I’d like to announce for the record that I’m pretty sure I know nothing at all about anything.
There’s a line in the sand.
Eric departed and now I’m reorganizing — my house, my life, not to mention my identity. I didn’t know that would happen to the extent that it’s happening. I didn’t know it would have such impact.
I didn’t know how much of a couple we were. I didn’t know how connected we were, on so many levels. I thought I knew. I was sure I knew. I’m here to report that I didn’t know — at all.
When he died, it’s no surprise that it felt as if the rug of my life was pulled out from under me. I expected that. It’s natural. I’ve felt the rug pulled out from under me before.
But I didn’t expect to lose my confidence. I did lose it. It went away. It flutters back in my direction occasionally and says hello but it doesn’t stay with me. I’m chalking it up to “reorganizing my identity.” Maybe even losing my identity. I’ve lost who I thought I was, which can only be a good thing. Maybe I’ll be left with “less identity” or a minimalist version. One can only hope.
In honor of my re-organization, I’m giving up on the following for the foreseeable future. I’m throwing in the towel. If you’d like to join me for any or all of it, please let me know how it goes for you. I want to hear about it.
I’VE OFFICIALLY HAD IT WITH ALL OF THE FOLLOWING.
I’M GIVING UP ON…
Trying to make something, anything better than it is. Whatever it is, it is what it is, and that’s it. It may change. It may not. I totally, completely give up. I don’t know how to make anything better. I’m not sure “better” is better at all. It’s just different.
Hurrying. Rushing. Pushing. I’m practicing my imitation of a turtle. So there. Don’t expect me to be there on the double.
Understanding my feelings. Good grief. I totally give up. I have too many feelings. Deep feelings. Feelings I’ve never had before.
Getting to sleep at a decent hour, sleeping through the night, waking up rested and refreshed. It’s just not working. It’s not happening. I give up.
Trying. I can’t try anymore. I can’t even pretend I’m gonna try. It’s over.
Apology. I may need help with this because I have a lot of it right now. I’m overstocked. However, I’ve pulled the plug, and I’m watching it drain out. Emptying is a good thing.
My body. It isn’t particularly happy. I give up on how I’ve been eating and exercising. I’m over it. I don’t really know what I need — now. Apparently I needed what I used to need, but now I’m different. I’m throwing caution to the wind. I’ll let you know what I do and how that goes.
Being organized. It’s impossible. Never-ending. A silly pipe dream. Never gonna happen. I give up.
The idea of excellence. What is that, anyway? And why do we need it? I’m with e e cummings on this subject. He said, “let them go — the truthful liars and the false fair friends and the boths and neithers — you must let them go they were born to go…”
Do you have a book that you keep near — one you can open to any random page and receive words of encouragement or wisdom? Maybe it’s a sacred text of some kind, maybe a contemporary book, or a book of poems.
For me right now, it’s “A Thousand Names For Joy” by Byron Katie. (She goes by Katie.)
I read the book from cover to cover a while ago and then set it aside for several months. I opened it again recently for some help.
A Thousand Names for Joy had an interesting beginning, by the way. Author Stephen Mitchell (Katie’s husband) tells that when he first met her, he was profoundly impressed by her openness of heart and her wisdom.
“She was a total innocent: she had read nothing, she knew nothing, about Buddhism or Taoism or any other spiritual tradition; she just had her own experience to refer to. The most wonderful insights would pop out of her mouth, sometimes straight from a sutra or an Upanishad, without any awareness on her part that anyone had ever said them before.”
Because Stephen is an expert in the Tao Te Ching (in 1986 he wrote 81 chapters about it) he began to read it to her and ask for her take on it. That’s how A Thousand Names for Joy began. He asked her questions and noted what she said.
LIVING, BREATHING, DAILY PRACTICE
It is one thing to read about being in harmony with the way things are, or even understand it to some extent, and it’s quite another to live it fully every day in every circumstance. Living it is the true test. I learned this (again) in a very deep way with Eric’s passing.
I have thought of myself as being somewhat (fumblingly, inconsistently) able to go with the flow, even in fairly difficult circumstance, or — be acutely aware when I’m not. Both states are of equal importance to me, because being aware that I’m not in the flow, or not accepting what is, helps me as much as being in the flow.
