Dogs and Love and Death

February 22, 2016

Dear friends have just learned that their beloved young German Shepherd has a probably fatal disease. Their friends share their grief for this beautiful, exceptional animal, though we cannot know the depths of their sorrow; they raised her from being a small puppy, hiked deep into the Sierras with her, romped with her in the snow, watched her in joy at the beach, and exchanged the love only dog lovers know with her every day and night.

This morning I woke up from a dream in which an unknown woman told me “your dog has been hit.” I looked over her shoulder toward a nearby yard and saw my precious small white dog standing but clearly hurt. “Oh no!” I cried out as I woke up. Then I saw my precious one sleeping peacefully on our bed as he does every night; still, the dream said “This won’t last forever.”

In her book of poems about her beloved dogs (“Dog Songs”), Mary Oliver says: “Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also….We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.”

I think dogs are our teachers about love and about death. How to love? Unconditionally, without our ego’s list of requirements. We humans are slow learners, thanks to our egos: “I’ll really love you once you loose/gain those extra pounds, start looking like the girl/guy of my dreams, start making more money, provide me with more status, stop interrupting me, become more/less interested in sex, get your teeth fixed, start agreeing with me on politics/religion/budgeting/parenting, stop starting those arguments which are all your fault,” etc. etc. etc.

Our dog Rudy scans rooms to see who might need a little extra love, and walks over, wags his tail and offers it. He starts every day with play and kisses, and ends every night with cuddles and kisses; now there’s a love model worth following! And in between he never has a bad hair day, never fails to welcome us home as if our return is the greatest thing since the IPhone, is always ready to play, always ready to love, forgives our mistakes instantly, and never holds a grudge.

Even in the best cases, our dogs live relatively short lives; because of that, they offer lessons about death too. They always leave us before we’re ready. Death is coming, and whether we’re 8 or 80, we get closer to it every day. I trust/know there’s incredible beauty on the other side of death, but so far I haven’t been given any information about whether our canine friends will be there.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by the work and life of Philip Toshio Sudo, who wrote wonderful books including Zen Guitar, Zen Sex, and Zen computer. He met and married his true love and lived six “blissful” years in Hawaii with her; they had 3 children. Those kids were 1, 4 and 6 when he died at age 41, a year after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. He was scheduled to have a devastating surgery in New York on 9/11. He died in 2002. His widow says that one of the books he carried with him spoke of how to be resolute about death. In the way of Zen, Phil apparently accepted his fate, grieving mainly for the pain of the wife and children he had to leave….

I don’t know what Phil felt about Sufi poets like Rumi, but this poem except means a lot to me: Rumi says:
“….The human seed goes down into the ground like a bucket
and comes up with some unimagined beauty.
Your mouth closes here, and immediately
opens with a shout of joy

I posted the above on Facebook today, but I wanted to share it with readers of this blog too. I am interested in contacting Phil’s widow, Tracy Buell Sudo. Can you help?

Rumi’s Wedding Day

December 18, 2015

Today is the 740th anniversary of Rumi’s death. He called it his “wedding day with the Beloved.”

Rumi is one of the great souls, the wise ones who teach us that there is nothing to fear in death. As one who has visited the other side and found unfathomable beauty there, I honor Rumi for his profound teaching. Through years of immersing myself in his ecstatic poetry (as translated by  Coleman Barks), my life was forever transformed. His wisdom permeated my selfishness, my fear and my attachment to my ego’s relentless demands.

Here is Rumi’s concise teaching about the profound journey of death. I was privileged to hold my mother’s hand when she breathed her last. I dedicate this poem to her and invite you to think of someone dear to you as  you read it and hopefully take in its wisdom:

On the day I die, don’t say she’s gone/he’s gone.

On the day I die, don’t say she’s gone/he’s gone.

Death has nothing to do with going away.

The sun sets, and the moon sets, but they are not gone.

Death is a coming together.

The human seed goes down into the ground like a bucket,

and comes up with some unimagined beauty.

Your mouth closes here

and immediately opens

with a shout of joy


Blessings to all–



Please visit my website to see if there’s something there that can add beauty to your life: it’s

Remembering Hugh Prather

August 2, 2013

Rumi says:

On the day I die, don’t say he’s gone. Death has nothing to do with going away.

The sun sets, and the moon sets but they’re not gone.

Death is a coming together.

The human seed goes down into the ground like a bucket,

and comes up with some unimagined beauty.

Your mouth closes here, and immediately opens

with a shout of joy there.


