Dancing with Fear

We had a great thunderstorm here a few nights ago. The flashing, crashing, wildly chaotic symphony of lightning, thunder and wind had the trees in my backyard swaying and gyrating in ecstasy. They seemed to revel in the chaos of it all, even though wind and lightning can often lead to their demise. Just within the past couple of weeks, two large parks in my area lost hundreds of trees each in microburst storms with winds up to 100 miles an hour. Our wind here the other night was not nearly so powerful, yet my trees seemed to move with frenzied anticipation of just such a possibility. It didn’t seem to me that they feared that eventuality. Instead they seemed to just dance with the amazing energy of it all. They soaked in the ion-charged rain water, which somehow greens them more quickly and dramatically than any drip system or garden hose can.

I have a Night-Blooming Cereus cactus in my front yard that blooms in profusion after each rain, no matter the season. After a good rain you can expect to see a dozen new blooms the next morning. No matter how much I water it by hand, that never happens. Only the rain can bring on that burst of growth.

Like the trees, I’ve always reveled in the rain—especially the monsoon storms here in this desert land. Maybe back east or up north where the rains tend to come too consistently it is easier to grow tired of the downpours. And obviously the hurricanes that have battered our coasts are another kind of storm altogether. My prayers are with everyone in Galveston and the Houston area as Ike bears down upon them. But here in the desert where, in recent years, the storms have been too few and far between, every drop is a blessing and a miracle.

I used to run barefoot and fully dressed into the soaking downpours when I was a child, heedless of the lightning. Now my adult self keeps the inner child in check, ensconced beneath my patio roof admiring the wet and the wind from dry safety. The child in me still wants to run out into it and dance the same frenzied dance as the trees.

I may be hiding out high and dry these days, but storms like this still energize me. Perhaps it’s the blend of Sagittarius (a fire sign) and water baby (I grew up in a swimming pool and love the ocean) in me that makes the fabulous mix of fire and water in the sky so mesmerizing. There is something so primal about a thunderstorm. It’s all sound and fury, wildness and chaos followed by the gift of rain which the hungry desert soil soaks up and turns into new life.

Sitting outside through this last storm put me in mind of an experience I had earlier this week. Each morning I walk to the park that is not far from my house. Once there, I pause to meditate for a few minutes on a bench by the playground before walking back home. This particular morning as I sat with my eyes closed, I heard voices approaching. As they drew nearer I could hear an excited child’s voice begging, “Grandma, push me on the swing. Push me really high!” Grandmother tells the child to hang on tight and soon I hear the little voice squealing with fear and with pleasure, “Oh, oh, oh! I’m going to die! I’m going to die!” Grandma slows the swing down and starts to calm the child, but immediately the child cries, “Push me again!”

What is it, I wonder, that continually draws us to the edge of our fear? What is it that we relish in that experience of dancing with winds that might topple us? We go to the edge and we back away, but we are drawn back to that edge again and again.

I think it may be exactly what we come here to experience: our ability to press through our fears seeking the next level of what we can cope with, assimilate, understand and grow from. When the things we fear most come to pass, we find that instead of falling apart we emerge stronger and clearer in our own Truth.

The fear of dying is on my mind a lot these days. My Dad’s health is failing and I’m watching him and Mom struggle with the letting go. It seems simpler to me than it used to, having lost Cameron and then realizing I hadn’t lost him at all. I suppose it is the biggest fear we ever face – our own mortality or the mortality of someone we love. But I am so certain that we really aren’t mortal at all. We are eternally evolving souls with so many stories to live. Like the trees, we can dance with the threat of death and grow stronger and greener by doing so. Like the little child on the swing, we can swing higher and higher until we are brave enough to just let go and fly.

When my day comes, I plan to run into the storm gleefully, barefoot and fully dressed. I will dance with my fear and awaken full of new blossoms, full of new life.

Wishing you peace on the journey. . .

Looking through the Window to the Other Side

I just left the hospital where I went to visit my father, who is 84 and suffering from progressive dementia. It is such a sad thing to see his brilliant mind fading into that gray zone of confusion and disconnection. There is a different kind of grief that comes with this slow, daily losing of him that I sometimes feel is even more painful than was the sudden loss of my son. There is a constant waiting for the inevitable and the wondering each time I prepare to go see him how he’ll be today – will he know me? I wonder sometimes at the tenacity of the body when the mind seems so ready to let go and move out of this life. I find myself drained and numbed after today’s visit. Perhaps in a day or two, I will be ready to write more about this process of watching a loved one slowly fade, but my visit to Dad today reminded me of an essay I wrote last year when my mother was in that same hospital. I share that with you now:


At eighty-five years old, my mother is in the hospital for the second time in as many weeks. She is weak and tired and more than a little frightened. At the age of eighty, her kidneys failed. She’s been a dialysis patient for five years now, and while it’s given her new life it has also been hard on her body and spirit. Heart problems, pneumonia and now a GI bleed have required these most recent hospitalizations.

She lies in her hospital bed looking out the small window. The angle of the bed is such that what view there might be is mostly blocked by the outer wall of the building. She stares off into the small slice of sky that remains visible and asks me what I can see from my vantage point in the chair opposite her bed. I tell her it’s not much – the parking lot and some trees in the distance.

