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.
My body moves in water more like thick, embroidery floss through a needlepoint canvas than a dolphin crossing oceans. I am not a proficient swimmer but water feels familiar and lap swimming is as much a spiritual practice for me as exercise. Only after completing a restless hour swimming on Monday the 15th did I become aware that day, July 15th, marked three months since I took my first steps on the shores of Scotland. I couldn’t settle into the present moment of water flowing over my shoulders, spilling down my spine, and splashing behind my kicking feet, but I didn’t know why. Instead I was distracted by the pain in my left leg that lingers since I fell hiking over two weeks ago; frustrated I can’t walk this land and reacquaint myself with these trees and hills. Distracted by strands of past conversations that dropped into my head, following them into thickets of brambles that poked and scratched me and serve no purpose but to hurt. Back and forth I swam, trying to release the distractions.
My half-open eyes see a cathedral in the darkness of my bedroom before I realize I am home. I hear the first notes of birdsong as the light peaks over the horizon and I float with them across the ocean to another land I also call home. What was familiar seems out of place and old routines lie in a jumble on the floor. In my first week home I lost cash, my spare prescription glasses, and my patience while driving. One of the few things that feels grounding is returning to lap swimming. Somehow the fluidity of water settles me. Crossing the threshold home after Sojourning with Grief has brought me into an old place with new eyes. The familiar is now unfamiliar. I am disoriented.
Once, when I had a yard, I bought a packet of wildflower seeds, a mix where you scatter them and wait to see what arises from the earth. Poppies, coreopsis, wallflowers, alyssum, phlox, flax…whatever would take hold. And in my garden I had plants I set into the soil with specific intention. Roses, daffodils, lavender. This sojourn has been a scattering of seeds and in the center was the planting of one intention-to return some of my mother’s cremains to the land of her birth. Last week in the company of her two remaining cousins, I offered her back to the land. My mother-a beautiful English rose.
The day comes when you are the daughter, not the chaplain. You are grateful for your experiences and for the lessons other daughters and sons have taught you when you walked beside them. Relieved that you invited families to trust the journey of their loved ones and to practice self-care, so that you too can hear the echo of your own words as you sit and watch your mother meander from this world toward the next.
I’ll be honest, Thanksgiving was not easy this year. Oh, it ended on an upbeat note as I enjoyed dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend at his extended family’s home, but it began with the ever present reminder that my ninety-year old mother is declining and any expectations need to be set aside in order to meet her where she is in any given moment. I am on my own grief journey with her through Alzheimer’s and what a holiday looked like last year, or the year before, or a decade ago, can not be reproduced in 2017 like a Facebook memory.
I shouldn’t be amazed. I’ve participate in and lead enough groups to know that if the table is prepared, the ambience welcoming and I step aside and make room for the Holy, people show up for themselves and each other. Yet once again as I reflect after the Grief and Loss workshop I led, I am in awe of the courage shown by six women to step into the unexplored spaces of their hearts and share with honesty what flows out through their pens.