Published author, leadership and organizational development mentor, inspirational speaker, advocate for cold noses as healers Architecting a social movement of unconditional listening one voice, one story at a time
I love that you are my person, and I am yours, that whatever door we will come to, we will open it together. – A.R. Asher
In the March 26th blog, I shared a link at the end calling to co-authors for stories of hope and healing, that together we could cast ripples far and wide of hope. That together we could be the pages in someone else’s survival guide.
I am honored to bring you the first story. It is my privilege to retell an inspiring story that is not absent of pain, trauma, sorrow, despair…or grief. But it is because of these things that you will read a moving story of healing, hope, and unconditional love.
JACK AND CHARLOTTE
Mom, I have many proud moments when it comes to you. Yet, there are two that especially shine through. One is when you and I took our 430-mile Appalachian Trail journey in 2019. The way you hiked up those steep hills, especially the moments when you doubted your capability. I knew you could do it, even if you did not believe it at the time. After all, I have been blessed to witness you make much steeper climbs. I am convinced there isn’t a mountain too steep for you. One of the things I love about you most, mom, is you don’t always know that to be true.
It is the nature of your humbleness and your large heart for others in need. Always a story of someone struggling more than you might have, your certainty. I am proud of you, too, mom, for your generosity. You do not ask anything in return of anyone you assist, except maybe that they pay forward assistance when another is struggling.
You could choose to be cautious to assist, hypervigilance your gift from your military training. You could choose to be leery of offering support, knowing well that trust is a precious commodity. A commodity that can be shattered quite easily. Yet, you use another gift to guide your way. You in-tune to that inner voice to tell you if all is ok.
Mom, there is another moment I am especially proud of you. It is the night you whispered, “it is your choice, Jack, in what you would like to do”. Um…mom…forgive my pausing. I get a little chocked up when I think about this chapter in our story. See mom, I have known since you and I became a team that you whole-heartedly loved me. But that night when I was sick, and you thought I was dying. Well, to offer me the choice to stay or go spoke of the greatest love that can be given to another – trust me I know. Mom, you put me ahead of your own heart with your unconditional love.
That is what makes us a really great team. I for you, and you for me. What is best for each other is our top priority. –Written by Jack, October 2020
Life’s funny, wonderous, heart-gripping, miraculous, exhilarating, adventurous flow. It brings the sweet joy of birth, and it brings the sweet sorrow of letting go. In the middle of our first breath and our last breath are all the blessed moments we choose our response to the currents in this river of life. Will we choose to keep paddling with the current one stroke at a time? Or fiercely paddle against the current’s natural direction, only we individually can decide.
Life’s beautiful, steep, majestic, sometimes dark, splendid, stormy, itchy, biting lonely path we may find ourselves walking. It can test our resilience, our will, and our hope leading our mind to a I am done certainty. It can also lead us to clarity, forgiveness, peace, and gratitude. Yes, to finding gratitude, too. If we never climb the steepest hills, we would miss this breathtaking scenery sprawling ahead for miles our eyes now see. We would miss that inside feeling from somewhere deep that has just proven our strength of being and done is no longer in our vocabulary. Or if we never have known the darkest nights, we could not feel the warmth of the sun now penetrating to our bones as it whispers, always the birth of a new day. We would have missed the journey to the greatest place we can travel to for the greatest gain.
To know oneself, and to embrace one’s light and shadow sides unconditionally. Well, all that I can simple say is that is where one finds the secret to living. Flourish, thrive, keep taking one step forward no matter what the moment is bringing. Life is beautiful and traumatic and a gift and ours to choose believing impossible or possibility.
I once knew the intention I held many nights in a row that sleep would come permanently. Impossible was being a very best friend to me. Hopeless was excited when it was time to call it a day. Hopeless was always disgruntled when Morning knocked, and I didn’t turn it away. Don’t get me wrong, I cursed Morning every single time it appeared and gave me the choice to rise. Yet, I am grateful that my soul was stronger than the emotional and mental pain I felt at the time. Oh, so grateful, indeed, my soul desired life.
Our first breath, our last breath, and all the moments in between. Here is the other aspect about life’s flow, at least how I believe. There is not only one birth that takes place in our life and death is not an ending. Perhaps this is now where you are raising an eyebrow and starting to question, what does Charlotte mean?
Do you know that expression people say, shaken to my core when they describe an experience that scared them in some way? I like to think of the analogy of an egg or a cocoon. You know, where there is something inside that reaches a point it is time to break through. A caterpillar reaches a point it is time to burst forth and spread wings as a butterfly. Or the duckling that reaches the time to peck through the shell so that it can start growing its wings for flight.
