My grandniece stayed with me last week, and though we ultimately had a ‘staycation’ (for me, anyway), I still consider it to have been a glorious escape. My brother and his family live a few hours away, so we shared the burden of driving and met half way. I fetched her on a Saturday and gave her back on the following Saturday. This was the longest period of time we have had alone since she was 18 months old.
13.5 years ago circumstances were such that I felt compelled to offer my support and provide her with a safe place to grow between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while her grandparents met work obligations out of state and dealt with some obstacles at home. I will never forget the sound of relief in the voice of my sister-in-law, when I somewhat jokingly commented on how cute she was and that she should just leave her with me… “Oh, Melissa… I would be so relieved.” With wide eyes I looked at my parents who said they would help, and I cried all the way to the airport in the rain to fetch my Tribe brother. I cried as I told him what I was considering, both of us single and childless at the time, he understood the importance of the task and the sense of overwhelm, too. Neither of us would have imagined then that he would be married with three children of his own now. That night I sent an email to friends about the crazy commitment I was considering, and by morning I had been offered all of the support required to make it possible.
That month was probably the most traumatic for all of us, as some navigated separation anxiety and heartbreak, while I spent each day in fear of getting something wrong. Above all other worries, I feared for her the abandonment issues she would surely have to face in therapy (waves flag of abandonment issues – yo!). I took my responsibility to her so seriously that I was determined to do anything I could to ensure she would not feel abandoned by me. I remember one weekend that my Mom came over to offer me a break and an escape, but even when I left the room she would begin to cry, and I simply could not bear to leave. I remember friends and co-workers saying to me… “Oh, Melissa… this is going to change your mind about having children.” Well, it didn’t. Not because she wasn’t precious, because she was. And not because the work of caring for a child is thankless, because I know without a doubt that that month of my life was quite possibly one of my most important and greatest accomplishments of this lifetime… after all, I managed to keep her alive for an entire month! She had never been around other children, so of course she immediately caught a cold from daycare, and she also cut a couple of molars during the time that I had her. Every day I would drop her off and she would cry, and every day I would cry all the way to the office. Did I mention that empathy is my number one strength? I would tuck her into bed each night, and collapse in a heap in the silence of the living room, hoping to have a moment to myself, but feeling too exhausted to do anything else, and not wanting to make any noise that might disturb my sleeping angel. I remember waking each morning and hoping that I could run to the bathroom before she woke up, so that I could tinkle without having to have her on my lap while doing so (because if she was awake, and I left the room… she would cry – and I could not allow her to feel abandoned by me). Good golly, people! How on earth can you possibly choose to be responsible for the entire life and well-being of another human? What a horribly overwhelming task. I remember how I would hear her cry and it would feel like my heart was beating on the outside of my chest. I recall the mornings when I would hear her stir in the makeshift crib that was next to my bed, and I would look over and smile to see her standing up and holding onto the edge, with her beautiful tuft of light brown curls, greeting me with a smile – that and when she tossed her head back to take the medicine for a cold or teething always reminded me of a baby bird. I would have done anything to keep her safe, healthy, and happy. Her happiness was my joy! One night, I pushed past fatigue and put up the Solstice Tree, and delighted in the look on her sweet face the next morning as I carried her into the darkened living room lit by those magickal lights.
I have to admit, having a 15 year old in my guest room was much easier than having an 18 month old beside my bed. I just caught myself wondering why we had never done this before… and remembered that this, too, is a gift of the year of time and reflection I’ve given myself. Not beholden to anyone to grant me time off, I had the freedom to ask… and to receive. It was pretty awesome. She cooked for her great grandparents and me, and we shopped for school clothes. She attended an event I co-hosted… a sort of female empowerment and expressive arts evening with friends. She WOWed me with her openness and authenticity. She spoke her truth and shared her vulnerability, knowing that she was in a safe place. Her courage to share encouraged the same in others. I introduced her to the art of acrylic pour, and she suggested that we do a project together, each creating a piece that would be symbolic of how we felt about each other or what we meant to one another. Into the colors I chose – each as vibrant and rich as her stunning brilliance and personality – I stirred my hopes and dreams for her… to see her own true value, to seek her own truth and follow her own north star, to be filled with utter joy, and fulfilled by purpose and passion. When it was dry, I wrote on the back of her canvas: “Beloved – This painting contains my love for you, and symbolizes the beauty that you are and that which is on the horizon for you. Love, M” In turn, what she created for me contained many shades of green, with an additional image that she brilliantly added into negative space, which started as a Stag (sacred to Artemis, you know) and became a tree. She told me that in meditation the forest is her safe place, and that I, too, am her safe place. On the back of my canvas she wrote: “To a GORGEOUS Goddess – You deserve the care you provide for everyone else. You will get all that you need and want because you’re a beautiful soul.” (I hope you’re listening, Universe!)
