Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Getting Through The Dark Times

The Sister Trees
I have always had a great love of trees. Whenever something momentous has happened in my life, which is rather more often than I would perhaps choose, I have turned to certain trees for grounding. In fact there have been close to 40 trees that have made very strong, memorable impressions in my life and I'm writing a book about each of those trees and times. The photo above is a picture of what I call The Sister Trees, who live on the property where I currently live.

When we moved into the house where we live, there were twenty pines across the back yard. I loved them fiercely for their beauty, their wonderful fragrance, and the sound of the wind whistling and racing through their branches throughout all the seasons. (The city came by and chopped them away from the wires, which is another post altogether, so we're down to 11 pines now.) They're also home to a number of little creatures that I love to watch. Squirrels, crows, hawks, blackbirds, and songbirds love to play in their branches. I love to sit below them on the soft red layer of pine needles, soaking up the dappled sunshine.

They called to me
One very cold winter day at the beginning of February, when we were still in the throes of my daughter's serious illness, I had pulled a card from my Sacred Path Cards, which I often do when life tosses challenges my way, and the card I got was Power Place. I had been pulling cards every so often and they kept telling me peace, serenity, etc., while inside my emotions were frantic as I longed to be with my daughter and bring her home to heal, but was trying to respect her own preferences and decisions as an adult, waiting for the time when she would agree to let us help her. I was comforted by the cards but didn't really understand how they could be telling me to be peaceful at a time that wrenched the very heart right out of my chest as a mother and a caring human being - I declare it's much harder to watch a loved one go through pain than it is to suffer it myself.

My Wellies
Power Place is a beautiful Native American teaching that reminds us of how to gather our energy, especially when it feels scattered. I knew I had to do this (go to a Power Place) in order to be of any real help to my daughter, so on that below freezing winter day I put on my favorite Wellington boots, the ones with flowers on them, the ones that don't match, and that's why I love them, the ones that are flat as a pancake on the bottom for good footing and the ones that are completely and utterly waterproof, because the snow was deep and wet and cold.

The deepest cold of winter coat
Then, over my wool sweater and warm blue jeans I put on my deepest of cold winter coat. It's a cashmere/wool mix, soft and really warm, and it has a hood, which shields out the winds that steal your breath away. Around the hood is fox fur. I'm a bit of a purist when it comes to fabrics, having studied how synthetic fabrics affect our environment, so as long as I know that the animal had a decent life and died naturally, I don't mind buying or conservatively supporting the fur trade. It is gentler on the planet than synthetics and I am sure the fox spirit is in the garden where I will go when it's my time to go "home," can't wait to meet him and say thank you for sharing the warmth that he no longer needed. I love this coat. It feels like a big hug.

The world where we belong
So after I had dressed warmly I trudged through the deep snow with my two pups, over to where the biggest of The Sister Trees resides and plunked a little chair down underneath her, right in the middle of the sunshine that was coming in from a slant through her branches, and sat. This is what I call a "zero moment" in my life - and zero is the space between breathing in and breathing out, like the time when the ocean gathers itself before rolling in strongly to the shore. I am almost never still - my mind goes a million revolutions per minute, always inspired and thinking, and my body, when I use it actively, goes about the same speed. I love that quote in one of the old movies where the high level employee (who has a child the boss doesn't approve of in her very demanding work life) says, "I'm a working maniac!" That's me.

The calming effect of Nature
But I had to go to a Power Place and this was it. I sat in complete stillness for maybe a half hour - I did not think. I did not bring my phone. I did not write. I did not smoke. I only sat, b e i n g. I looked at the sky and the beautiful green branches softly fluttering against it. I embraced the energies of the cold winter sun - the light, drawing them into myself. I watched a beautiful crow (cosmic law) fly through the sky and land near me, fluffing its feathers in the sunshine. I watched my pups snuffle through the snow, wandering around peacefully and coming near me every so often. I filled myself up. This interlude was like a soft prayer, though I didn't pray. Purple shadows across the snow and silver sparkles were my companions. I rubbed my cheek against the soft fox fur, inhaling its natural, earthy scent. I felt reconnected to Nature, and my physical system pulled itself back into balance.

I had brought some tobacco, because I do respect and carry out some Native American ceremonies, so I turned to the North, the place of Wisdom and Gratitude and sprinkled some on the ground to say thank you, and to the East, the place of Illumination and Clarity, and sprinkled some in gratitude, and I turned to the South, the place of Balance, Beauty, and Trust (absence of fear), and sprinkled some in gratitude, and I turned to the West, the place of Introspection and Goals, and sprinkled some more in gratitude. I thanked the spirits that light my way from above, and from within, and from below. And my energy was restored. I would need it.

Jessica being Jessica
So this is my daughter, before the sickness came, doing what she does.

Jess being Jess
She clambers, she crouches, she's hiked miles and miles all over this Earth. She's travelled and captured some of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen (she's a photographer). She's active and full of love for everything. She belongs in the world, she is of the world. She has things to say, things to do, things to discover, things to share.

