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Wheel Of Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


ONE: Gates Of Death, Stage 10 of The Great Round, begins the natural process of ending the Great Round cycle in preparation for a new beginning. Experiences that open this stage often come in losses or obstructions that challenge us to question who we are. The first mandala, Wheel Of Life, brings us face to face with the relentless passage of time. The Wheel of Life turns on, sometimes up, sometimes down, urging us to let go.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, Rainbow Magic pens that erase and change color, Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Celtic Cross, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


TWO: In Stage 10, we are being separated from that which is no longer needed. Celtic crosses made of tall, silent, enduring stone dot the landscape of Scotland. They stand against the sky, washed by the winds and rains of countless seasons, reminders that even though things change, there is a part of us that lives on.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Lotus, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


THREE: In mandala three, based on the Kali Yantra of Hinduism, destruction opens the way for creation. The eight-petaled lotus represents the goddess Kali in her nurturing maternal aspect. The inner circle, traditionally colored black, reveals her also as a Destroyer, the dark womb that absorbs all into non-being. The central triangle, ultimate symbol of divine feminine creative energy, holds the spark of new life.

Medium: Crayola markers, Portfolio Brand Water-Soluble Oil Pastels, and Reeves Water Colour Pencils




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Gateway, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008-2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


FOUR: Stage 10, Gates of Death, opens the last segue leading to the completion of a Great Round cycle, and urges us to walk through the gate into the unknown. It is time to let go of the way things have been and clear the way for a new beginning.

Medium: Reeves Water Colour Pencils, Crayola markers




October Mandalas — Stage 10 – Gates Of Death


The last few months I have been feeling empty, like I am nearing the end of a creative cycle. I have been wanting to shed the old, to wrap up lingering projects and push them out into the world, so that I can open to something new. It’s disconcerting to not know where you are going—a good time to revisit old practices. Yesterday, I spent most of the day in silence and opened the book on mandalas. When I revisited Stage 10, Gates of Death, I knew it was time to sit with the lessons it had to teach.

The mandalas are from the 10th month of a year-long mandala practice that began with the post Coloring Mandalas and followed the twelve passages of Joan Kellogg’s Archetypal Stages of the Great Round. I spent that year taking the Great Round to completion. But there was something I had yet to understand—-it would take until 2013 for events of my life to catch up to the last cycles of the Great Round. Some of the signs of Stage 10 – Gates of Death are:

  • losses or obstructions that challenge us, causing us to question who we are
  • things that once seemed important, seem empty & meaningless
  • bittersweet parting with what was; painful rending from what can no longer be
  • desire to let go of life the way it was, with no sense of what is to come
  • sense of deflation when the connection between Ego & Self grows more distant
  • aware of cycles of decay in nature and the eventual approach of death


Adding to the sense of disorientation I’ve been feeling, I lost a writing friend in July. And in November, I found out my blood father died on October 31st, ending any chance he might have to read the letter I wrote. Death. Decay. Loss. Rebirth. I still believe that anything we take on as a practice takes us where we need to go. It is the time it takes to get there that remains a mystery.



Archetypal Stages Of The Great Round on red Ravine:


Crystallization — September Mandalas
Functioning Ego – August Mandalas (Goethe & Color)
Squaring The Circle – July Mandalas (Chakras & Color)
Dragon Fight — June Mandalas
Target — May Mandalas
Beginnings — April Mandalas
Labyrinth – March Mandalas
Bliss – February Mandalas
The Void – January Mandalas
Coloring Mandalas


-posted on red Ravine, Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday, November 30th, 2013




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-posted on red Ravine Sunday, September 11th, 2011, 9:02am

-related to the piece: Remembering – September 11th, 2008

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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Sweet Boy Chaco, February 22nd, 1996 — June 25th, 2009, Minneapolis, Minnesota, BlackBerry Shots, December 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sometimes you mark the passage of time by the death of a beloved pet. It’s been a year since we made the tough decision to let Chaco go after a brave battle with kidney disease. He was born February 22nd, 1996; Liz adopted him from the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society in April. If you had to choose breeds, Chaco looked like a cross between a Bombay and a Havana Brown. He loved vanilla yogurt, batted at his water dish until it was bone dry, purred like a 1969 Chevy Camaro, and talked incessantly (but not quite as much as a Siamese).

The eve of June 25th, 2009 was a sleepless night. Chaco spread out over the couch on a white blanket next to a wrapped bouquet of tickseed, spiderwort, and Queen Anne’s lace Liz picked from the garden. We took turns sitting with him. When Liz went to bed, I got up and nestled beside him, stroking his back and chin, silently crying. It’s a gut-wrenching decision to choose to put a pet to sleep. It all comes down to quality of life.

On the afternoon of June 25th, Chaco stared up through the ash tree on our deck, his emerald eyes wide and curious when Liz carried him to the Saturn for his last drive to the vet. In August, we donated bags of saline to the Golden Valley Humane Society in his name. By December 2009, we spread his ashes around the circle to the drumbeat of Winter Solstice.

