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A Recipe for Honoring and Healing

When we are in the clutch of fresh visceral grief, we can often find any task insurmountable.  The absence of our loved one can feel like an amputation, a literal loss of part of your body.  Yes, it is difficult and overwhelming.  Grief is a unique journey, as unique as your loved one was and as unique as you are.  The sharing of coping mechanisms, the sharing of grief stories can be very helpful.  Reflecting on precious memories can soften the sting of loss.

Today, I decided to make cookies, oatmeal with butterscotch chips.  I always use the handwritten recipe that was given to me by a dear friend, Joyce.  Joyce was a faithful servant participating and leading Bible studies and encouraging others throughout her life.  She was quick with her smile and a giggle.  She was an avid crafter, particularly in crocheting.  At a local women’s retreat, she shared her homemade oatmeal cookies.  They were delightful, so I requested her recipe. 

Joyce took time to answer my request with a beautiful handwritten recipe card in the mail.  The card included a personal note of encouragement and gratitude.  Her death last week was a welcomed invitation to her eternal life.  She believed and articulated it often. In my grief, thoughts and stories sparked a reflection upon my own memories with her.  Naturally, that meant I needed to bake her recipe.  The recipe lived up to her standards.  They were wonderful as each bite was filled with soft sweetness, almost as sweet as she was to me (notice I did not say “it”-no one can eat just one!).  This is healing.

These small acts often sustain us in our grief.  I acknowledge my husband’s Grandma Toots every spring when the rhubarb is ready.  Her handwritten recipe for rhubarb cake is one of our family favorites.  Though the grief has softened with time, the cake always sparks a slight sting of loss mixed with sweet memories that we cherish.  This is healing.

Similarly, I delight in driving my dad’s favorite tractor.  It feels a bit like Holy ground.  No matter what task the tractor is performing, my dad is right near me to my heart and my memories. Securing a connection, a tangible item or memory of your loved one can be daunting, however the more you engage with those connections, memories, and objects you may find solace and comfort. The tears do not flow anymore when I drive that Allis Chalmers tractor, just a hint of my reflections with a sincere sense of gratitude.  This is healing.

I hope you can sing along with their favorite song, wear a piece of jewelry, work with tools that crafted a masterpiece, sit around the  campfire and reminisce,  bake a special meal,  spend time in the family photo album.   Plan a stay at the Under Blue Skies Hermitage to sift through your recipe that helps to bring healing.

 

Faith, Kindness & Three Bean Salad

It is late…well late for me.  I rarely have trouble getting to sleep, but tonight is different .  Everything seems different lately.  Everywhere I go, whoever I encounter  whether they are in person, on the phone or virtual…people are sad, tired, scared and weary.  I guess the best  word for this time is worn.  Some people are on the fringe of a serious mental health crisis, people are physically sick, and we are all so isolated and lonely.

For the last several months I have found my words to be  at a loss.   As a young teenager, I began writing poetry and writing in a journal.  I have written most of my life and whenever there was a notable event, happy or sad, I would write about it.  Several of my closest friends have queried about my writing, as they understand the cathartic release it is for me. I just have not had the words…until tonight.  I saw a text before I went to bed.  My dads’ cousin chose hospice.  As I lay in my bed the words danced in my thoughts, like little flutters of butterfly’s lighting from one flower to another. I had to come downstairs.  I had to write.

My dad’s cousin went home with her daughters as caregivers.  She was born in that house and she died in that house, the house I loved to visit.  Raising her two daughters, one was my age and we found it fascinating that we lived  across the field and over one barb wire fence!  I felt grown up when my mother agreed to let me walk across the hayfield, all by myself.  I promised to be careful of the barb wire fence and the creek in their pasture.  The same creek crossed our farm which connected us even stronger.   It was an adventure to wander the banks of the creek.  The two of us were fast friends as we rode the same bus, sitting together in a seat.  We were in Sunday School together and later walked from school to church for choir practice, often stopping by her grandparents on the way.

