A hard summer of loss has eased into a colorful autumn full of comforting signs and wonders, like the love and presence of supportive family and friends, a hummingbird’s kiss, encounters with a visiting butterfly, walks on the trail, and last night’s amazing full moon in eclipse.
A good friend asked me what was getting me through all this loss…and had I perceived any spiritual invitations? (I am blessed with many friends who are chaplains, healers, and spiritual directors; these are the types of things we ask each other: how cool is that?!) Another dear friend asked when she could come and hear stories about the pups, another profoundly loving response to loss.
It took time to discover invitations, and I’m still working on it. But the question brought to my mind the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, who helped the bragging maiden spin straw into gold. Rumple bartered for her firstborn… but she learned his name, spoke it, and sent him packing.
Straw is dried grain, and so many tales and parables tell us bread made from living grain is the staff of life. Straw, then, seems a natural symbol of death, loss, and grief. I’ve imagined the grief that marked this summer as straw, piling into mountains before me, waiting…
So I’ve entered the grief and it’s entered me, and I’ve sat with it and listened and wept and watched, and now, finally, I’ve begun to spin…
If I wove a tapestry with these golden threads, it would include images from the day my sister-in-law dropped everything, drove over an hour, arrived with a bouquet of sunflowers and zinnias, and remained tenderly present to my grief. At one point, we sat beside each other on the steps of the deck, watching dozens of butterflies flitting so energetically around and within the great purple aster that it seemed it might fly away.
We spoke of “visits” we’ve experienced after losing those we love, that felt sense that the one who has died is able to be present in new ways. I said I’d received a few feathers from Riley and Clancy so far, nothing more. “But,” I said, “these visits never happen when I ‘expect’ them; they just seem to gift me when I most need them.”
No sooner had I said, “…need them,” than a hummingbird flew to the space between our heads and froze there, for 30 seconds or longer. Neither of us moved as the tiny bird “hovered and hummed,” its wings beating mightily, nearly brushing our cheeks. After a long while, it flew off, its message deeply held in our hearts. We hugged and then sat in silence for a few minutes, both of us tearful. Such a sacred experience, and all the better because someone I love shared it with me. Someone who also believes the proper response to mystery is awe, and silence.
Spinning straw into gold…All the daily routines that stemmed from the dogs’ needs have vanished, and–as with any loss–there are now many holes in the day when I miss them especially dearly. If I’m home during the day, I take my camera and go out to the gardens, seeking diversions from the constant and tiring “missing.” This butterfly visited the garden another day, and stayed for a few hours. Her company offered delight and peace. When you’re grieving, such hours of respite are truly restorative. She let me follow her all around with my camera and seemed to enjoy posing from every angle.
It’s been challenging to head out on the trail without Riley and Clancy. I tend to check both directions for bikers and walkers, and when I’m sure I’m solo, I talk to the pups, as if they were with me. I grew quiet watching this heron in the river last week. He looked like a monk doing a standing meditation, calling me to deeper reflection. One of the great gifts that comes with grief is this call to go to the center of the center of our being and houseclean, in a way. All of our values and goals and beliefs come up for inspection and reassessment. Certainly, this is another source of gold on the journey of transformation that grief creates: Grief creates.
The pups and I celebrated our walks with parties up and down the trail for over 14 years…I’d break little treats in pieces and we’d have routine and spontaneous parties that always ended with Bridge Party. They’d each give me a paw and I would thank them for coming on the walk, and then they would get the last treat before we ran up the path to our home. A little holy communion, like our morning party.
So it seemed fitting that Phillip and I bring wine, cheese, crackers, and our cameras down to the bridge last night for a perfect viewing of the eclipse. What a lovely Bridge Party, with owls calling, frogs and toads singing and distant coyotes howling. Their cries rose and tangled as the moon became fully eclipsed and shadows disappeared. Then it seemed that everything fell to silence. Definitely a keeper, as far as memories go, and the sense that the pups’ energy surrounded us made it all the more special.
Something in my heart was woven back together during those magical hours on the bridge. I felt my spirit, eclipsed and resting in darkness, was ready to begin moving back towards the fullness of light again.
I’m still spinning these last piles of straw, still weaving, still healing, but so grateful for all the blessings in my life that are helping me turn the straw into gold.
We never want to lose those we love. But we do; we will. And what saves us is the rest of those we love, and who love us. They carry us through our grief and help us see the glints of light that guide us towards greater light, until we can stand again in the sun, in joy. Gradually, we’re led towards those wonderful moments in the world when we can see its devastating beauty and the eternally renewing cycle of life. Through the love of others and the love of the world (all of which, to me, is the love of the Sacred) the grief, in its time and the time of our hearts, transmutes to golden memories, a lifetime tapestry that tells us who we are, finally, as lovers and loved.