The Miracle of You

Out of the mist of happiness lost and life stopped in its tracks, a new dream hesitatingly emerges. It first appears almost as a mirage, and it floats in and out of the mist, beckoning us, taunting our senses, but gradually it takes shape and comes into focus. After a major loss we are not easily persuaded, but life is resilient, and it usually finds ways to surprise us. Hanging on to what has been can sustain us only for so long. In order to avoid stagnation and bitterness, new dreams need to replace what has been lost.

The happiness that exploded into my heart at the birth of my grandson was one of life’s total surprises. And with that love came the impetus and energy to finally act on my dream to live closer to family. The dream has floated in and out of focus for quite some time, hampered mainly by great geographical distances and the effort required to make it come true. Armed with tenderness and a newfound certainty that this is where life now wants me, I look into the eyes of innocence, and I step onto the emerging edge of my life.

It is amazing the power a tiny baby wields!

 

 The Miracle of You

A flailing hand, a bobbing head,

soft whisps of hair,

and eyes as deep as oceans,

Your tiny shape fills

my heart

to

overflowing.

Gurgles and burps

and small slurping sounds

endlessly fascinate,

and every shift in your countenance

and every cry

is followed with intense scrutiny.

Your smile

evokes

excited exclamations,

and your regularity

meets with your parents

relieved approval.

Everything is pictured,

recorded

and logged

to a point that will later

embarrass you.

Right now there is

not a thing you do

or a sound you make

that is not followed

with rapt attention, and

smiles all around

meet

your searching gaze.

So much love,

so much happiness,

so much goodwill

came with you

– and so little sleep!

Blessed be!

 

 

Featured image by Monica. Styrsö in the mist, Åland Islands, Finland.

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Morning has Broken

A new day is dawning, its light seeking expression in all living things, reflecting in the calm sea and bouncing off the thin layer of ice in the water puddles at waters edge. There is something pristine about the moments just before darkness turns into light, like a promise of new beginnings, and of renewed hope.

We arbitrarily divide time into units, and look at it as a finite commodity that we either use or lose. Yet every moment is a moment we are born anew! Every breath we take is a new beginning, a new chance to be present in our lives. It is called the present moment for a reason – it is a gift. It is a present we can open eagerly or with trepidation, depending on what we expect to find in it. Holding on to old hurts makes us define also the future in terms of the past, and it limits what can enter into our present moment awareness,   but that is not the way life was designed to be lived. E-v-e-r-y  m-o-m-e-n-t  is given new, and the universe stands poised to give us everything we can dream of, and more. In our fear we mostly say: “no, thank you”, expecting all gifts to hurt like some of the gifts in the past did. However, maybe now, at the threshold of a new year, it is time to view things differently, to open up to the gifts of the universe, and to finally say:

Yes! This is the year! This is the moment!

In the midst of great happiness over my first grandchild, I sat in church at Christmas, and tears welled in my eyes and my chest constricted. I didn’t even know why I was crying, since the present moment was full of happiness. Taking part in a service in my native Swedish had something to do with it, since the language, the hymns and the melodies went straight to my soul, and reminded me of seasons past. It was also a reminder of the choices I have made, of blunders and missteps, of hurts delivered and slights received, of opportunities lost, and above all – of people lost. So many of the wonderful souls that populated my childhood and early adulthood have passed away, and also some of the people who were an intricate part of my adult life, like my husband, my beloved aunt and godmother, and one of my best friends, who passed quickly and unexpectedly just a few short weeks after my husband died.

