I generally avoid commenting on anything political because I am usually willfully uninformed. I don’t watch the news every day. Or even every week. I have whole-heartedly embraced the slogan, Ignorance is Bliss. And while I say this lightly, it is essentially true. I honestly don’t know how people can watch the news several times a day. My spirit would be dragging behind me like a bag full of dirt.
Part of my discomfort with listening to the news is the format in which most information moves in this day and age. I remember a time when hearing both sides of an issue was considered a good thing. I remember when people like me could comfortably approach a discussion and ask to be updated, by people with opposing opinions. Anyone else remember that?
I really don’t feel equipped to discuss politics with most people because the new format is a mystery to me. I guess I shouldn’t have tuned out for so long. Anyhow, it would appear that in order to “engage in discussion” in the current climate, you must have already made up your mind, be passionate about it, and try to refute everything said by people who disagree with you. Listening seems to be frowned upon, and admitting that someone else’s point has given you something to think about seems to be as shameful as yelling “uncle” when your brother sat on you as a kid. And the more sarcastic you can be, the better. The only good news I can see is that you don’t have to come up with any ideas of your own to participate in one of these discussions, you just have to have the sharpest tongue in criticizing others in order to win.
So, I am late, and ignorant on a lot of points, but I can’t stop thinking about my country. Even a turtle like me can see we are at a turning point in our history. But I’m not the one to fill you in on the facts. You must do that for yourself. In the meantime, as always, I will resort to a story:
This week I was invited to read to the local school children for I Read Canadian Day.
It was a sweet event and a good time was had by all.
On the surface.
Inside my Canada jersey, beneath my pale skin, in my second-generation immigrant heart, a storm was raging. I looked out at the faces of our future, in a variety of skin tones, and felt the joy and hope I always feel when I look at my students. Even when we are facing such challenges as our climate crisis. But this time, I also felt conflict.
Just before going to the school, I watched a video posted by a young woman from Winnipeg who was verbally abused on a city bus for no other reason than the colour of her skin. I was sick listening to her tell her story. Sick at the incident and sick at the idea that no one on that bus told the abusers to stop. Twenty minutes of verbal abuse and no one said a word.
I am seeing more and more disturbing things in the news and on social media. As if the news isn’t disturbing enough on its own, now I am sitting here listening to coverage of an “economic crisis” caused by the “unlawful actions of a few terrorists.”
Oh Canada! No one was talking about this years ago when I first started following the work of Freda Huson of the Wet'suwet'en. No one was talking when we were dealing with an environmental issue; a call to attention about the ramifications of the pipeline construction tearing through wilderness, let alone the potential dangers of the pipeline itself. No one was talking about it when it was becoming a land title and sovereignty issue. No one was talking about it when a notable portion of our FN countrymen/women started saying that Reconciliation is Dead.
But now that our wallets are involved, look at us all spring into action! I had to go looking for information about this crisis in the earlier stages. But now that businesses are losing money, this story is about the only thing getting coverage.
Oh Canada, I think I can imagine the fear that some of us are facing because of the impact of the demonstrations on various aspects of the economy. Some of us are most definitely in a crisis situation and my heart goes out to all. I can understand why we are focused on getting the railway moving or one of the other specific side-effects of what the nation is suffering. Although, I wonder why the National Farmers Union’s unequivocal support of the Wet'suwet'en was over-looked in the mainstream news.
I’m trying to keep the big picture in my head. When I reroute around a demonstration, I’m grateful to live in a country with free speech. I hope everyone manages to feel heard by the end of this. Funny how some of us can just say our piece and others of us have to erect blockades and camp in the snow to be heard.
That’s my bigger picture. For everyone to be heard, so we can move forward together. Reconciliation received a standing ovation until it got uncomfortable. Some people stopped clapping and sat down on their hands as soon as they found out that the first part of the plan was for non-indigenous Canadians to listen.
Well, we’ve hit the first really uncomfortable and inconvenient growth spurt. We have just begun taking our early baby steps together in this new path, like a couple of wobbly toddlers, and the first time we are required to climb an obstacle, we have stumbled. Of course we have. But what now?