We like high places
The photo above was from a hike through the woods around the Gorge in Portland - a beeeeeautiful place indeed. Lots of good discussion happening in that lovely high up place as we rested.

We are cracking up
We have a lot of laughter in our lives, and during this very special hike we had stopped at an overlook on the road and Jess and Rob got into a camera war where I found myself in the middle, which for some reason just hit our funny bones, and we all cracked up laughing. He was on one end and she the other and it was just hilarious for some inexplicable reason.

Looking up
We looked at the trees.

Sharing a salamander
We looked at the tiny creatures (and then put them back). Salamanders are soft and magical. Here she is handing me one that allowed her to pick him up for a while.

Jess with Sleeping Grandfather Earth Spirit
We sat with the sleeping Spirits of Earth.

Choosing rocks for our cairn
We built a cairn to sit beside others who'd walked this trail.

So when I went to my daughter's home to pack up and bring her home to heal from the serious sickness that had come to her I had my strength, built from the moments in my Power Place, and I needed every bit of it. I found that the Universe sent us moments of beauty through the anguish and the shock, like the time in my Power Place, that sustained us.

The first was quite unexpected and most welcome. Ah, blessings a thousandfold to the gorgeous black beauty who had a real heart and shared it with me.

Mardi Gras
We were in the airport in Washington, having survived the flight from Portland, Oregon - Jess was in tremendous pain and scrunched and folded herself along the two seats available to her next to me on the plane for hours. When we arrived in Washington we arranged for a wheelchair to transport her - and we learned a lot about how that works. They don't let you push the wheelchair, for some odd reason an airport employee has to do it. This time we got a man, and men push differently from women. Jess had her flip flops on because her feet hurt very badly, so I was very conscious about the crowds and the elevators and I was constantly saying "Watch her feet, watch her feet!" Men push fast, over bumps and through crowds, so I was a bit beside myself by the time we got to a resting place. Our connecting flight had been cancelled and we found ourselves in a little area by the sliding doors, awaiting a shuttle to take us to a hotel in Washington for the snowy night.

I went outside to have a much welcomed cigarette break after the hours of flight, and chanced upon a couple of revelers who had just returned from Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I was carrying a million things, since one of the things I learned about escorting my loved one in a wheelchair was that I became the "extra thing carrier," so my hands and purse and arms were full of extras.

As I tried to light my cigarette in the fierce freezing but welcome and bracing winter winds outside (20 steps away from where my daughter and husband waited), I noticed this woman who had a necklace of boobs resting on her chest. I thought, oh here's someone with a sense of humor ; ) I was also struggling to swallow, to breathe, to stand upright (was very very tired) and to compose myself. "Do you have a light?" this lovely woman asked me, and I blurted out "no." I was feeling kind of just NO. Then I dug around in my purse, pushing aside all the extra things I was carrying to find her a light, but in the meantime a gentleman standing next to her lit her cigarette.

I felt so bad and was still trying not to cry, because there's a time for crying, and there's a time for acting, and we were definitely smack in the middle of the time for acting. I said to her "I'm sorry, I do have a light but had some trouble digging it up." And she said, which was the most welcome, friendly blessing I needed at that time, "It's all right." Then we started talking and I explained that I was a little sideways about my daughter and asked her about her boob necklace - she told me stories of her Mardi Gras experience and it was like a little interlude from the pain and the fear and the darkness and I listened with all of myself for the time she talked.

She has no idea of how that interlude brought light into the darkness. We didn't know what we were facing. And she was a blessing because she forgave me for saying NO. She extended kindness. Thank you. Thank you.

Warmth to cold bones
There was another interlude. A welcome gift from the Universe. After we arrived in Portland we visited my daughter. It was late at night and we got hugs and visited a little while and made arrangements to come to her home the next day to help where help was needed. I had a lot of work ahead of me, as the sickness had stolen her ability to walk and move around, so her lovely home needed some attention. My husband and I went for a quick breakfast before going to get some cleaning supplies (ugh, shopping, I really didn't want to go do that just then). When we went into the restaurant across from our hotel for breakfast it was absolutely packed. Wall to wall people and I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed and beside myself, but the waitress brought us to a table right next to the fireplace. Yes, there was a fireplace in the restaurant and unbelievably, the table next to it was free. So my cold bones got to soak up its warmth and peace amidst the liveliness of the morning with a hundred people talking and eating and us facing our wall of darkness in contrast to their normalcy. The warmth of the fire was most welcome. The photo above is not of the restaurant fireplace because I wasn't taking photos at that time, didn't have the presence of mind, but I remember the peace of that time. Preparing ourselves for the busy day ahead, cleaning her home, which she couldn't do during the time that the sickness stole her ability to move. This interlude gave me strength for the day ahead. I am grateful for the synchronicities of the Universe that give us what we need when we need it.

