Posts Tagged With: sorrow

Best Advice I’ve Gotten In the Past Year? “Practice Radical Self-Care”

Great recs found here.

Great recs found here.

The best advice I got during the past twelve months wasn’t directed at me. And it arrived through an unlikely source, a Goodreads question and answer session.

I don’t usually follow or sign up for these sorts of things. I think the author’s work normally speaks for itself. But I made an exception this one time.  When Anne Lamott, the author of “Help! Thanks! Wow!” among other hilarious, heartfelt and honest books, accepted a stint on the Featured Author Chat over at Goodreads, I jumped on board eager to pick up some writerly advice and a few laughs.

The directness in Anne’s writing reminds me of my best friend who passed away early this year. They both have a no-holds-barred approach to communication. Say it like it is. Don’t worry about offending anyone. Speak truth. Let it all fall where it ought to.

Feels like I get an infusion of new oxygen in my blood after reading Anne’s books. I figured I’d more than enjoy reading what she has to say in a different medium.

Little did I know how helpful it would be.

Sure, she answered queries about writing and about her personal life. But then, a surprise question and an even more surprising answer came through.

In response to a reader’s question about how to deal with depression and discouragement, Anne Lamott’s answer jumped out at me as if it’d been highlighted with fluorescent green marker.

“Depressed and discouraged is really hard, and plenty to deal with. My response, if it was me, was to practice radical self-care, by being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself, exactly as I would be with a friend. Love and gentleness are always the answer. “ – Anne Lamott, from a Goodreads discussion 12/12/13

“Practice radical self-care.”

I’ve said that to myself over and over ever since I read it. Even more so since a funeral and burial and the ensuing grief that’s hovered all year.

So we’ve all heard that “self-care” part of the equation over the years, right? But “radical?” And how do you care for yourself in a radical way?

I turn to my usual sources. I like the third Merriam-Webster definition of radical.

“Radical: very different from the usual or traditional : extreme.”

So I’ve looked at how I normally care for myself and I attempt to do the opposite, or at least a ninety degree shift.

Sounds difficult. But I’ve given it a try anyway.

So how do I “practice radical self-care”?

  • Letting myself ignore all my lists occasionally and the usual side of guilt they’re served with
  • I say “not right now” instead of “sure, anytime, anything”
  • Simply sitting and letting my mind go blank, often
  • Crying when the tears want to leak out
  • Laughing even if it goes against all reason or feels wrong
  • Planning something unprecedented, like getting a manicure, or a spur of the moment trip
  • Saying “No”
  • Reminding MSH that I’m not depressed, just grieving
  • Practicing my depression treatment steps, just in case
  • Accepting that sorrow and faith can coexist in the same brain
  • Journaling, several times a day if necessary, letting words carry some of the weight
  • Napping, earlier bedtimes, later wake times
  • Talking about how I’m feeling

The other part of what Anne said, I’d applied in situations involving others, but rarely with myself.

“Being exquisitely kind and gentle and patient with myself.

The key word there: “exquisitely,” as in “acutely perceptive, discriminating, intense.”

Kind, patient and gentle with myself. How could I go wrong? That was easier the first month or two after my friend died. But then I hit some preconceived notion of “times up” on the grieving thing and stopped being so easy on myself.
Photo by Kettie Olsen

Photo by Kettie Olsen

So I try again and again. And I remind myself again, as Anne said, “Love and gentleness are always the answer.”

I get radical. I care for myself. Practice exquisite patience and gentleness. I apply the concepts of love and kindness to myself. Kind of extreme ideas for me.

It’s a daily, sometimes hourly process working through depression, discouragement and grief.

I owe big thanks for such unusually worded advice from someone who’s been there to someone still wandering the path toward a new normal.

*~~*~~*

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Categories: Cancer, Death, Hope | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunted by Dinosaurs and Other Big Scary Things

Illustration by Charles R Knight - http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/history/extras.

Illustration by Charles R Knight – http://www.miketaylor.org.uk/dino/history/extras. (No, this isn’t from the movie, sorry.)