Maybe it is inevitable that the birth of new life reminds us of the peeling away of life at the other end, and it also reminds us of the choices we’ve made and how they shaped our lives. Whatever “mistakes” we made, whatever we weren’t able to sort out, are now in an uncanny way part  of the history and burden of the next generation, and there is no longer anything we can do to change that. I certainly have lots of things in my past that I can question, but pondering the past is useless unless we excavate our experiences, and incorporate the lessons learned into the present moment. If we can only see things in the right light, we will see that even the challenging and painful experiences are treasures to be thankful for. Wishing for things to be different than they are is a waste of the present moment. I have done enough of that myself, and this is in no way a judgment on whatever part of the journey we are each on, but I realized my biggest challenge has been a feeling of not really belonging anywhere. My husband was my home, and although I always knew that nothing outside of us can be our home, that was still the way it was with Jack and I. Having lived abroad for the past twenty years,  Finland always held a certain allure for me, and it seemed as if every time I visited my native country it fed my soul, but all that disappeared when Jack died. It was as if I didn’t just lose my husband, but I lost my place in the world as well, and I became a homeless nomad, somebody who didn’t really belong anywhere. That may sound harsh to the rest of my family, but grief is an odd thing: it carves us out, empties us of everything that has thus far defined our existence, and then it dumps us into no-man’s land and leaves us there without a road map. Every day, every turn is an unknown, and so we cling to what is familiar: our work, our home, our routines.

However, the feeling of belonging does not easily return. It’s taken me years to find my footing again, let alone some kind of balance. It may have seemed easy, and I’ve had people come into my life as if for a season to help with the shaping and redefining of the rest of my life, but it wasn’t until my end of year review a few days ago that things finally coalesced: I belong to myself! The feeling of belonging needs to bud and blossom in my heart! It doesn’t have anything to do with where I make my physical home or who is or isn’t in my life at this time, but it has everything to do with what is in my heart. I need to collect the pieces of myself that I have scattered around, and in order to do that it is essential that I take full responsibility for my life.  And the time is NOW. Let that be the treasure I mine from the past and the intention I set for the future that I reclaim my life from the annals of loss, regret, and despair, and once again say YES to life and the abundance it has to offer. And so, on this last day of the year we have marked as 2017, I set the intention to welcome the gifts of the universe that I in the past have limited by restricting their access. No more! My intention is now an unequivocal YES, and I look with excitement and curiosity to the new year. 

Looking back at 2017, my sincere thank you goes to Derek Rydall for his inspirational teachings, his dedication, and his tireless work at the Emerging Edge of Life, and to Jim Self, Master of Alchemy, who for years has inspired me and his other students to see beyond the edge. Derek and Jim are well known teachers, and I have benefited enormously from their wisdom, but it is important for me to point out that EVERYONE in my life has served in that capacity. Without the community and support of the souls that populate our lives, we would all be hopelessly lost. THANK YOU to all of you who are part of my life, and BLESSINGS to you in the New Year!

I dedicate this song to my new grandson, and to his parents, my daughter and son-in-law:

http://www.youtube.com  Cat Stevens – Morning has broken

Featured blog image by Monica. Sunrise over Slemmern, Åland Islands.

 

 

Helleborus

Ceremonies and traditions can help us in the early days of grieving. They give us something to do and a focus for our remembering.

In the midst of winter a precious white flower blossoms  – the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger. In pots planted among purple heather it decorates many a front step in the Åland Islands, defying snow and ice and chilling winds. It looks delicate and soft, yet it can withstand the harshness of the Nordic winter season. It reminds me of the human spirit, which despite the ego’s protests and resistance still survives the storms of life. We may kick and scream and rail at life at times, and if death has knocked on our door, we may feel like nothing matters anymore. We are forever changed by our losses, but gradually we are coaxed back to life, to the beauty of nature, to simple pleasures, to the smile of a child, or a ray of sunshine through rain.

The holiday season is one of the loneliest and most painful times for those who have lost loved ones, and like many others I asked the same question after my husband died: “How will I get through this?” The first year Jack was gone a gray cloud enveloped the thought of Christmas. My daughter had come to stay for the first few months, but I could not think for us to sit alone at home, and neither could I see myself latching on to somebody else’s celebration, although I knew many friends would gladly have  welcomed us in their midst. I also didn’t have the strength to travel to Finland to be with family there. The loss was too new and the pain still too sharp.

