Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Remembering Joanie

My soul feels heavy today, bogged down in snippets of old conversations, black and white moments frozen in time, and jumpy and choppy childhood memories playing on 8mm film reels in the recesses of my mind.  My brain flashes from memory to memory as if it’s searching its files to see if any data has been lost in the time that has elapsed.  One memory brings a smile, maybe even laughter, and an overwhelming sense of peace.  Another brings tears streaming down my cheeks and that feeling of a hand thrusting through my chest to grab hold of my heart and soul, stopping my breath and choking me on a sob of remembrance.  “No, no, no,” some voice echoes in my head when the pain gets too raw, too near.  Is it her voice?  Is it mine?

I have only two choices.

Give into it, crumble like a fallen tower and lay in a heap all day, not moving, not speaking, just crying and wallowing in the pain of her loss, crying out into the quiet of my home, where my cats aren’t sure if they should sidle up to comfort me or race to the dark protection of under a bed.  I could rage against it until my eyes are swollen from too many tears, my nose feels like cotton has been jammed into it, and my voice is non-existent from soul-wrenching sobs. Oh what a pretty site that will make for the meeting I must attend tonight!

Or I could do what she would have wanted me to do.  Walk on.  Leave it behind.  Let it be.  Let it be part of me and what makes me stronger, never forgetting her, never forgetting what she would have wanted for me, never forgetting the gifts she gave me, right up to the very end.  Do the things she would have wanted me to do to today.  Take care of business as usual.  Continue being a source of strength, comfort and love for my family.  Get my hands good and dirty in the garden.  Read a few pages of a cherished book.  Whip up a great meal for my husband and son when they return from their day.  Keep on writing that book of mine, “The Lessons of Walks Far Woman”, which was a gift from her to me.  Stop and smell the sweet blooming lilacs, her favorite, out in my yard.  Let all that she ever gave me and taught me permeate everything I do today and in the days to come.  Honor her and the memory of her life.

Today it is 9 years since my mother passed through the veil into the Summerland.  The memory of that final fateful day, every single painful detail of it, tends to replay itself over and over again every April 17th.  I am trying with every ounce of my being to push that day from my mind to replace it with all of her lessons, all of her laughter, all of the nature walks, all of the love.  In her honor, I have cut a few lilac blooms and placed them on my altar with a handmade ghostly gray candle, a Goddess candle, infused with herbs of remembrance and respect, to symbolize all of the Goddesses in her.  I spent the morning transplanting seedlings and milling about the garden which she would have loved so much.  If she were here, I know she would have popped in for a visit just to sit in the garden with me, sipping coffee and talking the afternoon away with me.  I plan on heading back out to the garden this afternoon, book and laptop in hand, to read a bit and write a bit, even if it’s just a few paragraphs.  Maybe she’ll be sitting in the other chair, watching, listening, talking, and just being nearby.  Just maybe.

Does it get easier?  Does the pain of such loss lessen?  No.  Everyone said it would, but it does not.  What it actually does is it becomes part of you, wraps itself up in your memory, your heart, your soul, your entire being, and makes you a different person.  Some people choose to open the wounds over and over again, unable to move on, unable to leave it behind, unable to function, creating greater pain for themselves and for their family and friends.  Others choose to feel it but keep moving, to continue living life to its very fullest, to let it transform them and those around them.  I have tried to be the person who lets the pain wash over me again and again.  I don’t wear that well.  “No, no, no,” that voice says to me.  I just can’t do it.  The pain comes in little waves but, with each surge, I wipe my tears away and walk on.  Why?  Because it’s what she would have wanted me to do.  It is what she taught me to do.  It is what she herself did.

I often think I hear her, feel her close by.  Sometimes it’s just a whisper of a few words.  Sometimes it’s a wisp of shadow or mist passing through.  Sometimes it’s the gentle press of a hand on my arm.  Sometimes she sends me little Universal messages.  She did so today.  The phone, cable and internet went out yesterday afternoon because of a major problem with the fiber optics line at the company.  I went to bed thinking that I would be able to get up early this morning to get business out of the way.  I wanted the rest of the day to do things to honor my mom.  When I awoke this morning, there was still no service.  I was distraught over the fact that I would not be able to post a blog today, April 17th.  I went about some gardening and kept checking to see if things were back on.  At , the modem jumped to life.  I noted the time because I was standing right there looking at the modem.  I wrote the time down because the company is promising credits to everyone affected by the outage.  As soon as I wrote the time down, it dawned on me that 1009 is the number of the house I grew up in with my mom.  Universal message from Joanie!

The message is that Joanie still loves me, still supports me, still cares about me.  She is somewhere on another plane of existence cheering me on, giving me that forward shove when I start to falter.  She is proud of me, who I have become and the paths I have chosen.  She is in me, in everything that I am, everything I say, everything I do, and everything I pass on to others.  She is there in my son’s big dark brown eyes and his love of nature.  She is there in my husband’s heart and memory.  She is there in the faces of my sisters.  She is there in the stories of every family member and comes back to life with each telling.  She is there in my garden, in my book shelves, in my kitchen, and in the words I write.  She is never really gone, always nearby in some way, shape and form.

Yet, even knowing all of this, I wish we could have a cup of coffee together in the garden this afternoon and I could wrap my arms around her to hug and kiss her goodbye.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Constantly In-Progress Garden

Around Imbolc, I began researching every idea that popped into my ever-planning keeping-me-up for hours mind:  which plants to grow, which vegetable grew well next to which vegetable, which herb and flower bloomed at which time of year, how to construct raised garden beds, how to keep insects and critters from destroying crops, the proper placing of bat houses and bird houses, the ins-and-outs of composting, various ways of constructing fairy houses.  All of these questions, concerns, and day-dreams were whirling around my head.  In complete OCD mode, I made list after list, rewrote list after list in my better handwriting, and jotted down note after note, sometimes on Post-It notes and sometimes on pages of a yellow legal pad and, if no other paper was available, on my very own hand.

