Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

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Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Friday, 7/27/18

Woke up at 4:52 am to a blazing light shining upon me. It was a huge full moon low on the horizon so that its light reached inside my bedroom. I smiled and said Happy 60th Birthday, Keith! We miss you here on this life’s plane. Hope you’re enjoying all our shenanigans from your view on the other side. ❤️

Keith taking his solo pilot flight test, upstate NY. Instructor decided we should all go to dinner in Keene, NH.

Postscript: When I awoke later in the morning daylight, I looked out the window and saw the trees and wondered how I could have seen the moon so clearly earlier. And yet, there it had been! When he passed, it was a huge blue moon (a second full moon in the month) and I always associate the strong light of the full moon as his embrace from beyond.

Traveling has a way of creating magic and expanding our vision here and beyond.

Threads of energy and connection

On a steamy hot July 4th, we floated in the waters of Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Disembodied heads peeked above the waters – me, Steve, Larry, Jean, John, Patty, Brian plus other old friends. As the waters sparkled in the sunlight, my vision shifted, seeing tendrils, threads connecting each of us, our heads, 7th chakras, energy paths from one to another, and then above. It was surreal and yet very real… I shook my head several times to try and dispel the vision, yet it persisted. The vision began to fade so I sketched it quickly in order to bring it back to further enhance in art.

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My quick sketch of the vision I had looking at my friends bobbing in the waters of Sacandaga Lake, Adirondack Mountains, upstate New York, July 4, 2018. 

Conversations while in the water, heads bobbing, voices laughing, planning, life beyond work, the family by heart and blood, community of friends planning to care for each other in a life of continued adventures, but recognizing the pains of aging… Plans began for those couples without children, then those who did have children who would not be willing/able to care for aging parents… Duties were assigned: John P as our travel planner, Jean our financial/taxes person, Larry our sommelier and meal planner, me and Brian on branding development and space design, Steve our inventor and fixer-upper…should Michael join us he would be our gardener… Patty would pave the way into retirement. We could move between locations to allow time at each place and take advantage of weather… Several months in Michigan, travel to Europe, possibly a month in Fiji in April… where else?

Aging into new adventures means making the most of life with family by blood and family by heart.

Shifting to sooner plans, travel to Newfoundland, Canada, Kelly’s home country. When could we all visit, and how? Have passports, will travel.

The view from here

As we wandered the countryside, our views throughout our week were stunning… New York Adirondacks, Vermont hills, Middlebury, countryside antique shops, farmlands… peaceful, tranquil, even energizing… Saratoga, revisiting old memories.

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A roadside antique shop in the Adirondacks.

We were watching fireworks from the baseball field across from Larry and Jean’s… the same field with the same chain link fence at home base where Keith and I hung out together with Michael, Larry, Brian and others. Standing there… Steven, Larry, Brian, Jean, me… surreal… forward, back…time seemed to cross oceans, decades, and reconnect…creating new connections. It felt powerful.

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Watching fireworks in the park with friends.

Revisiting a new friend in person

I finally caught up with Nan O’Brien-Webb in New Haven, VT. Steve was filled with trepidation; it brought up feelings of a past bad encounter with a marriage counselor. Not what I intended at all. It was exploratory for me just to see what was up with Nan’s workshops. And it was very emotional for her, too, to meet her former best friend’s wife after finding his obituary.

I no longer feel the need to have an intermediary. I see/feel connections to the spirits feeling their messages when it is important, seeing signs and recognizing them for what they are most of the time. I recognize that I have become my own intuit. Still, it was interesting to discover how others with longer experience work with this…this gift.

I sent Nan a photo of Steven with the shadow of another we saw as a hint of Keith hovering over Steve after he’d gotten the great sanding machine running back in May 2013. But then, as I scrolled through the photos, I also came across another photo that I’d taken but had ignored for my aesthetic preference of another. The non-filtered photo, however, had a clear message, one that I’d completely missed before. Taken the same day as the one with the shadow of Keith… this one showed a large “K” made from the shape of the stairs leading up to the loft.

To Nan, I wrote:

… I could feel the emotion in the room, the healing that was being accomplished, even as the doors cracked open a bit to understanding of the different lives we lead in physical and spiritual form. You’ve certainly helped me to better articulate what I always felt to be true.

