Sunday, March 15, 2009
Dear Singing Sisters,
Our precious Shirley died this morning. She had started medication to combat the nausea which was known to affect consciousness. She died in her bed surrounded by her family.
She joined our choir in September 2006 following our singing at the Healing Journey's Conference. I think singing with us was a deep blessing for Shirley and she was always a deep blessing for us. I know we will be asked to sing for her memorial…she always loved Deep Peace, Sister My Sister and My Grateful Heart. You can sing those for her today. Blessings, as we are, to all of us. Kate
ps. We will have our own memorial for Shirley…don't know where or when yet. But we need to grieve together.
pps. I included two notes from Shirley below that I received in the past year so you can see and hear her gratitude for her life and her love for us and our work.
Notes From Shirley:
The experiences we shared from start to finish are really not captured in words, at least for me. I tell friends the details, what we saw, where we went, etc., but words to fully describe the experience, fail me. I feel that we truly reached a place in our spirits and hearts that is so high it will take a lot of work to hold on to what we felt, learned, and want to hold on to.
As some of you have fully re-entered your daily life, you see how quickly reality sets in and holding on is a challenge. I hope that each one of us can and will find time, place and support for integrating the precious memories into our being, both private and public.
You heard from Kate that I have been struggling since we returned. Right now it looks as though more chemotherapy is in my near future. Please hold me in your thoughts and prayers as we make decisions around this issue. While I am grateful that there is an option, it is very difficult to submit myself to treatment for the 4th time in three years. Last year I tried to make the Thailand/Bali trip and could not because of health issues. This year's trip was meant to be: I met you, we had incredible adventures and outcomes together, you made my 71st birthday one I will never forget with songs written just for me (and I loved the massage and facial you so generously treated me to), and I wrote words to a song that was put to music by the famous and fabulous MP Scott.
We came as strangers to a distant land, seeking, seeking.
Songs were sung and stories told, sharing, sharing.
Our hearts were opened, our senses filled, finding, finding.
Hearts are full as paths must part, loving, always loving.
To me, this says it all. Be well and safe "until we meet again."
My love and deep thanks for an spectacular life experience.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!
I hope that you will take time today to give thanks and gratitude for all of the blessings in your life. Though we have challenges, some seeming insurmountable, if at the end of the day you can make a list of at least three things that gave you hope and made your day brighter, you are truly blessed.
Let's spend the next year (at least) adding joy to the life of another that will then spread to the next and the next and finally touch others far away.
Have a blessed holiday season and may happiness shine upon you today and every day to come.
I love you and am grateful to have you in my life.
Lessons on Shirley's Passing
I was cooking dinner for my 7-year-old and I. Husband just went out of town again, having been home only a week from his last trip. Apron on, up to elbows in cooking utensils and hot foods – and my friend Jan Thomas calls me with the news.
I couldn't believe it. So soon?! And there was my son laughing away and enjoying the video he was watching – a Nature special from the BBC. I went to my computer and read the emails from Kate, from other friends who knew Shirley, seeing her pictures again. I shed tears, as I had when I heard that she was on home hospice last week. I couldn't even sing – have had a damned sore throat since last week.
How unfair for life to continue on – the food needing to be cooked, the child who has to be put to bed, the projects to prepare for school the next day….and I saw Shirley give me her smile; I remembered her voice and her words to me from before, and I felt her spirit free, telling me life MUST go on. That's what the last years of her life were testimony to – to enjoy the laughter of the children despite our grief and live our life despite the hurt. I heard her tell me "Don't worry, honey. It's so beautiful here. I'm free." And from that I knew my tears are for me, for us because she won't be with us here anymore in flesh and blood, but the tears are not for her, as her pain and physical struggle are over.
I heard the narrator in Alonso's video in the next room say "…and so the water flows and with it carries life's abundance, on which all Earth is dependent…" I saw the abundance we have in front of us in life, the abundance of Shirley's life and love to us, and the full circle that life is. It is really amazing how much we learn about life when someone we love has passed on. Thank you, Shirley. As I wrote to you in our last email exchange, I sure do miss seeing you.
Sweetly singing, loving listening…Shirley
Shirley was my career counselor during my final year in grad school at Mills College. She was a deeply present woman. When I was talking to Shirley, I could be assured she was listening closely and compassionately. She served as a spiritual guide, pointing me towards the path with the most meaning. I am deeply mourning my friend's dying, but grateful for the end of her pain.
Shirley, I wish you cherry blossoms blowing in the springtime breezes.
Love, Susan Kay Gilbert
Roommate, Teacher, Inspiration, Friend
I first met Shirley at a Threshold Choir rehearsal about two years ago. She heard I was going to Bali in 2007, and she said she wanted to go, too; and she asked if I would be her roommate. While I had just met her I agreed readily because I could see the love in her eyes, feel her passion for living and resonated with her kindness. Shirley just had that "je ne sais quoi" about her that caused me to throw caution to the winds and fall instantly in love.
At the First Annual Threshold Gathering in 2007 Shirley and I discovered we had a mutual friend who worked with her at Mills College and whom I have known since the third grade. Small world. Each encounter I had with Shirley lifted me up and helped me understand our reason for being on this earth–to be openhearted and loving and to throw caution to the winds when it comes to letting go of the protection around our hearts.
Time and again I offered Shirley a massage at her home. What she told me was that on bad days she didn't feel up to it, and on good days she was out and about in the world missing nothing. I learned something about caring for myself and others from Shirley. I learned that I need to make the choices that are right for me, and I must allow others to do the same for themselves. Love can flow freely when we practice letting go with love.
It was a privilege to sing for Shirley while she was receiving chemotherapy at the medical center and later in the hospital before her last surgery. Bonding with other Threshold Choir sisters in singing for one we loved so much has been great gift for me. That gift gives me the understanding that we can all love and support one another in giving of ourselves so freely without expectation of outcome. It's true grace. Shirley continues to be my teacher, my inspiration and my friend.