Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Grief and Joy

I will begin with grief. A few weeks back I lost a sweet aunt, Imelda, who had been fighting cancer for 10 years. For her, and with those who have suffered so much physically there is a relief that their suffering is at an end. There is also much sadness.Sadness that her voice will never again on this Earth speak with her unique cadence and sound. Sadness that her laughter will no longer sound. Sadness that her smile and the way her mouth moved when she spoke will no longer be with us. Sadness for her husband, her daughters, her sun, her children , her siblings, her nieces and nephews, her friends will all be left with only memories. Dear memories. Memories which may surface unbidden, and memories which may flit like shadows just beyond full recall. The fickleness of memory is both a joy and a frustration. Again and again we are humbled by the complexity of our power to recall. Sometimes we can will a memory to the surface. There we may almost see, hear, smell, taste and touch what we felt at a particular moment. There, too, we may glimpse a second or so and lose the soundtrack. We may lose the shape of a nose, the feel of a touch, the turn of phrase, the way a voice relaxed or soared upward like waves on the stones of our ears. Desperate we may recreate it to stop the ebbing of the memory, to shore it up. In our dreams, though, these memories may appear, like shells, isolated, amongst the rocks of our unconscious. Then the colour is enhanced, the sound a real echo, the smell a real whiff, the touch a real comfort, fleeting, but as warm as love. Then we are visited by the departed, not merely do we visit memories. There is a joy in the meeting and a poignancy of sadness in the brevity of it. Even as it happens it is receding in our minds.

Each grief of loss is unique and stands in bas relief in our life. Each grief is cumulative, not so much reawakening others as grief never sleeps, but rekindling the cool/hot flames of longing, of loneliness of each previous loss. My mother's absence in physical form is never absent from my heart. My body remembers her, as much as my mind does and my heart. Her absence is tangible. She is woven in my genes and each breath I take I am on some level, and often on all levels, aware of her hovering just beyond reach. In December I lost my uncle Billy, a man who figures in my earliest memories 51 years ago, so important he was in my early life. He too, is woven in my heart and genes, forever. When I travel back home, Newfoundland, is ever home for those of us who live away, I will meet grief in his absence of being in a more tangible way. I did not make it home for his funeral. There is a weight of grief unique to that.  It is the same in St. Georges when I come upon the houses of my uncles Kevin and Leonard. Kevin's ashes rejoined the sea and I was not there to see. I did, however, earlier hold the box with his ashes, under my aunt Eileen's urging,  in my hands and feel the weight of memory in my hands  My uncle Leonard's ashes  I think are still with Eileen.  Uncle Mackie, lies in Ontario. We threw red roses on his casket in mutual love as he was lowered and the bagpipes echo in my memory. I sang something in the silence, so sad and blessed I was to say good-bye to him in the company of my aunts and cousins. I seemed to feel my mother there, and my grandmother whom I never met and my grandfather who died 3 days before my fourth birthday. He loved me and I remember my distress that he went away. The grief of a child is emotional, and not so intellectual. My aunt Keddie(Cathy) ashes were scattered over her pond in Florida. She and my mother were bonded in a way that only those who have loved and suffered deeply together can love. Whether or not she was with us, she was a part of my life in so many ways. I miss each of them. They have all died in the last 4 years, so I can say that grief feels familiar, feels fresh, feels just below the surface and is fused into my being.

This past week my cherished friend, Sandra, lost her mother at the age of 93. Mrs. Luscombe welcomed me like a daughter, many times in her home, and in recent years when I visited Sandra, I "roomed" with Mrs. Luscombe. Her kindness and sweet humour I will miss. At 93, she was blessed with more years than many. Though that is true, it does not one whit reduce the loss Sandra, her other children, her siblings and her grandchildren are feeling. I grieve for them and I grieve I was not there, yet again. A mother's love, a mother care and a mother's wisdom can never be forgotten, nor replaced. We are forever the children of our mothers and fathers, be that good, bad, or both.

Sandra's middle name is Joy. So I return to joy. Her friendship has been a joy and a comfort in my life for so many years. Some of my other friends who will read this are sources of joy for me, as I hope I am for them. I do not need to name them. Friends know and love with no need for accolades. we are bound with links that neither time, nor distance have any power over.

