Tag Archives: death

Crossing Over

This is Holy Week for many Christians who are anticipating the celebration of Easter next Sunday. Below is an article of mine that was published ten years ago in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly. I describe a meeting with one of my clients that happened on Good Friday, which also that year coincided with Passover.

During this meeting, so many things started to converge and cross over that I was nearly overtaken by them. This story revolves around the converging life paths of my client and myself, and how we both ended up traveling long distances to witness and help guide our grandmothers towards their imminent death.

“It’s been a week of Passion,” Paula’s voice quivered as she dropped down into the chair in front of me. She had already emailed to say that her grandmother was dying and she couldn’t decide whether to go home. Paula had a long history of not being able to decide. We had been meeting for nearly 2-1/2 years, I as her psychosynthesis guide and she as my client. Together, we had explored her feelings of never being good enough and her consequent control of and search for illusive perfection in everything from shoes to menu items to true love. We had attempted to unravel and unbind her never-ending endings. And we had spent hours peeling away Paula’s habitual lateness to discover the face of cold fear of having to wait for the other and relive a surge of emotions around abandonment.

Her week of Passion was literal and figurative. It had been Holy Week and the day we met in 2011 was not only Good Friday, but also Jewish Passover. The word Pasque for Easter actually comes from the Hebrew word which means to “go through.” This week of ‘crossing over’, of leaving slavery for freedom, of moving from this world to the next, from death to everlasting life, seemed to reflect Paula’s own inner and outer struggle.

Since our last meeting, Paula had been confronted with death, an encounter that cannot be controlled or perfected or tricked into arriving before you or never at all. Her grandmother was dying of cancer and was finally surrendering to its call. Paula’s Nonna, an Italian as well as a private icon, no longer held the energy to sustain the Milanese family as she had for all of Paula’s 30 years.

Nonna had been the family pillar, the Corinthian column of strength and integrity around whom Christmas and birthdays and Holy Communions had been celebrated. This grandmother had finally decided to crumble, leaving everyone else to deal with their feelings of loss and painful loneliness. Grandmother, lucid and detached, was quietly slipping away. Her husband was angry that she had given up and stopped fighting, her family felt in many ways that she was already dead.

Three days earlier, Paula’s mother had called to prepare her daughter for the worst. While insisting that Paula not travel home from the Netherlands to Italy, her mother had wanted Paula to prepare for the imminent funeral. “Don’t come,” said Paula’s mother crying into the phone. “It’s better you remember her as she was. Your brother and sister go in to hug her and she does nothing. Nonna doesn’t care anymore. She doesn’t care if you are there are not. You are lucky not to see her this way. Besides, you will only have to fly back for the funeral. Get ready for that instead. It’s better this way.”

Paula recounted all this in tears. Throughout her childhood, her mother’s mother had been the one to comfort Paula, the one to take care of her while Paula’s mother fretted over Paula’s sickly younger brother, cooed over his comical antics.

Nonna had always told Paula that she was her favorite grandchild, and Paula wanted to go home and see her. But she struggled with her own mother’s wishes along with the fact that another ending was looming in front of her—her PhD thesis which was already late and had to be finished in less than three weeks. Logic and reason, Paula’s major accomplices throughout most of her lifetime, told her not to go home, and yet her heart was telling her otherwise…

You can continue reading this story below. Happy Easter!

The Bamboo Whisk

Tea Bowl with Tea

Today we celebrate the Celtic festival of Samhain, when the division between this world and the otherworld is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. Christians celebrate November 1 as All Saint’s Day and November 2 as All Souls. To mark this numinous time of year, I would like to share a story about Kikuchi-sensei, my Japanese tea ceremony teacher. A longer version of this story was originally published in Ascent Magazine, Issue 36, Fall 2007

The morning I went to the mortuary to see Kikuchi-Sensei, a cold wind whipped around the medieval cobblestone streets of the tiny Umbrian village. She had been fighting cancer for nearly a year and had finally surrendered at the age of 79. Dressed in a pale cinnamon kimono, she appeared so tiny in the lacquered coffin, framed by wild spring flowers that her daughter had picked from their garden, Sensei’s face was strong and peaceful; her mouth, set in her soft, unlined skin, was ready to break into one of her rare, indulging smiles.

Since Sensei had refused visitors during her treatment, I had just managed to accept life without our weekly tea ceremony lessons. But looking upon her still, frail frame, I hardly felt ready to surrender her forever. As I stood by her coffin, in my heart I thanked her for all she had taught me during the years we had spent together. I felt tremendously honored to have known her. Continue reading

Snow Blossoms

snow sunset

First day of Spring, Umbria, Italy, 2018

As I write these words, my 93-year-old mother is dying. We are separated by an entire continent and an entire ocean, 6000 miles apart. It is a tremendous challenge to not race onto a transatlantic flight to be by her side. But I realize that our distance now is a gift, for I have no other recourse but prayer and the willful and conscious act of radiating Light and Love.

Only a month ago, we were together in sunny California where I was visiting her for three weeks. While I was there, my mom told her Hospice care worker, “I’m having such a good time with Catherine that I forget to take my pain medicine.” Continue reading

The Passion of Everyday

Women at the Tomb from a Syriac Gospel, Northern Iraq

For Western Christians around the world, this is Passion Week. (Eastern Christians celebrate next week.) Believers commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Passover meal, his crucifixion, death and resurrection. In Spain, there are elaborate and nightlong processions of masked penitents heaving gigantic statues depicting the suffering of Jesus and Mary. When I was living in Italy, I once had a friend visiting me who, after a day of sightseeing in Rome, said quite candidly, “I’m tired of every time I go into a church, I have to look at statue of a man being tortured and nailed to a cross.”

What might we understand from this disturbing image that seems to simultaneously fascinate and repel? First of all, it’s important to see the complete picture of the Passion. The story does not end with the crucifixion, but actually starts there. The Passion is only complete with the resurrection, but we tend to ignore this essential part of the story, preferring to dwell on the murderous nature of Jesus’ death. Does this sound familiar? Isn’t this just what the media does? Burying the good news until it’s impossible to see?

Continue reading