All posts by Corinne

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.

The Letters, Year 4

 

In the fourth year after my aunt’s death, grief took on a new shape. So many things felt like loss to me – the past, and certain changes, the state of the world, some health concerns, and the health of friends who were suffering. In a sense, the love room became even more intimate and intense – it was more part of my everyday life. But it also seemed to shift farther away.

I began to realize that I had to make a choice between continuing to look backward, and turning to face whatever future I might have without my aunt. I didn’t want to lose the love room we had made, but I needed to find ways to be happy.

The following are a few letters from Year 4:

 

9/5/13
Are all these little letters my way of not letting you go? I want to be with you. I want to hold up the love that cannot fade, even when the person does. So there is this trail I am laying down, this packet of notes: small, rounded pebbles of patience you could travel across if only you would.

 

9/13/13
I had thought this would end, me waiting for you.

 

9/15/13
Yesterday was my mom’s death day. Fifteen years now without her. Easier, in some ways, painful in others. Suppose she had lived longer? Suppose I could have seen her as just herself –one feisty, uncertain woman on the curious road of a life? Suppose our hearts had been able to touch – one real mother to one real child? What if I hadn’t been afraid?

I was motherless long before she was gone.

Why is it I could have that touching of hearts with you, and not with my own mom? And now you’re gone. You’re gone, and she is gone, and that’s that.

Suddenly I am sobbing, wrecked. This, the primal loss, has been hiding behind you all the while. Her absence slipped behind yours.

Does that mean I never cared for you? Or were you just the easier door into what needed to well up so I could be free? Easier – though wrenchingly hard – to lose?

In the midst of sobbing tears, I feel your smile. You have held the door open so I could find my way back to this, the original loss.

Why am I surprised?

 

9/29/13
Another report on the state of the world: weather and climate (definitely changing); islands (in danger of disappearing); fires (many, and out of control); money – who has it (the few) and who doesn’t (most everyone else); greedy power blocking any meaningful change. We barely know what to do, and what we do know seems too much, or not enough at all. In my turbulent storm of grief and aging, and coming to terms with hard things like you being gone, I hadn’t planned on this.

Losing you was one terrible thing. Losing the world? Unthinkable.

 

10/10/13
Dark night, with hazy new moon.

I miss you – or, rather, I miss missing you. At least before, when the loss was so raw, you felt closer to me.

 

10/11/13
Last night at a small gathering I talked with a co-worker about the love room and this jumble of letters written over three years. She was curious. She is losing her own parents, bit by bit, as they age. Her eyes gleamed with hope and tears, which made me want to work harder at pulling it together – this chronicle of what it means to love and to come apart, not because you chose to, but because it’s just the way life is: here, and gone. Lately, all I want to do is sit with the bulky, messy packet of notes, capture what it means to pay attention as caring unravels over time, show that these – the thready, silky scraps of leftover love – can be both ragged and good. Enough, when it’s all you have left.

 

10/13/13
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.

On Easing Into The End

 

In the third year after my aunt’s death, grief began to change. Somehow my heart that had been ravaged and torn seemed to be growing a new depth, a new acceptance that could include both the wretchedness of loss, and a new way forward. The following is a little entry written from a friend’s camp in mid-coast Maine.

 

8/7/13
This morning Bodi and I walked through raggedy unmown fields that were heavy with dew, honeybees rising up from wildflowers in the early sun. At Eleanor’s, there were boisterous dog greetings, and time for tea and chatting.

We talked about aging and what to do about the future, how to get our needs met, and about loneliness – the scary fact of bad things happening when there’s no one to help. And all the responsibility, and who might share it as we age. And about grief, how to let everything go and still love the life you have. Eleanor said her sister is grieving after suffering a loss, is overwhelmed.

I remember the overwhelming part after you’d left. I think I am coming out of it now, though there is a limit to how much I can do without needing recovery time. Still, something of that lowness has loosened up, is coming to a kind of close.

This writing, too, might be rounding out. Here I am, at Eleanor’s, where I came in those hardest times to take breaks from the work that was endless and all the phone calls that were scary. After you’d gone, I came here to recover, slog through the grayest of months. To wait for little touches of the love room, the sweetness and surprises of you showing up.

Here, the quiet pond lapping over itself, owls booming in the night, the veeries and osprey, eagles and loons, the ocean at Owl’s Head, wide green fields, the wild silence – all teased something apart in me, helped soothe and soften the impossible truth of the end. Your end. Here, something was still good, alive. Lush, and trembling.