In early and mid-March, I cleaned garden beds of Winter debris and mulching, excited at the sight of earthworms galore and my spirit lifted by the heaviness and richness of soil.  I delighted in planting a huge tray of varied herb seeds like thyme, cilantro, marjoram and tarragon.  I giggled with glee as I discovered the joy of taking cuttings of shrubs, dipping them in rooting compound and planting them in small pots for next year's already-in-the-works garden projects.  The barter system was put in place.  I traded tiger lillies and irises for butterfly bushes and holly.  In return for some technical landscaping advice, I handed over mums, ornamental grasses and more tiger lillies.  I excitedly told neighbors of my plans and invited them to take vegetables and herbs when the time came.  Some offerred cash towards the project (which I refused but still found a couple 20-dollar bills stuffed into my hand insistently), some asked for advice on what to do with plants or flowers in their own yards, and some volunteered to help with the upcoming Summer months of weeding and watering.  I must note here, however, that there are just some neighbors with whom I didn't even bother discussing this simply because they don't talk to me or my kin, who live a few doors down, not even a hello now and again, and are known trouble-makers, busy-bodies or just plain evil-spirited people.

Then it was time for the hard labor.  Last weekend, in a spot shared with my neighbor's property, sort of an in-between place, and with his blessing, I began the tedious job of excavating a grassy and weedy 20' x 4' area, first on my own and then with the help of my husband, my brother-in-law and even my 11-year old nephew (my teenage son opted for video games instead because we all know that XBox 360 takes precedence over all things!).  We pulled all the grass out, removed as many stones and rocks as was humanly possible, and even unearthed odd items like a wooden doorknob, an old ham bone, assorted nails, a C battery, old marbles, and a taffy wrapper from the 1960's.  We laughed, sweated, grunted, groaned, and laughed some more, at ourselves, at each other.  It was a great dirty time!  I moved on to other garden clean-up projects when it came time for construction.  The men set about building my two-tiered raised garden beds where the vegetables and herbs will be planted in a few weeks.  My vision of the "community" vegetable garden was coming into reality!

The remainder of that weekend, and, believe me, there wasn't that much time left to it, my husband and I spent time behind my neighbor's garage and the garage that adjoins it (we live in an area of rowhomes), which is accessed from my rock garden, removing years of fallen branches, stones tossed by the kids into the area, and other assorted trash.  While there, we came upon a wondrous thing.  For years, there have been a couple of trees behind the garages, one tall and slender and the other short and husky.  I'm not sure what types of trees they are.  (I'll have to research that sometime.)  The third and largest tree came down during a windstorm several years ago, decimating my backyard but that's a story for another day.  Both of the existing trees have always bloomed every Spring, full of leaves.  The taller tree we designated for hanging our bat house.  The other tree?  Well, it's quite frankly amazing!  The majority of the trunk has fallen away, with six-foot long pieces laying around on the ground, eaten away by what I assume to be some boring-type insect.  The tree continues to stand though on two great "legs" of what remains of the trunk, the center completely hollow.  I mean you can stand inside this tree!  And the tree continues to live!  Its branches and leaves continue to grow!  As soon as we saw this, we knew it was sacred space and must remain untouched.  So we left the area around it alone.  We placed our new compost bin in the area right before the tree to sort of block it, obstruct it, from anyone who might want to disturb the area.   We cleared anotehr area that would become a path of stepping stones to lead to the compost bin, left a small oferring for the spirit of the tree, and finished our work for the day.

Part two of the hard labor came this past weekend.  Again, it was me, my husband, my brother-in-law and my nephew.  More laughs, more grunts and groans, and more laughs!  The boys made three trips to the county compost yard, each time returning with 5 bins of "black gold", beautiful rich fertile compost.  As they worked it into the vegetable and herb garden beds, I worked on reconstructing our rock garden.  My husband, thank the Goddess, had taken every rock of the existing wall down and lined them up for me early Saturday morning.  By Sunday afternoon, there was a new and improved retaining wall, rocks set randomly here and there to keep the soil in the sloped area from tumbling down, steps of natural rocks up to the area behind the garage and a stepping stone path from those steps to the compost bin behind the garage.  Compost had been worked into every single garden bed behind my house.  The bat house was hung in the taller tree behind the garage.  The trunk of our Yule/Christmas tree was placed into the stone retaining wall and turned into a bird feeder.  Existing bird feeders were moved or taken down altogether and birdbaths were cleaned and filled with water.  We retreated with aching muscles, stiff and sore joints, and battered and bruised hands and knees, covered in dirt, that glorious rich dirt, to hot food, hot showers, ibuprofen, and bottles of Biofreeze with satisfied smiles.   

And now I wait.  Wait for the start date of our next project, a patio where we'll barbecue, entertain, and create sacred space for seasonal and full moon celebrations slated to begin at the end of April.  Wait for the fence around this soon-to-be patio area to be repaired after two long and very harsh Winters which will happen as soon as the materials arrive some time this week.  Wait for planting time, wait for growing time, and wait for harvesting time.  There's always something to be done in the meantime.  Each time, I head outside, a new lightbulb goes on in my head.  It's April, I'm in full gardening mode, I still ache from head to toe, and it feels so good!