Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Spirit Song

In 2013 I wrote a post called When Spirit Knocks about how a specific television theme song in my head was a note for me that spirit world was trying to get my attention. Just two lines from a television theme song on repeat. Over and over.

While on vacation along Lake Ontario I have been waking every morning at 6:08. It has been exactly 6:08 in the morning and I have woken with the same song playing in my head.

It's a new song to me, as far as it being a communication from spirit. I've been walking the beach and finding myself humming it deep in my chest. It's "Outside" by Staind. Not one I was familiar with. And yet the same two lines kept rolling through my brain.

That's spirit getting my attention.

Now that doesn't mean the cottage is haunted. I am a lighthouse in spirit world. Sometimes ghosts come because I am there. I do note though, that the secretary desk my alarm clock sat on was handmade by a family member who is deceased. It came out of my Grandma Pat's home after she died. So there could be something to that. I wouldn't be surprised if it was an ancestor from that family line. Maybe they just want me to know they are holding her now.

Maybe it's someone new.

Magic is real. You can call it whatever you want to but it happens for me. This feels like a new introduction of sorts. So I'm opening up to dreamworld again. Whoever's trying to connect with me, my door is open. The light is on.

I'm on the outside
I'm looking in...

...I can see through you
See to the real you.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Safe Journeys, Traveller

On April 11, 2018 I wrote My Grandma Pat is Dying which involved how I used my spiritual practice. Seven days later my mom messaged me to say that it wouldn’t be long. I lit my altar and called the waiting ancestors back in.

Parents of my grandmother
Margaret Burke & Robert Art.
Grandparents of my grandmother
Eliza Conners & Frank Burke.
Katherine Pils & George Art.
Great-grandparents of my grandmother
Mary Dowd & David Conners.
Thomas & Ellen Burke.
John Pils & Mary Smith.
Adam Art & Ana Catherine Blume.
Great-great-grandparents of my grandmother
Barney Dowd.
Betsey (uknown, married) Conners.
Ann (unknown, married) Burke.

I opened the way. I told her it was time. When she was ready she could let go.

But she wouldn’t. I was standing in front of my ancestor altar with one foot in this world and one foot in her limbo. I saw her, hanging on to an almost translucent thread. We were in motion, being pulled to the right. She stared at me, her left arm curled up around an empty space.


Her cat.

I told her Bella would be fine. I promised we’d find her the right home.

Fuck. Those oaths you have to keep.

She relaxed. And she was gone. I was back in my room in front of my ancestor altar. I bent down to check my messages and as I watched, in Ethernet real time, my mom let me know her mother was gone.

I surprised myself by bursting into tears.

I was sad but wasn’t grief. I didn’t know her well enough for it to be sorrow. But it was sadness. Sad for my mother. Sad for the day I will lose my mother that I know will come. Sad for the years of getting to know the woman-my-grandma-had-become I won’t get. Because she changed at the end. I was sad  for the relationship I won’t get to have with her. The sadness was real. Just greater than I expected.

I didn’t cry again.

A few weeks later I attended an outdoor gathering where I went to a Grief Ritual. I didn’t necessarily feel like I was grieving but every cell of my body felt this pull to go. I felt I needed to go. So I did.

I was given a moment to speak to her one last time. And I did. I let two things be true. I wish she’d been able to make different choices. And I loved her. I almost qualified that with ‘anyway’ but I took a breath and held that word in.

She was one of my grandmothers. I knew of her growing up if I didn’t know her. She was Christmas Eve after-dinner and before-santa. There is a part of my heart that the shadow of her lives in. I have always carried her with me, imperfections and all. And I feel her loss.

In her last incarnation she adopted a cat and made friends with a local deer and their family. They would come to her ground level window and look for her. She would cut up apples and take them outside. The deer would let her walk among their young to set the apples on the ground. I wonder if they know what happened to her. I wonder if they understand what an empty apartment means.

I wonder who’s feeding them now.

The last time I saw her she gave me a book she said was too complicated for her—there were more than five characters and she couldn’t keep them straight. It’s not bad. I started reading it again when she got sick as a means of connecting in to her energy, to her heartbeat. I stopped reading when she died. It’s the last thing she ever gave me in a life where she didn’t give me many things… although she did give me a lot of my Nancy Drew Mysteries. I forgot about that until I was writing this. That’s something, too. They meant everything to me.

But I stopped reading. I put a bookmark in between the pages. It’s the last thing she will ever give me.

I’ll sit with that and set the book aside for now.

At the end of the gathering I was standing in the outdoor Ancestor Shrine and a friend was leading us through a meditation to connect with an ancestor. I opened myself to whoever wished to come through.

