Metaphors for Grief in Nature

12316117_1176946098987591_6548427694565428408_n.jpgWritten Dec 12:
I’m always astounded at the things nature teaches me about life and grief. This week I went for a walk at a park near my new house. It’s a wilderness park, with one trail that makes a 2 mile circle surrounding a prairie. For years, this area was farmland, and the park system has now preserved it to allow the landscape to fully restore back to it’s original state. For miles all around, it is now an expansive prairie, flanked by thin fingers of woodland and bogland where the ground slopes low. Mike and I first found it a few weeks ago, and it has quickly become my favorite escape since moving to Ohio two months ago.

Firstly, not many people go there, so it’s easy to feel almost entirely isolated in nature while you’re there, which I love. Secondly, with the time of year, all the plants have begun to die off or go dormant, with their seed pods yawning wide into the brisk winds and tossing their seeds into the breath of autumn. From the moment I first laid eyes on this place, I was completely drawn to it. With dozens of varieties of flora, even dead plants create a kaleidescope of textures and shades – from browns to tawny yellows to silvery blues. For weeks I’ve been feeling a pull to go back here… to feed my eyes with all the richness of seeds and grains, cattails and milkweed pods, dried leaves and rustling grasses. To be surrounded by a place where death is beautiful…

I’ve always had a love of things dead and forgotten… dead plants, skulls and bones, old discarded furniture left to rot on the curb. I have forever been a rescuer of the forgotten. It’s taken me years to realize that this is directly tied to all the death in my life. It’s as if, even at a young age, honoring old bones and dead leaves and forgotten places was a way to honor those I love who have died. Giving a new life to an old chair or desk someone threw away was a way to symbolize my own ability to give new life to the souls of those loved ones. This week, the prairie rekindled that love of honoring.

Thanks to El Nino, this has been an unseasonably warm winter in Ohio… you could be inclined to call it autumn still, based on the temperatures. Which is what got me out hiking. As I walked through the prairie last week, I ended up at a trail that went into the center of the park. And at the center there was a small pond. I hiked around to the far side of the pond, followed a deer trail that went up into the three-foot-high foliage, and sat down in a grassy spot. There, surrounded completely by nature, and the end of life-cycles, I began to think.

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Just like the prairie – I have been going through a long autumn in my own life… for probably the entire past 3 ½ years since he died, my seasons have slowed almost to a standstill. I was dormant for so long… and this past year or so I have been spreading seeds and waiting for what will grow come spring. Now, it feels, that spring – the spring of a new life, a different but equally beautiful life – is finally on the horizon. I couldn’t help but feel completely at home there in the prairie grasses… as if we were both on the same sort of journey. Am I anticipating what grows in my own spring, and also excited to see this sepia-toned prairieland in its full, bright, springtime glory.

It amazes me how many lessons nature has to give. I’ve always felt connected to nature this way, and particularly so right after Drew died. It’s been presenting me with lessons, incredible metaphors for my own pain and the seasons of a life with grief since those first months after his death. One of the most memorable was when I visited the Grand Canyon, three months after his death. Back then, I wrote about the metaphor of the canyon and the rift in my heart…

Much like the canyon itself, in times when I have the courage walk up to the edge of this unspeakably large hole in the very earth of me… the strength to open my eyes to it with an un-judging heart and fully see it… I find beauty. I find that the winds of every soul in my world have blown through and softened the walls of this pain, and they continue to do so, little by little. I find a landscape in me that has been slowly painted with passion, creativity, and dreaming – rendering it vibrant with color. Also, deep within, I find the river still rushing through – the losing of you – still creating rapids and cutting into me with strong currents. And it is here on the edge looking out that I know… this journey, canyon of my heart, will last my lifetime. It will not fade, I will not forget, it is now a part of my landscape for all time.”

