Strong

I have spent much of my weekend writing my grief book.

I call it a grief book, and it is in many ways, its impetus prompted by the loss of my brother, but as the manuscript has come together, it’s really much more than that. It’s about how love heals and redeems us. How life will always come back around again in new forms. How we can find something beautiful in something that seems broken.

There is much hope laced throughout the contents: it’s a story about life, not death.

Having said that, it’s still hard to write it. I am to the editing and revising stages now that I’ve successfully written, drafted, dragged, cajoled and coaxed 101 passages out onto a word document. I am finding, though, as I edit that I can only do so much at time.

I lived every single word in this book- they are direct poems, essays or reflections that come from my experience, and as such, it can still be overwhelming after awhile. I redrafted a poem I wrote about myself and my brother last night, where I wrote the line:

once We were young and
then We weren’t
and-

Adulthood can seem, a terrible truth to be.

And it just undid me. So much truth, love, loss and passage of time in that statement. I still spend days shaking my head thinking that it wasn’t supposed to look like this.

I just kind of unraveled after finishing that poem, a mass of emotional goo who spent herself out over those words. So I quit writing after that and went for reading Harry Potter instead. Simpler, comforting fare that always feels like visiting an old friend.

Still though, I have reflected this weekend that I am holding a lot of space for this book in order to keep the voice authentic, raw and real. This isn’t supposed to be a detached clinical look at grief. It’s more of a “I know what it’s like to bleed, so if you are bleeding too, let me share my heart and guts and blood with you, and hope it helps you find your strength along the way.”

As I write, I am also realizing it takes a great deal of emotional courage to walk back through old hallways you thought you exited the first time you came. Over the past few weeks of really hammering out this manuscript I have read every single word I ever wrote over the last 6 years about my divorce, my break-ups and heart aches, the loss of my Dog, the loss of my aunt, and the loss of my brother.

Some of it is pretty tough to read, but there’s strength there too. And great, great love. And that’s really the tone of the manuscript- not the brokenness that comes from loss, but the transforming gifts of grief that come from learning to keep our hearts open and let Life bring new light in.

I let some light in up in the mountains yesterday. My husband tore me away from the computer and said, “Let’s go high today.” So up, up, up we went. Along a twisty, windy narrow trail that took us through shale and dirt and tundra and branches far above the Turnagain Arm, where we were rewarded with reaching vistas of olive greens and dark cranberries and bright mustards and earthy bronzes that painted the palette of season.

The top is like a movie. Valleys in every direction, all of them spotted with carmine tundra and snowy flora and cinnamon and jade sweeps of hill. It’s so magical, part of me wants to stay there all day, but the chilly fall winds and the multiple piles of bear scat have us eventually heading down the hill, heading back towards the sheer, glassy water that divides the mountains in this space.

I will miss this when we go. Miss having so many places to head to in order to seek solace and epic views from up top. I try and soak in all the moments I can as I go up and down, override the burn in my calves and ache in my quads, let my spirit and heart nourish themselves with these moments of pristine beauty.

Years ago, I never could have left it behind, but that was years ago. I adore the mountains, but I no longer need them so my heart can gallop wild and free. I’ve learned to do that through the act of living brave and true.

Still, I promise the dog, a natural mountain goat if you ever saw one despite his petite stature, that we will go up a mountain at least once a week in Kauai. They are not quite as grand in scope there, but they do have mountains and canyons and trails and places where you can go up top and see nothing but acres of green and miles of ocean for as long as the eye can see.

It will be a different kind of beauty. Pristine in its own way.

For this day though, I absorb as much of the beauty as I can and take it into my soul letting it bring healing and wholeness. I find myself thinking about my manuscript as I go down, how the tone is really a story about being whole and healed through loss, not being broken by it. I think about the words I wrote earlier that morning that embody this spirit:

I realize, as winter melts to spring and slowly begins to steep into summer, that I am doing it, I am carrying it.

I have made it up much of that mountain with the weight of my brother attached to my ankles; have grown strong from having to sit and face this horrible reality of loss; have learned new ways of entreating with life that help me to journey on.

And it begins to matter less that other people seem to have forgotten- I welcome, but no longer seek their support and validation- I remember, I always will. And in the process, I have become an extremely strong woman.

I have lived what it means to carry him wherever I go.