We are only human
And there was another interlude that I remember with gratitude. We had safely negotiated our way from the airport to the hotel in Washington - the whole trip crazy with my daughter doing the wheelchair and my heart in my throat as she got out of it to climb into the shuttlebus and out of it again, down those very steep steps which the muscles of her legs protested against. Once we got into our room at the hotel (two double beds and handicap bathroom), we ordered room service dinner and turned on the comfort of the television for a while. She still didn't have pain meds so we put ice cubes into zip lock bags to put on her feet and she toughed out a number of hours, but it was very hard for her to sleep.

At two in the morning she wanted to have a cigarette to relax from her pain, but the room was totally decked out with all kinds of buzzing smoke alarming wall thingies, so there was no chance she could light up in the room (what IS this penchant for hotels to make room boxes that have no fresh air and no balconies, no windows that open, no access to outside from our sleeping places?! Crapola, I'll take a Best Western over a five-star hotel any day for the freedoms it supports.). My husband is a light sleeper, and was very much "on guard" during this time, and he heard us talking when I said I'd take her outside. He is ever, ever the gentleman, and wouldn't let us go outside at that hour by ourselves - I was all for letting my daughter have what pleasures she could since most of her freedoms were taken away at this time. He awoke and declared that he'd take us out, so we all bundled up, she in layers and layers except for the flip flops on her feet.

We rolled her wheelchair through the quiet corridors and the lobby and outside the revolving door at 2 a.m. and settled just outside, in a sheltered area just beyond the hotel interior. The snow sparkled under the soft lights surrounding the circular drive, and the lights of the city twinkled through the last of the snowfall that kept us from home. We stood, breathing in the welcome fresh air, and another hotel visitor came out to smoke as well. We had a lovely conversation with her and I noticed and appreciated the way she included Jess, not ignoring her, not asking questions, not pitying, just being wonderful. As we stood, relaxing in the wee hours of the night, a pizza delivery person pulled up, bringing dinner to others whose flights were also cancelled. We wished him well and told him we hoped they were tipping generously - laughter in the night. This interlude was a gift, from my husband, who had compassion for the pain my daughter was in and the comforts that allowed her to settle down to sleep. We are human, so imperfect, so strong, so vulnerable, so special. Blessings to the wonderful woman attending a conference at which she was presenting, who treated us all as equals. Gratitude for the peace that allowed my daughter to sleep.

Tobacco, in its pure form is very relaxing, a gift of Nature. It is a shame what the big tobacco companies have done to it adding their chemicals to make it "firesafe" which actually just makes the heads fall off a bunch of times and make you suck it down just to keep it lit - oh back in the old days a cigarette was a very wonderful social, relaxing, enjoyable thing, like a good brandy - a shame the legislation around tobacco, and the taxes too (why not tax synthetic clothing in light of the environmental weight it carries?). I am wary of anyone or anything that restricts my freedoms as I think it's pretty useless to come to life as a saint every time. Where's the color and learning in that?

And, while we're confessing about our humanness, I'll include the interlude at the airport between Washington and home. We were so tired, having stayed up all hours cleaning and packing and visiting work and arranging everything for the trip home. After the first flight we had a long layover and it's my husband's preference to find the gate where we need to be and just get there. But my daughter's situation presented some challenges with the pain she was in, so when we got to one of our stops we had a layover of about 2 and a half hours and he took us to our gate, this time with a woman pushing the wheelchair. Oh women are marvelous. Marvelous! She went gently and slowly over bumps, waited for an elevator that wasn't full of foot crunching people, was so very thoughtful of her passenger. We ended up having to wait quite a while, so said goodbye to the lovely woman wheelchair pusher and settled ourselves at a little airport restaurant, the chair pushed up to an outside table right next to the smoking lounge. There we sat for a while, drinking refreshments, eating some food, popping next door for a ciggie, talking to army officers on their way home, and building up our energies for the rest of the trip home.

We are what we are.

My Jess
We are what we are.

We are the drop at the tip, sometimes....
We reach for our best.

And we appreciate the perfection of the Universe, and the blessings bestowed upon us along our journeys and the kindnesses of those we meet along the way.

May we all grow to reach our potential, both here and in the other places where we belong. We are not perfect. And that's okay. Let our hearts sing through the color of it all. And let our hearts be grateful for the grace of other human beings who love us despite our imperfections, and for the interludes that the Universe and our Creative Source bring to us in our times of darkness.

Just love, no matter what.



  1. I am so glad that you are sharing your thoughts and feelings of this trying time. I feel that I have met a friend from some other place in time. So many never see a Blessing from the Universe. They are the moments that bring strength to our souls and purpose to our lives. I

  2. Hi Carol, I agree. I noticed that whenever I tell anyone about the Tree Book I'm writing they also have a story of a tree that they love. The next book will be about those stories. I bet you have one too : )

  3. Jen, I had no idea Jess was sick! How hard this must have been for all of you. As a mom I can understand how you must have felt, watching your daughter go thru all of this. I will keep Jess, you and Rob in my prayers.

    1. Aw thanks Kat, we've also been thinking about you after you fell off your horse. Hope everything has healed up nicely and that you're enjoying riding again! Thanks for keeping us in your prayers, we appreciate it. We always keep you and Trev and your daughters in ours too : )