…Funny thing… as I went to look for [the photo I promised], I discovered a second one – taken the same day – that had a message I’d completely missed.

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Keith oversees a sewer connection we’d been trying to get at Perry Road, only about 5-6 weeks before he passed. So I’m guessing this picture was taken around mid July 2012.

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Large flat-belted gears drive a giant 4-drum oscillating sander that Keith had  fallen in love with in the large  woodworking shop on the property at Perry Road. When he tried to get it started, the belts fell off only a few seconds after it began to run. This photo was taken in May 2013 when Steven came into my life. He too fell in love with this old machine and immediately set about to get it running, which he did!

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Another view of the  old woodworking shop taken the same day Steven got the old sander running. I noticed the sun shining in the far windows, setting off a glowing light. But I used a different camera setting for the above photo. I almost missed the real message.

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This photo was take seconds before the first one just above. In looking for the picture I’d mentioned in VT, I found this one. Notice the giant “K” at the center, formed by the structure of a stairway in front of the glowing windows. SMH! I was dumbfounded when I came across this picture last night. How could I have missed it?!

Finally, this is the image I mentioned to Nan. Intellectually, I know how it was made. But it gave us all goosebumps when we first saw it. I was sitting at an old handmade table saw, working on homework for my doctorate. Steve was literally scurrying around working on making the giant sander operational (it extends from where he’s climbing to the round wheels you see in front of the windows to the right behind the posts).

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I looked up from my studies when I heard it come to life and grabbed my phone to take this photo. The message was clear to me at that moment. Keith was VERY pleased!

As I wrote to Nan, I feel that sometimes places can hold the energy of those who came before us there. Or they at least provide us a place to connect. Sometimes I feel old Maurice Reid here, as well. He was the original owner of this woodworking shop and I feel his occasional approval (or annoyance as the case may be at the time) as we try and make improvements to the old homestead.

These are just some of the most profound memories I have from the week’s travels and the memories those moments inspired me to revisit. 

Oh that sound…that sound.

A cacophonic symphony of frogs, birds, and forest rises from the green lush view outside my window at early dawn.

My mind drifts upon the fog back to a distant rainforest, the sounds carrying upon the light breeze of memory. The cool damp night air grips my lungs, my shoulders, my skin. It reluctantly gives weigh (sic) as its foggy embrace lets go slowly from the deep green blanket unfurling from a long winter’s sleep, released in a tsunami of sound and fragrant damp spring. I sigh.

That sound…that sound…

It fills my ears with nature’s symphony, as I dream of another place and time.

The cool moistness of the air fills my lungs and I breath it in deeply, grateful for the damp balm as it coats my airways, and soothes my soul.

The cool damp music of the early morn will soon give way to an incessant red heat, of this I am certain.

But for now, I travel back to that other place as I pull the blanket to my shoulders, made heavier by the damp night air, an embrace from beyond the veil, a fog whose feathery tendrils drift across the lush green landscape.

That sound…that sound…

Oh don’t leave me…

that sound…



Written Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Bedroom in new home

“Are you done grieving?” It wasn’t a question for me. It was asked of my father by a recent friend. She asked my dad as they shared lunch and talked about the new house we’ve been building and what she’d seen.

Later, Dad shared the question with me and it got me thinking about it. I answered him quickly at first: “Does anyone ever stop grieving?”

He mentioned his reaction to hearing the song: “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel. It had been a favorite of my mother’s. And just a week before she died, the last time we heard her say anything, she sang some of it when a visitor – a complete stranger to my mother – asked her in her slumber if she had ever heard the song. As the visitor began to sing the first few words, my mother began to sing with her.

When it came on the radio, out of the blue, as he got to an intersection he began to cry. Just like that. No warning. It just hit him, now 18 months later. Does anyone ever stop grieving? No, I said to dad. We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

Even now, for me, five and a half years after Keith passed, there are times when that inevitable moment stops my breath. A song, a number, a phrase, a space, a memory… and I have to pause for a moment, take it in, reflect, and consider the possibility – is this a message?Pay attention, I tell myself. He’s still there, just on the other side of the veil. He’s still with you as real as the bearded little man laying beside me now. There are times when I still feel his touch, a gentle one on the shoulder, a soft caress to the cheek as if a kiss made of air.