Change hurts. Not just for those trying to hold onto their power, or for those trying to get some power, but for all of us. Change usually costs us something and it is almost always uncomfortable. Even scary.
But when I look back at my life, every change, no matter how painful at the time, has led to growth.
When we look back at our collective past, we have tried to make the changes necessary to ensure all Canadians feel heard. Right back to the Suffragettes, we have made change after change. Often late, but we get there eventually. And we recognize that we have many more changes to make in areas of race, gender, and all the other things that we use to separate ourselves from one another.
Except for when it comes to our racist history. We tend to take a long time to own up to our national mistakes. And apparently, when we say sorry for those mistakes, we mean the kind of sorry that little kids say to get the babysitter off their backs. We don’t apologize, because that means turning away from the behaviour you apologized for. A true apology denotes a desire to change the offending behaviour.
It’s going to be uncomfortable, but somewhere up ahead, we are going to look back and say, Thank god we finally made that change. It was a tough time, but things are so much better now.
If we are serious about Reconciliation, and many millions of us are, then let’s try to support each other. Let’s find some compassion for all those affected by the blockades in all the many ways Canadians are being affected. Let’s commit ourselves to getting through this painful stage without causing more pain than is absolutely necessary. But methinks, some pain is necessary. Maybe this time, the pain doesn’t all land on the First Nations.
Oh Canada, I have always been so proud to wear my maple leaf. But this week, I pulled that jersey over my head with tears in my eyes. For Ms. Baptiste from Winnipeg. For a nation so scarred and blinded by Colonialism, it sometimes feels we will never heal. But I believe in us. I believe we can do better.
I want a government that chooses people over dollars every time. Believe, me I know how naïve that sounds. But I’m okay with you pointing out the weakness of my argument. I welcome it. You can even mock me and ridicule me, if that helps ease your anxiety. But I will hang on to my ridiculous idealism. I will stay here away from the front lines of the blockades or the halls of government while others braver and smarter than I try to deal with the discomfort of the details. I, with nothing but the big picture in my nearly-empty head, will pray for everyone’s safety. I will send my respect and support to all involved and hope that the big picture stays present in every minute negotiation: Who are we as a Nation? Do we really want Reconciliation or don’t we? How do we move forward side by side?
One day, when I am up at my school, I want to be able to look out at those small faces and say to them, that we managed, in the end, to get on the right side of history. That even though it was hard, we put them and their future first.
Look! They let me into a REAL art show!
I am so excited to be part of this project with Janny Thompson and Ester Strijbos in Victoria in December. I will be reading at our opening on December 6. If you don't make the show (but seriously, people, you have a whole month), I will be selling the books on Cortes Island as well.
Island Time is an interactive, multi-disciplinary art show which emphasizes story. Three artists present the theme of time from an islander’s perspective with mono-prints (Janny Thompson), ceramics (Ester Strijbos), and short fiction/poetry (Monica Nawrocki). This artistic exploration speaks to the passage of time and what it means to be an islander. The show also highlights the connections that grow among artists in small communities as the three presenters have drawn direct inspiration from one another’s work to create Island Time.
Show runs from Dec. 6 to 30 at the Cedar Hills Art Gallery, 3220 Cedar Hill Road, Victoria, British Columbia.
It's low tide again.
I am standing on the beach, sinking a bit in the mud, looking longingly at the water, pulled away and out of reach. Gone are the sun's diamonds scattered across the surface, the antics of the Scoters, the curious gaze of the seals. I'm left with sand, rock, broken shells. Everything is laid bare, nowhere to hide, and I comb the shore, a bit desperately, hoping to find some little treasure as a consolation.
That's how it feels, in this place of mourning. Our tiny island community has recently said good-bye to one of our dearest matriarchs, and I feel like I am standing out on the sand flats in a cold wind, longing for the return of the water, the fullness of the high tides of summer, brimming with life.
But low tide has its own beauty, doesn't it? Its own tranquility and spaciousness. It's own treasures, half buried in the sand.
