All posts by Corinne

Small Bits of Happiness

 

Ultimately, grief never “wins.” No matter how wrenching the loss, how impossible it feels to navigate the new territory of a world without our beloveds, joy always brings us back home. We are made for wonder, made for joy. And it will capture us for small moments, bringing us back to life.

The following are two little “happiness” moments that recently captured me.

 

11/29/17
A glorious walk this afternoon with Mary Lou and our dogs. We start out in sunny warmth, then smudgy glowering clouds roll in, spit snow and rain. The sky is a patchwork of light and dark.  And the dogs are wild. Gatsby finds an old tennis ball, and rolls over and over and over it, his short 12-year-old legs pumping the air. He is having so much fun. And Bodi runs off through the fields and into woods, comes back much later licking his chops, having eaten something dead and disgusting. The dogs are old, but they can still have fun.

Mary Lou and I laugh at the vagaries of aging, so many things falling apart! We laugh at our cuckoo dogs who glory over disgusting things to eat, or old rotten tennis balls, getting as smelly as possible, and how much work it will be to clean them up.

The land is sear – the beaten grasses flaxen in a new and whipping wind – the hills sooty, the fields wide open. The dogs run as we laugh, chasing each other in loopy circles. All of us are crazed with the sheer beauty of it all. All of us are happy-wild.

 

12/3/17 evening
Bodi and I walk out in the near-dark after sunset. There is still a tinge of light, but all the colors have bled out of this day. The road is silent under the starlit sky. Orion, the Dipper, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades hang overhead, waiting for the moon. The ragged winter-beaten grass crunches under our feet.

We feed the horses apples as the Great Moon slips above the horizon. There is no sound but us – the horses, huffing and crunching and stomping the ground; Bodi peeing on the fence post; my breath, puffing up toward the moon. Bodi and I walk back across the field in its light. It feels like swimming in silver.

I am just another animal, making my way through the silver-blue secrets of a big-moon night – the horses and Bodi and I, finding our way, watching our feet move over the colorless ground.

We are beheld, beloved and moon-blessed and stunned. What more could we want? What more could any of us want?

All These Familiar Things

 

On a recent trip to Louisiana, I found more links to family, and place. Over several years of going back, grief has softened some with these renewed connections. Even though my aunt is gone, even though so many people are gone, they linger all around me. The following is a little journal entry from my latest visit.

 

9/23/17 a.m.

A longish and good and sweet walk on the levee in early morning heat.

So many things are familiar – hawks, scolding from the woods; little blue herons, sinking down into a damp field; the muskrat hole in the muddy bank of a ditch; white silky-petaled mallows blooming all along the batture edge; rising sun shining on water in the low woods. And heat – the suffocating, clinging, womb-warm, prickling heat. Cicadas drone in trees. A few walkers nod greetings on this early morning.

Here I am, again, stricken with the spell of such longing and sweet love – my body so happy; my bones and skin and organs so surprisingly at home. Here, I was so welcomed and loved, just because I was born. I am swamped with a cellular happiness, a visceral and maybe even genetic joy. For so many years, so many generations, this is where we’ve belonged.

All my people
have sprouted up here.
All my people rise up inside me,
and feel so right at home.

After a while, flush with the heat, I walk back through town, and pass the old man with the pink hat who sits on the porch in his red flannel shirt. We wave at each other, and I imagine that he wonders about me – where Bodi is, why I haven’t been here for months. But he is also just glad to lift a hand and be noticed; to be remembered. We notice and remember each other.

Near the car, I stop to watch swirling vultures over the orchard woods – floating, turning, slipping away. Suddenly, a hawk drops down from an orange tree, settles on the emerald ground, looking around for breakfast, then sails back up into another small tree to hide. The buzzards come back, circling and shifting. I just stare and stare.

On Holidays, and Left-Over Love

11/21/17

For some reason, you’ve been close by lately. Just a little glimmer, a little warmth – like the pale winter sun slipping over the bed as I sit for my morning tea and note-making.

Have I called you back? With the book, and with all my thoughts as I get ready to go south for a while?

Are you peeking in? Do all of you who have moved on shift a little closer in the holiday times? Do the walls around realities and time – here, and now, and the past – thin a bit so we can lean toward each other fondly?