Looking back to Jack’s and my years together and the places we’d been, one place in particular stood out for the peace it invoked in me – the white beaches at Bellows on the windward side of the island of Oahu. There was something about the sight of the wast sea and the crashing sound of the waves that cradled me, so the place was framed in a special light in my mind, and the thought came that  Christmas there might be tolerable. It was late in the year to make reservations, but miraculously they had an ocean side cottage available for ten days, so I booked it for me and my two adult children. The flights also lined up nicely, and so we joined up in Oahu a few days before Christmas, my children flying in a couple of days after me, my daughter from Denver and my son from Helsinki. It was the year of tremendous snowstorms that closed several major European airports for several days, and caused serious delays all along the Eastern Seaboard of the US, but my son made it all the way with only a slight delay. Decked in leis and happy to be together, we sat outside talking into the wee hours of the morning, enveloped by a warm, velvety darkness, and surrounded by the soothing sound of ocean waves. Sitting at the picnic table in the dark, my son told me about a dream he had shortly after Jack died. In the dream Jack was walking on a path, our house was in the background, and he looked younger and more vibrant than he had in the last year. My son felt an urgency to warn Jack that he couldn’t fall asleep – if he did he would die. When they met on the path he pleaded with Jack: “You can’t fall asleep, you’ll die!” Jack looked at him and smiled, and said:  “I know. It’s okay. There’s nothing anybody can do about it!”

It may not seem relevant or pertinent, but the dream in fact carried a deep message for me. As many people who have lost loved ones, I had struggled with questions like: “What if I had been right there when Jack’s heart stopped? What if I’d known exactly what to do? Could I have saved him? What if I’d been there holding his hand, would he have left?” We had this amazing connection, so maybe I could have willed him to stay? These are the kinds of tormenting questions that run through our brain after we lose loved ones, and it wasn’t until a few months after Jack died that a comment from a friend made the futility of those ponderings clear to me. She said: “Monica, you don’t have that kind of power!” My son’s dream seemed to echo the same sentiments, and this time I was ready to accept the message. When and how we leave is not up for negotiation, at least not if we allow nature to take its course, and there was something oddly comforting in that. I knew Jack didn’t want to leave me, but if it was his time, it was his time, and there was nothing I or anybody else could have done to change that.

We had a portion of Jack’s ashes along on the Christmas trip to Oahu, and although it wasn’t immediately obvious when and where we would release the ashes, the time and the place became clear, and in silence we took off one morning before dawn with flowers and a framed picture of Jack and his favorite Irish whiskey along. We drove to the lighthouse that shone its light at us every evening, with Venus shining brightly above it, and there on the beach in the predawn light we said our goodbyes. The waves took the ashes and the flowers and water crashed against the big rock in front of us and rained on us in return, and so we each said our prayers, had a sip of Jameson in Jack’s honor, and then poured the rest to the waves. Right when we were done, somebody started chanting a beautiful melody further down the beach, and it was the perfect ending to our ceremony. The sun came up, and we piled into the car and drove back to the cottage. When I visited the same place by myself the following morning I found flower petals all over the beach, but nobody was chanting.

It is helpful to do ceremony and to have traditions; they form a framework that can contain us and get us through the most difficult days of grieving. They give us something to do and somewhere to focus, when the rest of life seems to have lost all its clarity and there no longer is anywhere to aim. Ceremonies and traditions also help us honor and remember our deceased loved ones, and in some small way they shift our pain for a moment, and we are able to remember our loved ones with joy, and not just with grief. I did not bring any ashes to the Åland Islands this time, but like all my family and friends I will go to the cemetery on Christmas Eve. We will take flowers and light candles and we will remember our loved ones. Even after years have passed there is always an undercurrent of sadness in this remembering, but at the same time it sets us free to go home and celebrate the season the way our loved ones would want us to celebrate. Jack used to say that were something to happen to him, I had to live as if living for him as well. I may not do it as well as when he was around to light my smile, but I do smile now, and I will light candles at the Mariehamn cemetery for him and all the other deceased loved ones and add to the sea of candles spreading their light there on Christmas Eve. And I will buy Helleborus plants for Jack and for my goddaughter, who died way too young. Her mother and I met in kindergarten, and little did we know at the time what life had in store for us, but at least we have been able to share in the challenges and lean on each other in the worst of times and the best of times. And after we’ve lit our candles and said our prayers, we will go home to our families, hug our children and kiss our grandchildren and thank God for all the things we still have to be grateful for.

“I wish you bluebirds in the spring, to give your heart a song to sing. And then a kiss, but more than this, I wish you love.” – I Wish You Love, music by Léo Chauliac and Charles Trenet and lyrics by Charles Trenet.