Sunset over snowy field and woodsThe triggers still come, a song I hadn’t heard in awhile played recently and I had to stop and listen and nod. “I will wait, I will wait for you…” sang Mumford & Sons. The song had just been released the last summer Keith was alive. I had put it on the playlist that became the soundtrack of the summer. “You can’t let me down now” sang Bonnie Raitt in another soulful tune that filled me with guilt and sadness for not having saved Keith from the pain he endured. Then there was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, a song that came out the year Keith and I were able to see them play live in concert.

These tunes and several others cause the air to slip out from my lungs momentarily, my heart to tighten in my chest. The difference now is that they don’t make me cry like they once did. The tightness lets go quicker and a soft smile slowly curves the corners of my mouth and I breath again, lovingly touched by the soul of my deepest connection in the spirit world.

There are times when I may also feel a bit irrational, where anxiety steps up and clenches my nerves tightly. Last fall I had been asked about going to a conference this winter. It was one that I had attended in March 2012 and co-presented with Ferris doctoral students along with the then president of the college where I work. It was in Philadelphia and I’d wanted Keith to join me but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been feeling all that well and felt the pressure of some work he needed to do. I wasn’t happy about his not feeling well, this uncured bronchitis or whatever it was. But he clearly didn’t have the energy to travel so I backed off. The conference, however, has somehow been cast in my mind as the “beginning of the end” for Keith.

So it was with a sudden attack of anxiety that I couldn’t immediately bring myself to register for this event when asked last October. Steven had had a health scare around the same time and I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years. Fortunately for Steven, the potential for liver problems was caught early enough and has led to him cutting way back on his alcohol intake and it has made a noticeable difference.

I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years.

Still, though the moment had passed, the anxiety over the association between this conference and losing a husband remained. Irrational, yes. But real enough that I put it off while still watching the deadline for the early bird registration. So when the moment came this week in a meeting with the VP to discuss conference travel, I was relieved when she supported my attending a different conference, one that would take place in Austin, Texas at the end of May. I would plan to take Steven so he could visit with his son, and I’d lead a contingent of faculty to the conference. It looked like something I could sincerely enjoy doing. The anxiety slipped away and replaced by a sense of giddy relief.

But then Dad mentioned the question asked by his lady friend: “Are you done grieving?” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The answer is: No. But life still moves forward and we must go with it, or risk losing the opportunity to live the life we’ve been blessed with to the fullest.

I’m sickened by today’s events in Charlottesville. I’m sickened by the tableau of nazi and white supremacist history being writ large and live in this day and age. I am sickened that the ideologies of hate and bigotry are so freely, loudly, and angrily shouted on the streets of America where so many years before, and even so recently, we believed this diseased torrid flesh-eating curse had finally been permanently banished. Yet this hate led to someone dying and others seriously hurt.

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Here’s another blogger’s response to the weekend’s events title My Fellow White Americans. And, sadly, I couldn’t agree more.

As I prepared to publish this, I came across a draft of an entry that I’d failed to publish shortly after the election. Yet as I re-read it now, I am deeply saddened that my fears have unfortunately been substantiated. Here it is, my previously unpublished post from last November.

Wrapping my head around a vote

written November 14, 2016

I just left a college-wide meeting where about 120 members of the campus community came together to talk about the election of Donald J. Trump and results of the most divisive election in modern history. Since that outcome of November 8th, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the disconnect and compartmentalization that describes how many people I know and care about – including colleagues, neighbors, and others – could vote for a candidate who spent 16 months spewing ever more vile rhetoric of hate, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Even more so, this same candidate chose not to demonstrate any scorn for those who perpetuated and even advanced this hate speech into action. Rather, he seemed to encourage it.

The kinder people I speak of are not racist. And I believe them. But then I’m left with a question of judgement. Did they hate Hillary so much more that they were willing to look past the comments of a person whose word-vomit and narcissism was decorated with the lacy fabric of… let’s just call it “crap”… the words are there and yet to repeat them gives them legs.

A consummate con, Trump is a showman whose singular goal is to get more views, more news coverage, more attention, regardless of how that happens. And somehow, nearly half the voters were able to swallow their own pride, set aside their own dearly-held values, and select a candidate whose con is only out-sized by his list of vile statements which emboldened a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic underbelly of America to come out of the woodwork. When is the last time a President was openly supported by the KKK or other white nationalist groups?