My mom so loved holidays. I think of her as I get ready to cook – her hands, chopping up veggies for a roux, arm reaching over to stir something sizzling in a pan. All those little chores my body remembers as I press a knife down on the chopping board.

And the phone call I’d make to tell you hello, see what you were up to for the day. I can still hear your voice. I wonder how long that will be true.

Down South, I know the Louisiana family will be gathering around. Some of them are working on holiday food baskets for local folks in need. They’ll be busy with details, then gathering to eat. You might be keeping an eye on them, too. You might know that they’re still doing okay.

It’s nice to feel you around. But I’m not sure how much I need you these days. Maybe I’ve inhaled, absorbed, digested, so many bits of you that you’ve settled into my cells, and I will just keep carrying you around. But it’s still so sweet, to feel you nearby. If holidays exist wherever you are, then I’m sending you much joy, Little Honey. You’re still a pale, warm sun I can settle into, and love.

 

The book, and completions, and family

 

 

10/20/17 a.m.

Well – your book arrived last night. I wonder what you’d think. It looks pretty good. The cover has several photos of you, with Keet’s house in the background. It feels like a kind of completion for us, or at least, a step in that direction. I wanted to give it to you, this little homage, this little collection of memories. I don’t know how it will affect me, as the reality of finishing it sinks in, but I’m glad to share the book with our family – a little thank-you for taking me in, a little gift to those who have waited at their own love room doors after loss.

In New Orleans, I took the book into a not-so-welcoming bookstore to see if they’d carry it. I tried to tell a clerk the background story, and about our family – how so many generations grew up in one place; how Papa worked in the school system for decades, and the school is named for our relatives. Then a customer interrupted to say she was from the Ama branch of that family. She talked about Uncle Dick, and the judges and lawyers, the so many familiar names. We ended up laughing and hugging, while the impassive clerk looked on.

I’m not sure if they will carry the book or not, but it was a sweet thing, to stumble over one more link to you and the past.

Well – not much else to say, but I love you. I always did, and still do. I am still stumbling over little bits of your trail, even now.

The Book

 

Dear Friends –
It is with much gratitude that I can announce the publication of my new memoir,
Letters from the Love Room: mapping the landscape of loss. The book is composed of letters written to my 102 year old aunt following her death, and maps out the trail of our connection, our “love room,” as it shifts and changes over time.

The book tells several stories – of the twisty trail of loss; of family, identity and home ground; of learning to bear both the joy and the suffering of life; and of the deeply spiritual underpinnings of being human in this awkard and glorious world. It will be available through local bookstores, and through Amazon.com.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

 

“In charting each step of these after-years, maybe I’ve laid down a map – small footsteps of a lurching heart after the firestorm of loss. Some have been sweet, some grueling. Some pressed so close to Mystery, I could barely breathe. Some, lost, even though I’ve tried to keep track.”

 

***

 

“Loss is hungry. It gobbles you up. It takes everything. How sad can a body be, I wonder, and not give up? How can we all walk around as if everything is whole, when so much is missing? I am demolished. There is no escape. Not reading. Not doing three loads of laundry in the small time between class and appointments. Not chocolate. Or the frenzied swim in cold water as the tide slips out. Not watching the sun shift through the sky.

How can I let the truth be its grizzly, velvety self, and not just fall down on my knees every single day without you? This breaking apart seems endless. Like you said near the end, this is just too much.

If you were here now, I would sing to you. I would tell you the dahlias are beautiful this year –slow to start, but glorious. And the cicadas are back. And I guess my life is okay.

But I want what we were. I want you back.”

 

***

 

“This is what I would talk with you about, if you were here: how to sink into the juicy, jeweled brilliance; the fierce, wrenching fire of loving the world even though everything will be swept away.”

***

 

If you find the book interesting, please consider posting a review on Amazon.com or other book sites. Also, please recommend it to others you think might find it helpful in the journey through grief. In these days of trying to navigate life on a struggling planet, the book might appeal to anyone who has experienced great loss, or to anyone committed to living deeply in this often frenzied world.

