The Feast of All Souls — a sense of “Going Home”

Do you believe that life ends here …

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or perhaps, somewhere else?

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Today’s Feast of All Souls gives me pause; I wonder …

  • My mom and dad are gone, but are they? Where are they?
  • Where will I be going? Where do I want to do?
  • Do I believe there is something beyond this life?

For some reason I have always had a strong belief in the afterlife; it’s what got me through the deaths of my parents. I remember looking at my mother’s casket covered in beautiful purple and white flowers and feeling a strong sense that she was safe and free from pain. It was because she was well loved whether she knew it or not. Her beautiful memorial service showed that love to the capacity crowd that was present.

I believe that love never dies.

Whether our loved ones live on in our memories or actually “live” someplace, perhaps today is a good day to think about such things. Let go of fear and allow the imagination to fly higher and deeper, to that place where we truly live forever with our Creator.

We are loved. And love never dies.

This video of one my favorite pieces from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” performed by Libera can perhaps lead you to such a place. The video provides the beautiful lyrics to this hymn.

May your reflection fill you with hope of things to come.

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Dedicated singers ease the journey home

NOTE: This story ran in the Catholic Free Press on October 21, 2016 in their Bereavement supplement.

Each Wednesday afternoon, eighteen men and women gather at the Congregational Church in Westborough to rehearse songs for performance. They have come from various churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Westborough, Northborough and Marlborough. Some come from the Westborough Community Chorus and the Assabet Valley Master Singers. The performances for which they rehearse are however, not meant for entertainment.

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(L to R) Jim Nolan, Mary Beland and John McCann are members of the Journey Home Singers and all are members of the St. Luke the Evangelist choir in Westborough, MA. Beland invited both men to join the Journey Home Singers.

The Journey Home Singers sing in homes, hospitals and nursing homes to hospice patients. “Our intention is to bring comfort, beauty, caring and compassion with our singing to anyone who wants us to visit,” said Kathy Todd, director of the Journey Home Singers.

Todd started the group in June of 2009 after attending a singing workshop in the Berkshires. During that gathering, flyers were distributed for a workshop involving hospice singing. Todd was immediately intrigued, inspired by her own personal experience with caring for a dying sister.

“We started [the Journey Home Singers] in June of 2009, which was about six months after my oldest sister died,” recalls Todd. “My sister Martha had been ill with COPD for several years, and had just entered hospice care at her home in August 2008. On August 19 she fell and broke her hip and was taken to ICU at St. Vincent’s in Worcester. About a month later, doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for her, other than having her live attached to a ventilator. My youngest sister and I kept a vigil with her that night after she decided not to go with a ventilator. Time spent by her bedside was the first catalyst that led me to realize a vision that became the hospice choir.”

The workshop was run by Hallowell from Brattleboro, VT. Their mission is to offer support to the dying by bringing comfort, calm and beauty. After attending, Todd felt compelled to start a group. “I thought about it for a long time, I had no experience as a director,” she said. She decided to call her choir the Journey Home Singers, inspired by a song she heard at the workshop, “Angels Hovering Round”: “We’re on our journey home…”

Todd began her search for members, beginning with her choir at the Congregational Church in Westborough. She expanded that search to other church choirs and community choruses. Mary Beland, member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Choir in Westborough, was one of the first to join.

“I received notice from Betsy Sowers (a friend of Todd) that the Journey Home Singers was just being conceived and Kathy was searching around for singers to join,” said Beland who is also a member of the Assabet Valley Master Singers. Recently she invited fellow church choir members Jim Nolan and John McCann to join.

Once assembled, Todde sought to publicize the group. “I work for the Community Advocate (out of Northborough) and they were very supportive,” she said. The newspaper did a story on the Journey Home Singers in 2010 and granted Todd time off as needed to do the performances.

