October 2013

Dear Friend

We have enjoyed some beautiful sunny fall days and are appreciating seeing the light streaming through the fall foliage with the brilliant colors that stimulate our imagination and bring us such sensual delights. Let me begin by thanking so many of you for writing me such sensitive, loving letters about Carl Brandt’s death. Each kind, thoughtful, comforting word greatly helps the healing process and I’m deeply grateful to you for your caring support in my time of pain and sorrow. Because of your concern and understanding, my healing process is moving along in a timely, appropriate way. One letter I want to share in part with you:

Dear Alexandra,
I am so very sorry for the loss of Carl Brandt. While I never doubt that souls move on to a higher and better place, we are the ones left with finding a way of going on without them. I too recently lost a beloved. He was 61 and did not survive a heart attack. One day he was enjoying Cape Cod with his family and the next day he was gone. The grief is deep and at times unbearably painful. Yet, through it all, I hear him telling me to stand up straight, move forward, and never let his death be an excuse for not doing my best in life. Possibly you will consider writing about the graceful acceptance of the end of a life, moving through the many aspects of grief and somehow coming out of it not only a bit stronger, but with a greater awareness of the preciousness of life …

Shortly after Carl died, one of my instincts was to write about him in my third essay in Joyful Living in the Real World, “The Reality of Loss Inspired Vibrant Living.” Letters as beautiful as Katanya’s helps me in the healing process, transforming the sense of loss, the void, the sadness, and pain, into acceptance and appreciation for the love we shared and the good we were able to accomplish together. The books I wrote during Carl’s reign will live on. I’m hoping I have the inner strength and strong shoulders to accept this giant loss with grace and wisdom. I know death is the other side of the coin of life. There’s life in death and death in life. We are not being loving when we are possessive of a physical body that has lost its life force and causes unspeakable pain and lingering anguish.

I’ve often said that pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice. When we don’t accept death, we work against reality, truth and reason. No matter how philosophical we are about the end of life, the transition is dramatic and we are never fully prepared emotionally. The best way we can move through the reality of loss is to quietly spend uninterrupted hours working through our emotions, letting a flood of good memories help us feel the deep appreciation for the joy we shared with a beloved after they die.

I’ve done a great deal of reading about illness and death, and meditating about acceptance, these past weeks. The Buddha’s doctrine: Man suffers because of his craving to possess and keep forever things which are essentially impermanent... this frustration of the desire to possess is the immediate cause of suffering. We can never fulfill and satisfy all our earthy desires. It is always wise to accept whatever happens and live in a continual state of gratitude for the infinitely abundant gifts we all have on our earthly journey.

Some people have bad deaths. I believe Carl had a good death. It wasn’t sudden. He had time to heal himself even if he couldn’t cure his terminal cancer. He had time to prepare his family, friends, and authors, of a flourishing life after he died, and he had time to savor life abundantly, living fully right up to the very end.

On a cool, crisp September morning, everything seemed to suddenly become clear. About a month after Carl died, I awoke with the awareness that an unbelievable calm had come over me. Something was obviously very different. I felt as though I had come out of the end of a dark tunnel. Some force had lifted the rock from the tomb of death. I was now dealing with the life after death of Carl Brandt and how my creative life as a writer and a devoted soul mate to Carl was going to be affected. I began to understand the essence of equanimity, as if for the first time, this day of amazing grace. I felt self-possessed, even-tempered, and at peace with myself and accepting of Carl’s death. No matter how challenging the immediate circumstances were of what was happening around me, nothing seemed to disturb me, or take away my Zen harmony. I felt the joy of merely being alive, able to fully enjoy my senses, taking pleasure in everything I was doing. I felt serene, safe and happy. I became more acutely aware of the random, fragile line between being alive in my breath, and no longer breathing. In this consciousness, feeling a lightness of being, feeling energetic and hopeful, I was mindfully conscious that I was not sad. I no longer felt weary or confused. Something rose up in my soul.

The reality of Carl’s death mysteriously evolved into a feeling of optimism and the amazingly precious gift of being alive. Everything I’ve read about the various stages of death became real. The process of accepting death takes time to absorb and grow through. The timeline is different for each one of us. I faced it head on, and was not in denial. When we’re in shock and are experiencing something really life changing, we have no idea how long these feelings will last, but our mind knows that time will help us heal.

That wondrous September day continued to surprise me with joy in the smallest, most intimate details of my domestic life. Chores were grace notes – blessings to be savored. I was receptive. I was alert to all the signals of goodness beaming my way, and they were too numerous to count. I could see the rainbow in a soap bubble and a rainbow of divine light on the white table cloth reflecting the light on my wine glass.

