Crow country

There is an undeniable sadness to Ireland.  The history of the country is mired in despair.  Littered across landscape are the ruins of celtic Christian abbeys,  Norman castles, famine houses abandoned in the 1840s and more recent homes left during times of trouble.

                   

I spent  the month of May, 2011 out in the desolate uplands that mark the border between County Kerry and County Cork.  Day after day crows swept across the windswept hills, their mournful, lonely cry echoing across the wilderness.  Photographing the landscape became a way for me to connect with the spirit of the place.

It is hard to describe how I felt during this time.  The landscape over there has a power, a potency and an energy  that speaks of ancient despair and grief but also of  something far deeper –there is a sense that the land is inhabited by a spirit as old as time – a vast and essentially unknowable spirit that transcends the limitations of human life spans.  The ancient goddess Sheela still lives amongst the craggy rocks and misty mountains. The plaintive cry of the crows wheeling in the wind echo her cry.

Historically Ireland is a place people leave.  This exodus continues today as the global economic crisis bites deeply into the Irish economy.  Young people leave for America and Australia  as soon they graduate.  Others wish they could go. My own daughter is among them.  Her vengeful ex-husband will not sign the papers for the children to come to Australia.

I pray for Ireland and all her people.

should have known

I have been descending into a well of grief for my daugther, for both the children I raised, for the abscence of one and the betrayal of the other.  I don’t know why now, why it was necessary to be overwhelmed once again by the evil intent and the lies that took my child, my freedom, my reputation, and my well-being.  But down I go.  Today in particular I found myself made almost helpless by the pain.  Why?  I didn’t call it to me.  I didn’t go digging for it.  It came to me.

Finally I put aside my attempts to do anything productive and went upstairs to lie on the old couch and just listen to the traffic whoosh by until I fell into an uneasy half-slumber.  And then…Ah…there it was.

I am sensitive to the energies of certain people, extraorindarily so, and you can just balk at that if you wish, but I heard her voice through the window, my heart went THUD, and I knew what was stirring my wounded soul such as it is.  The child returned.  The child I raised.  The one who accused me of terrible things that almost put me behind bars.  The accusation that had my daughter taken away and kept from me until her death.  The one who devastated my life.  She came to visit for Father’s Day.

And so we sat together at the table making cautious small talk.  Avoiding talk of what she’d done to me, to all of us, lest she get up and walk out.  The idea in my mind to build back the relationship (with her fatehr, at least) to the point where she’s again old enough(17 now) to face me over what she did.  *sigh*

What bullshit.  I’m such a fool.  Eventually I just came right out and called her on the audacity of faking an injury in order to destroy my life.  Out the door she went.  After she swore that she didn’t fake the injury.  It’s been so many years now she’s convinced herself that her story was true. 

I feel so tired I can barely move.  Utterly joyless.  Weeping inwardly. 

You know what?  I still desperately want my family back.  Death precludes the return of one child.  And the other?  The other just stood in the kitchen and declared, “I just don’t take anyone’s shit.  If you bug me, I’ll make their life a living hell.  I’ll make them wish they were never born.  They just won’t believe what I’ll do to their lives.” 

I believe her.  She was smiling when she said it.  She was also smiling when she – just before that – asked her father to buy her a car. 

It’s time now for the storybook ending: the protagonist (moi) shakes it off and finds something new to fill the void left by Family.

But I am sad.  So sad today. 

steph

when it rains

When it rains, it pours, and sometimes the accompanying winds threaten to take the roofs right off what little shelter we have in the world.  And sometimes…sometimes the roof goes. 

Heather Blakey, webmistress, teacher, guide, guru, Friend, is in the eye of such a storm yet again.  I have not offered her any words of wisdom or comfort because, one, she is older and wiser than I, and two, could any word be true enough to comfort a daughter watching her mother die?  Not from my personal experience on the matter.  And so I’ve read the kind words sent from others and wondered about storms and grief, my own grief and memory of grief rising up like the floods on the Canadian Prairies. 