My husband and two daughters have been joys for me for over half my life now. Whatever else I may have done in my life, or will ever do, marrying my husband and being privileged to have raised Samantha and Cecilia, and gotten more right than wrong I hope, will remain the deepest sources of joy for me. Now I have a grandson who brings a new joy to me: a  new beginning in wonder, a new opportunity to love, to learn, to share as he blooms into the boy and the man he will become. I get the joy of seeing my daughter be a mother, and my son-in-law, a father. What joy in that for my heart. What blessings I have known and now. I am often not worthy, but I am always grateful. I love with no limits and no restraint. I get that from my mother and father who loved me so. Their love is a reflection of God's love. The joy of love of family is intense. I may be, at times, too intense in love and joy for some. God made me so. It is my responsibility, which I do try to do, to feel joy and not overwhelm those I love with it, nor with my love. I have not named many other dear family members by name. Like my friends, they know who they are as I do.

With joy in life and in enjoying our loved ones, comes grief at their loss. Grief comes, too, with their griefs. The price of joy is the shadow of grief. The shadow of grief is warmed by joy.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Spring in pictures and words

“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

“Spring is not yet here, but the song of a solitary, pioneering blackbird when I wake, the smell of something warm and floral on the air in fleeting moments, these signs give me hope.” 
― Tracy ReesAmy Snow

The morning, happy thing,
Supposed that he had come to dwell,
And life would be all spring.” 
― Emily Dickinson

“Come with me into the woods where spring is
advancing, as it does, no matter what,
not being singular or particular, but one
of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.” 
― Mary OliverDog Songs

And Spring came the day after tomorrow,
I would die peacefully, because it came the day after tomorrow.
If that’s its time, when else should it come?
I like it that everything is real and everything is right;
And I like that it would be like this even if I didn’t like it.
And so, if I die now, I die peacefully
Because everything is real and everything is right.” 
― Alberto CaeiroThe Collected Poems of Alberto Caeiro

“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...” 
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart. If you have ever recovered from a serious illness, you will be familiar with the blessed state when you are in a delicious state of anticipation, and are liable to smile without any obvious reason. Evidently that is what nature is experiencing just now. The ground is cold, mud and snow squelches under foot, but how cheerful, gentle and inviting everything is! The air is so clear and transparent that if you were to climb to the top of the pigeon loft or the bell tower, you feel you might actually see the whole universe from end to end. The sun is shining brightly, and its playful, beaming rays are bathing in the puddles along with the sparrows. The river is swelling and darkening; it has already woken up and very soon will begin to roar. The trees are bare, but they are already living and breathing.” 

― Anton ChekhovThe Exclamation Mark

“The deep roots never doubt spring will come.” 
― Marty Rubin

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything. (Sonnet XCVIII)” 
― William ShakespeareShakespeare's Sonnets

It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in 'em," said Captain Jim. "When I ponder on them seeds I don't find it nowise hard to believe that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds. You couldn't hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn't seen the miracle, could you?” 
― L.M. MontgomeryAnne's House of Dreams

“When the groundhog casts his shadow
And the small birds sing
And the pussywillows happen
And the sun shines warm
And when the peepers peep
Then it is Spring” 
― Margaret Wise Brown

“She could feel magic in the quiet spring day, like a sorcerer’s far-off voice, and lines of poetry floated over her mind as if they were strands of spider-web.” 
― Stella Gibbons

“Spring is far more than just a changing of seasons; it’s a rebirth of the spirit.” 
― Toni Sorenson

“Woods were ringed with a colour so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a colour at all. It was more the idea of a colour - as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.” 
― Susanna ClarkeJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

“who knows if the moon's
a balloon,coming out of a keen city
in the sky--filled with pretty people?
( and if you and I should

get into it,if they
should take me and take you into their balloon,
why then
we'd go up higher with all the pretty people

than houses and steeples and clouds:
go sailing
away and away sailing into a keen 
city which nobody's ever visited,where

Spring)and everyone's
in love and flowers pick themselves” 

― E.E. CummingsCollected Poems

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!
—Robert Browning

“Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.” 
― Robert Frost

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” 
― Henry David ThoreauWalden
“If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.” 
― Rainer Maria RilkeRilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.” 
― Mary OliverA Thousand Mornings

There Will Come Soft Rains 

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pool singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.” 
― Sara TeasdaleFlame and Shadow

“I perceive God everywhere in His works. I sense Him in me; I see Him all around me.” 
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“I don't ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. There they are, and they are beautiful.” 
― Pete Hamill

