Monday, September 29, 2014

Grief and story

Humans use narrative to understand our lives. We tell stories to process what we experience, we listen to stories to gain wisdom from others. It is among our most basic of tools for managing the world, for helping us find the small actions that we can control in a universe beyond our control. Whether we experience love or loss, hope or despair, greed or transcendence, there are stories that show us a path.

Storyteller Elizabeth Ellis says that narratives of trial are essential. The teller is saying I've been to hell. I came back. Here is a map. Each map is unique because we all have different inner landscapes, but they offer signposts for the journey. 

There is no one narrative to grief, each person experiences it differently. But the overarching story - love, loss, despair, survival - is an old one, and one everyone experiences. As I travel through the land of grief I am being offered so many story maps. Personal stories from those who have suffered loss. Myths. Fairytales. Each is inaccurate to my journey because each grief is unique, but each reminds me to look for the stacks of stones as I travel my own barren road, landmarks saying I have been here too. You are not alone.

I find myself turning to myths for consolation. At its heart our oldest recorded story, Gilgamesh, is a story of grief and endurance. The King Arthur stories are full of loss and sorrow. These old tales remind me that I am not alone but that I am in the midst of an essential, miserable human experience. Fairy tales, too, have wisdom. They so often begin with loss - I'm talking about stories that long predate Disney and their disappearing mothers - and then they show us that we can recover. We may be transformed into something unrecognizable - we may become the witch, the beast or the princess - but we can endure. 

Even now, as I hesitantly step back into the world of performance storytelling and writing beyond my own experiences of grief, I am handing out maps. My stories are changing as I am changing. Each story I tell says I have been to hell. The road is long but I will come back. I will not be the same. Neither will you. Here is a map. Each story is another stone in the piles along the barren road. I have been here too. You are not alone.
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Six months

Six months ago today you took your last breath on this earth.
Six months ago today I held your warm hand against by chest, my breast, my cheek.
Six months ago today we stared into each others' eyes for hours, as connected and united as I have ever been with another human being. For awhile we were one being with each and every breath up until the last gasp.
Six months ago today I walked you through the gate. I saw you step into the light.
Six months ago today I did the hardest and most important thing I have ever done. I let you go.

I live in a world colored in shades of grey. The reds, golds and browns of autumn are seen by my eyes but they remain colorless. It's not a bad world, it just isn't the world we built together. I am not a very good architect alone. My world lacks wonder. There are sometimes sparks and glimmers of it, but not now. Not yet. Sometimes I think I'm living in a special effect from a 1960s sci-fi film, when black and white was becoming artsy, when granular imagery wasn't yet a cliché.

Part of me wants to reassure my readers here. To tell them that, yes, I know this will change, I will be okay, sometimes I am okay. To tell them that I know you are with me. The rest of me isn't interested in writing that stuff down. Because you are not with me in body and it's sometimes damned hard to believe you are with me in spirit. We don't speak the same language now. Because six months ago today you were still alive. I wasn't without you. Because now I am.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The world through my eyes: Kansas City Saturday

A gorgeous day here in Kansas City. I brought my camera with me to City Market, to home, to an abandoned lot and on the highway home again. This camera was Kevin's. He became interested in portraiture so he bought a camera and several lenses. He never really got to use it. This is one of those lessons in not waiting; he wanted to take classes first. I have been using it and making mistakes and capturing some nice images.
Every time I use this camera now I feel connected to him. I miss him terribly. Maybe now he sees the world through my eyes and his lens. All of these images (and all the images I have ever posted) are not retouched.

I started out at City Market. The harvest colors were amazing.
I got some lovely veggies for the week.

Once home I found I had a new friend.

After some puttering I set out to meet some other widows at a mall in Kansas City, KS. 
I deliberately gave myself some extra time so I could wander in the abandoned lots not too far away. 
I found beauty.
For scale, these daisies are about the size of a nickel.
I suggest double clicking on these; I was only able to get so close before they flew away.

On my way home I pulled over to watch the sunset.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Friday, September 26, 2014

The thief

Right now? I'm okay. Okayish. I'm not crying, I'm looking forward to time with a friend, I'm drinking tea. Each moment of being okay is a tender new thing, fraught with complexity. And I know it won't last. Grief comes in waves and each time I wish I could call the authorities and tell them about what has been stolen from me. I wish I had a formal vehicle for complaint and resolution other than writing, talking and time itself. My life is so different now.

