NORA L. JAMIESON
What is, who is here now. I’ve been struggling to describe this unknown, soft-edged place. Reclusive yet lonely. Is this the space slung between mush and emergence, between sleep-walking and waking? My little world appears at a distance from the eyes of my heart. Out there, out there. Or am I the one out there? Or so in here that I will have to learn a whole new language in this world.
Inside me there is a blank canvas, an undefined territory, edgeless and unshaped by loving hands, words, presence. I rattle around in this bone house of grief that has become part of me. Yet unformed, unshaped, no sculptor called love, called Allan, called Place, called Home.
All the social things I do, feel like separate notations of my life. They happen in a world I don’t occupy, a world I visit. They are like notes with no score.
Deep loss dismembers a life, coherence, something we often take as a given, fragments into pieces that no longer fit together, no longer matter anyway, because the missing piece is so core to one’s being. Who needs an identity anyway? Do we as humans need a sense of Self, separate, occupying a particular shape in space? Do I? Why am I struggling to find a coherent Self. Perhaps this, this edgeless, formless place is the alchemical response to suffering, to loss.
Am I mistaking gold for dross?
Each day I walk the woods a ghost, my Widow’s Walk. Allan and I once fantasized about building a Widow’s Walk on the roof where we could see the stars. I think of those women pacing, their eyes stinging from the glare of sun on water, hearts stretching to meet the lip of the horizon, willing their Beloveds not be lost at sea. And, I’m sure, some willing the sea to take the returning men.
Lost at sea, no bearings, waves tidaling overboard, tightening down the hatches, securing hand-holds, lost at sea. I am lost at sea, but for those moments of deep engagement, with painting, writing, with soul. No one waits for my return. No one watches the horizon for my little boat, and there is no horizon for me to gaze upon for his. No future mapped out.
No, it’s all navigating by the stars now, by the seasons, year after year. I could become a recluse, all the mirrors in the house covered, so useless in their reflection anyway. All they tell me is I am here while he is gone. No longer standing behind me, enfolding me in his arms. He no longer sits on my Grandmother’s frail chair, reflected in the bathroom mirror, naked but for socks, flossing his teeth. Never failed to make me laugh, that.
Now I become lost in the echo chambers of my thinking mind. Point, counterpoint, not even worry anymore, just endless chatter. Until I notice and quiet to meet nothing but in breath, out breath, aching heart, empty heart.
I could become a recluse, preferable to trying to invent a Self. Again. At 71, perhaps I am done with that. Illusions dissolve in this grief storm, like wreckage at sea. All that is left is absence, is invisible. Love, longing, the care of the broken, remembering my Spirit people.
Can one acclimate to no touch, no reflection?
She says, the Old One, stop searching for definition, shape, identity, Self. Call off the search party, declare the Self dead at sea. Lift her shrouded body overboard. Be guided by the stars, by what life, Spirit sends your way. Befriend the hurt, trust the Holy unfolding. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.
I began this letter to you when the black birch leaves had turned their various shades of yellow, appearing saffron in the overcast light of a rainy day. A blend of squirrels scuffling in the leaves, acorns hitting the roof, the wind and the dissonance of weed whackers and blowers, weave together, against a background of silence. But the writing wouldn’t come together, even though most of the letters I send you – you who read them, you who are going through grief, you who want to hear from me, you who aren’t physically here, usually come from my computer to you. Raw. I guess they are a combination of prayer, invitation to my dead, to you the reader for us to walk beside each other, to reach out to those I know and haven’t seen or circled with in what seems such a long time. To speak of grief.
The luminous leaves fall like coins raining down and he is not here to marvel at it with me. Or rather he is, he is all around me, this I know, and don’t always feel. The absence of his physical presence looms large. Where did he go? On December 24, it will be three years since Allan left his precious body.
And now it is Samhain, the Celtic Holy day when the veil is thin between the worlds in our part of the world. I remember so many Ceremonies on this land, Samhain gatherings where we called to our dead, blessing them and asking for their blessings. Remembering them. They want to be remembered. I have been reaching out to the veil for many years, rather reaching out to what we perceive as a veil, more so since Allan died.
My right brain is getting a workout these days as I try to expand my state of consciousness to other realms, and to believe what comes to me from the dead, from the invisible ones. I’ve read so much and studied so much in these past years. In the last three, particularly. Metaphysics, mediumship, near death experiences, and visitations of our beloved dead.