Heather’s mother has cancer of the eosophagus, and I lost a very, very dear and important friend/guide in my life to that just a few months ago.  Her absence is very keenly felt in my life today.  Tears well for her near daily every time I go near my gardens, a subject we discussed often.  Elizabeth loved gardening and adored all plants, but she was wise enough to assure me that “A weed is ANYTHING you don’t want in your garden, my love.  If you don’t like roses, then OUT they go, and don’t you feel a whit of guilt about it.  A garden is supposed to be a thing of pleasure, not a task to be tended to grudgingly.  Make it what you love and to hell with what anyone else says.” 

The most important women in my life, and I think the most important women on earth indeed, are those who are strong enough and smart enough to encourage the world’s daughters to tell society to “go to hell and just let me live as I was meant to live, in peace, in beauty, in pleasure.”  From what I have heard, Heather’s mother is such a treasure, and so her weakening condition is a heartbreak that touches all intelligent women. 

I wish Heather a continued connection with that deep down still spot inside her that withstands the ebb and flow of every flood, and the force of every emotional hurricane.  I can think of nothing more to say in the face of a normal but nonetheless devastating pain of life.

Love and honour,

Steph

Remembering Joey

joey4

Four years ago today we lost my nephew Joey. His death was sudden and unexpected, having been healthy and having just celebrated his 24th birthday one week prior.

joeysmile

I’ll always remember Joey as an exuberant young man. When he loved someone or something, he loved them completely and enthusiastically. Growing up, he had faced his own challenges but that never stopped him from wanting to help others.

joeywithkaty

I am saddened not just because we all miss him so much but because I feel the world is missing his presence as well. At the time of his death he had just really come into his own, “found himself” if you will. His faith and connection with God had deepened and his focus had clarified and he really seemed to know where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do with his life. And what he wanted to do was just so typically Joey. He wanted to help people. He wanted to make the world a better place.

joeyatpapaswedding

Although I am still deeply saddened by his loss, I recall his funeral and believe it or not, there are things from that which make me smile. The church was packed to the point that it became standing room only – all those many many people who had been touched by Joey’s presence in their lives. And then they came forward, the people wanting to express their sympathies. Each one of them had a story about Joey – a story about the love they had felt from him, about how he had helped them in one way or another, be it by act or by example.

dadandjoey

It’s thinking back on this and on the time I got to spend with Joey when he was here on earth that I realize…he may not be here physically with us anymore, but his presence will always be felt by those who knew him.

Kelly

peonies blossom

wild grasses grow tall

the mulberry matures

and the scent of lavender wafts by

from I don’t know where

but death seems stronger than life

when I remember how

I held her in my arms

and felt her body become still

as the last breath left her

then cried as my beloved was

carried away wrapped in a quilt

Stephanie K. Hansen © 2009

all done

At 5 o’ clock today my dog Kelly finished her life.  She was in pain and far from herself.  I am beside myself with sadness at the loss of my incredibly friendly and affectionate companion.  She was a wonderful creature who brought a lot of smiles to a lot of faces.  She healed me with her unconditional love over the course of this last year in a way that nothing else could.  I am in her debt.  The silence and stillness in the house is profound.  I don’t know where to put all my kisses.  I may have to shower love and affection on my fellow humans now. 

Rest, my love.  You were a sweetheart.  You made me happy when nothing else could.  I love you forever.

steph

Ode to Alice – Bite Me!

She was asleep in the sun room the first night I was there, in that magnificent house overlooking Death Row. I actually came to see her daughter when J and I were returning from seeing the Healing Rinphoche in Sebastapool.  Her daughter was a doctor at San Quentin, the first (and oldest) prison in California.

The morning after we arrived, I wandered into the kitchen. An elderly woman was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. She greeted me with a bright smile as though she was truly happy to see me. She introduced herself as Alice. Alice told me J was still sleeping, then asked me if I wanted some homemade banana bread or zucchini bread. Who could refuse either? Not I! We chatted for hours and got to know each other. She was funny, opinionated, lovely, and a total delight. I don’t really remember the other details of the day (other than waking up to the sounds of a loud speaker releasing inmates to work assignments and breakfast). However, I do remember clearly that being the first day I met Alice. 