One evening as I was heading for bed, I was especially aware and awake about being in a funk. I was aware that I was not in the flow. I was hurting, and I was down. I was sad. And on top of that, I felt discouraged, weary and self-critical about being so sad.
I turned to A Thousand Names For Joy, closed my eyes, and asked for help. I asked to receive a message that would help my heart.
I don’t know your situations, your struggles, or your demons. I don’t know what sends you into a spin or what burdens you. I don’t know what worries you or sits heavy in the corners of your beautiful heart.
But I hope peace comes to you in a profound way when you read these words by Katie.
A NOTE OF EXPLANATION ABOUT “INQUIRY”
To make sense of the book quote I’m about to share with you, when Katie uses the word “inquiry” she specifically means The Work, which consists of four questions and what she calls a turnaround. A turnaround is a way of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. For more information visit The Work. She offers everything to do “The Work” for free on her website.
The four questions used to inquire within about a stressful thought are:
Is it true?
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
How do you react when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
When you first encounter her questions, they may seem intellectual. But from my own experience, I began to understand the depth of the process and how they work by watching videos of Katie using these questions with people who were in deep pain. When the questions were answered honestly, they revealed what couldn’t be seen when a person was up to his or her elbows in emotion.
QUOTE FROM A THOUSAND NAMES FOR JOY
What I’m sharing with you today is page 47-48 of A Thousand Names For Joy, #16 entry, which begins with this quote from the Tao Te Ching: “Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, you can deal with whatever life brings you, and when death comes, you are ready.”
The main text continues:
“You can’t empty your mind of thoughts. You might as well try to empty the ocean of its water. Thoughts just keep coming back, it seems. That’s the way of it.
But thoughts aren’t a problem if they’re met with understanding. Why would you even want to empty your mind, unless you’re at war with reality? I love my thoughts. And if I were ever to have a stressful thought, I know how to question it and give myself peace. Even the most stressful thought could come along, and I would just be amused. You can have ten thousand thoughts a minute and if you don’t believe them, your heart remains at peace.
The original stressful thought is the thought of an I. Before that thought, there was peace. A thought is born out of nothing and instantly goes back to where it came from. If you look before, between, and after your thoughts, you’ll see that there is only a vast openness. That’s the space of don’t-know. It’s who we really are. It’s the source of everything, it contains everything: life and death, beginning, middle and end.
Until we know that death is as good as life, and that it always comes at just the right time, we’re going to take on the role of God without the awareness of it, and it’s always going to hurt. Whenever you mentally expose what is, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation. There’s no sadness without a story. What is is. You are it.
I have a friend who, after doing inquiry sincerely for a number of years, came to understand that the world is a reflection of mind. She was married to a man who was the love of her life, and one day, while they were sitting on their couch, he had a heart attack and died in her arms. After the first shock and the tears, she began looking for grief, and there was none. For weeks she kept looking for grief, because her friends told her that grief was a necessary part of the healing process. And all she felt was a completeness: that there was nothing of him that she’d had while he was physically with her that she didn’t have now.
She told me that every time a sad thought about him appeared, she would immediately ask, “Is it true?” and see the turnaround, which washed away the sadness and replaced it with what was truer.
“He was my best friend; I have no one to talk to now” became “I am my best friend; I have me to talk to now.”
“I’ll miss his wisdom” became “I don’t miss his wisdom”; there was no way she could miss it, because she was that wisdom.
Everything she thought she’d had in him she could find in herself; there was no difference. And because he turned out to be her, he couldn’t die. Without the story of life and death, she said, there was just love. He was always with her.”
This is the piece I wrote about Eric for his Memorial on April 29th, that was read so beautifully by Diane Tower-Jones.
At the end of life, things get really simple.
Did I say and do what I wanted to?
Did I become the person I wanted to be?
When Eric went into hospice the first time in 2014, he asked himself those questions and his answers were a resounding “no.” No, I haven’t done what I came here to do.
At hospice, he made it clear to everyone he planned to get well and go home. To everyone’s astonishment, he did just that. He made a miraculous 180 degree turn and went home. He played golf. He built his business. He paid more attention to his true priorities.
But let me back up.
