Grief is not an emotion that will be ignored. It can’t be healed or pushed down or forgotten. Grief raises its ugly head and howls like a mangy old dog that refuses to die. It clutters your dreams with living memories, holding hands with you, reminding you what warm skin felt like just before waking you again to your aloneness. Grief is an unwelcome friend, always by your side, always calling up memories of the one lost, the one missed, the one you would give everything to see and hold again. This is grief and its not going anywhere. I have cried out shame and trauma, rage, and depression but grief has me at a standstill. It says, “No woman. This is where we are.” This IS where we are. I am grieving. I am in the season of grief. I have known love and now I must grieve my love without end. Time will not heal this wound. I will travel new places, find new understanding, know new love, but this love, this grief will always be at my elbow whispering, “Do not forget.”
The beautiful object waited quietly in the corner shop window. Someday she knew a collector would come and choose her from among all the other beautiful objects that sat around her. One harmonious day when the sun was glinting off her well polished surface she saw the collector she had been hoping for, the collector who had come to appreciate her, and choose her from among all the other beautiful objects. When he looked on her, when he chose her, when he took her home, she was filled with a shimmer that shined from the depths of her heart. Joy glowed out through her beautiful exterior illuminating her many miraculous colors.
The collect wrapped her carefully in paper and held her carefully in his arms as he carried her home. Once home he took her from the box and held her in his hands. He turned her over looking on her with pride and then placed her with love upon a shelf where he could see her always from anywhere in the room. The beautiful object was filled with joy to be so loved and appreciated and to have been chosen from among so many other beautiful objects.
The days pass, she was happy and he watched her from afar, moving through his day, through his life, seeing her from the corner of his eye, and smiling. Yes, she was a beautiful object, and she knew in her heart that he loved her and she loved him. But the days grew longer, she saw him less often, and dust begin to gather upon her beautiful exterior.
After what seemed like an eternity she heard his return and her heart lifted. In time he came to her and taking her gently in his hands he wiped the dust from her eyes, from her head, from her beautiful exterior, and held her so lovingly that once again she began to glow with joy, and hope, and love, and light. Then without ceremony he sat her down again upon the shelf.
A long time past before he touched her again. She grew sad and lonely on her self. She wanted to see him, to be held by him, to be touched by him, to have the dust washed from her eyes, and from her glowing exterior. She wanted to be beautiful, and to be bright, to be loved, but he was gone missing somewhere in the world. The dust grew thicker and thicker until she could no longer see the sunlight coming in the window and it could no longer pierce the filth that clung to her beautiful sides leaving her un-illuminated. And yet she longed for the moment when he remembered that she existed, for the moment when he came and dusted away the dust, and held her in the light, and loved her for her beauty, for her fine lines, and for the way she lit up when he looked on her.
One day he came home and he held under his arm a thing carefully wrapped in paper. The beautiful object could not see yet she heard the paper and she felt his appriciation through the dust, thought it was not directed at her. She felt him grow closer and her heart began to glow. She felt the light that would pour through her when he cleaned away the dust, when he held her in his hands, when they were once again reunited, and he appreciated her the way she deserve to be appreciated.
But when he came to her he pushed her aside and he placed before her a new and beautiful object. He did not take her from the shelf, he did not dust her, he did not clean the dirt away from her eyes, or hold her in his hands and appreciate her. instead his eyes were focused lovingly on the new beautiful object that glowed with sunshine and with light, basking in the warmth of his attention.
With time the beautiful object became completely blinded by the dust and debris of her life on the shelf and she even began to forget what it was to be held, to be touched, to be loved, to be looked at, and appreciated. She languished in blindness for many years. On the last day that she would spend with the collector who had shown her such love, she thought only of the memory of sunlight and the way she used to glow. She felt no hope, she felt no light, she felt no love, she only felt a sudden longing for movement forward toward something new, something unknown.
