The Soul Rests Eternal

“… the landscape that emerges through my music is rather like the misty dawn of a new day; a day not yet ripened by the sun, but one that shows the promise of a warmer future – a way through the emotional morass.”

Take the time to read the delightful new interview in the Salon du Muse at the Soul Food Cafe. Heather Blakey, web mistress of  Soul Food, takes the time to interview British composer, Mike Sheppard. This interview explores spirit and soul and shines some light on the path for those suffering from bereavement.

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Quilting Love

before my time
before my time

You all might think I’m daft for not realising until so recently what the quilt buying was really about, but it is true, I didn’t know I was on my own ‘comfort rugging quest’.

I stumbled across a lovely old quilt on eBay while sitting up with my dog Kelly when she was so sick and in pain and I tended her throughout the nights.  The more she hurt the more I hurt, and the more I hurt the more I turned to external things for distraction from a fear of having to euthanise Kelly, a fear that was threatening to drive me right around the bend.  By the end of the three week stretch of a hellish illness with the poor creature I had developed a wicked shake in my hands that I could not still, a shake so pronounced I could barely type on my keyboard, with twitches and tics in spots on my face.  Now that’s stress.
I realised I was looking for distraction with the eBay shopping but I didn’t catch on that the contents of my mailbox and deliveries were all about comfort and a quest for a sense of histories, of the roots that would hold me in good stead during these life storms, roots I don’t have.  I have gained at least ten pounds and more quilts than I can count (because they haven’t all arrived yet).  I have no money(somewhat disturbing, but only somewhat) so all were bought on credit.  I’m not cringing about that really because I spent no money for Christmas as I have no family to spend it on and an acceptable interest pay-back rate.  I also have self-compassion and (finally) self-understanding.
The quilt pictured above was the most expensive at only $80 US.  You read that correctly!  The fellow didn’t sell me his grandmother but he might as well have for that price!  The piece is enormous, covering most of one entire living room wall, entirely handstitched with no discernable pattern and most pieces no larger than a *small* Post-It, and very, very many as small as half a pinky finger.  I keep sitting on the couch staring at it in awe and gratitude to have such a work of art in my home, for it has done something to make this house seem more like a home to me.  All the quilts seem to have that magic.
The best clue to their real meaning for meaning, their connection with my need for roots, for history, for a sense of something besides the terrible present, is that the one requirement for all the quilts I’ve sought out is that they all be antique at best, vintage at least, and hopefully made with love.  The ones called “crazy quilts” are best because they best reflect my crazy life and my episodic internal chaos while managing to be full of comfort at the same time.  I strive to be like that: able to be warm and full of comfort despite my own chaos.
Steph

A Day of Remembering: Making Descansos

Years ago, a hospice volunteer mentioned each patient and caregiver she spent time with was like a pearl in a necklace—over time, the necklace grew and grew.  I decided to use that idea as a theme for the Annual All Day Volunteer Retreat I facilitated for my hospice volunteers this year.  I had also come across Heather’s Soul Food Site “Descansos” which familiarized me with the term.  I then thought about how this theme could apply to hospice and to our Retreat.  Combining the two ideas, I planned a “Day of Remembering,” with the creation of a pearl necklace becoming the descansos made by each attendee.

 

Starting with a visualization to activate each participant’s memory about their loved ones, whether personal or hospice patients, we all thought of eight people we wanted to remember, and a few words about each that reminded them about what they received as a legacy from the person.  The legacy might manifest as an idea, a trait, or an actual item; such as, a recipe, a love of cooking, or a well-used rolling pin. 

 

I previously drew eight circles of varying sizes, on a piece of paper, with each circle touching the next, forming a completed chain.  This would become our necklace.  The largest circle in the necklace was generally reserved for a personal loved one, with the others filling in for hospice patients. 

 

The grief of hospice workers, and other nurses, doctors, and aides, etc., is considered disenfranchised grief—not acknowledged as real grief since the health care worker only knew the patient for a relatively short time compared to if the person was a beloved parent, spouse, child, grandparent.  However, one can become quite close to someone and still need to deal with their loss when it occurs.  When the losses are ongoing, as with health care workers, and one is then on to the next patient, those losses aren’t acknowledged and dealt with, and so accumulate, leading to eventual burnout.   So I try to allow the volunteers an avenue to know it is all right to grieve for patients, to provide an avenue in which to grieve and express that grief in a different way each year.  We’ve done “Legacy Writing,” “Ethical Wills,” “Rekindling,” “Inner Child” and many others in the six years of having Volunteer Retreats.