 

Charles Trenet, I Wish You Love, Rare TV Medley

The first song in the medley is “I Wish You Love” and I wanted to honor Charles Trenet by sharing this song in its original French.

 

Featured blog image by Monica

Light in the Heart of Darkness

It is early morning in Helsinki. Darkness fills the space beyond the windows in the high rise, and at this hour all is still quiet at the neighbors. There is a hum from the refrigerator and an occasional wind gust outside sings in the trees and can be heard traveling over the roof tops. It is only 4 am, but breathing the morning air from the balcony, I can already hear the din of traffic in the distance. I’ve slept about eight hours thanks to some melatonin my son gave me to counter the weariness of transatlantic travel, and being awake at this hour is not unusual for me. It is the hour to turn inward, to quiet the mind and listen to the whispers from the divine, but today I’d rather indulge in memories. I am by myself, and in the quietness memories arise, and the bittersweet taste of happiness lost.

It is such an odd thing to realize that in this moment everything is actually fine with me. I am warm and comfortable, candles are softly lighting up the kitchen and I am savoring the taste of a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Nothing is amiss. I have no aches or pains, I am not lacking any of the necessities of life, yet there is a mounting pressure over my chest, and tears are welling in my eyes. My husband is smiling at me from a picture, but he is no longer here in person to join in the joys of the Christmas season. He used to love coming to Finland. He enjoyed the season whatever it was, whether it was the cold and dark of winter or the ever light nights of summer. He had an amazing ability to enjoy the moment, and to draw people into his circle of presence and warmth. There was not a person that didn’t like him. Everybody shone in his presence, I most of all. Small wonder then that adjusting to life without him has left me feeling that the sweetness of life is past, yet I know Jack would not agree with that statement. Presence was the very thing he taught me; that was the magic of him, and his secret to happiness. He lived in the present moment, and didn’t waste time on regrets – to him that was the runway behind him. He had a wonderful ability to single out the fun and memorable things in even the most dire of circumstances, and he had sure seen plenty of challenges in his years in the military during the Vietnam war. He had bagged and tagged all the young men that went through pilot training with him, and he never regretted his own decision not to become a pilot after all. He told me he was happy to trudge through the jungle and get fungus between his toes, because if he’d become a hot flying ace of a pilot, we might never have met!

I remember telling my parents about Jack, and my dad said he wouldn’t come to any more weddings! He was still hurting from my divorce a couple of years earlier, and the thought of an older American suitor to his daughter was not appealing to him. However, just like I had seen in a dream, all protests stopped once he and mom met Jack. Jack wasn’t just tall and handsome, but he was a man of substance, and even dad succumbed to his ebullient charm. We spent many happy moments lingering over meals and memories at my parent’s kitchen table, the same table I am now sitting by alone.

It’s been seven years since Jack died, but I can still remember the bitter taste of those early days of grief, and my heart goes out to everyone who has recently lost a loved one. It’s as if the lights go out, and life becomes dark and dull and meaningless. Not  even the memories are warming, but the pain cuts sharp and it won’t leave one alone. The pain rolls in like huge waves, with hardly any time to breathe in between. It’s like that time in Hawaii when I got tumbled by big waves. I’m not a great swimmer, and I was just bobbing up and down with the swells when a big wave rolled in and dunked me. I came up coughing and spitting just to be hit by a second wave, and by the time I was hit by the third wave a feeling of panic began to arise in me. That time Jack was right there, and he got a hold of my foot and pulled me out. My eyes, nose and throat were hurting from the salt water, and I had sand in places one should never get sand, but I hadn’t sustained any injuries from being tumbled.

To me grief is much like ocean waves. Sometimes it hits like huge waves, other times it rolls in more gently, and every now and then it slams us like a rogue wave. Not having grown up by the ocean, but by much calmer seas, I’ve had to learn how to swim in the Pacific. Diving through the waves is a way to avoid getting tumbled, and over time that is also how I’ve learned to live with my grief. I swim with it, bob up and down, allow it to gently rock me, swim through it and occasionally I still get slammed and come up coughing and spitting, but in general the waves are now gentle compared to what they used to be. I can dwell in the sweetness of memories and although the loss is still bitter, I would not give up the years of happiness just to avoid the pain of loss. And so they are intertwined in my mind, the sweetness of love and the bitterness of loss, and I wouldn’t give any of it up. What a blessing it is to have loved! And having once loved, we are much more likely to love again. If your loss is new, a new love is probably the furthest thing from your mind, but just know that love is all around, it is waiting for you to swim through the waves, and it will find you again when you least expect it. And you will be grateful to your grief for having deepened your ability to feel, to love.

