The day has been full, that raw edge of laughter held in sorrow, the vein of gold within the pain. I try to sleep now, feeling like a box of pick-up sticks dropped on the floor. I need to pick up the pieces and put them back together again. There is pain that pierces, and there is gathering. Perhaps it is that gathering of love that allows the full feeling and expression of pain.
I keep saying to myself the words of John Squadra. “When you love, you complete a circle. When you die, the circle remains.” We are a circle gathered as though around a campfire and campfires warm and before they go out, the embers are hot, the flame within the dark.
Tomorrow, well, really today, as I see it’s 1:00 in the morning of a new day, we will celebrate a life, one life, all lives, joy, laughter, tears, pain.
When I got into my car, my mood shifted. “Road Trip” shimmered through my being. In over forty years of living in the San Francisco Bay area, I’ve driven 280 south from Mill Valley hundreds of times, but today my inner guidance system requested a new pace and route that honored the passing of my brother eighteen days ago. Jeff suggested a stop along the way and I took it.
I’ve always meant to pause at the reservoir but have sped along admiring it from the freeway. Destination has been my focus, but not today. Today I exit the freeway and turning right, not left, travel along Skyline Highway until I realize I’m on the wrong side of the reservoir, so I turn around and parallel the reservoir to the east. I stop for some pictures and then I enter Holy Gates. I’m at the Water Temple Jeff said to visit. Photos will suffice.
I went to bed on a bit of a high, woke broken apart like a hammered rock.
Today I start the journey back to CT. I’ve made it as easy for myself as possible. I drive down to San Jose today and my son Jeff and I will fly out early Thursday morning to JFK. My husband Steve is already in NYC for work. Friday morning we’ll take the train to CT and rent a car. Such a plan, and yet, I feel sick. From here, I can pretend, somehow, that my brother is alive. I did it when my father died. It will be harder there.
The last time I saw him we were blessed with snow, and as the family gathered, we went through almost a cord of wood in a few days. We were up both early and late, talking, laughing, playing games. We knew it was a goodbye but there he was, and now, well, of course, I’ve written of how I feel him here, in different form, but I feel sick again at all that now comes, and I pause to know and acknowledge I’m here right now, looking out at the ridge as it dances in fog, reflecting tears.
There was a year I traveled. I’ve written one part of that year of travel in “Airing Out the Fairy Tale,” and then while sitting on a granite cliff on Monhegan Island, I felt how clearly the journey is within. I came home. I still travel, but I’m aware of my carbon footprint. My home provides all I need and sometimes we are called to leave.
There is a book I love: City by Clifford D. Simak. It was originally published in 1952 and was prescient about what home might come to mean to some. The main character’s home has become his castle, run and protected by robots. His best friend dies and he tries to mobilize to go to the funeral. While he’s debating his ability to do that, and finally overcomes the hesitation, his robot, his companion and friend, has sent the transport away saying he, the man, never leaves.
I do leave, obviously, and I do love travel. I loved my journey to Zion, Sedona, Tucson, and Phoenix this fall, but this trip is different and this morning there is pain. I allow the pain to be there, and the tears.
It’s almost May Day. As a child in Des Moines, Iowa, my family and I made baskets out of paper and filled them with goodies to hang on the door knobs of our neighbors. I suppose it was a reverse trick or treat, a welcoming of spring and sharing.
I’m entering day 18 of grieving my brother’s passing at the age of sixty-five. Each day seems to present a different stage of grieving, a different step.
Today I am with baskets which leads me to ribs as I prefer to view what some call a rib cage as a rib basket filled with goodies like my heart and lungs. It expands and contracts with my breath.
That brings me to yaks. I first encountered yaks in 1993 when I was trekking in the Everest region of Nepal. Yaks don’t do well at an altitude below 12,000 feet and prefer to live around 14,000 feet. Their lungs are surrounded by 14 or 15 pairs of ribs compared to 13 for cattle and 12 for humans.
In Nepal it’s said that when people pass away, their soul circles around Everest. I wonder if my brother is doing that now, circling round and round, and that’s why Everest, yaks, and breath come to mind.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote that “Every new object, clearly seen, opens up a new organ of perception in us.” Since his passing, I’m seeing my brother more clearly, more wholly. A new organ of perception opens like a pupil in the eye of the heart, and I’m led by his guidance, a yak still connected to my pack.
I woke this morning thinking of the power of hugs, deep, meaningful, heart-to-heart hugs. Yesterday my Sensory Awareness group met at Fort Mason. I received hugs that moved through me, and reverberate now.