 

We each wrote the name of the remembered person in one of the circles.  Then we perused magazines to find pictures or words describing the person and their legacy to us, or used colored pencils or crayons to draw pictures or words.  There is something so therapeutic in using scissors and colored pencils, in smelling glue and crayons that takes us back to childhood.  The volunteers know by now every creation made at our Retreats is considered a work of art, and so have resolved any lingering critical voices in their heads from childhood.  Even the men get involved with creating and sharing.

 

Snip, snip, snip go all the scissors.  Sniff, inhale deeply beloved smells of childhood.  Oh! Look at this! Wow! intersperse the proceedings as people move about seeking the perfect picture or accessory like ribbons or beads, small flowers or feathers, yarn or thread, crayon or colored markers.  Anyone see a lilac bush in bloom?  How about a man fishing?  Here’s a woman baking.  Who was looking for that?  Looking for oneself as well as looking to help others.  Sharing as part of the process of creating, usually considered a solitary activity.  And sometimes it got quiet as each was busy getting it “just right.” 

 

Finally finished, or as finished as it can be in the allotted hours.  I asked each to bring in a fairly recent picture of themselves.  Now those pictures were glued into the middle of the picture, and we each truly had a pearl necklace going around our necks: a descansos of our legacy from losses of loved ones.

 

 

Then the verbal sharing started.  Each, in describing their necklace, gave a eulogy for the pearl-people (in their necklace), telling of the legacies they received from each, telling stories and activities, sharing the love they felt with others in a setting where they were really listened to.  And what stories!  Fortunately, I brought many boxes of kleenex, which were needed during the three hours of sharing.  Powerful legacies from patients one was with only a short time but where a real connection was built, showing we might never realize the influence we can have on others.  Three hours later, we all felt as if each of us had honored our loved ones in a eulogy sometimes more pertinent to the person than that done by the “professionals”—ministers and funeral directors.  Our hearts filled with inspiration and the goodness of so many people, including the volunteers telling their stories.  Truly “A Day of Remembering”, by making a pearl necklace, a descansos of our loved ones.

 

This was so therapeutic I went on and made a pearl necklace honoring my personal loved ones and using their pictures as part of each pearl, as well as individual collage cards honoring my memories of each person and their legacy.

 

A Star Fell

Last night I had a dream that was certainly prompted by Gail’s poem and all of the – sorry, I haven’t a word special and kind enough to describe everyone’s support.  This dream may interest you; it certainly made me smile.

Last night I dreamt the simple dream that I stepped out of the shower all dripping wet and heard Seanna’s voice mumbling and murmuring outside in what I supposed to be a hallway.  I didn’t recognize the bathroom I was in.  Regardless, I was soaking wet and my purpose was to take care of that problem.  As I began to dry myself I heard Seanna’s muffled voice ‘asking’, “See Steph?  Come in?”  Unsure of what to do, not knowing the rules wherever we happened to be, I didn’t answer.  I felt a great fear.

When I hesitated I heard again a mumbled, “Wanna see Steph,” and I said loudly, “Okay babe!  But I think we have to ask someone first!  There are probably forms to fill out or something!  So wait, okay?!”  But to her that was an affirmation and that was all.  “Yes” is “yes”; there is no “yes, but…”  Instead of coming to the door, however, I heard a rustling under the counter.  Curious, I reached for the door on the far left but it popped open before I could grab the handle.  Seanna?

Yup.  Apparently on the other side of the bathroom wall there was a closet or cubby of some type and she just weasled her way right through the hole in the wall (like the one in her Grandma’s house) and followed it through the base cabinet of the bathroom, knocking all manner of soaps and jars and bottles willy-nilly with a great racket, utterly oblivious to the mess and noise (she never changes…after all, someone else will be picking that up) and was almost all the way into the room, shoulder length chestnut brown hair escaping every which way from her pony tail, mumbling “see Steph?” while I laughed at her customary chaos, when I woke up.  …when I woke up thinking, “Jeez it was nice to see her again!  It must have been all those Soul Food people talking about she and I like that that brought her back.  Especially Gail’s poem.”  Thank you one and all.

My great panic and assumption that permission and forms were necessary were due to the vicious custody fight that was underway when she died.  The rules of the family court took away all of my access to Seanna except via phone until the custody between birth parents was settled, but she died before that happened.  So now, even now, still, when I dream about her being alive I often don’t see her face but only hear her voice.  I will always hear that voice asking those questions she asked me until the day she died: “See Steph?  Come see me?  Seanna go to Steph?  Now?  Soon?  Please?” 