All through my life, this dear woman was kind to me.  Their house was quieter than mine.  I would sometimes sit and listen to my friend play piano in the dining room.  We would walk alongside the creek or play games upstairs in the house.  As an adult, I remember talking about canning vegetables for my family.  She remarked that one of her favorite images to look upon was a trip down to the basement to admire all the hard work of canning.  The jars  were lined up in rows like soldiers proudly lined up for inspection; colorful, shiny and vital.  She shared it was one of the most beautiful sights!  It made her smile and I suppose it also gave her satisfaction that her hard work helped to provide for her family.  After she and I had that conversation, the next trip down to my basement made me pause and consider what she had shared.  Yes, the canning jars showcased their beautiful colors…purple beets, green beans, golden corn, jams  and jellies in reds , carrots in orange.  It truly was a sight.  I am grateful for that reminder.

My godmother Carrie died on Christmas Eve.  I knew she was struggling with her health, but the decline to her death was quicker than expected.  She was a short women with a beautiful soprano voice.  Our families were good friends. Often our family would go to their home on Sunday afternoons for a potluck meal and conversation.  The Superbowl games were always there as well, probably because they had a color television!  She always made three bean salad, which I did not enjoy, quietly taking a spoon and hoping I could camouflage it when my plate was done. I thought I was sneaky, but I am confident she knew.

Carrie instilled her sense of faith in me.  She never neglected to remember me on my birthday and Christmas.  We both loved singing, especially in worship.  When I became a godmother/sponsor for baptism I followed her path of honoring those children.  Parents can teach faith, but another adult who cares for you, celebrates their accomplishments and teaches faith is truly a gift, both for the sponsor and the child.

She was so supportive of all my writing; memoir, magazine entries and newspaper columns.  She featured my memoir in a book club she attended.  She always asked me what I was currently writing.  We wrote letters back and forth until her health started to fail and my life turned into those  years of busy teenagers.  We ended up with a Christmas card and a couple letters each year.  She was proud of my journey back to graduate school and my master’s degree. I miss her.

These two women were kind and hard working.  They were faithful and giving.  I know the generation ahead of us is leaving, going to their final home.  It may  appear simple, canning food for the family, speaking kindness, three bean salad and teaching faith; yet these are moments that are the sweetest to me.  Every time I walk down the stairs to my canning shelves, I think of their kindness to me.   As an adult, I now enjoy three bean salad.  Carrie would be delighted!

Through the Lens

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Through the Lens

As an amateur photographer, I relish in capturing the delight of the changing seasons in Minnesota.  Just this past month I took a long walk through my wooded acres,  beyond the bucolic nature of the animals’ pasture.  This was my third photography hike this fall.  When I hike I often stop and pause, particularly in the fall.  I am discovering the features of my new camera.  It is mirrorless and there is much to learn.  When the camera is set at auto, it displays a matrix of focus points which, when activated, will alter the primary focus.

An initial image focuses clearly, at the white of a birch tree, where the berries in the forefront are also prominent.   A second image focuses intently on the red berries with a softened image of the white birch.   They are not identical, but you can imagine see the differences.

Our experience of grief is similar to that of a  lens or focus.  We all grieve in our own way, even in the case of siblings or couples.  Our focus, our lens is particular to each of us as individuals.  That focus can change in a moment.  Some moments we may choose to look for the bright image of the white birch, other moments you are focused on the scarlet berries.  This is why we may experience tension when we are grieving the death of the same person.  The focus or lens is filtered by our emotions, sleep, mood, environment, understanding, comprehension and more.

It is difficult to see through another person’s lens.  We can become frustrated when the day is going well, and your partner feels exactly the opposite.  Patience becomes paramount.  While no one can experience your individual grief; it will always be particular and individual to yourself.  We can search for common themes, experiences, emotions; that is helpful.   This is true for the support group as well as the family or couple .

I have often heard that the season of autumn is a metaphor for death.  Nietzsche stated, “Notice that autumn is more the season of the soul than of nature.”  That was his perspective of autumn and loss.  Certainly in our acute grief it is difficult to consider looking through another’s lens.  Perhaps the best we can do is accompany each other by honoring their perspective without judgment or question.  In that process we are enlightened by each other’s perspective and together we honor one another’s story of  their grief.

 

A Time to Pause

A Time to Pause

It has been a busy summer filled with so many tasks and interruptions on our little farm.  My time has been divided, as so many others know.  It is difficult to find the calm and the rest when you are juggling so many theoretical balls of work, play and rest.  Today I am attempting to finish this blog post while a team of contractors are  pouring a cement slab outside adjacent to our driveway.  Certainly the clanging and noise of the cement truck challenge my sense of calm and rest.