Now I didn’t mention this, but the house was large, two story, had a courtyard and other structures behind it, terraced front yard, and beautiful gardens. (When I slept in the master bedroom while Alice sitting once, I felt like I was in a tree house!) The view while sitting down was stunning! The house was on the Marin side of the bay looking towards Sausalito. On clear days Oakland and San Francisco were in the picture. But standing up, one noticed first the prison…which really didn’t spoil the view, in my opinion. I think it made the view quite interesting.

Stairs

Alice spent part of the year at San Quentin and the remainder at her home in Utah. She had leg surgeries and eventually moved into the house at San Quentin full-time.  Since the house was on a hill, the only way to get there was to climb over 20 stairs. After Alice’s surgeries, the inmates carried her up to the house. Everyone that lived in San Quentin village knew Alice as did others that worked (and some that lived) at the prison. 

Anyway, we spent many weekends with the Dr. and Alice. The Dr. had the best parties (especially Halloween)! Everyone would greet the Dr. then head straight for the sun room where they would pay homage to Alice. Alice would be dressed, sitting on her bed, legs stretched out in front of her, heaters going near her bed, and guests on a bench. She was a vision of royalty. EVERYONE knew Alice and stopped to greet her first thing. My husband would always jump in bed with her for a quick cuddle then fill her glass with vodka. It was his ritual greeting.

I loved sitting with Alice during the parties as she would fill me in on the guests I didn’t know. “Humpff. There goes a strange one. Used to be a man. Was an assassin in Viet Nam. Always in a bad mood. Watch out for that one.”

A friend and I were going to the opera in San Francisco one Saturday. We arrived late Friday night and woke Alice to let her know we were there. Opening the sun room doors I saw Alice laying in bed lit by the high candle powered prison lights. There she lay in her red waffled flannel nightgown and pearls. I  mentioned her pearls when we woke her and she replied, “I was so happy you were coming, I dressed up!”

Unfortunately, the good times at the house at San Quentin came to an end when the Dr. retired and moved to Seattle. Knowing Alice would help with the unpacking, I wrote notes to Alice on the paper I used to wrap the dishes. After endless trips up and down those stairs, I packed my car with treasures the Dr. had given me…including Alice. She was staying with my family and I for a week until the moving truck reached Seattle.

Our dining room was turned into a downstairs bedroom for Alice. It had all the comforts of home. The kitchen was close and she could use her walker to get to the bathroom. Living with Alice was easy. All she needed were five things to keep her happy…bread, cheese, vanilla ice cream, crossword puzzles, and vodka. She was a dream to live with.

My 12 year old daughter and Alice had incredible talks every day after school and before bed. The youth and the elderly are a perfect combination. I loved seeing them together on the bed sharing stories of their childhoods; one so long ago, one still in progress.

My husband and Alice teased each other constantly. Scott decided he needed to teach Alice how to respond appropriately to teasing by saying, “Oh, bite me!” He reminded her often when it was the proper response and she finally came out with it on her own. He was so proud you would have thought he had taught his firstborn how to say “Daddy.”

The night before Alice was to fly to her new home in Seattle, mutual friends arrived with Mexican food and we celebrated Alice. Her bedtime came early so it was an “eat and run” kind of evening. Morning arrived early and we were all getting ready for work, school, and the airport.

We have three bathrooms in our house, one downstairs. Scott was in the downstairs bathroom when I heard Alice’s walker hit the kitchen floor. “Scott!” she yelled. “Scott! Get out of that bathroom!” Here comes Alice through the kitchen in her cashmere sweater, pearls, black panties, white socks and tennis shoes pushing her walker. “Scott! Hurry up! I had Mexican last night and you need to get out of that bathroom! Now!” As she zoomed through the family room, I heard the bathroom door open and footsteps running up the stairs. The upstairs bathroom door slammed just as Alice closed the downstairs bathroom door. “Made it!” she hollered.