Now I paddle out over warm amber water, dip a hand into the pond, and somehow, maybe, the joy that wells up in my own life spills over into the well of all lives loved, especially yours. My life is still breathing into the love room, keeping you afloat.

On Small Miracles

 

I’ve always imagined that at the moment of death, something miraculous must happen – something that can, if time and circumstances allow, pierce through the ordinariness of our day-to-day lives and take us into an experience of what mystics through time have called “the numinous” – a direct experience of divine mystery. That the holiness, the quintessential meaning that underlies the whole world, would be exposed and present in an undeniable and palpable way.

I wasn’t with Aunt Min when she died – I was far away. But when my dad passed away, I was close by. Though I wasn’t with him in those final moments, I was able to see something that, to this day, I consider a great gift.

Stricken with lung and liver cancer, my dad was able to be at home for most of his illness. But in his last few days, things went awry, and he was hospitalized, put on oxygen, and was in and out of awareness. On what would turn out to be his last day, I visited him at the hospital. Aunt Min was there at the same time, and we sat and talked quietly while he napped. Suddenly, out of a deep sleep, my dad sat straight up, and stared into the space beyond his bed. He said nothing, but his face expressed shock, amazement, and then great relief and freedom. It’s hard to describe what happened in that room, but the air was charged with a kind of miraculous presence, and my dad was changed. Instead of struggling, he slumped back down in the bed and fell into a deep rest. What I “got” at that moment was that my dad had seen that he was “innocent.” Whatever he had been carrying (as we all do, in so many ways) – a sense of his failures, his “sins,” his fundamental wrongness, had been released, and he had seen the truth.

I guess one could surmise that perhaps subconsciously I had held my dad as “guilty” of being less than a perfect father, or held some grudge against him, and in that moment I let that go. But I have to say that something much larger than forgiveness of any little resentment happened in that moment.

Soon after that experience, I left for home. A few hours later, my sister called to tell me that my dad was gone. He had finally let go. I was wrecked, of course. But I have never forgotten the wrenching grace of those moments right before he died. Sometimes those most challenging times of great pain and wrenching change break the everyday world open and we can see, and feel, that which holds us all up. Such forgiveness. Such great love.

 

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Life is Calling Me Back

 

After almost two years of waiting at the love room door, I was tugged back into life. Part of my attention was still turned toward my aunt, but another part began to lean forward. The following is a little note from those early days of transition from grief into hope.

 

5/5/12

The thick cloud bank of loss that I’ve been breathing in, drinking up, chewing, and digesting for these many months of you being gone has been world, sustenance, breath.

And now is shifting. Life is calling me back. I want to do some gentle things – pay attention to the garden, poke fingers into dark damp soil, plant a few seeds. Check to see what might be coming up; be excited at what I find. I want to get to know more people, think about the future, clean up and throw things out, and – who knows – maybe find someone to love.

But what will happen to our love room if I slip back into life? Will it hang, suspended, in the ethers of which it was made, gauzy walls flapping in the winds of emptiness? Will it be a little shrine of your life and mine, intertwined, marking the spot where love stretched across the netherworld of the mysteries of being and not?

Or will the shimmery space of our connection do what every real and natural thing must – lay itself down, come apart, offer itself into the air like the apple blossoms that let go of the branch, drift down in a shower of petals with the promise of another life yet to come, another season of fruiting and feast?

I am guessing that’s the truth, for nothing real holds on forever. Everything must give itself over to what can still become.

On Humor and Grief

 

Life is just too weird for words. Life – and death – astound us. This crazy, motley journey of living – and of dying – can seem pretty ridiculous at times.

And then, when grief seems impossible to navigate, humor has a way of piercing through the ridiculousness and taking us back into what’s possible. We can make it through. Nothing can totally crush us. We’re part of the unfolding mystery of the world. We’re stronger than we think. And we’re really not alone.

One of my fondest memories of the time after my mom died was of being at the funeral home before the viewing hours with my sister, Celeste, and my daughters, Alison and Lara. We were all gathered around my mom’s coffin, and the funeral home manager was giving us time to be alone before he brought the visitors in. Standing around my mom’s body, we began talking about how “snarky” she could be – sharing some of the things that drove us all crazy and were so funny. I can’t remember what set us off, but we started giggling together. At that point, the funeral attendant opened the doors to let people in, but when he saw us, he thought we were sobbing. He backed out, slammed the door, and left us alone. We cracked up even more. We kept trying to stop laughing, but every time he opened the door again and then raced out, we’d start chortling. We were wiping our eyes; my sister was pinching her cheeks to make herself stop laughing. When we could finally get some control, we all agreed that my mom would have loved this, and been right in there laughing with us.