John Trudell, a thinker, poet and leader in the American Indian Movement and a man who knew great sorrow after the unproven murder of his wife and children by the Federal Government. He once said that colonization mines people. “You been mined man.” Something along those lines. I can just hear him.
Colonization takes over a people, their ways of soul, ways of life and expression, their language. They are gouged, the way we gouge the earth for oil, for diamonds, for coal and iron. He included all people in this. Even the perpetrators of crimes against his people. We Europeans were mined in our home lands and by the time we got here we perpetuated the mining on the original peoples. We tried to dig out what we saw as worthless and replace it with our own values. The way old science still mines the Holy mysteries for knowledge and power over what we cannot know or control.
Grief throws us over the dark edge into the very heart of the mysteries. Yet as a culture, we do everything possible to deny that mystery. But perhaps if we allow it, what we don’t know, what we don’t ordinarily see or feel, naturally in the breaking open of grief, throws open its doors long enough for us to be taken, undone, carried and reassured by the very Mystery we long to control. Initiations are painful. Grieving ones are raw and messy, sensitive and often hopeless. Robbed of a future, we live time out of it’s flow as Denise Riley puts it. Because our soul has been mined, our ability to honor and see it as a portal has been mined. Grief is theorized, diagnosed, given time limits and seen as a passing phase. Rarely sacralized in our culture. Rarely seen as Holy, as being so close to the Mysteries.
I realized yesterday that what someone in me needed to say didn’t come together because an awareness was coming to me. So obvious, so simple, so real. I have been stopped so many times the last few days, staring out the window, sitting suddenly down on the bed, stopping on the path in the woods feeling that knowing traveling to me over distances, while Roxie wonders what’s more important than a stick.
It is this.
The arc of my life is almost over. I see the arc of it, of all our lives, each one a full story, sacred to us. It’s almost as if my life passes before my eyes in ten seconds and brings me to this moment. My Beloved’s embodied life is done, his earth story completed. I am astonished, it is true.
I am an old woman at the end of the arc of my life. The rainbow arc, the luminescent lightning linking birth and death, the arc of story, the arc that carries us along the river of life. With all its sufferings, the blessings, disappointments. Deep down, below, in rare moments, I come into a chthonic realm of dark and vast silence, Holy silence. A place of knowing that all things will die, people, dreams, every blessed alive thing has its day and its Holy death. You, me, who we count among our beloveds, all of us. And each life is its own epic story. This is not an intellectual understanding dear ones, this is a nascent change in perception. A terrible beauty.
In the center of it all, in my daily human life, my heart aches with longing and absence. So much has happened this year. I want him here by my side. So much that begs his wisdom, yet he is not here to give it, to ponder the wild workings of this world. I miss our conversations. Oh I miss so much, too much to list. And something I cannot articulate.
I don a pair of tights covered in large pink roses, and white gaping skulls. I call them my Frieda Kahlo tights and wondered if I can wear them. Skulls mean something different now that my beloved’s bones lie beneath the earth, his skull likely down to the bone. His Holy bones that carried him through life. I do wear the tights, daring myself to, reminders and all, because I don’t want to shy away from what is true. It may seem a minor thing, but in the realm of mourning, reminders abound. Dates, smells, objects, feelings, memories – the pen he used, the clippers in the drawer, the old razor in the bin, his handwriting, oh his handwriting. The smell of his leather jacket. I wear the tights because I love his bones as much as I love him.
I come from a keening people and an enduring people and a stiff upper lip people. The keening heart of me has won out, while the strength of endurance serves me well as has the ability to give in. To surrender, not serenely, not without kicking and screaming, not without wishing this would be over. The stiff upper lip part is the one who gives me trouble. Judges, analyzes, insults. Diagnoses. Mining my humanity. The colonizer.
The hero’s journey is one of return. I will never return fully. I am changed. I will never be the same. In the canyon of my emptiness, there is an old riverbed, eroded deeper by mourning, carrying tears, carrying memories, carrying the little boat of my life in such vastness to its stopping place. But also carrying a knowing with no words. I will set up camp and tend the fire between the two worlds.
Grief and death brings us to the edge of Mystery. Grief is a willingness to submit to the Mystery. Shit, it hurts, and who would want to do it? I’d rather have my Beloved in the bed beside me. But he’s not physically there, and I say yes to this side of love. Those who grieve, trembling at the edge, know the toll of deep love. We will all tremble one day, and it is this that binds us, humbles us.