I almost audibly gasped.

For a moment I got a picture in my head. It’s almost always a similar one when I see him. Some forest glade, thick old trees and part of a rustic wooden fence. Mop of thick hair. Tall. Smiling. This was my German Guy. I realized in that second that he came to me through my Grandma’s family line. I also, instantaneously, felt the reassurance that she had crossed over.

Something like ‘we got her.’ But in German.

Hail to the Ancestors. 
Safe journeys, Traveller.
Bye Grandma.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Preparing to Revere the Dead

Spring has finally sprung. This is the time of year that I pull out my box from Samhain, from when we spoke the names of Ancestors and Beloved Dead and burned their ribbons in the fire. It is the time I take to prepare for the shrines I hold between Beltane and Samhain.

I pulled out white muslin and cut new ribbons, one inch by twenty-one inches. I cut one-hundred and one ribbons, adding them to what was left of last year. I folded them up and slid a straight pin through them.

A little danger as sacrifice for standing in the presence of the Ancestors.

I cut blue ribbons for those who died since last year’s shrines. My hands trembled at the list of names of loved ones who passed this last year. The seasons of hard losses stick under my ribs.
I ironed the ribbons one at a time. It is a meditation I enjoy. That level of mindfulness is the least I could do. So many remembered dead dance through my heart, as they did in life.

Mark Dutcher Eaton*, Melinda Tanner, Elizabeth Fricke, Jeff Patterson, Willie Lingenfelter, Elsie Durant Riddle*, Gabe Reynolds, Joel Pelletier, Victoria Eaton*, Edward J. Jerge II, Trent Illig, Donna MacDonald Riddle*, Jurgen Banse-Fey, Charles ‘Sienna Fox’ Duvall, Jack Singer, Tommy Amyotte, Paul Seeloff, Richard James Riddle*, Andrew Begley, Susan Alvarez-Hughes, Coswald Mauri*, Norm Herbert, Jad Alexander, Dr. August Staub, Princess Leather Falcor*, Melvin Chausse, John Simeon Croom, Karl Weber, Luna Jackalope*, Albert Gritzmacher III, Freya Moon Greenleaf, Patches the Crazy Circus-Freak Dog*, Barbara Jean Schiffert, Bella the Bear-Cat*, Joe Quagliano*, Soja Arumpanayil, Tracy Lee Flint Jr., Christina Adkins, Harry T. Brashear, David Ruston Eaton*, Carol Quagliano*, Paul Ames*, Robert Kiff, Sumant Malhotra, David Knight, Amy Maxwell, Ruth Ann Livingston Kiff, Zami*, Joseph Croteau, Norm Eaton*, Patricia Ann Art-Slomba*…

They are not forgotten.

I breathed deep and exhaled. And then my heart skipped.

This year the heat startled me. It pulled me from my litany of names, from my ancestors. The heat scared me. It’s a sign of how well-recovered I feel that I stepped back into my spiritual habit without remembering that I have not handled the iron since being on fire. I forgot that my wife did this part for me, sacredly, the last two years.

I ironed all of the ribbons. Slowly, reverently, cautiously, and carefully. My hands were unsteady and clumsy as I have been since recovering but I did not burn myself. My ancestors stood with me, hovering like they did in the Burn ICU.

But I ironed all the ribbons.

My wife came home soon after and ironed the prayer flags I use to mark the entrances to the shrines. There are 63 flags, all hand cut and hand sewn. It was a way of layering magic, fluttering flags calling those who hear to come greet their ancestors.

This is what it means to build a practice. This is how I prepare to honor the dead. Focus. Intention. Work. The spirits from the other side who meet me in the middle sure do help. This is how we open a doorway that others may walk through if they desire it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Ghost in My Bed

Every night I spend an hour or so in bed watching a movie or drama episode. My cat curls up on me behind the small screen and reaches with her paw. I put my hand out and she spreads her toebeans around my fingertips. And squeezes.

Love floods my heart.

We stay that way until she presses her paw against my palm. And she falls asleep. Deeply. With three cats deceased, this is precious time to me. Some nights I steal to bed early just for a little more connective mindfulness of being together.

I brought it up with my wife because there was something about the recent nights that had stuck with me. I was recalling the sweetness of Mara’s paw in mine and I realized that I was strongly visualizing a small grey tiger cat paw.

Mara is a tuxedo.

My next thought was of Luna, the first of our cats to pass back in 2010. She was my familiar. Any time I meditated she would come and curl in my lap. She slept on me every night and would often appear in my dreams. She didn’t always stay to see them through. I have dreamed with her since she passed, but rarely.

