Grief is a sacred journey

A Time To Push, A Time to Pause

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Magnolia buds in snow

My ability to push against fatigue and check new projects off the endless to-do list ran away from home. I’ve looked for her everywhere. Believe me. I have. The Muse refuses to answer my calls.

In a dream last week, I growl at a fragile young girl who hides her hurt feelings behind a frozen smile. Filled with impatience and scorn, I growl louder.

I see dream characters as parts of myself that need to be reconsidered or become more conscious. In this dream, I’m impatient and unkind to the wounded defenseless feminine. I connect her to the fragile fatigue I’ve felt the last few months. I know. I forgot how to spell the word vacation. I translate the word rest into “T-R-Y-H-A-R-D-E-R.”

Comforting my demented mother, 2004

I growl at my limitations, but I can’t force a spring flower to open in the snow. Sometimes it’s best to wait, to rest rather than push. Since the Muse took a hike with my energy in her backpack, I don’t have much choice. She’ll return when she’s ready. She always does.

A few days after the growling dream, I had a second dream: a woman who is a disciplined achiever is dying. I sit in the dark beside her sick bed and whisper, “The work you did in this life will help many children after you’re gone.”

The dying woman reminds me of my mother–and myself. Mom was the Queen of Pushing. I remember her staying up all night to study for graduate school classes after teaching all day. Only an A was acceptable in her world. Anything less was a defeat. Even as she sank into senility in her 80s, she carried around Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I didn’t miss the irony of the title as she tried to conceal her confusion and inability to read.

I inherited my mother’s craving for excellence, the same never-enough gene many women share.

In the dream, I don’t try to save the dying woman. Instead, the message is that her death will bring gifts to children.

I get it. I’m standing in my own way. The death of the inner achiever is needed for something new to emerge. The way the waning moon darkens and disappears before the new moon can appear. The way, ever so slowly, light returns in January and warms the earth. The way trout lilies, yellow and brave, rise out of brown leaves on the April forest floor.

I trust nature to grow, produce, mature, slow down, and pause before re-emerging on her own time like a bright trout lily. I trust the pause of Winter Solstice, the darkness and cold before the return of Light. I trust warmth will come again along with green shoots and fragrant blossoms, followed by bluebirds and butterflies.

The butterfly puzzle

So why don’t I trust the rhythms of my body and allow rest before a new cycle begins?

Do I dare let the never-enough woman die? Can I shower my wounded self with warm care and tenderness instead of scorn?

You’ve worked hard for years to make a new life for yourself, I tell my tired body.  You had a busy autumn with writing, presentations, and family. Don’t scold yourself for enjoying the bright jigsaw puzzle that calls you to the card table to play. Friends gave you this puzzle as a gift. They gave you winter butterflies!

These same friends and I worked on a puzzle with my brother when he was ill.

“I’m wasting time with this damned puzzle,” my brother said then. He was sick. Unrelenting cancer sick. To him, being sick was a waste of time, too.

Releasing a Monarch for the fall migration, 9/23/17

“Jim, you aren’t wasting time,” I said. “You’re working with color and a beautiful image. You’re playing with people you love and giving yourself a rest. You’re not working or reading news or worrying about the future. You’re taking a break. You need it.”

My brother inherited my mother’s never-enough gene, too. It wounded him the way it wounds me.

Nature teaches us to pause at Winter Solstice. Time to rest and wait for the Muse to come again. Time to allow the inner fire to rekindle. Time to trust that whatever dies will nurture creative life, fresh and new.

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Do you struggle with pushing for the birth of something new before it’s time? How do you rest and recuperate? After these dreams, I bought plane tickets to visit friends in Arizona. I look forward to winter sun, desert wildflowers, long mountain hikes, and a vacation. I need to repeat that word. Vacation.

For an article about doing a jigsaw puzzle with my brother, see The Missing Edge. I wrote about the joy of raising and releasing butterflies in Mothering Monarchs, Mothering My Soul. Like the Muse, I look forward to their return.

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20 Comments
  1. We can often be our own toughest task masters Elaine. It seems you are a pusher and a doer and even YOU need a timeout! Your dreams are reminding you too. Sometimes the muse needs a rest too. Often I find just walking away instead of beating myself up when the well is dry is just what the doctor ordered. 🙂 Happy holidays my friend. 🙂

    • I made those plane reservations, but now to stop the busy planner and doer in my head. She’s hard to shut down.