Friday Letter to My Kids –

Dear J, J, L and L,

You’re gonna think I lost my mind.

I’m haunted today by the movie “Land Before Time.”

I tried to drive it out by singing my super-shortened version of “The Wizard of Oz” soundtrack, but it wouldn’t leave. I tried eating chocolate, but that didn’t help. Homemade french fries might drown out the image. Maybe I can exorcise it by watching all three extended versions of “Lord of the Rings.” (That’d probably do it, but it would take all night and half of tomorrow.)

I think I just have to face the music and the script and see where it leads us.

I’m fairly certain that L and L have the dialogue and the songs committed to memory. In fact, a mini-soundtrack probably resides in every cell in your bodies. Or at least in your bones. You watched that movie so much I think we very nearly wore the tape out.

The main melody, the very first time, sounds nice and sweet. The four-hundredth time grates a little. I kept  getting bits of that song sneaking into my head today.

Then I could hear Little Foot yelling, “Mother, mother!!” like he does, in that happy I’ve-found-my-mother-after-thinking-I’d-lost-her-forever way he has. And then I’d hear her answering him by simply saying his name, “Little Foot,” with a lilt to her voice that any child would cherish. But that was all I got all day. No other dialogue. No words beyond them calling each other.

So I had to look up some quotes and figure out what I’m supposed to get from this little haunting from your young past.

And there, as one of the first few lines of dialogue,  my answer presented itself. I’ll share.

Littlefoot’s mother: Dear, sweet, Littlefoot, do you remember the way to the Great Valley?

Littlefoot: I guess so. But why do I have to know if you’re going to be with me?

Littlefoot’s mother: I’ll be with you. Even if you can’t see me.

Littlefoot: What do you mean I can’t see you? I can always see you.

And then, I understood why this little animated film from 1988 dragged itself out of the dusty recesses of my gray matter and danced around on the surface of my brain all day.

My mom, your grandma, just finished a weeklong visit here and, as you know, on the drive home had another stroke or something very much like it. When I got the call my heart stopped. Oh, she’s okay now, but once again I had to face that void, that inevitable nothingness. I don’t like that.

The Great Valley, for me anyway, serves as a metaphor for everything my Mom taught me and hoped for me. The directions for getting there, a symbol of her caring, all that she’s given me and her enduring love in spite of it all.

Poor Little Foot, so young and naïve. Oh, to be like that, completely oblivious to the possibility of loss, of death, of sorrow so deep you’re sure you can’t ever climb out.

“Why do I have to know if you’re going to be with me?”

Mom has always been with me. She’s in my bones, in my skin, in the way I hesitate before I answer. Even though I moved away from home a zillion years ago, she’s still a vital part of my life. Yes, she really is, even if we don’t talk on the phone very often or see each other more than once or twice a year. Just knowing she’s a phone call or a day’s drive away makes life okay. Some day things won’t be okay. Ouch.

I guess what I want to say is this:

“I’ll be with you. Even if you can’t see me.”

That’s what I want to feel and believe about my own Mom. That’s what I hope you feel and believe about me. Although, I plan on sticking around and haunting you, in real life, for a long, long time.

Also, be careful what movies you let your kids watch a gazillion times over, it’ll probably come back to haunt you in some very strange ways.