11222575_10153662886925306_7272631406032413798_n.jpgThis experience has been a reminder to allow the wound of losing him to remain. A reminder not to try and dam of the river of grief, or try to fill in the void to cover it up, but instead to honor it, protect it, and know that even this trauamtic part of me is a beautiful piece of the landscape of who I am. This idea has stayed with me through all these years working hard to rebuild myself. Something tells me I will be finding some powerful lessons about life here in the new landscapes of Ohio, too. As I made my way back to my car, I collected as many different specimens as I could from the prairie to bring home as a reminder of this place that may seem dead and forgotten to so many others, but still holds a magic and a beauty all its own.

 

Complex Christmas and an Inspiring Story

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Jayci at her grandfather’s grave. Source.

I can’t believe it’s been September since I’ve written here. A lot has been happening, mostly good things. A lot of growth. A lot of healing. A lot of shifts. More than I could begin to fill you in on just at this moment, but I’ve been feeling pulled to get back to writing here again and thought I’d start with something that happened this morning.

I was watching the news this AM and saw a feature about a young girl – 14 years old – who is working hard to achieve a very special Christmas goal. Her wish, is to put a wreath on every single grave at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery here in San Antonio, TX. To date, there are over 144,000 graves of fallen soldiers buried here. To say it is a big goal is an understatement. They have yet to reach that goal in a single year, but she is relentless. Partnered now with Wreaths Across America, she does 15 or 20 speaking engagements and fund raisers around the San Antonio, TX area in the fall to help raise money and bring in volunteers for this massive effort. The focus and resolve are nothing short of incredible to watch – particularly in someone so young.

I could not help but be completely inspired by the boldness and determination of her spirit. It allowed me to put my own pain aside for a moment and think about just how many ways on any given day there are to do something to remember or appreciate those who have died – whether as soldiers or otherwise.

It is one of those things that my fiance’s death has changed in me for the better. Now I know first-hand what it means to the loved ones of the fallen for them to be remembered. My fiancé was not in the military – though he wanted nothing more than to do so, a back injury prevented him from being allowed to enlist. Regardless of that, I still know what it feels like when someone does something to show me they remember him – like leaving something at his grave, or sharing a memory, or donating in his honor. It means more than words can describe. I want nothing more than for him to always be remembered.

I’ve been stuck in my own pain this past week – stuck thinking about how I’m sick of Christmas and ready for all this holiday mess to be over with. Year three without him is no better. Less scary for sure, less traumatic, but still I am able to muster only apathy for the entire affair. Even though I will be deeply happy to spend Christmas with his family – whom is now very much my own family – all the time leading up to that day is just an assault on the emotions. People talking about nothing but how behind they are on getting presents for everyone… when all you’re thinking as you hear them is how lucky they are to still have all of their people in tact to give presents to.

I hate this. I want to be able to enjoy the season. I want to be able to just enjoy things the way other people do again. I want a simple holiday season where all I’m worried about is getting the Christmas shopping done and making sure food is cooked. But it is so far from my reality – Complex Christmas. Where I am constantly bombarded by a kind of Christmas I no longer have. Where triggers lie around every corner, making me subtly uneasy with every potential situation – holiday parties, shopping, even just the feel of the cold weather. It isn’t like I don’t try to find the positive still. People think it’s just that easy – “oh he would want you to be happy” they say. Well, no offense, but no shit. It’s not like a switch you can turn off though. You want to be in the right emotional space to enjoy it all, but it is a battle to find a way when you’re working with Complex Christmas.

That’s is why I am so glad I caught this feature on tv this morning though. This story about the wreaths got me out of my own pain for a minute and woke me up to the possibility that – if I pay attention and look for it – there are ways that I could use the holiday season to help me find meaning. If I make USE of Christmas as a way to connect to other folks who are enduring a complex Christmas – whether due to death, illness, financial strains, etc – maybe I could reclaim a bit of the good in this season. Maybe I could actually be able to find more than apathy in this time of year again.

There are all kinds of ways to do this… and even though it won’t bring him back or make Christmas simple like it used to be, it would feel good, and make others feel good who might really need it too. That part of it I can get behind. I know that’s not rocket science, but I think you get it. We get stuck in our heads so easily in the midst of grief and trauma. We have blinders on much of the time. And it can be hard see anything that can help it.