Each of us as human beings are cocooned in the safety of our innocence, even if only for a short time. We also retreat into a cocoon of protection if the outside world becomes harsh and unkind. If we experience something traumatic, we may build a shell around ourselves to try to feel safe. Cocoons and shells are shields of armor and our defense against the perceived enemies we face. It is inside these havens we then must choose if we wish to push through into the open or stay inside where we cannot be seen. If we make the choice to push through, it is a rebirthing. For who comes out of the cocoon is now much more than who was curled up tight inside. A butterfly is still a caterpillar, once having legs to crawl now has wings to fly.
Earlier I noted when sharing about the moments in between that I do not view death as an ending. Please do not misunderstand that I make light of death, and its aftermath of grief. Please don’t think I am communicating that death does not bring profound sorrow or that losing someone or something dearest to us is easy. I share my belief, thanks in large part to my upbringing. I share based on what I have experienced through my own losing of those dear to me. I share that you may find comfort in your own story if a chapter in yours includes mourning for something or someone you can no longer physically see.
I pause for a minute to reflect before I share my experiences with you. We do not always see it when we are flowing with the river of life how there is a connection in all we go through. My father would share this wisdom with us continually. Charlotte, my dear, when it comes to certainty, there are two things on which you can trust will never change. Taxes is one, and that each of us will die one day. How ironic in that nothing is coincidence way that the first significant loss through death I would know would be of the man who tried to teach me not to be afraid.
I was 22 when my father left Earth, and I was able to utilize an inherited gift passed down to me. When my father left his body, I felt his soul move over my shoulder as he expressed gratitude for being with him on his journey. While others in my family found that cocoon in which to begin their retreat as despair started to show it can be menacing, I stepped further out into the open air, figuratively speaking. I opened my arms wide in celebration that my father was now completely free.
It is always the lens through which we choose to see.
All of us have an intuition, though not all of us choose to lean into how we might utilize our inner knowing. Me, well, I chose to heed my father’s teaching that death was part of life’s flowing.
Jack shared with you in his opening about an adventure we took on a several week hiking journey. The Appalachian Trail for 430 miles while I healed my profound grief. Carlos was his name – the one who I in tuned reached the end of his life at his own choosing. We had served together in the military. I, a medic in training. Carlos, the one to make me laugh at just about everything.
I can still feel myself standing in the kitchen 23 years after standing by Carlos for a picture while we were serving. Carlos just shot himself I said to my daughter as I felt the disbelief start to sink into me. I hurried upstairs to look for that photo buried under years of collecting. Life is miraculous like that when what you most seek rises to the surface as if laying in wait. Within seconds of searching, I was holding that photograph we had someone once take.
Dear Carlos, his heart shattered in two that he lived through deployment and his best friend did not return home beside him alive. The guilt of surviving was Carlos’s greatest battle to fight. In that moment I felt Carlos leave Earth, I also heard this whispering. Do not be afraid to love followed by his infectious laughing.
Carlos, dang him anyway for once again seeing what I couldn’t fully see. He was good like that – his way of using his own in tuning. He once asked to take a picture of me so that I could then see how I looked in his eyes. Yeah, ok Carlos, I am starting to see some of what you saw, but I still question if you needed glasses for those bad eyes. Ha ha! You were – and still are – one hell of a friend Carlos, and I am grateful our paths intertwined.
You left Earth telling me not to be afraid to love. How did you know that was my deepest fear I was not even fully aware that it was? I believe holistically mind, soul, and body, yet I could not see that my left ankle was symbolic of my fear to step forward lovingly. The ankle that connects our leg to our foot, which allows us to move forward, or not – our choice to decide. Four surgeries on my left ankle, rehabilitation, and then your death a knock on the cocoon from the outside.
One of the things I loved about you most Carlos is how you made me laugh, especially when you would not let me take the toughest times too seriously. You made sure I held a reverence for the sick and injured while I was medically caring for someone’s needs. It would have been disrespectful to laugh amidst the pain someone was experiencing. But you were right there to make sure that I provided the space someone needed to heal themselves while maintaining a balance to know I couldn’t do the healing. I could provide support, but I could not carry the sole responsibility. Each of us ultimately owns the will to heal whatever infliction we are facing.
Boy, when the torrential rains were not letting up on Jack and I on that Appalachian trail, for a split second I was not appreciating your laughter to remind me to “lighten up Charlotte” and trust the rain will ease. I had a few more “f-bombs” I could have tossed your way, you know, that is before I found I, too, could not stop laughing. That is you, always helping me balance the toughest times with a reminder the toughest times are only temporary.
