Grief and Loss

It is with a sad and heavy heart that I share the news of our sweet cat Goncobe passing away this morning. We knew this was coming, and in fact scheduled a house visit to put him down tomorrow morning from the same vet who put down his brother Juba this same time last year, but nature took its course and he passed away on his own accord.

Just the other day, as I was reading through a book of poetry by Mary Oliver, I came across this lovely line, which says it all:

To live in this world,
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
 
Mary Oliver
 

What a blessing that Mike and I and Jaden were all able to be with him in his active dying phase this morning, just as we were all together when we picked him and his brother Juba up from the Humane Society as kittens in 2004, when Jaden was just 4-years-old. The two brother litter-mate kittens looked so much alike that only Jaden could tell them apart. Until we got to know them, Mike and I would constantly ask 4-year-old Jaden which one was which!

Grief has a way of slowing the bones of time. Such is the way today.

I wrote this earlier today while at Goncobe’s side, as his last breaths came in fits and spurts:

I cradle my sorrow like fragile eggs,
 hatching slowly in the nest of my heart.
Transfixed by the soft approach of light 
into an otherwise darkened place, 
through hairline fractures in the veil
 separating two worlds which serve as one, 
I reach out,
 crack myself open,
 and let my grief
 sing its rightful song.

Tender holding
 is what life asks for, 
in the moments before death.
 Tender holding,
 that is all. It is enough.

Please hold us in your heart during this time of mourning.

Nicole, Mike, and Jaden

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Poetry About Dogs

Calligraphy by my friend Jennifer Baylis; verse by me. The full verse is: There is no such thing as an insignificant moment.

I was hoping it was some kind of coy euphemism, when I rolled up to part three in Mary Oliver’s Devotions, entitled: Dog Songs. Turns out, it was just as I’d feared. This section of the book includes 10 poems about dogs.

Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. Anyone who knows me well, knows that even if I were bleeding to death on the street, I’d pause my demise to give affection to a passing four-legged friend. I guess what I’m saying, though, is that there’s a difference between loving dogs and reading poems about them. I mean, I love cats, but I draw the line at collecting kitschy cat figurines or hanging up a calendar featuring kittens in baskets. I love Ani Difranco too, but I wouldn’t put her picture on my fridge. You get the idea.

But I find value in asking myself why.

Why do dog poems cause me to bristle? And while I’m at it, what do I have against cat figurines or cat calendars? If I were to walk into a friend’s house and find a picture of Ani D on their fridge, what then?

Judgements creep in and perfume my consciousness with righteousness sometimes, and it’s a scent I do not find pleasant.

Yet, to be without judgements I reckon is impossible.

So, the best I can aspire to is to keep a close and curious watch on myself, and to breathe into the folds of what arises, in the wake of what I see.

 

 

Chronicles of a Sick Person

Facebook Posts:

3/8:
With a 100.5 degree fever and feeling as though I’ve been run over by a truck, I’m athinking my planned solo saunter to JJ Hot Springs to celebrate Mike and I’s anniversary tomorrow is out. What can I say? Sickness happens. It’s part of life.

And now, please excuse me while I return to bed to languish. Alas, I fear that death is near. Go on without me!

3/9:
Okay. Well. It would’ve been a lovely day to go to the hot springs today as I’d planned, to celebrate Mike & I’s anniversary – the sun is shining and the sky is blue here in Missoula. But I am still super sick – though my fever has come down a bit, which is nice. While I’m bummed my plans were thwarted, let’s be real, is it ever a “good” time to get sick?

3/9:
Sick person cave checklist:

– Multiple blankets and pillows for managing my hot & cold flashes and shifting comfort levels associated with everything hurting: check!
– Heating pad and heating blanket: check!
– Can of ginger ale within arm’s reach: check!
– Thermometer: check!
– Handkerchief: check!
– Laptop with Netflix: check!
– Bottles of water (even though thus far they’ve gone untouched, because for some reason water sounds horrible to drink right now): check!
– Curtains drawn to keep out the light (because I have pronounced light sensitivity): check!
– Bag of Halls: check!
– A still pretty good attitude: check!
– A cat that is part super great (see pic below) and part super not, depending on the moment at hand: check!

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Warmth and Flicker

There’s a sigh of relief that only a campfire can foster;

a certain person we become – or rather return to – in the company of its flames;

and a unique opening of the heart that is only possible in its warmth and flicker.

_________

Having gone to bed a little earlier than usual last night, I woke naturally just after 4am this morning. It was 47 degrees outside, as I sat on the back porch, bundled up in a hoodie and blanket, sipping tea, and writing by lantern light. This is what I penned in my journal:

Quietude is more than the slowing down of surrounding sounds. It is an internal settling of our mental chatterings, too. Of course, each is affected by the other, but I reckon it is more realistic – and often more beneficial – to take charge of the latter.

