las dias de los muertos

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Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of my father’s death.  It is a day that I remember with clarity – not in its entirety, but in fragments, details, images, with all of my senses.

He was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia ten months before.  His doctor called him on a Friday night and said, “You have leukemia but don’t worry, we’ll talk about it Monday.”  Do no harm?  The whole weekend was spent in an anguish of speculation and terror.  The disease was fast, cruel and inexorable.  We tried everything – conventional and alternative.  Nothing made a difference to his body, but to our family, to our connection with each other, the desire to support, to comfort, to help opened a torrent of love and caring among us that was unquenchable.

Some time during that ten months, I traveled to Mexico on an NEA fellowship to develop Ghostdance, a new work that, ironically, was based on the images and traditions of the Dia de los Muertos.  Working with a beautiful, bold group of Mexican dancers, we plunged into questions of what haunts us, who are our ghosts and how do our ancestors speak into our present lives.  It was also about our dance with death.

Then I got a call.  Dad was slipping into unconsciousness.  I asked to speak to him.  “I love you Daddy,” I said.  “I love you Jo,” he replied.  Those were the last words he every spoke.  I flew home in a panic as fast I could navigate from Mexico to Minnesota.  I found a seat in the back of the plan and sobbed the whole way.  The stewardesses and even a few passengers sat with me.

When I arrived, I ran into the room where he lay and took his hand and squeezed it.  His eyes were closed, he could not speak, but he squeezed my hand – two quick little pulses, which he had done all his life.  It was the last movement he would ever make.  He died about 12 hours later, with all of us around him, loving him, witnessing his transition.

I feel him around me all the time, but he does not haunt me.  There is a sweetness to his presence, reminding me to do what was always hard for both of us — loosen up, have fun.  The process of his dying burned everything away except this extraordinary, enormous love.  It reduced us to the only thing what was real and essential.  Is death necessary for this to happen?

Our runaway daughter still pushes us away, refuses to see us.  On our side, we have been cooked down to the only thing that matters – our love for her.  Nothing else is important.  Sadly, she cannot see or feel that through the obscuring tangle of her stories and delusions.  And there is absolutely nothing any of us can do about that.

Just love, Only love.





young & wise

DSC02980The cast of Circo Folle at Roger Williams University, 10/25/14

These are the young women who make up the cast of the dance I have been making at RWU.  They are all younger than some of the costumes they are wearing, pulled out of my costume archive.  They are younger than my daughters.  They are bright, eager, fierce, wild and curious.  Working with them is pure joy.  Thank you (clockwise from right bottom row)  Cassie, Alexis, Michelle, Heather, Leora, Jess, Erika, Lauren, Ally.  Keep moving, keep feeling, trust yourselves, love yourselves.

presence, absence


Liam, our beautiful little Jack Russell died suddenly on Friday.  He was out on the path looping our big field walking with Pam and suddenly all the other dogs ran to him.  He had collapsed.  Our vet called it a “deadly arhythmia.”  He died minutes later.

For many years, Pam had wanted a Jack Russell.  I resisted what I thought would be a crazy, manic dog.  Then one day, visiting a friend at a barn, a litter of Jack’s were nestled in a stall, recently imported from Ireland.  Our youngest daughter, Chandrika, adopted from Nepal, came out cuddling a puppy and told us seriously, “This is my baby sister Laxmi who died.”  Clearly the decision about a Jack had been moved to a different realm, and that puppy came home with us that day.  We named him Liam.

Liam had a presence that was so strong, so steadfast, so self-possessed that he felt like the center of our human-animal family.  He was always there.  Not needy, not requiring anything except to be with us – to be present in our presence.  And that carves his sudden, irrevocable absence into us in the most painful of ways.  He was the small dog in a pack of greyhounds, so the rhythm of his feet, the quality of his movement, his color and nature were precise and unique.

All of us now are walking around the house a little lost, untethered and deeply sad.  I see him everywhere.  Pam hears his feet.  His absence is present.  We are present with his absence and with his presence, woven together like a möbius.

This summer at the Body-Mind Centering Conference, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen showed us how the heart is actually a möbius – a never ending cycling flow.  “The continuous flow of blood through the arterial system–which runs next to the venous system but in opposite directions–contains möbius coil properties. The circulation of blood throughout the body resembles the figure-eight shape of the möbius coil.”  (Scalar Heart Connection)

How perfect is it then that the heart, physically and metaphorically the center of us, should hold at the same time the shape of loss – this mystery of presence and absence wound round each other inextricably.  Like the breath – in then out with the little death of suspension between.  Each beat, each breath moving us forward and through.  Our dear friend Jo-Ann Eccher wrote on my Facebook page, “I just had a vision of Liam guiding Dr Masaru Emoto who passed into the next dimension yesterday into the bliss of the pure land filled with love and good intention.”

Thank you Liam, and thank you Tashi, Luna, Esme, Dae, below, all running in fields of gold with Liam now.