'O the summer time has come And the trees are sweetly bloomin' The wild mountain thyme Grows around the bloomin' heather'
Out harvesting brightly colored squash flowers in the early July morning, I watched intoxicated bees working in our daughter's garden. After snuggling inside the giant yellow blooms they stumbled out drunken, and heavy with their cache of pollen. Their silliness snuck a small smile across my face.
I collected a dozen blossoms, filled, battered, fried and ate them dipped in jam that we made when you were still here. I tried to eat and breathe sunshine and beauty and memories in some tangible way that day.
In the evening our daughters and I watched a movie I wasn’t familiar with. It was significant in a way I could not have imagined or planned. The bee had a sweet part to play in this rich story and the theme song seemed to be the song of my soul. I stayed up late in the night listening to every rendition I could find, researching the varied lyrics and their history through tears of disbelief.
The song is about someone going up into the hills and gathering purple flowers for their love. They create a beautiful sacred space decorating a crystal fountain with all the flowers they’ve gathered for their love. They wait and invite their true love to join them in gathering the flowers. And if the true love won’t, they still will go up and gather all the beauty that they can, inviting others to as well. The symbolism of the soul's deep desire to give and share pure sacred beauty connected to the purple flowers seemed a lullaby divinely sent to lull me as I wept.
The next morning I could feel the weight of your embrace as I woke from a dream of you helping me with the decision I was wrestling with. Outside a pair of quail crossed our driveway, their babies following them. Perched on a boulder they looked back at me as if to make sure I had seen them reminding me I am cared for today.
I drew as I listened and learned. An idea that stood out to me was “‘Everything is Spiritual’ “is the ancient practice of listening to the deepest self .” This year has been a straining to listen to the depths of my soul and yours. This concept has been my undeniable lived reality as everything has been stripped away.
I then realized exactly 14 months had passed since I had gathered all the wild purple blooms overjoyed to share its meaningful beauty with you. I had fallen off the calendar, drawing and writing, perhaps instinctively, my body and soul searching for rest from the pain. The movie, the birds and the bees, the song were all mysterious offerings of comfort to my heart. Everything is spiritual.
I looked back at my journal entries from a year ago to see if I have changed. I struggled then to understand what I was experiencing, how to describe what it felt like and the level of agony I was enduring. I was engulfed in all encompassing nonstop pain, my mind in chaos over the concept of surviving. In my core, I believe in hoping, in living. We both do. I was hollow. The heartbreak of feeling incompetent as a mother without you terrified me. I needed help in ways I couldn’t articulate. I wished so badly for things to be different, but didn’t know what I could wish for. Feeling like a child staring at her birthday cake covered in melted wax as the candles burned to extinction, I was wishless.
Some would tell me they understood, referencing CS Lewis’s explanation of grief as being like living with an amputation. As much as I love CS Lewis, this analogy was not my reality. A clean cut, therapy, a prosthetic that follows an amputation was not this. A broken heart? Half of me gone? All seemed too gentle for what I was experiencing. I had considered what torture I would endure if I could just have you return as if that were an option.
I had kissed you last only eight weeks ago. The shock to my every system was still debilitating.
Someone described the care that should be given to a widow would be akin to treating a burn victim. A victim suffering such undeniable rawness would require everyone to exercise incredibly delicate care in their presence.
They cannot care for or advocate for themselves or others for that matter. They are too raw and are suffering so greatly no one would expect it of them.
This was an accurate explanation of my unseen reality.
Every kind gesture or word uttered was a healing balm. Messages and meals and genuine help were extended and received with more gratitude than I could communicate. People listened and remembered with me, held me and wept with me. They saw the unseeable, that I was bearing the unbearable.
And then there were careless, selfish words which caused indescribable pain which added to my suffering. I was simply too weak to educate others or explain.
I felt “undone” by experiencing both.
I found myself out of necessity advocating for myself when I was hurt and receiving care from people I never expected. I was in a storm of confused mistrust and overwhelming gratitude. The help I received kept me hanging on, but did not protect me from the indifference and callousness. Without my husband’s emotional protection and comfort I closed myself off unable to endure further pain.
I struggled to breathe, often gasping as the muscles around my heart and chest constricted tightly. A sharp constant penetrating pain stabbed under my right shoulder like a knife in my back. I would startle awake, the truth of you not being there enveloping me. I would wake crying several times each night. I wept most of each day. My mind was stunned and confused searching for an anchor to help me believe I was alive, help me believe I might live another day. Every day I thought surely this is my last. I literally wasn’t sure if I would live through each day. My mind told me I might not survive this level of pain. I didn’t know if I would wake up the next morning. This reality lingers still. I didn’t purpose to feel or think these things.
This is grief.
No amount of trying to muster up a grateful heart, or think positive thoughts, read scripture or look around at the people I loved could change what I was experiencing. And there was incredible shame connected to this reality.