So I sat among colleagues who I hold great respect for, and even fondness, for we are, after all, a family of people committed to the common goal of changing the world through the success of our students. Yet, as I heard my well-intentioned co-workers from counseling offer ways of coping with anxiety – mostly intended for students in the room – I heard one of them, a kind-hearted white gentleman, finish his list of tips interspersed with the statement “because life will go on.” He had been doing so well… but then he went…there.

Life will go on? I guess. But in that one statement, he succeeded in diminishing the very real fears of many of the people in the room. Another colleague who I have often tapped to talk about cross-cultural dialogue and understanding took note of this statement. As a well-educated African American man, he knew the counseling and psychology phraseology. But he also knew what his own fears felt like. And he feared that life was not going to “go on” the same way for a long time. His pain was palpable and I felt a lump in my throat.

Sitting nearby was another colleague who I know to be gay, but he did not speak up. From his body language in response to an LGBT student’s expression of fear and concern countered with a defiant statement of hope, I could feel his pain, as well.

But then another colleague, an African American woman asked a variation of what I had already expressed via the microphone being passed around. How do I wrap my head around the fact that there are people I know who voted for this man in spite of the banner of hate that he waived? How do I resolve this conflict with people who accepted his hate, but then want to work with me? An unfulfilling answer came from a white male in the room who acknowledged his privilege but missed the point. He said we needed to just move past this and go on.

There it was again. Just move on.

Yep. Accept the fact that someone who has emboldened his most extreme followers to openly spew anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black crude, cruel, hate speech of the most deplorable kind, should be welcomed with open arms into the leadership of not only this country, but the free world? Accept that? Nope. Not at all.

I know that my male white colleague, and many people who voted for “the Don,” didn’t mean to vote for the vile crap that came along with his nonsensical campaign “speeches” and hyperbolic “big” promises. They may have been focused on only a few issues, one of them likely a palpable dislike for Hillary. I get it. She wasn’t my first choice, either. But she is highly experienced and well qualified for the job, regardless of the “email scandal” non-scandal that swirled around her campaign. I know that the people I call my friends, neighbors, and others I care about are caring people, too. And believe me, I hope above hope that I am wrong, that all the terrible things that the Don has unleashed will fizzle without doing permanent damage.

In the meantime, I don’t think “moving on” is quite the right term for what I – and many others – will be doing. Instead, we too, will become more emboldened to reach out to each other for support, for healing, to promote and hang tight to the values we hold dear, for love, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, celebration of differences, and…a brighter future. We will stand up to bullying, stand by our friends, step forward towards a more inclusive community.

 

Perhaps…maybe someday… we’ll even “move on.” Maybe after we have somehow managed to overcome this Pandora’s box of evil hate that I think we can all (mostly) agree is antithetical to the values of this nation, and close that horrid loathsome box shut again.


 

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Charlottesville, Virginia 8/12/17

8/12/17 – Unfortunately, far from “moving on,” it seems that the only way to fight evil is to face it head on, relentlessly, and without deviation. The opposite of evil is love. But today, evil is my enemy, and love for my fellow compassionate humans is my weapon of choice. – mjf

 

 

[Apologies, dear reader, for the length of this post. It captures many reflections and milestones from the past few months…]

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Keith walks along the coral shores of Tongatapu, Tonga, an island nation to the east of Fiji, 1993.
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The inauspicious anniversary has now come and gone and with its passage, I feel both a deep sadness and a lifting of a veil. No longer do I look back a year and remember what I was doing, how Keith was suffering on that very same day the year before, or the traumas of his treatment. Now when I look back a year ago, I see how much the earth had quaked, my road had shifted beneath me and my children, his family and close friends. No longer would there be any chance of his voice on the other end of the phone, a person to ask advice or crack a joke. No longer would we be able to imagine a time when he could have recovered.