The movement came, the unknown followed. When the dust was finally washed from her eyes and the light again poured through her beautiful sides she found herself in a new place, held in new hands, dusted with new love. New eyes regarded her with great appreciation for her beauty, for her unique lines, for the special figure that she was. And her heart bloomed again as it had of old, and she felt love pouring through her, she felt light shimmering inside her, and she felt happiness pouring over her. Everyday the new collector held her, dusted her eyes and lifted her to the light mesmerized by the way the sunshine played through her miraculous colors. Once again, the beautiful object who had hoped, and wished, and longed, began to learn trust, certainty, and peace. And she learned that she had value not because of the joy she gave but because of the joy she felt inside herself when the light filled her and she remembered what it was to glow.
Glow on beloved brothers and sisters. You were born to be the light.
Welcome to your life. It’s filled with color and vibrancy when you slow down enough to see it. Listen to the meow of the cat, the bark of the dog, the buzz of that obnoxious fly that wont stop circling around the room. Take your partner’s hand every chance you get, bake that special tart grandma used to make, taste the soup when it’s still too hot, bake homemade bread from scratch, share butter and salt kisses that lead to, well…you know. This is your life.
Dance in the kitchen to a dumb song you just made up, own at least one Hawaiian print shirt. Hint…everything Hawaii is good for the soul. Eat cookies in bed, always let the pets sleep with you. Dance with your children from the time they can walk. When they are half a century old, they will still remember what it was like to stand on daddy’s feet and sway to the music. Don’t worry if your house is dirty or if your car is a mess, go to the zoo anyways. Elephants are so much more magical than vacuums. This is your life.
Don’t over schedule your children. Give them time to play and run around the neighborhood and scratch up their knees and crash their bikes and climb trees. Remember, this is their life. Play sad music you can cry too and remember what it feels like to love and lose. Play happy music that is goofy, the kind your teenager rolls their eyes at but smiles at too. This is your life.
Hold your loved ones close. Cry happy tears for the simple fact that they were born and came to live in your life. What a freaking miracle it is that they found you and that they love you. This is your life and it is beautiful.
I surrender. My war is fought. I lay down my resistance and pray for mercy. I pray on my knees in the carnage of my lost ambitions, a broken home, smashed family photos, the scent of an uneaten dinner rotting in an oven that will not be warmed again. I surrender this life to my creator, I surrender every hope and dream I’d had for it. I no longer hope for anything other than the momentary peace that comes between sleeping and waking, work and rest. Even in rest I am nagged with the why’s of my life, with the what if’s, the should haves, and the why didn’t I’s. My brain is a prison when I let it run free, fighting the war again and again that I strive everyday to set down and surrender.
So I breathe, I pray, I meditate on my knees and silence the bitter places that would stand up and scream for justice when I already know there is no justice, there is just-his version of events and mine. And so I breath, and count my breaths letting the grief subside until I am strong again and capable of moving on with my half finished life. And I do move on, as the strong do, no matter how shattered. Loss comes and loss goes, grief comes and lingers longest, time will not heal this wound but living well will deaden the sting and I plan to live well. I have trained to live well. I have surrendered my past, am free and fully intend to live so well that I will become a picture postcard of sunshine and gratitude to all the people who have lifted me up and held me tight. You know who you are and a million times, thank you.
Humans hate change. We live for certainty and stability in our lives. From the time we are small we look for constancy from our home and community. Instability becomes a thing to fear and often causes the most trauma we experience as children. We grow up spoon-fed on fairy tales that teach us that if we go to the right schools, marry the right person, buy the right house, have the right number of kids, and work really hard we will have the stability we crave. Truth is change is a constant we cannot avoid. Change comes in three ways: chance, choice and, crisis. The important thing is that even in the worst chance or crisis moment where change is inevitable, you still have a choice. The choice is how you choose to react to the change. No matter how much pain the change comes with you still have a choice in how you handle the new situation. Do you panic, do you give up, or do you find a new way to live?