Looking around we see plenty to tremble about, to grieve. This is learning that love is stronger than any force. Even stronger than death. Not all gifts feel good or bring pleasure but sometimes open us to the vastness and terrible beauty of life. Was Allan’s death a gift. No. Does breaking open bring me closer to my humanity, my heart, my compassion, the suffering in the world. Yes, and it attunes me more fully to understanding that this embodied life is not all there is.
What do I mean by love? When my mother died, I had a dream. I had asked her to contact me if she could. Wryly, she said, “seeing as you’re the only one who’s interested, I will.” She did.
I dream of children who are trying to teach me to fly. Moving their arms up and down. I don’t know if I flew but I did see the destination and move toward the most embracing and tender light. A peace beyond understanding. I wanted to go there, until I understand that this is my mother’s journey as she had indeed let me know. That is what I mean by love. A deep reception and witness of our true nature, true essence at the core of each of us. Unconditional. And luminous.
When Allan was dying, yet still sitting at the dining table, he said he’d been thinking about blessings. I sat down near him and asked him to tell me. He said a blessing is when one person recognizes the humanity and divinity in another and he put his hand on my forehead. It is in the recognition that the blessing lies, he continued, looking into my eyes. I in turn blessed him.
I began this while the leaves were turning, now the trees are nearly bare. Last Monday, high winds thrashed through the trees. While I stood at the easel painting, two Old Ones fell to earth crying out in a language cracked and splintered. These elders had withstood every storm, ice, wind, and snow between them for one hundred and forty years.
And now, the arc of their living story is over. And now, their stories will rise in the dance of smoke, carried by the spirit of wind. Beyond.
Blessings and love to you,
Not this, Not that
Today I feel heavy, even as everything, the ferns, the weeping cherry trees, the tangy green buds leaf out, all reaching for light after their necessary descent into the darkness of the frozen black earth. I step out my door, the large stone slabs of my walkway warmed by the sun, the pungent scent of the fresh earthy mulch rises to me. Rick spread the mulch a couple days after his dad died of the Covid-19 virus, working off his grief.
So many hearts now still are frozen earth, even as life rises up around us. A teacher once said,
people often die in the winter because spring asks too much of them. Now I know it also asks too much of the grieving. All this light, the nearing sun, the full moon, ask of me memories of days when I was chosen by love, drawn by the quiet ecstacy of the Mystery. Now I stand like the dying Hickory tree along the path that will one day fall to ground and offer itself to the earth, to the fire. But right now life blooms all around me, this one who grieves, who has seen many springs, who fell in love in spring and stayed for a lifetime. If only I could reach an imagined equanimity in my loss.
It is the third spring since you died. These last three also bring memories of treatments, pain, held breath and nightmares of such deep loss and lostness I cried out your name in the night. You were still her to comfort me. Yesterday Dorothy and I went to your grave and laid velvety red rose petals on the stone, on the grassless, still grassless, length of your body. I hung a spring wreath on the shepherd’s crook, and wept.
The mysteries of the delicate layers and faces of grieving reveal themselves still. Beyond understanding, beyond analysis, as beyond as emergent life, the marvel of birth. And now the isolation not only of grieving, but of “sheltering in place” as they so quaintly put it. I feel like one lone orchid in the hot house of longing, of desire for one glimpse of you, your touch.
Like Miribai, I lament the severing of the lover and the beloved. Something inside me unfolds, or folds in on itself, some cell division of grief, perhaps growing a new heart. I hope it is a heart that can nourish the pain and peace. I don’t know, I am not privy to Her mysteries. Nor am I victim. Who am you? Miribai asks. Who am I now? Neti neti she replies, not this, not that to whatever I can come up with in answer to the question.
I know the wise ones say I, we, are Love, rainbow light and unfabricated space and compassion at our core, there is no separation and never has been. I bow down to this truth I know in my heart. Nothing is gone, you are not gone, there is no death, there is no separate me. The flesh and the Spirit in union.
But I am a woman of flesh, a woman of beauty who longs for touch, your touch, the flower at the center of my being longs for your caress like the flowers long for the pollen bearing wind. Touch me alive again, open me out to life, fertilize the soil of my being. See me. My Beloved. The Beloved. Enter this vessel, I want to want to live. I want to hold it all, death/life, the peeling layers of the dying tree revealing its heart wood, the pain of love, the treasure of it, the beauty of the Mystery. May I accept everything, everything. This too, yes this too. And now, this.