Mandala Monday: Grief Revisited

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The other night I got to visit old friends. I was picking up my friend to go see a play, The Diary of Anne Frank. It has been several years since I had been in my friend’s home and while there I got to visit this old friend, a painting I had done in 1999. It is a very large canvas and it hangs in her living room. I painted this soon after we lost our first dog, Maia, a golden retriever, who is still known in our family as The Best Dog Ever. Maia helped me raise our three babies, no kidding! She was the most gentle, attentive mother who always watched over our children playing in the backyard. She loved them as much as I did and I always appreciated her maternal ways. Living far away from family, we didn’t have a good support system so the help I got from Maia was the unconditional love of her constant presence by my side. She helped me be more patient and was a great friend to me as she was to our children. She was nine when she died and I was by her side as she breathed her last breath while the kids were at school and Pedro was at work. It was a a tearful goodbye and I somehow had the strength to bury her in our backyard by the creek. I started this painting that day and don’t remember how long it took me to finish it but it helped me grieve her loss in the subsequent days.

The pain of loss feels similar whether it is the loss of a beloved pet or a loved one in human form. I won’t try to quantify which is greater or deeper, they are all great sorrows. I have endured many personal losses by now (parents, brother, grandmother, brother in law, distant relatives, and friends) and life will surely bring more. There are physical deaths we have to cope with as well as the losses that changes bring, as we go through many seasons in life. All involve loss and letting go. All involve pain and remembering hurts but it also comforts me to cherish them and love them all.

This painting is about hope and the autumn tree shedding leaves as it prepares for a winter rest. This is a change of life assured to all. I was grateful for the visit with old friends, those  still here on this earth and the many who have passed on. Certainly the play my friend and I saw later further magnified the theme of death, grief and loss of those who perished in the horrors of the Holocaust.  In some ways it was a hard night but the beauty was also there in celebrating the power and gift of unconditional love.

In the midst of pain there is great joy. Here is a picture of Maia keeping watch with our youngest, Sophia. Maia was probably watching the boys swinging from the rope tree across the yard.  We just celebrated Sophia’s 30th birthday!  Our boys, Jason and Corey, will be 34 and 32 this fall as well. We are grateful for each one of them and the gifts they all were and are in our lives.  Our family has grown with their marriages and we are blessed with two more daughters, a son, and four beautiful grandchildren. We are not a perfect family and we are flawed human beings who sometimes hurt each other but I believe that Love never dies, forgiveness will save us, and that is the hope that keeps me alive!  I am thankful for God who has been with me through many sorrows and strengthens me to keep going. “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in Him and not be afraid.” Isaiah 12:2

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Starry, Starry Nights

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In preparing for teaching an art class for adults (all who chronologically fall into the demographic of “seniors” just like me!), I drew this starry night scene using oil pastels. The inspiration is Van Gogh’s Starry Night and we are going to create our own versions inspired by this famous work of art. I am not trying to be,  nor asking others to be, Van Gogh, as that would be an obvious act of futility. Instead,  I was trying to just let myself be me by interpreting his vision and make it my own. Dare I ask others to do the same?

Van Gogh’s life and art provides fertile ground for appreciating his immense talent and intelligence, while striving to understand his struggles with depression and anxiety that eventually led to his demise. For this class, however, the focus will be on his inspired art. In the starry starry night art project, the emphasis will be on appreciating the wonder and beauty of a night scene. Who hasn’t stood before the canvas of a star filled sky and marveled at the silent beauty literally stretching for limitless miles? There are similarities to Van Gogh’s effort but there are far more differences and the goal in this artistic effort is one of discovery and learning.

The art therapist in me is ready to analyze meaning and the symbolism that underlies the conscious realm, taking my creative effort to the depths of the unconscious where the process of creating is as beneficial to examine as the end result. While there is a place for that self analysis – like clearly the tree in the foreground is almost a barrier to seeing the starry night sky, giving new meaning to “can’t see the forest (sky) for the trees (or in this case a single tree with many leafless branches) – I am leaving that reflective process to my journal later! What I am interested in is whether this effort will translate to a meaningful and enjoyable learning experience for an eager group of people with varying degrees of art experience?

I don’t want to ask something of others that I am not willing to experience myself, which is why doing a test run is a good thing. In asking others to create a starry night scene, I hope they will feel free to draw from their imaginations and allow themselves the permission to change their scene as they like. While Van Gogh used oil paint, we will be using oil pastels and this difference will create a changed effect from the very start. Another difference is that we will use blue toned paper where Van Gogh most likely started with a white canvas. I thought this would give a different approach having to bring out the light from the darkness. Layering light effects with oil pastels works well on dark toned paper. The metaphor of “light in the darkness” is the foundation of this experience where my hope is that others can know the joy of letting our lights shine. Don’t worry, I don’t plan to sing This Little Light of Mine I’m Gonna Let it Shine, although it is a tempting thought!

