Grief was permitted to walk with me

Last August, I told a friend I was “allowing my days to unfold in their own unique ways”. I was feeling stunned and in absolute awe of the beauty in the natural world surrounding us, and my regular walks amongst the trees provided my safe and sacred space. “Here,” I said, was “where I entered a space of nothingness”, suggesting that perhaps this is what surrendering really looks like – a place where there are no goals or purpose, other than to rest and absorb the wonder. With no planning or agenda in sight I was free to ‘be’, hope and trust.

This sharing ‒ “I was travelling along in my part of the world quite slowly but caring for myself through the many turns and bumps in the road” ‒ occurred eight months after I was diagnosed with cancer, two months after my Mum’s diagnosis of cancer and death three weeks later, two months after the first of two miscarriages in our family, two months before my decision to resign from a job I loved and three months before my mother-in-law’s cancer diagnosis.

As the reality of these losses was acknowledged and grief was given permission to walk with me for as long as it takes, a deep peace and acceptance settled within and around me. The challenge, however, of being on an unchosen and directionless path and the financial reality of my diagnosis, multiple trips to Queensland to be with Mum and later Dad, and my unplanned unemployment has at times threatened to derail me and take away the peace and calm that had graced me.

This was, nonetheless, the path I was on and so I began ‘unlearning’ a great many things, replacing them with a deepening awareness of and gratitude for who I am in this world and in this one life I have, of who I am for family, friends, acquaintances, strangers and most importantly, of who I am for the God who has held me and called me to a place of deep rest, stillness and silence. The priority to build into my day simple routines that healed and centred me became the building blocks to health and well-being in body, spirit and mind; sometimes they simply helped me to get through a tough day.

Daily reflections from Be Still Awhile…Along the Track (Jim Quillinan) invited me to pause, slow down, be still. Soon I came to embrace Thomas Merton’s words, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognise the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

A collection of leaves…gumnuts…twigs, all part of a simple ritual from my sojourn amongst the trees, could tell a story or two! They are the holders of my shock, anguish, fear, deep sadness and heartache; silently witnessing to the kindness and care that strengthened me. They honour truths behind hurts, disappointments, anger and decisions; telling of new and deeper friendships, regaining control and a deeper sense of myself; they see where forgiveness and acceptance have healed my heart and enfolded endings and beginnings. They speak of intense loss, fatigue, sleepless nights, discomfort, aching body, resistance and surrender to growth; all the while gently tending to my emptiness, aloneness and longing. They shout with pride and celebrate the gift of family and friends. Lastly, they rejoice in the trust, gratitude, faith, hope and love that have carried me.

Recently, my mother-in-law played, “…Lord you gave me a mountain…A mountain you know I may never climb...It isn't just a hill any longer…You gave me a mountain this time” (Elvis Presley). Through song she expressed her reality and acceptance of her diagnosis. As I near my first Mother’s Day without Mum, watch my Dad adjust to life without his ‘soulmate’, continue treatment, support my mother-in-law, observe excited but anxious parents journey through another pregnancy, the familiar mountain greets me. The journey remains uncertain, much of it still unplanned, but the people I’ve met, the strengthened friendships, my awakening to life, deepening wisdom and love of my family empowers me to make decisions ‒ intentionally and purposefully ‒ that have led and are leading to a place of healing and hope.

Would I want to change the events of last year, sparing family and friends anguish, concern and pain? There is no simple answer. Instead, like the trees on my walks, 2018 offers me the chance to keep living, to grow, to be surprised and battered by whatever storms come our way, to endure, to shed what is no longer needed or what has been outgrown, to bend and stretch with the ever-changing landscape, to reach for the light, to be ever nourished by faith, hope, love, and to celebrate the gift we have been given in each other.

What have I learned from all this? In the words of Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and more loved than you will ever know.”

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