If you’ve never lost a pet, it’s hard to describe the mourning. Or the space that opens up after the time spent caring for a chronically ill cat is finally over. But I can tell you that Kiev and Mr. Stripeypants mourned; they moped around the house for weeks. And Liz and I cried 1000 tears. Chaco’s death left a hole in our lives.

I can also say that life goes on. Hearts heal. And words of grief and loss are sometimes best left to the poets. When Liz read Charles Simic’s poem Little Unwritten Book at our Poetry & Meditation Group last week, I cried another tear — 1001.



LITTLE UNWRITTEN BOOK

by Charles Simic


Rocky was a regular guy, a loyal friend.
The trouble was he was only a cat.
Let’s practice, he’d say, and he’d pounce
On his shadow on the wall.
I have to admit, I didn’t learn a thing.
I often sat watching him sleep.
If the birds tried to have a bit of fun in the yard
He opened one eye.
I even commended him for good behavior.

He was black except for the white gloves he wore.
He played the piano in the parlor
By walking over its keys back and forth.
With exquisite tact he chewed my ear
If I wouldn’t get up from my chair.
Then one day he vanished. I called.
I poked in the bushes.
I walked far into the woods.

The mornings were the hardest. I’d put out
A saucer of milk at the back door.
Peekaboo, a bird called out. She knew.
At one time we had ten farmhands working for us.
I’d make a megaphone with my hands and call.
I still do, though it’s been years.
Rocky, I cry!
And now the bird is silent too.


-from WALKING THE BLACK CAT, published by Harcourt Brace and Company (1996)


Chaco Dust, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, June 29th, 2009

-related to posts: Chaco’s Creature Comforts (10 Cat Care Tips), From The Earth, Back To The Earth , Winter Solstice — The Quiet Strength Of Bear, Life Of An American Green Tree Frog, Children Helping Children (And Animals)

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Poppy, brick found in our flower bed, April 2009,
photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




From a comment this morning, QM writes:

I am heading over to two of our friends’ house to be there when they put their cat Kaia down. She’s been under the weather for a few months. And after the last trip to the vet last week, they have made the hard decision that it’s time. Kaia, bless her heart, is just tired. They think she may have cancer and she can’t be operated on because she’s too frail and has a weak heart.

We stopped by to visit them last night and spend a little time with Kaia. They got her as a kitten (her sister was Emigre, there were two of them) in about 1992 so I think that makes her about 17 years old. Send prayers this morning as it’s the last day that Kaia will roam the Earth in bodily form. Something about the unconditional love that pets give to humans always makes it so sad to let them go.



I only knew Kaia from QM’s writing; QM and Liz often cared for the cat when their friends were out of town. And QM and Liz not too long ago had to contemplate similar decisions when their cat Chaco became seriously ill. Fortunately, Chaco had a near-miraculous recovery.

Jim and I had to put our dog Roger down after he got cancer and the tumors affected his breathing. A good friend who happens to be a vet came and euthanized Roger out in the grass one mild fall morning while Jim and I held him. Later, Jim said he would never go through that heartache again, and when Rudy died not long after, we were able to let him die naturally with all four of us surrounding him. (I incorporated that experience into a short story, which I included in a blog post in 2007, when QM’s Mr. Stripeypants got seriously ill. Fortunately, Pants also recovered.)

It’s rare, I think, that natural causes finally take a pet’s life. Often the sufferring becomes unbearable, and the humane thing to do is to help move them from the physical world onto the other side.

QM and Liz are by their nature compassionate and emphathetic people. That’s why, I’m certain, they were asked to be with their friends while they put Kaia to sleep.

But not everyone knows how to deal with the death of a friend’s pet. I know that even having gone through my own pets’ deaths, I can find myself at a loss for the right words or deeds that might help ease the pain.



Poppy, detail of the grave marker (colorized), image ©  2009 by ybonesy, all rights reservedPoppy, detail of the grave marker (colorized), image ©  2009 by ybonesy, all rights reservedPoppy, detail of the grave marker (colorized), image ©  2009 by ybonesy, all rights reserved




Larry Kaufman, a pet loss counselor, offers this advice to people who want to support those who are mourning the loss of a pet:

  • Take the distressing experience of the mourner seriously. Listen and speak with empathy, understanding, support, sensitivity, and compassion.
  • Ask the mourner about the circumstances of the pet’s death.
  • Encourage the mourner to talk about the pet, to tell stories of the pet’s life in the family. 
  • Don’t ask if the mourner is planning to get another pet or suggest where such a pet might be bought.
  • Avoid the use of clichés such as telling the mourner that time heals all wounds, or reassuring them that they will soon “get over it.”
  • Send a condolence card specifically made for pet loss.
  • Remember dates that are important to the bereaved pet owner, like the date of the pet’s death. Consider sending a follow-up note, e-mail, or card, or making a telephone in remembrance of the day.
  • Send a donation in honor of the deceased pet to an animal-related organization (such as a humane society, animal shelter, or one devoted to improving the health of animals through medical research).
  • After a few weeks or months, follow up by asking how the bereaved individual is doing. (Use the pet’s name and correct gender.)
  • Don’t assume that you know how the mourner might be feeling and reacting. The mourning process can be multi-layered and complex. Everyone is unique, with her/his own needs and preferences. Good judgment is essential in dealing with people in such a vulnerable state.