      It’s hard to imagine you spend much time walking away when you’re reading, commenting, supporting others, and publishing another book. My last trip to AZ was a lot like your last trip there with a sick husband. I hope for a sweeter experience this time. I’m not going until March because I like to return to winter when it’s almost over instead of leaving in January and returning to February blasts. Until then, I’m taking life in the slow lane in other ways.

      • You are so right, stopping the busy in our heads is a feat.
        And yes, it is difficult to walk too far away from anything for me, but I really meant, walking away from a book I’m writing or revising when it becomes overwhelming. Often I’ll run to social media to take a break from writing, lol.
        So, now you are going to AZ? Dang! We’re not going there this winter, we’re rerouting to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for some sun and ocean and a break from politics. Otherwise, yes, March is beautiful there, We were there in March 2017 90 degrees everyday!
        Happy New Year my friend! 🙂 x

        • I’ve spent lots of time in AZ, so this is a return for me. Vic and I went for spring break for many winters and rented a little house in the desert west of Tuscon until 2008 when Vic died. Sometimes our sons came, too. This year I’ll stay with dear friends who moved from Tuscon to two hours east of Tuscon in the mountains. It will be warm, but not hot there. Lots of mountain hiking and maybe some wildflowers, but they aren’t getting needed rains.

  2. Your Muse took a hike with your energy in its backpack. Ha! But I understand. As an achiever, when I finish one creative task, I immediately start work on something else right away, even though I have no inspiration to guide my efforts. When inspiration comes later, I usually have to junk all my work. It would be better to sit under a tree outdoors. Enjoy Arizona! Let inspiration come. Let energy return! May your dreams not involve self-improvement projects.

    • I’m laughing, Mark. Oh those sneaky dreams of self-improvement. Those were my mom’s favorites and, of course, mine. I won’t go to AZ until March because I learned years ago that it sinks my ship to leave the cold earlier in the winter and return to more months of cold. When I return in late March, days will be longer and there will be hints of spring. There might even be tips of green pushing toward light. The bluebirds might be back checking out the nesting boxes. I have time to practice slowing down before I pack. My AZ friends moved a few hours from where we visited them when Vic was alive, so I’ll get to explore a new part of AZ, too. Slowly. On foot.

  3. Dear Elaine, Thank you for sharing more of your dream wisdom and stories. I learn so much from you and your great title certainly caught this poet’s eye! I love the image you paint in words of the Goddess taking a hike with your energy in her backpack! I can relate to your silent muse as she took my pen away several weeks ago in order for me to rest my creative energy, and not squander it all at once. Pure synchronicity, as my work life became so busy over these past months. Still only one more week to go and then I can sit down with my pen and hopefully create … for the urge to write a new Christmas poem this year is too strong!

    So in the meantime what to do?! Except turn towards the book I’ve been reading, Feminine Consciousness (Marion Woodman) and continue to encounter my Soul in other ways. Sit and wait until the time is ripe, incubate, hibernate and meditate on the rewards of patience. Perfectionism is a serial killer I read recently (Elizabeth Gilbert) it makes total sense and although I didn’t inherit any craving for excellence from my mother, like many, I inherited (ancestrally I feel) the liquescent love of spirit … especially Baileys around Christmastime! However patience I’ve come to realise, is one of her inner strengths too, incredibly at times.

    Jigsaws what joy! Oh the sheer indulgence of spending time unconstructively and with the heavenly image of winter butterflies, just perfect! To find the edges of ourselves and fill in and transform all those pieces into wholeness. No wonder these puzzles are so popular! I always remember what the mythologist, Joseph Campbell wrote about the power of art. He said that “Art” releases us and purges us, of many of the fears and despair we will suffer in our lives … if only for a moment! But what a moment! Solstice, one more moment, a time to pause. Enjoy your new journeying my dear friend! Wild and warm blessings, Deborah.