December 13th was Lucia day in Finland. The tradition to celebrate Lucia goes back decades, and although Lucia was originally an Italian saint, she is also the bringer of light and hope in the heart of winter in Finland. The Lucia tradition is also celebrated in Sweden, but the Finns celebrate it with even more pomp and circumstance, and it is one of the highlights of this holiday season. Besides being a bringer of light and comfort to the less fortunate of our brothers and sisters, Lucia also reminds us that hope resides even in the midst of darkness, and that light will find a way to imbue even the coldest and darkest of winter nights. Likewise love patiently waits for us to swim through our grief and pain, and gently coaxes us to again turn toward it’s warming light.

“Winter must be cold for those without warming memories”, Deborah Kerr’s character Terry McKay says in the old movie classic “An Affair to Remember”. Having loved and been loved, we really are the lucky ones! We have memories to warm us, and we know the enduring and everlasting nature of love. 💕 That in itself is a blessing that can bring us hope and light in the midst of our darkest hours.

 

https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-9975828

Anna-Karin Edström crowned Lucia by Mayor of Helsinki Jan Vapaavuori in the Helsinki Cathedral on December 13, 2017, and after the ceremony Lucia and escort are seen descending the cathedral steps. The video clip is from the Finnish news organization Yle News, yle.fi

The featured image in the blog is from pixabay.com

 

Poem

 

The pain of loss

is multiplied a thousand times

by the original trauma

the very real

the very palpable threat of death.

No wonder the experience of

abandonment, of

separation

had to be repeated

over and over again

to give the soul

a chance to release

the original trauma.

Now middle-aged

with a few grey hairs in a head of brown

will I hold on to the wound?

Or will I let it go?

Nothing happened

not really

except fear.

Fear of separation

fear of abandonement

But the Lover never left His Beloved

He is right here

in my Heart.

So, I thank my adversaries

for their lessons

handed down like bitter medicine.

Without them,

where would I be?

Without them

I couldn’t

 heal.

It is now my duty

to protect the child,

the child within,

who came to earth to play.

Forgetting for a moment

that it was a play

we agreed to stage

with heroes and villains

with trials and hardship

with tears and laughter

joy, happiness – and loss.

The loss had to be

to remind us

to

return

Home.

Is this child of mine

now safe?

That is up to me.

Take heart my child.

I will save you.

Joy and Sorrow

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

Today my heart sings with joy, it feels as if it is about to burst, and tears spring from my eyes! My first grandchild has been born! A perfect little being with ten fingers and ten toes, he was eager to enter into the world, and his speedy arrival surprised and delighted us all. I remember the bliss I felt when his mother was born, the unbelievable feeling of connectedness with everyone and everything, and the peace that filled the hours that followed the labor. It was like touching a piece of Heaven, and I marvel at my daughter now getting to experience that same joy and exhilaration.

The Italian for giving birth is “dare all luce”, to give to the light. What a beautiful expression and sentiment! I have not thought of things that way; coming into the world hasn’t seemed like such a bargain to me. But I have come to realize that’s because I haven’t seen things correctly!