Love always,

Mom

~~~~~

p.s. Here’s the song “If We Hold On Together” if you want to listen to it.

"Bluebird of Happymess"

“Bluebird of Happymess”

“Let your heart guide you. It whispers so listen closely.” ~Land Before Time

Categories: Death, Friday Letters | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

There is No Measure for Sorrow

Mom used to do this thing that I found a bit creepy. But then, I was quite young and had half a lifetime yet to live before I’d begin a journey of understanding.  It’s been half a lifetime at this point and I think I’m starting to understand her behavior.

The first thing Mom looked at when the afternoon newspaper arrived, oddly wasn’t the comics, which I went for. Nope. Mom looked up the obituaries. First thing. Every day.

Bizarre.

That’s what I thought at the time.

What more is there to say?

What more is there to say?

I know now that she didn’t want to miss an opportunity to express condolence to someone she might know who could use the support and love. An old classmate, a church friend, a distant relative, a former neighbor, parents of her friends.

My second older brother died before he’d reached a year.  The support and love Mom received after Brian passed away must have been invaluable. She saw the value of others reaching out to comfort her. It stuck with her, this desire to give strength and support to the broken-hearted.

"Hennes Grave" by Picasa.

“Hennes Grave” by Picasa.

You’d expect I’d naturally have picked up her empathy and kindness, since not long after that, I was born. Born into grief, born to lift and cheer, born being needed, born to fill an unfillable space.

It took a while.

I went through a phase when my own babies were tiny where I scanned the obits briefly, looking for children that had died. I think it served as a kind of mental inoculation or talisman against the possibility that my own little ones might wander into print in such a horrible way. Strange thinking, I know. We do odd things as mothers to protect our brood.

Then I passed through a phase where I’d skip that page of the newspaper as quickly as possible, as if not acknowledging it made it unreal, an un-possibility.

If only.

I simply don’t read a print newspaper anymore. Solved that problem, didn’t I?

Hardly.

I’ve been to far too many funerals in the past ten years. And not just older people either. Babies, young men, mothers, fathers, young adults, college students, children, teens. Disease or accident, anticipated or sudden, self-inflicted or battled, tragedies every one.

Oddly, older people dying doesn’t carry the same tragic heft and horror for many of us. Although the loss feels every bit as painful, I would think, for those closest to the departed. But who am I to say?

There is no measure for grief, loss or sorrow.

I’ve been at crowded standing room only funerals and those with barely anyone in a tiny room. I’ve felt comforted and I’ve felt bereft. I’ve been strangers to the grieving and close friends with the heartbroken. I’ve been one whose heart went missing when the death occurred. And, I’ve held my own tears in check for later as I offered a hug and spoke what little one can say.

Photo: "Belmont Cemetery (1809218994)" by Natalie Maynor

Photo: “Belmont Cemetery (1809218994)” by Natalie Maynor

Obituaries, along with the newspapers they used to appear in, are dying their own slow death. For whatever reason fewer and fewer obituaries get published. Facebook and other social media now serve, rather inadequately, as death announcement venues. I’m not so sure I’d want the notice of my death to run squeezed between a “stay calm” meme and a “you won’t believe what this cat and dog did” video. Lacks dignity and appropriateness wouldn’t you say?

But then, whose to say what’s appropriate nowadays?

We celebrate births and weddings. We mail out invitations and announcements and ask others to join us in our happiness. The only other significant major life event, death, has been left to dangle precipitously like so much bad press we want to avoid reading, let alone acknowledge.

I hope we figure out a better way to help the grieving. I hope we don’t simply hold our breath waiting for their response to our queries of “How are you?” to become “Oh, I’m fine.” I hope we don’t believe that pat answer. I hope we pray for them, handle with care and know that all is not well, not for a very long time.

Mortality reaches us all eventually, no matter how we try to dodge it. How we cope, how we grieve, how we celebrate a life, how we avoid its ending. It’s all part and parcel of the whole life experience.

I, for one, want to help ease whatever pain I can. After all, I was born to it.

 

~~~~~

“My father always read obituaries to me out loud, not because he was maudlin or morbid, but because they were mini biographies.” ~ Bill Paxton

Categories: Death | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Still Crazy After All These Months

Seven months today.

I thought by now I’d feel better, be on the upswing.

But no. If anything the cycle of grief leaves me reeling from an upside down outside loop (is that even possible?) and rockets into this cavernous roiling flame-filled pit of wild emotion I don’t even recognize. Anger, tears, blame, sorrow, regret; those words only skim the surface some days.

Sounds stupidly dramatic.

Kathy would say, “Oh, get over yourself woman.” Then we’d drive over to Freddie’s for their super skinny fries and epic fry sauce and a concrete mixer with caramel and nuts and fudge and two days worth of calories in one sitdown whine fest.

What an awesome listener. The world needs more listeners like her. What an honest, straightforward tell it like it really is talker. We need more of that, too.

