The Underworld

It might have been the incessant rain or the murder of crows gathering in the dead oak outside my window. It might have been the dying flowers in their pretty vase or even the candles—flickering their last at the ends of their wicks. Whatever it was, I found myself at the gate. Unlike Heaven, there’s no keeper. This gate is unlocked and you can come whenever you please, though it pleases no one to come here.

I tuck my heart close, lest I lose it, and set my shield down; having been here before, I know there will be no protecting myself from what I find. Next, I tuck my shoes and soul beneath it’s weight, comforted that they’ll have some shelter from the elements while I’m away. Whatever else you do, never bring your soul here—this is no place for the divine.

When all is as it should be, I step through and begin my descent. Down, down over eons of rot that squelch between my toes. Down, down through hallways of bones and teeth where I somehow know which belong to those I’ve loved. Down, down where moonlight can’t go. Down, down where the rain is full of salt and never stops. Down, down until the path levels out and turns to the broken dreams of the living. Only then do I know I have arrived in the Underworld.

It isn’t Hell, if such a place exists. Hell is for souls and there are no souls here. Just the end. The end of whoever it was you were in the middle of loving. The end of yourself as you were when they lived. The end of all you knew and all you didn’t. The end–where all that holds physical form loses it to water and worms.

Now that I’m here, I crinkle my brow the same way I do when I’ve just entered a room and already forgotten why. After all, I already gathered up the remains of my loves and left them here months ago. I stand at the exact place I stopped then and try to remember to no avail. Finally turning with a shrug to retrace my steps to the gate which leads right back to my life as I left it . . . it’s only then I realize my mistake.

I left the wrong way last time–returning to life as I left it—surrounded by empty spaces where love used to be. I let go of their bodies but held on tight to the emptiness they left behind. Turning back toward the dark unknown, I shudder. I want to go back to the gate: back to my shoes and my soul and my shield, back to familiar, if empty, spaces.

But I don’t.

I know I came for this—the sixth stage of grief. The one that comes after you find your way through your worst nightmares to acceptance. It took me a while. Acceptance cost me and I had to gather up fresh courage for this:

There’s new love, new adventure, new wisdom that await on the other side of all you go through when you grieve. More than enough to fill the empty spaces to overflowing. But if you want it, you can’t go back the way you know.

To reach the sixth stage is to set down your shield. It’s all heart. It’s running barefoot through the Underworld, soaked in the tears of everyone ever, in a darkness too deep for moonlight. It’s feeling the sickening squelch of eons of rot between your toes and pushing forward, knowing that if you keep going, you’ll love again and get hurt again . . . and again and again until your teeth and bones join the others here.

And it’s worth it.

Every time.

It’s worth it.

So I run. Heart wide open through all I’ve loved and lost before. I run barefoot through darkness as deep black as a crow’s feather with nothing but hope to guide me forward. Until I’m falling down, down into a deep, slow river. Cool, fresh water rinses the tears of everyone ever from my hair and washes the rot of eons from my feet. I close my eyes and float on my back, not warm or cold, not happy or sad, and not marking the moment moonlight creeps in–slowly turning blackest black into gray and gray into silver, until the sun rises–shifting silver into the pale gold of a new day.

The Lipstick Letters: Intuition

When I was trying to decide where to go next with the Lipstick Letters, I was torn between Memory, Perception, and Intuition. I was heavily leaning toward Memory for a long time, but even though I drafted several Memory posts in my head, none of them made it to paper.

Then, a few weeks ago, I went on a weekend alone to rest and sort it out. It was in that long, deep, lovely silence it became clear that my intuition had something to say.

I fought it. I was so sure it was going to say stuff like, “Get off your @$$ and handle your messy life.” But no. When I finally caved in, late afternoon on my first, full day alone, all I heard was, “Girl, you’re tired. Have a good sleep and we’ll talk in the morning.”

I slept from around four that afternoon until seven thirty, got up, had a snack, brushed my teeth and slept from eight until the next morning. And when I woke up, I could hear myself. I could hear myself so clearly it was impossible to deny how much I had pushed my intuition aside to survive wave after wave of grief in the midst of new motherhood.

I listened. And I learned.

My intuition is kind. Instead of being salty about being shoved down and ignored repeatedly for literal years, it was gracious and proud of me for slogging through, giving my kids everything I had to give, and making it to a place where I was strong enough again to go back and start working through that series of terrible losses.

