Set

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petals drop
seeds picked clean
the sunflower sets

 

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While going through some old photo files, I came across this interesting shot from a while ago. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I took the shot, but I love how it looks!

Photo: Sunflower detail, c.b.w. 2013

Words: haiku, c.b.w. 2018

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Walking Through Grief

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When my grandmother passed away three years ago, I was flooded with so many emotions I couldn’t even process what I was feeling. There was intense sorrow mixed with relief, gratitude, and nostalgia. I know – that’s an odd mixture of feelings after losing someone I was incredibly close to throughout my life.

The sorrow was obvious,  but I hadn’t counted on the relief. Her death was not a surprise. I had watched her slowly deteriorate from dementia for more than a year. She wasn’t suffering anymore and there is a certain amount of thanks for that when someone you love is suffering. What’s more, I was with her the night before her passing and those last moments are now beautiful and happy memories.

Gratitude came from feeling unbelievably blessed for the privilege of knowing such a beautiful person. I had the kind of relationship with her the most people will never experience with their grandparents.

Nostalgia is probably the most painful, because all the memories I cherish are also the reason I miss her so much it hurts.  My only saving grace on this front is a poem she wrote to both me and my sister telling us not to cry over her. It hangs on my fridge as a daily reminder of how she wants to be remembered, (See In Grandma’s Words). This is where the gratitude comes in as well. Her poem continues to keep me grounded.

All of these emotions thrashed around inside of me with nowhere to go. There comes a moment when you realize there needs to be a release. I didn’t want it to be ugly or messy or traumatizing. I wanted it to be peaceful and joyful like my Grandma’s poem.

I did the only thing that made any sense to me. I put on my hiking shoes and went for a long trail walk. The desert sand crunched beneath my feat. Every step seemed to push the sorrow into the ground and replace it with a sense of purpose and assurance. Life will go on and it will be beautiful. The smell of creosote came with each breath. The sun lit up the mountains and sky in a glorious shade of coral. Life didn’t feel heavy with the enormous weight of loss. Not anymore.

Every emotion rolled through me, but they were no longer thrashing. The evening air, cacti, and stones all seemed to invite them to come out and simply exist. It was liberating and calming. In so many ways it allowed me to accept the natural course of life and all the feelings that go along with it.

Whenever the grief feels overwhelming I go back to that day on the desert trail.

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A view along my desert trail. c.b.w. 2012

When my grandfather died last year, I found myself dealing with the same emotions all over again. Even with experience, it isn’t any easier dealing with the loss of a loved one. I held onto those thrashing emotions a bit longer this time around. I wasn’t ready to let go of something so precious.

It wasn’t until I was on vacation a few months later that I realized what I had to do. Those thrashing emotions were going to tear me apart unless I found a place for them go. Once again, I laced up my hiking shoes and went on a trail hike.

This time a thick, mossy forest reminded me to breathe. Like the desert before, it’s like the trees invited those thrashing emotions to come out and simply exist.  To be surrounded by so much life – the green of the leaves and the warmth of the sun filtering through – the  weight lifted once more. Life is beautiful and will go on. We hold those we love close to us no matter where they are. The pulse of the ground  anchored me to this world, giving me a sense of joy that I am still here and must make the most of each day. That’s what he would have wanted me to do.

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Forest Park, Oregon, c.b.w. 2015

I don’t know that grief ever totally heals, but my walks have shown me there is more to loss than sadness. I miss my grandparents every day, but I find their absence isn’t as hollow as I once believed. The memories are always there and so is the love. If I’m ever in doubt that they are near, I just remember the crunch of desert sand and the shade of thick trees.

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c.b.w. 2016

For My Friend

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We must have seemed odd
to those who passed by
Opposites in every way
except on the inside
No need to explain Party of One
I understood you,
and you understood me
as no one else could
Over countless cups of coffee,
we pondered the meaning of life
and other silly things
And let’s not forget the music,
Junip and jazz still sing in my head
We read Maisie Dobbs and F. Scott Fitzgerald,
along with Willa Cather and Steinbeck, too
Ah, the books we treasured
and the stories we shared
I don’t have your picture,
but I’ll never forget your face
Nor how you taught me
the real source of strength
Without you there is an empty space
Thank you for being my friend,
until the very end

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Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away. While the sadness is sometimes overwhelming, so is the joy I have in the memories of the moments we shared.  Our friendship was something really special and I already miss it.