Alice made the flight to Seattle and slept in her own bed that night. She had a stroke the next morning. When her daughter called, I made the appropriate responses but also said, “Tell Alice thank you. Thank you for not having a stroke at our house!” Scott added, “I’ll know Alice is fine when she calls and says ‘bite me!'”

Alice had a rough time and her recovery was slow but steady. The Dr. and I spoke every now and then. One night the phone rang and Scott answered. All he heard before the caller hung up was “Bite me!” “Alice is alright! She’s back to her old self!” he cried with joy. I didn’t understand what the heck was going on until he told me about the phone call. That was almost two years ago.

I received an email yesterday morning.

Dear friends
My mother Alice expired this morning at my brother Pat’s in Miami.  As was her wish, she died peacefully, at home, in her own bed.  My brothers Dan, Pat, and I are blessed by her incredible life.
Thanks for all of your support of Alice and me.

Jess

Good-bye my dear friend, Alice. I will see you again someday. Scott and I will lift our eyes to the sky, our glasses of vodka in a toast, and our voices in love as we read this cake aloud eating in your honor.

IMG_1976

again

Thank you everyone who left kind words and supportive comments regarding the sad situation with my dog Kelly. 

She’s a great dog with a charming nature.  She inspires loyalty.  We were out walking one day when a much larger dog charged Kelly viciously snarling with teeth bared obviously intending to attack.  Kelly’s an older dog and truly no fighter, certainly no match for the enormous Sheppard bearing down on her.  Without thinking, I pulled her behind me and took on the attacker myself.  Terrifying!

The big dog got a couple of well-placed kicks and one whomping smack that knocked the fight out of him and left him cringing.  I felt just awful for striking an animal like that, but the damage he would have done to poor Kelly would have been heartbreaking.  It wasn’t until a couple of moments later, still shaking like a leaf, I fully realised how badly mauled I could have been. 

I have had a strong instinct to protect Kelly sicne she came to me a year ago.  I adopted her because I was painfully lonely and longing for someone to take care of.  I was a mother for a long time and was not coping well with being so suddenly childless after my Seanna’s death and her sister’s move wholly into her birth mother’s life.  There’s no other way to put it than to say I’ve been using Kelly to make myself feel better.  To heal my own wounds.

And now she needs me to make her feel better.  Quid pro quo.  I owe her deeply for what ease she has brought to my life.  I think it’s a good bet I’d be in much sadder shape without the continuous solace of her affections. 

I can say exactly the same about Seanna, and there’s where my greatest unease comes in.  Seanna had an illness that would eventually claim her life.  I lived too long watching desperately, with growing panic, for signs that she was nearing the end of her life.  I have not healed from that experience and am floundering finding myself in a similar situation with another living being who has brought so much to my life, to my Self.

steph

time

I’ve been waiting for the news to really hit home for two days now.  The vet called to tell me my dog Kelly has malingnant cancer and that it’s a matter of time.  I feel like a shallow jerk for saying no to his suggestion of chemotherapy for her in a town about a half hour’s drive away.  She’s just had surgery to remove a large lump in her mammary gland and is healing well it seems.  She has three different infections going on right now to fight and the cancer isn’t helping. 

She’s been a saviour to me.  I feel like hell for not being able to return the favour.  The vet says the lumps will reoccur within 2-3 months somewhere else, most likely the chest and lymph nodes.  The hardest part to get my head around is that it’s almost impossible to tell when she’s sick and suffering.  I have to watch for signs of deterioration to know when to let her go peacefully, put her out of her misery.  She’s not a whiner, though.  She had such a terrible uterine infection that she was dripping blood everywhere and never flinched or gave a sign that anything was wrong.  She’s just the sweetest natured dog in the world.  I am heavy with the responsibility of divining her time to leave this life.  How will I know?  I am afraid that I will keep her here too long, and afraid too that I will let her go too soon.  What an awesome responsibility to be in charge of deciding the life and death of another living soul, such a sweet soul as Kelly’s.  I fear greatly that she will suffer quietly for too long before I see what is happening to her. 