Needless, I venture on to speak of something that is deeply sacred to me. One of the losses I have felt since the pandemic arrived is a sense of ritual and gathering.  My Sunday morning ritual is not the same.  This has been particularly difficult despite the utilization of Zoom or other online gatherings. We seem distance from each other.  I note the ache of not sharing a hug with my mother.  Many people are practicing quarantine to keep a loved one safe.

S. Bloomstrand (2018) writes, “We are impressed and wondered how many people live extraordinary lives jet are seldom asked the most provocative question.  We place so much importance on intellect and education, but we rarely ask what their daily work has taught them about humanity.”

I recall a training I participated in for youth servant leadership.  In a circle we introduced ourselves using our name and one of the prompts.  We simply stated the prompt and moved on.  It was strange as we could not elaborate but were encouraged to engage with each other during the two day training.  My prompt was, What question have you wanted to be asked?  Later in the day, a man engaged by asking my prompt question.  We had a significant caring conversation that opened a storm of memories and grief of my children.  He listened and as I shared, others gathered around.  I welcomed them and it was a sacred space for me, truly Holy.

We seldom take time to share our sacred stories and spaces with one another, or even with ourselves.  Today, I encourage you to speak to those losses and participate in ritual.  A colleague and I have written a ritual for grief that resonates with us.  We have found it helpful for us individually as well as with participants.  This morning I read the ritual by myself, considering the deaths and non death losses that have pervaded our world.  I found it to be restorative.  I pray it is for you as well.

Here is the video and link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwbct__7zmw&feature=youtu.be

 

 

Blessings and Grace be with you,

 

Julie

 

Signe’s Table

I am writing on a small kitchen table in the hermitage, my grandmother Signe’s  table.  It is a narrow table covered with tin where she kneaded and rolled her bread and prepared food for her family.  I was raised on that same family farm, the farm my dad lived for 75 years.  I did not know my grandmother; she died before I was born.  All I have are stories and her rich legacy accompanied by a few cherished pieces of her material possessions, one of them being this simple table.

My grandmother Signe was an immigrant from Sweden in the early 20th century.  Her first husband died in an accident, leaving her a young widow.  Relatively new to America, she had a good measure of loss in her early life.  Another state away, on that farm I spoke of was a man, my grandfather, who was recently widowed with two very young boys, my dad as an infant and my uncle as a toddler of three years.  He too was an immigrant from Sweden.  I do not know the mechanism that connected the two, but Signe married my grandfather Gust and moved to the farm.  She raised the two boys as her own.

I have listened to the stories of Signe.  She was strong, yet tender and loving.  She loved her boys dearly and encouraged them to excel in their education.  She loved the Lord and was a devout Christian.  My dad recalled her playing the pump organ and singing in Swedish.  She did fancy needlework and I have a piece of her hardanger, a Scandinavian needlework that involves needlework and cutting.  My mother speaks fondly of Signe as a gentle and kindhearted woman.  When I sit at this table, I can almost feel the smooth texture of the dough as she kneads the bread.

I have been reflecting on loss, a kind of loss that is difficult to define.  Pauline Boss entitles it as Ambiguous Loss (1999).  I did not discover my ambiguous loss until I read her book and considered my ancestors and the loss that has been carried.  We all carry stories of loss; it is integrally wound with joy and life.  These days being sheltered in place during the pandemic offer me some quiet and reflection.  In that reflection I consider the losses that I knew even as a very young child.  I heard the stories of my grandfather leaving his home and emigrating to America at the age of 19.  He was all alone.  He never spoke or saw his father again.  His mother had died when he was a teenager.

My grandfather, Gust settled in Minnesota near Taylors Falls.  He met a young Swedish woman Annie, and they were married.  Upon the birth of her second son, she became ill and died of a heart defect.  My dad was less than two weeks old.  My dad carried a sort of burden that his birth was directly linked to her death.  I believe it haunted him sometimes.  I know that every pregnancy that my mother had and all of his daughter’s pregnancies were very difficult for him.  It was like a shadowed anticipation of joy that he struggled to express.

