Things Change, People Die

We know this…Most of us can name things and people that we’ve lost over the course of our lives. I certainly can. However, it really came home to me (again) yesterday when I was continuing with sorting and discarding “stuff.” There is a normal accumulation of things that we do as humans. In fact Stephanie Vogt in her book, A Year to Clear, says that clearing our stuff is a lifelong process. We can count on accumulating and releasing things ad infinitum. However, I believe that I would feel better if I had that sense of spaciousness that she offers in her book. I’d like to look out over the landscape of my little cottage and feel more order, beauty and space now or at least a year from now.

Yesterday, I pulled a couple of boxes of old check registers from the closet shelf. I googled how long do I need to keep check registers. One answer was one year followed by other answers that said at least ten years or perhaps five years. So I decided on seven years. I would hold onto these for seven years. One bit of logic from the google exploration was that they take up so little space so it would be fine to hold onto them forever. My thinking is that it would be one less thing for my family to have to deal with when my time comes.

I started with registers from 2009. The Bank of America branch that I was with in 2009, had dissolved, closed and left us without a B of A locally. So I transferred my account to another local bank. The registers were bound by circular wires. I removed them from the wires and shredded the papers. As I did so, I read who the checks were paid to…I decided to list the people and the shops, cafes or businesses that no longer existed. I came up with at least forty (40) businesses and/or people who were no longer here. The businesses had closed and the people had either died or moved away. It sort of shocked me to realize this. I frequented many of the businesses more than once in 2009. And these people who passed or moved, there were varying degrees of connection to them.

So you adjust, adapt to these losses or changes or find a way to get the need that was once met by them in another way. And sometimes, you just miss them. A sort of nostalgia surrounds them. Like New Sammy’s restaurant in Talent, Oregon near Ashland. Before I had ever been there, I had heard that it was truly a gourmet restaurant with the highest standards. And that the chef was a woman with a Ph.D. who turned to a career in cooking par excellence. That her husband was a wine connoisseur,  a sommelier, who matched the perfect wine with any dessert and entrée. And to have the fullest experience, it was wise to allow his recommended pairings.

I put off going there because I didn’t have anyone to go with, the waiting list was three months out, it was expensive. Then, one day, I was in Ashland and happened to run into this handsome young man that I had met casually in Mount Shasta where we both lived. In the course of our casual conversation, he told me that he was going to New Sammy’s for lunch! I said “I’ve always wanted to go there.” He invited me to meet him there in half-an-hour. I was a believer in serendipities and spontaneity so I met him there. I had what I would say was the best dining experience of my entire life! I agreed to the full meal experience with a most delicious risotto that sat in a broth that I spooned into my mouth until the plate was almost dry. I don’t remember the wine that her husband paired with this dish, but I do remember the satisfaction, the complementary quality of the wine to the risotto.

Then came the dessert, a heavenly chocolate soufflé also paired with a dessert wine. The complete pleasure that I felt at the end of this meal, comfortable and happy cannot be described in words. Gastronomical delights is the phrase that suddenly popped into my mind.

Gabriel, the young man that I was with…the conversation flowed and there was an ease about the whole experience. He was a regular customer there, so he knew the routine and I felt guided by his expertise. Gabriel had stomach ulcers…and he delighted in fine dining which, at times could exacerbate his condition. Being a gourmand, an appreciator of fine dining, this was a bind for him. Yet he allowed himself this pleasure on occasion. I noticed, in my 2009 check register, a couple of checks made out to him. I could only imagine that it was connected to me repaying him for our shared meal. Did we go together a second time? I can’t quite remember. I know that I went by myself one more time. And I vowed I would go again.

However, since then, the sommelier husband has died and recently, the chef closed their restaurant. I knew that cooking was a love of her life as was her husband.
All of this by looking through check registers. Gabriel has died also. A few years ago, I stopped by a friend’s house to say a brief “Hello” and make a delivery…I often shared cake or pies that I baked with friends. Gabriel was sitting on the front porch talking with this friend. I didn’t want to interrupt, made a brief apologetic hello in his direction and left. Gabriel died a few days later–he crashed his car into a tree late one night.

All of this and more stashed in my memory as I shredded some old check registers. There are so many stories that we carry within us. It’s surprising what is invoked by the act of clearing some clutter. It’s no wonder that we put it off. Stephanie Vogt says that is one reason why clearing clutter is so hard…there are the attachments we have ascribed to things. They conjure up so much. I’m taking it slow.

What are you clearing, releasing, saying farewell to? How’s it going for you?

A Winter’s Tale

One Greek myth is the story of Demeter and Persephone.  When Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter (her mother) conducted a search near and far.  When she finally discovered Persephone’s whereabouts, she commanded Zeus to bring her home.  Persephone had been deceived into eating a pomegranate seed–this action decided her fate.  She would have to spend fall and winter in the underworld with Hades.  Spring and summer, she could surface and be with her mother.

