Dream: birthing my first son; head crowning. I hear “the crown of thorns atop the head of Jesus.” Transition. New life. Jesus was already walking towards his new life; walking home.
The concept and ideas around death and the processing of grief growing up was both close and distant for me. My father, Duncan, was a mortician at a very young age. His youth found him in a small town of Wisconsin in the 1930’s. In high school he got a job at the local furniture store, whose owner also had the funeral home down the street. So dad was taught the pragmatics of death. Picking up the deceased body from the family home to embalming and dressing the person for the wakes as well as making the pine wood coffins.
My mom, Loretta, was a nurse. She practiced what was called “private duty” nursing, but honestly, it was hospice work long before there was such a term. I went to a lot of wakes and funerals growing up, relatives known and patients of my mom’s unknown.
Shortly after Ian was born I began work as a home health aide in hospice care. My first client, Mary, passed away half an hour before I was supposed to go take care of her. Instead, I arrived, entering what felt like a space of holiness to help the nurse bathe the body. Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus. Sitting with the body once the heart has stopped beating. An entirely different experience of death. But the grieving and the processing and the entire emotional side…no, mine was the pragmatic version of grief.
Sorrow, grief. A complex mixture of the oceans waves. Tides move in as a rush and a whoosh of ugh….in the solar plexus. Moving out, a release and an ahhh…a relief, an opening, a letting go. And what of the deeply felt sorrow/pain, grief which seemingly arrives out of nowhere? That perhaps has been hiding/resting/waiting patiently to arise and be held. Prior to beginning this current novena I wasn’t sure what to ask for, my heart’s desire. So I asked Her to show me; and She obliged.
Early morning walk in the woods with Cooper and a rush of pain – what do you call it when it’s not necessarily physical? The term “existential pain” feels like a discounting. And yet, this overwhelming felt sense that made me stop in mid-step, bending over in sorrow/grief/a rush of unknowing. The tears are immediate and I’m gasping for air. I feel my son and the worry and the fear and the hopes and wishes and wanting to hold him in my arms as if he were a baby once more, as if it were still possible. Taking a few breaths to quiet myself, to steady the pain, I slowly walk back to the house. Is this what a panic/anxiety attack feels like? And the feeling arose: “if the pain I just experienced in any way may have relieved the pain of whatever he might have been feeling/is feeling, then I can endure it as well.”
It occurred to me that I’ve had these moments (some lasting a long time) for years now. What I realized is that there is the moment the experience arises and what follows is the story behind those emotions. The what-ifs and the why didn’t I’s, and the if-only I could have, would have, why doesn’t he, why can’t he and on and on and on.
The petition became quite clear, “why aren’t you asking Our Lady to help with this feeling? Why aren’t you asking her to work with these thoughts? And the prayer, “Please, Lady, remove my unconscious fears and anxieties around Ian’s health, welfare, and life. Please carry him, because I cannot.
“Give to me what you cannot carry.”*
Spontaneous prayer. These beautiful moments were followed by my concern at shaming? myself for behaving co-dependently that I couldn’t shake and felt that they weren’t helping me or him. Another angel arrives in the form of a bodyworker. In the middle of a session as I shared the experience I’d had in the woods and repeating my thought, “if I can relieve his pain for even a moment”…but that’s not very healthy is it?” Without missing a beat she replied, “No! I don’t think that at all, that kind of feeling is something very different.” She continued, “I believe there are people in our lives that we’ve made contracts with (before we came into our physical bodies) and we make agreements with them. Perhaps they are family members, others, complete strangers, or those we meet only once or twice. And the agreement is that we will help remove some/part/or all of their pain. Perhaps we won’t even know the circumstances or what actually took place.” And then she said, “That’s Jesus energy”. And my entire body relaxed in a way that it hadn’t in a very, very long time.
It was a gift. Our Lady working through the bodyworker. My longing is a prayer. Every word we utter has the potential to be a prayer if said with awareness and presence and reverence for the moment. Everything matters. Every thought, every movement. Every single individual letter that goes into the making of a word into the making of a sentence and on and on. Spelling/spells/to spell.
I didn’t have another “attack” for 32 days and have been making it a very intentional daily practice of reminding myself that I’ve given the care of my son over to HER. And then the other morning, during my walk, that feeling arose in my solar plexus again and feeling the tears the visceral quality of the emotion, I stopped and made the request, “Mary, take this”. And she did.
Reciting the rosary; falling into an undulation. I’m sitting tall, spine comfortably straight, chin slightly tucked in, beads moving through fingers. I’m walking in the woods breathless as the necklaced rosary passes through my fingertips. I’m driving in the car and I’ve forgotten the beads and, as if my life depended on it, counting prayers on fingers, forgetting the count, driving trancelike with Mary in the passenger seat. There is the awareness of tongue hitting the roof of mouth. Palette (a palette cleanse). Tongue moving along the backs of the front teeth. Awakening the pituitary gland/stimulating the release of hormones from the pineal gland. Sacred nectar flowing knowingly where the body is calling. Recalling the connection of mouth to womb.
The mid-wife says, “If you want to incite a contraction try kissing”.
When my mother died in 2006 I found myself desperately trying to find a place that sold rosaries so I could bring one back and place it her coffin. There was no reason for this compulsion for a rosary, other than the fact that both my parents were devout catholics and had their own daily practice of the rosary. This exercise, filled with passion and determination was not me. (of course it was). When I placed the blue glass beads in her hands our parting felt complete. I was shocked to feel that there were no remnants of anger or regret in her passing. It was clean and clear.
“…The death of a parent…despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us…we might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.” **
Silence found on the ocean’s floor, Our Lady’s home. Where we all walked out of. What I know is how I feel. Emotions are my intelligence. Don’t be fooled by what the mind wants to offer in explanation. Concepts; mostly idle chatter or misinformation. The Hail Mary is a round, a walk, a rhythm, a circumambulation of, a bowing to, one’s own sacredness. You are Mary. We are Mary. Our Lady. Our Earth. We are HER as Earth.
“Our Lady of Sorrows I am sometimes called. But those sorrows are merely the waters that have passed through numberless eons and uncountable bodies on their path toward the sea. The dead buoy you up, embrace you, and sustain you. Their currents will carry you where you must go. “As long as you presume to know the path forward, you will not be able to find that path or follow it. Knowing is not the same as remembering. The knowledge that will guide you through the trials you are currently entering is a thousand fathoms deep. I am your Mother who tells you these things.
I tell you nothing but what is true.”
Our Lady Speaks 5/16/2020
*Mary Magdalene Revealed, by Meggan Watterson.
** The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.