I recognize that there are numerous losses in the days and months of this pandemic.  I believe the outcome of the crisis will culminate with an abundance of losses, most of them veiled as anxiety, depression, and fear.  Boss (1999, p. 106) notes that the word crisis come from the Greek meaning a turning point.  We will find a turning point as we navigate our losses and adaptations to life.  In the interim, we might best consider and take time to name our losses.  The naming of our grief and the work of our grief will aid us in perspective and finding a balance in our mental health.  For today,  I will sit at Grandma Signe’s table, look at images I have of her, and try to soak in her legacy of resilience, faith and nurture.  I will celebrate the joys in each day. And I will name the losses and grief of these trying times.

Time, Space & Loss

Time, Space, & Loss

I would assume we are all feeling constraints or challenges in our understanding of time and space during this pandemic.  I am an extrovert and have found some of these long days to be difficult, with a sense of isolation and lack of interaction. I ache for physical engagement.  A recent paper coauthored by Dr. Bill Hoy suggests we transform the notion of social distancing to physical distancing.  The former term may present itself as a form of isolation.  This is not helpful for any of us, introvert or extrovert.

I have been reading, walking, cleaning and even resorted to short binges on Hulu.  In my reading, I returned to the author Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  As you may recall, her son was abducted and found dead, taken from his crib in their home.  She understood grief, loss, trauma; living a life of loss. I returned to her words as they were powerful to me in my acute, early grief.  I wondered how they would speak to me in the framework of this pandemic and the inherent losses we may be experiencing.  She writes from a beach house on an island where she is searching solitude and calm.

            My life at home, I begin to realize, lacks this quality of significance and therefore of beauty,  because there is so little empty space.  There are few empty pages in my engagement pad, too many activities, and people, and things.  Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people.  For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives, but the important as well.    But here on this island I have had space.  Here there is time; time to be quiet; time to work without pressure; time to think; time to watch the heron; time to look at the stars or study a shell.   Time, even, not to talk.”  (written in 1955)

As I read these words I was transformed back to my first hermitage experience.  It was a venture replete with my tent and a few books.  I ended up in northern Minnesota at a rustic campground.  I was the only camper in the park.  I chose a spot near the Mississippi River, where the river is quiet and restful.  It is close enough to the Headwaters, the beginning of the mighty river, but meandering amidst a quiet wood.  There I hiked, sang, cried and read.  It was in that sacred space that I was gifted an epiphany that changed my life and my grief.

Now, many years later, I can still recall that transformative moment.  That experience, my epiphany compels me to share the hermitage with others who grieve.  In this pandemic, we are all experiencing loss.  Some have tragic losses of loved ones, others find themselves in isolation, lack of income, depression, fear and anxiety.  It can be crippling.  We wonder how we will return to the way of life we are used to.  The truth may be that we are forever changed; as individuals and as a society, a world. 

Perhaps we can find some solace in the quiet, slower pace of life.  Perhaps we will take time to look at the stars or watch the cloud formations.  Perhaps we will not fill our calendars with appointments and meetings.  Perhaps we will meet at a hermitage.

Peace be with you.

 

In the Midst of Loss

 In the Midst of Loss

I am relaxing  in my chair, basking in the warmth of today’s sunshine.  I am deeply grateful for the sunshine and light, yet in this time of uncertainty I also feel anxious, fearful and saddened.  There is a preponderance of loss as I navigate canceled plans, care for the sick, transition to distance learning, and feel the separation of physical distancing and isolation.  I read a post on social media making light of the absence of hugs.  Yes, it was made in jest, but there is comfort and assurance in the tender touch from a friend, a warm embrace.  Honestly, I miss that sense of connection. The loss; the grief is palpable. 

There are no simple remedies for the world that we are experiencing.  I doubt there is a single individual who finds themselves untouched by this crisis.  I need to be clear that there are no panaceas for this loss.  There isn’t a book, no pattern of stages or steps, no workshops that will make all the anxiety, fear, and loss dissipate.  Grief  and loss is like that-it pervades every fiber and changes us.  Please be clear, I do not dismiss the grief, trauma and sadness.  This is real and so very difficult. 

I have turned to two leaders who have shared their life journey; His Holiness Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  The book is entitled, The Book of Joy-Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.  The coauthor is Douglas Abrams.  The premise is based on a week’s visit in India where the two Holy men meet.  Despite their different doctrines, they witness and honor the sacrality in each other. 