Death has stolen so much.

It has stolen my comforts. It has stolen the every day joy of holding hands, of knowing there is someone I can call to say I'm on my way home, of knowing that call will make him smile. (And yes, I know there are others who will hold my hand, others I can call, others who will smile, but you know it's not the same.)

It has stolen my delight in the physical. It has stolen back scratches and making love and the good sweat you work up when you exercise with your beloved because you might show off for them just a little. (And yes,  I know I can buy a back scratcher, sex is always findable,  and I still sweat when I exercise, but you know it's not the same.)

It has stolen my intellectual certainty. It has stolen my mirror, my examiner, my thinking companion. (And yes, I can call upon others to reflect, to examine, to accompany me on flights of fancy, but you know it's not the same.)

Death is a thief. It is the greatest thief because, on top of all these and more, it has stolen the known future. It has stolen my present day comfort and the knowledge of comfort at hand. It has stolen companionship expressed through the body and the certainty of comfort to come. It has stolen plans and hopes and aspirations. It has stolen my understanding of myself and my place in the world.

And yes, I know many of these things will come back into my life. I know that part of grief is a process of rediscovery and rebuilding, that I will find all of these again in new ways. Even in this present moment I find things to appreciate. The comfort of tea. The feel of the breeze on my cheek. The process of writing. I know there is comfort and physicality and intellectual companionship in front of me. I know I will discover new ways of being in the world.

But none of these will be with him.

You know it's not the same.

(And please don't tell me but it might even be better. It won't be. It will be different. It may be very good. But it will not have the same flavor and hope that I lived in before. It cannot be the same. Comparing one future to another is as foolish as comparing one grief to another. They are never the same.)

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer

(26 weeks. I love you.)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The world through my eyes: Alaska big and small

My final day in Alaska was splendid. My wonderful new friend Melissa took me to Independence Mine State Park and other great sites. I posted pictures from the mine here. And this is the rest of the day.

As before, these are large images so you may want to double-click on them to see them in a larger size.

As we drove along we passed this farm. Note the lovely fireweed in the front and the old bus.

The farm had reindeer (who were camera shy) and this very friendly buffalo. He followed us as we walked along the fence.

Views from the farm.
The Alaska Range. Looking the other way from the farm.

I loved the light on this ridge.

As we were admiring the buffalo, mountains and reindeer, we heard a peculiar cry overhead. Sandhill cranes migrating.
It's worth double clicking on this one and looking at the birds close up. They are lovely.

From the farm we came to this river overlook. If you look carefully you'll find my heart of the day from Kevin.

Wisdom from philosophical graffiti.

Note the Alaska range in the distance.

A different river. The river bed is utterly clogged with glacial silt.

Close up of the silt.

An eagle being harried by a crow.
As we continued our drive Denali (Mt. McKinley) came into view. We were about 160 miles away. It's a BIG mountain.

I liked all the contrasts here. Mountains, traffic, Target. We were in Wasilla, home to a certain Alaska politician.
The photo is dark because it was taken through the car windshield.

From there we went to Independence Mine and then this state park. I don't remember the name.
Note the teeny tiny people on top of the ridge.

The biome in these mountains are alpine tundra. I fell in love with the foliage. 
Each of these plants was TINY. Such beauty in miniature in the midst of overwhelming grandeur.

These mushroom caps were the size of a third of dime.

This is reindeer moss.
It was a good trip and this last day was stunning. I am grateful.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer
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Monday, September 22, 2014

The world through my eyes: Independence Mine State Park

My last day in Alaska was wonderful. I met a Facebook friend and she kindly drove me to places I never would have found on my own. I got the bigness I was looking for. I took enough photos that I'm dividing the day into two if not three posts.

We met in Anchorage and went north. Our first major stop was Independence Mine State Park, a gold mine that functioned from 1906 to 1943. It is now a place of tremendous views and marvelous decay.

Fireweed bloom. An important plant in Alaska; local folklore says their height will be deepest snowfall.
This was at my eye level.

Ridge line. This doesn't capture the scale at all.

Independence Mine building.

I love this kind of decay and reclamation.

The gritty stuff in front is a pile of mine tailings.

Cotton grass.

There were people parasailing off of the mountain to the left.

Another grass.

The road goes ever on and on.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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