Over the Thanksgiving weekend, my daughter and I made a pilgrimage east to be with my husband’s family. Five hours flying, then another five hours driving as we made our way up into the beauty that is the Adirondacks. It is ironic that is this gathering was meant to be a family reunion. We had not all been together – descendants of mother, Betty and father, Chaunce, in over seven years. Last fall Mike and I had travelled to Maine to vacation and hang with his cousin and it was there that the plan was made to gather all the family for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to go. This time of the year, this royal flush of holidays, is particularly charged, laden with rituals and traditions – glaring now with his missingness. But I am beyond grateful that we went. He would have loved this weekend. I can imagine him there; relishing his clan, eating too much, challenging his cousins to chess, running out with them to play soccer in the snow, curling up with a book by the fire, giving me his “I’m so very happy we are here,” grin. Many of the family had not been able to make it to his memorial, so it felt good to come together over dessert to share about him; bittersweet that we were all gathered at the table because of him and he was not there. Though oddly, we miscounted the number of place settings
I had been waiting for this planting day for weeks. Journaling about it, sketching ideas, taking trips to the nursery for inspiration. The day dawned beautiful, bright but not too hot. November 18, a perfect time for planting in Southern California. My landscaper had come the day before to do some of the heavier work – installing decomposed granite between the pavers, putting lights up in the trees, planting the larger specimens. But I had always imagined that the planting of the garden would be my work. Thanks to my daughter, several of her friends showed up on the doorstep to help. They were young, strong, and happily willing, “What do you need? Tell us what to do?” With some initial instruction about proper planting protocol, I jokingly called the triple ‘P’ – we began. (Click here for info on creating watershed wise landscapes). For the next few hours we dug and watered and eased plants into the ground. Gently, gently I reminded. We started in the backyard, moved into the front. Neighbors came up, interested to see what we were up to, excited to view the finished product. Over and over I thanked these young folks for coming to help. Over and over they repeated they’d enjoyed it. For several it took them back to their childhoods where there had been family gardens to tend. My daughter acknowledged that she hadn’t touched our garden since she was six years old. (I am not allowed to post that picture!) At
A friend had told me about it: Our House. A grief support group where people gather to speak of their losses, to share their grief. Last night was my first meeting. I looked around the group, women and men from different walks of life, all gathered together linked by this common denominator. The room was silent, there was none of the typical chattering, we all knew why we were there. As the facilitator put so well, we had all become members of a club no one wanted to join. I wasn’t sure if this would be a good fit for me. There were concerns about my ability to hold everyone's grief as well as my own. Would I find myself frustrated that I couldn't share all that I needed to? Would I start to weep and not be able to get a word out at all? But in that first evening those fears were put to rest. We took turns sharing our names, our spouse’s name, and how they had died, bringing both ourselves and our loved ones into the circle. Tears rolled silently down cheeks, some rocked in their seats, and as each one found the courage to reveal their story I felt their pain along with my own. In a society that has little patience for grief, and certainly not in public, there is something exquisite about a container such as this. For 90 minutes, we allowed the masks to drop; we did not have to pretend or be strong. We sat as
Mike was a carpenter. He loved doing projects around the house, especially wood working. His favorite pastime upon retiring was to make things – our bed frame, a ‘window’ between the kitchen and the pantry, my jewelry box. I was always impressed by the time and care he took with the details, it was his form of creative expression. It gave him so much pleasure. A week ago I sold his tools. Not all his tools, but the big ones, the ones I would never use. On impulse, riding a wave of making space and claiming the house as mine, I put two saws up for sale. Within an hour I had three inquiries. I had priced them to sell, was not interested in haggling; simply wanted them out of the garage so I could free up some room. Logical. A fellow came that evening, tall and lanky. He and his roommate, an architect, didn’t know too much, but wanted to create a wood shop in their garage; these tools would make a great start. “Can we turn it on?” He asked, as he sized up the chop saw. I wasn’t quite sure how, these were Mike’s tools. I never touched them. But between us we plugged it in and found the switch. As the motor roared to life the lights in the garage dimmed. “Looks like it works.” Yup. The other item was an old table saw. Mike must have brought it out from Ohio. It was a bit
Quivering, shivering, Hummingbird heart. Shoulders tight, breath quick, Belly clenching and wrenching. This was no leaping from a plane, no diving from a cliff. This was ‘simply’ my dread at the thought of travelling back from Corvallis, Oregon to Los Angeles, California. It was intended as my first solo flight, Portland seemed like a safe choice. It is a beautiful city with great public transportation, easy to get to, and best of all I had three wonderful friends who now make their home there. I registered with AirBnB, was delighted at the cozy room I found, bought my tickets, and rented a car. This was good, I knew how to do this. There was a tremor of anticipation at this undertaking, the potential for pleasure in discovering a new town. Perhaps I needed to prove to myself I could do this. But to be expected, the experience was mixed. Memories stirred as I thought of how much fun Mike and I had travelling together. The adventure of figuring out transportation, the joy of discovering some hidden corner, the pleasure of hikes in the woods, and bedtime curled up cozy. Numerous times I wanted to snap a picture and text it to him, “Hey honey, look at this – a wishing tree, a great café, my cool room…” In my mind seeing his reaction as he’d text me back with his day’s activities. Yet woven into the sadness was also the acknowledgement that bit by bit I was relearning
I’ve started gorging on food, To full and beyond. Eat and stuff, eat and stuff. Chicken and bread and cheese and peanut butter. Seeking to fill the void. But not just the void, the Other. Going back to the refrigerator again and again. Devouring seconds and thirds. Shoveling mouthfuls of rice while I stand at the sink. It hurts and still I eat. It is not loneliness that hungers. It is not even grief. I have grown oddly comfortable with grief. I know what it feels like to sink to my knees and sob. To give in to the flood of tears. But this feeding of the void is something else. What flesh and blood and muscle and sinew must I give you To appease this hunger? Listen and you will learn, my Dear. It lurks in the shadows, this. In the deep dark shadows, this. No candle burns here, no sweet light. This is not for white lace hankies and delicate tears. You are chained in the darkness Buried beneath the grief. Hunger, you are here. My Dark Queens, you are here. Anguish. Fury. Rage. Impotence. Guilt. What do you need to be set free? How do I howl you free? Feed us. They cry. See us. They beg. Bring us into the light! They roar. In the safety of the circle I surrender. Open the doors to the dark dungeon. Let them rise up in me.