The garden rests under November’s grey skies and already freezing temps while I practice morning Qigong inside. Looking up, I notice this solitary tree glowing amidst bare woods. It reminds me of my brother, Robert — my last living immediate family member and only sibling, who recently passed.
Years ago, when one of my dogs tragically passed, my brother consoled me by comparing that young dog to a bright star, explaining that the brightest stars have shorter lives. A contemporary Doctor Doolittle, Robert had an extraordinary talent for connecting with animals and particularly canines. He is the one who gave Bess to me.
Bess and Robert’s bookend deaths these last four months, along with too many other friends and co-workers, feels as insurmountable as piles of autumn leaves. So thick, I can barely see clearly on this course of 15 deaths that presumably is meant for deeper understanding. Striving to find meaning in all of this, I seek out any comfort I can find. Too late, I hear Do not let anger ruin a relationship. Time is shorter than we think…forgiveness is key.
As with the duality of the Tao, my brother and I had another side to our relationship. Several years ago we mutually agreed to sever contact out of opposing values and a need for self-care. After recent minimal communication we were to meet in person but he passed before it came to fruition. It’s come to me that “The soul knows when to go,” and “Everything happens exactly as it is meant to be.” I feel grateful my brother and I requited resolution and forgiveness in the month before he departed.
A caring guy with a zany sense of humor, it’s no surprise that Robert chose to pass three days before Halloween. But, findingReese’s peanut butter cups on top of a chest containing my own dogs cremains that morning was surprising.
Seeing this orange/black package gave me an odd sort of comfort — my diabetic brother loved this candy…and he promised to give me a sign. Later on Halloween night, I pulled in a radio station from afar. The guest spoke about Houdini’s wife, Bess, who made a pact with her husband to give a sign from the other side. These seemingly coincidental gifts gave my heart a lift.
Understanding it’s helpful for the deceased and those surviving to express gratitude for their presence in our lives, I offer some sentiments my brother once shared with me…too bad we forgot them in these last eight years:
The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.
Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Life is too short to wake up with regrets. Love the people who treat you right. Forget about the one’s who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason.If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands.If it changes your life, let it.Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.
A sharp tongue can cut your own throat.
Friends are like balloons; once you let them go, you might not get them back. Sometimes we get so busy with our own lives and problems that we may not notice that we’ve let them fly away. Sometimes we are so caught up in who’s right and who’s wrong that we forget what’s right and wrong. Sometimes we don’t realize what real friendship means until it is too late. I don’t want to let that happen so I’m gonna tie you to my heart so I never lose you.
The heaviest thing you can carry is a grudge.
One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time.
If this post touches your heart, my brother and I encourage you to make amends with the person who broke it.
This little guy was hanging on to my window for the last month. He didn’t want to let go. But I knew he would when the time was right.
I didn’t want to post this photo right away. It made me think about my brother who, only days before, told me his quadruple heart bypass failed. With 30% heart function, I didn’t know how long he could hang on. Strange, the things we think about or tell ourselves when dealing with death and stressful events. Perhaps that fantasy thinking is part of bargaining — if I do this, then that will occur…or we’re fearful to do certain things as if it’s a bad omen.
The little leaf has left my window. And this week my brother left his life here on earth.
Looking out my window during morning Qigong practice, I glanced up to see this intricate spider web. Amazing to view its work up close…a meditation in itself.
With Halloween approaching, I dug deeper into the curiosities of this scary holiday. I never understood Halloween‘s color combination of orange and black but now it makes more sense. Orange represents autumn, and black signifies death (of summer). I realize, as in how I choose to view life’s transition to death, that this holiday does not have to evoke fear as popularly promulgated.
And those spiders serving as long time mascots for Halloween? There’s a pleasant tale indicating they are the spirit of a loved one watching over you. How befitting in my summer of bereavement, and a more pleasant thought than frightful ghosts and goblins.
Who knew a simple spider web would give new meaning to Halloween for me? It’s become a holiday for recognizing life’s natural transition rather than scaring me to death.
Lucky Three or Not Things come in threes beleaguers my thoughts. A month ago, I received word that my beloved border collie, Bess, passed away while I traveled in Scotland. Last week I received word that my best male friend from college passed away. Memories flash of the three close friends I lost a few years ago — all within nine months (3 x 3) time. Murmurings below the surface question if a third heartbreak will follow.
Contrary aphorisms abound for this popular number. Three’s a charm predicts success after two failures. Or a third misfortune can follow two others. A third soldier lighting a cigarette from the same source was considered unlucky on the WWI battlefield since a sniper could see the first light, aim on the second, and fire on the third.
Similar “superstitions” like don’t walk under a ladder or don’t open an umbrella in the house, I consider more as practical warnings. After all, anything can be dropped from working high above, and an umbrella’s cuspate spokes can be dangerous and obstructive indoors.