Our children saved me. In their suffering they took on as much as they could to help me with the mountain of tasks at hand. They have been my safe place. I feel your loving kindness extending from their hearts and know you are so proud of them. My heart aches for what they have had to endure, for the longing that is now part of who they are.
Eight weeks into losing you, and people spoke to me as if I could have conversations, as if I could slip on skin to cover the rawness, as if what I was enduring could be set aside and I might be able to reasonably deal with relationship issues, bills, insurance, funeral or memorial arrangements, your business, landscaping, your vineyard care, house repairs and maintenance, taxes and finances, the news, politics, the pandemic. I did all these things, I don’t know how. Hours on the phone having to relive losing you with the insurance company, being shuffled from one department to the next, repeating the story over and over. The emotional and physical exhaustion was so intense. At this point, someone thought I should consider the children suffering in Africa, or with disabilities. Someone else reminded me that I forgot to say thank you for the help they were giving. Another expressed their frustration with “needy” widows. Each interaction felt like a slap on an open wound from someone I had trusted. In response, I isolated myself further.
Isolation is a form of torture.
There’s a book referenced often regarding trauma called “The Body Keeps the Score”. The science behind how trauma is stored at the cellular level, how your body knows and experiences remembering that trauma without you cognitively thinking about it. I’ve lived through midJuly now with a stabbing sensation, which no amount of stretching, massage or rolling can remove.
Like a first aid kit offering acid in place of bandages I heard: Why did you need to explain? Why does it matter? Why did you feel like people have to understand? Your grief is yours to suffer alone.
Isolation is a form of torture.
I had to explain it to myself.
I did not understand what was happening to me. I did not understand how to care for and protect myself in this pain. I didn’t know how to explain how I needed help. My grief stricken mind felt incapable of figuring it out though desperately trying to. Suffering alone is torture. And who doesn’t try to escape being tortured?
And for those compassionate and kind human beings who know someone is in pain, and want to respond, and not in a way that they think is best, but in a way that understands the other person’s pain, it matters. For those who would desire to not ignore, turn away from or inflict further pain on a wounded individual I hope my sharing somehow helps.
There are two recurring “visions” I had of myself during this past year. I call it a vision, because it is a seeing inside the soul, something that appeared not that I purposed.
In the first, I am dangling on a frozen cliff with an ice pick in one hand, flailing my body as I try to climb up a sheet of ice. Eventually the cliff lays itself down horizontally. Exhausted, weeping and thankful I imagine I can slide forward, laying on the cold. Hopeful, I begin to move, the ice melts and turns into dust and rocks. I can’t stand up. I drag myself as dirt fills my mouth and eyes. The ground then slowly uprights itself, spilling over me as I grasp at falling rocks. This isn’t a drama or a make believe story or a fantasy. This was the reality of my soul’s experience.
In the other vision, I saw myself walking slowly in a gown completely drenched, my chest ripped open, not just once, but newly every morning. My heart held by ribbony scarlet veins trails behind me, dragging over sharp rocks and thorns, bruised and torn hour after hour as I move forward into nothingness.
A million beautiful golden threads are tightly tied to a million points within the gaping hole in my chest. Stretched taut they are connected to you somewhere beyond. Threads meant to stitch up my wound, painfully pull and tug in too many places for me to identify where the pain is other than where my heart should be. Following the threads, my gaze and hope is fixed on you in heaven.
14 months later, while my eyes are dryer for longer and my mind can think more clearly, small patches like skin grafts have allowed me to attempt to connect, wary of the continued overall rawness. I feel like I am kneeling in the dust looking at the wall of ice, my future, while bees make honey evoking smiles and my love and longing have not changed. My eyes have dried for long enough periods of time for me to read, and my mind has been able to remember more of what is on the page. I’ve learned that protective boundaries, like skin are necessary. I’ve learned that what I am experiencing is not ingratitude, self pity, pessimism, spiritual laziness, faithlessness, depression, self absorption, or mental illness. I have learned that all I have described is normal. I am experiencing an appropriate response to losing the love of my life I have learned that all I have described is normal. Knowing that, has literally kept me sane. I am eternally grateful for the courage others have had to share their experience of grief. I have experienced “Everything is spiritual.”
And the piercing pain that had receded, the knife in my back stabbing my heart from behind, has returned.
“Let the priest come down from his tower and not go back up.” -Rumi
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. Psalm 116
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:26,27
O the summer time has come And the trees are sweetly bloomin' The wild mountain thyme Grows around the bloomin' heather
Will ye go, lassie, go? And we'll all go together To pull wild mountain thyme All around the bloomin' heather Will ye go, lassie, go?
I will build my love a bower By yon cool crystal fountain And 'round it I will pile All the wild flowers o' the mountain Will ye go, lassie, go?