NORA L. JAMIESON
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.
Growth does not come from putting on any spiritual clothing. Growth comes from removing and removing, ceasing, undoing, and letting ourselves drop down or even fall into the core of our living being.”
Linda Hogan, The Stories We Hold Secret.
I’m sitting on the couch looking out into what my sister in law would call “another gree, gree, fookin day.” The fire is going and Roxie lies on her bed breathing heavily in sleep. I have a long empty day stretching out ahead of me, no one to love, no one to be loved by. No conversations. No embrace, or kiss. No mirroring that tells me, I am. When one lives alone it is easy to become invisible to oneself. Someone once defined grief as love with no where to go.
It is a bit over two years since Allan died and I am sensing an almost invisible imperative entering me, to be silent now. To not talk about my grief now. It’s enough now. I sense this in the way people don’t ask me how I am, and the cultural imperative to silence grief. It’s like a fog drifting in from the woods, that subtle. Perhaps arising from my own conditioning or the silence of the phone. Don’t you see the world is in such distress, stop being so self centered.
Perhaps it’s in the way people are overly enthusiastic when I’m having a good day, the relief nearly gushes out of them. Perhaps I am too much. “Childhood memories float back, being told you’re too much, you’re too sensitive.” But for whom? And how sensitive is too?
What I do know at this time in this descent, if I am open about how I am on any given day, is how little tolerance we have for sitting helpless with the that which cannot be fixed, analyzed, figured out and resolved. I’m including myself here in this, no shame, no blame. It is a cultural wincing for sitting with the primal, emotional, events of every life. EVERY LIFE. Everyone will die, everyone will lose a loved one to death. I remember how hard this is, having sat with women who had received a terminal diagnosis. What is one to do but be present? To be in truth with them as they face the impossibility of the end of their lives. We underestimate the power of Presence, that ineffable but powerful attention fueled by love that requires nothing of the one we are witnessing. Except to be in the truth of their experience. Presence is healing. Presence takes guts. Presence requires us to keep returning to the ragged one sitting in front of us, the snots, the swollen face, the wail, the rage, the helplessness. That one. Who is all of us. That one who is carrying now what we all have or will carry. Deep gratitude for those in my life who are able to hold such a Presence.
I watch myself closing in on myself, like a little hedgehog without the protective needles.
Okay, I’ll just withdraw. Tamp it down. But something in me refuses.
“ What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open”
I wonder what if a thousand women expressed the truth of their grieving? Would we split open the silence? Would the air fill with wailing, would rivers of tears loose themselves flooding our comfortable lives. Disturbing us. Grief is disturbing. It shatters and scatters and turns upside down the life of the one who is left. Or the many. It scoops out the heart into a hollow place, weighted with absence. Might it also be a hallowed place? Might it if we had the determination to learn Presence, to face all of life? What makes an experience hallowed?
When a culture, or enough people recognize that grief holds the potential to bring us to our human knees, to strip us of pretense, stoicism, roles, to test our faith and trust, to one of the darkest, deepest trials of becoming more human. To bring us to our true nature. Love.
Do I know this in my grief? Hell no. Only the older, wiser One knows this, the one who says, speak, don’t withdraw, open your heart to all of this grief/love. The One whom we all walk with. The One who Abides.
So I stay with myself. Mostly faithful to she who grieves. I complain, I cry, I yell and wail, I go numb. I miss him, I miss him, I miss him…unbearably. He is worth missing, he is worthy of being loved still. And I put my arms around myself, I lean on She Who Knows and I pray.
My prayer is that if you know someone in grief, even a couple years in, even three years in, even five years in, know that the pain is still present, the tsunamis still come, the loneliness
unbearable at times and Bless them. Because they’re living still, even under that weight, learning to carry their full precious humanity into the world. Like Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes,
“…if you go long enough,
stand the cold enough,
stay under and far enough down
…pure carbon crystalizes into regular octahedrons
…in the earth this phenomenon produces
Amongst humans, this phenomenon creates
a whole person.
Who is teacher?
It is November and the demons have arrived with the winds, the falling leaves and with the remembered events of the November Allan began to leave me due to his undiagnosed brain tumor. It is a hard month, my body remembers. It being the second year doesn’t make it easier, it makes it all the clearer. The other night, in the early darkness, I opened my computer and finally read the notes Paul had written covering from Thanksgiving through December. I didn’t weep, my heart felt old, experienced and yes, this is how it was, full of hard and tender moments. He attended with the precision and tenderness of his father. After this, and a session with an Evidential Medium, which will continue on Monday morning, I felt more the presence of Allan with me. And yet the demons got louder.
The origin of the word demon at one time meant spirit, it took on malevolence around the Christian era. In my Feeding the Demons training, the demon is a part of us that has been outcast because of the disapproval of our families, religion or culture. We learn to turn against ourselves in order to survive. The Demons show up when we go against the grain of how we’re supposed to behave. The Feeding the Demons work is about getting to the true need of the demon and in a magical process we turn our bodies into nectar to feed the demon what they really, truly need, rather than what they demand.
