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Learning to Dance in the Rain: A True Story about Life Beyond Death

Learning to Dance in the Rain: A True Story about Life Beyond Death

by Lori &. Brian McDermott


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When a tragic car accident took the life of our twenty-one year old daughter, Maia, we began a journey that has been simultaneously the most heart-wrenching and spiritually uplifting period of our lives.

Learning to Dance in the Rain chronicles the first year of this journey. Through pain and despair to renewed energy and spiritual discovery, we describe the many ways in which we are finding strength and inspiration to carry on our lives. With help from family and friends, a variety of religious and spiritual traditions, encounters with the natural world, and, most profoundly, continued connection with our beloved daughter, we are learning that death is as much a beginning as it is an end and that one person's smile can make a significant and positive difference in the world.

Learning to Dance in the Rain is a personal story that demonstrates how love, courage, and openness to new experiences can help transform grief and sorrow into opportunities for spiritual growth. It is also a story that celebrates the potential of one individual to deeply inspire others during her time here on earth and even after that time has ended. In these two respects, our personal story is also universal, and one we believe worth sharing.

The original version of Learning to Dance in the Rain was written for family and friends in recognition of the first anniversary of Maia's death. From the responses received, we realized that sharing our experiences so openly was helping others continue to find comfort, healing, and growth, as well as ourselves. As a result, and with much encouragement and support, we decided to make our story available "to the world." It is our hope that what we write about Maia and the life path we are forging since her death, will be of help to others.

Needless to say, our journey is not over. We still have more questions than answers and occasional moments of pain and sadness, but we continue to walk together toward a future which, in some ways, may be more meaningful than we ever thought possible.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452537139
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 08/11/2011
Pages: 120
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.28(d)

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Learning to Dance in the Rain

A True Story About Life Beyond Death
By Lori McDermott Brian McDermott

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2011 Lori Berger McDermott & Brian G. McDermott
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4525-3713-9

Chapter One

Days 1-7

Day 1

Faced with the inescapable reality of Maia's death, there was nothing else to do but go home. In the early dawn hours, we arrived back at the house and found ourselves on the threshold of a most unwelcome new world, a world we were utterly unprepared for and still unwilling to accept. Knowing there was no turning back, and with great sadness and heaviness of heart, we stepped over that threshold together.

Other families faced with a similar crisis might draw upon the beliefs and rituals of their religious affiliations and practices. What to do, when to do it, how to be and feel and think would be all laid out for them to follow. The immeasurable pain and grief would still exist, but there would be a clear path to guide them and a community of like-minded supporters to help them through the days ahead.

We, on the other hand, had no predetermined rituals or religious practices to lead us through such uncharted waters. Although born into Jewish and Christian families, we never fully embraced either tradition and when our own children were born, we tried adapting the teachings from many different religions to create a tradition of our own. The result was an eclectic, loosely defined spiritual belief system supported by two basic assumptions: the universe has both physical and non-physical attributes, and humans are both physical and spiritual beings. Great ideas that served us well in normal times, but lacking enough substance to be of immediate help during a crisis like this.

With daylight just barely breaking, we decided to delay calling the one person we knew could provide us with the spiritual and practical guidance now needed, our good friend Loni. While we waited, we gathered lots of photos of Maia, lit candles, and focused our thoughts on her. We didn't really know what to say or do, but we knew it was absolutely essential that we at least do something. Although her physical body had died, we believed her spiritual essence had not and that this part of her still needed us, perhaps more now than ever before. Working hard to put aside our own sense of loss and pain, and the myriad questions spinning through our heads, we sat together in silence, sending out thoughts of love and strength to our daughter, hoping with all our hearts that this would make a difference.

Phone calls were made, the news spread, and friends began to gather. One of our closest friends drove into Boston to pick up our son, Maia's only sibling and the only family member within easy traveling distance. As our numbers grew, we became a community of mourners, acutely aware of the need to support one another, draw strength from one another, and reach out to Maia in whatever ways we could. Representing a wide variety of religious backgrounds and spiritual beliefs, we were united in one mission: unconditional love and support for Maia and her transition from this life to whatever comes next.

One final detail worth noting: Earlier in the day as we were tidying the house for the visitors we knew would stop by, Lori picked up one of the many books lying around, Six-Word Memoirs. Opening it at random, she read in amazement the following quote: "The car accident changed my life." An extraordinary coincidence for sure, and the first of many we would experience in the days and months to come.

Day 2

We slept poorly that night, tossing and turning fitfully, waking up often, first at 2:20, exactly 24 hours after the reported time of Maia's death, then at 4, and 5, until finally we gave up on any more sleep and got out of bed.

The house was eerily quiet and strangely peaceful. Some of the candles from the day before were still lit so we sat silently in their warm glow and held each other close. Never before had we felt so much sadness and despair. And of course there were regrets. Although we still didn't know what caused Maia's crash, we wondered whether we could have said or done something that would have led to a very different outcome.

