Connecting You With Nature, No Matter Where Your Feet Are

Tag: ocean

Giving Thanks, For Everything

“If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” -Ram Dass

The above words of wisdom were steadfast companions as Erik and I visited family and friends in Virginia and North Carolina the first part of November.

We visited with my Dad, perhaps for the last time, a few days after his 91st birthday. He’s now in end-stage dementia, and it was sad to see a once feisty, resourceful and independent spirit so utterly reliant on others for his care.

While visiting with him that afternoon, I wondered what it must have been like for my parents to have had five children in a little over a decade, and the sacrifices they made to raise us.

I also wondered what he could now remember. As I flipped through a photo album showing him family pictures from over the years, he especially lit up upon seeing a picture of his last dog, an Irish setter named Beau. With other photos he was less responsive, but he grinned when I joked that none of us five kids had gotten a speeding ticket in over a decade.

Beau and my Dad became an inseparable family duo starting in 1992. My parents had already been divorced and living apart for several years, and my siblings and I had all moved out by then, too. After Beau died in 2003, our four-bedroom house in the suburbs became an even quieter, less vibrant place. Still, my Dad managed to remain independent until 2011, when he first moved into an assisted living facility, yet the decline he has experienced since May this year has been especially rapid and irreversible.

It was hard to gauge how my Dad might have been feeling when Erik and I saw him. Before arriving there, I feared that his new home would be lifeless and stagnant, a place where everyone languished in a holding pattern until they passed on. Instead, I was encouraged and uplifted by the compassion, patience and presence his caregivers exuded as they helped him and other residents navigate their daily lives.

This surprise gift was borne from choosing to be present with my Dad as he was in that moment, not from expecting him to be a certain way at this time in life for me. This gift of being present, along with Ram Dass’s words of wisdom, became trusted companions for the remainder of our journey back east, and our travels home to Montana.

After seeing my Dad, Erik and I drove for about nine hours from the mountains of western Virginia to Hatteras, North Carolina. We met up with my oldest sister there to honor my Mom’s passing two years earlier, in a place where she felt especially at peace.

Later on, my younger brother and his 18-year-old daughter drove down to join us in celebrating and remembering her life. That evening, we feasted on crab cakes, scallops, french fries, hush puppies, coleslaw, and super sweetened tea, things my Mom especially enjoyed when she vacationed here, usually in September, right after Labor Day.

This fall, it was great to make a pilgrimage to the Outer Banks and to travel back to Virginia. It was awesome to spend time with family, and remember and honor the life, love and memories we have shared together, alongside creating new experiences and memories. We are grateful to now be home, following an epic journey acknowledging the impending departure of one parent, and the recent passing of another.

I am thankful for everything that I have learned and received from my parents over the course of their lives, and I intend to pay this forward to the best of my ability.

Over the coming winter solstice, Christmas, new year and other holidays that are fast approaching, I also set the intention to not dwell on the past, to not worry about the future, and instead be as fully present as I can in every moment.

That truly is all any of us ever have, the present moment, yet that’s so easily forgotten and dismissed when our lives become crazy, busy or both. Thankfully, nature connection freely provides us reminders and opportunities to be still, be present, slow down and take stock of what’s truly important.

May you and your loved ones experience tremendous peace, goodwill, camaraderie and community this coming holiday season and into the new year.

May you be grateful for everything in your life.

May you reach out and extend these gifts to others.

May we all celebrate the ebbing of darkness, and welcome the returning tide of light to our one home planet in the weeks and year to come!

Amazing Grace


Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of things that happen in our lives, and the unexpected passing of my Mom in early October really shook me to my core. Given my Dad’s dementia and other age-related challenges, my four siblings and I all thought he might have gone first, as my Mom had been spry and sharp and in seemingly better shape until the week before she passed.

My Mom, Angela, had been progressing well after a seemingly successful surgery in late August, but about five weeks later, she experienced a significant downturn once more. A second surgery left her with weakened vital signs and she passed away two mornings later, another star and ray of light returning to the great unknown. Her closest friends had always called her Angel.

One thing I do know is that my mom’s spirit and love live on in all the life and lives that I am a part of. It’s hard not to think about her during one of her favorite seasons (spring is #1, fall is #2), when walking and kicking through piles of colorful leaves swirling around on sidewalks, when glancing up at brilliant blue skies decorated with white puffy cumulus clouds, when witnessing squirrels and birds zoom around the backyard preparing for winter .Or when getting ready for Halloween, as she got such a kick out of helping my brother Bill and I with costumes when we were very young, and still enjoyed seeing photos of grandchildren and her own grown children dressing up in the spirit of the season..

My mom lived her last 20-plus years in an apartment complex west of Richmond, Virginia, where my oldest sister continues to live just a few doors down from where she called home. I was always astonished by how much my mom had turned her little corner of the earth outside her place into something so personal, so beautiful, and so magical. She planted, usually with the landlords’ permission, small bushes, trees and plants to brighten up her home outside her home. She nurtured hens and chickens, forget-me-nots and other flowers in small beds outside, and had turned an old wooden barrel into a planter, leaving a hole at the bottom of the barrel intact so chipmunks had a place to hide. I wouldn’t say she was one and at peace with the squirrels, though, as she alternated between leaving crumbs out for them to eat, and then shooing at them with a broom, followed by the occasional expletive, too! She had deep roots and a strong connection to where she lived, yet she also encouraged her five children to find their own places to grow, to become rooted and call home.