We finish the mountain together, my brother and I. Race our way through the last bit of sloppy mud and mahogany bark and dappled leaves. Breathe in one last breath of silver air. Prepare to head to the warmth of home.

strong

tree medicine

They will speak to you
in a thrum- – –
that runs deep in your belly,
if you can learn to listen.

Tell you how to be
your wise self:
the one who knows better
and isn’t afraid to act
through love.

Take you back to
the truth of who you are:
their card catalogs
housing libraries of experience,
from all they’ve learned
while standing in this place.

And if you choose to answer back,
you will find it easy
to make conversation,
for they have been waiting
a good long time…

For a kindred with which
to share an aged smile
and have a wise laugh.

treemedicine.jpg

On This Day

I wrote the final passage in my grief book this morning. Finished it with giant tears rolling down my face, because the language is so profound and sings my truth so beautifully I wish I could always be the person I am in those words.

It’s a little anti-climatic, because this certainly isn’t “the end.” In fact, out of the 99 passages I’m writing, I still have 7 more to write, along with a good handful of half finished pieces. But I also recognize an ending when I write one, and what spontaneously poured out of me this morning was passage number 99. I knew it as the words came, shaping themselves into an ending and beginning all at the same time.

I felt like the composer writing the final note of one exacting bittersweet symphony.

Right on the heels of that, I got the news that Cranberry Dusk has been listed on Barnes and Noble and is available for purchase here , and after having an intense, completely irrational attack of paranoia (what if I uploaded the wrong version and it’s full of typos or is totally blank or I accidentally published my journal?!!!) I cried a little bit more.

Back in January I declared this year the Year of Enlightenment, and what an overwhelming, enlightening year 2016 has been.

So much loss and so much life all intermingled into one. Each one birthing the other in a never ending ouroboros of love and mystery: our losses making life that much more sacred, the sacred infusing our losses with life.

Today is not how I expected life to look, but today is where I find myself. It’s my mother’s 76th birthday. It’s the day a wind storm is blazing its way through Anchorage, chasing the molting leaves off the trees. It’s the grey, transitional day before Autumn Equinox.

It’s the day my first book has been officially published. It’s the day I woke up at 4:00 pm, because I felt I had something important to write and the day I wrote the last line of a symphony I’ve dedicated to my brother, whose notes I am still writing. It’s the kind of day where it all seems worth it.

And it’s the day I reach back into my own time line to that girl 6 months ago who wrote “Starluck”- she said she wanted a time machine to take her out of the heart of grief, zip her into September so she could skip the worst parts of the process (even as she knew necessary growth would come from going through the pain)- and I offer her my hand and give her a giant pull. You can do this!, I shout through space. You can do this!

And you are going to do it magnificently.

I offer her these last words- the final words of a book I am still in the process of living. She didn’t have what she needed to write them then. But I want her to know- she will live and love and grow into what she needs in order to write them now. Today. On this day.

Nobody’s grief passage will ever look the same, but for me, after the jagged mountains, the desolate wasteland, the relentless desert, that deep long ocean of sadness, I washed up onto new shore.

Gradually got my feet underneath me again and remembered I knew how to walk. Stepped out onto a landscape of gentle, shimmering pink where billions upon billions of stars light the way in the night and the sun brings warmth and renewal each day. And I could see the invisible, gossamer strands of love running through it all. Wrapping everything together, connecting us in our shared humanity, holding us in place in the grace of this space.

Love has no walls here.

The possibilities are infinite.

pinklight

*photo courtesy of pexels

Mess, Beauty and All

I’ve spent the weekend writing my little heart out.

Thursday night I made a few final revisions to Cranberry Dusk then uploaded it one last time to a self-publishing site with fingers crossed and a smile of relief. After the ISBN number is assigned and recorded, it should be available for purchase.

Friday and Saturday were all about Lamentations of the Sea, my book on grief, which reached up and smacked me across the face earlier in the week with how much work I still have to do on it. I can tell you that my goal is to have around 100 different reflections on grief, loss, love and letting go in the form of poetry, prose, essays and meditations, and I was somewhere around 20 last weekend. After the past couple days, that number has gone up to 82.

Like I said, I’ve spent the weekend writing my little heart out.