At this time a year ago we began a long dark road of healing, like going through a dark tunnel where you would not know whether your footing would hold you, where you move forward both numb and carried by the faith of good will in those around you. Once that anniversary passed, September 1st, 2013, the first year anniversary of Keith’s passage to another plane of existence – some call it Heaven, some call it an afterlife, another dimension, another life… but just not one here, on this earth, with us, within reach – I no longer felt compelled to think about what was going on a year ago that day…

For the weeks and months before that anniversary, I was doing just that… thinking back to the almost precise day a year before. What were we going through? What sad decision was being made that day? How were we coping with it all? How was Keith even capable of surviving as long as he did? I reread every word of the diaries I wrote throughout that summer, right up through the day he died. Somehow, though, I’d never written down how those final moments passed. In reflection, a year later I write these words:

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Diary, Sunday, 9/1/13, 3:15 pm

It’s September 1st. Can’t believe it’s September 1st. “I think I just saw Dad take his last breath,” she said a year ago. Stassia had looked up at me in the evening dimness of the darkened bedroom crammed with the hospital bed against the kingsized bed Keith and I had shared. Sarah lay groggily waking from her nap not quite taking it all in. I walked up beside the hospital bed as Stassia kneeled from the bigger bed that hugged against it. I felt his neck, then leaned down over his mouth and nose to see if I could hear him breath. Standing straighter I looked at his chest that no longer moved. Then lifting my eyes to his that were gently closed, his mouth still slightly open from his previously labored breathing, I looked back to Stassia and now Sarah. “Yes, I think you did, sweetheart.” We stayed like that for a few minutes, not quite knowing the next move. Then, finally, we each laid our hands on Keith and said a quiet prayer for him, wishing him safe travels on his journey home… that place beyond our reach but where he would be free from the pain of his disease, the humiliations of sickness and crude attempts to stop its crushing march towards death. He was free of it all now. We were sad, but relieved as well.

I remember all of this now. Even while I cannot believe that a full year, a full 365 days have passed between now and that moment when he left us behind. I remember sending the kids downstairs to tell their Uncle Gino and Aunt Danette who were busy preparing dinner in the kitchen. I had left them just a few moments before, a little while after sending Stassia upstairs, telling her to wake Sarah, that it was time for her to give dad his meds. I remember feeling a tap on the shoulder even while no one was there next to me, and a sudden urge to follow Stassia up the stairs, entering the room only a minute or two after her. I remember the room was mostly dark except for a couple of nightlights and a yellow cast from the small antique stained glass lamp on the vanity.

I remember that after sending the girls downstairs, I picked up my iPad which had been playing music softly while winding through a series of selected family photos I’d put together for Keith to see… in case he had ever opened his eyes those last few days. The music I’d selected was meant to relax him… and us, yet now whenever I hear those songs, I begin to choke up, so many were about the love and caring and commitment to each other that a couple would share. I remember then pulling up the “poem” I’d written the week before, what would eventually become part of his eulogy that Sarah would read at his funeral. In the dimly lit room, I read it aloud to Keith and made some minor adjustments, as if he were directing me from beyond to smooth out a passage here or there. When finished, I laid my hand on his arm and my head on his chest and just lay there breathing… for both of us. It was over. His suffering was over. What lay ahead for me, I knew not what at the time.

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This past summer was a time of many travels, with Keith’s spirit following along nearly every step of the way. As we prepared to travel, a long-awaited package arrived in the mail containing the cremation diamonds Keith had asked for. It was a strange reminder of a stranger request Keith had made and that I had reluctantly fulfilled. Our travels, however, were also preceded by a rather unsettling dream. I wrote about it and then my sudden epiphany of what it meant:

Dream, 7/1/13
First one with Keith in a long while. It seems.

Keith was on the other end of the call and the conversation was as normal and casual as if he were still alive.

Me: hi
Keith: how are you?
M: Good
K: Good to hear. Now, Jess said she couldn’t translate for you. She’s gonna be busy. 13 Hurdles were coming.
M: Yea. I’d heard about that.

As I answered holding the phone to my ear, I stepped from outside to inside of a house, leaning low to pass under a closed window, trim painted white. Maybe it was a Dutch door but with the bottom open.

My alarm went off and the dream ended along with the conversation. I could still hear Keith’s voice in my head. It was good to hear from him again.

Postscript: Today is the 11-month anniversary of Keith’s passing. After the dream, I did a quick online search for “13 Hurdles, grief”. This is what I found:
http://mysonzack.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/hurdle-13-going-home-again/

Appropriate in many ways, even more so because on Wednesday, July 3rd, I’m taking my new friend back to my childhood stomping grounds.

