet many days gently supporting me…my little furry soul carrier, Cider. And, so this is why I’ve said I cannot bear to post my lost on Facebook for you see, she was so much more than just a dog. She was my bridge back to reality.
2019: Last Christmas was so sad without dad; I began to spiral down into a deep depression. Psychologically I could no longer cope with all the bad things that kept coming one right after another. Neither myself or my husband were anywhere near the station in life that one entering their middle and senior years should be at. Both of us had been cast off the ships of security people need to work on in order to live in our modern, complicated, civilized society… but you see, there is a brutality underneath it, and money is the weapon of choice used to torture and brutalize each other. And then I knew I don’t have it nearly as bad and poor people in Central America or Africa and other places in the world who are beginning to feel the growing effects of Climate Change, which is destroying their ability to grow their own food and so they have to move to migrate. And, what do they get for that? Fear, populism, brutality for trying to survive. It has swept around the world. It has infected pretty much every rich, developed, somewhat stable country who put up walls to keep them out as if they were bringing the plague of bad luck with them… when in fact it is us in the developed world who have inflicted the plague upon the entire world. These poor folks are just feeling it first. They get to die first, then it will come for the rest of us. So, I was aware of this and aware of how much stronger and more resilient they are compared to me, and this made me feel worst. This made me feel weak and useless like a piece of trash that deserves to be thrown away. And, I started to think about myself like that more and more. My husband had to go back to take care of his mom, my daughter was away at college. I was alone with my thoughts as I approached my dad’s birthday. The first birthday I would have to endure without him. I pleaded for my husband to return. But he was not able to. I descended deeper and deeper into my hole of depression. But Cider was with me. Cider needed me. Cider followed me everywhere and kept me company and filled the house with the music of her little feet running and her barking and her howling whenever a firetruck passed near. Cider gave me an island of furry reality with undying love to hang on to as I slipped deeper and deeper down. At first, I could visualize myself walking down a deep gorge, but then I got lost… somehow, I went underwater. I got really bad… suicidal… nightmarish… bad. But I could hug Cider. She would always come to me no matter how bad I got. She didn’t care… she just loved me in her way.
Ever since dad died, I stopped writing my story. I dabbled in blogging and made art, but I could not touch my story. I could not bear to work on it. My dear friend in Colorado got wind of how bad I was doing and jumped in to help me edit the first 200 pages so I could package that much as a self-published book. So, she started, and this gently redirected my attention back to the story that I had committed myself to write back in 2009—the year I almost died. Progress was slow, but about the time I really started to descend, I realized I needed to bring my writing style up to speed with where I was in 2018 rather than where I was in 2012, when I started the story. I was afraid to tell my friend who had started editing, but fortunately she had not sunk too much time into it yet and was so gracious, telling me of course I should do what I needed. And, so as I went down psychologically, I returned to my story, and perhaps it was like an inner invisible thread that I could hang onto no matter how deep I descended… and I went deep, editing and revising fiercely with Cider at my feet. I did not resurface until my husband returned late in July, very near the first anniversary of dad’s death. This was a very difficult time, but I had been working on a video tribute to dad as well as writing daily. All this gave me inner strength… and determination. I marked both anniversaries of dad… his initial heart attack, and then his death, when I was with him. I was thinking why I didn’t feel the cold when dad died, but I realize the vision I had earlier that day of what I needed to do wrapped him and me in a blanket of love. I was pulling him across the glacier near his ancestral home in Norway wrapped inside a bearskin sledge. The sledge was my story. I read it to him that day. It was the only day I had read it to him. I told him he could get off at any point or wait until the end of the story. I told him that his mother and other loved ones who had passed would be waiting for him. I think that’s why I didn’t feel the coldness of death because I was helping dad cross over to the other side wrapped in a blanket of love. Dad was so proud of this story. He told me before his heart attack that my whole life had been preparing me to write this story. So, there was no fear that day, and I did not know he would die, but when he did… I just hugged him… just like I hugged Cider when she died.
