Do I start with the yellow butterflies that appeared before my mom’s death and have visited me ever since? Always yellow, popping up and following me on walks, outside windows and even on highways as I speed by.
I’m currently reading this little gem of a book called Anam Cara by John O’Donohue. It’s a compilation of Celtic wisdom on the themes of friendship, solitude, love, and death.
One passage in particular really resonated with me. O’Donohue describes the Celts’ wonderful intuition for life; how they respect the circle of the seasons and understand that the rhythms in nature are also active in our own hearts. How there is wisdom in surrendering to whatever season we find ourselves in.
I can definitely relate to finding myself in a season of the heart: without a doubt it feels as though I have been stuck in winter for some time. The last three years have largely been dominated by pain and loss. My mom passed away the day that my daughter turned eight months old. Her death unearthed a well of grief much deeper than I could have anticipated. (I write about this experience a bit in another post.)
I have no doubt that releasing this grief has healed me in ways I could never have expected, and I’m certainly grateful for the fruits of the painful passage. That being said, I’m more than ready to move on to the next season of my heart.
In January when I found out I was pregnant, I was elated. In an amazing twist of fate, my due date was the date of my mother’s passing. How beautiful, I thought. New life literally springing forth after a season of loss.
But then I miscarried. It is an understatement to say that I was devastated.
I thought, really universe, more grief and loss? I have tired of this landscape. I know my husband is beyond tired of this landscape. The whole experience has rattled me and made me question whether I can trust that “this too will pass.” What is next, I bitterly ask.
O’Donohue reminds us that nobody is immune from bleak times. He urges—be “exceedingly gentle with yourself.” In Anam Cara, he describes the image of a field of corn in autumn:
When the wind catches the corn, it does not stand stiff and direct against the force of the wind; were it to do this, the wind would rip it sunder. No, the corn weaves with the wind, it bends low. And when the wind is gone, it weaves back and finds its own poise and balance again. (passage from Anam Cara by John O’Donohue.)
I may not like that I still find myself in winter, but for now I will do my best to surrender to it. When I am impatient, I will remind myself that ultimately it is a season. Seasons cannot be fought or battled, but simply weathered. Seasons are not personal. Yes, it may require bending and weaving with the wind for a bit, but the wind will eventually stop, and balance will return again.
Plus, after winter comes spring. I will hold onto the faith that sometime soon, when the time is right, the ag borradh will appear: the Gaelic term for “quivering life to break forth.”
Anyone want to join me in starting a gratitude practice for 2016?
(And yes I know it is January 4th. It is ok! I give us permission to start on whatever damn day we feel like. Isn’t it fun pissing off the inner perfectionist?)
Last year I started a daily(ish) walking meditation practice and I am STILL hooked. (By the way, walking meditation is just a fancy way of saying that I took a walk, breathed in and out, and paused to express gratitude.) It has become integral to my mental health. I’m more centered, calm, and I certainly yell less at my kid. Win-win-win.
I wasn’t thinking of adding an additional gratitude practice this year…but then I saw Elizabeth Gilbert with her big ol’ jar of gratitude (see below). Sweet Moses, how fun would it be to read through those at the end of the year?!
It got me thinking that there might be other neat ways to practice gratitude. Here is a round up of some simple ideas I came across. As for me? I think I’m going to do a variation of the gratitude jar. Needless to say mine will not be made of glass. (Oh, just imagine how quickly my kid would shatter that lovely jar!)
FUN GRATITUDE PRACTICE IDEAS:
1. Gratitude Garland
Wildfeatherswellness provides instruction for creating a Gratitude Garland. You write thoughts of gratitude, remembrance, inspiration or refelction onto your garland and hang it where you can see it and be reminded of it.
What a beautiful way to remember a loved one or simply make visible the moments that fill your heart.
Simply write down your thoughts in a journal as you see fit. (I like this one,this one, and the one at left from Raven + Lily, a company that helps employ over 1,500 marginalized women with the goal of alleviating poverty among women.)
After we lit our Christmas tree this year, my nearly three-year-old daughter stood back and declared, “it’s bluetiful mommy!”
She didn’t realize it but her mispronunciation rang true. It is a blue Christmas. It’s a beautiful Christmas.
It is bluetiful.*
I am slowly, ever so slowly, starting to accept that bluetiful is the new normal. That the moments of greatest joy—like Christmas—are also moments that carry so much loss.
Often it is in the little unexpected things. As I was meticulously placing the lights on the Christmas tree, I stepped back to assess (and ask my daughter for her opinion, as though a three-year-old has opinions about tree light placement). Not satisfied by the gaps in light coverage, I removed all the lights and started over so I could get it just right. I then realized I was utterly and completely channeling my mother. I laughed and also shed a tear.
It was bluetiful.
As a kid I never understood all the sad Christmas songs. How could a holiday full of so much joy inspire so many sad tunes? And why did so many adults make such a fuss about the fact that I was so full of joy at Christmas time? How could it be so difficult, I used to wonder, to find the joy in the season?
Last year was a difficult Christmas. It was the second Christmas without my mom, and somehow it was much more difficult than the first year she was gone. I knew the first year would be hard. I expected difficult. But the second year, well I thought somehow it would magically all be OK again. And when it wasn’t, I was let down and angry.
This is the third Christmas without my mom. This year I am expecting the sad moments intertwined with the joy, like lights strung on the tree.
I know that I’ll tear up when I pull out the sweet Mickey Mouse ornament she purchased for me when I was not quite a kid anymore but not quite an adult.
I know that there be joy though, too. My daughter seems to have inherited my enthusiasm for the holiday. She marvels at the lights on houses, she points excitedly to any and all depictions of Santa Claus, and as she curls up on her pillow at night, she whispers “Santa Claus is coming!”
It is all so bluetiful.
I will do my best to delight in her unadulterated joy as I play (just a few) sad Christmas songs in the background. (And maybe even adjust the Christmas lights on the tree one last time.)
How is your holiday season going? I hope it lands gently for those who are missing loved ones. -Sarah