That Timeless Number Three My search for a deeper understanding of the number three revealed its timeless phenomenon. Pythagoreans, for instance, believed the number three to be the first triangular number. Besides its strength in triangles, tripods, and pyramids, the notorious number three prevails throughout history and cultures worldwide:
Ancient Symbolism: – A trident appears beside Neptune, Shiva, and farmers. – The Celtic triskele’s three spirals symbolize the Present World-where we live and exist, the Other World-home of our ancestors, spirit guides and deities, and the Celestial World. – The three-petaled French fleur-de-lis originally represented the commoners, nobility, and clergy. In other cultures it’s also symbolized life, perfection, and light.
Mythology: – Greek Cronus fathered three sons – Zeus, Poseidon and Hades; Norse Borr also fathered three sons – Odin, Vili, and Vé. – Mayans believed mankind was created in three attempts (flood destroyed the first man made of clay; a storm washed away the second man made of wood; but the third man made from maize was from whom all are descended). – Celtic gods and goddesses often appear in groups of three.
Religion: – Besides the Trinity, the number three winds throughout Christianity as when it was reported that three wise men presented three gifts (gold, frankincense and myrrh), and Jesus’ ministry lasted three years. – Buddhism’s Three Jewels are The Buddha, The Dharma, and The Sangha. – The Torah uses the number three for Jews to mediate between two opposing or contradictory values. – Universal chi, human plane chi, and earth chi compose Taoism’s Three Pure Ones. – Zoroastrianism’s three virtues are Humata (good thoughts), Hukhta (good words) and Hvarshta (good deeds). – Hindu’s Trimūrtitriple deity is Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer.
– Islam’s triple talaq is a Muslim divorce where a husband pronounces three times talaq (Arabic word for divorce). – The Bahá’í faith’s three principles are the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity. – Neopagan religions revere the Triple Goddess deity of maiden, mother and crone.
Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes: Remember The Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, or Goldie Locks and the Three Bears?
The Count of Three: – Arithmetic, reading, and writing are academic basics. – “You’re out!” after three strikes in baseball, and three outs end an inning. – Actions requiring synchrony often count to three like one-two-three “Say cheese!”
Music: – Music expresses feelings, ideas and moods. – A chord consists of three notes. – Music’s three main elements are melody, rhythm, and harmony.
Art: – Composition is based on the Rule of Thirds. – Artists create with three primary colors of red, yellow and blue. – Writers have a beginning, middle and end.
Nature and the Environment: – Physics, chemistry, and biology are the three types of natural laws. – The physical environment consists of land, sea, and sky. – Folklore and religions describe life in heaven, hell, and on earth.
Medicine and Science: – India’s Ayurvedic medicine revolves around three doshas — vata, pitta and kapha. – Variation, heredity, and selection are the three principles of evolution. – Personality theory is based on the id, the ego and the superego.
The Unity of Three Three can be an expression of unity as in father, mother and child or how one can become three as in me, myself and I. Of course, we’ve been told three’s a crowd but three is also a tie-breaker. Perhaps one is too solitary, and two is too black and white final. It is three that offers possibility like a shade of grey as in this, that, other, or door 1-2-or 3.
The number three appears almost everywhere. What do you think of the number three? Has it played any significance in your life?
Three Deep What is it that makes three so powerful and for years on end? Yogis access intuition through their third eye. Some may deem consideration of three as linear thinking or apophenia — a universal human tendency to seek patterns in random information. For me, observing patterns is a trait I developed in my youth to manage an unpredictable home life. Even if erroneous, considering the next possibility eliminated the shock when voices escalated and doors slammed.
My Adult View of Three… As a gardener, I understand plants need earth, water, and air. Three-leaf clovers make me smile, and I’m cautious near three-leaved poison ivy or oak. My red-white-and blue spirit cherishes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I’ve learned that the number three can represent past, present and future, or body, soul and spirit. As the number of completion, I recognize that Bess and my college buddy have lived their cycles of birth, life and death — something that every living creature will experience. It just is. The way of life.
Learning through Grief
I began this post before the untimely loss of my best friend — Bess my beloved 14 1/3 year old border collie. Acceptance soothes my broken heart when acknowledging this will happen to each and everyone of us and everyone we love, that this behest of time is a transformation of life. I continue learning through my loss of Bess…such as doing what I can then letting go, and the power of thought and perspective. I anticipate sharing more from time to time on insights gained through this experience…
“All of life’s experiences are to be either enjoyed or learned from.”
— Alan Cohen
Bess gave me both.
I am curious to know how you process grief. A sage shared this short (18 minute) video with me. Hopefully, you will benefit as well — not just in a time of need.