In my sadness, connections with those I love feel stronger and deeper; their value suddenly as clear as a cut gem. The world's gifts are everywhere I look, shining like gold. My own good fortune feels like the fortune that it is.
I think about my dear friend, Ginnie, and I see how much I learned from the way she lived her life. I see how much I have learned from the way she died.
It's low tide again, and I walk quietly along the sand flats, watching for treasure. The tide will return, the fullness and business of life will cover our broken hearts. But for these memories - these treasures - I will find a place of honour, like sea glass on a sunny windowsill.
“I’m feeling anxious about the changes I am currently experiencing and/or anticipating. Your patience is appreciated.”
It’s mid-August, and everywhere we look, these three little words - back to school - scream at us, inspiring a range of emotion from Christmas Day Anticipation to Root Canal Dread.
Teachers will not turn on their televisions, look at newspaper flyers or listen to the radio. They avert their eyes when they see billboards or bus panels. They stick their fingers in their ears and sing la-la-la at the top of their lungs if they hear the S-word. They avoid Staples and Wal-Mart. Social Media is a mine field. Teachers are running around frantically trying to finish (or start) all the things they wanted to do with their glorious summer. When they tire from the running in circles, they lay in the hammock pretending they are not laying out lesson plans in their heads.
Meanwhile, parents are studying their hand-made calendars of August with an interesting tingling sensation. While the bright paper is scuffed, spilled-on, and dog-eared, it is still legible. The kids’ activities are strategically placed every few days to keep time moving quickly. The most prominent feature of this calendar is the Countdown. Parents are planning The Shopping Day. They have a nearly illegible list that spent the summer in the couch cushions, and they are trying to figure out how many colours are necessary in a crayon pack. Eight? Twelve? Twenty? Are there actually 64 different colours??
They may also have re-negotiated their mortgage to finance The Shopping Day.
They are already making fall survival plans with other parents. Most plans include alcohol. They think of their child’s teacher with a strange combination of loathing and longing.
The kids are vacillating wildly between a desperate need to get in as much fun as possible, and complete boredom. They are over-stimulated and over-tired. They are sick of summer and want to go back to school tomorrow. They don’t want the summer to end, ever. They miss their friends. They are so sick of their friends. They have stuff to do. They don’t want to do anything. They are still planning to get in shape this summer. They just spent their allowance on a box of fudgesicles.
Some people in this scenario have a vague idea of what September will look like. Some have no idea. New school. New class. New kids. New teacher. The fall transition is stressful for everyone. There are certainly ways to ease the transition – talking about it, most importantly – and beginning to shift routines gradually. But most of all, being gentle with each other.
Managing our own feelings and stresses as the adults is enough of a job. But understanding that your child or student is acting out because of transition stress, takes real concentration and compassion. Children rarely say, “I’m feeling anxious about the changes I am currently experiencing and/or anticipating.”
But that is probably exactly what they mean with every outburst, tantrum, and rude rejoinder. That’s always the trick: seeing beyond the behavior to the feelings that are fueling it. We all try to do this consistently as parents and as educators, and we all fail. So, we say sorry when necessary and we try again. Be gentle with each other. Be especially gentle with yourself. Have a great autumn, everyone.
Cortes Island book launch
Spring is the best, isn't it? Everything so hopeful and new; when anything is possible.
And just before you launch a new book is like that, too. Anything is possible right now. Cedar Dance is the name of the book as well as the name of the main character. I dare you not to like this guy!
Here's a link to my publisher so you can take a look. It will be out soon, but you can pre-order if you like.
And for a more complete synopsis and review . . .
One last thing: this website is about to get a makeover by Fortune-Made Consulting so it may look different next time you visit. Don't worry, you're not lost! Let me know what you think.
For me, one of the best ways to find uninterrupted periods of immersion writing time is to go house-sitting. I have done it several times. Some of you may remember the sage, one-eyed dachshund-terrier Dougie who assisted me in a previous post.
This time I am in Ucluelet. Yup, you heard me. I am in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with nothing to distract me from my writing.
Well, almost nothing . . .