Mid-afternoon, Peter sat in his loveseat and I sat at my desk in our downstairs study we call the hideaway. A moment’s peace. I inhaled deeply, felt a refreshing sea breeze, and, pausing for a moment, I looked up from my desk out the window that faces the harbor and realized a dream had come true. Twenty three cedar trees had been planted down the main street 25 years ago, directly across from our cottage in front of the sea wall. Over the years they became giant physical and emotional barriers, almost entirely blocking our view of the harbor. This magical afternoon, all the trees were cut down, exposing our unencumbered view as if from a wide angle lens. We now had sea breezes, sparkling light, energy and the dazzling view of the ever-changing scene of the boats in the harbor. I joke that our taxes will probably go up because the value of our real estate has been so enormously increased. The storm-damaged trees were hideously ugly and dangerous in case of another hurricane.

This September has been one of the happiest in my memory. The cottage has never felt more comfortable and charming. The ch’i is evident in every space because of the transformation of our view of the water and my efforts to have the rooms in our cottage look and feel as good as possible. We are dazzled by the beauty of our view and how this light makes us feel that I want to do whatever else I can to increase the sense of openness, light and space. I moved a huge white windowpane mirror from a back hall to the living room to open up the space.

As I was working through Carl’s death, I intuitively was seeking clarity. I wanted everything to be well-ordered and clear. I was seeking space, light, simplicity, and quiet beauty. I moved around the cottage in a puttering meditation mode, clearing away all the clutter from every surface, cleaning drawers, tidying up the closets, stacking towels and sheets more neatly. I was clearly not in a hurry. Hours passed in prayer. The solitude was pleasant silence. I never want to be in a rush again. The joy is in the process, in the moment, when we are in our breath, fully awake and aware of what we’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing. While the rest of the world lives in a constant state of emergency mode, I am seeking grace, quiet, and beauty, without any irritating distractions to interrupt my soulful solitary hours.

In these weeks of flowing from one space to another, improving the look and feel, everything became prettier, more charming, and more fun to spend time in and put to use. A cluttered surface makes us anxious about what needs to be done. A clear surface is an invitation to begin to do something when the spirit moves us.

Empty and be full. Having some empty shelves in our crowded buttery gave me space to breathe – a lesson I learned in 1959 from my visit to Japan. I now breathe more deeply, more aware of the ever-present wonders in our midst.

I write out of abundance, and the first few weeks following Carl’s death were so raw; I made notes in my notebooks, but the time I usually spend writing, I spent perfecting the cottage. I loved every moment, and the physical activity made me aware that I had boundless energy and was accomplishing what I was seeking in my healing. I was clear in my focus and intention.

Carl’s death has made me more mindful of my own mortality and Peter’s advancing age. He’s living on borrowed time and is slowing down as his body shows wear and tear. I am now living our daily life more sacredly because we are realistic that no matter how many days we have left together, it is wise to buy ripe bananas. Every act turns into a ritual, a celebration, and a meditation. My intuitive plan of action, my aim of clarity, light and spaciousness guided my actions and I achieved my objective. The clarity in our immediate surroundings prepared physical spaces where I would feel the joy of writing again.

September song. “Try to remember that day in September and follow, follow, follow.” I melt when I hear Harry Belafonte sing my favorite song. Peter and I fell in love with September and our love continues to bring us closer all these years later. We want every month to be a September song.

After I moved my antique writing desk from my writing room last summer, I’ve been wondering what I wanted for a replacement desk. What would have the best karma? On that wondrous September day, I walked into the writing room that was bathed in brilliant light now that the huge maple tree has been cut down. White. I want a white desk. I knew with certainty. I called Crate & Barrel and customer service arranged for a delivery. I am now spending long, happy productive hours at my gorgeous white desk, writing the book dedicated to Carl.

I’m moving on. Happy October! All my Septembers will accompany me in these beautiful October days. Carl’s family is having a celebration of his life Friday, October 4th, in New York City. I’m sure it will be healing to be with his family, his friends, and his authors. I’m sure there will be wonderful pictures of Carl. I will listen tenderly to hear stories of his kindness, thoughtfulness, and his brilliance. Peter and I are looking forward to being present. There I will meet my new literary agent, Henry Thayer. So October has great meaning and poignancy.

I’m sending my loving energy to you, all your loved ones, your family and friends. I’m grateful to you for lifting me up in your hearts and being part of this important chapter in my life. You’ve helped me to smile through my tears, and move onward and upward.

Great love to you,

Love & Live Happy

Great loves ...

Peter ... and Paris

... being at home with Peter

Carl Brandt

A friend sent me this great picture of Roger Muhl, Carl and me. A treasure!

Roger Muhl paintings

Peter and Roger Muhl

a perfect sunset

Grace Note

The essence of friendship is entireness, a total magnanimity and trust.

~~ Emerson