Admittedly, none of this self-admonishment would change the reality at hand. What was done could not be undone, and we had enough sense about us to know that this was not the time to focus on regrets. We had much more important work to do and we didn't yet know how or what this would entail.

With some time to spare before the day's wave of visitors would begin arriving, we turned on the computers to check email. Though others might expect email messages to be a poor way to exchange sentiments during such a time as this, we found them to be otherwise and were very comforted by the many that had begun to arrive. One of the most consoling and encouraging notes came from an uncle in California who wrote: "I hope that Maia will make her presence felt to you, or to someone (we don't know the logic of such events), and that you will be able to feel something of her life and destiny on the other side of death." Consoling, encouraging, and prophetic.

The day progressed with a flurry of activity. Many friends stopped by to offer whatever support they could and to be with us during this most difficult of times. Food, drinks, and all the required table settings seemed to appear out of nowhere, as did beautiful flower arrangements, candles, and plants. Our good friend Loni, who graciously accepted the role of spiritual leader and seemed quite comfortable with our rather non-traditional spiritual/religious inclinations, worked hard to provide us with a variety of resources to help us forge our own path through the days to come.

After taking her advice to secure the services of a local funeral director, Loni guided us in planning brief evening ceremonies at the house, an adaptation of the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva. At first we were somewhat reluctant to receive guests at night because in many ways we just wanted to be alone. But soon it became apparent that these gatherings were not primarily for us or for the many people who mourned Maia's death with us. They were most importantly for Maia. "Where a person lived, there does his spirit continue to dwell," a belief common to many religious and spiritual traditions, became our belief and one of our strongest guiding principles. Although we hadn't yet felt her presence in any tangible way, we knew deep inside that she was still with us. We might not be able to see or feel or hear her, but we could love her and be here for her, and that's what mattered most.

Day 3

It is often said that bad news travels on wings and a thousand leagues away, and so it was with this bad news. By Monday it seemed like the whole world knew of Maia's death.

The cyberspace grapevine was doing its thing. Facebook, email distribution lists, online newspapers, and the newly created page for Maia on the funeral home website were connecting countless people who were somehow linked to Maia and/or to us. Condolences, offers of support, and wonderful stories of how Maia made a difference to someone/somewhere/somehow began to arrive in waves.

It was all reassuring yet painfully heart wrenching at the same time. Our daughter, who led one of the most socially driven lives of all the young adults we knew in her peer group, often complained to us that few people cared about her the way she cared about them, that while she would go above and beyond to help any of her friends, only a few were ever there for her. As her parents, we would listen and try to soothe such melancholy moments, encouraging her to focus on the many positive relationships we knew she had. Now, according to the testimonies we were receiving, it seemed that Maia was more loved and admired than we could ever have imagined and we cried in sorrow that she may have died not knowing just how much she meant to so many people.

Along with the outpouring of love and consolation, more details of her final hours began to emerge.

Lori: "When I had last spoken with her, on Friday at about 5:30 p.m., Maia was happily on her way to Worcester with plans to have some fun with a longtime friend. The intent was to shop and have dinner, enjoy some time with her friend's family, and then hit the clubs for a 'girls' night out.' Maia assured me that this would be an especially meaningful visit since her friend had not been out much since giving birth last year. To cap off this impromptu jaunt, she planned to sleep over and then drive with her friend and the baby to our home in Clinton for an afternoon visit."

Although Maia sounded fairly upbeat on the phone and we knew it would be great to see her the next day, we both wished that she had just stayed put at school for the weekend. Mostly we were concerned that this trip was another example of her burning the candle at both ends. But we were also concerned about her partying with the hometown crew in central Massachusetts as her reputation for attracting social drama was particularly polished in this area of the state. Hoping for the best, and not wanting to plant any seeds of doubt or misgiving, Lori wished her a good night and said, "OK, have fun, see you tomorrow."

As it turned out, "girls' night out" ended in major social drama, not only with her good friend but apparently also with a guy she had expected to connect with. Angry words were exchanged between Maia and this young man, and soon after between Maia and her friend. We're not sure if the couple of drinks they had during their three hours at the club contributed to the escalation of emotions, or if some of the frustrations she was experiencing at school primed her for a confrontation, but whatever the cause, Maia left her friend's house in a swirl of agitation. Five minutes later, her car crashed into the pole.

We may never know for sure what actually happened to cause such a horrific accident. Emotional distress and excessive speed are the only two indisputable factors, with alcohol or some other compromising circumstance perhaps playing a role. But, again, we do not know anything else with certainty and in the long run, emotional distress and excessive speed may be the only ones that really matter.

Day 3 ended with extreme lamentation: Why, why, why did this happen to Maia? Why did her young life have to end? Is there something we could have done differently that would have changed the fate time had rendered? Is there something anyone could have done? If there is some higher lesson, meaning or purpose that we are to take from this, please, someone, anyone, let us know for all we have right now is deep, deep despair, unfathomable emptiness, and inexhaustible grief.

