"Life is a succession of lessons, which must be lived to be understood."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The quote above was from the Daily Love email I get everyday. I didn't read it until now. If I'd gotten my lazy ass out of bed this morning and read it then, I might have gone into the afternoon with a different mindset. Maybe I would have felt braver, or at least open to new understandings.
I signed up recently for an 8-week session of something called the Mourner's Path. I heard about it several years ago. After my mother died I considered taking the facilitator's course before taking the "griever's" course. I don't always pay attention to celestial arrows that point me towards things I would probably not do on my own. But sometimes I am aware of a gently nudging, like the cat making room in the middle of the bed by pushing me closer to the edge inch by inch. For weeks, even as I tried to ignore them, I've been getting reminders that the class was approaching and I needed to sign up. Finally, I made the call and threw a sarcastic comment toward the heavens. OK, God, I said, I'm on the list, now are you happy?
Then I didn't think any more about it. This morning dawned and I didn't have a real sense of dread, just a few butterflies. When I told Sweetie I'd probably prefer a poke in the eye, he asked me to approach it in a positive way so that I can learn all there is to learn then share it with others as a beacon of hope. Let's face it, there's a lot written about grief, but it still come down to having to each of us walking our own path. Sometimes it's helpful for someone else to shine a flashlight for you.
I was hardly down the road when I started to cry. I'd stopped at church, drove past the Peace Garden, whispered hello to the Patty and Oki trees and saw day lillies blooming. Danggit. That's all it took. The tears started falling. First of all my father loved that Peace Garden, took great pride in helping restore it to the beauty it deserves. He/we would go and sit in the car just to look at the Patty Oak. And he had those silly lillies (ha!) planted twice. They rarely bloomed. This year they all seemed to be about to bud at the same time. [Photo: This makes it look like there was only one flower. Most of them were blooming in other places.]
Then the fear set in. Then the beginning of a full-blown panic attack. I drove in the right direction - no turning back - but felt the fear swelling up in my chest like a wet sponge with every mile I drove. I called my daughter who has her own experience with this kind of thing. "It's okay, Mom, this is normal. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do." (Novel idea!).
Then I called my friend Dani, who has a background in grief counseling. "Breathe" she told me. It's normal to feel this way." Normal to be so damn scared about something I don't even know what I'm scared of?" You mean other people feel this way? In very scientific terms, Dani told me I was in the "I don't give a rat's ass" phase of my grieving. My inner two year old was screaming that she was afraid, she didn't want to meet new people, she didn't want to share their pain or hers, she didn't want to cry in front of strangers, she didn't care if God was leading her to beside what might someday be still waters. And frankly she didn't give a rat's ass about anything. She wanted her Daddy back.
That's the attitude I had as I sat in the parking lot trying to breathe. I had 15 minutes to stop the tears and pull myself together. I looked at myself in the rear view mirror and thought of all the times in my life, I've cried by myself, then pulled "it" (whatever "it" is) together and presented as a confident (more or less) adult. Ha! Don't leave me alone, she cried. I'm right hear, holding your hand, I told her.
So I entered the church along with 5 other women. One or two chatted with the facilitators, the rest of us sat quietly, all with the same kind of walking wounded dullness in our eyes. Walking the Mourner's Path is a faith based but none-denominational program. I think most of us there were Episcopalians, not that it makes a difference. With the opening prayer, my eyes started leaking again. It's normal, I told myself. At least normal for me, so I let them fall and brushed them away with a finger before they puddled in my new workbook.
As much as I hate when you're in a group and the leader feels like he/she has to read the material to me when I have 2 perfectly good eyes and can read myself, I was relieved that the "sharing" was slow in coming. But come it did. We were instructed to pair up with the person next to us and talk about the one we'd lost. My partner didn't waste any time asking questions, and I told my story in between snorting into a handful of wadded up tissues. Then she told her story, and I stopped crying and gave her the same kindness she had given me. Maybe I'm not a selfish butthead after all. Then, after 20 minutes of sharing we rejoined the circle and introduced our partner and their lost one to the group.
As I listened, I found I did give a rat's ass. Somewhere in my heart there seemed to be room for others. When my partner shared about me, she reached for my hand and held on til the next person began to talk. And there I sat, tear-stained face, holding the hand of a person I'd only known for 10 minutes, and feeling strangely at peace. Is that weird?
Before the session was over we were asked to pick a stone that would represent our deceased love one throughout the next 8 weeks. A basket of rocks and stones was passed around. I am usually drawn to smooth or shiny or colored stones. This time my hand fell on the biggest rock in the basket with nothing about it that one might call pretty. It was just your basic old rock. I rolled it around in my hand and was amazed that it seemed to have some "heft" to it. It wasn't a girly rock. It was solid and strong like my Daddy. I wrote Oki on it, instead of Dad or Luther. I'm not exactly sure why, but that's what felt right to me and I was beginning to go with my gut.
And then, without realizing 90 minutes had gone by, the 1st session was over. I'd made it. I hadn't passed out. I hadn't thrown up. Oh sure, I'd cried, but in some ways that's just my way of saying this is part of who I am. Dogs and cats do the butt smelling routine, I cry.
On the way to the class I passed what I thought was a purple tree. I made a point of retracing my steps for a pictures. This is what I found:
[This picture does not do it justice.
In fact it looks a little like John Paul Jones.
But that is not a tricorn hat this angel is wearing. It is a halo of twigs.
I wonder how many drive down that road every day
and are not even aware of angels in their midst?
Or have seen it so many times they no longer take note.]
Life is a series of lessons which must be lived to be understood.
Today I learned:
- I CAN be brave even if I don't FEEL brave.
- I should buy stock in the Kleenex company.
- I can depend on others to tell me what I can't tell myself.
- I am not alone.
- The Mourner's Path is a sacred journey.
- A stranger's hand can feel just like my mama's.
- The Hebrew word for "breath" and "soul" are the same.
- You don't have to be on a starlit hill in Bethlehem to find angels. Sometimes you can find them right along the side of an ordinary road, or the other end of a cell phone.
Wishing for each of you a person to call when you are scared,