And as I write these words, I’m also reviewing the first draft of Freebird Fridays from my publisher, who has done a beautiful job laying out the poetry and art. I wanted it to be a book of joy since this is the book I put together in the heart of the thick of my grief over Brent, which helped pull me out of the worst of it and give me something new to stand on.

The joyful, whimsical love laden poems in the book were my answer to darkness- I still believe in the light!, I said. I wanted the book to be a reflection of hope. Now I’m reviewing rainbow colored pages and swirly fonts that make me happy just looking at them and remind me that despite the dark, there is great, great joy too in this world.

It’s strange how life can happen all at once. I’ve been wanting to write books forever, but I always cut myself off at the knees the minute I got going. Nothing seemed good enough, relevant enough, or just somehow enough, so I would make a few notes about something I wanted to write; get overwhelmed, because I wasn’t meeting my own sense of expectation; then not do a single thing more with it.

It really never occurred to me that perhaps my writing is already enough just as it is. That the words I’ve been writing on this site and in my personal work are the unpolished pages of rough drafts, and, once polished up and refined a bit, the future pages of books.

I realized this over the weekend as I was working on the loss book, thinking about the daunting task of coming up with 80 something reflections on grief, when I realized:

BethAnne, you didn’t intend for this to be a generic grief book devoid of your personal experiences. You intended for it to be a warm, compassionate friend to someone going through loss, a hot cup of cocoa and a good conversation when somebody is in need of comfort. The kind of book you don’t have to read front to back but could pick up, flip to any page, and find something good for your heart in the contents. The book you wished you had back when you were in the worst of your pain.

It occurred to me in that moment that if the personal words I’ve had to say in the wake of my brother’s passing, and all that has happened since, aren’t good enough, then nothing is going to be good enough for this book. And once I got that straightened out in my mind, the pages began to fall into place.

Expectations can be a terrible burden to bear. Lately, lots of things are falling into place, but they haven’t looked anything like I expected them to, sort of like this past year of life, which has taught me that getting out of the way of my own self is pretty much the best thing I can do in order to allow the process to unfold.

I kept expecting like, an angel or something to descend, tap me on the head, proclaim that I am now ready to be a writer. That I have graduated from some invisible school of spiritual wisdom. That I am now READY.

Instead the spirit of my brother occasionally flits through my mind, laughing at me, tugging at imaginary pigtails. Telling me I’ve been ready for a long time, just standing in the way of my own self. Telling me it is all waiting right there for me, but I’ve got to trust in myself and have the guts to claim it.

He’s right, and I keep thinking lately how I can’t afford to stay small anymore, can’t afford to wait until I turn into some highly evolved being who has perfect words and truths of spirit flowing from her fingertips. Wait for that day to come and you’ll find that the imperfect process of being human will always cut you off at the knees. Instead it’s going to have to be right now: You’re going to have to offer yourself up, just as you are in this moment- mess, beauty, and all, old girl, I keep telling myself.

So that’s what I’m doing with all these words- offering myself up right now. And I’m finding that letting myself fall into place is more about learning to fully embody the spaces I’ve already been given, an internal shift of energy that simply says I Am Who I Am, and less about anything external telling me who or what I am, or validating the work I know I came here to do.

Like everything else in life, my own sense of purpose, belonging and identity are all inside jobs. And so it is with my writing. While there is always room for growth, I have to trust that the words I have right now are enough and keep on getting out of the way of my own self, so I can let it all unfold and be what it will be.

You’re going to have to offer yourself up, just as you are in this moment- mess, beauty, and all, old girl.

The Eclipse

Grief will bring you to an eclipse of the soul. It is where you will find your darkest hours and know your darkest nights, but my friend, please know- that any good dark night of the soul is a possible gateway to light.

This is the space where you will begin to discover what is most real. Where everything else is burned away except that which is meant to matter. Where clarity becomes a companion and these bones of humanity the place where you discover just how deep and far and wide love can stretch.

We have this illusion in this life that we are somehow separated from Love. That it is outside of us and something we need to seek out, grasp for, cling to. But the truth is, that is only an illusion: Love has been within us all along. We just had to make space to find it.

And if you have dared to stare grief in the face and make the passage of dark back to the hope of light, discovered new strength to carry on, scratched your way out of the shadows, found the sacred rhythm beating through the veins of these times, which allows this world to keep on spinning- then you know grief for exactly what it is.