Many thanks for participating in this awkward trek through loss with me, and may your own journey be gentle.
Corinne

On Loving This Tattered World

 

12/11/16 (late afternoon)

 

After breakfast in the motel room, then a little levee walk, I sit on packed powdery sand at the river and watch the water churn. I take in as much wild and roiling beauty as I can, then drive off to Spahr’s for lunch with my sister, where we share yummy alligator chips and fried shrimp. We chit chat while we eat. She tells me her problems. Her cats have fleas. She has fleas. The whole house has fleas. And her health is a mess. Both knees need to be replaced. And she’s breathless, again. And time-challenged. She said she’d call at 10 a.m. At 11:30, I gave up and called her. She was just getting ready to ring me up, she said.

 

After lunch, I sit outside in the swing and watch the bayou. The birds flit in and out of trees. A pelican sits atop a piling; I think it is a wood-carving, until it moves, rises up, to settle in another spot. Some egrets flap away.

 

An older man steps out the back door, walks carefully across the stubbly ground, takes photos of the water, the birds. We chat about the beautiful day. He says when he was a child, some 60 years ago, he and his father would come out here to boat. It was always lovely. But it was only this time of year – heading into winter – when they could get through the mat of water hyacinths to fish. It’s such a special place, he says.

 

Driving home, I think about love – about my quirky, snarky sister, and this gorgeous and piecemeal place, this tattered world, and oh, how gloriously, stupendously, I love it all. What can we do, but love it all?

On So Many Small Scraps Of Love

 

4/30/17 a.m. (in Louisiana)

You’re still around, sometimes. This morning the batture and marsh are emerald green. Crows circle on thermals. A red shouldered hawk sails up, then settles in the top of a tree, squawking. Gulls swirl around and over each other.

On my walk into town, I pass an old man sitting on his porch. He’s there everyday lately – settled into his over-stuffed chair, his small bag of bones flanneled-wrapped, a cap on his bald head despite the almost 80 degree-warmth. I wave at him, and he waves back. Most days, we see each other, and wave.

It makes me think of my childhood, of sitting on the old Hahnville porch with Grandma and Major, and sometimes you, your bare feet propped on a column, all of you commenting on who’s passing by on the road. Your neighbors’ habits so familiar you’d know who to expect, where each driver must be going – so if you needed a ride, you just walked out to the road and flagged one of them down.

You knew that place, and its people, so well they were like your own internal compass – you could count on them. That must have been fun for you, to come back from the anonymity of living in D.C. and Europe – and to settle right back in like you were one of them – which, of course, you always were.

I think about all the little bits of meaning we squeeze into the million tiny tasks of a life. Me, chopping stuff for salad before a big feast; my mom, cooking something yummy when we were kids; Nanette smoking meat and making jambalaya. Every movement an art, a body comfort, so many little scraps of love. If we don’t have time to savor all these small, tasty bits – to watch the red shouldered hawk sail in and out of trees, or to wave at an old man on his porch – what’s the point of a life?

On A Little Magic, Once In A While

 

 

9/4/17

Today is your 7-years-gone anniversary. I’m not sure if you even care, or remember. Maybe you’re beyond memories now, beyond any fondness for this place, and time.

But I did think of you.

All last night, it rained. The first rain we’ve had in months that lasted more than a few minutes, or a few drops. This morning, everything was heavy and dripping. Renewed.

And the sky was stupendous – blue, with layers and layers of clouds. A dark smudgy background of flat, unmoving clouds, with brilliant white-gold wispy clouds swirling in front. And the sun, squeezing through all those layers, lighting them up. There was something so unusual about it all that I stood still on the damp road, and just stared at the sky. Small winds curled the dark and light clouds around each other, the dark bit slow and steady, the bright wisps curling and swirling in a kind of vortex. It made me think of tornadoes, how they start; how warm and cool winds twist around and around. I wondered if the sky was shaping itself into something serious. Then the white clouds formed a kind of circle, drifted, then circled again, until after a while I was looking into a well of light and dark. It was like an aperture – the eye of some kind of celestial camera, opening, closing, opening, blinking. I thought it might be you, keeping an eye on me. A little magic, just for this day. You, and this sky, winking at me, saying hello, letting me know that even though things are different now – you, gone for so long – you’re still saying hello. I both thought that, and dismissed the thought, for after all, how long can you have that kind of magic and miracle, anyway. I’ve certainly been blessed, enough.

But it was sweet, and a part of me believed it – knew it was true – that you were there, sending love.

After a while, the clouds shifted, let go, and I could walk away. But it was pretty fun, to think of you there.