As we gathered and sensed, I began to cough and cough. Since I couldn’t stop, I left the room to get some water and when I returned I still coughed. I couldn’t stop and because I knew I didn’t have a cold, I could feel how my throat had tightened to “stuff down” my feelings of grief. Though I’d cried buckets and received hugs, still there was something coming up from my heart that was caught by a clasp at the throat. Slowly, my throat began to release which is not to say there isn’t still a clamp but it’s softer now, more accepting. Shaking pours tenderness through pain and grief.
I was sitting with all this at seven this morning when my sister-in-law, my brother’s wife, called. She wanted to share that she’d received a message from a high school best friend of my brother, Bill Belt. He and my brother had spoken in December and Gar made no mention of his illness. Therefore, Bill was in shock to learn of his death. Gar was best man at Bill’s wedding and still he protected his friend from what he was going through. My brother was clear to the end that he was not a whiner and didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. I honor and respect that and I honor and respect that I was raised in the same way, and …
What is it now I wish to say?
We no longer live in tribes where men come together to hunt mastodons and women gather berries. We can share our vulnerability, transition, and fear.
My brother lived a good life and knew it. He had come to accept his death. He also knew the pain we, our mother, brother and I, endured when our father died in a motorcycle accident in 1969. My brother’s concern was for those of us still here, and so he and his wife have planned a lovely memorial where we will gather together and comfort each other in the circle of love he leaves behind.
When my sister-in-law called this morning, she sobbed, “Everyone says I am so strong.” And she is strong and she can honor her softness too. We can be tender with ourselves. It is okay.
In the book I’m bringing forth I look at the stoicism with which I was raised and which I’ve worked hard to poke a few holes in so more energy and support can pour through.
I’m grateful I have a place to feel the clamp on my throat that is unconscious but is still there, a clamp of protection so I don’t appear weak, but I know now I am both strong and weak, and weak, what a word, no, I am tender. Tenderly, I allow the fullness of feeling both joy and sorrow at one time, the tender place in the heart where both come together to hug and comfort as they meet.
Like a fern frond uncoiling, a snail shell moving, cell by cell, my throat releases and becomes a fountain flowing.
Yesterday, my beloved friend Anna spoke of and demonstrated what she calls “celestial gravity”. She allowed her arms to rise over her head, in a prayer of reception, connection, openness, and grace.
This morning these words of David Whyte come my way.
I’m also with a little book my dear friend Sandy gave me last week How to Love by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. He suggests using hugs as meditation.
He writes, “When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings.” He continues, “Hugging is a deep practice: you need to be totally present to do it correctly. When I drink a glass of water, I invest one hundred percent of myself in drinking it. You can train yourself to live every moment of your daily life like that.”
“Before hugging, stand facing each other as you follow your breathing and establish your true presence. Then open your arms and hug your loved one. During the first in-breath and out-breath, become aware that you and your beloved are both alive; with the second in-breath and out-breath, think of where you will both three three-hundred years from now, and with the third in-breath and out-breath be aware of how precious it is that you are both still alive.”
Yesterday I sat by the water of the bay and a gull sat with me. Well, he stood and stayed. I asked if I could take his or her picture, and clearly he/she said yes.
I’m opened like the morning sky. I walk out on the deck and fog and sun are in a dance of light. I feel the same. I have nothing that “needs” doing today, no place I have to be. My speech for the memorial is written. I’ll offer it in a week but this day nests and rests.
My brother is with me, ancestry. I’m a dance. I’ve never felt like this before. Well, of course, I’ve never felt like this before. Moments don’t repeat. Each moment unfolds, evolves new ways to receive.
I’m lovingly informed I’m held in tenderness, I feel held, newly born, held in the support of a nest I’ve built over years, perhaps lifetimes. I am a dance, a river, an ocean, a pond. I am vibration rising up and down, in and out, held in love and trust.
Years ago I wrote a poem, Origami in Reverse. I do that now. Gently, tenderly, open what folds to birth.
Where I live, birds have hatched and are in the process of testing their wings and leaving the nest. I consider the work and play of making a nest, the gathering of materials, twigs, hair, fur, and then, the laying of eggs, perhaps a full nest, crowded even, and then testing leading to flight, and the nest is empty perhaps to be used again or maybe to fall apart.
Each of us is given an opportunity to be the twig gathered, the fur, the hair, the coming together to make a nest, the couple, the egg, the hatching, the flight, and then, a a space, a place for something new to come.
The fog has come in. There’s a gray embrace, a clasp of wetness.
