Tricked Out Alchemy

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Alchemists have an active imagination. Webster may define alchemy as the power to transform something in a mysterious way, but I think grief really tests that description. In medieval times, alchemy embodied the transformative art of turning lead into gold.  Those who practiced it, considered it a metaphor for the inner process of changing consciousness. Sounds complicated, right? Actually, alchemy is a perfect description of grief.

Some say grief is about being strong but anyone who’s been there might have a little something to say about that. When loss breaks you completely open, it’s hard to put one foot in front of the other let alone flex your emotional muscles. If our minds are working at all, we worry that if we surrender fully into the grief spiral, we’ll hurtle, like good old Alice in Wonderland, into darkness we might never return from. But we’d be wrong. It’s hard to imagine that all the tears, anger and exhaustion won’t drown us. Instead, they do what they were meant to do — help to heal us.

Our bodies are pretty great life guides. They know when to rest and when to cry, even when our minds are complete mush. Tears, even the ugly cry kind, are a cleansing release, a vehicle for healing. I didn’t say ‘cure’, by the way. Grief doesn’t come with that. But thank goodness, our body has built-in release triggers that trip the healing process we need to open the door to whatever is next.

“We live on; we don’t move on”.

Nora McInerney

There’s no shortcut through grief. Bummer. We move through the process in our own time and pace. Luckily, along the way, we might uncover our heart’s true capacity to feel and to love.

There’s no ‘normal’ in grief. You move when you move. Period. Continue reading

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To Infinity — And Beyond

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I’m an artist. Well, at least I’ve been masquerading as one for a long time. If the creative awards that dot my office shelves mean anything, I’ve pretty much gotten away with it, too. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked as an illustrator and graphic designer both at in-house in ad agencies as well as in my own house, partnered with my husband in an agency of our own. Shockingly, people actually paid me well for my work, which is kind of handy when it’s your livelihood. Yet, having been completely self taught, I’ve never felt like I fully stuck the landing. In a world where college degrees are your admission ticket and even proof that you are relevant, my lack of educational credentials was always my Achilles heel. Still, somewhere along the way I graduated the school of hard knocks, leaving behind old insecurities about not being good enough. Now, I figure that my website, and all it contains, speaks for itself, thank you, so love it or leave it.

That being said, I still regularly get serious crushes on those authentic, passionate artists who live their art on their own terms. I have a healthy envy for the badass artists who bring it, delivering their passion in everything they do. They are the ones who allow the craft to drive them and not the other way around.

I’ve never been that artist. Continue reading

Christmas 2.0

file-dec-07-4-22-39-pmBarely two months after my husband died last year, I insisted on picking out and dragging home a real Christmas tree myself. What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t. Surrounded by spirited couples and families choosing their own holiday tree, I stubbornly struggled to yank out one of those heavy green suckers. But smack in the middle of all those scented firs,  tears also threatened to spill over. Although I was more than grateful for the kindly sales guy who tied one lucky green adoptee to my car’s roof, the experience keenly reminded of my suddenly solo status.

Thanks to my grandson and loving son-in-law, the tree was retrieved from the roof and set in its rightful place. As I recounted this adventure to a widow friend of mine who had lost her husband the year before, she sympathetically also warned me that her second Christmas was actually worse than the first. Swell, I thought. That’s just perfect. Here I was thinking that no matter how hellish the first Christmas holiday would be without my merry Elf, I should look forward to the next being even worse.

With that second Christmas now a little more than two weeks away, I arrive a battered and hopefully bettered survivor of  my year of firsts. Strapped in the roller coaster I hadn’t bought a ticket for, I was too consumed by that ride to worry about what would happen the SECOND year. Yet, here I am.

My husband died barely two months before the season of jingle bells and holly last year. I don’t know if I was even breathing as I robotically threw myself into  Christmas decorating, cooking, and wrapping. I was determined to be sleepwalk-busy straight through the season. I even held a few brunches for some of the treasured pals who loved and lifted me through the long, ghastly weeks since the funeral. But I was on auto-pilot through it all and, when Christmas day finally arrived, it was clear the whole family was.  Younger grandkids were their irrepressible selves, though a tiny bit more sober. The older ones watched me for signs of meltdown, which I’m sure would have signaled their exit stage left. The adults were in their own unique spaces of grief yet all ate holiday ham, unwrapped gifts and were enveloped in the spirit of family despite being barely able to look at ‘the chair’ which somehow loomed even larger in its emptiness. Continue reading

An Attitude . . of Gratitude

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The first time I knew Thanksgiving was never going to be a Norman Rockwell painting was the year my little brother died. His absence from the table – and our lives, was immeasurable. It changed all of us in many ways. My father, who was never the biggest cheerleader of any holiday, finally had a reason to hate them indefinitely. One year, a nicely browned turkey found its way, platter and all, to the wall putting makeshift ham sandwiches on that day’s menu. That was the only year turkey didn’t quite make it to the table, but real joy never quite made it either. A somber spirit lasted for years where my brother’s quirky, prankster personality had been.