Because they seek to personalize their song selections for each patient, The Journey Home Singers offer a wide repertoire of songs taken from both Christian and Jewish traditions. Soon after the article ran, Todd connected with Mary Poole, once the hospice chaplain at Beaumont Nursing Home in Westborough who assisted Todd in in this effort by supplying the patient’s first name and last initial, faith tradition and condition (responsive/unresponsive).

Beland’s motivation for joining the group was similar to Todd’s. “I was already comfortable with the idea because I sat with my sister while she was dying. She and I shared the same love for music.” She knows that as a ministry, one may not always get feedback from a patient. “If you want applause, you might not get it,” she said.

Nolan feels it is a way to continue to have music in his life while helping others. He too understands that responses will vary although he has noted a “flutter of an eye, a tear, a raised hand” from those to whom he has sung.

McCann was motivated to join because of a rather involved experience he had years ago traveling to Guatemala with his then teenaged son only to return and discover that his brother had unexpectedly passed away. He recalled a moment when he was alone during the trip, surrounded by the wind, noting the quiet and sensing that something was happening.

“In Lo De Bran in the early afternoon, I was sitting alone by a well, on a wall. No one was near me. I was surrounded by a gentle soft warm wind which engulfed me. I felt a little different, but did not think much of it, other than it was very hot … I … felt a very quiet peace.”

When he learned when his brother had been stricken, he realized it had happened while he was sitting by that well. “The Good Lord kept Jim in our presence for three more days, allowing my son Aidan and me to return safely from Guatemala and to be with him. I could never explain how even in the horrors of Jim’s death that God can be so good so as to allow Aidan and me such special moments with Jim just before he died.” It was this experience that prompted McCann to minister to other such people through the Journey Home Singers.

Stories abound of experiences with patients. Todd recalls a man who kept a hymnal near his bedside but was unable to hold the book open due to his condition. “He was a singer – after one song, he joined in even though he really couldn’t hold the book. It made him so happy,” she said.

One experience involved a little girl. “We went into Boston Children’s Hospital to sing for a seven-year-old girl — one of our toughest. She was not conscious and had seizures three to four times a day. The whole family was there, so upbeat. They put their arms around her and sang to her – they would sing along with us,” recalls Beland.

The Journey Home Singers thus fulfills a much needed mission. “If can we talk about dying and be aware of our own death, we can become more comfortable with it and use the time have now in a much more effective, more beautiful way. We’ll live well,” says Todd.

If you are interested in joining The Journey Home Singers, you can contact Kathy Todd at lightsong60@gmail.com or call 508-335-1043.

 

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection

This is my April column for the Catholic Free Press.

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The gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter features the doubting Thomas as depicted in John 20:24–29. I have always been moved by his story. In my book, River of Grace, I wrote the following:

“When the others told him that they had ‘seen the Lord,’ he refused to believe. He treated their story with skepticism that bordered on rejection. He was provocative in his declaration that he would not believe unless he placed his hand in the side of Jesus and probed the wounds with his fingers. Thomas deliberately pushed away any semblance of hope that Jesus was alive. He did not dare to believe. Reading that passage I understood the bitterness in his demands and the refusal to face his pain. When Jesus appeared to all the apostles several days later, he invited Thomas to do as the others had done: touch his wounds.”

Death is a traumatic experience. In the case of Jesus, it came as a total shock to the disciples despite the fact that Jesus had warned them many times of his impending death. He also promised them hope in the aftermath. Yet as we have witnessed in the readings following Easter, even when Jesus was right in front of them, they could not believe. Continue reading “Hiding ourselves in the wounds of Christ – a post-Easter reflection”

Confession of a timid soul

My latest Catholic Free Press column.

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The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the legal state of marriage has reverberated across the country. People cannot stop talking about it and the conversations are often heated. A seismic shift has taken place in our culture. It caught me unprepared for the personal storm of confusion and fear that I would experience as a result.