“Under the greenwood tree,
Who loves to lie with me
And tune his merry note,
Unto the sweet bird's throat;
Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Here shall he see
No enemy
But winter and rough weather.” 
― William ShakespeareAs You Like It

“I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.” 
― Gustave FlaubertNovember

“Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances.” 
― Charles Baudelaire

“He smelled cold water and cold intrepid green. Those early flowers smelled like cold water. Their fragrence was not the still perfume of high summer; it was the smell of cold, raw green.”
― P. Harding

“ young and as ancient as Spring....” 
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

I welcome spring for its promise, for its breath of life, its songs and even its capriciousness, As the days grow longer, hope grows stronger.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

On marriage

Today is the anniversary of my marriage to my husband. Some people call their spouses "the love of their life" and they are not wrong, but for me the words seem too much of the realm of fairy tale to ring true.
Marriage in its new stages is a promise to love through, and despite the storms, which may ravage the life of one or the lives of both partners. It is a promise to hold onto each other no matter what lies ahead.
Marriage which has weathered the years is a distilled love. One which may lack the full headiness of young love, but is more powerful. It is a knowing love. Shared trials, losses, worries, arguments are tempered with renewed promise, forgiveness, understanding, strength, and gentleness. There is a complexity to an old marriage which makes it all the sweeter for the entwining of two minds and hearts which have grown together like the trunks of two birches planted together: each supporting and leaning lending their parts to a greater whole.

So my husband, Matthew, is so much more than "the love of my life". I free him also from the shackles of that term.

He is the extension of my thoughts as I am his. His knowledge is mine and mine is his. His triumphs are better than my own, mine are partly his for he gives me what I need, as he is able. His failures shadow me as much as they do him; mine creep or roar into his light. Though we do not always get it right, together we shelter each other.

We each remain distinct, two beings in one marriage. Before we married his bachelor self viewed marriage as  "a slippery slope" into what he was not certain, but it was to be avoided if possible. He can no longer remember what ominous idea lurked at the bottom of this slope. The landscape of marriage has slopes and hills, plateaus, rivers, oceans, mountains, frozen ponds, bog, desert, and gardens lush. I would not trade a single one for a wealth of unbroken sky unending. If one looks up, the sky is always visible from any vista.

I have many loves in my life. I did not divest myself of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends when I married him. They remain loves of my life, many of them from my earliest memories. Romantic love is deepest deep, but not for me exclusive tenant of my heart. When our two daughters were born, my heart and his grew to an unforeseen dimension, measureless, ever expanding. They are different loves for each us and certainly loves of our lives. Our new grandson, Remi, is a love of our lives as we are shown, again, the infinite capacity a heart has to love.

When we married, we each gained new family and friends whom we have come to love for and with each other. They are all loves of both of us. When we welcomed our son-in-law, Mikhail, into our family we gained another love of our lives.

The idea that one person, no matter how wonderful, talented and loving, can be everything to another person seems impossible to me. I  know I cannot be everything for my husband. He needs his friends, his family and his own pursuits to enrich him in ways I cannot. I would not so limit him.  So it is with him and I. Long marriage has cured me of expecting him to be what he cannot be for me. To wish it other diminishes the freedom and quality of love. To wish it other denies me the pleasure of the other loves of my life, and seeing him prosper in his.

The word "friend"  derives from Old English  freond meaning "the loving one".  He is my best friend in this sense, but even here I rankle at the ranking of love. The loves in my heart are circular, not vertically arranged. He is my husband, I his wife. What that means is beyond expressing, as every attempt to do show falls short of what it is.
 Happy anniversary to you Matthew. I am grateful for what we have shared. I am grateful we are together to look forward to the days ahead. I thank God for you and for giving us the courage, strength and joy to continue to work on our marriage.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Cusp of Spring Equinox

I have always found the balancing point hypnotic.

When I was a child swinging it was the point when you are swinging so high your feet are in the air resting on a cloud and for a microsecond you feel free from gravity. Of course, as a child I didn't so much think this as feel it, but the body remembers.

When we had see saws - which were planks balancing on a stump of wood,often a cutting block,- it was very important to find the sweet point where you could get the see-sawing to go for some time. Depending on who was on the other side the point changed. Sometimes you needed two children on the other side for balance. Thinking about the fun we had and the practicality we needed to make it work, it is clear there were life lessons to be gained from this which are lost on those who no longer have to improvise.

