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…

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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