As the years went on, husbands and children joined the mix and our Thanksgiving tables were full once again. We bought our first houses; grandparents and parents died, children and grandchildren were born. The full gamut of life’s events unfolded in my gratitude journal with blessings in abundance. There were always more than enough reasons to be grateful.

But last Thanksgiving, my gratitude journal went on hiatus. Continue reading

We’re Bigger Than This.

Flag USA July 4 Celebration Indendence Day ConceptYes, it was inevitable. Post-election fallout has forced everything else that populates my peculiar mind to take a number.  Actually, I suspect every everyone in the US has PLENTY of thoughts to share right now but these are my two cents — so, fasten your seatbelt!

No one escaped the stress and strain of a seemingly endless campaign that often defied description. Regardless of which side of the aisle you sat, the seats have been horribly uncomfortable. Constant rhetoric irritated tempers and eardrums. Hats were promotional party favors. The issues, candidates and constant rallies neatly sliced up this country and escape to Canada became a handy exit strategy.

Election night saw a fair amount of hand wringing, nail-biting and yelling at the TV. In the end, like white smoke from the Vatican chimney, the results were in – there was a winner. Some were thrilled; others not so much to put it mildly. Whether joy or anguish, there was certainly no lack of emotion on either side and some have not recovered. The dark horse won, not by popular vote, but by something most people only heard in high school history class – Electoral College. Social media was on fire, the airwaves were filled with ‘Monday morning quarterbacking’ and everyone was shell-shocked with either happiness or devastation.

Who I voted for and how I felt about the outcome doesn’t matter. I have plenty of company either way. But one thing seems clear. The real election results evidenced the tragic birth of us’ — and ‘them’. Yes, I realize that our treasured ‘melting pot’ has been melting, in many ways, for years beneath the surface of our indifference and complacency. It just took the proverbial last straw of this year’s vitriolic, inflammatory campaign rhetoric for the pressure cooker to explode – and explode it did. Wedges have been jammed between white people and people of color, LGBT and religious fundamentalists, liberal vs. conservative, urban vs. rural, educated vs. uneducated and — men vs. women. We’ve heard the most inflammatory statements. Racial harassment is rampant. A canyon has opened up and we are all in danger of falling into the abyss. No matter which camp you’re in, to say it all pretty much sucks is a mammoth understatement. Continue reading

Well there’s that . . .

lonelinessHearing politicians talk is hardly my favorite pastime. This year, they are on my last nerve. But a few days ago I heard a soundbyte that caught me up short, which isn’t exactly shocking given this bizarre election year climate. This particular weird statement (also not shocking this year) made me think ‘what the…?’ And I automatically turned to say ‘Hon, did you hear that?”. Reflex actions die hard (no pun intended) and I knew my husband, as he always quipped, would ‘understand totally’. Except he isn’t there to tell that little political pundit to making it just one more moment that pushes my grief buttons.

Grief is contradiction. It’s a strange medley of the subtle and the overwhelming. It’s quiet reflection and loud sobbing. It’s memories that bring deepest sadness — and sentimental laughter. Yes, it happens. When you’re in your grief coma, with your heart in yesterday even as your feet are in tomorrow, the split-personality of grief shows up (or acts up, depending on how you look at it.) Continue reading

‘Tis better to have loved . . .

annivGrow old with me; the best is yet to be.       Robert Browning

Yes, I AM sappy enough to have hung that innocently hopeful plaque in my bedroom – but it was also the first thing to go after my husband died. It seemed a pretty lousy reminder that growing old together wasn’t on the table.

Remember your first wedding anniversary, when you toasted the 365 that followed your wedding day hoopla?  Maybe you congratulated each other on how well you maneuvered those first months of growth, woven together with discovery, change, joy and maybe even a little disillusionment. You made it through the milestone first married year. Like us, you probably made an anniversary toast, as you celebrated each other and the years ahead.

Well, this week marks an anniversary, too, but not one I looked forward to. October 14 marks the first anniversary of my husband’s death and there’s nothing to celebrate about that. There’s no joyous newlywed year-end toast nor any of the anniversaries that marked another year of precious memories. All the laughs and kisses once shared with the man I loved will only be given and received this anniversary with all who gather to remember him that day. Continue reading