Archive for July, 2014

I don’t normally write about my private life in public. But I’m going to tell you this story. It’s about death. Not a popular topic in our society; one you know intimately. Most of you who read this have had the sacred responsibility of being death-bearers. All of you have lost friends. Most of you have lost brothers or sisters who meant more to you than your own life, more to you than even your spouse and kids. That kind of love isn’t well understood outside this circle. But you know it. And you know death. It’s energy is still your companion, in your nightmares, in your fantasies, in your fears. You know this space.

Two week ago today, my husband’s mother (she lived with us) was diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer. When they diagnosed it, her kidneys were already shutting down. The death process had begun. There was nothing that could be done. No cure. No treatment. Nothing to do but face reality: the end was near.

Instead of fighting it or struggling against it or denying it, she accepted it. We all accepted it. There was peace and calm and a matter-of-factness in what we needed to do. Take one day at a time. We made a decision not to grieve while she was still alive. I told our children to focus on here and now, because here and now is all we ever have in any case. We moved with grace. We made plans to try to get her home to Sarajevo. There wasn’t time. Each day she moved closer to her last one.

A close Marine brother coached me: “Stay tough. Death is a natural part of life.” Another brother, an Army Chaplain, said: “Death is something realized after in the absence. You can’t prepare for it.” I leaned on close brothers who knew death better than anyone. They loved me through it as I loved my husband and kids through it. It was an incredibly sad time wrapped in the strong arms of Love and Grace. We were held close by many (thank you).

What took me by surprise was how different this experience felt compared to when my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer when I was 17. He was a doctor, he was a Korean vet. He knew what his diagnosis meant. He was calm. But he made a decision to fight it, for his family’s sake. He was surrounded by the poison of denial, by a refusal in others to see what was happening, by stalwart religious believers who swore that God promises healing and that he would be healed indeed. My dad was so physically ill that he was hospitalized for most of his 10-month journey. I was there with him. Living at a hotel attached to the medical center. Serving as one of his nurses. I saw through what was happening. I was calm. I knew that death would be a relief. I knew what I was losing. And frankly, my father was already gone. I had lost him the day he was diagnosed. None of the time afterward gave me any additional “time” with my dad. He lived with everyone else’s denial right up until his final two weeks or so.

My mother-in-law died two days ago, here in her bed, in our house. My husband and I cared for her during her journey. We were her nurses. She was surrounded by Love. She was allowed to go. She was not deterred by denial or a refusal to accept that her time on earth was done. I’ve taught my children that we come from the Spirit World, we journey here, and we return to the Spirit World. They know that the veil between life here and life there is thin. The human spirit is eternal. And while there is sadness, and tears — there is serenity, too.

So, why am I telling you this story?

One, because I need to tell it. Just like you need to tell yours. Storytelling is how we make sense of what happens to us. And too often, you come home from war and keep your stories locked up inside. You don’t have a safe place to share them, and they often feel too painful to find words for. But stories are what connect us as human beings.

Death is what connects us to Life. Your stories of death matter. You have both caused death and suffering and torturous pain, and witnessed and endured it. And death has been both a relief and regret. A weight on your soul that you can’t seem to budge. It grows heavier the longer you keep it inside.

The other reason? You have seen the vulgar, ugly side of death. Where the intention to kill shatters human bodies. And leaves your own heart and mind shattered, too. You have lost those you loved in a matter of seconds. With no preparation. No time to say goodbye. No time to even stop and mourn. They were here one moment, gone the next, and you had to keep going. There was no time for acceptance or peace, just sheer necessity to move on.  And today, the jagged pieces inside your heart still cut fresh every time a memory returns.

Going through these last two weeks reminded me that, as human beings, we have the power to let Love be stronger than Death.

We can bless those who went Home early by accepting it in our hearts.
We can stop fighting the fact of their loss and know that they are okay now.
We can stop clinging to their last moments and celebrate their lives.
We can know that while sadness and grief are right and real, we can imagine our spirits are wide and expansive so that there is room in us for mourning and grief AND joy and beauty and grace.

We can remember that death can be spiritually beautiful. (Hard to remember, I know, when your mind is filled with gore, but a truth worth remembering, nonetheless.)

And what about those people whose deaths you caused?

You may or may not feel regret or guilt. Doesn’t matter.
What is fact is that their time on earth was done.
You had a part – a sacred part – as a warfighter in facilitating their deaths. (For those of you who know me, I believe that warfighters take on a sacred spiritual responsibility for death before they come to earth and it is one that sets them apart for their entire journey on earth.)

The weight of this responsibility is not going to go away. Which is why I encourage you to have a conversation with those you killed. (Don’t stop reading now– you don’t have to believe they can hear you. You don’t have to have any type of spiritual belief, other than that the human spirit is eternal. But you need to express a few things for your own heart’s sake.) One, honor the roles you both had in this epic journey on earth. You don’t have to feel any type of emotion about or for them. Just recognize the fact that they were human beings. Honor that. (This is more about freeing yourself than anything else — so suspend your beliefs and try it.)

Next, thank them. That’s right. Instead of asking for forgiveness, try thanking them for having chosen you way back when in the Spirit World to play this role in their journey. (This puts you both on equal power — where neither of you has the upper moral/ethical hand and there is no judgment.)

Then, release them. Tell them it’s time for them to move on, that they’re okay now, and that you are releasing them back to Light. Then let yourself release them as well.

I know that all sounds very New Age-y or what have you. But there are spiritual roles in this and you have nothing to lose by giving this a try.

Love is stronger than death. Death is momentary. Love continues on. It’s fierce and tenacious and our essential nature as human spirits. We come from Love and Power in the Spirit World, we return to it when our journey on earth is done. We can access this part of our nature at any time and stand in our power as beings of Love and Light. We do not have to allow any one thing to consume 100% of us — our spirits are capable of expanding and containing dualities: light and dark, love and hate, peace and fear, anger and happiness, pain and ease, grief and joy. When you allow that to be true for you, you open up space to stop fighting against what is and allow it all to be. That allowance lets you move toward wholeness.

Wholeness is defined as “containing all of ones’ elements or parts.” That’s what we are capable of.

And what death asks us to remember.