    • I’ve noticed your silent pen, Deborah, but know you’re hatching something new. When we’re taking care of others needs at work or because they’re family or with the hospice work I do, it can drain our creativity. I didn’t go into the details in this piece, but you can imagine the constant upheaval of caring for a woman who will be 102 in January. A new crisis every few weeks. We’re getting a new hospice evaluation this week as she sinks ever so slowly.

      I look forward to your Christmas poem. I imagine it with strong Solstice spices. Reading Marion! That’s always a help. I’m re-reading ‘Pagan Meditations’ by Ginette Paris which I read many years ago. She writes about Aphrodite, Hestia, and Artemis in this book. I’m also reading David Kinsley’s books about Kali since my women’s mythology class is working with Hindu Goddesses. Reading is a good way to rekindle the fires, too. Elizabeth Gilbert is right about perfectionism. My puzzle-loving Jungian friends are therapists and one is an artist. She picks out the best puzzles and was wise to give my brother one when he was sick. Peaceful focus on color and shape. I think it’s time to put my watercolors out on the card table instead of another puzzle. My dreams are full of bright color and there’s nothing more peaceful than working with paint–especially because I don’t expect myself to be good at it. Blessed Solstice, Deborah.

  4. Hello Elaine,

    By the time I finished reading this, I was singing ( In my head) Turn Turn Turn , by the Byrds . I’m sure you must know it. Biblical passage Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 . Desert wildflowers and hikes sounds great. Maybe the hikes don’t need to be too long, it’s not a competition you know.I recommend strolling or even meandering. Hope you have a restful and nourishing Christmas. Best Wishes

    Ecclesiastes 3:1-8New International Version (NIV)
    A Time for Everything
    3 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    2 a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    6 a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    8 a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

    A time for every purpose under heaven.

    • I know that song well, Gary. Thanks for commenting and sharing the verses. I changed the title of this blog an hour before it was posted, knowing I was borrowing a Biblical form. I knew it fit this piece and my mood best. I’ll visit friends who are skilled meanderers and good at dropping everything to visit an especially beautiful site or a place with profuse wildflowers. If I’m lucky, we’ll have wildflowers when I’m there which is another reason I’m waiting until March. I love it walking in desert wildflowers so thick they grow in the trails and my hiking boots turn yellow with pollen. I used to spend winter break meandering in AZ with my husband, so it will be healing to return to the desert 10 years after my last visit.

      I hope it will soon be “a time for peace.” There’s been a big dose of hate and war.

  5. Vacation – so necessary Elaine. May the muse return when she will – no doubt she’s also resting and was waiting for you to take the plunge into an other time and place. May those mountains and air, walks and talks refresh and re-charge you …

    • You take wonderful trips, Susan. Safaris. I notice! I made reservations which is a great step, but the trip won’t be for a few months. Until March, I’ll re-charge at home with good books and long walks in the forest. Main thing is to stop pushing against fatigue, but allow deep rest. It’s bitter cold and windy here today. The snow flies in every direction, but once I cross the fields and enter the forest, I’m sheltered from the wind and nourished by the trees. Many little birds visiting my feeders today. I’m glad to help them through this cold snap. We help each other.

  6. “I growl at my limitations, but I can’t force a spring flower to open in the snow. Sometimes it’s best to wait, to rest rather than push”.

    I love those words… so deep… I believe that the Universe has a particular flow. And things happen for a reason. The resolution of problems comes with time… But it is a compass that might at times trascend our abilities to face things, to cope with them, to move forward…
    Your dreams are very symbolic… I have been lately remembering my dreams too. As I started learning Tarot the last few months, I often pull a few cards and try to see if they can help me unravel meanings…. Even if the dream seem to be clear to me, when it comes to its messages. I liked the lessons you picked up from your dreams, by the way… I think we share a similar Life philosophy… Love & best wishes, dear Elaine.

    • I know hard things happen and I have choices about how I respond to what’s given by life. It seems we’re given these descents as lessons. Often it’s better to flow than to fight. And, yes, there will come a time when we can’t move forward. I’m caregiver for my mother-in-law who will be 102 in January, so I have no doubt about that.