Just as my prayers go to Kaia, my thoughts go out to you, QM and Liz. You are special people and the dearest of friends.

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What Have You Lost, Rainpainting Series, outside the Fitzgerald Theater, downtown, St. Paul, Minnesota, night of Ann Patchett, October 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


If you want to know someone, truly know someone, ask them about the things they have lost. No matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter. The things we have lost stay with us.

These are the words of Ann Patchett, author of The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, Run, and Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. She wrote the memoir Truth & Beauty to grieve the loss of her friend, Lucy Grealy. The book was her grieving process.

What are the things you have lost? Have you ever lost face, your faith, time. When did you lose your virginity? What about your innocence. Did you lose your childhood, your dreams, someone close to your heart? Did you lose your keys the day you hiked the ocean cliffs of an Oregon beach and were left stranded in the dark.

Make a list of the things you have lost. Choose 1 or 2 items off of your list and do a 15 minute writing practice on each. Let yourself grieve. Take the time. What do you have to lose?


Grief is a debt you owe. After you pay, you can get to the joy.

-Ann Patchett on Talking Volumes at the Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 2007

-posted on red Ravine Sunday, October 28th, 2007

-related to post, The Parking Is Free

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I’m more haunted by the things that haven’t happened, than I am by the things that have. Half worn radials rumble over the railroad tracks near Winnetka and Bass Lake Road, wipers slap another day of dreary fog and rain; I drudge up the things that haunt me. Porcupine quills in tender skin.

There were no trains in the distance. I thought of Liz’s photographs of mustard engines, rusty graffiti, barrel shaped cabooses. She stopped at a crossing to take a few shots; there were two other men there, shooting the trains. One carried a long tripod, stood firm with his son. The train backdrop blurred behind them.

It’s comforting to me that people still love what is old, what is dying, what has passed.

Nostalgia. I’m haunted by nostalgia. I don’t have many regrets. I’m not a regretful person. I try to make amends. And live with the fact that I made the best decisions I could, for the time and maturity. If I’m going to cut myself that break, I have to cut others the same.

I’m haunted by not knowing. Not knowing what will happen to Mr. Stripeypants. He’s clearly in so much pain and cannot tell us why. Not knowing the right decisions to crucial questions about my future – about money, writing, teaching, art. That haunts me.

There is risk in moving into new territory. It makes me uncomfortable. Do I have the strength and stamina? Or will memories of failure continue to haunt me.

I’m haunted that I didn’t go to my Grandmother Elise’s funeral. That is one regret I do have. I would do things differently now. I would love her, hug her, call her and ask all the questions I never got to ask.

I was 29. Maybe 30. Insecure. I remember when I got the call. No cell phones then. The phone clamored and rang. She’d had another heart attack and passed away. I cried and cried and cried. Sandwiched between Bitterroot Mountains and Big Sky, I drove the cherry red Subaru wagon all the way down to Hamilton, Montana. I cried some more.

I wasn’t thinking about the beauty. And Montana is a beautiful place. I was haunted by everything I had missed. The connections broken. I was grieving my grandmother. I was grieving the past. I wanted to let go. How could I let go of something I had never fully claimed?

I visited her graveside with my mother, Amelia, last June. It’s across the Savannah River on a slightly sloped hill, in a wide open, ancient cemetery, along the border of east central Georgia. A silk lily had flown loose from another grave. I picked it up, thought about placing it on hers. But then I noticed the tipped container near the flat granite stone of a stranger’s grave nearby, and slipped the lily back into the brass vase.

Empty-handed, full-hearted, I sat with Elise for a moment. It was brief, short. Silent. My mother was there. And my step-father, Louis. We visited a lot of gravesites that sweltering day in June. And I taped a lot of memories.

Last week, I started transcribing them. Each day, I stretch out with headphones attached to my laptop and listen to wav files, voices from the past. I laugh. I cry. I type. I rewind to catch obscure snippets of Southern drawl. I think, “This is my life.” I am not haunted. I feel a great relief to know the bits of truth memory has to offer.

I’m haunted by not knowing. By what I have yet to do. Not what I have done. The haunting is fear, I know it. And I use all the tools in my arsenal to work around it, move through it, sit with it, even in it, when that serves me best.

I know I have to go to these places. I’m willing to risk feeling. Deep, intimate feeling. In return, I understand what it means to feel joy. The payoffs are big. The gamble is great. I could fail. I could make a wrong decision, the right one for the time.

Speaking of time, it’s up. Rain pelts the windows near my desk. Billowing gray clouds give me a feeling of longing. Can I live with the past? Or not knowing the future? If I’m present, neither of them matters. My grandmother is with me every day. I can always go home.


 -related to post, WRITING TOPIC – HAUNTED

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