JUST ONE PROBLEM
This journey with Eric has been a long and winding road. Just so you know, Eric was the kind of person who went to the doctor about every 25 years. In 2012 Eric’s pain became a central part of our lives. Despite my pleas to have his pain checked out, he didn’t. So finally, I did the most loving thing I could think of — I took him to the doctor. He was immediately referred to a urologist, who informed Eric that he didn’t have much time to live, and he should get his affairs in order. After spending time over the 2013 holidays in Pardee Hospital, Eric was released to Elizabeth House in early 2014.
There was just one problem.
Eric wasn’t ready to die. He had things yet to do.
Late one evening in hospice, when things were especially gloomy, I reached out to a hospice nurse. I asked her if anyone ever came out of hospice alive.
She paused for a good while. Then she said, “Yes, I have seen it, but it’s rare.”
I asked her to tell me a little more about that.
She said, “It’s like this. If a soul isn’t ready to go, the soul doesn’t go. Something will happen. Something will happen that makes no sense to the doctors. It’s not logical. No one will be able to explain it.”
Then she smiled and said, “This makes the nurses very happy.”
A MIRACLE. FOLLOWED BY A TRIAL RUN.
As people were stopping by to say their goodbyes, Eric continued to inform his visitors that he was getting better and going home. Those of us around him smiled politely because we “knew better.” There seemed to be such clear evidence that he wasn’t going home. It seemed impossible.
Then, we began to witness a miracle.
He seemed to re-enter his body. He woke up. He was more present. He asked to have his nasogastric tube removed. The nurse could hardly speak.
When she found words, she finally said, “Here at hospice, we follow your wishes. If you want it out, we’ll take it out. I just want you to be fully aware that we don’t put nasogastric tubes back in.”
Eric once again assured her that he wanted the tube out.
The nurse nodded. “OK, as a first step, how about if we turn off the pump for a few hours and see how you do with that?”
To everyone’s total astonishment, step one went well. They even did a second trial run which was also successful, and they removed the tube.
With the tube gone, Eric announced that he was hungry and wanted food. The nurse immediately brought him a tray of clear liquids. He drank juice and milk, but declared the broth un-drinkable.
He politely repeated his request for real, solid food.
So, the nurse brought him a complete meal, which he happily consumed. After 11 days total, he graduated from Hospice and prepared to go home.
As I was helping him into the car, a nurse expressed her astonishment about how he was expected to die, but had surprised everyone.
Eric smiled and said with a twinkle, “Good thing I didn’t get the memo!”
A THREE YEAR BONUS
When we got home, Eric and I talked for the rest of the morning. That morning is one of my favorite times I ever spent with him in our 17 years together. We had a “fall-down-funny” conversation about how being in total denial can work to one’s advantage. Eric didn’t remember the talks with the doctors, or the results of x-rays or MRI’s that were presented to him. He never believed in the diagnosis he had been given. Sometimes, not getting the memo can be a fortunate thing.
Eric was able to live a little more than 3 years after that. What a gift that was. He ate his favorite foods, played golf, visited with more friends, and said “I love you” more often. He built his LifeVantage business. That’s what he wanted to do, and that’s what he did.
HONOR – WHAT IS THAT?
I’ve learned a lot living with Eric. For one thing, it is clear to me that Eric had honor. To have honor means that you do the right thing, whether or not you “feel like it.” The personality doesn’t guide you. Instead, higher consciousness leads the way.
During the years that Eric was in severe pain, I cannot begin to tell you how many times he did what he considered to be “the right thing” even though he could easily and rightfully have said, “I don’t feel like it…”
Given the same circumstances, I would have thrown in the towel years ago. Eric is the strongest, most determined person I’ve ever met.
OUR LAST CONVERSATION
At 3:38 am on March 25, the day he passed away, he called to me from his bed. He couldn’t say words, but he could make sounds. I went to his side and said, “Hi sweetheart. It’s me, Terri.”
He lifted his eyebrows as if he was seeing me with his inside eyes. That was his way of telling me he knew I was there. I held his hand to see what he wanted to communicate. I listened. He went on and on in an urgent way.
When he quieted, I took my turn. I reassured him that it was OK with me for him to go, that I would be fine and that I had loved my life with him. I thanked him for everything I could think of, especially for loving me, for being with me, for laughing with me. I went on and on. There was such sweetness between us.
