The stroke happened suddenly and her passing came a few weeks later. Despite a lot of preparation for a worst-case scenario, the death hit the family hard. My friend had a difficult relationship with her mother (something many of us can relate to, I’m sure) and her ambivalent thoughts and emotions have been complicating an already difficult grieving process.
My friend announced her mother’s illness to our group, but she kept the news of her mother’s passing to herself. She had been out of town a lot to be with family, and it was only recently that I saw my friend since her family tragedy.
Everyone needs a safe haven to escape to. It may be a room in one's home, or more ideally, a garden outside. I discovered a space much my accident in a cul-de-sac between two apartment buildings. It was a strange outdoor cubby, which could only be accessed by crawling out to it through the kitchen windows, or through those in the bedroom. Making sure to open the chosen window all the way– a few head bumps later– I crawled out into a strange new world. Since we were on the second floor, this was one from being directly on the roof of our building. It was much like having a side porch, but with the added bonus of total privacy. There was a high wooden fence separating ours from that belonging to our neighbor to the west. From the sounds of it, she could access hers through her kitchen as well, listening to the familiar clink-clinks of dishes being washed in a sink. All above were the roof tops on either side and clear blue open sky. I noticed that the individual who had resided here before had brilliantly installed two heavy-duty hooks– one diagonal from the other– perfectly designed for a lazy swinging hammock. And thus, the "Zen Den" was born.
I really became excited with the possibilities of this secret zen space, so I began to decorate it. I picked out a large, outdoor, bristly throw rug, so it would be inviting to take off one's shoes and stay awhile. I also found a cool vintage table to set drinks and reading materials on in easy reach. I fastened hooks on the fence to hang cheery items: a mini tiki hut and a straw-topped wind chime from Jamaica that used shells for chimes. Although this would mostly be a space utilized in the day, I came across some pleasant outdoor lights – little metal flowers – to festoon across the windowsills leading to the bedroom. Also in order was a seasonal, gaily colored hanging plant that could withstand both shade and heat, requiring minimal care. My mother informed me that begonias would do the trick, so I went with those. I imagined there should be at least one other seating option for a guest, so I invested in a small fold-up camp chair on sale. The pièce de résistance? The hammock. I found one with the brightest colored stripes imaginable, and voila! Other items found their way here in time– a scented candle, four assorted stones arranged in a glass holder, a small clay statue from the Ren Faire in Bristol.
When the spot truly became a haven for me was the day after my grandmother died. I will never forget what a bright shiny day it started out as, that May 29th. A robin crossed my path on my way to my car to go to work. It hopped really close and stared at me for awhile. Odd, I thought. I got the call from my mother while driving. She asked if I could pull over. I told her I couldn't, I was on the highway. When she hesitated to tell me, I made her anyway. She was right about pulling over. My eyes were so blurred with tears I could barely see. It was a beautiful day out. Gumma was gone. I didn't understand. She'd had a bout with illness shortly after her recent move to the retirement center, but I had a good long talk with her last week. She'd sounded strong. She was anxious to get out and celebrate her 95th birthday with us on June 12.
The next day I was home alone, deep in grief. My partner had asked if I wanted him to change his going away plans for the weekend to stay with me, but I declined. I thought it would be best if I were by myself to process this. And process I did – in my Zen Den. From morning until sundown. I ate meals, read, wrote, did yoga, listened to music, and napped in the comforting rock of the hammock. I sat cross-legged on the new rug trying to make sense of my loss. I looked up at the birds swooping across the sky above me and cried.
Now every year between May 29 and June 12, I reopen the Zen Den for business. I sweep it out of leaves, debris and dirt. I scour it clean with an old rag, a bucket of warm water, uplifting essential oils, and I unpack all the things taken down for the cold season. Six years after the first Zen Den and Gumma's passing, the rug needed to be tossed out. The table – which wasn't really an outdoor one to begin with – started to grow mushrooms on its edges, and the wood began to rot away. I'm not sure what became of the cheap little camp chair? The mini tiki hut and wind chimes have long since been retired, after losing many of their pieces in strong winds that have blown through. I keep meaning to replace things, but haven't quite gotten around to it. Since I've always kept rocks and candles in the space, I wanted to add some natural pool of water or a mini fountain, along with new wind chimes, so that all the four elements are represented.
I have made a point to hang a new basket of flowers in the Zen Den every year, though. Gumma would like that. She loved her flowers so.
At a crossroads, I watched a crow had been hit by a car, laid to rest there on one side of the street. Crows descended from the trees, probably a hundred crows. In groups of maybe eight, ten, twelve, they would walk around that individual that was on the ground. And then they would fly off, and over a fifteen, twenty-minute period, eventually all the crows flew off, leaving that corpse of the crow in the road. Tony Angell, Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans
Crows have been yelling at me a lot lately. I'd like to tell you that I can understand what they've been saying, but I don't know. In my experience, it generally means that something is going to happen. Sometimes good, sometimes not good, but more than daily life. If he is feeling generous, Crow may show up in my dreams to elaborate. But he has been silent on the matter, leaving the tiny cousins to chide me. Or praise me? Who knows. I've never had a terribly strong communication connection with the goddesses, ancestors and spirits. My logical brain is quick to tell me that I am just telling myself what I want to hear, so I try to rely on omens, portents, dreams and divination. Sometimes that gives me a clear path, most of the time it doesn't. Sometimes when it's particularly murky, I do as my friend JohnM, the psych guy, suggests and I assign reasons and explanation as it's as good of an answer as any. A very Roman approach to things, but sometimes better than nothing.
Oh, yeah. The vault. That's where the stuff I can't handle goes. Kerplunk! - Finn, Adventure Time
For those of you who have been with me for long enough, you know I have an unsteady relationship with death. I'm not one of those Witches who can see spirits, talk to ghosts and visualize the other side of the Veil. Or really visualize very much at all, though that's improved a little over the years. I tend to "see" things in words, song lyrics, poetry and emotions. You can imagine how fun this was as a baby Witch where every exercise ever starts with "Visualize . . ." My sister, the Divine Miss M, who is not a practicing Witch and not really all that Catholic, has a much more open dialogue with the other side than I do and does not spend her dreams with dead people telling them that they're dead like I do. She catches omens, portents and prophecy at a rate that is completely annoying given that she's not into the occult.
It was Monday, January 5th, 2015. I was working on a blog about daily practices when my brother sent me a message on Facebook. It simply and succinctly said "If you want to see dad, you better come now". If you've ever gotten that call or email, you know that life completely slows down and goes really fast all at the same time. I've tried to describe the feeling to folks that haven't had this experience and the closest thing I can compare it to is suddenly finding yourself underwater trying to have a conversation with a world full of people that are still on dry land.
The next twenty-four hours were a blur of phone calls and airports and moments of snatched sleep and worry and sitting awkwardly between two strangers and hurtling through the air at several hundred miles an hour. When I finally breathed fresh air again, I was seven thousand miles from home, in New Zealand, and just like that winter had turned to summer and the east was in the west and the moon was upside down.
Happy Friday, Beagle-fans! Today we have a bouquet of religious stories starting out with one about not being religious. 7 varieties of unreligion; Hindu Goddess festival begins; teaching children values depends on politics and religion; selfies of Sikhs; Pagans on death and burial.
This story from Salon posits that there are seven kinds of unreligion (including pantheism, which is awfully close to many Pagan beliefs to my way of thinking, and maybe shouldn't be considered "unreligion" at all.)