Today, I’m really grateful that a young girl doing big things helped me to take the blinders off for a while and begin to think about what I can do in the next few days that could bring meaning back to Christmas – not only for me, but for someone else. We’ll see what I come up with.

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To donate or find information about Jayci’s Wreaths for Heroes project, you can visit her Facebook page.

To Be Changed

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Last night just before going to bed, for some reason I felt called to go back through some really old journal entries from the years leading up to when I met Drew. I don’t always pay attention to those little cues, but last night for whatever reason I did. 

I smiled to read some of the entries about our first days together… about how safe and natural and trusting it all felt. How much fun we had together. The adventures we went on, like sky diving and hot air ballooning. But where I ended up reading more – and where my truth really was – was a bit different. 

I was only in my mid-twenties and had been through a lot already… my father suffered from alcoholism – which got pretty bad from the time I was 17 to the time I finally took off to finish college when I was 21. I left home with my boyfriend, who began to be physically abusive once we lived together. I stayed for the three years it took me to finish college – basically until I didn’t need his financial support anymore. That ending was incredibly traumatic, and brought up the loss of my mother as well, which I had never really coped with. I then had an affair of sorts with a man who was nearly married (not one of my more proud moments). Around the end of that debacle, I started having some pretty bad anxiety issues and hit an all-time low. That is when I finally started working on myself. 

I went to therapy, devoured self help books and articles about dysfunctional families and abuse. It was one of the worst periods of my life – equally painful, but in very different ways, to losing the love of my life. I felt worthless, invisible, and very alone. In those years, I worked through an immense amount of pain and began healing a lot of my past.

By the time I was 26, I had been single for about a year and wanted nothing to do with men. Romantic relationships in my world were still nothing but overstepped boundaries, yelling, hitting, disrespect, and feeling trapped. And that is where Drew came in… with his kindness and patience, and his ability to never ever push me and to always allow me to step closer toward him on my own. He was careful with my heart in a way no man ever has been. Slowly my trust for him grew… and after about a year, I finally took the chance to date him. 

And this is where the journal entries came in… at this time when I had just taken the leap into facing my fears about intimate relationships. I immediately tried to run away after our first date. And I freaked out at every single little twist and turn. At the slightest sign of trouble, boy, I was ready to hit the road. But I never did. It is astounding to look back at this girl years later… to read her thoughts…. thoughts which to me now, sound like borderline paranoia. She was just SO scared of being hurt again. Despite all her fears though, she still had the courage to try and open her heart to this man, no matter how much she wanted to run. And slowly, very slowly, he changed her whole world.

In those three short years we had together, I came to know love in a way that was deeper and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I continued to work on myself, and he did the same, and together we began to grow into the people we had always wanted to be. Or perhaps more accurately, the people we always had been, underneath it all. We helped each other heal, we remained careful with each other always. I gave more love than I even knew I had in me… and in return, I received more love than I ever fathomed another person could give. And now, looking back, I can see just how immensely the love we shared has changed me. And how it is STILL changing me. 

Since he died, I have opened my heart to more people more deeply than in all my past years combined. I have learned to let the love I share with many many people become the way that he continues to give and receive with me. From the perspective that we are all connected, this is one of the most powerful ways that my relationship to him continues on past death.

I have been broken by life, over and over again. Yet I sit here now, a beautiful, confident woman. A woman who knows her worth and who values herself above all who tolerates no level of abuse or malevalence in her world. A woman who is grounded in her soul and who lives by faith and intuition. Just 5 years ago… this is the kind of woman I dreamed of being, and one that felt lightyears away from where I sat. All of this is a thing that he set in motion in me… from the first time he stood by my side, to the last time, to the time he now spends on other side, working to help me become more fully the person I was born to be.

 It seems maybe that his greatest gift was to allow me the space in which to decide to be changed… To first teach me how to love and be loved deeply by one, and then, in his passing over, to teach me how to do this with the rest of the world. There is not a day that goes by that I am not grateful that I took the chance to be changed by life, by death, and by everything in between.