The season of winter is associated with hibernation, inward time and perhaps a time for grief.  In December of 2018, I lost my sister, a long-time companion and my ex-husband had a stroke.  He died ten months later…that was three intimate losses in a period of ten months.  I began this grief journey one year ago…although, really, as I watched these three people decline in health, the grief was there.

One thing about loss, besides the actual physical loss is the loss of “the dream.”  Whatever dreams I had attached to each of these persons died with them.  I was also then mourning the loss of the dreams.  When I came across the following poem by the Persian poet, Hafiz, (1315-1390 approximately), I understood the need to grieve and transform our lost dreams.

Forgive the Dream
by Hafiz

All your images of winter
I see against your sky.

I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.

They exist
Because God and love
Have yet to become real enough

To allow you to forgive
The dream.

You still listen to an old alley song
That brings your body pain;

Now chain your ears
To His pacing drum and flute.

Fix your eyes upon
The magnificent arch of His brow

That supports
And allows this universe to expand.

Your hands, feet, and heart are wise
And want to know the warmth
Of a Perfect One’s circle.

A true saint
Is an earth in eternal spring.

Inside the veins of a petal
On a blooming redbud tree

Are hidden worlds
Where Hafiz sometimes
Resides.

I will spread
A Persian carpet there
Woven with light.

We can drink wine
From a gourd I hollowed
And dried on the roof of my house.

I will bring bread I have kneaded
That contains my own
Divine genes

And cheese from a calf I raised.

My love for your Master is such
You can just lean back
And I will feed you
This truth:

Your wounds of love can only heal
When you can forgive
This dream.  

Hafiz’s images are so precise that I find comfort in this poem.

How do you address your lost dreams?

Bobbing

2018 was the year of too much loss, continuous.  Since I didn’t come with an owner’s manual, I couldn’t flip to page 274 and find a rule on how to cope with such circumstances.  Instead, I finally resorted to writing this poem…

****
Right Now
© by Christine O’Brien

Things are breaking loose.
Demeanors are cracking.
Boulders crumbling.  Hairs
out of place.   There is no
holding it together.  No
brave facade or
pasted on smile.  No pretense
of being fine.
Mismatched clothes
–who cares, right?
A hole in the toe of my
favorite socks–
wear them anyway.
A slip with a worn elastic,
waistband slid to my ankles
in the grocery store
the other day.
I stepped out of it
stuffed it in my purse.
The somber clerk
at the checkout noticed
as a sideways smile
tugged at the corners
of his straight mouth.

“How are you?” people ask.
“Everything” seems to be
the most honest
answer.
Anger, fear, sadness, confusion,
love, hate, acceptance.  Each
emotion, a wash of color
over a desire for
balance.  Whatever that is.
What to do
when worlds collide
when there is too much
loss, grief, uncertainty.
When Grief is an actual ocean
and I sit in the middle of it.
There’s nothing wrong,
nothing to fix,
no best thought,
neither perfect world
nor religious panacea.
I just sit here in
my little craft, bobbing.
I have declared bobbing
a state of being.
North, South, East West
no direction at all.
Bobbing is an up and down and sideways
motion.
This is my life right now.

****
Writing a poem at least helped to name things.

 

 

Unfinished Business

When my friend, Carolyn, died in 2003, it was for me a generous (on her part) initiation into grief and loss.

In the final months of her life, Carolyn pondered the questions:  “What have I contributed?”  and “Did I do what I came here to do?”

My reply at the time was something like “Look at the people you’ve gathered around you.  Look at how they love you.  Isn’t that an amazing achievement?”

We tend to measure our success by the standards of a world that has defined success in terms of “how many toys you have when you die” and how much money you’ve accrued.

One’s life story is not so neat as a Hollywood ending or a well-scripted novel.  It’s a messy business with threads left dangling, unresolved issues, an apartment, room or house full of incomplete projects, and furniture, laundry, unreplied-to-letters, dishes in the sink, dreaded clutter.  There’s the ending that comes too soon before things are properly resolved or healed, put in order or even accepted.

In the small picture, everyone is not a hero.  And probably, it’s an unfair standard of measurement–heroic or not heroic.  One doesn’t often or always come out looking “good,” their life having been resolved by their dying.  Do you think that the works in progress that we are continue beyond this lifetime?  We can’t, though we might want to, make heroes of all of our dead.  They are the ancestors, but not necessarily of heroic stature.  I’ve been to  funerals where superstitiously or sentimentally or desirously, relatives and others search their memories to say something kind, albeit false regarding the dear departed.  Although tainted by loss, grief and fear these words don’t ring true.  Truth is a partial tale told under these sad circumstances.