If I were to follow her example when someone asks how I’m doing I would NOT say, “Oh, I’m fine!” Instead I’d say, “I’m a wreck!”

I miss her like crazy. I miss us. Our friendship. Our uniquely bizarre mix of humor, life’s experience and often wordless communication created five years of something beyond special.

Now, months later, there’s still this gaping hole of her absence. And I keep tripping and falling into it. Hurts every time. I just can’t seem to navigate away from the edge, yet.

Maybe someday. Maybe at the one year point. Y’think? I don’t know.

She’d be mad at me if I left this post hanging on a negative note. She’d be mad at me for the whole post, honestly. Oh well, she’ll have to come haunt me to shut me up. So there.

Here’s where I insert the jokes.

But just to be safe, (I don’t really want her haunting me) here’s a few fairly good, clean George Carlin one liners. (Hint: it helps to say them out loud in your best comedian voice, with a nice pause at the end for a rim shot, pa da, pum! )

  • If a turtle doesn’t have a shell, is he homeless or naked?
  • Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults enjoy adultery?
  • Can vegetarians eat animal crackers?
  • How do they get the deer to cross at that yellow road sign?
  • Does the Little Mermaid wear an algebra?
  • Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?
  • If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?

Alright already, I’ll stop now.

Laughter? Really?

I’ve found salvation and solace in laughter the past few months. It’s cathartic. It’s healing. It’s like medicine, without the weird side effects.

I’m fine. Really. Most of the time I am. I just have these moments that last a day or two or three. It helps to write it out loud, kinda gets it out of my system.

I’ll sign off today the same way I used to tell her goodbye. The same way I said goodbye for the last time.

“Love ya, Kathy. See ya later.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The title for today’s post is a take off on a song by Paul Simon, “Still Crazy After All These Years.” It speaks to me on so many different levels. You can listen to it here.

 

 

Categories: Cancer, Death, Friendship, Humor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Can Nothing Feel Like Something?

The pass I’d given myself to wallow, read, sleep, and grieve, expired its “use by” date about a month ago.

“I’m sorry ma’am, that coupon isn’t valid anymore.”

Somehow things suddenly kicked into high gear a couple of weeks ago and my mind and body filled up the space and time I rent from the life library. I went back to the gym, put away my pile of “to read” books, started a new volunteer project, began cooking dinners, even made bread, and made headway with the  stuffpiles that inhabit every room in the house.

photo by Sarang

photo by Sarang

In other words, my life shifted into a new normal. At least I thought so.

Two nights ago, MSH said something completely innocent and ordinary, and with his words the doorknob to my emotional storeroom clicked.

The door opened.

The air changed not in a physical sense, but just as clearly as the temperature and smell in a house changes when a door gets left open in midwinter, I knew something was different.

Can nothing feel like something?

Yes. Without argument. Absolutely yes.

I felt the loss of my best friend as raw and new as January. Instantly.

That emotional door allowed an onslaught of emptiness and loss to escape. I could no more push it away than a person can shove the cold air back outside and slam the door on it. The cold inhabits the room. It takes time and effort to reheat the inside air.

Two days, almost three, and I’ve felt lost again, unable to force away limbo and hurt and sorrow.

It’s not like I’m constantly thinking about her. Not at all. It’s more like her absence inhabits me. How does an emptiness fill something? I have no idea. I just know that’s what it feels like.

There’s a mental numbness involved as well. I find myself not engaging in conversations, barely following the words, the back and forth of it. My body’s in the room, but my mind, my focus, simply isn’t anywhere.

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki

Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki

What do I do about it?

I don’t know. Keep breathing. Keep moving. Do.

Or maybe I need to not do anything. Maybe I give myself over to the feeling of loss, all over again. Sit in my porch swing and stare, again. Cry randomly, again. Pray more than normal, again. Muster up energy to respond to texts and emails, again. Sleep way too much, again. Stand around aimlessly and unproductive, again.

I’m guessing this sensation will go away eventually. I’m expecting that writing about it, out loud, here, might help.