Around dad’s first year anniversary, I had a dream of a woman of rainbow light surfacing far out at sea, turning around, and heading for shore pulling something with her. I am making a video tribute for Cider… you will see her in this video, but I know most of you will not have time to watch it all… it’s long like everything I do. I won’t apologize for that. Life is long and we are supposed to spend this time to go deep and crystalized things rising from inside. It’s painful to do this work, and so most of us skip it… dabbling in the shallow waters of shallow thinking, of hallow dreams, of endless fears… but we’ve been trapped there by our harsh and heartless economic systems, so it’s not our fault we feel so much pain, so much fear all the time. This was the new stuff that started rising around dad’s first year death anniversary. I was trying to edit that section down, but then a voice inside me said: “This needs to be said now.” Then, the back to back shootings occurred and one of my only friends left at my gym where I edit all my material came up to me and said: “You’re writing about it, right?” I was confused, and he said: “What just happened… the shootings… this sickness…. You need to write at least 2 chapters about it.” I said yes that is exactly what I am working on. And, so ever since August, I have been chasing after this new material in the darkness of my mind… chasing it down… taming it with words, then combing the snarls out. I stopped worrying about cutting it even though when I sent to my friend and she aptly pointed out that this new section will make the initial readers put the story down and never pick it up again, while the readers who like this part of the story will not like the rest. I discussed this with my husband and daughter and a friend. My husband brought up Moby Dick. Herman Melville did this. Right in the middle of the action, my husband says he launched into chapter after chapter about whales… detailed, scientific descriptions of them… whale after whale. And, so I continued to write… settled on this will be a book within a book. Again, Cider at my feet most times while I was working on the computer. And, all along… I was getting stronger… I was feeling more myself. I was even beginning to think I might be able to work again. Then, Cider died dramatically and unexpectantly. And, I have stopped writing again. And, I feel myself sinking again.
So, there you go. My super sad story, and it’s not even as bad as so many others have it right now… and so I am a weak and useless louse on top of it all. But I can’t bear to sit at the computer where I was editing a section with Cider at my feet. Cider who was going to dying in just a few short hours, and I was completely oblivious. I had started to reconstruct my persona and a reality… and I got it utterly wrong. I was just so stupid. I didn’t notice. I didn’t see. I didn’t pay attention, even though I had felt certain things were wrong. Maybe that’s what we are doing now en masse to planet Earth. We’re feeling things, but we are telling ourselves stories to make ourselves feel better… stories like we have more time… when we don’t have it at all.
I am spitting into the wind with this post because I know it goes against the grain of the platform and the algorithms—it’s too long, it’s too raw, it’s too honest, it’s not fake. But that is all I have. The best thing you can say to me right now, much better than a crying face or condolences for a lost pet, is to write these three words: “Write the story” or “Finish the story.” I have lost my most faithful, most furry, most loving cheerleader. Those are the most powerful words you can send now. And, I know most of you will not even read this story when/if I finish it, and that is fine too…. I have come to understand this story is most likely not for you. Maybe it’s just for me… maybe it’s just my thread back to reality. I don’t know. But that is all I have. I am empty now. If you have made it this far, my dear friend, thank you for listening and bearing with me to the bitter end of my sad tale of my sad life. I give you my love… that is all we have… that is the only thing we might take with us when we die and all of us will one day die… that is the most certain thing of life… death. I will be posting a tribute to Cider. I don’t want to bother anyone with my crazy art and super long video, but if you would like to know when I post it… most likely I will do so before midnight tomorrow, let me know and I will ping you. And, do not worry… I will be OK. Oh, and please give me time… I cannot bear to be here on Facebook now. It is too shallow for my grief, so please be patient with me if I do not see important message you may post or send me. Slowly I will crawl back. I’ll try to respond, and I will try to share your posts once again as I had started to do on my Sapience the Moment is Now page. But, not now… probably not for time. I don’t know how long.
And, so as 2019 ends: “Goodbye my beloved father for the second Christmas and second New Year, and Goodbye my beloved dog Cider.”
