Everything Changes

60 degrees and raining 001In the past four days, we’ve had a snowstorm, a thunderstorm, temperatures in the upper 50’s and today, another snowstorm. This morning, chickadees have been flying back and forth to the feeders, singing their spring songs, but that’s changed again in the past hour. They seem to have adapted to winter’s return. I wonder if they can tell that tomorrow the temperatures will dip once more below zero, or if this will surprise them?

Birds snow rain fog 016Everything changes: not always in a day, or even a lifetime, and rarely all at once, but as we revolve through life, it seems every cycle brings us back to a place that’s similar but never the same as it was. Companions have left our side and new ones now walk the path beside us; our physical capabilities or our views have altered; the degree of hope we perceive in our hearts and the encouragement offered by the world around us varies.

Birds in snowstorm 042We may be surprised by loss, tragedy, or reversals, changes that cause the geographies describing our relationship to self, others, place, and spirit to evolve or regress, or dramatically alter, and we either adapt or do not, depending upon our finesse and willingness to regain our balance and accept these changes that were unsought and undesired.

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY THRU 26TH 177But even changes we’ve planned for and worked towards demand our willingness to discard elements of our current situation, boundaries, or relationships that were once rooted in the earth of our existence.

We devise systems to manage change: education, healthcare, government. We create “news programs” to discuss the changes collectively experienced over 24 hours, and share phone calls, or posts in social media, or text messages to update each other more intimately and frequently regarding changes in our “status.”

Birds in snowstorm 025It seems, societally, we’re addicted to insignificant change and hasten its rhythms to keep us engaged in life. Until substantial change threatens our sense of security, the way we “want” things to be, or the direction we desire to move. Then, we resist, argue, deny, or retreat, often to our detriment, though certainly stillness, discernment, and speaking our own truth are valuable companions as we navigate the flow of this ever-changing energy we call life.

I’ve been reading another book on the spirituality of change, specifically as it relates to aging. This is a topic that fascinates me and that I’ve been asked to address in presentations to those who care for geriatric patients or to those who, like me, are interested in exploring changes that are specific to aging humans and our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Over and over, I’ve encountered the understanding that the happiest individuals are those who have used their intelligence and gifts to the best of their abilities, but who resist grasping too tightly to any outcome, and instead nurture a willingness to let go and to flow with the greater current, looking for unexpected blessing and the potential for creativity in forming one’s response.

birds christmas break 008The central change we face as we age is our death, and our health as elders may depend upon the degree to which we embrace our death as friend, foe, inevitability, or a fearful possibility we can avoid through the “magic of medicine.”

I know of a woman who is 89 and considering a heart valve replacement. All of her organs are somewhat compromised and the surgery, if successful, will require a lengthy stay in a nursing facility for her convalescence. She has said, “I’m afraid to die.” I hope she is aware that hospice is another choice, and that patients served by hospices often live longer than those who instead choose aggressive medical interventions, but her fear is driving her choice to undergo this surgery. Family members often disagree about such choices and thus another level of chaos and distraction can intrude upon our end-of-life choices and experiences. Answers are elusive and, in the end, each person has to choose and, hopefully, be at peace regarding these choices.

Birds snow rain fog 010

Over and over in my work as a chaplain I met people at these crossroads and tried to be a listening presence as they navigated their way to peace, or battled through final breaths to the change that came anyway and inevitably. Regardless of my inclinations, my job was to support them through theirs. Certainly, a patient who said, “I am afraid to die” indicated an obvious need to dialogue, and in conversations with a chaplain or other trained caregiver, the patient often reached greater peace as his fears, his beliefs, and his sources of strength were opened, explored, validated and employed creatively to face the days ahead.

Birds snow rain fog 063Rituals sometimes helped ease deterrents to dying peacefully, but so did the hard work of asking forgiveness, or extending it to another, reviewing a life that proved more light-filled than first admitted, re-connecting the dying to loved ones who had become distant, or to a faith community that affirmed its willingness to become involved.