It might come back again, too. I think grief does these looping things. It’s not a linear, stage by stage processing of the loss, but a kind of wandering path of varying emotions or lack of them. Occasionally the paths cross, I wander on to a different one without even realizing I’ve changed direction.

Don’t get me wrong.

I don’t feel hopeless.

That isn’t it at all. I just feel lost. Lost. Lost. Lost. Or empty. Very empty. Very very empty. As if I’ve been poured out on the sand and absorbed.

Wow. That sounds horrible. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, but then it isn’t really great either.

I’m fine. Really.

It’s just…grief.

This thing:

Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something to which a bond was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions.” ~Wikipedia

Sounds complicated.

Multifaceted response?

Dimensions?

Ten dollar words to describe and define sadness, sorrow, emptiness, hurt, and the left-behind perspective.

It’s today’s normal for me. And apparently yesterday and the day before. Maybe tomorrow and the next. We’ll see. Like a lifeboat on the ocean I’ll just drift about and see where the current takes me.

In the meantime, I’ll do my best imitation of a normal person when I’m in public.

There’s this last thought, which I like because it feels hopeful, and it acknowledges that there’s a process in play that I can give myself over to.

“Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.” ~ Emily Dickinson

photo by Klaus D. Peter, Wiehl, Germany

photo by Klaus D. Peter, Wiehl, Germany

Categories: Death | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

What I Miss About You

photo by Richard Croft [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

photo by Richard Croft

Dear Kathy,

So apparently there’s no texting allowed in heaven or I’d have heard from you by now. Dang it.

I figured maybe, just maybe, you’d get a split second or two to do some reading, since you love to read. So I thought if I wrote out some thoughts I’d had lately, you’d get the message somehow. Call me naïve, or silly or weird, I don’t care.

Also, you’ve been on my mind more than ever, imagine that. I find myself thinking of things I need to tell you about, and then remember you aren’t close by to just drop in and have a chat with. So I’ve been kind of keeping a mental list of things to talk with you about. Maybe you won’t mind if I drop you a letter once in a while to sort of make sure I’m staying connected with you somehow.

For my first letter to you I’ve come up with a list.

It’s a list of just some of the things I’ve missed about you since you left almost a month ago:

  • How insistent you are about being on time, and others being on time, too. Like a contract, you always say.
  • Seeing your face light up when you think about, talk about or get a text or a call from your husband.
  • How you always say, “love you” when I leave, and how I know you mean it.
  • Hearing about your wild and crazy daycare adventures.
  • Being completely comfortable in my skin with I’m with you. No need to weigh my words, or be careful about what I say or do.
  • Finding you sitting in “your spot” on the third floor at the Mayo, when I wander up from parking the van. That smile I get when you see me finally come around the corner.
  • How you don’t like it when we end up wearing the same color shirt to go somewhere together.
  • Getting a text from you asking “what ya doing?” and knowing it means I get to spend time with you.
  • Talking about books and movies and kids and husbands and life and death and religion and politics.
  • How you watch the clock for Sonic Happy Hour to roll around.
  • Eating pita bread and hummus while we talk nonstop, then being too full to eat our Fatoosh salad or Kabob.
  • Picking up a conversation with no glitches or strangeness after two or three or even four weeks of not seeing each other.
  • How you aren’t afraid or hesitant to ask for what you need or for what you want.
  • Finally being over a cough or cold so I cold come hang out again.
  • Having you help me make sense of the latest weird development in my strange life and how you say it makes your life seem normal by comparison.
  • Taking photos of your blooming bushes or my wildflowers to show you, or having you point out the cactus in bloom when we drive.
  • Feeling at home in THE CHAIR in your room and talking about nothing and everything.
  • Getting fries from McDonald’s and a Frosty from Wendy’s.
  • How vigilant you are when babysitting your daughter’s stuffed animals and dolls.
  • Saying it like you see it, no sugar added.
  • Just being together whenever and wherever.
  • Feeling like one of the cool “in” people when I’m with you.
  • Knowing I have someone who totally gets me without having to lay it out in detail.

So that’s all I can think of at the moment to tell you about. Except, I’m feeling pretty lucky to have you for a friend. You’re one of a kind, in case I forgot to tell you. Oh, and I love you and miss you like you can’t believe.

