Tuesday, August 14, 2018

SYCAMORE, NO MORE

As I sit here half asleep, half awake, a fog is descending. Or rising, I’m not sure which. Or maybe it is just the rays of light exposing what was already there; last night’s settled dew seeping out from the leaves and petals and feathers of sleeping birds. 


This morning before dawn, the barren, leftover bulk of a once-magnificent sycamore fell, crashing so hard it woke me from sound dreaming.

While the faint light held, I stood before the stripped-down trunk, marveling in my slippers at a great many things. How was it still mostly intact? See how it landed neatly in a clearing beside a 50-foot hemlock and a taller tulip poplar, taking very little with it. What sounds had it made right before the full uprooting and collapse? Had there been the slightest breeze, or the extra weight of a woodpecker that caused it to surrender to the pull of the earth?

I thought about how many squirrel nests it housed high in its branches year after year. And I thought about the poem, When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou, shared by a friend just a few feet from this fallen sycamore during my husband’s second Remembrance Gathering. That tree, like my husband, was in its prime twenty-seven years ago when we bought our home. Over the last ten years it kept shedding its glory one limb and one branch at a time. Then with no warning, like that other horrible, groggy morning in August, the tree fell; and a great soul also died.

This landscape, this yard, will always be changing and adapting. What is in the shade will eventually be in the light. What was planted in the sun will someday flounder in its absence. Lives, like the kingdoms they inhabit, come and go, remembered for two or three generations, then a name on a page of history. But still, there must be a great journey from this ever-shifting world, where splinters from falling branches can pierce our hearts; someplace where it is cool and perfect under the blazing sun.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Craig’s Remembrance 2018: The Day After



The clean cups and paper plates are stacked together, the dirty ones bagged up in the trash, and the floor vacuumed. That’s all I’ll do for today because I’m tired of tasking and the weather is so nice I refuse to stay inside. So, I am sitting by the tent in the canopied yard, surrounded by a ring of green and six empty chairs, only five of which I own. Something always gets forgotten and left behind. I am processing last night’s wonderful, rain-free evening spent with twenty-five or so of our friends.

We remembered Craig Allen Steffen, as I threw out baseballs with his best traits written on them. Through stories, we collectively called to mind what was good about Craig – his generosity, his compassion, his strategic thinking, his spiritual and practical wisdom, his love, etc. – and his not-so-good occasional road rage.


We remembered, in unison, that Craig was faithful, capable, strong and solid. So fittingly, I unveiled this Rock, which will forever sit on our property. We dedicated it to him by raising a toast with some of his homemade wine.

For months leading up to the Remembrance, I kept trying to think of a tree to plant as a memorial to him. Nothing seemed to pop out as representing Craig. About three weeks before, I was having a quiet morning on the deck, running a list of trees and their characteristics through my head one more time. Suddenly these words barged in and interrupted my thoughts: “Craig is a Rock.” My eyes widened, and I think I may have said out loud, “That’s true!” He was certainly my rock; the one I counted on for wisdom and practical support. And he was certainly a rock for others, always being called up to help and get the job done. He was who you reached for in a crisis. Even the origin of his name is crag, which is a jutting rock.

 

We also honored him with poetry or just simple words from our hearts. I started the time of sharing by reading a poem by Jan Richardson, entitled The Blessing You Should Not Tell Me, from her book, The Cure for Sorrow. Part of it reads:

"Give me instead
the blessing
of asking about him -
how we met
or what I loved most
about the life
we have shared;
ask for a story
or tell me one
because a story is, finally,
the only place on earth

he lives now."
Greg Belliveau shared the poem When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou, which was very moving. And Adam Nyberg read a poem by a poet from his home country, Sweden, entitled, In Motion, about the journeys we are all on.


When you host a gathering of people, often your mind is focused on the details – does the water jug need refilled, is the BBQ burning in the crockpot, are there enough chairs? I wish I could have spent longer time with each and every one there, sharing even more personal stories of Craig between us. But as the evening came to an end and we were sharing our good-byes, I heard other stories of meaningful connections; connections made between friends who didn’t know each other before last night; or re-connections that held tinges of nostalgia and healing. How beautiful. How Craig.


One friend said the gathering felt like a family reunion. It did. As someone who recently discovered he had multiple families, I think Craig would love that description of those who came together to honor him and his life.