The hardest, most powerful teacher we will ever have: here to teach us about Love.

theteacher

in its own time

That’s the thing about time.

It doesn’t always heal things, but it does change things.

Change things long enough and you’ll find yourself a million miles away from where it all started.

Travel enough miles, and at some point, when you didn’t even notice its presence, you just might find healing crept up, tapped you on the back, and found you anyways.

In its own time.

time

Reach Through

I spent my Sunday evening in a Patriots jersey with “Gronk” lettered on the back. My brother was one of the most die hard Patriots fan out there, my father right by his side. The two of them even went to the Superbowl back in 2012 to see them play.

Honestly, in the past I’ve cared very little about football and I haven’t felt that motivated to change, but I do care about my father and when he told me- “the Patriots are playing for the opening game of Sunday night football and I’m going to cook chowder and perogis and cabbage rolls and would you like to come up, please?” – I said yes.

The Patriots were his and Brent’s thing, I knew it was going to be a hard night. We all miss him in our own ways.

I was doing some writing this morning on my grief book and all the loss I’ve had over the past 6 ½ years that contribute to the words in that book starting with my divorce, followed by varying losses of subsequent relationships, followed by the loss of my beloved Dog, followed by the loss of my brother. And I realized that up until my brother there is nothing I would change- every single one of those losses gave me the ingredients to become the person I am now, to fully embody who I am meant to be in this world.

But my brother? That I would change. Even though the fall out has resulted in exponential growth in wisdom, intuition, clairvoyance, writing, compassion, empathy, and love.

The person that I am now is still me, but in some ways so different from the person I was 8 months ago when he passed, that I hardly recognize her: I did an Akashic reading for a friend the other day and channeled so much healing, helpful, soulful information for her that she asked me if I could do magic, and I laughed and told her no- it’s just finely honed intuition, we all have it, some of us in different ways than others, and in the wake of my brother’s passing I’ve learned to tune into it like a radio station- much of it has to do with learning to set your frequency to love.

Brent died, and I learned to love even deeper, and strange and extraordinary gifts of spirit began to happen, and I would give it all back if I could. Let myself continue to grow as the person I was before his death and not the person I became after.

I would trade it all to have him be the one sitting there in his Gronk jersey watching the Patriots beat the Cardinals 23-21 in a surprise ending when the Cardinals kicker missed the final kick.

I would trade it all not to have to see my parents suffer; my Dad going into football season with the aching reminder that his son and best friend is no longer there to watch the games with him; my Mom who just seems to get sicker and sicker with ever increasing ailments and chronic pains and grief.

I would trade it all to go back to the shell of self I was before. This has been too high of a price to pay.

But that’s not how life works, sometimes I even hear Brent telling me so. Hear him telling me it was simply his time, that he finished the work he came here to do, and I still have work in this time and place. Sometimes he feels so close I lift my hand towards the sky, as if we are all in a giant bubble and the other side is right there, and if I press hard enough I can almost reach through. Sometimes I don’t hear or see or know any of these things, and I’m just a kid who misses her brother and still can’t believe he’s gone.

We are asked to accept some things that feel pretty unacceptable in this life. Things that are not fair, things that don’t add up, things that can’t be taken back or changed. The kind of things that forever alter and reweave the fabric of who we are.

Losing Brent taught me to love even harder. Like love became my super power that got me through that horrible time, and every time I chose to open my heart and keep believing in the goodness of life, kept choosing love, my heart got a little bit bigger, a little bit deeper, a little bit more unconditional in nature.

And so I find myself sitting in an oversize Pats jersey on a Sunday night biting my nails in the 4th quarter, moaning when the Cardinals get a down, cheering when we see the final score. Giving Dad a hug and telling him it’s okay that this is hard and it hurts. Grateful for my husband- also decked out in Gronkowski- who takes his free spirit wherever he goes and brings levity to the space.

As we sit there, I wonder if Brent is close by- I don’t really feel him- but then again the Patriots weren’t our thing, they were his and Dad’s thing, so I ask him if he’s around to lend Dad some comfort in this moment.

As for me, I still hear him in the wind. Know him when water rushes by making everything clean and clear and new again. See him in the sky when the clouds part and the sun streams down and you know that we came from love and were always love and in the end will go back to love. Feel him on the other side of the bubble, pressing, pressing, pressing…

One of these days I will find a way to reach through.