I’m guessing you’re busy being all angelic and stuff. I get that. So don’t worry about trying to get in touch.

Mostly I feel like you’re right here in my heart anyway. I can hear your voice in my head, telling me to crank the tunes, open the sunroof and enjoy my Diet Coke. I’m trying to do just that, cuz you’d want me to. But, it’s not just the same without you in the passenger seat.

256px-Mail_Boxes_Bruny_Island

photo by Reinhard Dietrich

Try to stay out of trouble up there.

I miss you.

Your bestie,

Kami

Categories: Cancer, Death, Friendship, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Good Grief and other Nonsense

My internal weather.

My internal weather.

“The only education in grief that any of us ever gets is a crash course. Until Caroline had died I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence, and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenching realm of sadness and longing that gradually receded. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness, and a range of less straightforward emotions shocking in their intensity.” ~Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home

I read this book by Gail Caldwell a while back. Before I’d met my best friend. It was an interesting read back then. I even quoted it several times in this blog post last year.

Now I’m rereading the book as a roadmap, trying to find my way out of this jungle I’m lost in.

I had no idea I’d feel this way. I thought I’d feel sad, of course, after Kathy’s Myeloma wrenched her from life. But this isn’t anything like any sadness or depression I’ve ever felt.

There’s real, tangible physical pain. No one ever told me about that. People don’t discuss grief actually, so when would I have learned this?

And I have only one channel in my head that comes in clear enough to see or hear, the Kathy Channel. Twenty-four hours a day it plays. That bluish light that a TV screen throws out haunting the recesses of my head day and night. Oh sure, I hear and see other things. I go about my day at one-quarter speed, doing dishes, moving laundry about, showing up at places I said I’d be at.

But the background buzz, hum, light, music and weather consists of Kathy. She’d find that funny and pathetic at the same time. Glad I could humor her, sorry if I’m letting her down.

I can’t find a remote to change the emotional channel I’m stuck on.  And it takes more energy than I have to look for it and figure out the buttons if I stumbled onto it.

Insert exhaustion photo here. Picture whatever fits for you, I can’t think that hard today.

I feel successful when I get dressed. When I eat. When I carry on a conversation without saying her name or referring to her somehow.

Please don’t ask me to go to the grocery store. It takes hundreds of steps to get to the dairy section, and more energy than I have to lift the gallon of milk into the cart. And then seeming miles away the produce section waits, the logic of its order lost on me. And the loudspeaker blaring, do loudspeakers do anything else but blare? Obviously the overnight restocking crew cranks the music up and no one ever turns it down. How am I supposed to think through this grocery list with so many bad songs from the eighties and nineties blasting away at my every thought? And heaven forbid I should see someone I know. I dig up my cheerful face, drag out my pretend untired voice, pull my shoulders back to give the illusion of standing up.

I attempt all the right responses.

“Fine. Great. Tough. Getting through. Life. Goes On. Thanks. Sure. Uh huh. See ya around.”

Then I cave in on myself. I want to curl up in the shopping cart and sleep, right there beside the salad dressings and croutons and bacon bits. Pull some cereal boxes over my head like a bad blanket.

But that would indicate some kind of madness or lack of sanity or a grip slipped. So instead, I stare at the grocery list and find something on it that tells me what I should do next, if I can go home yet.

All this from a mere five-year friendship.

I can’t begin to fathom a twenty-five year marriage with half of the duo gone. It’d be like a body with no skin, all raw, exposed nerves and internal parts on fire with rage, salt encrusted, oozing.

Someone should do something to fix this. This can’t be right. Aren’t there rules or laws that make this kind of pain illegal or impossible?

Categories: Cancer, Death, Mental Health, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sunday Afternoon Magic

So, here I sit out front, fuzzy black slippers on, in my porch swing. My computer sitting on my lap. I thought, maybe, being outdoors would somehow prompt some inspiration or insight or intelligence. All “in” words, which is contrary to being “out” here.

photo-19 copy 17

If you look closely you can see a reflection in the water.