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c.b.w. 2014

Let Me Live

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The small plane lurches forward as it skids to a halt on the tarmac.  The airport is just as I remember – quaint and unassuming with one terminal, one gate, and no Jetway.  It feels strange to be here without Anthony by my side.  He would always joke that he couldn’t find his way around such a huge airport.  It made me laugh every time.

I make my way out to the parking lot and find my rental car parked in the back row.  It doesn’t feel right when I sit behind the steering wheel instead of in the passenger’s seat.  He always drove.  My breath catches and my hands fall into my lap.  I can’t do this, but . . . I must.  I promised him I would.   Shaking my head, I fiddle with my wedding ring and spin it round and round my finger.  The simple gold band hasn’t left my hand since he gave it to me ten years ago.  Meanwhile, his ring clings loosely to my thumb.  That’s where he put it right before he said, “Promise me you’ll say goodbye.”  Moments after I made my vow, he closed his eyes and never opened them again.  That was three years ago and I have yet to keep my word.  I put the car in gear and start driving.

It takes more than an hour to get to the small town of Boulder Junction.  Nothing has changed.  A golden retriever still sits outside the bait shop and tourists crowd around the one and only ice cream shop.  Anthony loved the dog, but hated the ice cream.  I can’t help but smile.  It’s been a long while since I’ve thought of the little things I loved about him.  I wonder what he would remember about me if our places were reversed.

Before I know it, the town is behind me and an empty road lies ahead.  The edge of Anthony’s ring digs into my skin and my knuckles are white.  I’m holding the steering wheel too tight, but I can’t ease my grip.  In this familiar place, the memories are coming back faster than I can handle them.  I have to keep telling myself this is something I need to do.

I know I’m getting close when the blacktop ends and the dirt road begins.  The cabin is the last one at the end of the road, right where the wild daisies start to grow.  I reserved it for the weekend, but I will be leaving as soon as my deed is done.  It looks exactly the same, complete with a red porch swing and screen door.  This is where we met.   I had just graduated high school when my father rented this cabin for a family vacation.  As fate would have it, Anthony and his parents were our neighbors.  One warm June day he paddled his canoe up to our pier, where I was soaking up the sun.  The moment I saw him, I knew.  And so did he.  It seems fitting to say goodbye where it all began.

A twig snaps beneath my step – another fracture in it’s already broken life. It’s tempting to pick up the splintered remains, but I keep walking down the familiar twisted path that leads to the lake.  He was with me last time I tread these grounds.  It was years ago, but all is the same.  The birch bark still peels on landmark trees, while a cloud obscured sun can’t break through a thick dome of leaves.

Even the lake sits as it always has —  a bucket of water waiting to catch the sky should it fall.  A light mist lays low in the reeds like a gossamer veil.  If only that delicate blanket would wrap around my shoulders with its gentle embrace.  A slightly chilled breeze brings news that rain is on the way.  It won’t be long before scores of droplets begin their descent.  A collage of gray, white, and green paints the top of the water; the wind a giant paintbrush stroking the canvas.  Soft bristles tickle the water into gentle waves, weaving life and color together with mystical grace.  Where the waves meet their fate waits a promise that an ending is not always meant to fear.  The trees sway to a mysterious tune, while a woodpecker thumps the beat. The old pier creaks and rocks, the wooden planks weary, yet eager to bear my weight.  It’s the same pier that held us for our first kiss and I’m reminded that I’ll never be able to kiss him again.  The buzz of a fly sounds a little alarm that anger tarnishes beauty and steals from faith.  I close my eyes and find my strength.  If I am to survive, I must release the grief  that chokes my will.  Let it sink and dissolve, no longer part of me.

A distant thunder rolls, but does not threaten.  The rain is coming, but shall not drench.  Chiming leaves and whispering pines speak to me with a soothing voice, suddenly having more to say than a soul-quieting lullaby.  There is a reason to keep breathing.  I slide my wedding ring off my finger and his from my thumb.  My hand feels naked and lighter, my finger instantly longs for what’s missing.   I tie our rings together with a bit of string.  I kiss them with farewell on my lips, for this is where we part ways.  It doesn’t take long to find the maple tree that witnessed everything from the first hello to the first “I love you.”  From a small branch, I hang our joined rings.  They may stay there forever or fall tomorrow, but they will always be together.  Knowing this, I can keep my promise.

c.b.w. 2005

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c.b. 2012