As seasons have come and gone, experiences have piled up. Some of them have seemed good, others not so good, and a lot of them have been challenging and downright painful.  The memory of all that has gone before clouds things in my mind, and so it colors also the present moment and makes it appear less than perfect. Yet there were those moments that stood out wondrous and perfect, moments when Heaven drew close, when joy filled my heart, and tears flowed from my eyes because it was all too much to contain. The births of my children were such miraculous moments of happiness, and the memory of each birth towers way above the experiences of everyday life. Another high point was falling fully and totally in love, surrendering to life, and being granted the gift of years of happiness. These are high points we can easily recognize, yet life is full of everyday miracles.  Like priceless pearls moments of happiness are strewn all around our everyday life. We may be too busy to always recognize them as happiness, because the moments hide in plain view among dishes, piles of laundry, money woos, crying babies and arguments with the spouse, but there they are. They live in the smile of a child, in the first words and the tentative steps, in accomplishments big and small, in birthdays and holidays celebrated and forgotten, and in our perseverance and ability to bridge difficulties and differences. They can be found in the beauty of a flower, the song of a bird, in the magnificent display of a crashing thunderstorm, or the quiet sound of rain on the roof. They live in moments of closeness and ecstasy, and also just in quiet moments spent alone. They live in every moment of every day, if we can just pause enough to see things right.

There are blessings also in the pain we feel when a beloved is lost to us. That may sound like a contradiction, and it usually takes us a while to find the blessings hiding in the blows that life deals us, but they are there. When pain finally drops us into the present moment, it is as if we enter the eye of a hurricane; the storm keeps churning around us, but right where we are there is calm. And peace. And right there in the eye of the storm we know the gift of life and we know that we hold priceless strings of pearls in our hand.

“Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy. Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.” – Kahlil Gibran

This is not something we may be able to hear when we are in the throws of a recent loss and the unspeakable pain that inevitably follows, and it would not be kind of me to try to convince you, because we are all exactly where we are meant to be, and our lives are unfolding as they are planned. If you in this moment are grieving, I simply  want to offer you the hope of your pain transformed.

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran

One of the biggest aha-moments in my life came when I realized the inherent blessings in everything. Our natural tendency is to try to shield ourselves and our loved ones from the experiences that cause us pain, and one of the greatest challenges we face is to allow others the freedom to create their own lives, and to make their own mistakes. In the big scheme of things there are no mistakes, and sometimes our propensity to try to avoid pain is the very thing that causes us suffering.

There is great wisdom in the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:

“ Should you shield the valleys from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their canyons.”

Never have those words been more true than when it comes to our children. We may fervently wish that we could shield them from the pain that is part of life, and we wish we could give them some of the wisdom we have accumulated over the years. On the other hand they may find more perfect solutions to the challenges they face in their lives than we could ever hope to impart to them! So in this as in other things we get to trust in life, and surrender them to whatever joys and sorrows may come. Like fairy godmothers we get to wave a wand and wish them well, at the same time allowing them the freedom to create their own experience.

As one person leaves, another one arrives, and so the dance of life goes on. Wherever you are on your life’s journey, may grace go with you today, and rain its blessings on your head. May you find joy hiding in unlikely places, and may you allow it to surprise you with its unexpected gifts. Life and death are intertwined, just like joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. We cannot open our hearts to love without the risk of getting hurt, but what would life be without love? As much joy as the birth of life brings, as much pain can death cause us, but would you choose away the joy just to avoid the sorrow? I think not. And so we get to walk gingerly with both, surrendering to life, trusting in its ability to carry us through whatever may come.

Flash Mob – Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy) Beethoven Symphony No.9 classical music

 

I Wasn’t Always Grateful to be Alive

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up, as if orchards were dying high in space. Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no”. And tonight the heavy earth is falling away from all the other stars in the loneliness. – Rainer Maria Rilke

 

When the truck hit the guardrail, I put my arms up in front of my face, and scenes from a movie I’d seen a long time ago flashed before my eyes. In the movie the man is in the backseat, and he is holding a necklace that he has purchased for his beloved. In the next moment the car skids off the road, and hurdles down a steep slope. He is killed and his sweetheart never gets the necklace… I felt incredulous that this now seemed to be my fate as well.

It was a year after my husband died, and I was on a camping trip by myself with the dogs. The seven year old Jack Russell was my healing dog, and the 10 month old Heeler mix was my motivator. She needed a lot of attention and exercise, and got me out walking and out of myself a bit. For the first six months my daughter came to stay with me, and she mostly took care of the dogs; I didn’t really have the presence that is called for when raising a puppy. She’d packed up her life in two days, left her job, moved her things into storage, filled two duffel bags, and traveled halfway across the world to be with me. I was very grateful to her, although I was too broken to always show it. By the time of my camping trip she had returned to her own life, and it was just me and the dogs.