Still, there’s something comforting on the breeze. The cooler air smells different, fresher, promising, tentative. A couple of hummingbirds hover at the feeder that I’ve let run dry in the past day or two. I should get up off the swing and make up some nectar to fill it. Then the tiny chirps would sound less insistent. Two house wrens, make that three,  jump from bush to bird bath, taking turns dipping into the water, drinking, checking, drinking, checking.

The bush they flit about in needs a good trimming. It’s overgrown and leaning to the east. Every time I’ve thought of getting out the trimmers for a little shaping the bush is in full flower, purple over the entire outer surface. The unkempt look of the bushes matches the wildflowers which are getting taller in sporadic and uneven places. They look more like weeds than ever. I’m not sure where I’ve put the “Wildflowers Under Construction” signs. I should locate and set those out so the HOA knows not to fine me for weeds.

Leaves skitter down the road from time to time as the wind picks up occasionally. Drifts of orange curls settle in crevices and under bushes and between stepping-stones. Then here and there a rain of tiny gray-green leaflets fall from the boughs that oversee almost the entire front yard. I ought to get the blower/vac out tomorrow morning and clean things up a bit, before the garbage truck arrives. But I probably won’t. Let the rest of the leaves from the trees on our street finish their deleafing, then I’ll “clean up” what ought to be left out for crunching footsteps and mulching gardens.

Still with a lengthening to-do list growing in my head as I swing I find a sense of okay-ness out here.

Maybe it’s the family groups that walk or bike the perimeter of the park.  Maybe it’s the sound of children playing on the swings across the street. Could be the chips and cheeps of unseen birds or the blue softness of the sky. It could be the ease of a Sunday afternoon spread out languidly before me. Nothing but a diet Coke to work on.

Choices abound. I recognize how amazingly lucky I am to have the option of being comfortably inside or outside in December. That I live in a place with room for a porch swing feels almost decadent. That growing things surround my home and provide homes for birds and rabbits and an occasional stray cat helps me feel more of life in my days. Healthy and able to walk or dance or bake or spend time with MSH or my children seems like something I shouldn’t ignore or presume.

Yes, pending loss cracks open the shell of the universe, hearts border on breaking.

And yet, somehow goodness and beauty soothe and succor. Something about the outside world gentles the  pounding in my heart and hushes the worry circling my head.

Categories: Nature, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flummoxed

The sun rose from the southern sky this morning. Okay, maybe it leaned a bit to the east, but not by much. I wondered if winter solstice got ignored, or the axis of the earth shifted a bit over the past few days. I wouldn’t have noticed with how sidetracked and discombobulated I’ve felt.

So yeah, apparently, we’ve bypassed winter solstice and moved into a new phase of the earth/sun cycle.

I suppose it’s possible that the sun has risen further south every day for months and I’ve only just today noticed. In fact, that’s the more likely explanation isn’t it?

Reason flew out the window, though.

Barometer Glass

Barometer Glass (Photo credit: cobalt123)

It feels to me like the other way around. A change in the cosmic mechanisms of the universe feels more likely. Cogs slipping, everything off kilter just a bit. At least in my heart and in my head that’s what’s happening. So if the sun chose to follow along, I’d completely understand.

There’s more to it than the angle of the sunlight, lower and more southern than normal. My wildflowers pushed up through the rocky soil of the front yard four weeks ago. Normally those tenacious little seedlings wait until after December and sometimes into late January to show off their leaflets.

But not this year. Nope. My front yard’s awash in a carpet of green. African Daisies cover the majority of the area, but even the California Poppies have spread out and filled in normally barren areas. Odd.

I blame it on the ridiculous three-day rainfall we experienced around Thanksgiving time. Our winter rains, traditionally a December thing, showed up early and often.

As further proof that nature’s off-balance, the trees are dropping bright orange leaves as if we live in New England in the fall. That usually happens in a much less colorful way in January, when we have a freeze, the leaves turn brown overnight and then a windstorm rips them from the branches a week or two later.  But not this year.