Archbishop Tutu introduces the South African concept of Ubuntu.  Ubuntu is a simple concept that in contradiction, has much depth.  Tutu describes it as saying “A person is a person through other persons.”  It is a clear edict; we are all interconnected as fellow human beings on this earth.  Clearly, physical distancing is paramount today.  Yet many of us are gifted with technology and resources that aid the contact with friends and family.  As the Dalai Lama and Tutu share, the joy of what they speak is not a fleeting moment of happiness, but rather a deep sense of gratitude and humility, a gift of great compassion for one another whether they are friend or a friend you have yet to meet.  This is most certainly a time to practice compassion for yourself and others.

For me, this difficult time allows all me a special gift; a gift of time.  Most of us are experiencing more time at home.  Perhaps, there are more opportunity for conversations in the home, on the phone or over the computer.  Hopefully, there is time for rest and reflection; time for tears and laughter.  Perhaps the practice of meditation, prayer and calm is the gift of these days.  No disruptions-just the quiet.  As I write this, I hear only the low hum of the refrigerator and the occasional lowing of our cows.  It is late afternoon; all the animals are resting in the sunshine for a leisurely nap.  If I could bottle this calm, I would share it with you.

For today, just for today, take time to rest and meditate on the gratitude you have in your heart.  There may be challenges of the day, more senses of loss and grief, but you will be centered and calm if you start with your own inner sense of peace.  The Psalmist in the Bible tells us “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning”  (Psalm 30). 

I invite you to name the feelings you are experiencing in this pandemic crisis as grief, trauma, fear; whatever you are feeling.  People are sick, uncertainty is pervasive.  I believe we will be changed by this experience, perhaps with more compassion for others.  Nurture yourself with prayer and meditation.  Surround yourself with the love of those who honor and revere you.  Look forward to the morning, the promise of a new day. 

Coming Soon

March 1, 2020

 

Today it is Blooming

 

There are reminders, memories of our loved ones that comfort us.  Sometimes it is a simple gesture or a familiar phrase.  There are also the gifts; tokens given from your loved one or memorials given at the end of life or the funeral.  It is common to receive gifts of financial support and flowers or plants.  Today, March 1st, my peace lily plant bloomed.  There are only two blooms on the plant with no sign of others, and that is significant, speaking directly to my heart.

 

Please allow me to tell you a bit of my story.  When my second son Kevin was born, we discovered he did not have any  appendages; no arms and only two small elf-like stubs where his legs would be.   It was a shock and honestly, a horrific moment.  The local hospital gave us a peace lily plant as a gift upon his birth.  Kevin died when he was five weeks old from cardiac arrest due to the mutation of his lung tissue.  I endured the autopsy report and genetic testing to arrive with no conclusive reason for his anomalies, or his death.

 

Less than two years later, I discovered my daughter Jill, had similar anomalies.  She was born premature at 34 weeks.  She had beautiful arms and long, slender, perfect fingers.  Again, she had severely deformed legs with no hope of ever walking.  She died just shy of 2 days due to the mutation of her lung tissue, the same mutation as Kevin.  The story culminates with a divorce and my sense of despair.

 

Many years later, I now live in a century old farmhouse on a farm of  over 130 acres.  My husband of 26 years is a kind, caring man.  We have two additional children, with a total of three.  My oldest son, our daughter and youngest son are adults living on their own.

 

You can surmise how long I have cared for this peace lily plant.  It was a gift in 1986.  For a good portion of my life it has been a metaphor of my grief and joy.  There have been several instances when I would be amazed by the beauty of the abundance of blooms.  Other times, it looked shaggy and brown.  I refused to allow this plant to die.  I repotted the plant multiple times, tried several fertilizer treatments, and regularly changed the placement of the plant in the room.  It has moved from house to house, including at least six residences.

 

This home is our forever home and the lily will stay with me.  She went through a difficult patch three years ago which coincidently mirrored my anxiety and struggle to return to graduate school.  It did not bloom for almost three years; it remained dormant.  Then this beautiful day in March I noticed a bloom, only to discover another one budding as well.  One bloom is for Kevin and one bloom for Jill.  To my delight, two precious blooms had uncoiled their pure white beauty. I am confident that it is a gift; a gift from this lily plant and a gift from my Creator.

 

In the midst of your grief, you may sojourn a journey of love and yearning, sorrow and gratitude.  On this change of season to spring, may you discover the blessings-the true joy and poignancy of a sweet, warm reminder of your loved one(s).  Take time to look, to ponder how you are guided and held.  Take time to look for the blooms.