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the sky over our house last night

I’m not sure why, but the sky here has really been showing off lately, the clouds and light making these amazing patterns and color, stopping me in my tracks, making me bend my head back and stare, whisper “holy wow” and take deep breaths, exhale long sighs.

I was reading this post on Judy Clement Wall’s Zebra Sounds yesterday and clicked on the link to Dirty Footprints Studio and read this post about the art project Connie put together to honor her friend who’d recently passed away. She’d taken a photo of the sky right after she learned he’d died, and couldn’t stop looking at it, taking more pictures of it, thinking about the connection between the sky and those we’ve lost, and she asked her readers to help her create a memorial for her friend–326 people sent her pictures of the sky with a name of one they’d lost, and she made a video.

The response so overwhelmed her, the “stories were so touching and it really proved to me how very connected by love we all truly are,” that she’s extended the project:

So everyone can share the way they were touched and lives were changed by loved ones lost…please, take the time to share a photo of the sky on your blog–and tell us who it is for and how they touched your life–how you remember them.

I’ve been taking so many pictures of the sky lately, and my life has been so changed by loss, that I decided to dedicate this second day of August Break to taking part in this project.

the view from our porch this morning

Connie suggested sharing about one person, but as you know, my most recent loss came as a pair, two separate griefs that are so closely linked in my heart and my memory that I can’t think of one without touching the other.

Obi was our first dog. I learned with him that when you rescue a dog, they actually rescue you, like little Bodhisattvas in fur suits. Obi taught me about fear, both by being fearful so I could see how unfounded and harmful most of our fear is, and by making me feel protected and safe so my own fear softened and relaxed. Obi gifted me a confidence about being loved and capable, about things being okay even when they were terrible, and it fundamentally changed the way I move through the world. I’m still traumatized by how we lost him, (diagnosed with incurable cancer after a check of a tiny lump that we weren’t even worried about when he was only seven years old), but understand that’s the deal with dogs–you will outlive most of the ones you have.

The same week Obi was diagnosed, so was my friend Kelly. We’d met in graduate school and I immediately loved her. She was the kind of person you couldn’t help but adore–funny, smart, creative, strong, and kind. She married another friend from graduate school, Matt, and they moved to Kentucky, which is where they were living with their six month old little boy when she found the cancer. Even though the doctors told her it was a rare form that hardly ever came back, it did, and Kelly passed away six months after my Obi did. She was only 37 years old.

the sky over us in kentucky the day of kelly’s memorial service

Both of these losses were so sad, so shocking, traumatic–both of them were so healthy, so loving and loved, so young, so vibrant and alive when diagnosed. It changed everything for me. I was compelled to begin living my life with my whole, open heart, the beauty and the terror of it, all of it. The grief and the anger that came with having to let them go was the energy behind the birth of this blog, (as well as many other positive changes in my life). I was inspired to rehab my life, and this blog is a way to contemplate, process, record, and share that experience.

Even though it is brutal, loss and grief can be a catalyst for health, sanity, wholeness. It reminds us that we aren’t guaranteed a set amount of time or health, that anything can happen to anyone of us at any time, so we have to squeeze the life out of every second, fully live each moment and be so grateful for every breath, every heartbeat, every sunrise.

Postscript: I had already written this post, scratching it out longhand in my journal, when I turned on my computer this morning to check Facebook to find a status update from Patti Digh that her husband has been diagnosed with cancer. She asked, “Please pray for him, for us.” Only hours before they got the call, Patti had had shared the most amazing picture of the sunset, the view of the sky from where they were on vacation.

While I had entirely other intentions for this post, (to fulfill my August Break commitment, to take part in Connie’s art project), what I really want to do is offer my pictures, my writing, my experience of grief and loss, all my love and my openhearted, precious and messy efforts to live life with my whole heart as an embodied prayer. May John be healthy and well, may their whole family and all those that love them have their worry and sadness softened, may all others who are receiving bad news today be comforted, and may suffering in the world be eased. I also humbly request that if you have any good energy, love or prayers to spare, kind and gentle reader, that you send them John and Patti’s way.