There’s frost covering the lawn at the park every morning as well. There’s a solid white sheet draped over the whole expanse of green, giving it an aged patina with a bite of cold. As the sun inches up, (from the south) a kind of steamy fog lifts off the surface of the grass and gives the area a Middle Earth feel. If Hobbits and Trolls and Elves start tromping about the earth’s surface around here I won’t startle one tiny bit.

We’ve even had some unseasonably warm temperatures. High seventies, flirting with eighties, in December! Kids run barefoot in the grass that hours earlier wore an icy film. How is that possible?

Because, as I’ve been trying to tell you, everything’s flummoxed.

flum·moxed 
adjective
1. bewildered or perplexed.

Confusion abounds here in the desert this year.

It all matches my internal environment, that tundra in my mind and heart. A little lost, uncertain, trying to leaf and bloom, drenched in sweat and rain, changing colors and moods in a confusing array of signals about what life is or is not going to do next.

Aneroid barometer

Aneroid barometer (Photo credit: explainthatstuff)

If the sun decides to rise from the north or even from the west tomorrow I’d just nod and say, “of course, that stands to reason.” If snow decides to fall from a desert sky and settle in among the cactus needles, I’d not wonder at such a rarity.

Honestly the most appropriate weather, to match my internal barometer, would rain down in torrents a cold, soaking waterfall of heaven’s tears to mingle with my own.

Any day now a dam will burst and earth will fill with sorrow.

At least for a while.

Categories: Cancer, Death, Nature, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Weeds and Wildflowers

It’s Gratituesday! Today I’m thankful for the tiny green shoots of wildflowers I have popping out all over my front yard.  There’s a promise in those sprouting weed-like growths. I know even though they look like weeds, and grow like weeds, they aren’t weeds. They’re going to produce masses of yellow and orange African Daisies and bunches of satiny orange California Poppies in another four to six weeks.

To appease the HOA I set out a couple of signs that say, “Wildflowers Under Construction.” I don’t really want to pay a fine for my “weeds” or get out some mean weed killing chemical.  I want to see the yard burst into golden waves of color.

wildflowers under constructionI find the symbolism of these flowers particularly appropriate for the challenges I face in my life, large or small.  What appears as something terrible, something troublesome, with time, often, not always, but often, in the long run becomes something positive and memorable.  I’m not about to proclaim gratitude for trials, oh no, not me. But I am willing to concede that I learn from going through hard times.

There’s a beautiful song, written by Stephen Foster, which I found particularly moving a few years back when the tides of trouble breached all levees and inundated my life.  It became an anthem for me of sorts, or a prayer, which I still hum often and think out loud and verbalize while on my knees.

“Let us pause in life’s pleasures to count its many tears,

While we all sup sorrow with the poor;

There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;

Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,

Hard times, hard times, come again no more.

Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;

Oh hard times, come again no more.”

For me, as for many, if not all, hard times are not a one time event.  Hard things press in on us and weigh us down with a weight that is unfathomable. Finding a small thing like the shoots of wildflowers pushing through the weight of rocky soil can bring hope and send a song through the air that lifts the weight ever so slightly.

Looking For Signs

I look for signs of hope all around me. Not just in springtime harbingers, but in everyday life.  A newborn’s mewling cry. A teen’s energetic laughter. An older couple holding hands. Help being offered when a need presents itself. Kindness extended, smiles proffered, handshakes offered. Birds chirping. A toddler’s rowdy chaos. Blue skies.

The lyrics of this haunting song continue:

“While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,

There are frail forms fainting at the door;

Their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say

Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,

Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore

Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave

Oh hard times come again no more.”

I want to put a “Wildflowers Under Construction” sign on the doors of certain houses that I know.  I wish them vision to see the shoots of green that are pushing tentatively up through the rocky ground they’re walking on.  I want them to hear the song of hope, however quietly it may lilt in the air. I pray they feel a gentle tug of hope encircle and lift when all seems lost.

I watch for hope, for signs of life and laughter and good things to come.  Being small, they aren’t always easy to see. You have to look closely. They’re everywhere, can you see them?

Mark O’Connor, James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer – performing “Hard Times Come Again No More”

Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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