Sojourning with Grief-Between

Between bloom and seed as summer leans toward autumn, Queen Anne’s lace on the Crescent Beach Trail captured my mood on a recent trip to the beach. Ecola State Park. photo by anne richardson

Between bloom and seed as summer leans toward autumn, Queen Anne’s lace on the Crescent Beach Trail captured my mood on a recent trip to the beach. Ecola State Park. photo by anne richardson

Nine Weeks Post Sojourn-Thin Threads

Sunday marks nine weeks since I returned from my spiritual journey, “Sojourning with Grief.” As many weeks returned to this home as I was immersed in my Celtic homeland. I want to write something wise or profound about my growth and insights. And there are many insights spinning in my head and heart. But the truth is I am tired and the threads that I try to hold onto are too thin to be woven into any kind of cohesive tapestry. Instead I am offering a few random thoughts.

Being “Liked” vs Being Authentic

Two weekends ago I wrote for three days as part of a workshop, Big Island Writers. An amazing woman, Beth Bornstein Dunnington, facilitates (i.e. weaves her magic) using knock-your-sock-off prompts, sit-with-your-pen/pencil and write (no laptops) for almost an hour, then read to the group in a safe container, and THEN have a “speak back.” You do this three times each day. It is raw, authentic, exhausting, and allowed me to be with myself in this tender space of returning. And as the quiet voice within spoke to me from the pen to the paper, she said, “You still worry about offending people. Time to let that go.” Time to let that go. I share this tidbit out of that weekend of writing because when you “need to survive” as an entrepreneur, being “liked” can get in the way of being authentic and honest. Yet, as a spiritual director/companion, as someone who presents the labyrinth to others, who desires writing from the heart, being “liked” is not what is essential. Being authentic and honest is.

My writing raw on the page in my notebook with one of my labyrinths as a background.

My writing raw on the page in my notebook with one of my labyrinths as a background.

Speaking at Grief Rites Readers Series, August 5th, 2019.

Speaking at Grief Rites Readers Series, August 5th, 2019.

Women of Courage

I know women who exemplify this in my world. Nine of the women who wrote over the weekend spoke at the Grief Rites Readers Series (see https://www.griefritesfoundation.org/ for information about the amazing organization that sponsors this series or check out @Grief Rites Foundation events on FB) as I also did the Monday after the workshop (see my piece below.) Another, Kate Carroll de Gutes, has a blog called the “Authenticity Experiment” that I find inspiring. I could name more. These women are courageous. I owe it to them to be courageous too. I owe it to myself. And I owe it to you, if you take the time to read what I offer and use my services.

In his poem, “My Iron Catastrophe,” Kim Stafford in his most recent poetry collection, Wild Honey, Tough Salt, reflects on aging with a friend and ends the poem “‘I want to be honest,’/ I said. 'In parenting, writing, friendship, witness on earth,//I want to be honest.’ ‘Yes,’ said the friend, ‘You have/not chosen an easy thing, but you have chosen.’/ In that moment, the catastrophe began to end//and the hard centering to begin.” When I am honest with myself, then the hard centering begins. A hard truth in that.

Yes, said the friend, you have not chosen an easy thing, but you have chosen.
— Kim Stafford

Between-A Hard Place To Be

I had a melt-down the other afternoon. This happens more often than I like to admit these days. It is part of being fluid. Me! One who used to be so grounded. Then the word came to me: Between. I am between. I shared this idea with my love and with a couple of friends. I am living “in-between.” Neither exhale or inhale. The swan, wings open, ready to pull downward to capture the wind, feet poised on the tip of the water’s surface-not yet in flight, but not settled on the lake. Between. The wave just prior to touching the shore, not yet pulling the sand out, not yet eroding what is there. Between. It is not holding one’s breath. I might say it is a pause, but that seems more intentional and doesn’t feel right either. When I try to increase my speed, to hurry through this time, weariness hits me like a wave that has connected to the shore with full force. It is, simply, a hard place to be in. No wonder I am so tired.

Thresholds Invite Change

“Thresholds are places are of choice—will you cross over?” is a question poised in the book “Tending Brigid’s Flame” by Lunaea Weatherstone. I chose to say “yes” to my sojourn. To the unfolding. Said “yes” to thresholds, not knowing what would be revealed on the other side. When I turned 59 last September and entered into my 60th year, I had two Instagram hashtags: “saying yes,” and “60th year adventure.” In the workshop I held last week, Recognizing and Honoring Life Transitions, I have participants reflect on threshold/transitional events and at the end we write a blessing. I believe in the power of writing blessings (this I learned from John O’Donohoe and his book “Bless the Space Between Us.”) I wrote one to the earth body I was before I left on my sojourn. Before I crossed over and became water. She needed to be thanked.

Thresholds invite the question- Will you cross over?  Photo taken in Wales by anne richardson.

Thresholds invite the question-Will you cross over? Photo taken in Wales by anne richardson.

Fragile, like the life of this sea bird. Photo by anne richardson

Fragile, like the life of this sea bird. Photo by anne richardson

Fragile, like a broken sand dollar

Fragile, like a broken sand dollar

Fragile-A Natural State of Being “Between”

I returned to Mother Ocean on Wednesday and walked the trail where I injured myself shortly after my initial return, this time walking sticks in hand. Grateful my leg was pain free, I saw the knobby roots that tripped me before and thanked them for the lesson I needed about slowing down. I spent close to three hours on Crescent Beach, listening to Mother Ocean. She didn’t want me to sing, “Just listen and observe,” she said. “The season is changing,” she said. The tempo of her waves picking up from my last visit. A dead bird, not yet scavenged as carrion, lay cradled in the sand. I offered a blessing, a memorial.

