Something Needs Attention
“Never turn your back on the ocean.” A teaching offered to me as a youngster. Living close to the Oregon Coast where sleeper waves can heave logs on to shore or wash an unsuspecting walker out to sea in an eye-blink, it is a sound piece of wisdom. Even as I connect in my being to the sea as “Mother Ocean,” I was reminded of this on a recent visit when I was knee deep in water seconds after noting the waves were a good 20 feet out and seemed to be biding their time, lapping more than galloping. She wanted my attention—“Daughter, something is stirring.” Something is stirring.
Diving Deep Into “Stuff”
I’m in my storage unit opening the boxes. Deciding which ones to haul to my apartment and deep dive into and which ones to set aside for later…but not too much later. These boxes, some sealed over four years ago when my now ex and I sold our house, a divorce following a few months later, and others from packing up my mother’s apartment after her death 19 months ago, have been sitting, shuffled around from time to time, like a distorted Jenga game in a heat-controlled, cement room. My handwriting on most: “Photo boxes.” (a lot of these as my children grew up in the pre-digital age.) “Anne’s journals.” “Old miscellaneous files, certificates, and passports.” “Breakables-Fragile.” “Photo albums” (my mother’s and mine.) “China” (my mother’s, grandmother’s, and great-grandmother’s-no one in the family or world-at-large wants old, bone china it seems.) The stacks seem endless.
I could say I was overwhelmed and that is why I kept putting it off. But the practical me knows that if I had gone through two or three boxes a week, the project would be finished. The weight of it lifted from my shoulders. Now, the weight is omnipresent as each month the auto payment rolls through the bank account, paying for “stuff” that can either be given away, passed along to my kids, scanned and tossed, or simply tossed. The few things that need to be kept, I can make room in my apartment. I want to make room
Grief-the Sneaker Wave
What happened was a wave a grief washed over me as I sliced tape and peered into the dark, cardboard corners, pulled out papers, photos, cards from my wedding (yes, I know, I am a wee bit sentimental—they are now recycled,) diplomas, old passports, race numbers with times written on the back from when I ran road races. This grief—unexpected, like a sneaker wave.
Something is stirring. Those wedding cards and cards of love from my former spouse reflected innocence. Nothing to read between the lines yet, because the page was still blank. A lot of life would unfold later. No regrets. No going back. We respect each other. Agreed to end the marriage. And still sadness. Still grief.
Who Creates Memories?
The heft of the Creative Memories albums my mother compiled over several years strain my arms as I lug them onto the cart. Albums I must have looked at with her, but I forgot about. The first one…the one with photos of my father as a little boy. The class photos where he is at the Masonic boarding school, his father, a Mason, dying when my father was a child, so they became responsible for his education. My father, always sitting at the end of the row, arms usually crossed—was he ever allowed to grieve? My father with his favorite cousin, Billy, who died in the war—did he ever grieve this loss? This cousin the reason he wanted to own an orchard because of happy, summer memories spent with him. Our orchard, the root of my childhood memories.
And my mother, a baby, her father holding her, cigarette crooked in his mouth. Her typed recollections talking about the war in London. Air raid shelters. Going to school in Wales to be safe. My parent’s courtship. Marriage. A wedding cake made with ration coupons because even after the war, food, clothing, and housing was scarce. One reason to leave your homeland. The menus from the journey when they immigrated to Canada on the R.M.S. Mauretania. The first house they built. My brother’s birth. And leaving that all behind to move to the U.S. Something I know was heart-wrenching for my mother. The end of the first album. Not the end of the story.
Something is stirring. Memories float on the pages because they have no owners to attach to anymore.
And what are memories? Something we create out of the film reels of our brain tissue, other people’s stories, photographs, music, scents, sounds. They shift with the tide. Fall into the ocean. Come back as songs playing against the pebbles with each new tide. Back and forth. Creating and re-creating.
Dare to Keep Diving?
“Don’t turn your back on the ocean.” I turned my back for a moment. Began opening the boxes and losses that were content to lap the shore roared in with a late summer wind pulling me into depths as I opened each box. Returning to grief around my father’s death, then my mother’s. Questions I forgot to ask. Didn’t know to ask. Death of a marriage, though I am content in another relationship. Joyful grief is in there too. Children as adults. The hard work of raising them complete. Reflections, photos, and papers from seminary and chaplaincy training. Even a congratulation card from passing the CPA exam! Proud accomplishments. And all my journals! What will they hold? Dare I read them?
