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Tending the fire between the two worlds. 11/11/20

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. 

And this. 

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.

My Beloved.   

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,


How it is at Eighteen Months

July 14, 2019

Dear Folks,

I haven’t written since March and feel the need to let you know where I am. I’ve just returned from a meditation retreat at Wonderwell, where I’m enrolled in the Margha Program, I’m still seeing a few clients, painting with Elisabeth Moss, and writing with writing group. I’ve joined Writing Your Grief, a group started by the Megan Devine who wrote It’s OK That You’re Not OK. Convening Full Moon and Elder Council is happening. All sounds good, right?

And it is, in a way, from the outside it may seem that I am doing what some might call recovery, getting back to life, etc, etc. Whew, we don’t have to think about her grief any more or help her carry it. But that’s not how it works. There is no recovery, grief is not an illness. There is carrying. There is learning to carry one’s grief lovingly. Even though every impulse screams, STOP, I cannot take another minute of this pain. To let it pour out when is wells up and won’t be denied, to trust its intelligence. So I am living a double life. I have one foot in the underworld of grief, the other world, which is right here where Allan is, and in the world of activity and trying to find my path. Or rather, waiting for my path to find me. I just walked the paths in our woods, and since Allan is not here to groom them they are a mess, sometimes I just stood and had to orient myself to where to step next. And I thought, this is like my life, I don’t know the path, I don’t know the future, or at least, I don’t live in the delusion anymore that I think I do. I have no aspirations except to live from the heart, which often hurts like hell. While on retreat I read an interview with Lama Tsultrim Allione, whose beloved husband, David, died several years ago from a heart attack in the night. Quietly. The interviewer was asking her a list of those likes, dislikes (why do they do that?) and asked her what is misery to her. She replied, grief and loneliness. I remember her saying once that for all her practice, all the years of sitting and long retreats, even though she is a Lama, she was not prepared for this. I remember attending David’s bardo ceremony, with Allan, at the end of 49 days since his death. Allan and I happened to be in New Mexico and drove to Colorado, through mountains which absolutely mesmerized Allan with their beauty. There was a film of David made two years before his death. The interviewer asked him if he had plans for the future at Tara Mandala, and he said, well I don’t plan on going anywhere. Within two years he had left his body.

So I am going through the motions of my life, except when I am really deeply engaged with people I am right there, but living with loneliness for Allan and constant grief. I’ve joined the Grief Revolution also Megan Devine’s group, and post many things from Megan on Facebook. It’s hard to believe what people have to endure from those who can’t possibly know what this is like. I, thankfully, have had only a few instances where I’m stunned and speechless by what loved ones say. I’m blessed in that way. And if I know someone can’t be with my grief, then I take a break from contact, because it’s too painful. All grief is equal but it is not the same. We may go through it differently, but I see a definite pattern at least in the people who are open about it. When your long time beloved dies, it has a different effect on your physiology than when someone dies who you love but don’t live with, aren’t intimate with, it is equal but not the same. It is still painful, deep bows, but not the same. I can still feel my biochemistry adjusting itself, reeling without touch, without the synchronization of our hearts, minds, breathing, physicality. My heart is often out of rhythm, it doesn’t know where to synchronize, it’s finding its way, I hope. Sometimes I feel I could topple with the disorientation of not having him to lean on, or him to lean on me. Where is my place? Sometimes deep fear will seize me, larger than the fear I live with every day. And I believe it is this deep unconscious, biological missing of the “other half.” A phrase I used to disparage, thinking it meant women didn’t have their whole self in relationship. I had both, my whole self and my other half. But now my whole self seems to have wandered off into other realms. Thank Goddess for the women who mirror back to me that they see me, that I am still here. That my essential Self is still present.

I almost left the retreat, a huge tsunami of grief washed over me. The environment was so reminiscent of our time spent in Vermont, our retreats of the early years with no electricity, gas lighting, no water and lots of ideas, inspirations, reading amongst the loons, paddling and wandering time to when we were older walking the road in Cabot with Roxie, talking or not. All the words and concepts of the lectures flooded me because I was trying to listen and understand, ever the good student. Well, that’s another thing, the brain does not work as it used to. And I am less interested in concepts, analysis, but more called to direct experience of life. Except right now, that direct experience is searing almost daily.

I want to keep a foot in the other world and I want to hurt less, and the more I want to hurt less, the more I hurt. It’s a constant practice of hand to heart, saying you’re welcome to be here, anxious, bereft, loneliness, a particular hollowness where I should be, where he should be. Sometimes I can, often I can’t be welcoming, and find myself doubled over in pain with no witness of compassion. It seems so anyway, until I ask, as Lama Liz asked me at the retreat, who is the one noticing all the pain. That is me.

This weekend Petra was here, she came so I wouldn’t be alone on return from the retreat and because she loves to be here. And because we love each other. We did planting, talking, reading, mowing the “lawn”, moved some things to the swap shack, cried, cried a lot, well I did anyway, she held me. I love her so. She has been a blessed gift from this terrible loss. The kindness of people I hardly know is astounding, while I’m shocked that close friends have moved away. The village that gathered around Allan’s death has dispersed, people that were in my life are not now. Perhaps another day. I understand it’s scary to be with someone who doesn’t hold back, who doesn’t pretend it’s all OK now. Impermanence is life. I turned 70 this month. I am old now. And grateful for that. My aspiration is to live from the heart, to be useful to those who can use what I have to offer, to love unconditionally and to make contact with Allan. I have faith that as my grief becomes softer I will hear and feel him more often, that he is right here always. I have more faith that life continues, there is no death, as Allan said when he came in the first dream, death is a state of mind. And I pray that someday I again find some kind of peace in my heart in solitude. I crave a peaceful heart.

I’m so grateful for steadfast friends, wise women who lead me through, those who know this takes years to soften. Who don’t assume that because I’m involved in activities of life that I’m OK. And I am learning, in the most terrible of ways, a true apprenticeship to impermanence and the Dark Mother, that everything we love will physically die. I am grateful to have been loved by Allan, and still. He is the best thing that ever happened to me.

We need to find a way to remove the stigma of shame from grieving openly, to speaking openly, to allowing the time it takes within all the different circumstances of our lives. Grief is terrible, it is tender, it is a teacher we don’t want, it is the other side of love. Grieving needs village. When you grieve openly, you’re holding grief for all of us, like holding open the gate. We will all go there in some way. How can we hold each other if we don’t know how to be present with patience, with not trying to fix, learning how to withstand what other’s grief opens up in our stories, our own fears.

Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Eighteen months on June 24th. I can hardly believe it still.

Much love, Nora

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