The Dying of the Year

We’ve passed the Autumn Equinox. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. The leaves are turning colors and falling from the trees. It is the dying of the year.

The Dying of the YearAnd we have a family friend who is dying. He’s been a part of our lives for… more than eight years, at least.

Jeff contacted my husband and me separately, about different interests, when he and his wife, Lani, were looking at moving to the Comox Valley. We were corresponding by email for several months before my husband and I figured out we were talking to the same person, just before they arrived.

We weren’t able to visit as much as we may have liked, as they lived on one of the smaller Islands when they first moved here, and ferry schedules are a thing. We discovered a lot of similar interests, from theatre to spirituality to tabletop and role playing games (those last two are more my husband’s interests than mine, though I’ve been known to play from time to time).

A couple of years ago, Jeff learned he had cancer. He’s been a trooper through several rounds of chemotherapy, and he was managing well. And then, this summer, he took a turn for the worse.

Though we were going out of town for the weekend, we took time to visit him in the hospital, because the doctors gave him days, or at most weeks, to live. Over the weekend, he improved, and the days turned into weeks, and possibly months. Husband and I (he more so than I because of my work schedule), regularly went to visit, and help our friend’s wife with whatever she needed help with – physical and emotional support.

jeff-2Jeff was improving, and they began looking at moving him into a nursing home, while we did what we could to assist Lani.

This weekend, he was moved to Hospice care. He took a turn for the worse. Jeff graduated this life at 7:53 pm last night.

He was not afraid of death. Neither am I. When one has lived a good and full life, there is nothing to fear in passing from this life, just as the trees do not fear the loss of the leaves.

I am honored to have shared a portion of his life. I will grieve his passing for my loss, not for his. For him, I will celebrate his good and full life.

Blessings,

Mary

Heartsick and Heart Full

I don’t watch the news. Ever. It’s too negative, upsetting, fear-filled and depressing. Occasionally I see a clip that someone has posted to Facebook. But never a full broadcast.

"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly NOW. Love mercy NOW. Walk humbly NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.” -TalmudThat doesn’t mean I’m out of touch, at least not completely. I get some local news on the radio. And, of course, the big events I hear about on Facebook. Especially when there is a series of horrifying events all in a short time span.

You see, I have a lot of friends who are social activists. I’m grateful, honestly. I learn a lot from them, especially about how to be more sensitive to other people’s experiences.

With the recent killings in the US – the Pulse Nightclub, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and police officers in Dallas (and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of atrocities going on in other parts of the world) – the activists on my list are very busy and very vocal. And I’m glad. Because too many times in the past people have been murdered unjustly. Because they happened to be born with more melanin in their skin. Or because they loved someone of the same gender.

By the luck of the draw, or fate, or who knows why, I happened to be born a pale-skinned female heterosexual. I’m not at the very top of the privilege food chain, but I’m pretty darn close. The only ones who outrank me are white heterosexual males in general, and white heterosexual males and females who were born to wealthy families.

I was painfully aware of my privilege this week when I was stopped at a road check. After answering only a couple of questions, I was on my way, with very little hassle. I couldn’t help but wonder how differently that experience might have been if I had been born Black, or, in my area, Native American. Would I have been allowed through as easily? Or would I have been pulled over and questioned more thoroughly? Or abusively?

It’s unfortunate that we need movements like Black Lives Matter and Pride Festivals. It would be so wonderful if we were all loved and loving, accepted and accepting, empowered and empowering. That’s not the case. Gender, race, sexuality and religious beliefs still divide us, and some still think there is a “better than”.

Events such as these hurt my heart. It is hard to observe the hate and fear and violence that so many still live with on a daily, hourly basis. It is even harder to put myself in the shoes of someone who lives in constant fear of being injured or killed because of the things that make them individuals. The pain is overwhelming.

