What Clay Taught Me About Shame

I’ve been rehydrating some clay

ClayIt has been sitting in my supply cabinet for over a year. It was once a gorgeous cube of perfectly wedged high-fire clay with the potential to become anything. Due to some serious laziness, inattention, procrastination and denial on my part, it eventually became a solid, bone-dry lump of something fit only to hide in the back of the garden until it washed away with the rain (along with my shame.)

FrancesBryant-Scott Clay SculptureThe resuscitation process is not a pretty one.

There are appallingly biological sounds as the lump slurps and farts while it absorbs the water it’s soaking in. The part of me that resembles a 9 year old boy finds it hilarious. The rest of me is a middle aged woman who is mostly embarrassed at having left the task so long, and feeling the burn of old shame because, once again, I let an artistic pursuit drop that used to give me a lot of joy, before ever getting really good at it.  Old messages like “Frances never finishes what she starts,” and “I’ll never be more than an amateur at ANYTHING,” burble up to the surface, squishing and popping like the bubbles in this clay.

Of course, that’s what shame is like, isn’t it?

If we don’t deal with it, it sits there like a lead weight in our hearts. We tuck it away in a cupboard, hoping that if we don’t look at it, we won’t feel it. Unfortunately, that just never works. We walk around with it on our shoulders, like a heavy, tantrum-prone toddler, and if anyone notices or asks a question, “Gee, is that clay? Do you make pottery?” we’re liable to bite their head off. “Leave me alone! Stop pressuring me!” We’re afraid to deal with it head-on, because we’re afraid it will make a whole lot of noise (and sometimes a smell!) when we bring it out into the light – or in the case of my clay, into the sink.

Healing Shame

Well, you know me and my love of metaphor. Working with this lump of hard clay over a long, messy week, I started to get into it. It’s great stuff! I got to remember what I liked about it in the first place, and the voices of shame began to back off a bit. My wonderful realization was that there was nothing essentially wrong with the clay. Once rehydrated, it is what it always was – good, clean, simple earth. And just maybe I’m what I always was – a simple human being. I start things and finish some of them. I’m always going to be a learner – and “amateur” means “lover,” and there’s not a darn thing wrong with that!

I’m so happy I pulled it out of the cupboard and didn’t hide it in the garden.

Flexibility and Curiosity: Life Lessons from Children’s Literature

What I learned about flexibility and curiosity from the stories of my childhood.

Three books taught me the value of flexibility and curiosity long before I understood why they were important. I read James and the Giant Peach* by Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles byJulieEdwards** so often in elementary school and beyond, that I still quote passages from them. I did so often enough that my own children probably thought they were my words, until I introduced them to the originals. 

I now see flexibility and curiosity as the two most vital lessons in my life and work. –

Life lessons from children's literature
What books stayed with you into your adulthood?

By their very nature they are also lessons that I have not finished learning. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the young protagonists in these books all start out in various states of stuckness, of unhappiness with the way things are. They have reacted with despair, boredom, pride, or fright, and they are each convinced that how they see things is the only way. They are all on the cusp of becoming more true to themselves and more independent, but change is uncomfortable, and feels dangerous, even if it’s exactly what they want.

After the death of his parents and horrible treatment by his aunts, James embarks on a fantastic journey from rural England to New York City inside the pit of a giant peach. He rolls down a steep hill, bobs in a shark-infested ocean, and flies over the Atlantic in the company of equally giant insects who have a very hard time getting along. Milo begins what he thinks is an imaginary, and probably really stupid game in his city apartment, and ends up, hounded by the demons of Ignorance, rescuing the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason who have been imprisoned in a castle in the air. He is aided by Tock the Watchdog, who values time, and by an oddly appealing creature called the Humbug, who, despite some pretty bad character defects, manages to help anyway. Lindy and her brothers travel with a Nobel Prize winning scientist to another realm where all the creatures that human beings no longer believe in are hiding. Together they explore the country in search of the last Whangdoodle, hindered by hostile creatures who are determined to send them home.

Somehow, by the ends of their stories

Flexibility and Curiosity
There’s almost always another perspective…

James, Milo, and Lindy and her brothers have seen life from a broader perspective. They have been, for a while, embarrassed by their faulty assumptions or endangered by their own foolishness. They have been able to endure the discomfort of how things are, and have learned how to hope (and work for) something better. They’ve all walked the path between imagination and reality, and found that a healthy dose of one always enriches the other, and vice versa. They’ve learned to look closer, to be open to wonder, and to ask questions, lots of them, and not just the questions they are “supposed” to ask. They’ve all stood up to someone in authority, and seen that even someone who has good intentions can still be wrong. They’ve all learned to change their minds, to shift their position if it’s not working for them, and to accept that sometimes they are the well-intentioned person who needs to hear the difficult truth from someone with more wisdom.

My own story is not over yet, and I know I’m not done with these lessons.

I’m glad that I have such good, old friends to accompany me on the journey! I hope you have your own favourite stories that help you through the challenging times.

*The movie produced by Tim Burton just wasn’t the same, and was even more heavy-handed in my opinion.

**Yes, she’s the actress from Sound of Music that you know as Julie Andrews, married to Blake Edwards.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, or alone as you navigate a change or mourn a loss, I help people find their way through their unique grief. Please  contact me if you feel I might be of service.

 

The Fourth Piece of Art – Sharing Our Art Therapy

Not everyone who makes art in Art Therapy stops there,

with what they made in their session. Sometimes, even if we began a piece in the spirit of pure emotional expression, we feel an urge to bring it to some form of completion that we DO want to share with others. We might simply share what we’ve created during Art Therapy, as-is, or we may move from the immediate therapeutic expression to creating a fourth piece of art, where we begin again, with a plan and a direction in mind. This piece of art requires patience and the exercise of skillfulness. The intention in this piece of art is what we usually think of when we say “Art.” It’s a piece that is meant to be seen by others, and we allow it to be judged on qualities beyond its ability to mirror our feelings back to us. We expect it to communicate something to an audience beyond us, and perhaps to fit into certain parameters of skillfulness or quality of medium.