Cat #1 is Manny: Beautiful green eyes, little white tufts of hair sticking out of his velvety grey ears. He introduces himself to me as my new best friend and a few hours after my arrival, curls up on my stomach to watch Netflix with me.
Cat #2 is Boots: So far, she is a grey tail sticking out from under the bed.
Cat #3 is Callie: Invisible? Imaginary?
Cat #4 is an unnamed feral resident of the garden shed who is getting larger and more frightening by the minute (in my mind). Will visit him/her in the morning.
Writing goes well.
Manny: Proposes marriage.
Boots: Shy period ends abruptly. Inquires 87 times about sitting on the kitchen counter, by sitting on the kitchen counter. Looks shocked and appalled each time I shoo her off.
Callie: Apparently, a figment of the owner’s imagination.
Shed Kitty: Invisible? Not imaginary; there is poop. What kind of feral cat uses a litter box anyway? Perhaps Shed Kitty is a fugitive from the law. I will call him/her Richard Kimble.
On my walk, I attempt to say hello to several dogs and I am snubbed every single time. Coincidence? I think not.
I watch 15 ravens meet at the swimmin’ hole for a bath. A group of them walk toward each other until they are in a little clump, then bob their heads in unison several times and all make the same vocalization. They separate and fly off in various directions.
After a morning of writing and a long walk, my lower back is sore. The construction site next door is deserted and has been since I left for my walk. I think it will be safe to get in the hot tub naked even though it is still daytime. I am incorrect.
The furry kids get me up at 6:00 but I refuse to feed them until 8:00. In response, Boots pretends our counter battle never happened and initiates round two. (Speaking of Boots, how can a four-pound kitty require three quarters of a king size bed?)
Out in the garden shed, Richard Kimble sure poops a lot. Is he/she hosting after-hours poker games for his feral buddies? Or getting rid of the last squirrel consumed in freedom? Who knows? Richard is not talking.
The elusive Callie comes downstairs, but insists on no photos or interviews. By the end of the day, she consents to an audience and I sit quietly on the floor about a meter away from her as she pretends to look at something else. Then she returns to the loft. I will call her Greta Garbo.
My writing is going great. I am asking and attempting to answer a lot of questions. Some things require long periods of uninterrupted thinking time. The walks are great for this process. I’m having fun.
At the end of the day, after lots of work, a walk, a glorious soak in the hot tub, and a grill cheese sandwich, I put on Netflix and settle onto the couch. As soon as the TV comes on, Boots is up on the cabinet, sitting three inches from the screen, watching the action. Her head, whipping back and forth, is blocking part of the screen, so I ask her politely to move. She declines, and after getting bored with my program, starts exploring the top of the cabinet. She promptly falls off the back of it and is trapped between the wall and the cabinet. She swears at me and I help her out.
She spends the rest of the hour tunneling under my yoga mat.
I will call her Crazy.
Apart from waking once to find Crazy walking up my body like she’s hiking the Appalachians, I sleep well. I get up late and decide I better feed the kids first, even before coffee. Callie comes down and eats with the common folk. They are all back to sleep by 9:00.
I find it increasingly disturbing that I never see or even hear Richard Kimble.
I move a whole chapter this morning and come to update you while the new chapter order settles in my mind. Chances are, I will go straight back and change it again. But that’s the fun, isn’t it?
During my morning stretch, I think of the perfect thing for my character to say and yell, “That’s perfect!”
Crazy yells back. Something about catnip.
Not on my watch, I tell her.
Seriously, that would be like giving espresso to a toddler.
Having been warned about the slipperiness of the deck in the frosty mornings, I am very careful as I head out to feed Richard Kimble. Except for one tiny lapse in concentration. As my mother told me when she fell last month, ‘I can fly pretty good, but I have trouble with the landings.’
As I lay on my back catching my breath, I note that it is another clear sky. Good day for a longer hike.
Concerned that my middle-age body might seize up after my fall, I have a morning spa treatment in the hot tub, decide to take the day off of writing since it is Sunday, and plan a hike to the Lighthouse Loop.