There are always secondary losses when a loved one dies. Friends who you think will be by your side forever, aren’t, those who one doesn’t expect to be there, are. One loses the ground, concentration, heart, joy, patterns of living, and the future. As Megan Devine says, your loved ones are still dead in the future. It is a long and painful journey. For the sake of love.
Blessings too have come into my life, just the right practitioner, love from unexpected places, a daughter of the heart in Petra. I’ve been studying Evidentiary Mediumship on-line with Susan Geissman, and following Miribai Starr’s teachings, a mystical woman and translator of the mystics, whose daughter was killed at the tender age of 14. And keeping in touch with Writing Your Grief. I graduated from Hospice training but am not yet volunteering.
As the fall approached, my body remembered, and as I continued studying these practices of life after life, the intensity of the grief deepened, and the secondary losses pile up in my mind and then the demons arrive sounding an alarm bell in order to correct the situation. Yes, their aim is to fix.
Because of the secondary losses and continuing grief, they tell me I’ve lived my whole life wrong, they tell me I’m too sensitive, that it’s time to move on, that others don’t want to be with me because I’m too sad, that Nora has disappeared and that my life is over. My work is over and on, and on. I’m sure you know these voices in your own life. And we believe them when they have us in a stranglehold. The thing is I believe they arrive in order to keep us in a safe zone, preoccupied with how we’ve messed up rather than what is really going on. And if it’s our fault, we can fix it. Not so. Grief doesn’t need fixing, our culture needs fixing in it’s understanding and attitudes and avoidance of grief, our own and others. The grief of the natural world. Demons bring guilt, and guilt brings a paralysis of snarled attempts to get ourselves out of the wrong. It’s a wrestling match we can’t win, but one we might resolve.
With Petra’s witness, I ask them, “Why are you here? What do you want from me?”
“We want you to get it together, they tell me, we’re frightened because you’re too sad, you’ve lost your life and we’re afraid. We want you to shut up about grief. You must have lived your life wrong, made a fatal error of judgment or character somewhere to be so lonely, to have empty days. They really go for the jugular.
Taking a deep breath, I ask again “What do you need?”
“And if you receive security,” I ask.
“We’ll feel safe.” So I try to feed them the nectar of safety but they don’t drink.
Puzzled, I ask them, “and if you feel safe what will you feel?”
“We can rest.” “We’ll have peace.” Ah. You can rest. You can have peace.
Resting and peace is hard come by when you don’t know the future and your best friend is dead. No one does, but when your life is turned upside down and your life partner is now spirit, the illusion of knowing dissolves too. It pushes me into having to live the unknown, impermanent life with no props. This frightens all of us. So we distract. The demons distract me, show up as an alarm system. If I feed them the nectar of rest, will they/I be able to rest? I don’t know, because this, in particular, is the month of vigilance. This is the month of wondering what is wrong with my beloved, I don’t know this man, then later on, will he fall, is he hurting, will he die and later on, the inability to rely on my body’s grief and stress reactions. And now the loneliness. “You must have done something wrong they say, not to have a more coherent community. You were a fool to speak out all this time.” I tell them if I don’t speak out, they won’t know if people haven’t been through this pain that isn’t gone in one, two, or maybe three years, we need to know about it. The push back I often get is from people is, “but Nora everyone grieves differently.” Yes, everyone has a style of grief, a different way of expressing emotion or not. But I think this push back is irrelevant. If someone is speaking their pain to you, it is their way. And I suspect most people do not grieve openly because of cultural sanctions and because they know it won’t be received.
The demons persist, piling on and I’ve become quieter. But then I realize the fear wins. The silence wins. The thoughts bringing me down win. What is the prize I wonder? A false illusion that all is well and will be well? Not having to face helplessness in the face of your friend’s or family member’s grief? Your own? It seems to me the prize is possibly a hardened heart. And isolation. And indifference.
The silence about our grief, the elephant’s grief, the grief of the trees, the waters, hardens us to the preciousness of life and the grief around us, and around and around we go. What we won’t speak of, we won’t see. So the demons want me to be quiet to protect me, and we as a culture want to protect ourselves from the pain of knowing grief.
The prize is in healing our lineage, our ancestry and our culture. The prize is having an open tender heart, even if it hurts like hell. The prize is that this is one of the deepest works of soul that changes us. This soul work asks us to speak as well as to be quiet and contemplative. his soul work asks us not to be ashamed or to let the shame win.
All I can say to my demons is “I hear you are afraid.” “I hear you. I too am afraid. I too don’t know what will become of us, what the future brings. But I am compelled to speak, to not fade into the realm of silence about one of life’s most challenging times. There is no prize in that.”