And on July 27, what would have been Keith’s 55th birthday, me and the kids fly back to Fiji to spread some of Keith’s ashes and rejuvenate. Jess is our friend’s wife who own the Beachouse in Fiji where we’ll be staying.

PSS: After falling back to sleep, I re-awakened feeling I knew what the 13th hurdles were. I was supposed to take Keith’s ashes to New York, too. It is about “his” going home, not just me. I think he wanted me to bring him back to Ashdown Road, maybe the pond there where I sat with Sarah in my lap and took a photo of the very large Tri-color Heron that walked by me. But it could also be that I bring him to a lake in the Adirondacks for his friends to help spread his ashes…. hmmmmm…. which way to go….

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Returning home to Upstate New York

Over the July 4th holiday, I went back to upstate New York to visit family and old friends and introduce a new one. We met up with my brother and his family for lunch and then Keith’s best friend Michael was there to take me and my friend on a tour of our childhood memories around the Saratoga region. The first stop, though, was Ashdown Road where I knocked on the door of the first home Keith had ever built for our family. And, after securing permission, Michael and I shared in the act of spreading some of Keith’s ashes on the edges of that same pond Keith had dug, and where the Great Tri-color Heron had visited me when Sarah was born.

The next day, as the light of the sinking sun glittered across the quieting lake waters, I handed my iPhone to my friend to record the event. Larry stopped the boat at a special place on Sagandaga Lake where he said Keith had caught a large carp. I then asked Larry and Jean to join me on the boat’s stern and we each took turns dropping the last of the ashes I’d brought into the clear cool waters of this beautiful Adirondack lake. As we dropped the last of them into the water, we each said a prayer for Keith’s peace in the afterlife, the existence you’ve taken on in that other universe that we know you’re watching us from. The ashes swirled into the shape of a large fish and then just as quickly dispersed.

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The sun’s rays pour through storm clouds onto the receding tides of Fiji at the Beachouse. August 2013.

Back to the South Pacific
A few weeks later, on what would have been Keith’s 55th birthday, my daughters, son-in-law and I began the long journey to Fiji. Unfortunately, a weather delay out of Detroit had a domino effect and we missed our flight in LA that would take us to Fiji. With every hotel within shuttle distance of LAX filled due to the other stranded travelers, we ended up camping in the international terminal for 24 hours until the next flight to Fiji would leave at 11:30 pm Sunday. We finally arrived, due to the international dateline, before dawn on Tuesday, 7/30, Sarah and Mark’s 2nd wedding anniversary. It would take us three days to recover from our travels but there are worse things than being stuck on the beautiful beaches of Fiji, surrounded by friendly faces.

When on my second voyage out to sea to snorkel about the reef at high tide, I found myself in rapture like a small child laughing at the playfulness of joyous discovery at each colorful fish, sea anemone, or seashell I picked up. It went on like this for what seemed like an hour, even once Sarah and Mark joined us, him on the kayak and Sarah in the water snorkeling along with Stassia and myself.

At one point I found myself alone, looking around there was a panoramic view of dozens of different types of colorful fish, from moorish idols to Picasso trigger, from orange and black clownfish to black or blue damsel fish, lemonpeel angelfish skirted in and about the other unnamed colorful players to our dance. Coral heads filled the sandy area with waves of green seaweed, to colorful Christmas tree coral worms as the waves slowly caressed us to the gentle beat of the sea.

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I was transported back to a similar moment in Fiji during a dive with Keith. I remember holding onto the top of a coral bommie, schools of colorful fish moved in an harmonic dance all around me, in sync with the waves that pulsed through and around our bodies. As I remembered this absolutely magical time back then, my chest began to tighten. Keith, are you here? I remember now asking myself this. You could swim this type of natural beauty any time you want now, Keith. But is that why we are here? To remember and remind ourselves of that magical time? Is this how we are to honor you here in Fiji?

I had to fight back to tears that began to choke me. And just as I could no longer hold them back, I heard sounds of joyful outcry through the water and above the surface. Sarah and Stassia were happily playing in their discovery of some new fish, a group of clowns in an anemone, a big puffer fish under some staghorn coral, a colorful nudibranch that was hiding in the shadows… You taught them that, this joy of discovery of the undersea world, to respect it, yet relish it with a whole heart.