I was sure the feeling of similarity would vanish after I made the connection to Luna, like it was some grief-filled longing that brushed my senses. But that wasn’t the case. The next night that sensation was more certain, so much so that I moved the screen to put my eyes on Mara’s black and white coat.

Even looking at Mara with my eyes, my heart was telling me it was Luna. There was this thing I used to do, with my fingertip spreading Luna’s toe pads. None of the other cats allowed me to do that. Especially not Mara. So I initiated the moment and Mara spread her toes and let me pet her there.

My heart caught in my throat. I didn’t need to prove it. How can you prove such a thing? I just accepted it as a gift. I don’t know how long it will feel like this. I don’t know how long Luna’s ghost will join us in our nightly cuddling.

All I know is how much I miss her after eight years and how joyful my heart has been to feel her again. It is strange to touch Mara’s arms and paws but to feel someone else, to feel Luna. And then an hour later it was not-Luna. It was Mara again.

I curled myself around her, me and Mara, mindful of the love I have for her. Mindful of the different relationships I have had with each of my cats. I am mindful of the lessons I learned from loving them.

Not all ghosts bring sadness and sorrow. Some bring love. When you stand in the river of your Ancestors, the only thing you can do with all that love is pass it on.

Bhagavad Gita 2.20:
The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die;
nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be.
The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless.
It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Grandma Pat is Dying

I laid two candles down.

I have a book she gave me that she said was too complicated for her, about religious archaeologists. I put it on the altar.

I poured out a glass of water.

I am Sarah,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Patricia,
daughter of Margaret,
daughter of Eliza,
daughter of Mary,
daughter of Irish mothers unknown.

I struck match to metal and lit one wick.
I called in my grandmother’s ancestors.
I called her mother Margaret Loretta Burke.
I called her father Robert Joseph Art.

I called out the names of her mother’s Irish ancestors:
Frank Burke and Eliza Conners,
Thomas and Ellen Burke,
David Conners and Mary Dowd,
Mrs. Ann Burke,
Barney Dowd.

I called out the names of her father’s German ancestors:
George Art and Katherine Pills,
Adam and Catherine Art,
John Pils and Mary Burzee,
George Arth and Wilhemina Wernersbach.

I asked them to watch over her, and to welcome her when she is ready to move on.

I lit the second candle. I asked them to watch over those of us who are afraid to let her go.

I spent the time it took the candles to burn down reading the book she gave me, connecting in to her Hospice bed across the miles. I spent my time reading also connecting into the thread of her that lives in me.

And breathing.

[A look into how I use my ancestor work in practical applications.]

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Why We Funeral

The day before Easter, my Uncle Norm died. He was my dad’s younger brother. He lived directly across the street from me. His was the second sibling death in the family in three years. And it hurts.           
And even in dealing with this grief, another death is looming. And my heart feels like it’s drowning. What do you do when you’re drowning? You focus on one small thing at a time to get yourself above water.
Everyone else’s lives continue at a frantic pace but you are stuck simply trying to remember how to breathe.
I don’t live in the same place as my family. It makes death hard. I don’t have my own vehicle, and I haven’t been able to drive distances since my accident. My recovery also makes public transportation difficult. For now I have no choice but to grieve from here. Here, where no one else knew the people I lose from home, where no one else can or will grieve with me.
For a moment, I wish professional keening was still a cultural thing. I could hire a handful of women to bring over casseroles and cry with me and let me tell them my complicated stories.
We still don’t really talk about grief. Not outside of wearing black while standing inside funeral parlors. My mom had a funeral outfit. I remember the nights she would come home from work and get dressed up in that blouse and those slacks, with hose and heels and make-up. Sometimes a friend would come over and they would go pay their respects together for an hour or so.
I remember. But what I didn’t see was that grief is hard. I sit on that edge uncertain as to whether or not I am grieving the loss of them or the loss of the relationship I will now never-get-a-chance-to-have. Maybe it’s both. It’s probably both.
I think the beginning of grief is largely uncertainty.

One of my first jobs besides babysitting was getting paid to sing at weddings and funerals. Singing at funerals is so surreal when the families are unknown to you. You need to be both a comfort and a catharsis.
The main aspect of a funeral is to lay the body, the sacred vessel of the beloved dead to rest based on their wishes. It’s a way of capping the respect and affection you had for them. It’s a way to wrap up the end of their story.
And that’s great.
[I do think that there will be a tipping point where we have to be accountable for the ecological impact the way we dispose of our dead, of the carcasses left behind. I think that point has already come. No more chemicals. No more sealed vaults. Our bodies were meant to decay in the earth and feed the soil. So we have to change our relationship with death. And our bodies. And how we connect soul/spirit/anima to flesh.]

