Friday, June 24, 2011

on death, dying, and confronting my own mortality

Perhaps the title of this post sounds creepy, morbid, and just plain ol' sad. Sure, not gonna lie, it has been a tough week. My grandfather had a massive heart attack over a week ago and passed away last Saturday morning. It was the first time I had experienced a significant loss in my family in over 17 years. When I stepped on the plane to come home, I was thinking about a lot of memories, experiencing a heavy heart, filled with sadness. Yet, in a way, there was something peaceful about the whole thing. My grandfather didn't suffer, he lived his life thoroughly and enjoyed his retirement. He raised a wonderful son who is a wonderful father, mentoring me and providing me the right amount of support even 3,000 miles away.

Whenever we lose a loved one, death stares us in the face. Only at that point do we think about our own mortality and take it seriously. For the remainder of our days, it is an elusive, vague, "something out there," concept. Sitting in church today and looking intently at my grandfather's urn on the wooden table in the center of the aisle containing his ashes, I thought about what would happen if I found out I had a month left to live.

Immediately, the following questions popped into my head:
Do I live with regrets?
Do I try and enjoy and cherish each and everyday?
Do I do my best to tell people I love them?
Do I enjoy life, live it to its fullest, and don't let the small stuff get in the way?

These are 4 questions that became very apparent and sat at the forefront of my mind during my visit in Maine. I think it is super important for us to talk about/think about/contemplate/meditate on our own mortality. It lights a fire under our butts, it gets us thinking about the stuff that matters. It is useful in our own spiritual development, whether we are Catholic, Buddhist, or Jewish.

Yes, my time in Maine has been somber yet I was able to participate in a well-deserved celebration of my grandfather's life. Below is what I wrote and read at his funeral:

"My parents taught me early on that when somebody goes out of their way to give you something from their heart, it is important to write a thank you note to express your gratitude for the gift. So I thought it would be fit to write one last thank you note to my grandfather.

Dear Papa,
Thank you for teaching me to have an affinity for reading and books. I remember going to the South Portland library with you and browsing the shelves, filling up paper bags and coming home and reading in the living room with you. For that, I will always have a library card and think of you when I use it.

Thank you for letting Nate and I play in the attic, even when it was 100 degrees up there. We loved exploring the old clothes, trinkets, and boxes of old National Geographic magazines for hours. For that, I will always seek out new places to explore.

Thank you for letting Nate and I eat all of your candy in the glass dish on the coffee table. It was yummy. For that, I will think of you when I unwrap a butterscotch disc or peppermint candy.

Thank you for letting Nate and I drive your golf cart around in Florida. Your only rules were, “Please don’t get hurt and please don’t crash.” For that, I will always remember these things when I step into my car.

When I called you from Seattle and asked how you were doing, you said with a chuckle, “It’s perfect weather, played golf this morning, just finished dinner, and I’m watching the Red Sox game. I can’t complain.” For that, I will remember that in essence, life is pretty good and I shouldn’t complain.

One of my last memories of my grandfather was when he and my dad took me out 2 years ago to play golf on a real golf course for my first time. I had a blast and will remember the lessons of patience, laughter, and most importantly, having fun every time I pick up a club, even if it’s a game of mini-golf or the driving range.

Papa, thank you for being a wonderful grandfather. A mellow spirit who thoroughly enjoyed your life and your retirement. You raised a wonderful son who is an amazing father and your life lessons will live on.

I found a book in my old bedroom called “Golffirmations.” As I thumbed through the book smiling, the last page proved to be the perfect closing:

“Cherish the beauty of a golf course at dusk. The cool has come. The light, now orange, slants through long shadows. The birds come alive again, deer or rabbits enlivened by the sun’s fade venture into a fairway. A peaceable kingdom is born. The players, weary and yet ennobled by staying the course, putt out to rising of the merest wind, the hush that comes with good night.”

