Grief, Renewal, Love and Honoring
This morning, January 1st, 2011, I sit in the warm and beautiful home of my husband and his two children. Actually, this home is now our home as well. But this will take some getting used to. Miraculously, this sweet dwelling is slowly accommodating our belongings and the bigness of our lives. This has been a big year.
I met the Earthquake Man less than a year ago. By our third date I was deeply in awe of, and in love with, him. Our first date was January 21st 2010, our third date was 9 days later on the 30th. I believe is it still possible to find me on the internet in other people's articles, quoted as saying it is neither advisable or possible for a full-blooded man and a full-blooded woman to live together alone in the same house. I still believe this. I've fallen off my own map on this one.
Shortly after all this, one morning (April 15th to be precise) my 75 year old mother walked into her shower and died. The medical examiner, the state trooper and the coroner all said "She was gone before she hit the tile." Our trusted family minister, also one of my mother's closest and truest friends, told me, "She had a peaceful look on her face." My mother died with water running over her entire body, perhaps washing her clean of whatever it was that had plagued her so deeply in this life.
I am grieving the loss of my mother like I could never have predicted. My mother was a dark woman. She lived with fierce demons who stoked the fires of her fundamental belief that she was worthless, unloved and unlovable. Her wounds made it damned difficult to be around her much of the time. Yet she was also one of the most vibrantly creative, intelligent, funny, innately compassionate and loving people I've ever had the honor to know. When my sister and I were young my mother kept us home from school because we had a pileated woodpecker hammering away at a tree in our backyard. Her fiercely devout connection with the animal world was a powerful model for me. When our cats had kittens (which seemed to happen all the time because we often had four cats in the house), the world would halt its rotations and our home would become a place of reverence and deep attention to the larger-than-human forces of life and death. Frequently she would take us on rambling road trips in our behemoth station wagon. We would visit old family friends, walk along the ocean, play it by ear much of the time. My sister and I were paying attention; none our friends ever took vacations like this.
I am lost in a sea of a process. Though it's been 8 months now, I awake every day not knowing if I will spend most of my day sobbing or feeling deep joy and gratitude, or both, or neither. Some days I'm just simply lost, grasping and groping for meaning and direction. Forgetting who it was I was, before I was orphaned. The Earthquake Man has only known me like this; a woman who is so in the process of her grief he can't predict what he will get from moment to moment. Sometimes I worry he will think he's married a crazy woman - like Rochester's wild woman in the attic - I imagine the Earthquake Man has fantasies about sending me away and starting over with a more predictable version of my gender. Yet, I have made a pact to stay in the vulnerable truth of this process since I live in a culture that cannot tolerate grief or grieving though they are perhaps the most beautiful of our human processes. Two weeks after my mother's death a family friend said to me, "well, I expect you'll be getting back to business now. It's about time." On some days I can't remember my own name let alone the 'business' I am in, if in fact that construct ever applied to me.
This unwanted coronation - of being the last-standing generation in a family line at the tender age of 45 - is a paradox. I have experienced tremendous liberation and also a sense of pointlessness. I'm now free to be anyone, without the hindrance of a living ancestral tether. Yet this swings both ways. Some days I feel utterly abandoned and alone, even with my incredible community, my children, their father and my protective and attentive husband. I holler at the mountains, "how can this happen to me?!" forgetting that it happens to all of us all the time, everywhere. While it is surely ineffable it is also as perfunctory as it comes.
And now, since I have experienced the unthinkable - the sudden death of someone who was in perfect health - I imagine catastrophe awaits everywhere. If my son Henry - who is 16 and completely out in the world of his own making - doesn't call me back within in half an hour I can become immobilized. If the Earthquake Man is late coming home, I imagine he is dead. Wild things, carjackings, mutilations...my mind is alive with possibilities. I never got to see my mother's body after her death, so I am hungry for visceral reality. I concoct images of road-side carnage that bring me to sobbing no matter where I am - even if I am sitting with clients. I have learned to let this simply BE, to breath, to perhaps even love this process of vulnerability that seems to be so unspeakably beautifully human. I feel like tender flesh, like a young offering to this hungry creature, Death. But I feel that my full participation in this process of grieving is what allows me to remain so vitally alive. And certainly, my 'yes' to this process is, itself, my only way to honor the profound dance of life and death; the only possible way to honor a woman as profoundly important to me as my mother.
Even more than usual, I am paying attention to this story of life and love and death and renewal, of miracles and fertility, of endings and decay leading to never-imagined unfurling fronds of possibility. I am staring at the night skies beseeching my mother to speak to me, longing to feel her presence. I am staring into the Earthquake Man's eyes when we make love, looking for certainty and feeling a thing as certain as 'certain' gets in this life: Love. I feel, all around me, wild, rich, precious Love. Some days I cannot even manage to take it in. Some days I fight against it and concoct stories of tragedy and betrayal. Other days I am awash with gratitude and grief, dancing intricately between the two.
I am grateful beyond what words can convey, for the opportunity to truly live this particular life. I am paying attention to the fecundity of my own landscape and the way in which it nourishes me to take great risks in service of what is mine to do - in service of tending to what is still vibrantly alive while honoring what is no longer. In this place of being loved so richly by so many - both living and dead - I continue to listen as I sort through gorgeous bones while singing songs to the bounty that continues to unfold each day.
This is a blessed time. This is a blessed time.