Day 4

Tuesday morning greeted us with a bright blue sky and unusually mild temperatures. Despite these favorable conditions, tension and anxiety filled the air in anticipation of an 8:30 a.m. appointment at a Worcester crematorium. It was there that we would be within inches of Maia's physical remains and say our last good-byes.

Our soft-spoken funeral director, Tom, picked us up at 8 and drove us into Worcester. While he and our son chatted about school and music on the way down, we sat silently in the back. In our laps we held each others' hands and a few cherished mementos we thought should be with Maia during the cremation process: a recent photo of the four of us, one of her first baby blankets, the "Happy 'Birth' Day" t-shirt she had received from the staff at St. Joseph Hospital on the day she was born, a copy of the poem her grandfather had written for her to celebrate her birth, and two pink and yellow roses, important symbols of Maia's life.

Tom, the three of us, and the kindly crematory operator were the only ones present to witness our solemn and simple ceremony. A moment or two to catch our breath at the sight of the six foot long cardboard casket with the hand written word "Head" at one end; perhaps three or four minutes of silent, tearful communion, our hands touching the casket's surface on sections where we thought her head and heart might be; and then the joint effort of the three of us to roll the casket into the cremation chamber, release the lever to close the door, and push the button that would start the chamber's heat. Another long, silent minute or two, and then we were done.

The ride home was less tense and perhaps more quiet – we really can't remember if Sean and Tom continued their conversation or not. Arriving back home around 9:30, Tom let us out at the bottom of our driveway. As we walked up, Lori was the first to notice an unusual gathering of birds in one of the back yard maple trees – blue jays! We watched in awe as at least 20 jays ruffled their wings, fluttered from branch to branch, and softly squawked amongst themselves. Why they had gathered, in this tree, at this time, we knew immediately – Maia. How they had come to be like this and what message we were to receive from their assembly, we were not sure. Regardless, our hearts filled with momentary joy and wonder.

Later in the day we were heartened to find the following information on the internet describing the significance of blue jays from a Native American perspective. Although we were still not sure how they had come together or the exact message that was intended, we clearly felt that these jays had brought us a gift of immeasurable worth.

Air Animal Totems: Soaring to New Heights of Understanding

Air Animal Totems have a penchant for assisting us in matters of higher knowledge. Air being the most ethereal of elements, it's understandable that the creatures who inhabit it are able to lend the best understanding of its invisible ways. Closest to the heavens, air animals are our best allies as they herald our desires to the very gods in the skies.

Air animal totems are also symbols of strength (both physical and mental) and sovereignty. Very important traits, particularly when we are experiencing new transitions or surroundings in our lives. If air animal totems are catching your attention, you should feel very heartened by their presence. Allow their spirit to boost your confidence, and remind you that the ultimate power is within this present, unseen moment. Air animals are good omens, and their appearance is like a wink from god.

By Avia Venefica http://www.whats-your-sign.com/air-animal-totems.html

Blue Jays

Blue Jay reflects lessons in using your own power properly; as well as not allowing yourself to be placed in a position in which power is used against you. The word " jay" comes from the Latin "gaia" or "gaea" - Mother Earth. In Greek mythology the union of Mother Earth (Gaea) and Father Heaven (Uranus) resulted in the first creatures who had the appearance of life. This ability is reflected in the jay's ability to link heaven and earth; to access each for greater power. The blue jay as a totem can move between both heaven and earth and tap into the energies of both.

The crest on the jay's head is symbolic of higher knowledge that can be used when focused. It is a reminder that to wear the crown of true mastership requires edication, responsibility and committed development in all things in the physical and spiritual. Jay is a reminder to follow through on all things - do not start something then leave it dangling while you fly off for the next thing that sparkles and catches your fancy.

Blue jay reflects that a time of greater resourcefulness and adaptability is about to unfold. The jay does not usually migrate so use this as a reminder that there will be ample time to develop and use your energies to access new levels. It will stay around and work with you as long as you need it.

The blue jay is actually a member of the crow family and most crows have no fear. Crows and jays will group together and mob hawks and owls to drive them off. The jay is fearless and this can be of assistance to you to connect with the deepest mysteries of the earth and the greatest of the heavens.

Blue jays have a tremendous ability for survival with the least amount of effort. They reflect great talent. However, that talent must be developed and utilized properly. When jay shows up in your life it signals a time that you can begin to develop the innate royalty that is within you, or simply be a pretender to the throne. It all depends on you. The jay will teach you either way.

By Lucinda (adapted from Animal-Speak, by Ted Andrews) http://turtlezen.com/bluejay.html

Day 5

Feeling like we never really slept, we awoke to Wednesday bleary eyed and exhausted. The strain of the previous four days was beginning to wear on us and we lingered in bed as long as we could.


Excerpted from Learning to Dance in the Rain by Lori McDermott Brian McDermott Copyright © 2011 by Lori Berger McDermott & Brian G. McDermott. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Days 1-7....................1
A New Chapter Begins....................23
About the Authors....................85
• Excerpts from Maia's Memorial Service....................89
• Maia's Song....................99

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