One final difference is that we will not be using turpentine to blend the oil pastels as Van Gogh would have done with oil paints ( though I am fairly certain he would have used linseed oil or mineral spirits for his impasto technique). I tried this technique in an earlier sample but was surprised that even with low odor turpentine, I was affected by the fumes! I had to open a window in the large, ventilated space  of my living room to offset the woozy dizziness I was feeling. I certainly don’t want to make anyone sick or high! Here’s  a headline for you: Seniors Experience Breathing Problems from Sniffing Turpentine Fumes in Art Class – EMS Called to The Scene!”

We shall see how it goes! Until then I will be taking in all the starry starry nights I can -without the “help” of turpentine! Be sure to catch the next Total Lunar Eclipse on January, 20-21, 2019. It is being deemed the Blood Moon and the next one will not be until 2032. This is one starry starry night we don’t want to miss! Who knows what surprises await us?

 

Que Sera Sera

When we adopted Tortolina over a year ago I wasn’t thinking about the long term commitment. She will outlive me! (Did you know leopard tortoises can live until they’re 50?!)  And she can get as big as those tortoises at the zoo! She was just a cute little creature who fit on the palm of my hand and now she fits on my whole hand. We’ve had to invest in some renovations recently because she has outgrown her indoor and outdoor homes, which means I’ve been on the hunt at thrift stores for the needed upgrades. She is as sweet as can be and  I enjoy her but wonder about life down the road and also future road trips. The grandkids love it when she visits now but later? She is the only reptile I would ever have as a pet since I can’t do snakes or iguanas (my son Corey had one named Elvis who couldn’t sing but was a holy terror…that didn’t last long!). I don’t know why I am writing this except to say it is very ironic that the long term commitment to a tortoise is by far longer than a spouse (going on 33 years and hoping for 50!), children (on average they live with you maybe 20 years), cats, or dogs!

Somehow, when I look in her eyes, I feel peace and hope. Her slow gait reminds me to slow down too. She’s not boring at all, she’s my silent friend who doesn’t talk my ear off with incessant chatter but she does knock her shell against the glass if I am late feeding her. Hey, it works, everybody needs a way to protest when things aren’t right, don’t they? She reminds me that she’s there and I need to do my part. I don’t know what the future holds but I have hope! Hope for Tortolina’s solitary life, hope for my family, hope for my life and yours. I am old enough to remember this song, do you?

“When I was just a little girl I asked my mother, what will I be? Will I be pretty, Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me…Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see; que sera sera, what will be, will be.

When I grew up and fell in love I asked my sweetheart, what lies ahead? Will we have rainbows day after day? Here’s what my sweetheart said…Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see; que sera sera, what will be, will be.

Now I have children of my own, they ask their mother, what will be? Will I be handsome? Will I be rich? I tell them tenderly…Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see; que sera, que sera, what will be, will be.” Doris Day

Saga of a Sago

An unexpected snowstorm in January froze the gigantic sago palm in the front yard. It was clearly overgrown as it was but we liked the privacy it provided us in the rocking chairs on the porch. I have never had a sago palm nor a green thumb to know what to do for it but this much I knew, it was dead.  I researched it a little the way our grown kids have modeled modern research, which means we “googled” it. I learned that we needed to cut away the dead stuff which I did during Holy Week and then let Mother Nature take her course because the core is good and has life yet within it. Recently, Pedro decided it needed an even closer to the core pruning and did so while I was away visiting grandchildren.  He had the swollen, punctured fingers to show for this painful, prickly effort but look at it now!

The pictures show the resurrection of the sago palm over the course of the past week. One  of the photos shows it has sprung three offspring from the bottom of the trunk. It has been a joy to watch it evolve and I wonder how it will be different in size or stature. Like all good things in life, we must wait and see. Faith is the belief in what will be and the hope for things unseen. I believe it will be beautiful again and perhaps soon! May I, too, be like a sago palm, succumbing to a deep pruning to the core and rising up renewed…but without the three offspring please, been there done that!

”What Thou hast given, Thou canst take, and when Thou wilt new gifts can make. All flows from Thee alone; When Thou didst give it, it was Thine; When Thou retook’st it, ‘‘twas not mine.  Thy will in all be done.” John Austin

”The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Job i.21

Once Upon A Feathered Dream

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If a beautiful dream could be contained in a dream catcher it would be this one for me, the ideal of motherhood most recently expressed in the drama that unfolded on my front porch with the mother wren. Sadly, the mother wren lost her three babies as previously written about in The House that Wren Built blog entries of the past few weeks. The baby birds died mysteriously and I buried them under the statue of the open hands at the feet of the statue of St. Francis under the red Japanese maple.