We can’t let the pain stop us, though. At times like this, it is even MORE important to find beauty and good in the world. Not to escape from the pain, in spite of the pain. Because beauty and good are what will keep us going. Finding the beauty and finding the good help us to heal.

This weekend I volunteered at Vancouver Island Music Fest. I saw people pay it forward to strangers, by gifting their unused ticket to the next person who came to buy one, without having any idea who that person might be. I received kindness from a couple who had extra chairs, and let me use one instead of sitting on the ground. I experienced beauty in listening to music performed by people who are both talented and skilled.

Did the music make the pain go away? Not entirely. But it helped me experience beauty and kindness and good, and that fills my heart.

Blessings,

Mary

In Memory of Dawn

On Wednesday morning of last week, after being delayed for two hours, our flight touched down in Minneapolis. I was tired, and looking forward to seeing my family. I turned my US phone on (I have a different phone I use while I am in the US), and sent a text message to my parents to let them know we had finally arrived. We still had to disembark and then go and pick up our rental car.

When I received the answer to my text, the whole trip changed in an instant. My parents were at my sister’s. My cousin, Dawn, had died.

Shock. Sadness. Frustration that I was stuck on the plane. Anger at my dad for being so blunt about how he broke the news. Gratitude for him not putting it off. Concern for my aunt. Disappointment that I hadn’t gotten to see Dawn again. All of it all at once.

Dawn and MaryDawn and I shared a lot, especially early on. I guess that happens when your moms are twins and share a lot themselves. They got married on the same day in the same church. Dawn and I were born seven weeks apart. We were baptized on the same day in the same church. We celebrated our first birthdays together at our grandmother’s house.

We spent many a holiday playing together at Grandma’s house. We often got matching items for Christmas – dolls, pajamas, clothing. Our grandfather called us “twin cousins”. Together we read, and re-read, (and ruined from reading) my mother’s ElfQuest graphic novels, and then spent hours pretending we were elves. My little sister was in on that last bit, too.

Dawn and I went to summer camps together, including flying to Michigan (her first flight) for a two week camp the day after my grandfather (on the other side of the family) passed away.

I remember going to her house for one of her birthdays, and staying up all night with Dawn and her friends. The next day, I was so tired, I crashed after everyone left. My aunt woke us up at dinner, and I still couldn’t keep my eyes open. It was the best!

We shared many of the same interests. One summer I went with her to her grandparents’ farm in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota. We spent the week listening to the Monkees (the one record they had that even remotely interested us), and reading through the suitcase of Sweet Valley High books that she had brought. We both enjoyed going to ValleyCon, the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, and we both enjoyed theater.

Even though we didn’t live in the same town, we could count on family gatherings to connect. And then we’d spend the whole time together. The distance grew in University, and especially when I got married and moved across the continent. But I always looked forward to seeing her.

I was looking forward to visiting her on this trip. I was planning to sit with her in the hospital and catch up. Instead, I ended up going to her funeral.

It hits really close to home because we were so close, the same age with so much in common. And I thought she was improving.

Dawn and BriannaShe leaves behind a three-year-old daughter, Brianna, who doesn’t fully understand that mommy is gone. I won’t go into that whole story here, however, Brianna needs our help. You can learn about her story here.

I love you and I miss you, Dawn.

Blessings,

Mary

Shattered

That’s it. It’s over. There will never be another 30th anniversary of the Spring Mysteries Festival. And I’m broken-hearted. The long road to Eleusis comes to journey’s end. At least for this year.

The world breaks everone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. -Ernest HemingwayI’m sad that it’s over. I’m sad that I have to leave my spiritual family and come back to my other life. I’m sad that people I love and respect were not able to be there.

I’m shattered to “regular” theatre. Ritual drama is incredibly intense, emotional, and change-provoking. “Regular” theatre can be all of those things, too, of course. And yet to marry that with a spiritual experience…

I thought for a bit that maybe I was doing something wrong. People kept asking me, “How are you doing?” in that are-you-really-ok-I’m-afraid-you-might-burst-into-tears kind of way. Some people experience Demeter’s Mysteries in a very challenging way.

