I was heading to the cottage last week when I found out that my cousin John had passed away. As with many sudden deaths, it brought many realizations, regrets and wishing for last moments with them. The cottage is a time each year that always brings such blessings and growth and this time it brought much reflection and healing. I woke early one morning with my cousin on my mind. I brewed a pot of coffee which I knew with much certainty would not be the kind of coffee John would brew! He had many passions in life and one of them was coffee. The absolute best cups of coffee I have ever had are the ones he made for me. Some of them taking over an hour to brew with outlandish brewing methods! Songs came in and out of my head while it was brewing with flashes of memories of his love of music and his sparkling smile. He had worked most of his life at Bay Bloor Radio delighting in the sheer glorious sounds that the equipment produced. After many years he joined his wife at Coffee Tree Roastery in downtown Toronto, and it was here that he followed his coffee passion to the next level. He delighted in getting more people to experience a John cup of coffee which was more like an amazing art form.
I headed down to the water with my own hot fresh cup of coffee and sat to take in the morning. The coffee tasted empty compared to anything John would have made me. Sitting in the stillness of the new day I realized I was the only person around with little or no activity on the water. There were, however, hundreds of dragonflies dancing in a beautiful swarm. I had never seen that many in one area before.
I sat next to the cool still water watching the morning light glisten and tiptoe on the gentle ripples while dragonflies continued their dance with the morning chorus.
I saw how similar they were to humans. Some racing around at a fast pace not really sitting and others languishing in the morning sun. Varying shapes and sizes all creating their own intricate web of their own version of society. Even with the stressors of society John always included his passions within everything he did. Music, coffee, family, friends and in the last couple of years, faith. He had found his own way to intertwine joy within his life where most of us forget that this is an option.
It was at this time that an amazing and graceful heron landed on a tree next to me stopping and perusing its new surroundings. Shortly after two ducks landed in the water and settled right in front of me. At that moment I felt nothing other than the air on my face and a warm peace settling into my heart.
The heron moved a little and with a gentle lift took off. It was so low that it nearly touched the ducks. They were unfazed by this and continued to just be still in the water together. As the heron disappeared activity seemed to get jump-started and other birds started to chorus around me with the faint knocking of woodpeckers in the distance.
After a time, I headed back to the cottage and joined the family antics that were starting. Johns funeral was the day we left the cottage. People at the service talked of John with memories of pranks, laughter, love and his passions. Many stories of coffee and music were within each tale. One of the lessons John had given in life was learning to be alone and enjoy stillness. It took me back to my time at the cottage and that if I hadn’t chosen to be alone and still, I would have missed the fantastic moment in time and nature with the heron. John had lived with cancer in his last few years and the stressors and hardships that came with it. He had made choices that felt right to him in his healing. It occurred to me that we all make choices that at the time we feel is right or best and it will never be exactly what others would do or approve of. That when faced with cancer it is hard to know what your choice or decision will be. It is one thing to be the person watching a loved one go through the process in pain and a whole other thing being the person with cancer. Knowing that choices can lead dramatically to two possible outcomes is far-reaching and beyond daunting. I was reminded of what you see isn't what is in the heart or the soul when it comes to anyone. A few of us had lost touch with John while he was on this path and within this time John gained new friendships. They knew him for the man he was today. The man walking with cancer and ongoing surgeries. They took John in and loved him for the man right in front of them without the past of what he was before. For myself and my family, John was John. Past, present and now all around us. John was a shining bright star that taught us of the delights of many things and how to remember your passions.
It often takes people passing away to remember them in clarity and is usually followed by regrets over things that had or had not been said. This happens so frequently, and John funeral wasn’t an exception. I have found that being authentic and coming from a place of love and non-judgment with everyone in your life allows less room for regret. If you don’t agree with their choices let them know that it doesn’t take away from love itself. Knowing your boundaries and when to remove yourself if the choices affect you in a negative way is part of love. Holding yourself and loved ones in a place of love is healing for all.
Friends of Johns who were musicians started to play some his favourite songs along with his guitar teacher and my lovely and vibrant cousin Don. We all stood and started to sing Amazing Grace. John loved that song and the people who were there singing it too. Family and friends together reconciled and brought together in grief and love. I was taken back to the heron and that I had thought of it as being amazing and graceful. Such a gift to be reminded that amazing grace is all around us. We are often so clouded by the bustle of life that we don’t see it. It can be in the twinkle of someone’s eye, within the deliciousness of that fresh coffee, a delight within the sweet tune of a melody, the touch of a hand, a leaf falling or birds singing. Grace is found in forgiveness of ourselves and others and from loving someone and seeing them for all that they are. Grace is amazing and it is connection to life. Grace is not based on materialism or the things of life. It is in love, connection and experiencing life.
The song came to an end and I could feel Johns warm smile shining down on us as tears flowed for many.
As with losing all loved ones gifts come forward and with John the gifts are bountiful. His lessons and examples will reach far. The fabric of our loved ones can be found within the dance of the dragonfly and the swoop of the heron wings. It is the essence of all and is always unending. Connecting with those you have lost by pausing in stillness holding your heart and soul into the beauty of the moment. Some of the reminders I take from John is to pause over my coffee, lose myself within music, watch the waltz of nature, remember to laugh, learn new things and to intertwine my passions into each day. Perhaps the biggest gift from John and all who have passed before him is the reminder to walk our own lives with doors and heart open to the amazing grace of life itself.
Andrea Lines-Botell is a mental health advocate and life coach with a passion for dynamically supporting change.
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