She tells me about an old TV program she’s reminded of. In the program, she says, two men share a hospital room. One man’s bed gives him a view out the window and the other’s does not. The man by the window is always telling the other man what he sees: children playing, beautiful trees, a grassy meadow filled with flowers. As the months go by, the man without the view grows extremely jealous and eventually he murders the other man in order to get his bed so he can see the view for himself. Having done so he finds that outside that window there is only a wall. All along, it seems, the other man was imagining all those beautiful things.

She goes on to recall some other hospital stay long ago where she had to do physical therapy on a treadmill and a stationary bike in front of a window that overlooked a field full of cows. She can’t recall when and where that was. How odd, she says, for a hospital to be out in the middle of nowhere like that. I have no idea what she’s talking about. It could be a fantasy, a real memory, or a combination of memories from different times and places combined into one.

My mother remembers such odd things now – things from long, long ago. But she forgets what happened yesterday, or even this morning. She’s forgotten why she’s in the hospital. Last week she told the home care nurse that she moved into the Beatitudes, an assisted living facility, right after she and my dad retired and sold the house. There were at least twenty-five years of experiences between those two events that, for the moment at least, she seems to have forgotten. Time runs in circles and folds over upon itself in the workings of her mind. She doesn’t remember this morning, but she remembers that TV show about the view from the window from decades past.

As she sleeps, I read a book by the psychic, Sylvia Browne. It’s called Life on the Other Side and it outlines what the world beyond death is like, based on Sylvia’s own near-death experience, the departed souls she’s connected with, and the stories of the many, many people she’s regressed to past lives and the lives in between. She describes a fascinating place of beauty and continued learning, a place where we understand everything we’ve experienced in all our lifetimes and where we can choose what lessons and experiences we want to undertake in our next lifetime on Earth. In this place, which she calls “Home,” we can be with everyone we’ve ever loved and every other soul we are connected to. When we are Home, we have an immediate and visceral experience of God’s love for us. There is no fear, doubt or confusion. Reading her words brings me deep peace and reaffirms the conclusions I’ve been coming to since Cameron’s death. Our real selves, our souls, never die. Love never dies. Separation between this world and the next is an illusion.

It strikes me that my mother’s memory of that TV show, apparently triggered by her limited view out the window, may in fact be signaling a deeper longing in her to know not just what’s outside her hospital room window, but what’s on the other side of this life.

We never talk of such things. In my family, the subject of death is taboo. So far, I haven’t been brave enough to be the one to open the conversation. There seems to be an unwritten law that says if you don’t speak of death it won’t happen. And there seems to be a lot of fear around the subject of death. I think this is not just true within my family, but a part of the collective consciousness. Would we fear death and dying so much if we knew, really knew in our hearts, that death is not an ending but simply a transition from one living state to another?

My parents had the idea that once you reach eighty, you start to fall apart. And, like clockwork, that’s what happened. My mother’s kidneys failed a few months after her eightieth birthday. My father is a few years younger. He turned eighty a week after Cameron died and a few months later suffered a series of small strokes that whittled away some part of his previously brilliant mind and left him struggling to find the right words for simple, every day things.

We don’t expect to outlive our children and certainly not our grandchildren. My parents have outlived one of each. My brother, their oldest child, died at the age of fifty in August 2000. A few years later when Cameron died, they lost a grandson. And since we never talk about death or dying, I have no idea how either of those events affected them. As I observe my parents now, I can only guess how much their decline has to do with aging and how much with unexpressed grief and the gnawing fear that death is an enemy to be conquered rather than an adventure to be embraced.

More than my parents’ eventual passing, I fear and resent having to watch their slow collapse. It is too reminiscent of Cameron’s years of self-destruction and seems even less fair since there is no apparent level of choice or will involved. Their deterioration seems to be happening to them through no choice of their own. Once again, I find myself asking God, “Why do you keep giving me stuff that I can’t fix?”

And perhaps the answer is, so I can learn that it is not mine to fix at all. It could be that this is the true challenge of faith: to see things as they are and not judge them as broken, but know them as perfect at the level of Divine Order.

Sylvia Browne speaks of our “chart” – the plan we make before incarnating here. Others, like Carolyne Myss have called it a contract. I can believe in such a thing. I think we do devise a plan that maps out, if not the specific experiences we will have, at least the outline of the lessons we wish to learn or the difference we wish to make while we are here. It can be hard to fathom the purpose of suffering, but perhaps it is an integral part of our journey.

It can be hard to accept that we chose to experience the pain we have in our lives. But it seems to me we may have chosen it so that our hearts can be cracked open, thereby allowing more love to flow through them into this world. We can choose to react to the painful passages in our lives from fear or from love. I’ve learned to ask myself, “What would love do? What is the loving response?” The answer isn’t always clear.

I think that in this case, love would overcome fear and break the unwritten taboo. It would speak of death and dying with gentle and hopeful words. Love would speak with passion and conviction about the children playing, the beautiful trees and the grassy meadow filled with flowers that wait on the other side even though, temporarily, there may be a wall blocking that view. Love would see through that wall to the truth beyond it. Love would tear down whatever walls fear has built and expose dying for what it really is – the soul’s heartfelt and joyful homecoming.

As always, I wish you peace on the journey.

Please visit my website, http://www.deepwaterleafsociety.com/ for more information on the upcoming release of my book, The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief.