Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

I Touched Your Star Today

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I touched your star today. Not light seen off our deck back home. To the left a bit. East, shining on clear nights. Near moon. Clouds floating by. Glow steady since second night without you. Night after night, light there with me. Staring off into an unknown world. Brightness constant. Unwavering. Abiding. A planet, perhaps.

Remember last year here. At this trailhead. One thousand five hundred eighteen miles from home. Discovering memorial idea on bulletin board. One making sense to our life together. Sons grumbling agreement, “Just no recycled, milk-bottle bench with a plaque, Mom.”

Fill out form. Speak weekly with park ranger. Over phone. Via email. Each time forgetting to send money. Misplacing task in jumbled mind. Procrastinating. Until months later he says, “There are only stars left,”

“Perfect,” I say.

This year memorial mosaic greets me at same trailhead. Before entering the Sutherland. On Sabbath sojourn. Alone. Find you shining between strangers. Press fingertips against words spelling your name. Feel warm, glossy surface. Discover smooth terra-cotta edges. See stars falling in Milky Way heading for moon.

Leave you in good company. Walk well-worn path. Rushing spring stream forcing boots off. Wading through shocking coolness in day’s high heat. Toes gripping sand. Eyes following flow. Joined in water’s joy by children, dogs, and chuckling grandfathers. Told, “keep your boots off. You’ll just be taking them off again in a bit.”

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Heed advice as yearly visitor here. Continue barefooted. Sand wedging up between toes, tickling feet, linking heart to earth. Walk like girl I once was. Befriending old oaks in Illinois forest. Singing with gurgling, muddy stream pulled toward great river. Losing self in jack in the pulpits, violets, fallen oak leaves, smells of loam and humus. Mud caking shoes. Burrs joining jacket. Landing in hair.

Today climb up and up in bare feet. Sand clinging to sweat and sunscreen. Until official trail ends with signed notice. Walk on. Emboldened. Curious. As foothills meld into mountain. Remember field of poppies worth visiting. Retreat. Wade through stream. Rolled pant legs meeting splashing water.

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Scramble up another foothill. Wet, leaping legs collecting desert. Bare feet screaming in delight. Twirling at crest. Meeting saguaro at each turn. Land stretching out limbs in all directions.

Skip down. On right, take small path. Land in field of poppies. Yellow, mustard gold illuminating desert. Find another rocky, crusty path up. Climb knowing you are here. Not just on ceramic star. But here in this place we hiked every year. For twenty years. With my mother and cousins. As a couple. With our sons. First as babies on your back. Then as little ones dwarfed by towering cactuses reaching for our hands. Toward boys emerging from snow’s melting stream, soaking and hungry. Into grumbling teenagers plodding on path. Taking refuge in phones.

Flashes of halted hike on distant foothill years ago. Cell phone reception weaving in and out. Except for one spot on hill’s top. You, pressing phone to ear. Me, knowing. Walking family on to stream. Giving sons something to do. While you worked. Saving one man from taking his own life one thousand miles away. Memory silencing me. Except for stream within. Coursing with small bits of stress. Cortisol reminding me of that day’s fear.

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Shudder. Turn back. Join strangers on their own journey. Cross stream allowing water to make room for me seven, eight times total. Until sit on bench. Across from your star. Watch people stop. Find names. Take photos. Approach as others leave. Just me and your star. Touch creamy smoothness again. Still warm like you once were. Feel surrounding surface. Grainy like sand underneath feet. Star near moon like home. People passing like clouds. You, steady in your burn. Movement implied. Toward moon. Toward me.

Return your gazing bright. Catch star in heart. Wonder about your floating atoms bubbling with embrace, fire, and eternity. Remember poet’s words,”…choose something like a star…”

Leave park. Carrying you in my heart. Your brightness glowing not out there in hemisphere. Within. Your star never once beyond my reach. At infinite distance. Even though my hand extends for yours daily. “You’ll always be in my heart,” you told us so many times. But it is us who must find you in our hearts “to stay our minds on and be staid.”

At my mother’s house, find our sons laughing together. Parked at dining room table with laptops and notebooks. Discover mom reading in family room. Greeting me by wondering what we should make for dinner. Trip on piled seminary books falling off chair in guest room. Spill water on current assignment. Sigh with air saved from desert visit. Close eyes for a moment. See me twirling again. Spreading sand everywhere. Meeting love at each turn. Life stretching out limbs in all directions. I touched your star today, my love. And found my face lit with more smiles than tears.

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Mosaic in Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona. 

Quote from the poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost

Faith, Grief, Healing, Uncategorized

Wide Water

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Heart heavy again. New wounds and disappointments added to still simmering old ones. Hard to see all the healing I’ve done through my sad haze. Cry for an entire hour on my therapist’s couch. Marit, my clinician, tilting her head a bit to one side. Her eyes teary wet as well. Offering me phone access during her upcoming vacation. Having lived twenty years on the other side of being on-call, hating to intrude. Feeling empathy towards her vacationing family members. “Maybe you could try Reiki,” she suggests.

My head lifts in recognition. Percolating ideas swirling in my thinking of late. “I’ve always wanted to try healing touch,” I reply.

“Excellent!”

Marit showing relief. No more words uttered but I know. Because we’ve been together almost weekly for two and a half years. Since before Tony died. Beginning when my sons were so sick with mysterious illnesses. Me living in caretaker burnout. Marit’s  thinking now, “Jen needs a substitute while I’m away.”

Leave her couch with a plan. Make a healing touch appointment for the following week. Travel to the next city. To a retreat center run by nuns nestled in reclaimed prairie and forest. Ushered into calming silence. Sister Bethel greeting me with gentle tones. My nun experience almost non-existent. Except for Tony’s aunt. The one who reveals all the family stories. Tales no one else speaks of.  Family salt mixing with humored love. This sister today, eighty years on this earth. Looking about sixty.

Enter Sister Bethel’s small, windowless room. Stuffed and stuffed again with angel figurines. On multiple oak shelves hanging from four panels of drywall. Angels collected  over decades in ministry. Repulsed by the crowded assemblage. Muse over what I might be forced to collect once ordained in ministry.

Lie down on the massage table. Harp music playing. Water bubbling from unknown origin. Maybe from behind a shelf of angels. Or perhaps only in my imagination. Cool hands hold my head. Their strength beautiful, reassuring. “Healing hands,” the term healers use. As more than a complement. As recognition of an awe-filled skill. Part mystery, part talent, part practice.

Relax into Sister’s hands. Trust them. Listen to her pray in words punctuated by silences. Words flowing from her lips floating above me before gently raining down. Absorbed through skin into soul.

She shifts on her stool. I hear her say, “Jennifer, you are loved. Deeply, deeply loved.”

Tears fall from beneath closed eyelids. Slide off face into hair. Like a stream flooding my banks. Sister rises. Waving the air over me. Movements sensed not seen. Music swelling time forward. Into the melody of the old Scottish folk tune, “O Waly, Waly.” Text remembered from high school choir. Mind repeating.

 

“The water is wide, I cannot get o’er,

And neither have I wings to fly,

Give me a boat that will carry two,

And both shall row, my love and I.”

 

Woe erupting from toes traveling up legs disseminating throughout my body in recognition, in revelation. What I could not do the day Tony died. Fly across the water separating us. Carry us both in a boat. One with two oars.

And I see Tony’s face in my mind’s eye. Through tears and body tremors. Large. Smiling. Reassuring. Coming toward me. Speaking to my eternal regret. Sadness. Complete upending of life. His love recognizing my truth. What I would have done if possible. Fly. Lift Tony out of the water. Hold him. Save him. A vision floating here in this room full of dusty angels. Carrying forgiveness laced love from my lost one.

Sister Bethel hears more words. Sees more images. Fleeting pictures and oddly strung together words. A rope with many knots. Reminiscent of the Filipino veil and cord wedding ritual. A ritual we participating in during our wedding ceremony. Binding us together in love and hope. An image reassuring me of Tony’s ongoing love  and his push and desire for me to continuing living and loving. And as Sister Bethel repeats again and again, “have some fun,” followed by “whatever that means to you.”

Rise from the table feeling free. Centered. Grounded. Amazed. Lighter. Loved. Uplifted in my deep fears and strong abilities. My call to ministry recognized by another called one. “Your openness to the divine,” Sister Bethel tells me, “is huge.”

I laugh. Thinking I should ask her to share her thoughts with my Bishop and seminary professors.  Instead say, “Thank you for affirming my call to ministry.”

“You will be a powerful healer in ministry,” she replies in words knocking me over internally. Echoing something similar to what both my therapists have said to me in recent months.

Following days bring new calm. I eat again, hungry for the first time in a month. Catch myself smiling. Discover I want to reclaim bits of my old life. Slowly, intentionally, and with care.  A restaurant, a family member, water.

A few days later my daily walk takes me to the Iowa River. On the walking bridge I stop. Watch wild water crashing over the dam. Not avoiding river’s presence by walking quickly by. Like I have for twenty-five months. But gazing at its bubbling, swirling, violent, beautiful flow. Realizing I want to hike its banks, paddle its ways, embrace its beauty once again. Maybe never the Wisconsin River. But this river and all other rivers. Converse once again with wet molecules without my stomach clenching or my mind flashing back to the day Tony died. I want to continue dissipating my trauma by breathing into water’s swelling spirit.

“I keep hearing ‘changed, not changed,'” Sister Bethel told a few days ago during my session. “I wonder what that means?”

Most days think I know.  Losing Tony a formidable change. His love then and now never changed. Me, changed through loss, grief, trauma, and healing. But not changed. Still me, internally resilient. Brimming with life. Always hopeful. Never hiding from challenges for too long. Open to new adventures. Living having been loved. Full of love to give and receive.

My healing pain flowing toward and into joy. Tony leaving a boat of sorts for me to row toward the other side of trauma and grief. Constructed of his love mixed with all the healing methods he professionally practiced or knew about for over two decades. Rowing my boat together although not together. Me here on earth. He with me in spirit. Changed but not changed. Reclaiming wide waters.

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