My dear friend Hugh Prather died some three years ago. Hugh wrote the Foreword to both of my books, and contributed in many other ways to my journey. After a visitor to this blog wrote to me about him recently, I was inspired to share one of the many ways Hugh brought insight and peace into my life.

Some years ago, I was unwillingly estranged from two people who mean the world to me. I never knew exactly why, but they withheld any contact from me for several years. I had made mistakes in regard to them, and we had disagreed, but in my mind, nothing had happened that should have resulted in their complete withdrawal from the relationship. I was devastated by the loss, and made every effort I could think of to repair things. They were unmoved my apologies and efforts to reach out to them. When all efforts failed, I sank into a long bereavement process which involved sobbing in the middle of the night on many occasions.

It felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. The pain was the worst I had ever experienced.

Around this time, I visited Tucson, and shared the story with Hugh. He gave the following advice which will forever be something I cherish. He said:

“Hold them in your heart with love. Make it a spiritual practice to keep doing that. When your mind and ego stray toward anger or resentment such as “I don’t deserve this,” bring yourself gently back to love. Don’t criticize yourself; just bring yourself back to love. Don’t criticize them either. You cannot know their reasons, and judging them will only make things worse.

“Keep holding them in love in your heart. One day–I predict it will be less than five years–they will call. If you have continued the practice, they will hear the love in your voice immediately. They will know the door is open, and they will walk through it. Love always heals.”

At the time I felt that five years was an unspeakable length of time to suffer as I was. But I had exhausted all of my own ideas, and I trusted Hugh. I followed his advice completely. As I did so, I slowly began to feel more and more peace as well as more and more love. I began to recognize that the love I felt for them would never change; in that sense it was impossible to loose them. And I began to see that, like all of us, they had to follow their own hearts.

Four years later they called, and said they wanted to let bygones be bygones. I was more than happy to agree, and the relationship has been solid ever since.

Hugh’s wisdom was invaluable to me in one of the most difficult times of my life. I honor his memory, and send out my love to him and his wife and children always.

If you would like to read the tribute I wrote to Hugh around the time of his death, please visit my primary website at and scroll down to “Hugh Prather Tribute.

Blessings to you and yours, dear visitor. Perhaps the wisdom recounted here will be of value to you as well.

Death Is a Wedding Day

March 23, 2012

Rumi says:

On the day I die, don’t weep.

Don’t say she’s gone/he’s gone.

Death has nothing to do with going away.

The moon sets and the sun sets,

but they’re not gone.

Death is a coming together.

The human seed goes down into the ground

like a bucket,

and come up with some unimaginable beauty!

Your mouth closes here

and immediately opens

with a shout of joy there!

Whether we understand these words literally or metaphorically, Rumi’s message to us is that there is nothing to fear in death. We merge with unimaginable beauty–light with light.

As Andrew Harvey has said, the death of a spiritual leader is often his or her last teaching. Rumi died fearlessly, neither hastening or resisting his body’s process. In death, he seemed to say, it’s only the ego, the persona that is lost. The soul continues its glorious journey.

In one of Coleman Barks’ translations of a Rumi poem, death is the family darling coming home at last, or the red glint in the cliff which turns at last to rubies. When we internalize these teachings, our fear of death dissolves, and we are free.

I have been blessed with personal and very unique experience that convinced me that what lies beyond death is beauty beyond measure. I understand that this cannot be proven, and that many will find it foolish, wishful thinking. I cannot explain my certainty. It is not a “belief,” and it is not based on a particular religious teaching.  My confidence about this matter comes from grace–“amazing grace.”  This sense of peace and comfort  can come to anyone who seeks it out. One thing I’ve learned about matters of faith and spirituality is that usually we must ask for the gifts available to us. Asking is the act which opens the door. I do not know why this is so, but for me it has been.

Let me know if you are interested in this subject. There is so much more to say.

Go in peace, dear visitor, and bring these words of comfort to those who need them right now. When your time comes they will come back to you. Please visit me at

Requiem for My Mother

February 23, 2010

Rumi says:

On the day I die, don’t weep.
Don’t say she’s gone.

Death has nothing to do with going away.
The sun sets and the moon sets, but
they’re not gone.

Death is a coming together.
The human seed goes down into the ground
like a bucket, and come up with
some unimagined beauty!

Your mouth closes here,
and immediately opens
with a shout of joy

Today is the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. This morning at 5:30 A.M. I lit a candle in her memory.

At 5:30 A.M. on February 23, 2004, she breathed her last. After many plane trips to her home during her last year, on that last trip I had been back less than 12 hours when she passed. I think she waited for me.