So, all of this was pure delight, and I loved every moment with my girly, but one of my favorite parts was meeting her request to enjoy a bit of nature together. A friend of mine had suggested taking her to one of our local springs, and that is what we did. We grabbed another friend of mine, and headed off for adventure. We packed some snacks, put on bathing suits, and traveled just 30 minutes from home to reach a piece of paradise, Wekiwa Springs. Knowing that the water would be shocking to our delicate systems (we Florida girls aren’t used to diving into 70 degree water), we chose to take a hike, so that the (literally) breathtaking plunge might feel even more welcome. We traveled along the path and boardwalks, and delighted in the flora and fauna, as well as several winged creatures that were surely faery folk in the guise of dragonflies. We saw them in many different colors, including green, silver and blue. The presence of dragonfly informs us that transformation is dawning on the horizon – and I do believe all three of us can feel it coming. As we completed the trail and began to hear the sound of others splashing in nearby water, we determined we were definitely ready for a swim. This was the first time my grandniece had ever been to a spring, but this adventure brought back memories for my friend and for me. My friend recalled many wonderful visits shared with her beloved, whom we lost to leukemia last fall… and having been away from this glory far too long, my own memories were of trips to the springs with my parents and brother when he and I were young, when we could dive for fossilized sharks teeth and swim until our lips turned blue. I even remember a time when I was maybe 4 or 5 and my parents swam next to me – atop a raft, and there were people up on a bank who were tossing marshmallows into the water to feed an alligator. I may have to check this memory with my folks to determine if that particular recall is based in fact or childhood fantasy. Anyway, we swam for a while, and I began to worry that my toe rings would fall off, because the usual swelling of heat and gravity was totally lacking in this element… and they started to feel rather loose. So, we each made our way up the hill to the shaded spot with our blanket and snacks. We reflected on the connectedness we experienced with nature (and with the boy my grandniece met at the edge of the spring – oh, to be fifteen again), and after a while, we determined our needs had been filled. We finished off the afternoon at my friend’s house with a few rounds of cards. It was a perfect day! Ever since, I’ve been asking myself why I had taken these gifts of nature for granted… feeling like I had to drive ten hours to find a piece of heaven, when it was right here… just a short drive from my front door. I feel as if I will need to make up for lost time, and spend the next several weeks escaping to a local spring to dance with the dragonflies and swim until my lips turn blue.
As I summarized this delightful week to my soul-daughter, sharing how I felt badly for having shirked my responsibility to the end of life doula study… she once again reminded me, with that wisdom-beyond-years way that she does, that though I may have spent fewer hours at the computer or reading a book on death or palliative care, I had most certainly been ‘doing the work’. You know what? She’s right! I am less sure today that my path is to become a doula, but more certain that there is purpose and meaning in doing this work. Every single day of this sabbatical has been filled with a certain kind of mindfulness and gratitude that comes with the absolute knowledge that our time here is limited. If the beauty of a natural spring doesn’t bring a sense of homecoming to your soul, you are denying the importance of the element of water in your very existence. I mean… you are made of mostly water! The Earth is bubbling with this cooling, soothing salve for your tired and aching spirit, and She invites you to enter her healing embrace. The cicadas are singing for the resonant pleasure of your eternal spirit – reminding you of the freedom of summertime on a hot afternoon, how could you fail to recognize their tune? And everywhere you turn, the dragonflies are bobbing and dancing, then gently perching upon branch and limb, hoping to get a closer look at your vibrant being, knowing that the symbolism of the human body is to be reminded that you are looking upon the Universe itself – in which all of the elements, air, fire, water, earth and spirit, are contained. The dragonflies know this about every human they pass, why must so many of us fail to recognize this truth, whether passing another on a trail, or seeing our own reflection in the living waters? There is so much tragedy in what we fail to see.
I am growing more certain with each passing day that this sacred journey upon which I embarked last fall is really about learning to truly see. I am learning to see what has always surrounded me… that beauty is before me, behind me, above me, below me, and within me. I am learning to sense what I cannot see with my eyes, allowing energy to be felt with my heart and words that are not heard through my ears to flow with grace and ease through my fingertips and onto this page. Through the study of death and dying, I am learning how to truly live. Every time I wish I could see the future and how my financial security will evolve from something I no longer care to do into something I was born to do, I am reminded that I don’t need to see it to know it is on the way. I don’t need to define it to be able to manifest it. I am already in the spring and it is carrying me forward, and I have no choice but to stay open to receive and appreciate all of the rich beauty that awaits, as I mindfully and joyfully go with the flow.