The universal law of cause-and-effect states that every cause has an effect and every effect becomes the cause of something else. So In reality every disturbance in our personal ecosystem creates a disturbance in the lives or personal ecosystems of the people in the community we live in. And as their lives are disturbed, no matter how minutely, there is a butterfly effect that ripples out touching every person who comes into contact with every person who came into contact with you and your change. The butterfly effect is a metaphor for the principal of chaos theory describing the sensitivity of a given system and its dependency on given conditions. Our personal environments, the social systems we live in, are incredibly delicate and are affected by every change that occurs no matter how distant or minute.
When we are faced with a change that affects us on a massive scale and damages our physical, mental and emotional stability, the emotional and mental stability of our ecosystems and those around us are also affected. In these times of dramatic change, it is necessary to try to center and ground yourself, to reach for help and reassurance, and remember that you have three choices. You can fix the problems the change brought, reframe your thinking about the change, or sit in the center of your new normal and become lost in grief for how things used to be.
Change is the only constant and surrendering to its inevitability is the healthiest way to handle it. Surrendering to your new reality will feel difficult at first but it will help your mind shift into flexible thinking patterns that will further aid you when the next change occurs. Ground yourself in the now, surrender your life to your higher power, and pray for guidance as you navigate your new normal with grace. Change is coming, prepare yourself now to be the best version of you so that when it comes you can greet it with the calm and presence of mind that will not disrupt your community through ripples of chaos and fear but with the peace and tranquility of a divinely centered being capable of adaptation and serenity even in the face of upheaval. Your community needs this of you. The ripple effect of one negative, unbalanced person can set of a tidal wave of instability and chaos that is far reaching and traumatic to the small and sensitive individuals that live within our communal sphere so be mindful of how you go. You are important, your life is important, and how you react to the world around you is your greatest gift or your greatest curse to your community at large.
This is the last mask I will wear, the one called wife. It was never mine by choice but came hidden in a box with a ring.
How it clung to me, hid me, bent my will and my purpose until I no longer knew myself; my dreams drifting away on far flung currents.
Your joys became my joys, your interest-my interests, and I smiled because I loved you, did my duty by you and the family. But the family shrunk away until it was just you and me and the boy.
What was fun? I washed my 1000th dish, smashing it just to hear it break. What was joy? I fold away another mountain of laundry that will appear again the next day.
The boy made me laugh and in him I remembered joy and fun. He was full of monkey tricks and more wisdom than I will ever fathom. Such a mind behind those chocolate brown eyes, such a heart of strength and love.
He is grown, and you are gone, and this mask called wife lays in tatters, torn as it was from me by a hundred punishments. But you were not the only villain. In pretending that we were happy I committed the ultimate betrayal, the betrayal of myself.
I go bravely even though all my cards are played, my house has fallen, my love is broken, and I stand here naked as a babe in the snow. I am blue with the cold of my vulnerability, yet I stand head held high before my demons daring them to come and take me. Is this bravery, this slow suicide we women face because we dared to say no, take a stand, and then find ourselves alone in the elements with no place to turn? If so I’ll choose this death over the suffocation of your fine cage. You were master, punisher, with holder of love, but no more. I have freed myself and in going free I have taken flight into the chasm of the vast unknown, knowing only that my heart still beats and tomorrow will come wether I have the strength to join it or not. Though my parachute will catch no air and my wings have lost their feathering I will take this fall believing it is better to break and be reborn then to remain whole and unchanged. I go bravely into this world without the insurance of a good life, but with a life, my life, held, captured, grasped tightly in my own two hands.
I recently had an enlightening exchange with my psychiatrist. We were talking about the nature of love and mothering. I’m a mother hen and always have been and the question was, why do I do it? What do I get out of looking after people? Our conversation went something like this.
Doc-“So, what do you get out of it? What’s the payoff for wearing yourself out caring for others?”
Me-“I guess I help people because I think life is hell and we need help to get through it.”
Doc-“We are animals. We make life a misery for ourselves and others. Coyote’s don’t help each other, neither do bears or lions. Why should people help each other? Why do you help?”
Me-“I help because I know we are sentient animals. We are aware. It is our spiritual duty as aware animals to seek God and to help everyone, every day of our lives. I feel it’s our prime directive to seek peace and love and to help everyone we can.”