I was with him when he died. I was reading him the story I have been working on for the past 7 years. The previous night, I made a very difficult decision. He had been making phenomenal recovery from what should have been a fatal event 10 days earlier. But on the 9th day, he was sitting up in his hospital bed. He had a bible under one hand, and a pen and paper in the other. He immediately greeted me warmly when I walked in with a huge smile on his face, and I greeted him equally warmly. I asked him what he was doing. He told me that he had a lot of thank you letters to write but didn’t know where to begin. The nurse came in after a little while and fed him his medicine crushed up in pudding so he could swallow it. That was the problem. The day before, he had been more in a state of delirium than lucid consciousness. That day he worked his feed tube out of his stomach 4 times due to coughing or by using the back of his tongue. His entire critical care team was flummoxed by how quickly he was working it out, requiring it to be reinserted (not a pleasant experience… in fact, quite traumatic). The night nurse that night decided to leave it out. Dad rested peacefully. And, then I found him so happy to see me and wanting to write thank you cards. Everyone was so excited. Nurses who had cared for him earlier popped in to make sure I saw him. There was so much hope he would pull through this devastating event–where his heart had been stopped for more than 15 minutes as first responders worked so hard giving him CPR to get a shockable pulse.
So, here was the problem. To get him back to full health, he needed the feed tubing reinserted to get all the medicines he needed, and the doctors were not certain yet if his swallowing reflect had been damaged. How could we know after reinserting the feeding tube this final time that it would send him into a delirium he would never return from. That’s what happened. If I could do this over, I would have followed my gut and not allowed it. He would have died… I know this… but he would have died possibly more peacefully.
After almost 48 hours of non-stop movement of mind and body, my father was lost in space and time and utterly exhausted. The medicines were not calming him any more. Just before I was about to leave at midnight on the 10th night of him being in the ICU, his night nurse said, “If he was on Comfort Care, I could give him more medicine to help him calm down and rest.” The doctors had talked to us earlier that day about our options. I knew Comfort Care meant he was dying. And, so before I left, I gave instructions to move him to Comfort Care.
The next morning, he was sleeping. He nurse told me he had cleaned him and was doing everything to make him comfortable. He looked peaceful. He never woke, but I talked to him. I had a vision that morning about what I needed to do for him. So, after the nurse left, I told dad what I was going to do. Earlier that summer I promised to send him the latest part of my story. I hadn’t sent it yet. It is set in the time of the Vikings. My father was pure Norwegian. The girl in my story was on a glacier between Odda and Rosendal, Norway. My father’s family is from Odda. This girl in the story had just been in a terrible accident that left her companion unconscious and with broken ribs. My father’s ribs were broken from the CPR.
I told dad I was going to read him the story. It was going to be a sleigh made of sound to help him get across to the other side. In my story, my girl had just made a sleigh out of a bear hide to pull her injured companion across the glacier. So, my voice and this story they were going to serve as a sort of sleigh to help him cross. I told dad that his mother, his brother, brother-in-law, and all the people he knew and loved who had already passed were waiting for him. I told him he could leave any time during the story or wait until the end. Then, I started reading. The hospital Chaplin came after a while, and I told him all about dad. He said a prayer incorporating all the things I had told him. And, he recited Psalm 23.
I continued reading the story.
I read to him until 2:40 p.m. I held his hand as I read. I had just finished reading the part of the story where the priest meets a woman who mysteriously washes up on the shores of Dublin, Ireland. He helps her recover, find work, and get a home. They fall in love. They have to keep it hidden. They have a baby, but she dies during childbirth and the priest cannot admit he is the father, so he gives his daughter to the nuns who live in a nearby nunnery to be raised. I had read to him about this girl’s early childhood and a very scary nun she encounters. I was about to read him the part about Resurrection Sunday when I heard his breathing change–dramatically. I saw his pulse rate dropping–dramatically. I knew what was happening and rushed to him, my heart pounding. I told him mom and my brothers were 15 minutes away, he needed to wait. His breathing quicken and pulse went up, but only briefly. Then, it plummeted again. I knew the nurses could give him a drug through his IV to bring his pulse back up, but I also knew I had moved him to Comfort Care last night. Instead of running to get the nurse, I threw myself over him and hugged him fiercely. His nurse and doctor came in. They held my hand and hugged me. No one said anything. After some time I looked up and asked the doctor if he had gone. With the kindest face and deepest empathy, he nodded. Neither he nor the nurse left. They stayed with me and never once did I feel like they had anything more important to do–though I knew they were responsible for many people in very serious conditions. My mother and brothers arrived 10 minutes later. They had indeed been 15 minutes away, though when I told dad I had no way of knowing this. My brother thinks at the time of dad’s passing they were at the last rest stop, and mom was picking daisies. I had just been reading to dad about daises.