Driving home, I promised to keep listening and act accordingly as much as possible over the following month. And I did!

I reached out when I felt like reaching out. I rested when I felt like I needed rest. And on days when my grief came knocking, I let it in and sat with it awhile instead of pretending I didn’t know it was there. I set a new boundary with my kids to ensure I get at least a couple of hours to cook or clean or lay down or fold laundry without interference each day.

I let my mind wander back through some choices I’d made over the past several years (another task I’d been avoiding) only to find that so much of what I’ve said, done, not said, and not done, was me in survival-mode. A mode I kept trying to get out of only to have another tragedy toss me back in.

Each whisper I tended to, I felt a little more of the weight of mistakes, the weight of difficult choices, the weight of loss, the weight of guilt, the weight of pressure to do and be more fall away. And even then, my intuition did not tell me to get out there and start rebuilding a new life out of the rubble of the unfinished one I’d semi-started here . . .

It told me to keep writing and sharing, to go get a hair cut, and to remove the gross, old wallpaper in the hallway. So. Yeah. Here we are. : )

I’m trying hard to avoid making these letters about advice. (If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my twenties and thirties, it’s just how much I don’t know.) But I have to say, if you’ve been shushing that inner voice out of fear of what it’ll say, then like me, you might be mistaking your thoughts for your intuition.

My thoughts can be anxious, angry, self-deprecating, and flat out cruel. My intuition is always loving, always tender, always gracious, and not just toward me, but toward everyone else as well. So much so, that nowadays when I’m confused about which is which, that’s my go-to way of telling them apart.

Bottom line? I’m beginning to trust myself and my inner knowing again. And it feels really really good.

This is SoCo.

Short for Southern Comfort because my identical cousin in Tennessee shipped him out to me 11 years ago and since then, he’s been a little part of my Southern home I get to keep with me wherever I go. He is the sweetest, most snuggly pony and has a heart that needs closeness.

When Tris (my horse of 18 years) passed away, I pulled back fast from any kind of connection—human, horse, or otherwise. And now, four years later, the love is still right where I left it, but I’ve got some big work to do on rebuilding our trust and partnership.

We’ve gone on a few, short rides but mostly, I’m focused in the round pen, on the lunge-line, and on taking naps together—communication and being a warm, happy, reliable presence in his life.

Picking up the pieces after painful losses can be almost as heartbreaking as the losses themselves. I’m still working through my guilt at how I all but deserted this precious pony when he’d just lost Tristan, too. And he’s clearly working through a fear of putting faith in me and being left in the cold again. It hurts but I can’t go back and change it. I can only start where we are now and go forward showing him I’ve grown, I’ve learned, and I’m back for good this time.

These naps and snuggles are some of my favorite moments and fill me with hope for where we’re heading. No matter what kind of relationship it is, love isn’t enough to sustain it, but love can sometimes hold you together while you work out the rest.

The Untended

I’ve been quiet,
but not still–
Wandering the untended places
inside
where grief has taken over the garden.

I arrived with a plan–
to tear it all out
brambles of fear
choking the life out of the lilies
shred it all
and till it down, down, down
where I’ll never have to look at it again.

And plant new lilies
new vegetables
new everything.

Only
I am not new.

And my plan fell apart
another failure
another noxious weed
to add to the growing tangle.

But today
I put my shears in my pocket
before setting off
to my ugly, ruined garden.

I am not new.

This place can not be destroyed
what is buried in good soil
will only and always come up again.

And this is good soil.

But I can tend it.
I can cut back the brambles
to get to the lilies
still trying underneath.

I can pull grief out of the garden
and take it back to it’s place.

It has a place.

They all have a place.

And even where the brambles are thickest
the darkest places
with my shears in my pocket
I can always get through
tend the path
through the wild places
to the garden
and home again.


The Lipstick Letters

it has something to do with how my thoughts go from
pouring to spilling
when I’ve had too much wine–
spreading across the page
and leaving a stain
no matter how I try to clean them up later.

It’s about the tangle of worries in my head
thorns that grab at my arms and legs
painfully holding me back
slowing me down . . .

It’s about realizing the tangles are all just me
the thorns are my own thoughts
so why can’t I just free myself?

It’s about how nothing helpful ever follows the phrase
“why can’t you just?”

