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Posts from the ‘living’ Category

Living into Dying

I have had the gift and privilege of sitting beside a friend who is in the process of dying.  Even saying the word is hard at times.  Sometimes I soften the language by saying “passing away”, almost like a cloud passing in the sky.  Dying and death has so much more of a finality to it, at least in this physical realm.  But still it is the straight truth.

Conversations at this precipice of life and death are unabashedly Real.  We sit and meet each other Being to Being.  When the body and personality are in the processing of going, they naturally soften into the background.  Here the foreground is spacious, and we can feel and share how the personal and transient currents arise and fall away.  They carry less of a good or bad.  It is very much like Rumi describes, “the field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing”.  Everything just is.  Judgements soften, and intimacy and trust deepen.  

For me it has been a season of witnessing the tenderness of humanity, the fragility of the physical body, and the immensity of Spirit/Essence that is so large that it moves through me like the ocean itself.

Love and ease to my friend as this journey continues within and beyond the body.




It is fitting that I am remembering my Dad today on September 9th.  It is his birthday, though he is no longer here in physical form.  He passed away almost twelve years ago now.  My relationship with my Dad was mixed, loving at times and quite difficult others.  I know in my Heart that he was always doing the best that he could. Despite the difficulties, he was often, if not always at my soccer games.  He took a keen interest in my education.  I remember when fiber optics was all the rage, he took me into New York city to an exhibit at the museum of science on telecommunications.  Trips to NYC were rare so it felt pretty cool, though I am not sure I appreciated it fully at the time.  He had a passion for science and was eager to share it with me.  Beyond soccer and science, he had a real quirkiness about him, likely where I get much of mine.

Fast forward to 2005.  He was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma five days after the birth of my daughter, Sophia. He passed away eighteen months later, just a month prior to the birth of my second daughter, Sonia.  Birth and death were very much alive for my family, all at once.  The first year of Sophia’s life I traveled most months between Austin and Houston, so that I could be at home at least a week or two, out of every month.  I often tell myself that I didn’t fully process my Dad’s passing because I was either postpartum or just about to deliver my second.  As I look back now, I realize that the processing was happening across those last eighteen months of his life.  Watching cancer move through him was preparing my whole family for the final passing. In his later months, he was quite weak.  He no longer looked the way we had known him to look.  His spirit was alive, but his physical state was fragile.  For a man who could have a fierce temper, it was hard to see him in this way.  Those eighteen months, I grieved.  I grieved for him not being able to see his grandchildren grow up.  I grieved for him not being able to enjoy retirement in the way that he could have.  I grieved for all the moments I wish I had had with my Dad, and for those sweet moments that I did have.  I grieved, realizing that he had always done the best that he was able to do as a father.

I remember in the last months of his life, my sister had an unfortunate injury to her ankle, leaving her to have urgent surgery and then recuperating at home for almost two months.  During this time, I went to Houston to be with them.  It was a complete paradox of fortune and misfortune.  My Dad was entering his last stages of life and my sister was recovering from a severe injury.  I was able to be at home with all of them – my Mom, Sophia, Sonia in utero, my Dad and my sister.  Even during that time, as weak as my Dad was, I could feel his concern and care for my sister’s recovery.  He would occasionally prompt my then fourteenth month old to go into my sister’s room to shower her with kisses in the way only a fourteenth month old could.  After a few weeks I returned home to Austin, only to receive a call a week later that it was time.  My Dad called me saying, “Sheila beta, there is not much time now”.  My heart sank.  I still remember it so vividly.


The next day, I was back in Houston with Sophia and Herb.  Three days later he passed away at home surrounded by his family.  Those last three days are still a blur to me, and perhaps that is why I feel that I didn’t grieve fully.  Everything from that point onward also feels cloudy, as we returned home to Austin with my mom, and I delivered my dear Sonia a little more than a month later.


Today, on September 9th, 2018, it is raining.  We have the screen doors open.  I can hear the pitter patter of the rain, and feel the humidity on my skin.  There is an achiness in my heart, my throat feels caught as if in mid-sentence, my abdomen tender.

It feels like the breath and the rain are washing over me.

Happy birthday to my dear Dad.

Among the Trees

This week I was able to spend a little time outside during the early dawn hours.  I enjoy and savor the quietness of the mornings.  I can rest in the soft melodies of the birds, the scurry of the squirrels, the wind, the leaves, clouds just becoming visible, adrift in the sky.  My inner dialogue and the world’s still in an easeful slumber.  Lately, I often pause in awe of the trees.  The Grace with which they meet the seasons of their life.  They are a vision of exquisite surrender, not resisting the wind, the sun, nor the rain; simply rooted, their leaves falling and returning every spring.  And if it was meant that they were to be completely uprooted, then that too is included.

This morning my attention began to settle a little lower.  The earth beneath the trees and the beauty in this.  I could feel the earth holding all of these trees through the seasons of their existence.  The earth does not seem to have an agenda, not fixing nor changing.  It just holds what is.