Four ankle surgeries prior to this sixty-day hike, just Jack and me. One surgery to represent the brokenness in forward steps when homelessness and $17 dollars to my name was my reality. A second surgery to represent the paralysis in my steps when my daughter was taken from me by her father, and I feared for her well-being. A third surgery to represent the crippling in my walk when a second marriage revealed the intention for “I do” was not because he loved me.
And a fourth surgery the final pins to give me the ability I needed to begin moving forward with ease.
Carlos, did you send Jack to rescue me? I am blessed beyond measure to have my daughter, for in my darkest days she was my daily reason to keep living. I am here because of her anchoring. Yet perhaps you could sense I needed an additional being to give me the courage to continue to evolve and grow. A being who would teach me to live by your last words before you decided it was time to go. “Don’t be afraid to love” and if anyone is best equipped to teach that, it is my dear Jack who only knows love unconditionally. Carlos, know that I heard you and I am no longer fearing.
If you are still “listening to” my story and you are personally struggling on your journey, may you find comfort when I say I understand when the path becomes dark, thick, and overwhelming. Maybe it would be better to say I can relate, for I cannot fully understand what it is to walk in anyone else’s shoes. What I can understand is the times when things feel so incredible jumbled and confused. Someone can be talking, using the smallest of words, and still, you find it hard to understand what they say. It is hard to put into words, isn’t it, what it is like when in a dark, extremely dark place?
The best I can offer is two options, but two is better than one, don’t you think? Actually, I can offer three options, which means hopeful possibilities. One option is to take a step backwards, which still means moving. A second option is to stand still and do nothing. A third option is to take a small step forward, only an inch is necessary. Moving forward no matter the pace or distance is still stepping towards the future and away from painful history.
If I had answers, I would gladly give them for you to choose. We both know there is only one person who ultimately knows what to do. That person being you. If I sit beside you in silence, know that it is not because I do not know what to say. It is what my dear Jack has taught me is the best approach to take. Jack speaks to me, undoubtedly. We do not need to hear each other verbally talk to still hear each other’s hearts speak. Yet, there are times Jack holds the space in silence so that I can hear the voice who is best suited to guide me in my decision-making. The voice of my soul holds the wisdom and clarity I most need.
My dear friend Carlos asked that I not be afraid to love, and for the rest of my days on Earth I will do my best to love fearlessly. I will pass on my wish to you if you are reading my story. Live joyously. Yes, life’s flow can be filled with fallen logs, waterfalls, and fog so thick the river ahead cannot be seen. But, oh, just past these spots in the river are the most pristine waters in which you can float effortlessly. And believe it or not, there is a joy found in having maneuvered through the treacherous spots without sinking.
So, yes, live joyously. Live authentically. You may not be perfect, but that is the beauty of living. If we did not have anything to evolve through – if we did not have that cocoon to break out of – the rest of the world would miss out on our breathtaking wings.
Mom, it is me Dinah, now, who would like to add to your story. Jack was sweet to suggest I should also do a little talking.
When I joined the family, Jack and I had a talk about your journey. Jack shared what had been his primary focus and where he thought I could be of service to meet your needs. Jack shared that his focus had been on guiding you on your path to loving the whole of you. He felt you were now ready to start walking with joy in all that you set out to do. He also felt that with a deeper sense of self-love you were now ready to step into your purpose to guide others to find within themselves the same. Jack seems to feel that joy and giving love are two of my best traits.
I blush a little at Jack’s gracious and kind words about me. After all mom, I am just being what I think is the best way to be. Isn’t life about joy and loving? It seems too simple, but for some reason I sense there is resistance and fearing. At least that is my experience with don Gato, our Cat, who didn’t seem to understand when we met that I was only playing. I did not take it personal, though, when he struck his paw at me. I thought he was introducing me to a new way to play. I then realized when he spit at me that he wanted me to go the other way. I was not deterred though, for I knew beneath his defensiveness that don Gato was afraid love might hurt. I think he is learning to trust my love is pure.
Mom, as Jack and I were listening to you share your story both of us felt so blessed that you had once heard our crying. The gift of your hurting heart could hear each of us also needed rescuing. Mom, if Jack and I had searched the world over, we would not have found anyone better to give us the fullest meaning of home. Not just in shelter, food, and warmth, but in the greatest sense of belonging we could know. Your whole unconditional heart of fearless love, a beautiful ripple in life’s splendid flow.