So, one year later, this is my telling of the journey I have been on since his death. It is told through music and art. The starting image I drew on the plane on July 27, 2018 as I flew out to be with my father one day after this heart attack. As I drew, I listened to Asura’s Life2 album. I listened to one song in particular over and over as the image took shape. This song was Celestial Tendencies. Each song from Asura’s album held special meaning and energy for me during this time. The music was a way to hold onto some divine and sublime at a time of great crisis and ultimate tragedy. The visual journey is an expansion of my original drawing in my notebook. Please forgive my indulgence as I spent a lot of time drawing the different layers. Ultimately, I decided to use each of the songs that helped me to be strong for dad and my family during this terrible time. I realize it is a video that probably only I will ever watch in its entirety.
The visual story of this journey can not be viewed. I have tried, but I believe algorithms used by most of the major social media platforms flagged this image possibly as a man on a cross and this has been tied to White Supremacy. I understand this concern. It is validate given our time. I would just say that this is how the vision of my father appeared to me as I flew out to be with him, and that during my 10 days with him, he indeed held his arms out this way many times for he was suffering. I think outstretched arms like this are also a symbol for the suffering of the world, and my father felt this deeply, our collective human suffering. It powered him and transformed him as a force of compassion in the world. As this image progresses, it transforms from an image of human suffering into one of transcendence. I am sorry I cannot share this work at this time, but that is our current reality and I accept the collective wisdom of our time.
You may be able to view the video if you can get to my Art Page on Facebook; here it is pinned to the top of the page.
As COVID-19 has steadily made its way around the world and really hit the United States of America particularly hard, I have thought a lot about those 10 days in the hospital sitting by my father’s side, hoping for the best but knowing he was skating between two realities–one was life, the other death. No one wanted to talk about the death reality, but it was there. It was always there. I could see it in the doctors eyes. I could feel it in the nurses voices. I drew it as I flew out to be with my beloved father.
He fought for life, absolutely he did. But, he was up against incredible odds, unbelievable odds that cannot be conveyed to a living person in good health because until you are at this threshold, you do not know. But, healthcare professionals learn to recognize the signs of approaching death, especially when people are fighting to just breathe, which is what dad was doing at the end because his lungs were filling up with the fluid. The doctors were watching for it because they knew Pulmonary edema or pneumonia is often a result after CPR because to do it right to save a person’s life, the first responders has to push hard often breaking ribs and pushing debris into the lungs, which causes the pneumonia.
This episode that I just heard on This American Life captures so vividly what I saw dad suffer through. I tuned in just as the nurses were describing what has to be done to save a person’s like can feel like torture. And my dad absolutely felt this way that day when he woke up, and he was writing thank yous, and we had a precious, fleeting moment of normalcy, until the feed tube had to be reinserted. This haunts me so much because he was wide awake and to him it felt like torture and he was counting on me to stop it…and I failed because I wanted to save him.
And now so many beautiful people are suffering through the very same thing. To find out more about this episode, click here.
I would like to end with two stories about my father that were given at his memorial service. One is by one of my brothers and the other by me. My father was one of the kindest, most caring, and compassionate human beings anyone could ever hope to encounter. His deep and unconditional love for everyone was felt by all who got to know him, even when they messed up, he held them in patience and love. What a lesson for the times we live in now.
This is my brother’s eulogy:
Monrad Kicks the Hell’s Angels Out of Yellowstone
As we go through life, our impressions and feelings toward our parents change. I’m going to share with you some impressions from my childhood, Around the age of eight or nine when we lived in South Dakota. At this age boys want a tough dad with street creds and unfortunately, I was convinced my father was a wimp. The previous sunday he had preached Yet another sermon on love. By my count the 4th sermon on love that summer .
But it didn’t matter because we were about to commence on a treasured family tradition ; the summer vacation. We’d take a popup camper and head out West for one or two weeks . On this trip, I believe we went to either Grand Teton or YellowStone, let’s just say it was Yellowstone.