When my mother-in-law died in 2007, for me there was a confusion of feelings.  I wondered why my feelings were so congested, constricted, why I couldn’t cry as forcefully as I thought that I should.  Was it because I was ignoring a large part of my experience with her?  So much had gone unspoken between us…she rivalled me for her son’s affection.  Finally, after our divorce, he was all hers.

What’s up to me is my part in the story.  A backwards look, a retrospective from the vantage point of a completion of sorts that occurs when someone dies.  And yes, let’s add a dose of compassion for this human condition.

Tending a Blog

When I first began writing this blog nearly two years ago, I had a direction in mind.  It was to write and share inspirational vignettes that would prompt you, the reader, to write.  Then, for about three months, I blogged about the final years of my parents lives.  Presently, I am allowing the blog to decide which direction it wants to go in next.  At this time, I don’t want to assign a theme.  Rather, I want to let the blog morph, to be a bit eclectic and finally to choose its own direction.  When I paint intuitively, that is precisely how a piece evolves and settles on what it is going to be.  So I guess this is an experiment of sorts.

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Having not blogged for a couple of months has provided a much needed immersion into grieving.  I have followed the breadcrumbs of grief to witness how I grieve.  I have noted how I sit with irrevocable change.  I participated in a two-month long grief group.  I’ve felt the safe womb space that we were held in apart from the rest of the world.  I noticed how we bonded into the commonness of the experience of losing a loved one(s).  I experienced a feeling of family with relative strangers.  At the end of each session, we hesitated  to leave the little room where we met.  This was without a doubt a safe place for each one of us to feel what we were feeling without masking it for the benefit of others.  Sacred space and time apart.

Years ago, I remember being in the workplace.  A fellow worker lost her husband suddenly.  She was given three days off of work to make arrangements and to grieve this profound loss.  I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to expect that she return to work without having that necessary time to grieve and comprehend the changes to her world.  I considered that she was initially in shock.  It takes awhile to  sink into the recognition that things would never be as they once were.  That he wouldn’t be coming home after work.  That they wouldn’t discuss the education and challenges of rearing their four children or their future plans…all evaporated in a moment.  I remember how she seemed to put on a mask for the benefit of her co-workers–was it heroic or something that she felt forced into–to pretend that she wasn’t a crumbling mess inside?

How do we educate ourselves and others on the significance of allowing grief into our lives?  In some cultures, the mourner wears black for a year.  When people in the community see this person, they understand, “Ah, he/she is in mourning.”  They do not expect you to “Get over it” or “Put on a happy face.”  Grief is recognized and honored as a tender time.  In grief, there is a certain vulnerability that the mourner experiences.  Sometimes you might want to hide away; other times you crave company.  Often, you need to talk about the loved one or your feelings of loss.  But only if you feel safe enough to do so.

That said, I can see how grief is a unique experience for any individual.  How do you tend your losses?  How do you grieve?

Your comments are welcome.

Poetry Handles the Big Stuff for Me

Salty Tears
© by Christine O’Brien

“Be brave, stay busy.”
Well-intentioned remedies for a broken heart,
but she’s no longer here for me to see.

Taste of salty tears
as I bake pumpkin cookies.
I’m sure she would do
something like this
if it were me who died.
Like Water for Chocolate
will those who partake
share this terrible grief?
I wonder.
Would it heal something in them?

This crazy, lonely, isolating grief.
Sometimes, it’s hard to breathe
and a falling leaf which softly
brushes my shoulder recalls her.
And then,
there are so many falling leaves…

The uncried tears from my entire life
tumble
until I’m wrung out;
and then there are more.
I search my house for
every tangible thing she gave me
–a scrap of blue velvet,
an old Christmas card,
the wired butterfly earrings
she fashioned for me–
all become more precious.

Any command to be done with this grief
too soon
rings false.

****
This is one reason why I love poetry.  It helps me to navigate the tough stuff. Losing a dear friend, suddenly, a few years ago, I went into shock.  How could I make sense of this? How would I traverse this painful chasm?  While well-intentioned others want us to put on a brave front, everything inside says to feel this loss all the way down to the bone. Poetry has helped me with this countless times. Sometimes it is through reading other’s poetry that I find validation and support. Frequently, it is through my own writing that I am rescued.

WRITING PROMPT:
What about you?  As a writer, artist, poet, how do you handle the big stuff?  Do you try to avoid it?  Or do you enter this territory when you are called to? How does your creative process and chosen genre support you in writing or painting your way through loss or change?  Write about this in your journal.

WRITING TIP:
As we learn to process and integrate “the big stuff” of life, we become writers with depth.

Have a peaceful day.

butterflyearrings