These are the most amazing trails I have ever seen. For the first time ever on a solo hike, I do not get lost. Although, I must admit, I am surprised to find the parking lot has been moved to the other side of the road while I’ve been hiking.
I go for coffee and chat with Kevin, the owner. Ucluelet is dealing with low and mid-income housing shortages. Air B&B seems to be a threat to communities everywhere. Kevin tells me that the Eagle’s Nest Pub has cheap burgers on Sundays and I decide to go.
On the way there, I hear sea lions barking not very far away. In the pub that overlooks a dock, I sit between two TV’s and swivel my head happily between a hockey game, the Academy Awards, and the view. I enjoy a local beer, an excellent burger, and a familiar, home-like atmosphere as the patrons greet each other with hugs, play musical chairs at the tables, and gossip with the servers.
Continuing with today’s theme of not heeding the owner’s warnings, I decide not to put Handsome Manny in the sun room where I have deposited him guiltily every night at bedtime, according to my instructions. I have a talk with him about my expectations around his behavior as it pertains to his sister, Crazy, in particular. We strike a deal: he assures me there will be no goofing around, and I leave him to sleep where he is.
I read in bed until I am sleepy, turn out the light, and then . . . the game begins. Crazy and Handsome are chasing each other at breakneck speed through the house; up and down the stairs, spinning out on the corners, sliding across the kitchen. I turn on the light and grumpily join the game - which immediately becomes hide and seek. In the dim light, Greta Garbo and Handsome look quite similar and at one point I almost grab Greta by mistake. She pulls back from me with an expression of utter disgust. I suspect there will be consequences for my blunder. I search each of the seven sleeping spots that Manny uses. Several times. I am beginning to think that maybe cats, like Klingons, have cloaking devices. I give up my search and go back into the throne room to apologize to Greta one more time, and there he is, sitting on the windowsill, smoking a cigarette in a long filter. I tiptoe past Her Highness, and pick him up. He protests loudly all the way to the sun room.
I return to bed at 1:00 am, completely cured of my guilt.
Scroll back up and look to the right of the post if you wish to add your name to my email list. I will send you a note when there is a new post to read. Cheers!
To the person who robbed me,
I can’t stop thinking about you.
When I went to get my hat and realized it wasn’t there, I thought of you. I can’t replace it, I’m afraid. I bought it on Maui when we went there to celebrate Shan’s 50th birthday. She requested that trip from her hospital bed, awaiting her transplant, so her wish was more of an If than a When. It’s a cool hat, so I’m sure it will get some use.
My leather jacket will as well. Even though I got it at a Thrift shop, it’s a good coat. If you wear it with that heavy sweater in the bag, you will stay warm through this cold snap.
I’m ticked off about the sunglasses. They were my birthday present a few years back. I allowed Shan to spend a ridiculous amount on them and I took such good care of them.
But I can get new sunglasses.
I can’t replace the letter from my sister that I have carried in my wallet for years. Nor can I replace the little book I made. Or the journal I was using for my next project.
I’m a writer, you see, and I keep wondering about your backstory. In my stories, I always hint at how my villains became who they are. I think it’s because I used to teach at-risk youth and I know perfectly well why some people end up in trouble.
What is your back story?
Are you like the boy I knew who was locked in his bedroom by his abusive father? Or the one who had his hair set on fire? Maybe you were like the many children I knew who were foster kids in homes that didn’t care about them. Perhaps you were one of those who basically raised yourself. I saw a lot of pain in that job. And pain creates pain.
Whatever your story is, I doubt it’s good. I’m sorry about that.
I wish you had just taken the warm clothes, the cash and credit card, and left the rest.
I wish I could write you a happy ending.
I wish we lived in a world where you could ask for help, and get it.
The zipper on the sweater sticks a little. Just be gentle, and you’ll be okay.
Picture the planet.
The beautiful blue marble, mostly ocean. Find the Pacific and let your imagination wander south to the west coast of Mexico. Azure water and sapphire sky. Zoom in until you see some dots in the water just off the beach. One is waving. Squint a little, now. Can you see the ecstatic grin? That’s me!