I now prepare for the next several week hike of the Appalachian Trail, this time Jack will not join me in his physical body. Once again, I will be walking another section of this majestic trail along side Grief. Yet, something else will walk beside me thanks to Jack, and to Dinah who Jack has taught and trained and role-modeled the way. Joy will also accompany the trails I take.
Dear Jack, when tears flow, I promise to find laughter, too. When I am not sure if I can take one more step up a steep hill, I will think of how no hill was too steep for you. I will push forward as you taught me to do, eager anticipation to see the grand views. When the rains come, I will try as you did to see if I can shimmy and shake the droplets from my coat, but something tells me I will not do as well as you. If memory serves me right, you always dried out quicker than I was able to do.
Sweet dreams my dear Jack, where you now rest peacefully. Thank you for giving me not only the gift of you. Thank you for leading me through the unknown back to me.
Mom, we both know that I am not meant to join you on your next Appalachian Trail several hundred miles hike. We both know that we have reached “that time”.
There is something I would like us to do before I turn North, and you turn East. Before I become an angel above and you step into new beginnings.
Grab your keys and let’s go for a car ride. I know, it is hard to believe, isn’t it mom, that I am eager to get in that box car of yours while you drive. You know I have something special in mind if I am insistent not to go back inside. I will have plenty of time to rest in our home; now it’s trail time.
Thanks mom, for bringing me to my favorite place to be. You and I, these mountains, these single foot paths, the smell of pine trees. Mom, hey wait, I will be right back to lead the way. That squirrel is calling me to come play. Ok, I’m back now that the squirrel is back in his tree. I think he enjoys the exercise when I run at the heels of his feet.
We do not need to turn around yet mom; we can complete this circle we are walking. Don’t worry, you will not have to carry me back to the vehicle; I have got the needed energy to complete this loop we are traveling.
This way now mom, trust me. Let’s meander, let’s explore, trust what you cannot see. I know you are looking out for me, worried that my body may not be up for this hike. This is a special day mom; it will be alright. Ah, there is nothing better than the great outdoors and the ability to drink from this cold stream. No better moment than right now, right here, you and me.
My body is growing tired, yes, yet it is my soul that is in the lead. I would continue to keep my body going if I felt that my work on earth was not yet complete. Dinah is ready now as your next guardian in fur, and mom, so are you. I would stay as your Earth angel a little bit longer if I thought becoming your angel above was too soon. We both know, I will never not be beside every step you take. You are my heart, and I am yours, no matter distance or space.
Before we go back to the vehicle, back home, and I then begin my walk across the bridge, I would like to tell you this. You know how to walk the paths in which you can’t see what awaits. You have within you all that you need to step forward in trust and faith. You have strength, you have courage, you have fierce determination, and you have something more that is the key to everything. You have the ability to love again – yourself and others – unconditionally. You had thought your worth was nothing, and that joy was no longer what you should receive. Then, mom, you meet me!
Well, joking aside mom, though bless your heart, I know that is how you think. The teacher does not appear until the student is ready. You were ready for love, and I heard your heart through space. If I could hear your heart before we met, crossing that bridge will not hinder me from doing the same.
Ok mom let us head home so that I can see Dinah and don Gato and Teneera and Peg, too. I will whisper my “see you laters” to my favorite postal worker and the one who introduced me to you. One thing mom, that I ask of you please. Let Dinah step into the space beside you on Earth when you begin your journey with grief. She has her purpose to fulfill, too, and she is ready to teach you new things. She is ready to keep you stepping forward in joy, loving the pathways in which what lies ahead is unseen.
I love you mom, and I thank you with all my heart and soul. If I had traveled the world over, I would have found no better friend, no better mom, no better person to serve, than you. Every trail you walk, listen, and look closely. I promise, mom, there I will always be. –Written by Jack March 30, 2021
I came to you late last night, to be with you while you slept. I lay my head on your pillow, while next to me you wept. A gentle smile kissed your lips as I licked away a tear. Until your time to join me, I’ll be waiting through the years. – Author Unknown
For more inspirational stories of hope and how twenty-three co-authors have found the ability to integrate pain, trauma, sorrow, despair, and grief into living hope-filled lives, be sure and get your copy of Hope Has a Cold Nose if you haven’t already. www.amazon.com, www.balboapress.com, or www.barnesandnoble.com
If you know of someone who would appreciate this blog you have just read, please share it with them. Someone once told me that when we touch another life positively, the impact is exponential times four. The person positively impacted tells four people who tell four people who. Well, I think you understand the impact. We cannot always change the ebbs of life, but we can choose to respond by cascading ripples of