I swallowed back the tears that threatened to overtake me. Turning towards the laughing mermaids, our daughters now nearly 24 and 27 years old, I joined them in taking joy of their new discoveries.

One of our last days in Fiji, we made our way into the highlands of Viti Levu in order to kayak on the Navua River with a brief stop at one of the many beautiful waterfalls. Our little band of just four travelers and our Fijian guide were mostly alone as we made our way downstream. The occasional motorized longboat passed us heading upriver, sometimes trying to splash us (if it was filled with locals), sometimes throwing a big wake (if filled with tourists), but always with big shouts of “Bula!” Otherwise our trip was beautifully and blissfully quiet as we passed through the deep jungle canyon, marked by the occasional group of cattle clinging to a flatter area to graze. The rush of the occasional rapids would make our hearts beat faster. But then as we passed into calmer waters, the chatter of bird calls could be heard from deep in the jungle, one I mistakenly took for a dog barking until I’d heard it a few more times down river. Possibly an owl, instead.

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One of the many smaller streams feeding into the upper Navua River.

I knew this was a place for contemplation. So it didn’t surprise me, only pleased me more, to see the occasional heron fly by or sit on a rocky perch on the river’s edge. Keith’s animus, I thought, watching us make our way, being sure we did so safely. “Hi Keith” I would think to myself every time I saw one of these beautiful birds. They only seemed to ever showed themselves one at a time. So it was easy to believe that the white heron, then the white-faced blue heron, then the dark blue heron were all Keith… watching over his family and guiding us safely through our voyage.

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Earlier in our Fiji trip, Andrew, Keith’s best buddy in Fiji, made arrangements for four salusalu to be made. These are Fijian-style flower leis. Traditionally, they would be dropped into the water behind a sailing ship when newly launched. The same practice would be used to send Keith on his journey by putting more of his ashes into the channel when the outgoing tide would take them out to sea at sunset. Sarah, Stassia, Mark and I each poured some of the ashes into the sea followed by a flower salusalu, the sun setting quickly on the horizon as the waves broke loudly on either side of the channel. Andrew held the boat steady and then I asked him to do the final honors for the evening which he did. With all my children present during this time as the boat rocked us on the horizon of the South Pacific seas, the flowers drifting out to sea with his ashes in tow, it seemed so much more meaningful than any other time before or since. The next place we took Keith’s ashes was to Sulua Place in Pacific Harbour, where Keith had built our South Pacific home. Once again securing permission after finding out Sarah’s former teacher was house-sitting OUR old house, we went to the edge of the sea wall and, with a few blossoms of bougainvillea, we dropped the rest of the ashes I’d brought to Fiji into the ocean-fed lake.

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Very early on August 11th, as the plane descended into Detroit, it occurs to me that the act of visiting Fiji again, especially with the kids, and reconnecting with old friends serves a greater purpose. It served to remind me, to reassure me, that my life with Keith – if it were a dream – is one from a shared dreamscape, shared and made real by all those who knew him and remembered his stories. For it makes life – my past life with Keith, and any future we create anew – more than just the dream of songs, those songs that I played on the iPad a year ago, the ones that still bring tears to my eyes now.

Just before dropping through the clouds to the airport below, we saw the last of the streaks from the Perseus meteor shower outside our window, a reminder that all things are connected here between heaven and on earth.

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The last of Summer’s days

Over the next two weeks, with the marking of what would have been our 31st wedding anniversary, and then the looming milestones of when hospice would bring his hospital bed, I faced more emotional swings, especially as news reports celebrated the Blue Moon for the summer season. Keith died on the weekend of a Blue Moon, defined last year as the second full moon in a month, but more accurately was the fourth full moon of a three-month season as was the case this year. As the evening wore on and I settled in for bed, I felt my mood change. Sleep eluded me and my back throbbed angrily from my earlier weeding rampage in both the front and back gardens. I lay there in the dark, thinking back to a year before and what we were facing in Keith’s final days, still not knowing how long he had left.