We had the camping routine down pat. We’d set up camp, spend a few days hiking or fishing then move on to the next location. In these popular parks you needed to get to the next campsite early, well before 5 pm, or the campsites could fill up. On this particular day we had had a long drive and almost all the sites were taken but we finally found one and a nice secluded spot at that. After we had set up camp and were settling in, some loud motorcycles pulled up to a clearing just across the road from our camper. They wore leather jackets and skull caps. We kids immediately knew who they were because they had been covered in last week’s TV news. This was none other than the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. About this time Monrad notices what is going on and Yell’s across to the gang “that is not a campsite, you can’t camp there.” The reply came back to “Mind your own business” or something similar. Monrad responded even louder and more angry “That is not a campsite you can’t camp there “. We kids were terrified, we were sure our dad was going to get beat up … or worse. But to our surprise after a few more exchanges, maybe a few insulting gestures exchanged as well, the bikers revved up their engines and moved on.
That was the day I was proud of my father, he just kicked the Hell’s Angels out of Yellowstone.
This is my eulogy:
Born: April 16, 1935; Died: August 4, 2018; Age: 83
My father… Monrad Mandsager… He is why you are here today… Monty! And, do you know what he would have said?
He would have said, “Goodness sakes… you’ve come all this way… for me! You shouldn’t have… thank you… thank you so much… thank you for coming!”
SHOWING UP & PAYING ATTENTION = LOVE
His whole life dad never felt worthy. In his mind, he was a poor, simple farm boy from Iowa who could never quite do all the things exactly the way his dad wanted them done, and he grew up without his mother’s kind and loving warmth and support. These early beginnings always left him questioning his worth. But my dad would always show up and give any task (big or small) his best! For him, what was most important was making time, paying attention, and creating a space to understand the needs of others because dad knew this is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other… for it is the most basic way we show our love to each other. Dad’s capacity to create and hold a sacred space for others was one of his superpowers! He would listen with empathy, kindness, and unwavering attention to someone’s life story, latest frustration, or good news. And, he would remember what you told him and ask you about it the next time he saw you.
SUPERPOWERS OF ATTENTION + LISTENING + UNDERSTANDING
Dad’s ability to pay attention and listen combined with his humbleness allowed him to be there for people at their greatest time of need. I remember one tragedy where dad demonstrated his tremendous capacity to empathize and be there for a grieving family after their 16-year-old son was killed in a hunting accident. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember my parents explaining to me how this family had lost several children before this tragedy and this was their last son. I remember going with mom and dad many times to visit the family after dad broke the terrible news to them. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness and sadness. But, I also remember knowing being there with my parents was important. I was no older than first grade, but I remember this experience vividly, and I’ll come back to this later for as I was reading through dad’s writings to figure out what I would say today, I found his reflections on this same tragedy for it had profoundly impacted him too. Grief it turns out is not bounded to one day or one week or one year… it is a deeply personal journey and dad understood this. He understood a time of grief is not a time to give people “pat answers” about why death or a tragedy occurred… neither is it a time to tell the person how and when to recover from it. He knew he didn’t know, but what he did know was he needed to be there for however long it took and at whatever capacity the family or individual needed, even if it meant just sitting in silence with them. I’m going to share with you several of dad’s amazing traits (I call them his superpowers), and now that he’s gone, I realize they were precious gifts given freely and in love to me and I suspect he gave them to many of you!
One of his wonderful superpowers was his adventuresome, wandering spirit. Little more than 6 weeks after being ordained at Luther Seminary and marrying mom, they took off to Brazil where dad was to serve as a missionary in Sao Paulo and the surrounding area. Mom and dad had to learn Portuguese and spent almost a year studying and learning it before dad began his mission work. He was one of the first missionaries to give all of his sermons in Portuguese, and of course, this is where I and my brother Craig were born. We learned Portuguese too and spoke it to everyone outside of our immediate family. I am told when we returned to the states, and I met my grandparents for the first time, I sat on their knees chattering happily away in Portuguese as they smiled and enjoyed meeting their granddaughter and grandson for the first time. I was pretty young in Brazil, but I have snap shot memories of life with my parents such as galloping on my father’s shoulders through the jungle with monkeys shrieking at us from high in the trees (that was magnificent)! Watching a steel drum band at a gathering and marveling at the beautiful music coming from the steel cans the musicians had turned into their drums dad had explained all this to me for he loved the steel drums! I also remember traveling with dad in our jeep over muddy, rutted, red roads and being surrounded by hundreds of sheep on their way home, leaving dad and I to revel in the wonder of the moment.