As an adult, it took time, effort and lots of soul-searching before I finally found my own place to call home and put down roots here in Montana, which is where I was when my sister called about my mom’s condition following her second surgery, and where I was fitfully sleeping the morning that she died. We are honoring her request to have her ashes scattered next summer, and to have a celebration of life gathering for her instead of a funeral service.

A state of grace and calm prevail in most moments now, alongside occasional rip-currents and waves of grief and sadness. I think about my mom and how much she loved the seashore, especially Cape Hatteras and other places on the Outer Banks of North Carolina,

Imagining and envisioning being there reminds me that we are all a part of this huge ocean of love, family, community and possibility. Storms are inevitable, even hurricanes from time to time. We are all part of this tug and pull, these vast and often unknowable rhythms and cycles of life
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Even after the craziest, shittiest and darkest of storms, light returns, love remains. And if we keep nurturing that, remembering those who gave their love while they were here, encouraging us to be grateful for what we have and to do what we can to serve others and something bigger than ourselves, we are unstoppable.

“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire” said Ferdinand Foch. My mom’s soul and spirit burned brightly her entire life.  It feels fitting that she passed at this time of year, when the maples, sumacs, oaks and other trees she loved also are aflame, before their leaves too return to where they once came from.

Finding Peace In Nature

In A Course In Miracles, author Marianne Williamson shared that peace is being in the present moment without judgment.

That can be mighty hard to do at times, but I had plenty of practice doing so while visiting my Dad a few weeks back in Virginia.

My Dad has likely been living with Alzheimer’s for about six years now, though he wasn’t officially diagnosed until 2011. We could all tell that he was slipping here and there since the early 2000s, but largely attributed it to him having “senior moments”. We did our best in allowing him to remain as independent as possible.

It really sucks to see someone who was once so vital, vigorous become hugely dependent upon the care and watchful eyes of others. He no longer drives, but keeps a car in hopes that one day he will regain his freedom.

He’s maddening and demeaning and belittling at times, as my sisters and sister-in-law can attest to, they having borne the brunt of his hurtful behavior.

Many in our family limit their interactions and visiting times to protect themselves emotionally.  One sibling, though, feels relentless, crushing, seemingly never-ending guilt colliding with her sense of duty and meaning of family in trying to decide and do what’s best for him.

In a nutshell, my Dad does not want to be is assisted living-he wants to go home to die. He says he is not happy where he is and that everything is awful, but over the course of spending time with him over several visits while being back in Virginia, his actions and interactions showed me something profoundly different. He has a second family there, and he’s part of an at-times feisty community.

My Dad got to see Erik again and meet his mom as well on this visit, but the following few times we got together it was just the two of us. He asked how both Erik and his mom were doing and had ideas about places for them to visit in Richmond. He was thrilled that we came to visit and that we brought warmer weather with us, as it had been a cold and slow start to spring following a long for Virginia standards winter.

Each visit, he caught me up to speed on how the Yankees were doing as compared to the Mets and Pirates. A fellow  resident and baseball fanatic printed out the stats from each Yankees game to share with my Dad, and they would lively debate who either saved or blew the game.

I joined my Dad for lunch one day in the cafeteria, where we joined a group of five men, more or less his age, for soup, salad, sandwiches, and sugar-free dessert.. We sat directly across from someone in his mid- to late-90s (my Dad will be 88 in November).

Dad shouted out to him, “Now that guy is really old!”, and I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when the other man shouted back to him, “Shut up, Bud, that’s no way to treat your elders!”.

Another person at the table had a grown son a little older than me who had at one time played on my Dad’s baseball team, and he was happy to be hanging with someone who was hanging with his Dad.

We can all have challenging memories and stories about how we were raised and how we were treated growing up, and it can be astonishing when different parents and siblings have conflicting memories and lingering feelings as to what those times were like.

It might have been Wayne Dyer who said that the past is about as significant as old dishwater, but when you’re grappling with how to best support someone entering one  of their last chapters in life, we all slosh around in this choppy ocean a little differently.

I learned so much from my Dad this trip by doing my best to be fully present in the moment with him, without judgment. Even when things got rocky or testy, I chose to keep only the love and the lessons learned, and to let go of the rest.

A friend who we visited who had recently lost her mother, and who also knows my Dad, said it best:

They all once had careers, families and full lives. They all loved someone and were loved as well. They did their best. They remember and savor these moments in life because it helps them feel and remember what it means to be fully alive. They still have their dignity, they still have their souls and their spirits. Their bodies and minds might be faltering, but they once had lives like we do, and they want to be treated with love, patience, compassion, non-judgement and respect. .
Solo walks in nature (as well as with Erik and his Mom)  helped me gain clarity as to how I could be more present and at peace in the moment when visiting with my Dad, as well as with family members who found it hard to spend  time with him.

Before flying home to Montana, Erik and his Mom and I traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a few days following a week of visiting and catching up with my side of the family.

A rough-and-tumble ocean and towering dunes of sand was the perfect salve. Wave after ocean wave massaged,  released and healed pent-up and unresolved feelings, memories and stories that never really served me.

Into the sea they went, into the sea they all dissolved.

Gentle breezes, children playing and laughing, and pelicans gliding above the Atlantic Ocean gifted me tremendous calm, bliss and peace with what was unfolding in life, helping me to surrender to all that was beyond any one person’s control. Which is just about everything!

From the sea we once came, and to the sea we will once again return eventually.

In the meantime, I’m eternally grateful to have been able to see and be with my Dad in a different light.

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