Eventually, I just couldn’t stand it and decided to read through my diary entries from last summer. I relived each moment described in those pages yet with the fog of time cushioning the sting of pain. By around 2:30 am, my anxieties began to overwhelm me. I wanted to SEE the blue moon. I needed to see it. But the ambient light in my bedroom was too much. I began unplugging powerstrips that had extra lights. I tried to bend my body over the glass table by the window so I could see the moon that hung very tightly to the roofline of the house at that angle. Last year my bed sat under that window and I could just look straight up from my pillow as the light of the moon pressed sharp shadows of tree branches across the bed. But this year my bed sits on another wall and the window hangs over a glass table with books, photos, incense and a candle I’ve burned occasionally for Keith. Eventually, I climbed across the bed and craned my neck. I needed to try and feel the light of the blue moon, even as I cried myself to sleep.

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Dream, 8/30/13

I was on a boat. On this boat, the drawer of my dresser was overfilled and there was a pair of black velvet flats with bows that were getting squished. Music played on the stereo, like my iHome that holds the iPod here.

I was getting dressed but would get interrupted by different people. In one case someone who was dressed in a black chefs jacket says to me that I’d better be nicer to someone, that I shouldn’t be so hard on him. I replied that it was guidance and tough love, that he needed it in order to achieve what he wanted.

I remember others coming in but can’t recall the conversations. Only that I was in the process of dressing.

As I tried to leave the sailboat, the exit was actually a long curved wooden slide, polished smooth and beautifully crafted, like something Keith would have made. I don’t think I went down the slide.

I recall then seeing someone, a man who had crazy curly hair. He smiled gently at me. I turned back towards the dressing room to adjust the music. I found that the remote control was missing. All I could do was change the tune by selecting something different on the iPod. But to turn it off, I would need to do something more drastic like pull the plug. I sat the iPod down after selecting a different song, tried to shut the dresser drawer, but the black velvet shoes were getting crushed.

My analysis:
The curly-haired man was my friend, the person I needed to be nicer to. The slide was a passage towards the spiritual world… to exit would have meant death for me, an exit from this life. The black velvet shoes are the shreds of mourning and grief that swell the corners of my life, beautiful but sad… They need to be made to fit into the package of my past… not left to overwhelm my current life or my future. The music is the music of life. We cannot turn it off without dying (i.e. pulling the plug). We can only change the song.

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And finally, the anniversary

It was September 1st, 2013… The song that Keith and Sarah danced to at his daughter’s wedding to Mark had just come on the iPod playing on my iHome as I wrote in my diary on this first anniversary. My friend was out in the workshop after having mowed the lawn, trimmed the edges, raked the front yard of its leaves. Sarah, Mark and Stassia would later be coming over in anticipation of dinner, and an evening by the bonfire, toasting their dad.

That evening we would burn the masi bow that we’d tied to the front yard tree last year, the day after Keith left us. And we would throw the last of the copal that I’d brought from Mexico, a gift from Tlakaelel back in 2006. My friend was there too, but quietly… out of respect for this family event. It was still so surreal to me… a word I shared with Keith’s sister Barb just the other day, on her birthday – the same as my friend’s. Keith’s father had died in early June, just 9 months after Keith. She shared news of the closing on his house in Phoenix, the estate sale while we were still in Fiji, how quickly it had all happened… yet all in the same year as Keith’s death.

It felt surreal that I sat here writing in my diary 365 days later, a full year of days, and my friend now sits beside me, ready with a warm and unconditional hug. I’ve needed a lot of those lately. It’s been a surreal experience, this last year or more, beginning with … what… Stassia’s graduation and Keith’s still not getting over his “flu” after too many weeks and months? my flying back from Russia after news of “metastatic liver disease”? the nightmare weeks and months that followed, so few that we never felt we had a chance to even begin to catch up to the disease that had raced through his thin ravaged body.

It’s surreal that life went marching on afterwards… surreal that Keith is not here… YOU are not here, Keith. At least not on this side of the spiritual realm. I wish you well, Keith. I know I can feel your spiritual presence… stronger some times than others. I need to keep going on, to empty the drawers of grief, to change the tune on my iPod, and be more open and kinder to the gentle friend who has stepped forward to help me through it all. Only time will tell. Time… heals eventually.

This morning I reread the card that sits by the candle I light occasionally for Keith. “Regard all dharmas as but dreams.”

Life is but a dream…

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