The ocean gifted me with a lace-tatted sand dollar, sliced thin across the middle, not broken in half cross-wise like I usually see them. Like a Christmas cookie, star pattern with sand as sprinkles glistening in the sun-soaked water. Frayed around the edges, I picked it up and asked permission to bring it home, tucked it in my bag, in a compartment without any other objects, safe, I thought. When I returned home, it was in pieces. Not starched-crisp and firm like a men’s shirt collar, but fragile. And when the word “fragile” came out of my mouth, I began to cry. I feel fragile. The tiny gray-white shards are now on my altar to remind me, I can be fragile.

Both/And: I Am Living Life Fully

Clarity. When it comes, it is clear as my favorite chimes and I am grateful. I have received it in three areas for my business: Yes to the work I do in spiritual direction/companionship. Yes to building on my labyrinth work. Yes to continuing to write. These are my passions.

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These then, are the meandering threads. Raw. Perhaps not ready for the page, but I am willing to release them and trust you to receive what you need and disregard the rest. Because that is one other insight I was offered in a meditation—trust.

Ah, and this is where I usually share what Grief, my wise mentor has to offer. In reflection, it is trust. Trust the “between.” The hard place it is. The fragile place it is. That you and I can still live fully in that place, in the waiting.


Reflection Questions

What is a time you chose the “cross over a threshold” and how did that choice change your life?

What does “hard centering” look like to you? What does it look like to be honest with yourself?

What have you left behind as a result of crossing over and what would it look like to offer the past a blessing?


My reading from Grief Rites, August 5, 2019

I was born water. The well deep within me capped at my birth. I slipped into sinew and bone, skin and muscle. Found a home among palm trees and mowed lawns. My crossed-eyes focused on the ground for balance. Hold steady. Learned the language of pristine rose beds and cement sidewalks. To not look too far ahead. Look at my older brother’s feet for guidance. Or hold my mother’s hand. Hold steady. Keep my balance. The marrow of my bones dried under the weight of forgetting to drink from my well. It wasn’t that being Earth’s child…Earth’s daughter wasn’t who I was, too. It’s just born Virgo and all the characteristics that align with that Earth Body sign swallowed me whole and the other being I was meant to be receded like a potential tsunami after an earthquake that never came back to shore…just disappeared. The earthquakes of a father’s chronic heart disease and an uncle’s death by suicide left no room for a fluid, water child.

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When I was a child I had a recurring dream. I am three, about the age I was when we moved from California to Oregon to our orchard. In the dream there is a tidal wave. I am on the beach, alone. I run for my mother, away from the ocean. I always wake before I am swept into the sea.

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February 2018 my mother died. I drove to the ocean to keen into a storm laden night. The ocean. The mountains. I love both. A rhetorical question. If you could have a house at the beach or mountains where would it be? Earth’s daughter leaned mountains, forests, lakes. I’m born water, but I’ve forgotten. I enter my 60th year. My well starts to seep; the cap, leaking in my keening to the ocean, Ocean answering my cries with open arms and a faint whisper…”home.” Answer to that rhetorical question starting to shift with the wind.

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I keep returning to the ocean. Must return to the ocean. To write. To listen. To sing. The memory of the dream returns. What did it mean?

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A journey idea. Simple. Take a portion of my mother’s ashes home. Home, to her birth land, England. My DNA results: 86% England, Wales, and Northwestern Europe. Curiosity seeds begin to fall into me as taking my mother home grows from journey to spiritual sojourn. From mother to me. My dreams shift. I visit the ocean and she says, “call me Mother Ocean.” She saids “You are being called home. Listen.”

I delve. I dive. I used my earth body to root around in the dirt and my left brain to do what it loves—read and research. I discover. I am a Celt. It settles in me. I meditate and gather wise women to send me on my way. I leave with my mantra “open heart.”

I depart Portland April 14th. Arrive back June 16th. I crossed threshold after threshold. While I was gone my earth-self is eroding. The tsunami that had receded as a child came back, not with devastation, but as answer to the dream. I was water. The tidal wave was Mother Ocean calling to her daughter, wanting to remind me of who I was under all the weight of the loss I carried for others.

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My first full day home from my sojourn I went lap swimming. I needed to be in water. I swim four to five days a week. I leave gaps in my month so I can drive to Mother Ocean. She calls. I need to be in and by water-moving water. And close to rocks And out in wind. The elements that are Voice of the earth. It was my spiritual director/shaman that finally helped me with perspective as I offered a synopsis of my sojourn. I told her: I sang to the Ocean here and here and here. The wind shared with me words from wind language. The rocks, the souls that reside in them, they want us to listen to their wisdom. And the stories of THAT land said “listen.”

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And still I am wandering in a wilderness. A wildness. I have had open-heart surgery—deep soul surgery where I picked up parts of my soul and they wander unsettled within. I remind myself from my hospital training that after open-heart surgery it takes months if not a year to recover and even then, one is permanently altered. I am not going back to who I was before I left. I speak haltingly the language of wind. I long to cry out in an ancient tongue that flows from my bone marrow. I ache to go home even as I am “home.”

And still I function. For I am water and I can flow around you and through my days. I have those in my life to keep me from evaporating into the clouds and disappearing. I am now one of two worlds. I grieve who I was and rejoice in who I am becoming. Yes there is joy, and gratitude. Always gratitude.

Siochain. Peace.