From Brazil, we flew back to the Midwest, this is where my brother Phillip was born. From there, dad helped his brother-in-law Bob start a new church in Southern CA – so, we moved to Sunnymead where my brother Peter was born – and, then our family was complete! I won’t go into all the places we moved or family vacations we took, but dad loved to travel, and he wanted us to experience and see the vast, beautiful, wondrous places of this land, and we saw many thanks to him!
THE DREAMER & LEARNER
My father was also a dreamer and lifelong learner! He loved geology, astronomy, anthropology, paleontology, and even astrophysics; he transferred his love of learning to me and my brothers! Dad would tell you that his love of learning and interests in science was sometimes disturbing to his faith, and he often navigated between the waters of faith and doubt. But, this made dad stronger, not weaker for he was able to transform his doubt into a deeper, vaster faith in God.
In his own words, he says, “Since I am often between faith and doubt, my stockpile of “pat answers” has diminished considerable. Life is discovery, growth, affirmation of faith in God in the midst of doubt. Life is affirmation of the creation of oneself, of others, of the goodness and love of God. Christ is our best light of this, pointing us to a loving Father God through the goodness and light His life has given for us in loving service through suffering even onto death.”
And, so here again you glimpse dad’s superpowers of kindness, compassion, and deep empathy for people and all living beings, and this guided him through his journey between the waters of faith and doubt; and it greatly informed his ministry for he saw himself as a humble servant who would stop to help anyone in need—and this is a gift he gave freely and frequently!
TRANSFORMATION OF FAITH
As I was reading dad’s writings, I found one piece he titled an Account of My Life to Age 43 where he describes honestly and elegantly his life journey, especially about the transformation of his faith. Here he accounts the same story I remembered about the 16-year-old boy. (I’ve changed the names for it seems even after all these years, the family is entitled to their privacy) Dad writes: “…the summer of ’72, we moved to Redway to serve Grace Lutheran Church. At that time, the KindFamily was a family of four: Joe, the father, a Roman Catholic and lumberjack; Corothy, the mother, a member of Grace; David (16) had been confirmed that Spring; and Lucy (13). Previous to our acquaintance, they had been a family of 7—two boys had been born with progressive muscular dystrophy and died in their young teens and a baby girl died of lung cancer at age 3. … About two months after our arrival Corothy talked about going to stay with her husband for a week in the woods – something she had never done before. She was apprehensive about leaving the kids. They ended up taking Lucy, while David was to stay with the next-door neighbors who were trusted friends. They left Sunday. Late Tuesday afternoon, council member, Karl came running up our steps, out of breath, a strained expression on this face. “Pastor, Pastor, something awful has happened, they found David dead beside his motorcycle and rifle along a trail. He’s been shot! This is awful. I can’t believe it… David’sthe only boy they had left! They were so proud of him. He was such a good kid. What are we going to do?”
Dad writes he was equally shocked as he attempted to reassure Karl that with God’s help they’d find a way to help the Kinds. Karl asked if dad would be there when the family arrived home to tell them what happened. Dad said yes, and he’d like Karl to be there too since he was a supporting friend of the family.” This event solidified for dad at a moment of great tragedy and grief, it is not a time to theologize or to tell a person not to protest to God as they grapple with the question why… why… why… Dad describes how he simply sat in the ditch with the father as he wept, and when he asked questions dad answered them simply with the information he knew. Then, they wept together, talked a little more, and wept again. Dad was there for days and weeks later walking with the family one small step at a time. He came to understand, as he tried to answer the agonizing question why, that we live in a world where accidents and disease happen, death is a mystery, and we don’t know all the answers. He came to believe it is not God who appoints the hour and manner of death, but more evil and death have come into our world through the backdoor (as it were). However, God is on the side of goodness and life; nevertheless, since evil, accidents, disease, and death have come among us, God Himself in Jesus, went through suffering, sorrow, and death… because he loves us and wants to show us he understands, cares, and shares our burdens and carries them with us during our greatest times of grief, pain, sorrow, and need. And, so the gift of faith was given to me—a gift dad demonstrated vividly throughout his life!