I am heavy with grief, weighted down as though pregnant with new birth, though I’m not bringing forth a child into the world, but the weight of myself, a knowing in the cells there is a wider birth of earth than just this collection of cells I am right now. It is my energy that animates, and that energy halts now as it rearranges the knowing with which I connect. My umbilical cord is stretched and will snap back.
I open John O’Donohue’s wonderful book, To Bless the Space Between Us. I open to his poem “For Grief”.
When you lose someone you love, Your life becomes strange, The ground beneath you becomes fragile, Your thoughts make your eyes unsure; And some dead echo drags your voice down Where words have no confidence Your heart has grown heavy with loss; And though this loss has wounded others too, No one knows what has been taken from you When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy; Again inside the fullness of life, Until the moment breaks And you are thrown back Onto the black tide of loss. Days when you have your heart back, You are able to function well Until in the middle of work or encounter, Suddenly with no warning, You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself. All you can depend on now is that Sorrow will remain faithful to itself. More than you, it knows its way And will find the right time To pull and pull the rope of grief Until that coiled hill of tears Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance With the invisible form of your departed; And when the work of grief is done, The wound of loss will heal And you will have learned To wean your eyes From that gap in the air And be able to enter the hearth In your soul where your loved one Has awaited your return All the time.
I wake and see the moon, a light in the sky, not whole now, or full as we say, full of light, but still whole, still knowing itself as full, round, whole.
When people I meet in daily tasks, people for whom there isn’t time for the story, ask how I am, I say, “I am well,” and those who know me look at me more closely as though there’s something not quite right in that response, so this morning I sit with it, sit with how one responds in daily life. I know the eyes are a giveaway and my energy, too, and yet, I also feel the truth of it realizing I can internally modify it for myself. Though I say “I am well”, I can know that I am a well. I may be empty or full, offering, receiving, or simply still.
I am a well, and this morning my heart is heavy, so I stay with that and feel myself as an island, perhaps Japan or Monhegan, perhaps formed from a volcano. Yes, this passing of my brother is a volcano, and I am an island forming, and islands connect with other islands.
I need a moat around my castle right now, a drawbridge. I venture out and return to feeling. I’m working on a “speech” for my brother’s memorial. I poured my heart out last night, memories flowing like lava, now ash.
Then I checked the word count. I offered to speak for three minutes, figuring five was fine, so at 125 to 150 words a minute, I had the freedom of between 600 and 700 words. I was way over that, so I cut and cut again, and now I sit with how one defines 65 years of sibling love and connection in a number of words. No wonder I wake thinking of islands, and look up at a moon not full, and yet, in that I can feel the well I am, a well sometimes full and other times dry.
Today, the pain is tender, soft tapping within, as though the moon reaches into the well, and says look up, keep looking up and hear the birds sing, and see that the limbs on the Maple tree that were bare a month ago, are full, luxuriant, and harbingers of life. They are foundational fountains; they monitor and hold; they move and offer newly formed leaves like fingers as they stir sun, rain, light, and shade.
I am well, well with compassion, well with understanding the phases of the moon, the phases of life. I know that even when empty, I’m full, and even when still, I offer. I am a well, a well of compassion, for you and for me, for being and doing, for living and dying, all held and shared as one.
I wake and rise. The moon shining along the wood floors invites me to receive its beams outside. I come back in and sit as light streams into the room and the moon appears to move across the sky.
When I was going through chemotherapy and radiation my friend Jane and I spoke every morning and then wrote. The book Breast Strokes came from our talks and my posts on my Live Journal blog.
Because Jane spent the first three months of this year at Tassajara Zen Center, today was the first time we touched voices in almost four months. Handwriting back and forth was our form of touch. When we spoke at 6 this morning, we watched the movement of the moon from different sides of the bay. We spoke of touch, the ground of being, touch, an honoring, each day, earth day.
I’ve been going through photos for my brother’s memorial. My tears are sweeter now, softer. There is sadness at times, a piercing, but the piercing is a puncturing as though my heart will one day be completely open to flow, no blocks or rocks in the stream, though Carl Perkins says the rocks in the stream make the song. Perhaps my song will come to silence, vibration so widely spread, it will be a blanket of calm.
This photo in particular strikes me because though we thought, at the time, we were adults, we were young with so much before us, and that continues for me, and I believe for him too. He has simply changed form but perhaps he is more accessible this way. I feel him close as though I’m absorbing his essence, and in doing so, augmenting my own.
I continue to feel a deepening, widening, more substantial connection to what I call Source, and some call Nature, and others call God.
I was married in 1971. My brother walked me down the aisle because our father died in 1969. I was 21 and my brother not yet 18. Perhaps we walk a different aisle now, or maybe all aisles are one.