Doc-“We are sentient animals but most people only live for themselves. People go to church and they do their charity work and they help but it’s usually because it makes them feel good, or it makes them feel a part of something. Spirituality and religion are no more synonymous than ape is to human. Not many people put others before personal investment. Most people are self-orientated.”
When I was young, I remember feeling a sort of narcissistic glow when I helped someone. I remember feeling like a good person for just a moment. Helping made me feel good about myself. But it’s been many years since my feeling good came into the equation of, “why I help.” Honestly, I believe it’s motherhood that changed me. After fourteen-years of giving, it’s become an unconscious act. I love people. They don’t have to be family, I just love them. They don’t have to be good or perfect to receive my love. We are all animals wandering through the same shit show together but what matters is that we are conscious animals. So, support your neighbor, help your friend, help a stranger, give money to Meals on Wheels, and protect school lunches. Help peacefully protect our human rights, civil liberties, and personal dignity. We know what is right and what is wrong. That’s why it is our absolute duty to help one another get through each day. No one gets out of here alive so let’s at least get through it together.
Granma lives on 5th south in an old home that was once converted into a duplex. It has two kitchens and two living rooms, two bathrooms and two bedrooms. Daddy had to knock down a wall just so Granma didn’t have to go outside to enter the other half of her house. Granma’s house is magical. Like Alice’s Wonderland, it is all topsy-turvy and back to front. It has two different front doors with different shaped door knobs. All the sun floods into the south side of the house, the side with the yellow kitchen where we bake bread and make pudding.
From every window on the sunny side of the house I can watch the Nazis. From the living room I see the ancient grandmother push her push-mower in the front yard. Through their kitchen window I can see her daughter who is Granma’s age. In the backyard I hear the young daughter playing with her son, a boy my age.
Granma is in the garden pulling up weeds and gathering vegetables. When the basket is filled with food we walk over to the Nazi’s house. I feel a chill go up my spine every time the old grandmother looks at me. I’m so filled with the stories of war that I’m always a little afraid she might want to shove me in an oven. The click, click, click of her old black push-mower comes to a stop when she sees us. Her toothless smile and the black scarf she wears tied tightly under her chin, draw the wrinkles and folds of her face into a dried apple symmetry. She wears an old black dress that reaches to her ankles. On her feet she wears black leather boots. Her fingers grip the push-mower and are gnarled and twisted from almost a century of hard work.
She only speaks German. Granma says she’s too old to learn English and doesn’t need to. I hear the creak of the front door as the old grandmother’s daughter comes to greet us. She takes the basket from Granma and welcomes us into her garden. She picks apricots and peaches, apples and tomatoes, placing them into a second basket that she gives to us. Looking around, I see the boy wants to play. We think up a game while Granma and her friend talk. The click, click, click, of the old push mower picks up again and the hours slip by in the easy flow of a long hot summer day.
When the sun casts long shadows I am thirsty with running and pretending. Going into the house I walk behind my friend who fills two glasses of water. We wander into the small front sitting room to rest. On a table beside the old Grandmother’s chair sit two pictures, one of a very young man in a World War I German uniform and the other of an equally young man in a Nazi uniform. Both pictures are black and white but as crisp as the day they were taken. These pictures remind me of the black and white picture we have of Granma. In it she is twenty-two and wearing her ATS military uniform.
“Who are they?”
“This is my grandfather,” he points to the Nazi’s picture, “and this is my great grandfather.” He gestures to the World War I soldier.
“Where are they now?” I look for other pictures of the two men but don’t find them.
“They were killed. Great Grandfather died when my grandmother was a baby and Grandfather died when my mother was a baby.”
I nod my head, thoughtful. Looking up at my friend I realize that he has his grandfather’s large dark eyes.
It’s late when we walk home. I’m thinking of all the men my Granma nursed throughout the war, of all the suffering and death. Looking up I ask,
“How come our enemies are now our friends, Granma?”