Facing the inevitable

Christians are facing a “brave new world.” Confrontation is now inevitable; I cannot avoid it no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel. I have to be clear as to what I think and how I feel and learn how to express it both firmly and in love, as Jesus would do. Continue reading “Confession of a timid soul”

Latest Catholic Free Press Column – Lessons learned from crazy cat people

This is my latest monthly column for The Catholic Free Press.
I have now admitted in print that I am a crazy cat lady!🙂

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I am a crazy cat lady. There, I said it.

While I have two cats of my own, that’s only the beginning. I also follow live kitten cams online and chat regularly with the many viewers. My main reason for visiting Facebook is to follow the lives of foster kittens after they have been adopted. Continue reading “Latest Catholic Free Press Column – Lessons learned from crazy cat people”

Love begets love: how can something you love to do spread love to others?

This past Tuesday I did something I love doing.

We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have several chapters of WINGS, an organization dedicated to gathering together women of faith in an effort to support and deepen that faith.

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I was pleased to be invited to speak this past Tuesday at Christ the King Parish in Worcester, MA, at their first WINGS meeting of the season. I presented my “Let’s Go Swimming!” talk with songs, ending with a rousing rendition all together of “Can You Teach Me?” Continue reading “Love begets love: how can something you love to do spread love to others?”

Favorite toys, family memories, blessings remembered … what did you get for Christmas?

I loved Christmas as a kid.

Like all kids I’d be up half the night, listening to the activity down in the living room where my dad would be putting together a bicycle or building some other contraption. He’d sometimes ring the jingle bells that hung on our front door because he knew my sister, brother and I were listening; we swore Santa was on our roof with his sleigh full of toys! My older sister would peak down the stairs to spy.

It was such a long wait until 6am when we would run downstairs to open our gifts.

I have fond memories of toys from Christmas past. Among my favorites:

doll and dollhouseSuzy Smart, a talking schoolgirl doll

A magnetic dollhouse – the magnets were on wands and I used to love whipping the family members through the house!

bike and clothesMy first 26 inch bicycle

Barbie clothes, especially the ones my cousin Janie made for me. The white levis were the coolest!

All the cute nature-related stocking stuffers – they were the best!

christmas morningHere’s what we looked like on Christmas morning – my dad could never resist taking a picture and as you can see, we were just thrilled:

When we were a little older, we were required to wait until our grandparents came over before gifts could be opened. Sometimes they wouldn’t arrive until two in the afternoon; that’s a long wait for a kid! I managed to take satisfaction in the fact we still had gifts to open while the rest of the kids in the neighborhood had long ago opened theirs.

Christmas becomes quieter as we grow older  …

although sharing it with small children keeps the magic alive. My husband bought and put together a huge Brio train set for our then one year old son; he ended up playing with the box!

brio trains

But now at 27, he keeps that box of wooden tracks and trains under his old bed at our home to keep for future generations.

Christmas these days is tinged with a bit of melancholy,

remembering parents and other beloved family members who have passed on. This year’s holiday was especially poignant with the thought of my older sister Christine and her husband Tom soon moving down south for their retirement.

We enjoyed a lovely last get-together at their home sharing mementos and memories.

The gathering was intimate: just Christine and Tom, our own family of four and older brother Tommy. Christine set the table with the silver, delicate white tablecloth, cloth napkins and embroidered place mats belonging to our maternal grandmother. Dinners in their Tudor dining room, complete with leaded windows, and a curved entrance with a wrought-iron gate, were formal; this dinner was warm as we each shared something we were grateful for before eating.

Upon opening presents we each received a precious remembrance of past loved ones.

Christine and Tom had recently cleaned out their attic and decided to distribute family mementos. I received my mother’s diploma from Wellesley College along with a special poem and remembrance from her retirement in 1984 from the Botany Department at the college.