To still the din around us is typically not a matter of choice. We can dampen it. We can ward it off for a bit. We can tuck into the woods and perhaps leave it behind for a while. But the clamor of living, sifting beings will be there to greet us upon our return.

There’s a quietude that can remain, however, amid even the noisiest of places. There are skillsets we can develop and hone, which will enable us to stay accompanied with a calm that is not easily tossed out to sea when a siren wales, or we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a throng of people.

_________

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Saying Goodbye

Our one of two cat food bowls sitting empty this morning took on a whole new and sorrow-filled meaning. We put our cat Juba down yesterday.

14-years ago, almost directly after filling out the paperwork to buy the house we still reside in, we went to the Humane Society to fetch ourselves a cat in which to accompany our fresh purchase. Over-run with a new litter of orange kittens – to the point of being out of cages to put them in – they offered us a two-for-one deal. After some minor hesitation, we accepted their offer and left with two brother kittens, one in each hand.

Over the years, we’ve often pondered how terrible it would’ve been had we gotten only one, as we had intended (though we wouldn’t have known it). Our 2 brother cats have been great company and friends to each other. A couple of years ago, I finally got around to something I’d wanted to do for a long while. I sent the Humane Society a card, thanking them for their generosity in giving us a buy-one-get-one-free kitten and providing such a wonderful service to our community.

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Runneth Over

I was reading the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings on Saturday morning and I guess this guy wanted to see what all the fuss was about :)

 

My cup runneth over with inspiration, information, and heartbreak for the people. I’m rather at a loss of how to reign it all in to fashion this post. Over the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with a wealth of different people and topics that have given rise to a myriad of emotions, thoughts, and ideas.

Today marks the last day of our local 10-day 15th annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. During the span of the festival, I saw films highlighting a number of issues, including: domestic violence, the oppression of our LGBTQ community, Native land rights, coal mining and mountain top removal in West Virginia, and the plight of orangutans and loss of forested habitat.

As a representative of our Buddhist sangha and active participant in our local interfaith community, I also attended a couple of events with a retired Evangelical pastor who was brought to town by both our local Christian faith communities and the Sierra Club: Pastor Tri Robinson. Tri Robinson is a conservative, Republican, evangelical, pastor-rancher that is adamant that evangelical Christians should be working to address the climate crisis as part of their Christian calling. I attended the first U.S premier of the film showing of Cowboy and Preacher on Friday night, for which Tri was the focal subject. And last night my husband and I attended his keynote address on the university campus entitled: Creation Care and the Christian Church. Both events were simply fantastic and provided a great deal of nourishment and inspiration to me as a spiritual leader motivated strongly to help support others and care well for our planet.

And then there’s the issue of what’s been happening in the wake of the school shooting that took place in Florida recently. My 18-year-old stepson’s high school was the target of a number of threats this past week. As parents, we were alerted via email and recorded phone messages about each instance and kept well informed. On Thursday, I received an email stating that the school was on lock-down, due to a threat posed to the student body. And while, for better or worse – and probably for both – I didn’t regard the threats as being of a serious nature that would actually give rise to actual harm being inflicted, my heart broke for my stepson and the other students, teachers, and staff who were having to weather and situate themselves amid that atmosphere, however hollow and empty the threats might have been.

Over the past week, too, I met with a few different close friends and sangha members, some of whom were seeking support with a particular matter. I had the chance to experience the vulnerability of a few individuals in trusting me with their stories and struggles, which is a privilege and honor that humbles me deeply.

Yesterday, as part of my Mindful Morning Saturday routine, I watched a Dharma talk given on February 12th by Brother Phap Man, a monk in the Plum Village tradition who resides at Blue Cliff Monastery. His talk – which I watched in two sessions and finished this morning – was entitled: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our World, and focused on matters of racial discrimination, sexism, white privilege, and detrimental cultural biases.

I met with two hospice patients. I spent a day nannying for two young boys. I worked to pull together logistics for our upcoming spring family retreat, for which I serve as co-director, in charge of registration and also putting together and running the kids programming. I met with a good friend who’s offered to be my sound guy in the venue for my upcoming scary new adventure of having a CD release party and solo spoken word performance. And there’s more, too.

So much happens in the span of one week’s time. And some weeks, like this past one, involve a bit more than usual, in the realm of sensory input.

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Today

The four aspects of the Plum Village Tradition (Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice) are: study, practice, work, and play.

Today:

Let us study our relationships with one another.

Let us practice to enfold the quality of mindfulness into as many of our daily activities as we can.

Let us work to be fully present in the here and now.

And let us play in the fluid motion of joy, as we train in the art of not taking ourselves so seriously.

Having a sense of humor, being able to delight in simple pleasures, and not taking oneself so seriously is of great benefit. Here’s a 1-minute video I took yesterday – may it help you to train in the fluid art of cultivating joy.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the little toy in this video is solar powered. Prior to yesterday, I had no idea it could dance with such vigor!