 Elizabeth & Adam Nyberg
 Andrea Sharing
 Barb & Darlene
 Dan & Kerry
 Julie & Darlene
 Greg & Meg
 Greg & Rob
 Kate & Andy
 Keith & Rennes
 Kerry Sharing a story of Craig

The week before the Remembrance, it rained everyday or was steamy and wet, so I was not able to create the "look" I wanted to unveil. A few days later, when the weather was cool and breezy, I went out to landscape the boulder. Five wagon loads of rock and two bags of mulch later (still need one more!), I was done. Craig loved to feed people, and he was an excellent cook. So, in the spring I will hang an Oriole feeder from the pole. In summer, a hummingbird feeder. And in winter, a suet feeder. My goal is to create a bigger rock garden containing rocks that friends would like to add, and one that has the quote inscribed on it from Craig's book:

We journey forward without fear...




DAY 18


The anxiousness continues each morning and seems to grow day by day. It passes for a short time if I have a good cry and sob deeply...or longer if I take the anti-anxiety drugs. But lately tears don't seem to come, only a numbness. I don't know why and I don't like it. A therapist friend on Facebook tells me this numbness is to keep all the sadness from hitting at once. She says it is to protect us...much like the shock of a physical injury.

My best friend, also a therapist, tells me the anxiety is my "fight or flight" instinct kicking in...another protection from harm. But there is nothing or no one to fight and no where to run. And even if there was a place to go, I'm not sure I have the energy to go there. My world is sadly becoming my recliner in my TV room. It's where I want to be. I don't want to be coaxed out right now. I don't want to be invited anywhere. I just want to be here...no, I actually don't want this to be my existence...but this is all I can do right now.

This morning as I thought about that state of fear that forces us to choose one escape or the other, I figured the only thing left to do is to choose a third option: Surrender. Surrender to the pain. Surrender to the process. Surrender to the goodness and mercy of God. But what does that even mean? Reading words on a page, scripture or other spiritual writings, just seem to stay in my head...not travel deep to where I need it the most...my heart, my soul, my spirit.  All this is a mystery. 

I keep saying I want Craig back. I keep crying that I want everything back the way it was. But that will never happen. At some point...and I don't know when that will be or if it is even just gradually happening now...I will have to move beyond my old, wonderful life. I will have to co-create my life with God. But for now I must learn to surrender to the grief.

So again, I invoke the mustard seed of faith in my broken heart and say:

I surrender to you Creator. Or want to.
Take me captive and heal me.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

DAY 17



Today, the seventeenth day of being without Craig, was the worst day so far, beyond the first few days of his death. I woke up with so much anxiety and heaviness. It almost feels like my body is slowly filling up with concrete…or maybe this is just what being totally heartbroken feels like. I’m aware that as I type this, my hands are slightly shaking and tingling a bit. I think I am moving out of the stage of shock and into a reality I do not want. I have said this this over and over for seventeen days…I do not want this! But he is gone. The partnership is dissolved. I am alone. This thought hits me over and over and empties my body of all feeling and will. 

I’m constantly reassured by friends and family that I am NOT alone, and it is true on one level. But my life is now untethered from Craig’s and I am moving into a future that has none of the connection, purpose, joy, or love that we shared. Not tangibly anyway. Not in that solid, concrete, flesh and bone way that was so comforting, so healing, so normal. Now it is all contained in my elusive memory, which at this point, hurts to recall.

In one month we were going to be standing on the threshold of a new life. A new adventure. Finding a new purpose. Maybe even a new community of people or place. A Peregrinatio. Then Craig woke me out of a deep sleep that Monday morning and within twenty minutes, that life we so longed to begin together was over. The last thing I said to him as they wheeled him down the sidewalk was, “I love you!” The last thing I heard him say, four times, on the floor of our hallway was, “I can’t breathe.”

Now at times I feel I can’t breathe. Times I catch myself breathing so shallowly I wonder why I haven’t passed out. And times I wish I could pass out and not wake up again because the future looks terrifying. It probably isn’t, but right now, where there was once a shared, beautiful life and an exciting vision, there is only a void. What does one woman who was deeply in love for 32 years do with herself? 


I’ve been told not to think too far into the future, but this is hard to do when prescription drug commercials come on, or when I see an old man or woman alone at the pharmacy, or a young couple passing me on the road, laughing. One day at a time is probably the wisest yet hardest thing to make real. How can I not think about the days ahead when I wake up with a painful and swollen ankle that needs wrapped in ice? And so I wrap it by myself and wonder about my body in the future. Will it betray me, as well? Should I try to stay healthy, or just not give a shit? All the unanswerable questions. All the unknowns. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of grief. 

This morning I read my favorite Psalm...#27. It contains themes for which I've strived for or struggled with all my life...fear, beauty, having courage, seeking God, communing with God, trusting God's guidance...and waiting. But these words burned the brightest on the page for me today:

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living"

Even though I hold them in my heart, I still feel despair. I'm just hoping that the mustard seed of faith contained in that broken heart is enough to experience the goodness of God someday.