I felt really good, though. I allowed the energy to move through me. I could tell it was affecting others strongly, and I received many such comments. And yet, in spite of a couple of hiccups, we ended on a high note. Demeter was happy at the end of the ritual.

I was asked if I would participate as a ritual presenter again. Absolutely! I’m hooked! It was extremely fulfilling to be the vessel of the Goddess in this way.

I have had the blessing of learning lessons of grief, depression, anger, joy, love and change. It was an exhausting week, in a very positive way. I stayed up way too late to spend time and share stories and laughs with people I love. I moved a lot of energy and emotion. I released a ton of sh!t. And I did good work.

I look forward to doing it again next year. I hope you will join me!

Blessings,

Mary

From Sadness to Joy

It’s been pretty quiet here at Walks Within lately. Well, here at the blog anyway.

As you know, I will be carrying Demeter for the upcoming Spring Mysteries Festival that is happening this weekend. I’ve been on a pretty epic journey, traveling from my home on Vancouver Island to rural Washington state and Seattle each weekend, and straight back home to work for Monday morning. I’ve had to drop almost all of my other commitments just so I could make sure I stay healthy and don’t burn out.

Demeter Rejoices at Persephone's ReturnAnd here we are – the week of the festival. The 30th anniversary festival. No pressure.

We had our final rehearsal yesterday. As I was observing myself, it occurred to me that I find it much easier to express the extremes of “painful” emotions that Demeter goes through – sadness, anger, grief – than it is to express extreme joy. I can express happiness just fine. I felt glowing at one point in rehearsal yesterday.

However, expressing real joy and elation takes more work. It feels forced somehow, more like work. It doesn’t come easily.

And it is not like I have never felt joy. I’ve experienced a lot of wonderful moments in my life, and laughed a lot.

I wonder if perhaps my challenge is that we were not very expressive with emotions when I was a child. I’ve been working at becoming more comfortable with crying in front of other people. I haven’t consciously worked at expressing more joy, though.

That’s what I will endeavor to work on for a while – expressing more joy, sharing my happiness with other people and being comfortable being really happy.

To more joy!

Blessings,

Mary

Grieving the Harvest

The days are getting shorter, and there is a crispness to the air. The grass is turning brown, even here in the rainforest, and the leaves are already starting to turn. It is autumn, harvest time.

Harvest by LA RingThis is generally the time we celebrate the harvest – all the yummy foods, and the successes we have had in the past year.

I’ve been noticing the other side of the harvest this year, though, more than I ever recall in the past. Because the harvest is also an ending, a death. When you cut down the crop, it dies. When you complete a goal or a project, it ends. And yes, I know the crops grow again in the spring, and there is always a new goal or project to look towards. This is the harvest, though. The ending.

Quite a few of my friends have had loved ones die recently, or relationships end or take strange turns, or illness, or opportunities that looked promising suddenly vanish. There is a lot of grief around me on all sides.

I don’t think our culture really honors grief. Anyone who has taken any introductory psychology classes has probably learned what the five stages of grief are:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

They don’t necessarily go in that order, and you may even visit some of them several times.

I often tell my coaching clients that whenever there is a loss, there is grief. It’s not just the death of a loved one, or the ending of a relationship. We grieve little things, too, like the end of a vacation, or finishing a creative project, or even just the end of a good book. Granted, with the smaller things, the grief may be less, and it may be quicker to get through. Yet it is still there.