The Gift of Courage
The last gift I’ll mention today is courage. It was a heart attack that took him down the evening of July 25, and it was the heroic efforts of first responders and hospital staff in Albert Lea and the Mayo Clinic that brought him back along with our good neighbors who brought Mom to both hospitals that night to be with Dad. One nurse who had also been an EMT told me about 4% of patients flown in after such an event survive, so dad was a miracle—even if it was just one week. Each day on the ICU was a battle, but dad made amazing progress regaining consciousness and recognition surpassing the tempered hopes that the excellent doctors and nurses held for him and worked tirelessly to achieve. The best the team could work out is dad probably went without oxygen to his brain for 15 to 20 minutes—most agree after 9; severe brain damage can begin. Despite tremendous gains coming back consciously, his body continued to reel from catastrophic system failures. The doctors figured out one problem was a blockage in an artery in the heart, which they fixed this with a stint, but the other required a pace maker. This was a challenge because dad had several broken ribs since CPR is really only effective when ribs are broken. But, pneumonia set in creating a vicious cycle of needing to cough, which caused pain that sent him into cycles of delirium. It was a delicate balance the medical team at St. Mary’s walked, moment by moment to figure out what dad needed.
Two days before his death—I call it his Lazarus day. I arrived in the morning. He was sitting upright in bed with wonderful color to his face and a sparkle in his eyes. He was holding a pen, paper, and bible and exclaimed happily as I walked in: “Debbie!” I returned: “Dad!” I sat down beside him and asked him what he was doing. He told me he had a lot of thank yous to write but was having a hard time getting started.
The day before had been pretty rough for he had worked his feed tube out 3 times, earning him the title of the Hundi of Feeding Tubes. He still did not have it reinserted, and so his nurse fed him pudding with his pills crushed in it. It was slow, and dad was having a hard time swallowing. But, this day, everyone was so hopeful he could recover at least to this point; however, to do so, he would need the feed tube reinserted. This sent him into a delirium he would not come out of, and this is where the courage comes in… I had to have the courage to see the totality of his reality – I needed to reconcile the hope of his recovery with the despair of cascading system failures in his body. After 36 hours of continuous delirium, I made the tough decision to move him to comfort care, allowing the nurses and doctors to give him stronger medications to keep him comfortable and out of pain. The Mayo team was magnificent in providing me and our family with all the options ranging from further invasive interventions to comfort care, and it was his night nurse, Luis, who said something about being able to give dad stronger medicines that night, which finally made me understand the reality of dad’s situation. We had never made it out of the Sea of Delirium, and dad was suffering and needed me to make a courageous choice. So, I did.
When I returned the next morning, he was sleeping—the delirium was over. His day nurse told me he had cleaned him, and they were making him comfortable. He looked at peace. I could hear the gurgle of the pneumonia in his lungs, but he was not struggling for air. I sat down next to him and began to read part of the book I have written for I had promised to send him the manuscript but had not yet sent it. The Chaplin came in after a couple of hours. I told him all about dad and the past week. He recited the 23rdPsalm, and then he said a prayer incorporating everything I had told him. I resumed reading. His nurse came back to turn him. I continued reading holding his hand, comforted by his warmth. Less than 45 minutes later, his breathing suddenly changed. I looked at his monitor and saw his heart rate dropping just as it had been doing over the past week (this is why he needed a pace maker). I felt panic and pleaded with dad to wait for mom to arrive (for I felt she was 15 minutes away). Dad breathed, and his heart rate went up, but for less than a minute; then it plunged again. I wanted to run and get the nurse to give him a drug to increase his heart rate, but I didn’t… I knew he was going and I needed to let him go… this took tremendous courage… how could I let my father go? I couldn’t, so I threw myself on him, hugged him and cried. His nurse came in and put his arm around my shoulders as I held onto dad, and his doctor came in and held my hand. After a while, I looked up and asked, “Is he gone?” His doctor simply and compassionately confirmed dad had gone. My brothers and mom arrived 10 minutes later. His nurse and doctor stayed with us for a long time. I did not feel for one minute they had anything more important to do than to be a witness to dad’s passing and our grief—a tremendous gift.
The Gift of Love
So, thank you all for being here to remember dad and to celebrate his life and the many gifts he gave to so many of us.
I know dad never felt he deserved this sort of attention, but dad, if you are listening, you deserve it, every last bit of it for your gifts have healed so many people in our broken world, which desperately needs the compassion you shared and your capacity to listen and be with others during their greatest hour of need and to do so in kindness and with empathy, all of which came so natural to you.