Rainy Night 016It taught me to pay attention to my own dying: to choose responses to possible scenarios; to designate my power of attorney, complete a will, and file the legal forms with my physicians and loved ones; to discuss with my husband, relatives, and friends, what treatments and care I would desire at the end of my life, and to clarify how I want my body to be returned to the earth. Such tasks completed, although unforeseen change may cause their revision, I’m better able to turn back towards the amazing mystery and ever-changing dance with my ever-changing life. Whatever it brings, storms or halcyon days of mellow sunshine, I hope I’ll go with the flow.

And back to winter 007

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “Everything Changes

  1. Awwww, what a beautifully written post. You are so poetical, with words and pictures.

    What changable weather you’re having, we’re having something similar, very extreme.
    I love the pics of the birds, especially that little blue bird and the bird in the snowy branches, adorable they are!!!

    I enjoyed how you talked of change, and cycles never being the same. I think many fear death, but as we age most of us come to accept it as inevitable and hope to leave this earth with dignity. I try hard to do all I can re the future but try to stay rooted in the present, which is a gift. I also try not to hang on to tightly to outcomes and enjoy going with the flow and enjoying the day with all it’s blessings.

    Another fantastic read. I now look forward to your posts, they never disappoint!!!!xxxxx

    • Thanks, dear Snowbird…yes, centered in the present: such a gift! Fear of death is natural, but I’ve found most people come to peace if loving support is present and families can allow the dying to let go.

      That sweet little blue jay looked quite surprised, didn’t he?!

      Peace to your generous heart,
      Kitty

  2. Well said as always Kitty…I have often wished the elderly were more aware of spirituality and our immortality. They always seem scared to die but what they don’t know is we don’t die!!!!! If only someone would write an easy to understand book for them to learn and ease their fear in passing. There is a good book for you to write!!!
    Loved the pictures as well…I am guessing you are using a telephoto lens to get such clear shots of these guys. Thanks for sharing as you do so well…VK

  3. To be fair, I’ve had many patients and older friends who met their deaths openly, courageously, and yes, creatively. They’ve deepened my awareness and inspired me.

    I think part of the problem is that our culture denies death with every fiber of its being, and for decades we’ve “removed” it from view by hiding it in nursing homes or behind curtains in hospitals (where death “never happens”). Embalming? Please! We’ve robbed death of its natural and beautiful “flow,” and our right to a death that’s breathed into and supported as a closing to this life and opening to whatever our hearts and beliefs tell us comes next. I’ve been so honored to midwife people’s spirits and to plan and preside at their memorial services: every life is so precious and every death is as well.

    Thank you for reading and sharing; you are so encouraging and LIVELY!

    I have a zoom lens built-in, but am close to the bird feeder when at my desk (right outside the window)! Not a fancy camera…one day, I’d like one, but this will do. 🙂

    • Hope you can find ways to enjoy what’s left of winter! I love the snow, but the sound of rain was so lovely! I’m just grateful for any moisture to catch us up from drought status. We’re almost there, but I know Milwaukee is way behind on snowfall. You’ll have to get to Mitchell Park and walk around in the desert dome. 🙂

  4. To be blessed with the strength to adjust, adapt, accept, and enjoy being in the present without fear of the future…that’s a gift. Some need more help coming to it than others. How lucky they are to have you and your wisdom to turn to. Beautiful post.

    • Yes, many people accept the end of life as they enter the process, and especially if loved ones can be present and follow the lead of the dying. Often, a family member’s, or a friend’s resistance impedes a peaceful flow and more care needs to be provided to them than to the one who is dying. And often, people choose to die when loved ones leave the room; it is a very private experience, I think, and if they have been people who were in control, or shy (not necessarily opposites), or enjoyed solitude, they “wait,” if they can, and change worlds privately. It often troubles those who “stepped out” for a moment and “missed” their loved one’s last breath, but if they can see this was preferred and gift they gave, even without knowing, they can come to peace…

      I know you have experience with loss, and such a deep sense of presence permeates your writing, Ogee. Your love of gardens and 4-legged companions is work and passion that I hope provides the deep healing for you that it has for me…I’ve found that the more deeply I enter being with dying, the more deeply I enter creativity and presence in my living. Riding the circle with joy.

      Thank you for taking time to read and offer your comment. Peace to your day.