My attention settles a little closer to home, to the terrain of life within me.  Was the earth not holding me through the seasons of life just as she holds the trees?  Is she not holding all of Life, at all times?  Here, no experience and no one is more or less worthy.  For a while, I rest in this open embrace, just the experience itself.  After a few minutes I walk back inside, remembering Mary Oliver’s poem.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Grief and Bravery

These past two months my family and I have been navigating death and loss, one that came very suddenly.  It was as if literally Life pulled the rug out from beneath our feet.  It continues to feel quite surreal.  Emotions have taken me everywhere, from numbness to sadness, anger to acceptance, love back to love.  The peaks and the valleys seem a little less drastic, but they continue to come and go … especially in the quiet moments. 

I invite them in.  Getting consumed by life’s routines almost feels as if it is betraying what should not be forgotten so soon.  Still my heart knows that it won’t ever be forgotten, even if the mind becomes occupied.


I have also remembered how experiencing loss allows my heart to open to our shared human grief.  One’s own pain expands the capacity to be with other people’s pain.  Rather than just a surface level acknowledgement, I am in awe of people who have and are navigating loss of all kinds … and the courage it takes to keep showing up in life, carrying on with one’s responsibilities, meanwhile the tenderness remains.  The bravery that I witness is humbling, and at least for now I am less tempted to fall prey to my assumptions of what people are or are not experiencing.  There is often so much more than what we see.


Perhaps the heart breaking is also the Heart opening, the field of Compassion becoming a little less obscured.



A Tribute to a Life Well Lived

Below I am sharing my eulogy for my dear father-in-law, Shangara Singh, who passed away on July 3rd, 2018.  .

My name is Sheila. I am Captain’s wife, and Shangara Singh’s daughter-in-law.

I held Dad very close to my heart, and in talking to friends in his community, I have come to know that many of you equally held Dad with great love, respect and admiration.  It has been awe-inspiring to hear the stories of Dad’s commitment and devotion to the welfare of his community. Those who experienced his generosity know what I am speaking about. He was often available to help friends and family when they were in need, and he never asked for much in return apart from sincerity and honesty.  He was not one who needed acknowledgement or praise. The act of seva and generosity itself was enough.

As you might imagine, along with community, Dad was wholly devoted to his family.  While as an engineer, he had a precise and sharp mind, as a father figure, he held us all with a warm and loving heart.  With his children, he had the ability to become a child again. It was one of his many gifts. I saw it in the way he related to his granddaughters, Sophia and Sonia.  He way playful, loving and doted on them. In fact, he would affectionately address them as Sonia-ji and Sophia-ji. He was always willing to listen to the many things pre-teen girls are interested in talking about… and available to go to the playground for soccer, to make late night trips to the grocery store for snacks, or to attend the many school functions the girls had.  In fact, I don’t remember him ever saying no to the girls for anything. This was the sweetness of his love as a grandfather.

As a father, he offered guidance, but not too much, nor too little.  Captain and I felt genuinely cared for, but Dad rarely imposed his opinions on us.  He gifted us the freedom to explore and learn, and offered his unconditional support. Often it was his quiet and gentle presence that made me feel so at ease around him.  

The past several years, Mom and Dad were spending summers with us in Austin.  I cannot tell you the numerous ways in which Dad helped us. This past summer he spent countless hours attending to things in our home that needed to be repaired.  I saw the amount of time he was devoting, yet he rarely talked about all that he was doing, nor did he ask for recognition or thanks.  During the summer, I would often have a week or two where I would work full days and need help with the girls.  He always offered support saying, “Sheila, don’t worry. Just tell me how I can help with the girls and I will be there.”  This was the kindness of his love as a father.

Still, some of my fondest memories of Dad are the hikes that we would take together on our summer travels.  He was always the one who was eager to go on when everyone else was tired. He and I would continue hiking; easy conversation weaved together with peaceful silence.  Usually, I was the one who would have to urge Dad that we should turn around and return, in case the others began to worry. The spirit of adventure and love for the outdoors was very much alive in him.

Last though not least, I appreciated Dad’s simplicity and humility.  To me it was a sign of how evolved he was as a human being. He had high ideals when it came to truthfulness and integrity, yet he did not have a strong ego.  He remained humble despite his many life achievements, and he remembered that the simple things in life were in fact the most important. He did not seem to be caught in the waves of constantly striving and seeking for more. He had the capacity to slow down and enjoy the moment. I think because of this he carried a profound peacefulness about him, and this peacefulness was often transmitted to those around him.  I know that I experienced this.

While I have attempted to describe Dad’s legacy as I have come to know it, words cannot fully describe how much he will be missed.  It has been a great honor and privilege for me to have called Shangara Singh my Dad. Though he is no longer with us in physical form, his love, energy and wisdom remains with us eternally.