Learning How to Grieve Under Water
Something is stirring. The both/and of life and wanting to move forward but knowing in my bones I need to allow this ocean to pull me in, then release me as tide, back on shore. To sing over the pebbles—memories. And then pull me back out. Create and re-create. To face this grief and wade into it, no, dive into it and add my salted tears. To keep opening box after box. Hold each item. Each piece of paper. Dampen it with my tears if need be. Or laugh and rejoice. Then let it go with few exceptions. Dive deep into grief. Little “g” grief, knowing that my mentor, Grief, will be with me holding my hand. And that Mother Ocean will fill my lungs with water not to drown me, but so I can breathe under water, under the weight of it all.
The Small and Large of Grief
English, I am sorry to say, is lacking in depth when it comes to words for “grief.” Just like Greek has multiple words for “love,” imagine if we had more than one word for grief, to hold the complexity of it. To allow us to taste it when it needs savoring. To keen it when the sorrow is beyond words. To laugh at the absurdity when it takes us by surprise. To encompass the small and the large of grief and its initiator-loss. Maybe then we wouldn’t shy away from grieving. Could practice early on like we practice loving small things as children.
Rachel Naomi Remen, one of my grief mentors,
writes in My Grandfather’s Blessings, Stores of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, “Unless we learn to grieve, we may need to live life at a distance in order to protect ourselves from pain. We may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us or allow ourselves to be touched, to be intimate, to care or be cared about. Untouched, we will suffer anyway. We just will not be transformed by our suffering. Grieving may be one of the most fundamental life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise. If it were up to me, it would be taught in kindergarten, right up there with taking turns and sharing.” pg 145
Grieving-Not For the Timid
The losses I dive into and the grief that washes over me, as I continue “project-empty storage unit,” they are not new. Grieving is not a “once and done” proposition. And familiarity can make it easier to greet these losses at the door, to welcome them not as annoying strangers, but as wisdom guides, as I round the next corner of my life (see my previous post: Abundance, Milestones, and Loss-Rounding a Corner on the Journey.) Because where I am going, though it is unclear, entails having less physical stuff.
And yet I keep asking myself, “Why is it so hard to let go?” I may not be the only one struggling with this dilemma, for everywhere I drive storage complexes are being built. There must be demand for space for cardboard boxes full of photos, papers, old china, and memories. Perhaps on some level I fear I will loss my memories like my mother did to Alzheimer’s. Maybe if I keep the “right” item, they will stay a little longer. So I have new mantra to help me release: “I am fearless.”
New Losses Gather on the Shore
While “Sojourning with Grief” last spring, I accumulated new losses. Like a beachcomber walking the shore at low tide, I am scanning the wet sand and am curious about what the tide left behind. My dreams are already acknowledging the debris of loss that comes with transformation. Asking me to put them in my bucket with grace and appreciation. “Something is stirring,” said Mother Ocean, “You need to make room.” This pressing need to finish clearing out the storage unit is about making room—physically and metaphorically. I know this.
Grieving Is Done With Support
My mentor, Grief, reminds me to be gentle with myself. To ask for support. That while no one can “do the work” for me, I also have my wise circle who holds me in love and compassion. I have my own spiritual director who offers me perspective and listens deeply. I am grateful for the journey. For being able to look back as I move forward at a snails’ pace, all while being present to this unfolding mystery.
When was a time you felt like a “sneaker wave” of grief washed over you? What brought it on? How did you companion with the ocean…or were you fighting against the tide?
What is the stuff you are holding on to that weighs you down? What mantra would help you let it go?
Who is your support when you are going though loss and grief? Do you have any losses that you would like to invite in and grieve with fresh eyes?
I would love to hear your thoughts! Please offer your comments. anne
The Labyrinth Path:
Writing and Walking with Grief & Loss
Please join me for my next workshop on Saturday, November 16th, 1-5pm.
“We all experience grief and loss in life, from the time we leave the nurture of the womb to the leaving of our body at the end of our life, with many other losses, small and large, along the way. Our American society has shied away from healthy grief in favor of quick fixes leaving many with unresolved grief lingering in silence just below the surface, waiting for a chance to be heard. The labyrinth, an ancient archetype representing the metaphor of journey, provides a safe container to reflect on loss.”
For details or to register: The Labyrinth Path: Writing and Walking with Grief & Loss.