Love will have to be my guide. 

steph

Knowing

I don’t always know what Enough is, but I know that too much is what is stuffed and piled and packed around my house. In an effort to lift myself up spirit, mind and body I have been culling my bookshelves and drawers ruthlessly boxing things up and carting them to local charities. I even took to shredding numerous old journals that are really nothing but scribbled out drivel that I needed to empty from my crowded mind so I could concentrate on other things. I thought I had done away with the journals when I found a few more today. They were tucked into the hard little overnight case put under the computer table here to put my feet on like a makeshift footstool. They were the last three years worth of day-to-day scribble of life stuff.
I sat down beside the shredder and opened up the cover to the first page of the first notebook and saw written at the top of the page August 11, 2006. My daughter, Seanna, died that same day one year later in 2007. The date stunned me. I turned off the shredder and just sat staring at the date thinking, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.” On that day in 2006 I didn’t know we only had a year left and my writing reflected that. I talked about summer things and children’s squabbles and things I looked forward to and the things I didn’t look forward to. On all the pages that followed it was just our lives as they were then. Love, pain, fear, more love, more fear… And in between every line I saw pictures of us today, Seanna and I, doing the stuff we did the same way every day. The way we touched, the way we looked at each other, the way we sat together, played together, bathed and dressed and napped together. And I just kept thinking, “I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”

Eventually I had read my thoughts and details of the time between then and her death when I stopped writing, where the journal abruptly ends, and I set to shredding them all up while the tears gathered in my throat and just bulged up there. Soon the shredder was too slow and I was too…something…and I simply tore all the remaining pages to shreds and deposited them in the recycling bag. There were no special details about things Seanna and I did together that needed to be saved in those journals. All the details that mattered then or now are in my mind and heart. But I had a question that begged answering: If you’d known on that day you had exactly one year left together what would you have done and what wouldn’t you have done with Seanna?

It’s been a long evening since the journals met their fate and I’ve spent nearly all of it sitting quietly listening to a clock tick and wondering, “What would I do that I didn’t do?” I didn’t know. We were very affectionate and I told her constantly all the things I loved about her. So I wondered, “What would I do more of?” Still, I didn’t know. To be more affectionate or spend even more time in each other’s company would have been ridiculous as much as we were already huggy-kissy-hand-holding people. So I wondered, “What wouldn’t I have done?” I thought I’d dig up a few answers here. I spent a long time on this one, but I still didn’t know. We struggled to make sure she got the most out of being alive by putting our faith in the truism that ‘change is life’ and insisting she grow and learn to be independent as possible when she struggled as hard as she could to maintain the total dependence that was easier. I know that independence made her happier than she would have been otherwise. I wouldn’t take back any of the struggle.

Sitting here after all that musing I have to admit we didn’t lose anything by not knowing. Lord, but that’s got to be worth something, something real big, you know? I’m having trouble feeling that specifically. I still just have those tears in my throat and a knowing that I ‘lucked out’ big time in one way but still hurt too much to feel lucky yet. It’s been a while since her death now but I’ve been avoiding myself and herself, if you know what I mean, for nearly all the time since. It’s good I got rid of those journals, those makeship placeholders. Time passed needs to be acknowledged and I need to stop waiting for some mysterious future date to start living and enjoying my life again. This waiting, however, is not new to me. I’m a wait-er. Thankfully, I’m also a ponderer and I’ll give some more thought to this knowing/not knowing business.
steph

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

Hell

Fiery pits,
An eternity of backbreaking,
meaningless work
I could deal with.

An email from a friend
across the world from me
‘sorry for the once size fits all, but I’m neg on time & want to write se’

A troubled friend,
blaming himself
for something that
is no one’s fault.
And there’s nothing I can do.
This is hell.

Life goes on,
But how can I face normalcy
eating breakfast, going to work,
when he is in living hell?

Sanctuary of the Blue Flame

Whenever I need a mental get-away, I create a safe haven.  Sometimes this is a very real place– in my living room when I perform a meditation with a candle in a cobalt blue glass.    Most times, it is within my imagination, where I create a sanctuary in my heart where a single flame burns.  

May you also find a safe haven to dwell…….

Animation: L. Gloyd (c) 2008