Saturday, June 18, 2011

a father's day tribute

It has been one of those slow mornings. I slept until 11am, hung out in bed for 2 hours after that reflecting on the past week. This morning, I received the dreaded phone call I had been waiting for-my grandfather had passed away. And so I stayed in bed, filled with sadness and memories. Sadness for my dad, my grandmother, and for my grandfather. Of course, my mind went to that place of reflection. Reflecting on my relationship with my own father. And so, here I am, drinking hot tea and looking out at the dreary & drizzly Seattle sky writing.

My father. A world traveler. A coach. A mentor. An engineer. A teacher.

I have many early memories of time with my father. I remember hiking Mt.Washington, our family vacation to Disney World, multiple road trips to Pennsylvania to visit our extended family. Eating lobsters in the backyard, working on home improvement projects together. My first beer with him. Those memories remain vivid and in the forefront of my mind to this day. I remember him coming to most of my basketball games, knowing afterwards whether to coach me or hug me. He has always had that intuition of knowing exactly what I need and when I need it, whether it be space or a heart to heart.

Our relationship has grown over the years into a dynamic conversation, with me living so far away. Our talks are "heartier," and contain the substance of love, work, money, and life. I know when he is overworked, exhausted, and wanting a beer and a chance to sit on the couch simply by the way he says hello. I also know when he is smiling because he has returned on a great adventure with my mom either kayaking or hiking.

This past week, I got to know my dad on a completely new level. A level of vulnerability. Hearing him cry on the other end of the phone broke my heart in so many ways. All I wanted was to hug him through the phone. The magical thing about what happened this week was that I saw my dad in a sad space yet he was strong at the same time. His wisdom of life and love and family has been passed along to my brother and I, and I can strongly say I will carry that wisdom with me always.

He is a man of many talents. Strong yet gentle, assertive, yet compassionate, creative, yet practical. He has been and will continue to be the strong one, the detail oriented guy, the engineer who travels to exotic locations and drinks the water. The guy who has a Harley. I am so thankful for all the lessons he has taught me, all the mountains he has brought me to climb, the many late nights around our fire pit back home with margaritas and chips & salsa, and laughter that wakes up the neighborhood.

Dad, Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

summer love & tears

Yesterday, I celebrated my 4 year anniversary of living in Seattle. I went to a Mariners game with my new summer camp team, enjoyed yummy pizza & beer, and laughed a lot. This week has been busy and crazy good. Summer camp starts Monday and I am super excited to be outside in the woods, at the beach, and being in my element again. Early mornings and busy days = time to enjoy the summer evenings in my garden, at the park, or grilling yummy food.

I love summer. I love the long days, the fresh food, the taste of lemonade, wearing shorts and sandals, the smell of sunscreen, and being outside under the vastness of the blue sky and hot sun. Today was one of those days that I fell in love with summer again, or at least the possibility of summer. I was on a high.

And then...

I came home and after working in my garden, I called my parents and found out my grandfather had suffered a massive heart attack this afternoon. I was stunned. I was sad. I was scared. I cried. In that moment of my dad telling me about what had happened and how they were in the hospital waiting on news from the doctor, I started to feel complete and utter paralysis starts to set in because of being so far away. That's what made me the most sad.

Pema Chodron, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, talks about how things come together and things fall apart. We are in constant flow and flux and at the hands of the universe. We can only be responsible for ourselves and how we show up and when we show up and are scared, sad, and sometimes vulnerable, we can be gentle with ourselves and be in the experience, totally and completely.

Life can change in an instant. We all know that. It is up to us to make every moment worth it. Totally and completely.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

garden chick

I have been super sporadic in my writing. Not gonna lie, life has been crazy busy between work, traveling, and just plain ol' busy livin. I think the quote goes something like this: "get busy livin' or get busy dyin," and that is exactly how I have been feeling. I finally found a few quiet moments at my desk with a great glass of wine and one of my many yoga CD's playing and decided to post.