I’d asked for two months off from work to try to put my life back together, and in the previous weeks hope had begun to stir that I would somehow survive the ordeal. The first three years my husband and I were married we traveled around the country, and the Airstream was our home. I know it sounds like a movie, but it was our life, and it was the happiest of times. We were very present in everything we did, and it added a dimension of connectedness – to each other, to life, to God – that neither one of us had experienced before. Being present in each moment made life truly magical, and those first few years stand out in a special light in my memory, so when a friend, who knew what loss and grief was, encouraged me to do something special for the anniversary of my husband’s passing, I decided to take the truck and trailer on the road again. It was to be my tribute to my husband and our life together. And it felt like if I could do that by myself, then I could live.

The trailer had been sitting for three years, but I had checked everything, had purchased new tires for it, found the sway bars, the extension mirrors, the backing-up help my husband had engineered, and for the anniversary of his death I was parked on the top of a mountain pass with a glorious view. It was a place I had always wanted to stay, and there I was. It wasn’t far from home, but it still felt like an accomplishment to have managed the trip by myself. My husband was traveling with me; his picture and a small portion of his ashes were along for the ride, and I had all his letters and the journals I had filled in our years together.

Despite proper wintering the trailer had a leak in the water system, so I had to take it to the closest place that serviced Airstreams, which was 2 1/2 hours away in Colorado Springs. Although I had limited experience in driving the rig by myself, I wasn’t really afraid of taking it on the road, but I did have some concerns about driving it in city traffic. A 20 foot truck and a 30 foot trailer was quite a bit for me to maneuver around a city, but all went well, and after two trips downtown to the service company, the water system was finally fixed, and I could start enjoying my time camping.

It was August, and rather warm during the days, with frequent thunderstorms in the afternoons. I was up early in the mornings, having coffee at the small, foldable wooden table my husband had made, the dogs were on long tethered lines, and together we watched the sun come up, just like my husband and I used to do. Then I read and journaled for a while, had breakfast, took the dogs for a walk, and I tried to be present in what was now life without My Love. I slept a lot. It gave my overloaded system a chance to rest for a while. Trips to the grocery store were tiring, and I put them off as long as possible, and I didn’t really feel like meeting anyone or doing anything.  Sometimes I would feel numb, and I would watch movies like “Finding Neverland” or “What Dreams May Come” to connect to my feelings again. Losing my husband felt like an amputation, and sometimes the pain of it all was overwhelming, while at other times it went into hiding, and left me feeling empty and unable to relate to anything. Listening to music or watching movies that stirred the heart was my way of trying to get back to a feeling place. There wasn’t a pill or a drug that could help me get out of the pain, so temporarily turning everything off was my way of getting a reprieve.

I am not Catholic, but in my time on the road I had bought a beautiful rosary of red aventurine and silver, and on the day of the accident I was wearing it. It was as if a part of me knew what was coming, but like an automaton I continued toward my fate. It was a very windy day, and I had no business being on the road, but I had been back home for a wedding, and was now headed south to a place my husband and I had visited many times. I chose my destinations so that they were familiar, and I would know how to drive to them. I didn’t have a GPS, and traveling alone with a big rig it was helpful to know the route and know which lane on the interstate I was supposed to be in.

This particular section of I-25 was known for gusty winds, and I had felt the wind shift the trailer a few times, but the warnings didn’t register as they should have, and in a mountain pass north of Santa Fe a wind gust caught the trailer, it started fish tailing, and I couldn’t straighten it out… I had time to think a lot in those moments before I hit the guardrail head on, and I couldn’t believe I was going to crash. The last thing I remember is that the trailer was jackknifed on my left, and was pushing the truck into the guard rail separating the road from the embankment below.