Death is not so permanent as one might think. When contemplating compost, you more fully understand the cycle of life. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrition to us. Flowers offer beauty. When their peelings, parings, stems and leaves are tossed into the bin to decompose, in time they become nutrition for the soil. Black gold I like to call it.
This rich compost continues nurturing us by transforming the soil to produce nutritious fruits and vegetables, and flowers to soar the spirit.
And so the cycle of life continues. Quite simple, really. Nature shows us how. So what is all the fear about?
Dazzling greenand metallic blue dragonflies transformed my summer to autumn. Taking in the colorful, changing fall landscape yesterday amid September temps, I was mesmerized when a silvery golddragonfly as sparkly as Christmas ribbons landed on my garden chair. We both sat perfectly still for the next few minutes, its lipstick red mirrored dots on gossamer wings captivating me.
Surely, clothing and fabric designers must get their ideas from nature I thought. And then my view cast to the maple tree reflected in the pond, and the pathway illuminated from a myriad of golds, greens, browns, oranges and reds that painted the cherry, pear, oak, magnolia and unidentified trees.
I felt awestruck that nature could beso endlessly beautiful, even while dying.
But, then I decided to look at it another way. Just as the dragonfly transforms so does the tree. It may shed leaves until it stands stark and bare but there is a regenerative undercurrent; it is not approaching death, it is transforming, preparing for another season, for another time, for the vitality of Spring.
My view of the seasons reflecting life — birth (spring), prime of life (summer), mid-life (autumn) and end of life (winter) — has also transformed. No longer do I see only one life cycle. Nature is teaching me more about life and what I use to call death. More and more, I am convinced the end is not the end per se. Life, for us, for trees, for seeds has many cycles. I’d much prefer to think I’ll continue to grow and evolve than to die back and out. The roses return. Perennials too. Trees grow new leaves and bloom in the spring. Again and again and again.
I made a hearty bouquet last week of wild tiger dayliliesand spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis that I placed in a cobalt blue vase to greet me in the morning and accompany nighttime meals. This lively contrast of oranges and purples contained flowers in bloom and those in waiting.
On day 2, several of the lilies had closed and dried while others had bloomed.
On day 3, several other lilies closed and dried. New ones bloomed. The same held true for the spiderwort pods.
As this process continued throughout the week, I noticed that each bud seemed to be taking turns in its cycle of life. I wondered, “How do they know when to bloom and when to die?”
In visiting another blog this afternoon, I was moved by the writer’s sadness and confusion of impending death and realized each of us is so different in how we think about and interpret life.
I came into this world contemplating death and vividly recall such thoughts as early as age 5. Death (separation) use to frighten me. I could not imagine being separated from the ones I love. (Note, despite my “attachment” to loved ones, I grew into an independent female.) Oddly, the “death” of these individuals gave me a deeper understanding of “life.” Someone told me that my suffering was because I was selfish in not wanting to let the dying go. That was hard to swallow but stepping back, I gradually understood what they meant and focused more on the moments I shared with that person or pet, rather than on the “loss.”
In my youth, I was introduced to a mix of ProtestantChristianity (Presbyterian and Methodist doctrines) then investigated Buddhism,Catholicism, and Judaism. Several decades later I find myself believing in bits and pieces from all of them (aka take what you like and leave the rest). I do believe in God and that each of us may call it something different including “the Universe.”
But, it was working in the garden and being led to Taoism that transformed my fear of death to acceptance and understanding. Seeing a flower that buds, blooms, withers and dies, then returns each year gave me a concrete understanding of the cycle of life and hence, tremendous comfort.
If we are all interconnected, then why wouldn’t my life continue as it does for the flower that I cannot see during the winter but greets me each spring?
As in the photo I’ve included here…if I am not conscious enough to look beyond the winter grey, I would not notice the dwarf irises coming back to life in spring.
Reading about past life regression andend of life experiencesalso helped me arrive at my current view. In 9 months, I lost 3 very important people to me — my mother, best friend of 20 some years, and spiritual guide. In answer to my questions, a Unityminister responded that, “We cannot know another’s journey.” My resolution was that their work this time around was complete.
In the midst of processing these losses, I’ve also had a few scares with cancer. Now, I am learning about the critical importance of our thoughts. And words. As Florence Scovel Shinn advised so many years ago, “Your word is your wand.” I try to be more conscious now in my thoughts and words…having faith answer the door when fear comes calling. Sometimes I do better than others. Afterall, this is reprogramming, “transforming” several decades of thinking.
More and more I have shifted my viewpoint to believe that endings are also beginnings. I heard a radio preacher one day say that death is the gateway to our transformation. Truly, I view death as not the end per se, but a transformation. I just have to have faith of where it will lead.