She was a Babbler with a capital B, but the circumstances in the last months had their value: I can’t imagine the sound of her voice will ever be forgotten by me.  In my mind I held the sounds she made over the phone as tightly in my mind as I would her whole body to my heart if she were in front of me.  The absence of my person did not stop her from bringing me everything of importance to her, either.  She told me everything that hurt and where and when it happened and who she saw and what she did and how she felt and what she wanted and what she ate and what she drank and, and, and…until she cried because I wasn’t there to do it all with her.  Thus was every phone call and there was so much time spent on the phone.  I often thought maybe I shouldn’t talk to her if she ended up crying, but her dad said she cried when I didn’t answer, so I always answered.  I guess I’ll always answer.

Oh…the shower theme.  For our lifetime together Seanna showered with me.  I was the Seanna-cleaner.  I still feel lonely in the shower.

steph

Work Without Hope – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (composed 21st February 1825)

witness and witlessness

Writing openly about my life used to be like water off a duck’s back for me.  I was Say-Anything Steph once-upon-a.  So many battles, big and small, seems to have whittled me down from feeling large to little in a twitchy, embarrassed-for-no-reason kind of way.   It aint purty!  So I’ve been consciously pulling my s___ together for the sake of … pride?  Yeah, maybe pride.  Pride goeth, I know, but there’s something to be said for sparing the world from another simpering, twitching, ever-apologetic mess.  I got down; I can get up.  Me big girl now.  *smile*

The point of this post is to share an experience I had yesterday and take solace here in the temple.  Actually, the experience has been ongoing since April when I begin what was supposed to be a year long “crisis support” program at the local hospital.  I brought them the crisis, but I’m still wondering when they’ll get to the support part. 

At the end of 2006 when I had to leave the house I loved so much because I was being abused by one of my stepdaughters I began do slide into a depression that spiralled as the events following my departure went wildly out of control.  Simply surreal, not to be believed, this is not happening to us, no way Jose kinda stuff.  The depression absolutely buried me when we buried our beloved Seanna last August, and that’s why I turned to the community care centre at the hospital for help in April. 

Every month that I have met the therapist and doctor since I started six months ago I have been asked the same questions about what it is I think is bringing me so down and why it is that I have no interest in life or plans or hope for happiness in my near future.  They have focussed on the depression but offered no grief counselling whatsoever.  In fact, they offer no “depression counselling” either; they just keep asking me over and over why I think I feel the way I do.  The psychiatrist asked me each time for the last three months why I don’t return to my regular activities, my normal life,  and why I am not content once again now that I am out of the depression.  And every time…as I have for six months…I have to remind him that my home is gone, my gallery that was my beloved work is gone, my job as Dorian’s bookkeeper is gone because he is bankrupt, my one stepdaughter (abusive as she was) is gone, and my other child, the child of my heart, is DEAD! THERE IS NOTHING TO GO BACK TO!  IT’S ALL GONE!

Barely controlling my feeling of insult – well, anger, really – that these basic facts of my life cannot be remembered, or least not gleaned from reading a simple chart or file before meeting with me again, I requested a different therapist, a switch that also comes with a different doctor.  If I end up with no “crisis support” from the hospital at all and am not allowed to go back there, I surely won’t be able to discern a difference.  Other than, perhaps, being free from the monthly insult. 

I have been embarrassed to be enduring this nonsense in my quest for solace and really should have just come to the temple once a month instead…heck…you probably would even have let me weep here once a week!  *smile*  You all are so kind that way.  LOL  But for so many years I told myself the story that I was the one holding other people together, my family, my children.  Yeah.  Such fairytales I tell myself!  And believed them because I needed to as a child needs to believe in Cinderella’s prince for a while. 

Nonetheless, here I am, feeling much better though still without any great enthusiasm for living, but I am Alive enough to have regained my sense of the necessariness of bearing witness to the witlessness that We, many of us, have to bear at times in life.  I bear necessary witness here in case someone else in Soul Food has or is being so sad and enduring the ridiculous dismissal of their entirely acceptable and understandable sadness, despondency, or simple exhaustion.

I am grateful for this wonderful temple and the solace of this place.  A place where I know words and tears and fears and questions and weariness and wonder and wishes and women are welcome to wait for healing and love and better days to come.

steph