Benediction for Brian

It has been a month now since Ann’s son/our son, age 33 years, suffered cardiac arrest 48 hours after reparative surgery and a grueling 14 months of recovery from a serious accident in the line of paramedic duty.

At his memorial on December 12, I read the following benediction… It is both personal to Brian, and universal to our longing to know and be known. I offer it into a quiet moment in your holiday/holy days…

Perhaps we do not know the full measure of our lives because we cannot know it: it is a secret that our community holds for us. Each person who has loved us, befriended us, worked alongside us; every person we have loved, befriended, neighbored, worked with, bought groceries from, smiled at on the sidewalk—each one holds a tiny mirror in which the impact of our presence is reflected. No one sees the fullness, but we know it is there. We offer our broken bits of reflection to one another and so doing create a mosaic of tiny, bright lights—

  • Lights like rippling sun on water,
  • Lights like an ambulance in the rain,
  • Lights like candles in the window,
  • Lights like stars in the night sky… now, one more.

But the mosaic comes together only at the end; only then do we see how each shard fits the pattern. How each jagged or smooth edge contributes to the whole design that was our life, our purpose, our meaning, our loveliness. Ahhh, what elusive desire to understand we have carried through the decades. Sometimes this longing to know who we are shows up as a musing that soars on the updraft while we hike the high ridges; sometimes it grabs the gut in secret midnight desperation. And now… now it comes? Accompanying the final beat of the deep red muscle of life, floating out of our lungs on the last molecule of air… Finally, we see who we really are. Finally, we see who we have always been.

We have gathered here today to hold our pieces of mirror up for Brian, to offer our reflections that his soul may receive his fullness. This is our benediction.


Sail on, Brian, into the realms of wonder, knowing fully who you are.

Medicine Walk with my Son

On Nov. 23 my 33-year-old son died unexpectedly in Denver after what was to have been his final surgery on the road to recovery from a terrible accident as a paramedic fourteen months earlier. I am still in shock. To prepare myself to speak at his huge “line of duty” funeral, I sought spiritual readiness in the solace of nature.

dscn56331x300Brian was young and adventuresome. I knew I had to go to a wild place to connect with him. My little corgi dog and I drove two hours up to the Cascade foothills covered in fresh snow. On that day we were the only ones on the Forest Service road. There were fresh tracks of critters everywhere on the trail: snowshoe hare, coyote, pine marten, squirrel, mouse, and deer. Gracie was an unusually quiet companion. Sometimes she would race ahead in sheer joy at being in the snow, but mostly she stayed by my side or directly behind me.

After a couple of hours of walking in the snow, she started boofing at something up ahead. It is her way of talking to me, telling me to pay attention. The hair stood up on the back of her spine and she continued to boof more loudly. I actually got a bit alarmed because we had been seeing a lot of coyote tracks and were a long ways from our parked truck.

Suddenly a dark shape flew low over our heads from behind and landed on a branch in front of us; an elegant, black raven. Gracie fell immediately silent and came over to my side. The raven began “talking” to us. It started to click its bill, and then it puffed up its feathers. Turning its head back and forth to look at us, it continued this routine for about five minutes.

Corvus coraxThe last thing I had spoken to my son at his bedside was, “Fly free, my son. Fly free.”

An enormous calm came over me. I felt certain for the first time since his death that he was OK. “Thank you,” I said aloud to the raven. It peered directly at us. Far away across the valley I heard the ethereal croak of another raven. Our raven lifted off his branch and flew directly at us and then veered off towards the sound of its own kind. That image has held me steady as I move along this unpredictable journey of grief.


Enter the winter through e-space

I loved doing the e-course. There were nearly 600 people receiving the emailed essays on “Restorying Your Life.” Most of these people received the emails and wrote in private, or tucked them away for a less busy time. I am reading on Facebook that folks are just now settling down by the winter fire and starting (or continuing) to follow the writing prompts.

This is true for me too–looking forward to following my own advice in the long evenings this season provides. (Hint: turn off the TV, and design a corner of calm in the midst of busyness.) As I write this I think of our Australian friends–long evenings of another kind happening in the southern hemisphere… Up north we write by lamp and candle, down south you write by long, sunny twilight. Either way, works.

Before moving on, I want to note a few things from the cyber environment that warmed my heart. In the Practice Circle, 263 people checked in, introduced themselves. Even if they didn’t share their process beyond that, it gave the whole group a sense of who had shown up–made the reading more intimate, and certainly encouraged the posting process.

Then in the following weeks, dozens–maybe up to a 100 voices–did at least one posting about the writing prompts in the emailed essays. We held circle. I wrote to them–many strangers to my larger body of work, a brief description of circle space:

When bearing witness in circle, which is where I spend most of my listening time, everyone speaks to the center/centre. Say we are in a comfortable, quiet room with a candle on a coffee table in the space between us… one by one we hold a talking piece, maybe a rose quartz stone in the shape of a heart: whoever holds the stone speaks his/her story, the rest of us listen. At the completion of the story, the stone goes to the next person who, if s/he is ready, speaks their story. … Round the stone is passed and the ear of the heart opens and we receive the stories… All the stories are placed in the center around the flickering flame. We don’t carry them, but we can have empathy and honor and place them down.


We know this rhythm: it is in our bones, an inheritance from millennia of before there was any technology beyond the human voice and our capacities to tell a tale and learn from one another. Sweet to see this rhythm here in this virtual space. May we protect and trust and observe this rhythm together throughout our time together.

Everybody observed such care/full/ness with one another. The Practice Circle was organized by topic: each essay had a designated place to respond. There was also a place for “Community Support, Prayer Requests, Off-topic Comments,” and this became a sweet spot of shared concerns–still following circle protocols.

I was astonished and am still marveling at our ability to tend one another and bear witness in a group that had never met. I remember in 1998 when a friend who worked in this world wide web environment paid us a visit and said, “Ladies, you have to get out on-line…” We resisted, saying, “But all our work is about creating face-to-face connection!” He said, “You’ll go out of business if you don’t figure out how to connect in cyberspace.” Maybe as a human community we are learning how to bring and share the deeper aspects of ourselves in these new ways.

Thank you, all, for learning with me. Now… find that quiet light and tap into your own heartspace.

Medicine Walk Number One

When I really need guidance, I take a medicine walk. Far more than a walk in the woods or a ski on the snow, a medicine walk is deeply intentional time in nature.

Two recent deaths in my family reminded me of the power of this ancient form. My father died on Veteran’s Day (November 11). Several days later I spent the day alone in a nearby state park. Drawing a tarot card for guidance, being smudged with sage, and speaking my intention for the day: to find words to honor him at his funeral, I set off on foot on a rainy northwest late autumn day.  Everywhere the presence and abundance of nurse logs spoke to me of the legacy that my father leaves in place.



A nurse log is a downed tree or stump in the forest that slowly decays and provides sustenance for the seedlings of moss, ferns, and young trees that will take its place. These nurse logs are critical to the ongoing health of our forests in much the same way my father’s life values and teachings are critical to my ongoing navigation of the world around me.

I used the strength of that metaphor to find words to speak at Dad’s funeral on Nov. 27. One of five stories I shared about him was how I got to fish with him from a very young age . . . and launched my lifelong love of nature.

Next blog: Medicine walk with my son