I have been out of commission for the last couple of weeks. Actually that is not entirely true. I’ve chosen not to write for the blog…or check in much online. It was as off the grid as possible for someone like me, just being in another country and therefore with interment wifi. I needed the break on so many levels, but now I find myself wondering how to write about it.
My close friend Julia had been offering to fly me out to visit her in England for some time, and suddenly there was a gap in my schedule and tickets prices were seasonally low. So…shortly after our fundraiser, I flew out of the country for ten days. It was the first time I’d returned to England in four years. As well as road-tripping with my friend, I was able to finally take care of some necessary banking and bring some ashes to Vernon’s family. I was able to return to the old neighborhood, even the old house, and meet up with some dear friends there. And it didn’t even rain once!
I kept my hands busy with a little sketchbook I’d brought. The last time I’d filled out one of these was on our honeymoon in Venice ten years before. So it seemed right to fill up another one now.
And here is a picture of Vernon’s family and I at Winchester Cathedral. So glad they could all make it out.
I just got off an hour long conversation with someone at Social Security. I need to collect some more information from England before I can apply for any survivor benefit, it seems. So that is still in the air. But it was the first time I pulled Vernon’s death certificate out of its envelope and actually looked at it. So strange to mix that in with the important paperwork like birth and marriage certificates. I’ll live with it all in one place in the house now, the main records of his life.
But on a nicer note, I would like to share a special gift I received in the mail this week. I opened up a large tube covered with stamps and found this
It’s a giant photocopy of a pigeon from an adult coloring book that my childhood dentist’s wife sent me. She also sent along a pack of colored pencils, thinking we could all have a go at coloring in this delightful bird. Long live pigeons! Thank you, Mrs. Lee. I love it.
Speaking of art, the craft fair starts tonight. Here are a few more things you can expect to find there:
Sansoxygen Coffee! Hand-roasted right here in town. I can’t wait to try some of this.
Remember, tonight at the San Clemente Art Supply (Friday) will be 6-9 and tomorrow (Saturday) at 10-5. 1531 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672
Just a reminder that our annual craft fair fundraiser will be THIS WEEKEND at the San Clemente Art Supply.
Saturday 10am —5 pm
There will be all sorts of handmade goods, perfect for gift shopping. I hope you can make it!
If you can’t make it to the event, the option to order t-shirts online is now up and running.
As always, we are grateful for your support.
The shape you left in us.
As I looked around at the group of sixteen, circled in the shadow of giant rocks, a makeshift family of friends who had reconvened to release the ashes, I could almost see the shape of Vernon in our midst. I’d put most of the ashes in a beautiful clay vase our friend Jeff had made, and it stood alone on the ground, in the middle of the group. Someone began to spontaneously share some memories of our dear departed, and as our eyes began to fill up with emotion, it seemed to me the little urn was standing at such a jaunty angle it could have been listening. A picture of Vernon washed over me…he was laying back on his final hospital bed, basking in the company and music, one eyebrow cocked, purely focused on on every face there, dawning to the same truth we all were becoming aware of: that this was a sacred time.
Here we were, gathered again, almost three months later. We’ve joined up many times since he died, but this was the most sacred, intentional. This half hour of scattering the ashes was set apart to honor Vernon out of a weekend spent climbing, eating, playing, watching sunrises and sunsets, chasing little children, exploring, eating, drinking, sitting by the fire, enjoying music and each other’s company. As we stood in a lopsided circle, I could imagine his presence there again, as if he took on the shape of the space inside our circle. Some of us in the group knew him longer than others. Most knew him before the accident, but then, perhaps not that well. Some met him afterward, and never knew him in his previous mental state. But all of us loved him, stuck by him, were greatly affected by his struggle to live for so long when he should have died on the street that night. All of us came to be more compassionate, humbled people because of the way he was. Our hearts were broken but will surely be stronger for the scar tissue. We cannot separate who we are now from our love for him. So we come together to renew that shape, whether we talk about him or not. We plug in and remember him…and honor what we’ve become.
“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”—William Shakespeare, Macbeth
It’s been hard to write in this space this week as everything is so politically charged. I have deep convictions when it comes to this sort of thing, but I’m trying to keep this space “on-message”—whatever that means. So..for lack of anything else relevant to say, here are some writings that have come out of my Grief Group this week. I hope that these will resonate with people going through any type of loss themselves. Wikipedia says: “Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions.” In other words, “grief is the price we pay for love.”
We were challenged in our group to make a “found poem” from a collection of highlighted words that caught the eye off a Sunday paper. I finally got around to this assignment earlier today, though its been weeks since it was given. Fortunately I got my hands on the “Books” section of the LA Times. I wasn’t convinced there would be much to this activity, but once I got started, it spoke to me.
Which way would you go—
The future or the past?
Midway through history…
Freshly obsessed with thoughts of the future.
You struggled with three dimensions—
A fourth dimension dawned!
Is the future predetermined?
What of the eternal, the spiritual?
Pure thought can only take us so far.
And then there was today’s prompt, based on a poem by John O’Donohue. (He’s visited these pages before.) This is what I wrote:
Sorrow slithers as a blanket of mist which
layers itself through the village.
Almost visible, caught in car-lights and windows—
Shrouding everything else from view—
until you notice what you almost bumped into.
Be careful, if you must go out in it at all.
It may help to watch from inside the window,
To make hot chocolate and wear pajamas,
Turn on the fires of comfort, make a lovely stew.
Being safe inside, but knowing what’s out there
gives you space to feel cozy.
A new kind of privilege.
Outside in the fog, you might lose your way,
unable to see the future—just a few steps ahead.
Accidents can happen, stay vigilant as you go!
It’s dangerous out there in sorrow.
Oh to be ambushed by grief,
Thrown onto the black tide of loss.
But to go out into the village, I must.
I can’t bear to stay here forever
withering away in my own mind.
My bones need movement…
My lungs, fresh air. After all…
I have miles—MILES!— to go before I sleep.
Now because I don’t have anything to illustrate these with, here is a picture from the beach today. A hot November—as if things couldn’t get more surreal.