      I love exploring dreams and my first dream notebooks are from 1967. Dreams usually have a different perspective than the conscious mind and often, in my case, a more hopeful one. I began seeing a Jungian dream therapist in 2008, a few months before my husband died. My dreams at the time made it clear I needed more psychological support. I still see this therapist twice a month for two hour sessions focused on dreams. She doesn’t interpret or tell me what they mean. We share a long history of mythology, Jungian psychology, and philosophy. Instead of focusing on fast interpretation, she asks good questions and we explore the images. Tarot cards can be helpful, too. I agree we seem to share a similar life philosophy. I always love reading about mythology and enjoying the rich images on your website. Thank you, Aquileana, for all you give.

  7. A message from Miss Do More and Mrs. Never Enough: Childhood experiences have etched deep into our psyches, but they often tell us lies. You (and I) are achievers, and even if we stopped now, we would still bear the title of “well done.”

    I’ve read the comments also and they echo my true thoughts. I’m glad you say you are making a conscious effort to take life in a slower lane. Surely the ministrations of nature in your swirly snow walks will continue to nourish your soul.

    Peace and goodwill this season, Elaine.

    P. S. After next week’s post airs, I’m taking a blog break. 🙂

    • I’m sure I’ve shared my story with you sometime or other that Vic said: “They’ll write on your gravestone, “She tried REALLY hard.”

      Today, I spent a few hours helping get my mother-in-law signed up to be a hospice patient. I’m relieved we’ll have nursing support each week, hospice health aides to support the aides I hire, even a volunteer once or twice a week. No hospitals and no emergency rooms. I’m exhausted and relieved. It’s been a rough month with her health–and you know how much that exhausts the caregivers. I rest easier now knowing we have support.

      Peace and good will to you and yours, Marian. I imagine you having a Christmas filled with family, carols and hymns, good food, scripture, and love. I’ll miss you during your break, but I understand the necessity if we want to work with bigger projects or not work at all. I think I’ll continue blogging twice a month, but I’m not sure. I’m trying to let all decisions rest. First thing was to move Virginia from palliative care where we had a modest support to hospice care. Last week the caregivers (aides and me) were more wiped out than the patient. This morning, the hospice nurse asked if Virginia would like to speak to the spiritual care coordinator. Virginia brushed that off with a wave of the hand. A bit later, I asked again, telling her how much I love the woman who is spiritual care coordinator at the hospice where I volunteer and how I think Virginia would like to visit with her. Virginia said yes. She doesn’t remember that her son died, but she remembers that she’s mad at God (and stopped going to church after Vic’s death). It would be a blessing if she could work through this. May there be Light.

  8. Yes, may there be Light and acceptance of the hand of God’s love that reaches out to her as she nears The End. You are so sweet to facilitate this, even as you are bone-tired. I thought I would die before Ruthie did. She lingered, but not as long as Virginia. No one know what care-givers and close relatives go through physically and emotionally unless they’ve done it. Blessings, Elaine. You have DONE A NOBLE JOB through this difficult time and with this difficult person.

    • Thank you, Marian. After carefully working through many old grudges and resentments the last few years, I agree I’ve done a good job taking care of Vic’s mom. The first step nine years ago was not to abandon her, but then I needed to soften and stop grimacing. I won’t even protest that you called it a NOBLE JOB. I’m still surprised by the sweet empathy I feel for her now and how comfortable it feels to sit and hold her hand. I think it’s important for her to see a priest and make peace with God, but we’ll know more after the priest visits.

      I selfishly hope your break doesn’t last too long, Marian. I’ll miss your loving and supportive comments, as well as the stories you share.

  9. Maybe we’re related, Elaine. Because I have that same keep-going-work-harder gene. There is little I can do to get myself to relax or take a break. Vacation? Uh, not unless there’s some mission involved, or lots of things to accomplish along the way. I push. All the time. Doesn’t matter if it’s winter or summer. I have too many dreams. Not enough time to realize them all. And I think I’ve always been like this. How sad that I will be the first one to advise someone else to take it easy and stop to smell the roses, when I can’t even conceive of stopping myself. I love to keep busy. There must be some deep fear of sinking if I don’t keep treading water. I exhaust myself. But continue pushing anyway. Go figure. Sigh.

    • My mother taught me well. I don’t know who your teacher was in this never-enough world. I stopped, at least temporarily. I’m doing one small thing a day related to my writing projects and then I read and then I take a walk and then I putter around caring for plants and then I cuddle with Willow. May we both learn to float…

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