I know they are just birds and I don’t want to over dramatize the events that occurred so close to home.  Beyond the observations I made watching the mother wren build her nest in the Nautilus Shell and being fascinated with nature and the efforts she made instinctually, I haven’t delved too far into the metaphor to draw conclusions that parallel my life.  I prefer to expand the metaphor to a more universal interpretation of the ideal of motherhood.

The beauty of motherhood is the concept of  unconditional love.  When a woman is blessed with a baby she embarks on a life changing journey of the heart. It is an indescribable joy that is multiplied exponentially as a baby grows and changes to adulthood. Even after the babies are grown and fly the nest to live their own lives, a mother’s love continues eternally and the mother treasures her babies in her heart no matter their age.  She also loves them through many challenges and trials. It is not always easy, mothers aren’t perfect and fatigue will sometimes cast a shadow but beyond those faltering times and momentary lapses, a mother holds tightly to the love for her baby.

When a mother loses a child the unspeakable sorrow and grief that ensues will be a challenge that changes her life from that day onward. Literally, her heart may be broken in half and this will take a long time to heal.  That is what I hoped to capture in this mandala, the eternal love embodied in the mother wren for her three babies and that unconditional love persists in life or death once upon a feathered dream.  May a mother’s song continue to be sung as I continue to hear the mother wren when she visits the red maple. I am not sure it is the same wren but I recognize the great song sung from such a tiny bird.

Soul Tears

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“In the day when I cried Thou answeredst me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul.” Psalm cxxxviii. 3

”It is not that I feel less weak, but Thou

Wilt be my strength; it is not that I see

Less sin; but more of pardoning love with Thee,

And all-sufficient grace. Enough!

And now all fluttering thought is stilled;

I only rest, and feel that Thou art near, and know that I am blest.” F.R. Havergal

From the soul’s tears comes growth. Tears of pain and sorrow mingle in the swirling depths of despair but are held in the Light. He holds each tear and knows the source of every pain. I am held, you are held, we are held in the Light of His Love.  In my turmoil I feel His strength and I am able to look with compassion on my sins, weaknesses, faults, and imperfections. The mercy He offers me I can offer to others. Glimpses of Light give hope and  encouragement. With a contrite heart the power of being forgiven by Him who forgave all, helps me forgive myself and others.

“We have only to be patient, to pray, and to do His will, according to our present light and strength, and the growth of the soul will go on. The plant grows in the mist and under clouds as truly as under sunshine. So does the heavenly principle within.” W. E. Channing

Growth can be painful and requires hard work, like the plant that needs a good pruning and the weeds removed in order to grow to its full potential.  Also, the inner workings of a seed under the earth cannot be seen until it bursts through the soil and stretches towards the heavens.  So it is with the soul. Trust in the process and help things along with patience and love.

(quotes from Daily Strength for Daily Needs by Mary Tileston pg. 163)

The House that Wren Built – Part IV

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I thought I was done writing about the mother wren but today’s events may be the final “chapter.” It is Good Friday and it is no surprise that the theme of death is very present for many as the journey through Holy Week brings us to today when the crucifixion of Jesus is heavily in the hearts and minds of millions. This is part of my journey too yet it is oddly enough amplified metaphorically on a different level with the baby wren’s death right on my doorstep.

Yesterday I wondered how many baby wrens there were and today I found out. I left the house around noon and noticed an odd smell as I locked the door. I haven’t seen any sign of the mother wren nor have I heard any more baby bird chirps coming from the nest. Yet I have been reluctant to mess with the nest to find out because I didn’t want to keep the mother wren from returning. I did take a closer peek before heading to a Good Friday service and thought the nest was empty. I wrongly concluded the odor must have been from the baby bird I buried yesterday.

I came home several hours later and the odor was by now very strong, the smell of death. I got even closer to the nest and clearly the odor was indeed coming from inside of it. I asked Pedro to solve this mystery because I didn’t think I could stomach any more. Yet I had to see what happened. He took the nest to the yard and gently pulled it out of the Nautilus Shell. With a few twigs he pulled the nest apart and there in the midst of a well constructed home were two more lifeless baby birds. I couldn’t believe it.  We looked for signs of trauma on their tiny bodies but saw nothing.

I don’t know what happened to them and now I wonder about the mother wren.  What was her fate? Did she abandon these babies? I think the mystery will never be solved. I am not a coroner or even close to an ornithologist. I just see a sweet, hopeful story that has ended badly. A mother bird has to let go of her three babies and I don’t feel like extrapolating meaning at the moment. Instead I gently moved the dead baby birds with a garden shovel near the statue of St. Francis and buried them with their sibling. The open hands with two birds on it at the feet of St. Francis has become their tombstone. They rest beneath the statue of the open hands.  “Lord, have mercy.” This is the only prayer I have today.

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