Now, in the bedroom, sun shines through the window prism and small rainbow bits slip over the bed, the ceiling, Bodi’s little sleeping self. And even though the sky is solid blue, I wonder if anyone else saw what I did – that special aperture, you looking through.

On the Twisty Trail of Loss

 

In a few weeks, it will be the 7th anniversary of Aunt Min’s death – I don’t know how it will feel, but every year is different. Sometimes, it feels a little lighter. Most of the time, I feel pretty good. I am so grateful to have found a new way into our family, and so grateful to have been welcomed. And I’m happy to have rediscovered, and fallen in love with, Louisiana. But there are still hard days. Sometimes, especially as I age, it seems that life is chock-full of loss, and the “job” of getting older can be learning to live “without” so much. The following are a couple of letters written recently to my aunt. (Yes, the letters continue, sometimes surprising me.)

 

8/6 a.m.
Thinking about things loved and lost: Mom, and Daddy; the Upper Ridge house; my daughters, and the ways we were together when they were young; the so-many things I used to be; and you, Sweet One. I still don’t know if I’m willing to give you up. How can I give up all the light, sweet honey that has saved my life? Does that come at a cost, that juicy, golden food? Possibly, if it keeps me going back to a table that was cleared along ago.

But I’m afraid to let go – what am I, without all of you?

 

8/19 a.m.
Its been almost 6 years since you’ve been gone. It’s still hard, even though I know I’ve moved on, at least a little.

How long can I be sad, I wonder. How long can I live inside the bubble of grief, where everything new and real and bright seems like too much trouble, or too far away?

The place I keep trying to run away from, to leave, might not be this town, or this state, or the wearied circle of the same old wonderful friends, but the small gray enclosure that the love room has turned out to be. Can love rooms pale and grow tired? Eventually fail to give enough nourishment and liveliness to support a real life after a while? After this long, long while?

Maybe it would be easier if I were in Louisiana, with our people, even though none of them is you. Or maybe that would be just another extension of waiting for you. Its hard to think that, for I so love and long for that nourishment – that sweet food of being there.

But….I’m trying to see…what it would take…to be free. Though I’m not even sure I really want that, if it means giving up on the light you used to be. I’m just tired of the not-quite-darkness – the opaque barrier between me, and the lively rest of the world.

Sometimes, the glorious wrenching love room seems so much more appealing than the drudging, gritty tedium of everyday life. But – isn’t it a dream, really? Aren’t you, now, just a dream?

I’m starting to get mad. I don’t know who I’m angry with – myself, or you. Maybe I’m mad at the world that didn’t offer any bright thing in my small childhood life until you came along – which wasn’t very often, just enough for me to fall in love with you, know there was something to reach for. So I did. And it saved me, at the time.

But now – what? I have to let go? How would I do that?

On Coming Home

 

After my aunt died, I went home. Met newfound cousins, and renewed ties with those I had met before. I was surprised, even shocked, by how much I longed for and loved my old “home ground,” the people and the place. I decided that places can hold onto you – wrap gnarly tangles around your ankles so your feet won’t forget where they belong. The following is a little journal entry from a recent visit.

 

3/31/16
This place isn’t something you visit; it’s something you take in, ingest, absorb, so it becomes a part of you. You can never really leave.

This morning Bodi and I walk in cool air, through heavy fog, over very wet batture ground. In the grass, little colonies of blue-flowered lyre leaf sage still thrive, some seeding and some just starting to bloom. A red shouldered hawk calls, sails into trees. A biker speeds by on the levee as we move down to the water.

At the river, the sand bar seems higher despite the recent rain. The sand is packed down into ripples, the willows all flowering and thick. I pick some leafy twigs to take home and tincture, then sit on a log for a while to watch.

Lately, I am falling in love with the river. I don’t know what it is that captures me, sweeps me up like just another sodden bit of wood and carries me along – gets into my skin and dreams – becomes a compass point I have to turn to – am not really happy, or home, unless I can come on any morning to see its changes, settle onto a driftwood log and watch to see what the river churns up – check the sand bar for tracks of what’s been here since I was gone: beaver, mouse, egret, boar, maybe someday soon, when the heat notches up, an alligator. But I need all this, lately, like air or rest or prayer or food.

It takes me deep.