So this makes me muse about the two halves of a day which balance in length on the equinox. We long for longer days which usher in spring here in the Northern Hemisphere. We think of spring flowers, milder wind, blue skies, the shuffling off of boots, and winter coats and mittens, Easter eggs, and hope. We forget about the beauty of the crisp night stars, the diamond snow, the warmth of a fire, frost patterns, outdoor skating and skiing, the camouflaging of dead grass and harsh lines and Christmas glitter-promise.

My parents were married on March 25th, 1962. They would be celebrating 55 years of marriage together were my mother still alive. They have a little over 55 years of history together. My siblings and I were part of that, but not part of all of it. There will always be so much we do not know or understand about each of them, much less about their marriage.

So each March I think of them and how they were and how things are now: the daylight and the night. I think every marriage is always seeking a balancing point; each day as the two people acquire new experiences and new thoughts the balancing point may change. If we never think about this actively, then I think we risk losing the balance.

I have a dear aunt who is preparing to fly off into the blue sky after ten years of battling cancer. There is so much I could say about this, but only she knows her own experiences and feelings. Words have no power to express what can only be known. I know I love her and will miss her warmth and voice that is like no other. I know, like my mother's death and too many others, I will have another equinox point between the having and not-having, the light and the dark in my life. Memories of the past are on the point of balance between the light and the dark. They hold comfort and pain, laughter and tears, longing and peace.

You never outgrow the need for the balancing point.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Turning of the Year

This post has been some time in coming. Late fall melted into advent, into Christmas, into the new year and January is waning like the moon. My Christmas cards printed in October are, as yet, unsent awaiting a lull in the relentless business of working full time, meeting obligations and weathering numerous colds and flu. I have had two months to read a book for my book club, a pleasurable experience I will have to achieve in 48 hours if I am to be ready to share. We are reading Rudy Wiebe's Sweeter Than All the World. Reading is and has always been for me sweeter than all the world for each book contains its own world where I can visit, linger, leave at my will. In the end this book moved way too slowly for me and repeated a lot of his memoir Of This Earth, but without the charm. My whole book club of the four of us agreed on this.

Almost two months have passed since I started this blog.Our next book club book  I just finished reading. It is Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland which, of course, deals with Renoir's painting by the same name. This was slower to pull me in than The Girl with the Pearl Earring, but eventually the fictionalized truth of the painting's composition and subjects created a hypnotic sense of time-traveling backward.I found myself cutting a pattern for a blue dress with Aline, balancing between loss and a new shoot of hope and love with Alphonsine, taking risks with Ellen, mixing paints with impressionistic abandon and control, all of it with sails, boats and skiffs in the background like an armada to the brevity of summer. Each second in the sunlight stretched like a butterfly still fluttering, but pinned. A thing past and present and living fixed in the paint.

In a few days we will have the spring equinox. In the midst of a late brush with wintry weather on the March break Mathew and I went to see the Toronto Home and Garden Show at the Enercare Exhibition Grounds. We walked some 20 kilometres in total that day!
  It was as cold as these pictures look! 
Matthew got cozy with Glenn Gould. 
 Inside it was a haven to the wind weary pair of us!

 The floral show was in celebration of Canada's 150th anniversary this year. We really enjoyed some of the displays.

 This last picture was missing half of an important province! It sort of takes away from the patriotic pride to have left out the most easterly province. Otherwise, I am left to conclude it was another example of a central Canada idea of what area is not important to the country!
 There were competitions in so many different categories of floral arranging. It was all mind-boggling to me how many different elements there are to it. Below are a few highlights I was taken with on both the large and small scales.

We met up with a familiar face at the home show. 
 Two more pictures : one of each of us. 

We met up with our friends Andy and Kris and spent a happy evening with them at their lovely home. 
 At the Art Gallery of Ontario I have never seen so much by way of Indigenous Art. I found it ironic that as I am fighting as a Mi'kmaq to retain recognition as a status Qalipu member due to politically imposed injustices, that artistic statements about the importance of reclaiming one's culture and writing wrongs were being given voice at both the AGO and even the Toronto Home Show. It is one step forward and one or two steps backward.

This is from the Home and Garden Show. Residential schools were devastating, but they were not the only means used to try to extinguish a culture as my family can attest to. There are so many more people of indigenous background who have suffered and who are suffering still.

I do not want to leave this post on such a negative, sad note. The battle for justice, fairness and healing goes on. I like to believe that with love and a true, universal  desire to right the wrongs of the past that we may be able to cease the need to battle and be embraced for who we are and who we wish to become.