Mostly funerals are for those left behind to grief. It’s a place we’re allowed to grieve. The coming together of family and loved ones is a soothing balm. You’re not the only one who feels like time stopped. You get to share funny stories and poignant stories, about what a good person they were or lament the loss of time to smooth the broken edges of your relationship. And in some way the ritual should serve those who gather together.
I think about this a lot. The funerals I have been to that were officiated by someone who did not know my beloved dead were laughable. They were bordering on farce—as if the officiant had never performed a funeral before. But the ones I have attended, led by someone who could keep themselves composed, but who had love for the dead were brilliant and moving and beautiful and stirred the ghost of them in me.
I take notes as I grieve. Connection matters. Without connection we are just flesh. So we come together to grieve to make it real. To reconnect a new reality to an old one. If everyone is grieving they are truly gone. When we know that whether or not anyone grieves a death, they are truly gone.
I regret missing my Uncle Dave’s funeral. I know I’ll regret missing my Uncle Norm’s as well. But this time I am not well or fit for travelling. So I gather up my thoughts and I request them to make sense.
I’m still trying to figure out how to grieve alone from hundreds of miles away.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Nine Years After the Gunfire

Photo by David Marsland, with permission through Creative Commons 

It started at 10:30 in the morning. 

It was Friday April 3, 2009. We were getting ready to go work downtown for First Friday. We heard the helicopters low overhead. We lived a few blocks away from the American Civic Association, where a gunman had blocked the rear exit of the building with his father’s truck and then entered the front door firing.

His name was Jiverly Wong and that is the only attention I shall give him.

He didn’t speak. He just fired bullets. He stepped into an ESL class and shot thirteen of the sixteen people in there. He made hostages of students from other classrooms. Police arrived quickly and at the sounds of the alarms, the gunman shot himself.

It was 10:33 am. He fired 88 rounds from a 9mm Beretta. He fired 11 rounds from a .45-caliber Beretta.

A wounded receptionist, Shirley DeLucia, 61, crawled under the desk and called 911. She stayed on the phone for almost 40 minutes, relaying information as it was happening to the police, at which point the SWAT team entered. They didn’t know the shooter was dead. They found two more semi-automatic pistols on his body.

By 2:33 it was over and the American Civic Association was empty. The streets were not. As I made my way through them—I wasn’t even thinking about getting across the bridge—my city was in mourning. Families were grieving together, openly weeping. It’s still hard for me to think about. It was overwhelming.

In four hours my city was changed, forever altered. I could feel it on the street, covered in news vans and dressed-up reporters from every channel I had ever heard of and a few I hadn’t. We don’t forget. Every time another mass shooting happens we remember. Every time a mass shooting happens, every survivor is thrown back into the moment where they thought their lives were about to end.

At the time, it was the largest number of deaths due to a single-person mass shooting. It saddens me to think that there have been so many that we don't remember them all. And sadder yet to think that because they weren't young, white school children, we are often one that goes unremembered.

This is not a competition. There is no competition in death. In death, everyone loses. But there are tender truths revealed in how we respond. They should all be remembered.

As I finish this, it is 2:33 in the afternoon and I honor those whose lives were lost that day, nine years ago. It cuts a little deeper this year, considering the current tone of our country concerning immigrants. What makes us different makes us stronger:

  • Almir Olimpio Alves, 43, a Brazilian Ph.D. in Mathematics, a visiting scholar at Binghamton University, attending English classes at the Civic Association
  • Dolores Yigal, 53, a recent immigrant from the Philippines 
  • Hai Hong Zhong, 54, an immigrant from China
  • Hong Xiu "Amy" Mao Marsland, 35, a nail technician, immigrated from China in 2006
  • Jiang Ling, 22, an immigrant from China
  • Lan Ho, 39, an immigrant from Vietnam
  • Layla Khalil, 53, an Iraqi mother of three children
  • Li Guo, 47, a visiting scholar from China
  • Marc Henry Bernard, 44, an immigrant from Haiti 
  • Maria Sonia Bernard, 46, an immigrant from Haiti
  • Maria Zobniw, 60, a part-time caseworker at the Civic Association, whose parents were from Ukraine 
  • Parveen Ali, 26, an immigrant from northern Pakistan 
  • Roberta King, 72, an English language teacher substituting for a teacher on vacation, who was a local substitute for many years

Just down Front Street, the American Civic Association Park has a memorial to the thirteen victims, showing thirteen doves in flight that shine as lights at night, as seen in the accompanying photo.

May we all be reminded that violence is a choice. Choose love. Choose kindness. Choose life.
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