As I am reflecting on the past month or so, I am realizing that the energy I am living in is somewhat frenetic. Actually, a lot frenetic. It's not how I like to operate but what I have realized is that going with the flow is a lot easier than resisting. When I am operating under a fast pace for multiple days at a time, I seriously start to feel like a neglected puppy dog...choices are made, sometimes I come home and eat nachos because I have no energy to make anything else, my laundry piles up to a mini-Mt. Everest, and my yoga mat starts to collect dust. Now, a year ago, I would be in panic mode but I have gotten to the point where I know that things will stabilize out again and eventually get back to normal.

The key lesson I embody is a Buddhist lesson, pure and simple: non-attachment. I am very careful I don't get stuck in the thinking that this will last forever. Sure, I get in arguments with The Man, little things set me off, but for the most part, I know "this too shall pass." I am always under this impression that somewhere exists  the "perfect balance." It is soooo elusive, but I am constantly trying to find it.

True Fact: It is hard to strike a balance (if balance truly exists) between being productive and finding time to relax on the weekend. Today was a perfect example: I woke up at 8am, went for a walk around Green Lake with the puppy, got my oil changed, went downtown for lunch with The Man, took the bus home after he split to go to work, went to the hardware store to pickup garden stuff (big sale), had to get gas, came home and worked in the yard for a good 2 hours, made a grocery list, went shopping, came home, cooked dinner, and then attacked my messy office post dishwashing and now, finally writing and sipping.

Back to the garden: The Man built me a 13' x 3' raised vegetable/flower/herb garden in our yard for my birthday. Yep, I love him and don't say that enough. In the past month, whenever I have had a few extra moments, I try to get outside to work in my garden. Today, I finally did my layout for where everything is going to get planted. Yep-3 weeks later, and my veggies, flowers, and herbs are still in their poor little pots. (I am making a pouting sad face as I write this). To tell you the truth, finding the time has been a nightmare BUT today was a day of BIG progress. My goal is that tomorrow night after I come home from my all day summer training, I will get those buggers into the ground so I can have some yummy garden to table delights.

Gardening is an ABSOLUTELY PERFECT metaphor for anything and everything. We are constantly in process, we need to nurture and take care to help grow, we have cycles, we bloom, we die, we are resilient. Working in my garden is so incredibly therapeutic and relaxing. Of course, I have heard this my whole life from others but to actually have my own garden and my own time in the dirt, it makes me so happy.

I am so grateful for where I am at, even if it is a bit frenetic and draining. I know that I get to come home every night and witness growth and the fruits of my labor. I get to make a choice at the end of the day if my circumstances and situations will hold me back or if they, in the end, will help me...


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wishcasting Wednesday: What Do You Wish To Begin?

Wow. It has been a whirlwind kind of month. May flew by with my birthday celebration mixed in, a new garden, lots of time with The Man, and planning/getting ready for summer camp, a very exciting time for staff and kids alike. Also, I just returned from my trip to Colorado where I got to see and be part of my best friend's wedding. It felt so good to be back in the mountains again. While on my trip, I finished the book by Gretchen Rubin, "The Happiness Project," and really enjoyed it. In Colorado, I got a lot of great "Jen Time," lots of walks, rocking on the deck while drinking some yummy morning coffee, yoga, walks, and thinking time. 
That's what happens when you travel alone.

So today, Jamie Ridler asks: What Do You Wish To Begin? which is an absolutely perfect prompt. 

I wish to begin... morning yoga & meditation practice. To have consistency in my practice will allow me to get in touch with my spiritual self over and over again.

...working consistently on my finances and budget. My goal is to really find a system that works for me, that is sustainable and that induces joy and abundance rather than fear and lack.

...going to bed early and making time to read an journal. I also want to begin gratitude journaling, a point that Gretchen Rubin talks about in her book.

...experimenting in the kitchen more and planning meals for The Man and I so we are eating healthfully and local. Yummy!

...a volunteer project/opportunity of sorts. Whether that is in the area of mental health advocacy, a field I am super passionate about, or reading to kids on the weekends, I don't know. But what I do know is that I need to start giving back.

All in all, this is what I am working on and also, so much more. Here is to an amazing June!