      • My father’s hospice chaplain shared the same with me (that some wish to wait until a loved one leaves to pass.) It was difficult, but I gave my father a few hours to do so if he chose – letting him know I would return. As I drove back, I realized that I had been speaking to him in the voice of an adult – not the more parenting voice that I had adopted with him as the child caring for a parent with dementia. I sang to him for awhile – he was passionate about singing – and I spoke to him quietly in that parent voice. He finally let go not long afterward. Each journey is different. There can be no second guessing in trying to help people through it in whatever way is most comforting to them.

  5. You’re absolutely right; it’s a journey into mystery, but one that is natural as well and often our intuitions are the finest reosurces. Second guessing isn’t helpful, I agree. It sounds like you were a wonderful guide and support for your father.

  6. Kitty, this is such a powerful essay, what a blessing you must be to those you counsel. Change seems to be what we resist the most but which is ever constant. I think you summed it up in the social focus on change for inconsequential things coupled with the denial of change in the bigger things in life – distraction works, up to a point, and then not at all. It has been my experience that resisting change is the shortest path to pain that I know of, whether it is in practicing yoga or in dealing with my own life changes. Perhaps it is the final lesson to be learned in life, to let go and accept change and “ride the wave” so to speak – that is certainly the lesson I have been grappling with in my life.

    Theologian Paul Tillich often spoke of the “spiral path” – returning to the same things over and over again, but meeting them in a different way each time. I often think of that, especially in nature and in my garden, where cycles of change are undeniable but each time through a cycle or season is slightly different, and I find that I am significantly different as I measure myself by that change. This year, my biggest breakthrough has been letting go of all of the “inner movies” in my head – the “should be” scenarios that eclipse the joy of now. Now if I can only stop making new ones 🙂

    Thank you for sharing such deep and quietly joyful thoughts on change, and life.

  7. A friend and I used to remind each other not to “should on ourselves.” I am so happy for you in succeeding in your efforts to stem the tide of Should Movies, Lynn; it’s ongoing for me. Yes, Tillich and others have taught me that, too, life is a spiral more than just a circle, which has always made me wonder if Eliot thought so, too, when he said we arrive home and know it again, for the first time…both the same and new. Very like a garden!

    I’ve been sitting with resistance a lot this winter: it seems to be a defense and response that greatly limits incoming wisdom, so I’m trying to meet it quickly and ask it what it needs to be at peace…interesting answers sometimes and sometimes, just frustration, but lessons all the same. 🙂

    Thank you, as always, for your time and deep reflections, Lynn; they always collaborate so well with my thoughts and feelings and lead me to new places, gently…

  8. I just loved the pictures in this pose, Catherine; they are marvelous. And I agree with many of your comments on accepting change. That woman who’s deliberating replacing her heart valve, is no more in danger than a lot of young people who go off on a trek improperly prepared. I am sure that your talks together will give her some much needed support. Best winter wishes, and may we enjoy all the lessons that winter brings.

  9. Thank you, Shimon. I truly value your encouragement of my photography; it means a great deal to have a professional offer such kind words.

    Peace to your winter as well, and always, my best wishes for your contentment and joy.

  10. Dear Catherine,
    Your thoughts on change and the wisdom this piece of writing contains felt like a cleansing breeze through my soul. When we read someone else’s words, it affirms within us clarity and deepens our own understanding on a subject. I am learning with increasing certainty that the only thing certain in life is uncertainty and well is it with the one who embraces the flow and ebb, rise and fall. I have been meditating on these two words “lightly” and “easily”. To tread lightly and easily on this path. To hold lightly and easily and to release lightly and easily each moment.
    I had perhaps forgotten that you also work as a chaplain. I can think of no one better able to hold a hand in silence and give wise counsel to those who seek.
    Your photos brought such a delight to me! What excellent shots. Don’t you think we could learn from these little ones their ease in meeting the changes and chances of life each day?
    Thinking of you and sending you my love,
    Sharon

    • Thank you, Sharon, for your visit, time, kindness, and wisdom. Your reverence for life shines through your words and they reflect such grace and care in their formation. I’m honored by your sharing. May your travels with “lightly” and “easily” be joyful and yield peace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s