When I came to, I was hanging in the seat belt, and the Lion King CD was still playing “It’s Time”. The truck was on its side, and there was no sign of the trailer. I moved my fingers and toes, and checked for any broken bones before releasing the seat belt. Everything was crystal clear, yet I wasn’t quite with it. The dog kennels on the back seat had somehow switched places, and the dogs were looking at me, but were totally quiet. I thought I smelled gasoline, and for a moment a slight feeling of panic arose in me. The front windshield was shattered, but still in place, the driver’s side door was blocked, and I would have to find a way to exit by opening the passenger side door above my head. I didn’t have the strength to push open the door, but help arrived, and I was hoisted out of the wreck. I’d lost my glasses, but even without them I could see the big Tibetan singing bowl friends had given me in memory of my husband; it was sitting in the middle of the interstate, and I could see clothes and letters strewn all over the landscape. I still didn’t see the trailer, and oddly enough didn’t even look for it. A passerby was an EMT and she checked me out, somebody lent me their phone – mine had flown out somewhere in the periphery – so I could call the insurance company, and an ambulance appeared to take me to the ER. Kind, young people took care of the dogs, and so I was whisked off to the nearest hospital. Somebody had brought me the singing bowl, a photo of my husband, and a handful of his letters that they’d picked up, and the case with my spare glasses was found, and so the world appeared a little clearer.

Even now it pains me to admit that I wasn’t happy to be alive… I have two children and although they are adults they still need me, and it feels rather bad to admit I wasn’t happy to have survived. However,  at the time there wasn’t anything in me to reach for life… It was as if I had flatlined with my husband the year before. But – at least I had sense enough to be grateful that I didn’t have injuries that would have left me ruined for the rest of my physical existence. The first responders and the officers that talked to me in the ER were all amazed that I was unscathed. There wasn’t even a tear in my clothes or blood on my white pants. It was as if somebody had lifted me out of the truck for the time of the crash, and then put me back when it was all over. I have no memory of the accident after I hit the guard rail, yet I had no injuries that would have explained the blackout. And the only thing intact on the truck was the cabin where the dogs and I were…

In the ER I knew I would need to find a way to live again – exit had been denied. If I had been meant to leave, I would have left in that accident. The trailer had – fortunately – tore itself loose, so when it vaulted down the embankment the truck stayed on the road. Both vehicles were totaled, and the Airstream was flaked open like a sardine can, and looked like the onion blossoms you can order for appetizers at restaurants.

Today, as I think back, I am grateful beyond words that God spared me that day. And not only did He spare me, but in the days and years to come He gave me numerous signs of His presence in my life.  A friend and I stopped on the accident site on the way home from the ER, and one of the first things I found lying on the ground was a purple pillow case my goddaughter had painted a Santa on for Christmas one year, and on the other side her mother had spelled out: “Good night, Monica. Sleep tight. God is with you everywhere.” And the next thing was my red, leather-bound Bible in my native Swedish that I had received in Sunday school back in the 60’s; it was unharmed! And when the young people came to deliver the dogs, they asked if they could pray for me, and they all in turn said a prayer. Their minister had told them to look for miracles in everyday life, and I was their real live miracle! Who could ignore so many signs of Divine intervention? And the signs didn’t end there, but that is another story.

If you are alone this Holiday Season, take heart. Whatever you perceive God or the Divine to be, whatever you call this Force that imbues all life, you can lean on it, you can trust it. I see the Divine as living inside me, and inside you, and its still small voice is always there to guide us. If you are hurting, grieving or in pain, listen for that voice. Allow it to guide you, to console you, to ease your heartache. Take one day, one step, one breath at a time. Walk with your pain, let it do its healing work, and ask for help! Ask, even if the only thing you can muster is a faint “Help me!” in your heart.

You are not alone.

***

In this Season of Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to be alive. I am so very thankful for my children, for my parents, for family and friends. I am grateful for my home, the unconditional affection of the dogs, and all the small and big ways I see God’s hand in my life. I am also grateful for the years with my husband, and for the pain that followed when he died. At the time it was difficult to imagine what life would be like in the years ahead, but the blessing that emerged from it all was a growing Trust. For the first time I can now say that I am grateful for life itself, for the fact that I am alive, and there is a small, babbling brook of joy moving through me that wasn’t there before. If you are grieving, be encouraged. That brook of healing, joy and love will find its way also into your life.

“Prepare to be amazed”, Sonny says in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. “This is that very building. I have only offered a vision of the future.” 😉

 

“It’s Time” – Song by Lebo M. from the CD “Rhythm of the Pride Lands”