I’m bobbing in the warm waves, feeling so grateful, my heart could burst wide open. The late afternoon sun is on my face and the water is holding me gently while I float in a perfect moment of peace. I am fully in the Now. The air is sweet and soft and I am gazing like a new lover at the palm trees wiggling their fronds at me and blowing kisses on the breeze.
Now, picture the Rogue Wave. It’s big. Really big. Do you see it coming?
And suddenly, I am tumbling. So this is how my laundry feels.
I try to relax so that I will float to the top, having no idea which way that is. When my head breaks the surface, I take the biggest breath I can, just in case. I am just getting my hand to my eyes to try and clear away the salt water when the next wave hits. Not as big, but the first one has pushed me into shallower water and so the second smacks me onto the bottom of the ocean. I push off with my hands and stretch toward the surface. Breathe. I can hear the next one roaring in and cover my head as best I can. I feel the sand and gravel scraping me, but must concentrate on finding the surface and getting a breath. I have time to find my feet, so I try to take a step toward shore when the next one hits and throws me forward. At least I’m heading in the right direction.
I stand up and the next wave knocks me down from behind, the undertow dragging me back into the deep water so I can’t reach the bottom. I turn and see another one coming, dive down under it and avoid the tumble. I face the beach, get oriented, and plan my escape. But I’m already tired and just when I get onto my feet, another wave knocks me down and drags me back.
Rinse and repeat.
I’m getting worried by how tired I am, unable to get up the steep incline of the beach. With one final surge of energy, I crawl out on my hands and knees.
Way past the boundaries of dignity, I stand under the open shower on the beach and dig sand and gravel out of my bathing suit. There has to be a half-gallon.
Slowly, my shock wears off and I begin to see the humour. Especially when I realize my pockets seem to have spontaneously refilled with sand, as though my bathing suit has issued an evacuation order and the granules and pebbles are still making their way towards the escape hatch pockets.
I go up to the room and shower thoroughly, examine the emerging bruises and road rash and apply bandages where necessary. All in all, I am fine, although I have to buy flip flops as my sandals rub on open sores.
I go back to the beach and lay in the sunshine, eyeing the ocean warily. No-one else is having any difficulty and there are people in the water right where I was. Inexperience? Unusual wave at just the wrong time? Who knows? And although in the moment, I’m not sure I will want to swim in the ocean again, I am back in the next morning. (But not late afternoon, when the rollers get bigger.) I go to the area further down the beach that is marked with swimming buoys, where the grade of the beach is not as steep.
As it is my nature to reflect, I wonder if there is a lesson here.
Was I foolish? I made sure there were other people swimming nearby. I chose a spot far from rocks. I had a friend on the beach who knew I was swimming. Those are reasonable precautions, I think. I suppose I could have done better, but sheesh, people, sometimes you just gotta go for it.
Life is the ocean. One minute you’re bobbing along full of gratitude and bliss and the next you’re spitting up sand. You can spend your time and energy on safety precautions, or you can just get in and enjoy the water. Regardless of how careful you are, how prepared you are, there will be a few rogue waves, a few poor choices, some bruises and scrapes due to inexperience.
I was talking with my sister, Cindy, on the phone the other day and she said her New Year’s resolution is to make some big mistakes. I love that! You have to take some risks in this life; you gotta dive in when you’re not 100% sure. Life is going to knock you around whether you embrace the unknown or not, so you may as well live while you’re alive. Cindy sent me a quote from author Neil Gaiman that I have to share with you. It is his wish for the New Year:
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.
So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
Susan Gibson wrote the perfect song for my sister’s New Year’s Resolution. Although she wrote it in that first yearning for freedom as a young woman, the need for wide open spaces never leaves us. If we are really living, we will always need room to make the big mistakes. The Dixie Chicks made it famous, but here is Susan, with her wonderful humour, telling the story of the song that I may adopt for my anthem this year.
This one’s for Cindy:
The end of September was warm and sunny here on Cortes Island. After a week of rain, the sun returned for an encore and she saved the best for last.