“Those ladies were never our enemies. They were farmers like we were.”
“But their men fought in the wars. I saw the pictures.”
“Yes they fought.” She’s silent for a moment. “It was a terrible time but it’s in the past now. Let the past be the past, let the dead bury the dead.” Smiling she adds, “and let’s you and I make a pie.”
I smile, my thoughts turning from loss to the light crusty joy of hot peach pie. I realize in that second that Granma isn’t angry or sad anymore because Granma is too alive, too busy living, too alight with life to waste time being angry. Angry isn’t fun so it isn’t worth her time.
We make a pie and we talk about everything we loved about the day. My heart glows happy even as my eyes grow heavy because I see life, I see living, and I understand what it takes to truly thrive. When Granma tells us to have, “no regrets,” she is really telling us not to let our past ruin our present. Let the dead bury the dead, share food and friendship with old enemies, and turn all life’s peaches into magnificent pies.
Granma is probably my most favorite person in the universe. She dresses up at Halloween, throws banquets at Christmas and takes me bowling on Saturday mornings. My Granma is different from other girl’s Grandmothers. She bakes and cooks and does things other Granma’s do but not for the same reasons. She doesn’t take care of people or baby people. Instead she makes them strong. She teaches them how to navigate the world by being fully and perfectly alive. She is alive. Every day she finds things to do that I find magical.
Magical Granma Attribute one would be her incredible tackle box. Imagine opening a box filled with every fishing lure you can imagine. Note the smell of salmon eggs and other assorted fish bate. Together we cast, reel and become patient while full size rainbow trout circle near by.
Magical Granma Attribute two would be her sewing box. From the contents of that sewing box I have learned to embroider, bead and do needle point. During the war Granma embroidered in air raid shelters while other people counted the seconds between explosions, controlling their fear by trying to predict where the next bomb would hit.
Magical Granma Attribute three are these stories of life and death that haunt my young mind. She begins,
“During the war…” and the room falls silent. Her words are spoken matter of fact but their meaning makes pictures so rich with color and scent that they are a part of me.
“During the war the bombs fell…” thousands of them rained down on her life as they did so many British lives.
There was the time bomb that slipped silently into the wreckage of a bombed out nurses ward. Granma and her fellow nurses had returned to the area to gather what supplies could be salvaged. They worked quickly and efficiently in the wreckage at Portland Bill, until a voice yelled out. “Look up,” the voice called. “You silly girls. Get the hell out.” And there it was, swinging above them on the ropes of its parachute. When I imagine the bomb it always looks like a giant deadly watch, its long arms spinning towards death. Granma says it didn’t tell time that way. It just counted down on its own, never telling anyone when it would go off.
Magical Granma Attribute four is her garden. I love her garden. There I find a purple eggplant the size of a football. Granma says I shouldn’t pet it but its smooth purple skin is too beautiful not to touch. The air in the garden is filled with the scent of roses, huge beautiful carnivorous roses, their thorns gleaming sharp and deadly in the bright Utah sun. They are carnivorous because they scratch me when I get too close and they eat our fish, at least all the bits we don’t eat. I walk behind Granma with my little trowel and help her dig small graves below each bush. This is why her roses are the largest and most beautiful. It’s because of the fish.
Magical Granma Attribute five is time. Time moves slowly around her, it smells of ham and roses, fat lap dogs and long stories. I sit beside her on the steps of her front porch and listen to the birds in her cherry tree. Here there is time to remember, to watch, to notice the butterflies, count the tomatoes and just be together. There is no rush or hurry because there is no one else in this world who can stop time like Granma. A day lasts a week in her garden, so filled with food and story that I don’t grow tired and I never want to go home. Through brightly colored memories, we walk her father’s farm in England and drive her pony and trap down through the fields to bring lunch to the men. Closing my eyes I feel the English sunlight. I see the endless green down lands stretched before us, their curving flanks dotted with sheep. Somewhere over the next rise men plow with draft horses, harvest timber and gather watercress. Just over the next hill our people work the earth and they are hungry for their lunch.