He was silent, but I am sure he heard every word, because his eyebrows told me. I reminded him that big families of people loved me and would look after me. Our Unity family of a few hundred people, for instance. And Womansong (my choir in Asheville) — another 75 women. Then there was his family and my family, and his friends and my friends. I would be well taken care of and well loved, I assured him. I would find my way, with the help of all these generous people. Our conversation lasted 30 beautiful minutes.
WHEN HE LEFT HIS BODY
I went back to my bed and rested, but didn’t sleep. About 8:30 am., my favorite hospice nurse, Heather Beckett and I were helping Eric be more comfortable. After that was finished, Heather and I walked out of the room together, and Eric passed away in the one minute between us leaving and the next nurse coming in.
The nurses asked my daughter MacKenzie and me if we wanted to spend a few minutes with Eric before they cleaned and changed him. We said yes. I will never forget the feeling in the room when we walked in. I would call it boundless joy and tumbling love all wrapped into one. Whatever it was, it was big. The intense joy caused both of us to stop and feel it fully.
MacKenzie’s eyes went on high beam as she turned to me and said, “Mom, do you FEEL that?”
I said, “Yes, I had not expected this…”
But there it was — big, beautiful joy! Free-as- a-bird-joy! We basked in it, we bathed in it, we felt the presence of Divine love. Eric was no longer in a single location, he was everywhere!
After the nurses freshened everything, MacKenzie, her husband John and I spent a luxurious amount of time with Eric. In all my years, I had never done that before. I had never spent time with a person after they had passed.
With Eric, I wanted to do things differently.
Caroline Yongue and Ruth Ostrenga of The Center for End of Life Transitions helped us do things differently. They taught us how to wrap him, similar to how you might swaddle a baby. We wrapped Eric in his favorite blanket and placed beautiful woodland flowers in his hands and on his heart. We also put his favorite slippers on, because Eric had a THING about wearing slippers. He never walked anywhere without his slippers. We told stories, we laughed, we cried, and we thanked Eric for all that we loved most about him. It was beautiful. There was so much peace in the room.
WHAT WOULD ERIC SAY?
What would Eric want me to say to you on his behalf right now?
He would say, “Live your life.”
He would say, “Don’t spend much time on shoulds and musts and have to’s. Do what you want to do and give others the grand chance to get over themselves.”
He would say, “Speak your truth. Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
He would say, “Do what you came here to do. Be who you came here to be.”
Thank you for loving Eric.
Thank you for loving me through this journey, it has meant the world to me.
The Memorial Service on April 29 for my partner of 17 years, Eric Russ, was a beautiful tribute to him. I am so happy with that day from beginning to end. Thank you for being there in thought, in spirit or in person.
I’ll include the link (below) to the 5-1/2 minute video we made about his life. It’s a labor of love to put something like that together, and I thank Chris Walsh and Donna Brickey for their individual and collective genius and complete dedication.
At the memorial, we moved through a rainbow of emotions, thanks to a wonderful cast of story-telling characters. Here are some highlights of April 29.
Music opened the journey. About 34 of the 75 members of Womansong (my Asheville choir) sang “Ocean of Love” from the back of the room which washed through our hearts and minds like a cleansing wave.
Later in the program, “I Will Carry You,” written and performed by Lyte Henrickson, was also accompanied by Womansong. Kat Williams sang “Blue Skies” (yes, the Irving Berlin song) and “Oh Happy Day.” Guitarist Dave de la Rosa gave us “Tears in Heaven.”
The speakers unwrapped the story of Eric’s life and friendships in a way that people who did not know him well left the room feeling as if they did. Fred Hodgins, who has been Eric’s best friend and business partner since 2009, made us cry. Eric’s urologist, Dr. Scott Donaldson, made us laugh uproariously. My daughter, MacKenzie Joy, made us do it all (and do it all at once) ’cause she’s the queen of simultaneous. Diane Tower-Jones was “my voice” for the service. She read a story I wrote about Eric’s journey, which helped everyone understand the last few years of his life. She was so good, it was like having Meryl Streep play me — live and in person. My nephew, Jon, continued his tradition of writing a poem for every family event, and this was no exception. He sent a poem about Eric on video.
Rev. Darlene held the entire event in prayer long before the actual day, and I could feel her presence throughout the service. Her words were just right and her presence calmed, soothed, and held us steady even when emotions were high.