I was so very fortunate to be able to hold my mother’s hand as she took her last breaths. Being with your mother when she dies is at once unforgettable, profoundly painful, and a priceless privilege. It doesn’t always work out that way though; I’m sure that being with a loved one in spirit as they pass over can mean as much.

I began this post with words from the 13th century Sufi poet, Jalaludin Rumi, because they give me such comfort. For Mama, though, here are some Biblical words from the Book of Romans that I know often sustained her:

All things work together for good for them that love God.

Mom was fortunate to be able to die at home in her own bed as she had wanted. She was fortunate to have a gentle death. The funeral home, the burial and the large memorial service followed. The family gathered afterward to tell stories such as her nieces and nephews remembering that she was always first up the mountain when she took them on dessert hikes around Tucson.

Like all of us, she was a very imperfect person. Yet she was  loved by her large extended family, and by hundreds members of her church family both nearby and far away in other countries.

She went on more than 25 working trips abroad, trying to improve the lives of people in India, Venezuela, China, South Africa, and many others. She spent much of her life trying to do good as she understood it.

Death dissolves personality limitations and leaves only the love. I am forever grateful that for her this happened before death; for the last weeks of her life, she became all love.

Thank you Mama for thousands of Southern cooked meals, for hundred of holidays made sweeter by your cooking and gifts, for your stuffing, your potato salad and your pecan pie, for your example of getting down on the floor to enjoy a child, and for always making music a part of our lives. Thanks for the protection and consistency you provided.

Most of all, thanks for teaching me that the spiritual part of life is the most important. That lesson sustains me everyday.

Mary Oliver says:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say:  all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


I love you Mama, and I miss  you everyday.

Your daughter,

Blessings to you, dear visitor. Please share your own story of the final chapter in the life of someone dear to you by emailing me at

What is the soul?

January 8, 2010

Rumi says:

All day I think about it,
and at night I say it.

Where did I come from,
and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea!

My soul is from elsewhere.
I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern,
and when I get back around to that place
I’ll be completely sober.

Meanwhile, I’m like a bird from another continent,
sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming
when I’ll fly off.
But who is it in my ear who hears my voice?
Who sees out from my eyes?
Who says words with my mouth?

What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking!
If I could take one sip of an answer
I could break out of his prison for drunks.

I did not come here of my own accord,
and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here
will have to take me home.

This poetry….I never know what I’m going to say,
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I grow quiet
and hardly speak at all

Rumi reminds us that our spiritual journey is the core of everything that matters–the questions, the uncertainties, the suffering, the joy. How can we come to terms with loss, with aging and with death? How can our we free ourselves from our childhood wounds? How can we find meaning in even the disappointing areas of our lives? How can we make a difference? How can we serve? How can we learn to choose joy over angst?

Dear visitor, I wish you a journey of ever-deepening fulfillment. Here’s my new year’s challenge: Read Rumi every day for 100 days. Your life will never be the same.


Please post responses here or email me at

On the day I die, don’t weep.

April 3, 2009

Rumi says:

On the day I die, don’t say she’s gone.

Death has nothing to do with going away.

The sun sets and the moon sets, 

but they’re not gone.

Death is a coming together.

The human seed goes down into the ground like a bucket,

and comes up with some unimagined beauty.

Your mouth closes here, and immediately

opens with a shout of joy there.

I write these words for the visitor who fears death. I write for those who are in harm’s way, and for those who know that their death is near. I write for those who cherish someone who is dying or who has already passed. I write for all of us in that finding a courageous way  to approach our inevitable death is a crucial part of our spiritual maturity and a life well lived.

Some never accomplish it. Many delay, convincing themselves they are too young or too special to need to face this task. But death has no respect for age or status or the usual order of things. At times, parents mourn children. The elderly mourn the young. The seemingly healthy athlete doesn’t survive the game. 

Rumi speaks with the same voice as other wise mystics:

Lo, I am with you always.

You promised that, and when I realized it was true,

my soul flared up.

Any unhappiness comes from forgetting.

Remember and be back with the Friend.

When Rumi’s death was near, he was fearless and accepting. “Have patience old Earth, ” he said. “You’ll get your sweet morsel soon.”

Rumi taught us to love every aspect of our lives–our dramas, our pain, our struggles, and yes, our deaths. Enlightened peace comes as we learn to cherish the beauty of this moment, this challenge, this journey and its end.

If you long for peace and courage about death, read and study Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks. Read Rumi everyday for 100 days, and ask for that courage. Ask and you shall receive. It comes through grace.


You may respond, post, or contact Dr. Lee at