My sister-in-law, Shelley, along with my youngest brother, Rick, fought a courageous 10 month battle with her Stage 4 diagnosis of small squamous cell cancer. She lost that battle a week and a half ago while staying in Seattle, where she had been going every three weeks for chemotherapy, flying from their home in Juneau, Alaska to Seattle.
They had tried and exhausted every kind of chemotherapy drug, and even tried experimental therapies in hopes of prolonging her life. That she lived a full 10 months with a terminal, late stage diagnosis and survived long enough to meet her first grandson is a testament to the determination of the human spirit against impossible odds.
Now, with her loss, we are all feeling a bit adrift and have banding together as families...hers, in Seattle to says their final goodbyes. Mine....here in my home in Salem, Oregon where we invited my brother to come down and spend a week with us and another of our brothers and his wife to join us, as well....before heading back to Juneau.
We spent a lot of time just talking and sharing the experiences of the past year. It is the caring and in the sharing, that we are able to connect with others, and to feel like we are not alone, and that others truly and deeply do care.
It is a big world, with many experiences and emotions to go through in all of our lifetimes. I believe that it is our reactions to those experiences and to those emotions that shape each of us into the people that we were either meant to become, or have chosen to be, instead. When we allow our loss, and our deep grieving, even the many stages we all go through with loss..through denial, through anger, through blame, through even great sadness and perhaps even depression, we are doing our own deep shadow work.
Our shadow is the deepest, darkest, part of ourselves. It is the part that we have in common with all others but almost always fail to acknowledge the presence of, always to see another who is this, or has that, or is filled up with-----. We all share the yin and the yang, the sunshine and the shadows. And it is with the out letting, the leeching of all of the darkest parts of our emotional selves that we can once again go into the light. We learn to see the other as the self, to see the bridges and the pathways that connect us ..heart to heart, spirit to spirit.
Many people believe in a divine being, but those that do not may still believe in the healing power of nature and of love. So, we go out and into nature, we bring all of that beauty, that immensity, that power back into our spirit until we see and we feel the true connection, the connection that is always truly just there. Our true nature, as the Buddhists called it, or our soul in other words, is unchangeable and part of all that is. We connect with the healing energies through the heart into the deepest parts of ourselves and we simply release all judgement. We release judgment of all others and of ourselves. And in that great releasing, we feel so much pain lift from within us.
I have been involved with helping many, many people in my lifetime, sometimes friends, sometimes family, sometimes complete strangers that were directed to the healing energies of my heart and my hands when they simply needed a friend to get through the challenging times of illness, loss, and their own transitions into another place in time and space until they were ready to leave this world and enter the next.
And I have learned to find the parts of those connections and to nurture their growth through love and through our connection with mother earth and all of nature.
We took long walks along the beautiful parks, bridges, and gardens in and around Salem, and an even longer time just gathered in my home and sharing multiple meals and barbeques with my own family as they come up from their homes in Salem and Eugene to share time with their uncle (and my other brother and his wife) and express not just their condolences, but their caring and support.
I know that we made a difference simply by keeping everyone busy and discovering new things to see and do in this world that are not always apparent when our spirits are in pain or feeling great loss or sadness. By this sharing, and this doing, we create a place away from focusing on the pain, a way to transport ourselves above the body and its pain and into the mind-body-spirit world within.
My brother had not been sure about traveling down here and staying with us for a week before returning to Alaska, even knowing that doctors and psychologists, ministers, deacons, and good friends had shared their own experiences with the gifts of my own healing heart. But no one leaves my home without at least having a great deal of fun and feeling loved! And so, I encouraged, and desperate to feel something besides pain and loss, he allowed himself the healing gifts of grace.
I have learned from my own losses in life, that is good to let the negativity of those experiences out in healthy ways among people who love you, but even better to stay very busy and finding ways to still find joy and sustainable happiness.
Without fail, everyone who visits wanders out to my prayer flag garland. A garland that is added to bit by bit over time. An archway that has its little healing strips replaces once squirrels ...or birds... managed to pry the knots free and send the colorful bits and pieces off into the universe or up and into their own little nests.
When our week was over, I said adieu to my visiting family, and good luck to my own family. Two families to return to Alaska and their new ever-changing lives and my own three sets of children and my husband, who is now hoping to climb and summit South Sisters, our third tallest mountain in Oregon at 10,000 ft. ..his own dream since his stroke in mid-April.
I look at my prayer arch garland, I think of all of the positive thoughts, the caring, and the prayers and I thank you all for your kind thoughts, prayers, and comments over the past 10 months of my brother and his wife's journey from terminal cancer to what I believe with be an eventual place of grace and gratitude. The transition is now beginning and it is a good thing and a good place to begin.
The Prayer Flag Project Blog
Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, with small format art quilts, prayer flags, and comfort quilts for a variety of charitable programs. And best of all, sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join her and make and donate quilts to charitable causes. Help us change the world, one little quilt, art quilt, and prayer flag at a time!