I took Jedidiah Wiggle-bottom to the lake for his swim on a warm Monday afternoon and as I watched the old boy limp into the water, I offered up a prayer for our dear friend Denise whose days were drawing to a close. Then, I whispered into that bright blue sky, Jed is ready to go, too, Denise. If you want a travel companion, come and get him on your way.
The very next day, Jed got up off his bed and his knee, repaired with surgery eight years ago, gave out for good. We kept him comfortable and made an appointment for his last visit to the vet for Wednesday. But on that difficult day, we encountered a double over-load for the Quadra ferry and missed our appointment. We took Jed back home.
This was when we learned that Denise had died. She’d been called away by the wolves at 3:00 a.m. the night before. Well, 2:59 to be precise – I guess she was ready to go.
We got up before dawn on Thursday and sat vigil with Denise in her art studio for a couple of hours as she began her journey. I sat in the soft candlelight and noticed all the layers of my discomfort falling away one by one as I gazed at Denise laying in the amazing hand-crafted vessel made by her friend and her grandsons. I watched the light of sunrise enter her studio and slowly illuminate the art work she had chosen for this final show. My mind revisited the first time I’d seen many of those pieces, and warm memories wrapped ‘round me like a soft blanket against the chill of grief.
I experienced a profound peace sitting with Denise; a deep acceptance that death is natural, and in many ways, quite beautiful.
Shanny and I took that peace with us as we went home, gathered up our beloved pet and took him to town for his last day. He ate his first and last ice cream cone. Lick? Bite? What is this wonderful stuff? And once again our little goofball brought us smiles, the last of countless smiles, countless laughs, so much joy.
The doctor at Coastal was very kind. In a softly-lit room, we fed Jeddy treats and whispered final instructions for “going to college”; find Grandma Denise first, then help her find her grand-doggy, Chelsea, then look for your brothers Thai and Bro, your friend Hassli . . . We held him close while he slipped off to his final nap.
Despite my sadness, I felt such comfort in my imaginings of that little pack of happy dogs, all free from arthritis, romping with the joy only dogs convey perfectly. I saw Denise in the midst of them, giggling, and pulling treats out of the magical pockets that will never be empty.
Shanny and I returned home, both of us growing quiet in the dread of entering our dog-less home for the first time. But a trail of carefully-placed autumn leaves led up our path to the steps where we found flowers, food, and a card. Love softens every blow.
The next day we prepared to say our final farewell to the body that Denise’s spirit had inhabited with such grace and beauty. We stood among her family who so generously shared her ending with us. I stood in the warm sun, thinking that the best teachers in this life are those who have no idea that they are teachers. I learned so much from Denise’s life of generosity, kindness and extraordinary empathy.
And I have learned from her death. I watched the process from a distance and can’t presume to know what is involved in coming to terms with death – your own or a loved one’s – but what I saw touched me deeply. I have included (with permission) a picture of Denise sitting with the vessel as she is told its story by the three men who built it. A story about all the people who offered wood, including the very sacred yellow cedar donated by the local Klahoose band; why it looks a bit like a boat; how they incorporated her spirit animal; all the love that brought her vessel into being. The memory of watching that beautiful piece of art as it carried, and was carried, will be etched in my mind forever.
So, my summer of endings has ended. Now the days shorten and cool, and winter peaks over the horizon to announce her arrival. Ready or not, here I come.
And I am ready. Ready for the quiet nights by the fire to contemplate what I have experienced this summer, this fall. I have only just begun to process the lessons of this journey, but I feel their import. And when I feel my grief rising in me, I strive to embrace it, knowing this place, so dark and cold right now, is where seeds take hold.
I wonder what tiny green shoots will push through when this cold soil finally starts to warm. What treasures will I find in the garden of my heart?
I will strive to embrace my sadness and my gratitude through this long, dark winter.
Mark Nepo said it so well in his poem, Adrift, so I’ll leave you with his words:
Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief. The light spraying
through the lace of the fern is as delicate
as the fibers of memory forming their web
around the knot in my throat. The breeze
makes the birds move from branch to branch
as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost
in the next room, in the next song, in the laugh
of the next stranger. In the very center, under
it all, what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.
Monica Nawrocki -