Tommy received plans, drawings and photos of miniature ships that our paternal grandfather, known as Pom Pom, had built. We all marveled at the incredible precision and accuracy of the drawings and models; I knew that talent had passed down from grandfather to father to son and felt proud. Here’s a sample drawing from our “Pom Pom” of his 1912 car:

pom pom's car

The day ended quietly and once home,
I indulged in my favorite Christmas present this year,

daktarisent by my brother-in-law and his wife who live an hour outside of Los Angeles. They gave me a DVD of the complete first season of Daktari, a children’s TV show that I loved as a kid (from Wikipedia: The show follows the work of Dr. Tracy, his daughter Paula and his staff, who frequently protected animals from poachers and local officials. Tracy’s pets, a cross-eyed lion named Clarence and a chimpanzee named Judy, were also popular characters.).

It was particularly special that it came from Tim for he loves old TV shows and collects autographs and memorabilia. We had visited them over the summer and Tim and I had talked about favorite TV shows. It touched my heart that he remembered and I literally squealed when I tore off the paper and saw his gift.

So for a little while I became 10 years again, pretending I was Daktari’s daughter, living in Africa taking care of and communing with the animals (especially the big cats!).

Christmas Day was magical again.

But most importantly, thoughts of the baby Jesus and His birth into my life and so many others was never far from my mind. I was pleased to light all four of my advent candles for dinner with our son just before Christmas:

advent wreath with votives

A lovely tabletop tree highlights the manger scene:

manger

Magical, yes. And blessed. Merry Christmas!

How was your Christmas? What were your favorite toys from Santa?

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There’s nothing better at Christmas than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” especially if it’s your story!

Last night I had a lot of cooking to do for a dinner party and kept myself company watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on YouTube. This truly is a Christmas classic and I got all choked up at the end when the town turned out to help George Bailey. I was flooded with strong memories of a Christmas in 1997 when our family faced a similar situation. I’ll let my son Stephen tell the story:

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I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had close friendships with many of my teachers and college professors growing up. I’m generally the class wise guy and this has always guaranteed a lot of time conversing with the teacher, either in welcomed humorous banter or being kept after class for being disruptive while continuing an intellectual conversation on topics discussed in the class.

Of all of these teachers the one that first comes to mind is my sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. Bloom.

Mrs. Bloom recognized early on that I had a lot of creative energy to burn, and she encouraged this at every turn. She focused me on my written work and indulged my interest in humorous skits and videos for my class projects. I think she saw in me a kindred spirit of wild enthusiasm, something she brought every day to class with her own outsized personality and a sweet caring nature that she extended to all of her students. These two sides of her personality came out in full force the week before Christmas in 1997.

Earlier in the month, my family’s storage locker in the basement of our apartment building had been broken into. My parents, having to deal with two surprise-ruining children, had taken to storing all of the Christmas gifts in this locker to keep my sister and me from peeking at them. The thieves had crudely pried open the locker and made off with everything.

My family was devastated; we resigned ourselves to what would likely be a very low-key Christmas.

Somehow Mrs. Bloom found out what had happened. Being anything but a low-key personality, she was not the type of person to stand for anyone settling for less than the best.

I remember entering my sixth grade class the morning before the Christmas break without the sense that anything might happen that day. The sting of the theft was still something everyone in my family felt, a kind of weird shame that hung over us despite it being nothing we could have prevented.

I was greeted with the sight of my entire class clustered around Mrs. Bloom’s infamous treadmill. Having so much excess energy, Mrs. Bloom had the treadmill off in the corner near her desk and would take to running on it during lunch (or class, generally for humorous effect).

Today, the treadmill was piled high with wrapped gifts and surrounded by the smiling faces of my classmates.

nordic-track-commercial-2150-treadmill with giftsMrs. Bloom then explained how in the past week she had called and spoken with the parents and students of my class and in an act of kindness that has so far gone unmatched in my lifetime had organized all of them into this big act of charity for my family.

In a time of crisis, she had gone above and beyond her textbook role as an educator and brought together a small community of people to do good. This event has always stuck with me, and the lessons of kindness taught here have influenced my life ever since.