Much research in the last few years has focused on the importance of humor in a grieving process. A blog, The Utility of Laughter in Times of Grief, lists some of the impacts humor can have. Physical effects can include easing physical pain, strengthening the immune system, decreasing stress, elevating mood, and decreasing depression and anxiety. Emotional effects include putting things in perspective, enhancing problem solving, triggering creativity, allowing one to take her/himself less seriously, and gaining a sense of control over circumstances. Social impacts include increased bonding among family and friends, diffusing conflicts, and boosting morale.

An article by Mark Liebenow in the Huffington Post of May 2016 reminds us that humor can be sacred as well. “Laughter is a door that creates a crack in our rational mind and allows insights to enter in.”

Of course, sometimes humor is just another form of denial. “Gallows humor,” an avoidance or trivialization of the seriousness of the situation, is an attempt to sidestep the wretchedness of grief. But when humor bubbles up spontaneously, and especially when it’s shared, a gentle and healing light is shed on the impossible reality of loss. The gifts of love linger, no matter what. Leibenow notes that every culture has its clowns or fools who remind people that “there is more going on in life than what they can see.” Laughter and humor can be gentle doors back into the life we once loved, even when our beloveds are gone.

On Suffering

 

When I was about 10 years old, I thought a lot about pain – why it is that a God who was supposed to care about us, and to be in charge of everything, would allow life to be so hard. I asked my mom about that one day. She answered that God wanted us to suffer so we could know how good life really was. I remember walking out of the house, and something rising up in me – a voice, a kind of deeper “knowing” that said, No! That’s not the truth. God doesn’t want us to suffer.

Now, of course, after decades of arguing with the reality of life, I’ve come to understand that my mom was talking about the awkward gifts that pain can bring: suffering pushes us into deeper questions, deeper realities of the paradoxes of life, things that we can only apprehend with the heart, not the mind.

In reading theological approaches to suffering, I have come to believe that not only does the Divine care when we suffer, but that Spirit suffers with us, and with the struggles and pains of the whole world. And sometimes it is in great suffering that we become most loving, most understanding. Out of the hell of suffering, we grow fierce and tender hearts that can bear both the joys and the wretchedness of life.

In an essay entititled “Life as a Way to Understand the Meaning of Death,” Rabbi and religious scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel commented on what happens to our comprehension of life following loss.

“Death is grim, harsh, cruel, a source of infinite grief. Our first reaction is consternation. We are stunned and distraught. Slowly, our sense of dismay is followed by a sense of mystery. Suddenly, a whole life has veiled itself in secrecy. Our speech stops, our understanding fails. In the presence of death there is only silence, and a sense of awe.”

That awe after my aunt died was not just an intellectual or even emotional experience, but a trembling of my whole being that deepened my ability to live with, and even embrace, the complexities and mysteries of this complicated and multifaceted journey with courage and great love. Every day now, I am brought to my knees by love.

Still Keeping You Afloat

 

As loss began to loosen its tenacious grip, a visit to a friend’s camp on the Maine mid-coast allowed time for reflecting back on the journey of grief. Here is a little letter from Year 3 of the letters.

 

8/7/13
This morning Bodi and I walked through raggedy unmown fields that were heavy with dew, honeybees rising up from wildflowers in the early sun. At Eleanor’s, there were boisterous dog greetings, and time for tea and chatting.

We talked about aging and what to do about the future, how to get our needs met, and about loneliness – the scary fact of bad things happening when there’s no one to help. And all the responsibility, and who might share it as we age. And about grief, how to let everything go and still love the life you have. Eleanor said her sister is grieving after suffering a loss, is overwhelmed.

I remember the overwhelming part after you’d left. I think I am coming out of it now, though there is a limit to how much I can do without needing recovery time. Still, something of that lowness has loosened up, is coming to a kind of close.

This writing, too, might be rounding out. Here I am, at Eleanor’s, where I came in those hardest times to take breaks from the work that was endless and all the phone calls that were scary. After you’d gone, I came here to recover, slog through the grayest of months. To wait for little touches of the love room, the sweetness and surprises of you showing up.

Here, the quiet pond lapping over itself, owls booming in the night, the veeries and osprey, eagles and loons, the ocean at Owl’s Head, wide green fields, the wild silence – all teased something apart in me, helped soothe and soften the impossible truth of the end. Your end. Here, something was still good, alive. Lush, and trembling.

Now I paddle out over warm amber water, dip a hand into the pond, and somehow, maybe, the joy that wells up in my own life spills over into the well of all lives loved, especially yours. My life is still breathing into the love room, keeping you afloat.