I think that we often push those little things aside, and feel guilty about grieving them. By acknowledging the fact that I am grieving, I often find that the grieving process flows faster and easier for me. Here are a couple of things that help me when I am dealing with grief:

  • Allow myself to feel whatever it is I am feeling. Whether it is the sadness, anger, depression, or gratitude, I don’t push it down. Pushing it down just forces it to come out at another, possibly less appropriate time.
  • Be gentle with myself. This goes hand in hand with allowing myself to feel what I am feeling. If I am grieving, I know that I am not necessarily able to respond to life the same way as when I am feeling happy. So I know not to get angry with myself if I respond poorly.
  • Know that grieving takes as long as it takes. I can’t say that I will be done grieving at 2:00 this afternoon, or next Tuesday. And I know that it won’t last forever. So I give myself permission to grieve as long as I need to.

May your grief be light in this season of endings.

Blessings,

Mary

 

 

Grief

My grandmother is dying.

Her health has been going downhill for the last two years, but my family is on death watch now.

This feels like deja vu.

Two years ago, my parents came out to spend some time with my children while my husband and I went away for a spiritual retreat over Easter.  My mom’s mother was dying at that time, and my dad’s mother had heart surgery and was in the hospital.  Within a week after my parents got back home, my mom’s mother passed away.

Three weeks ago, my parents came to spend some time with my children while my husband and I were away at separate business conferences, and then away again for a spiritual retreat over Easter.  They have been home for just over a week, and we don’t expect my dad’s mom to last through this week.

I’m still in the early stages of grief.  It’s painful to think of losing my last grandparent, the fun grandma.  My dad is an only child, so my sister and I were her only grandchildren, and we got spoiled by her.  While I was growing up, she and my grandfather lived in a house on a lake, and we spent many weekends there…swimming in summer and sledding in the winter; playing card games in the dining room overlooking the lake; enjoying the fire in the fireplace.

After I got married and moved away, she would come and spend a week with us to see her great grandchildren every year, until she was no longer able to travel with ease.  Every week she wrote me letters, and later emails about how her week went and what things she did.

Logic tells me she is just graduating this plane of existence.  She will get to be with my grandfather again (he died 25 years ago).  She won’t be suffering anymore.  She’s lived a full and good life.

And I will miss her very much.

I love you, Iris Swenson.  And I am so grateful that you have been such an important part of my life.

Fun With Grief?

Easter weekend 2008 I had the pleasure to return once again to the Spring Mysteries Festival that the Aquarian Tabernacle Church has organized for the past 23 years. This was the third time I had gone, and each experience has been different, though the theme is always the same.

The ATC Spring Mysteries Festival is modeled on the Eleusinian Mysteries, initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. I can’t tell you much more, because the Mysteries have to be experienced to be understood.

I wasn’t sure I was going to make it this year. It was very important to me that I go, as I had prearranged for my parents to look after my children so my husband and I could get the full experience. We were also to be initiated as clergy with the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Canada. It was all set well before Christmas.

But three weeks before the event, I was challenged. Both of my grandmothers were quite ill—one needed heart surgery, and the other was slowly dying. My parents could not decide whether to stay in Minnesota and care for their mothers, or come to Vancouver Island to care for their grandchildren.

To make a long story short, they came, and I returned from the Mysteries sleep deprived but exhilarated!

One week later, my grandmother died. Upon hearing the news, my first feelings were of relief and happiness for her. I know that my grandmother is happier now—she is young again, and healthy, and reunited with her husband, son and many siblings that preceded her to the Creator’s arms. I am tinged with sadness, because I will miss her very much, but I do not really grieve.

I returned to Minnesota not only for her funeral, but also to care for my family. My husband and children remained in BC, so I was free to lend my hands wherever they were needed. I was also there as a shoulder to cry on. I know I shed my own tears when I was there, and I probably shed a few for those who are not able to express their grief. But I did so joyfully, in the knowledge that I am serving others.

One lesson I brought home from the Mysteries that I can share is that if you’re not having fun, why are you doing it? I don’t mean that we should stop working, or cleaning the house because these things are not fun. The lesson I learned is to have fun in whatever it is you are doing, even if it is cleaning someone else’s dishes! When you come from a place of love and service to others, even the most daunting tasks can be fun. And that includes grief.