Do you have a “It’s a Wonderful Life” story of your own to share?

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True unity that brings all things together

Unity in the Heart of God

“Love unites all, whether created or uncreated …”

This is the beginning of a short meditation by noted spiritual writer (and my favorite), Henri Nouwen.

You can read the rest here.

This short passage utterly sums up the purpose of this blog, and my life.

How about you? What sums up your life?

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The metaphor of Seven Kittens

In a previous post I shared how a live cam on Ustream of a stray cat and her kittens rescued by a woman in Pittsburgh, PA had caught the attention of the world. Thousands followed the escapade of Noodles and her kittens and shed tears as they grew up and went on to their permanent homes.

This may seem like a story reserved for cat lovers but I couldn’t help but notice a universal theme.

To review the scenario:

  • A woman takes pity on a stray, pregnant cat and takes her into her home.
  • Five weeks later the cat bears seven kittens.
  • Care and love are lavished with tremendous generosity on the cat and kittens.
  • One kitten is a tiny runt with no hair. He is so small that the chat community is concerned for him.
  • The mother cat is especially solicitous towards the runt. The community takes notice and falls in love with the runt and roots for him.
  • The cat and kittens thrive under the care they’re receiving and blossom into beautiful young cats, perfectly socialized and affectionate with humans.
  • Loki (Runty) at 8 weeks with the lucky lady he would soon go home with

    The runt especially blossoms, turning into a large, fluffy and sweet beauty.

  • The girls are gorgeous tortis, the boys lean and handsome gingers.
  • The adoptions go well and the kittens go home.

End of story. Or is it?

In the midst of a dark, chaotic and polarized world, a small international community grows around creatures given a home, love and care. The love is contagious and soon the community cares for the cat and kittens. And then people in community begin to care for each other.

It proves something I’ve suspected for a long time: love begets love.

from http://matthewpaulturner.net/jesus-needs-new-pr/the-light-is-for-you-a-post-inspired-by-rachelheldevans/

We are created to seek goodness, love and beauty. We long for light, not darkness, but we get pulled off course.

We seek happiness from the outside: from the glitzy, glamorous, sexy, exciting, unwholesome and even dangerous when it fact, it dwells within, simply and quietly, waiting for us.

In an ugly world the site of a cat and her kittens being so generously cared for is attractive and touches the heart. And it drew people in like a moth to a flame.

This wasn’t just a story about cats: this is about us.

One person took a chance fostering these kittens. She accepted the risk, laid out her money, gave of her time, and poured out her heart. Although many in the chat community are sad at the departure of the family, this person must feel especially drained and heartbroken.

Happily ever after

The story, however, has a happy ending. No one in the community could deny the miracle of the blossoming of these kittens (most especially the runt); it was the product of selfless love. The weak were taken in and made strong.

And no one could deny the friendships that grew within the community. When the kittens were quietly sleeping and out of sight, the conversations continued. People began to get to know each other. Even though posts were in many different languages, all converged around a single, unifying event.

Love begets love

from http://www.profkrg.com/nerd-note-each-other-vs-one-another

Love is oftentimes depicted in the scriptures as beginning small and growing big. The mustard seed grows into the huge tree. The five loaves and two fish feed 5000 people. The small bits of leaven make the bread rise.

And love given spontaneously to a stray cat and her kittens grows into an international community.

God, who is Love, is continuously at work in the world using any and all situations to communicate with us. Like so many of the mundane, everyday occurrences of our lives, these events teach us how to love and care for each other.

We just need the eyes to see.

Linked to stay in touch

So far, two Facebook pages have set up by the new owners:

Loki: https://www.facebook.com/SevenKittensLOKI

Cosmo: https://www.facebook.com/cosmo.swishermullins

Seven Kittens has a page too: https://www.facebook.com/TheSevenKittens

And you can watch highlights from the Ustream site: http://www.ustream.tv/sevenkittens

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