It has something to do with wearing these words on my lips
and glossing over their lack in my life

My life is lacking something
I’m going to go get
as soon as I figure out what it is . . .

It’s about having to start here
among the thorns
when I thought I’d already have made it
to the mountaintop.



Where I’ve Been

I’ve been wandering the woods
with messy hair
wearing babies
sipping cold coffee
thinking about what to make for dinner
and budgeting in my head
for car repairs,
the basement,
the leaky water heater . . .

I’ve been sharing everything about life that amazes me
with my children.
I want them to feel that amazement in their souls
and always know where to look for joy.

I’ve been awake a lot.
But not exactly awake.

I’ve been setting up the art table
and cleaning up the art table
folding and putting away the dress up clothes
switching out the six month clothes for the nine month,
the nine month clothes for the twelve month, the twelve
for the eighteen . . .
I’ve been making bread
making pie
making play dough
making memories
with my wild child and my sweet baby boys.

I’ve been walking into the wind
that is grief.
Wearing myself out wishing
for isn’t and can’t.

I’ve been waiting to shower until the next day
or the next
Waiting
until the boys are napping
to brush my teeth
to start prep for dinner
to get the laundry started or folded or sorted
or at least kicked into one corner of the bathroom.

I’ve been waiting
for everyone to fall asleep
so I can fall asleep.

I’ve been so very sad and so very tired.
Having lost and left more in the last four years
than the thirty-two prior to that combined.

And I don’t know what this next year holds
If it will be better or worse
a respite or another rip tide
But
I feel strong today
stronger than I’ve felt in a long time.

Only Mostly Dead

IMG_0453This morning after the babies were fed and the horses and the dogs, I went outside to water my Mother’s Day plants from last year. It is no secret that I am the worst with plants. You’d think with how much I love my children and animals, I would be able to figure out how to to nurture a plant, but I’ve proven time and again over the years that I simply can’t. In fact, this is one of the first two plants that have remained in my care for a full year and survived. I use the term “survived” somewhat loosely here in the sense that mostly they both died. But as we all know from watching The Princess Bride, there’s a big difference between “all dead” and “mostly dead.”

In any case, they are still trying and so I am still trying and as I poured water over them this morning, it crossed my mind that these plants remind me of, well, me right now.

When they were given to me, they were absolutely lush. One was brimming over with beautiful, purple petunias and the other had the most beautiful hot pink and bright yellow flowers flowing over the sides. I remember when we first moved here, I felt just like that. Sad to have left my family and friends and a fantastic job in Idaho, but also full of hope for the future and joy at finally starting a life with my family in our own home.

But over the past two and some years, we lost our beautiful friend Tammy, I lost my dog of fifteen years–Why?lee and then my horse of seventeen years–Tristan.  Then I had a miscarriage, and almost immediately after, found myself pregnant with surprise twins.  And now we are losing Kerry–a man I love so much, who has had an immense influence on who I am and someone I can’t imagine the west without.

For any of you who have been in the ocean on a rough day, it’s like when a wave rips your feet out from under you, rolls you up like a burrito and smashes your face in the sand. I can hardly catch my breath before the next wave hits and I’m exhausted and I’m sad.

Yet, here I am trying, much like these plants. And what occurred to me this morning that inspired me to write, is that with just a bit of water and sun, a bit of care on stormy days, these plants will continue to hang on until I can get the formula right for them to thrive. I’ve been doing the same, just along with a bit of sun and water, I’ve been soaking up the love and care (and daiquiris) of a good man, my precious children, the humor and love of my friends, the unending support of my family, quiet cups of coffee when I can, our horses, dogs, and cat, the incredible generosity and kindness of our neighbors, and the stunningly beautiful land we call home.

All of these things have kept me fed while I grieve and start piecing together someone new out of what’s left of my life from before and all the beautiful pieces that have been falling into place along the way. I am not one to talk much when I’m in the middle of things. I prefer to write my way through the the good, bad, and ugly, but if you’re reading this, odds are high that you’ve been counted among my blessings these past few years and I thank you for your presence in my life.

And if you yourself are feeling mostly dead like my plants, or like you’re a burrito being rolled up by a rough sea, just one mouthful of sand away from more than you can take;

hang in there.

One breath at a time, one foot in front of the other, eyes peeled and heart open for the water and sun we need to keep going, before we know it, we’ll be on our way to thriving again.
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