How we share our art says something about us

Whether we share it in its “first draft” form, which we may have created during an Art Therapy session or from a moment of inspiration, or whether we start over again with a plan, how we go about the process can tell us a lot about ourselves in other situations. If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know I always urge my clients to use caution when thinking about sharing anything they’ve made in Art Therapy with people who might not understand. The example I give (only somewhat jokingly) is of the risk of showing someone your deeply emotional piece, and having them say “what a pretty picture of a cat!” when to you it’s a gut-wrenching image of your relationship with your mother… Not a comfortable situation, I assure you! So, with due caution, let’s talk for a minute about what might be useful about sharing your art. 

Intention is important

What do I want, need, or expect from showing someone what I’ve made? Am I feeling solid in how I feel about this piece? Will someone else’s approval or disapproval create really big waves in my life, or just a ripple? I doubt anyone is capable of having no reaction whatsoever to other people’s opinion, but to become aware of how much impact it has on you is a great exercise in boundaries. The bottom line is that we don’t have any control over how someone else feels, and to fight this reality is to lose every time. It can be helpful when sharing your art to hold an intention to be compassionately aware of what happens within you. Am I tempted to change or explain away any aspect of my creation? Can I hear what the other person says about it in a spirit of curiosity?

Certainly, if one of your aims in showing your art is to work on aspects of skilfulness, then learning to hear helpful technical critique while maintaining your own unique style will be a major task. In fact, it’s probably an artistic skill just as much as how to hold a brush. If your aim is not technical but is to share from your heart with someone who is important to you, then it can be helpful to let them know that from the start. So often we expect our friends and families to know what we are feeling or wanting, but that is often unfair and unrealistic. How much kinder it can be, instead, to let them know. It is o.k. to only want them to see it and to hear you explain what it means to you. You’re allowed to be interested in hearing how it makes them feel (if you are) or that you’d just like them to ask you questions about it. It is even allowed to ask them specifically not to tell you whether they “like” it or not! What might it be like to do that? What might it be like for you not to know what their opinion was, but just to know that they were willing to be with you in your vulnerability of sharing? What would it be like to ask for their honest opinion, and to hold on to your own even if they differ?  I don’t ask these questions with any sense of knowing what the “right” answer is, by the way! I think it’s probably different for everyone. But I do believe that being willing to ask ourselves these questions is a courageous way to get to know ourselves (and other human beings!) on a deeper level.

And of course, the more we sit with the questions, the more we are working on that wondrous “third” piece of art, always in the making – ourselves!

Three Pieces of Art

 

There are always three pieces of art being created when you are making art as a way to heal.

The first is the one that came to life in your imagination. This is the image, symbol, or even just the feeling that arose in your mind that was full-blown all at once. It often becomes the piece of art that you end up trying to recreate, in “real life,” with your brushes and paints or clay. This first artwork is done the moment that it has been imagined. We might call it the inspiration, or just an idea or feeling, but I believe it has an energy of its own. Anyone who has agonized over their work, trying to make it look or sound like the painting or symphony that happened in their heads, or to make it match the emotion inside them, will know what I’m talking about.

            The second piece of art is the one that I ask you to allow to take physical shape during an art therapy session. This kind of art happens when I invite you to look and feel within yourself (to allow the first type of art to arise), and then to capture something of what you find there and put it into form with art materials. You go from a moment of inspiration to your paper or canvas and you try to get down the original idea, the original feeling, in its raw form. This is the pure expression, straight from your heart or your gut through your hands. You might not be satisfied with it as “a work of art” just yet, but it is one nonetheless.

            While these two pieces are being created, there is always another work of art emerging. This is you. And not just “you in your role as artist” – but YOU, your Self. You are growing and developing in the way that you approach the task of creation. You appear with more and more clarity each time you allow the first and second forms of art to emerge, uncensored. You become more yourself each time that you find it in you to accept, and even eventually to love what comes forth, whatever it looks like. With compassion for your fledgling images, you find compassion for your authentic self. When you can meet your authentic self with compassion instead of the defensiveness of ego or self-hatred, you are well on the way towards true healing.

For thoughts on what can happen with your art beyond the session, my next blog post is about the fourth piece of art: what happens when we share our art!

A Shelter in Stormy Weather

Have any of you wondered what the name Open Hearth Studio is all about?

stormy weather - hail on grassWhen I think of the image of the Open Hearth, what I see is an old fashioned kitchen: a shelter from the stormy weather outside. I envision a life centred around the fireplace where it is warm, bright, and comfortable, and where conversation is intimate. This is the environment that I try to create, despite not having a fireplace in my studio! This is the atmosphere where I believe healing can happen. I’m writing this in a brief sunny moment, right after a sudden and surprising hail storm.

People usually come to Open Hearth Studio in the midst of the most stormy and stressful periods of their lives:

when they are grieving, or struggling with a big change, either happening in the present or coming up on the horizon.

Grief, loss, and change can arrive much like that hailstorm – we might know that it’s natural, but it might have surprised us if it arrived without warning. We’re certainly having a lot of feelings, and some of them might not make sense or seem “right” to us. A move, retirement, or job change can be exciting and full of potential, and it can also bring feelings of loss and fear. A divorce can feel devastating, and sometimes we see a glimmer of new possibilities.  A new diagnosis can be frightening, and yet there may be some relief that at last you know what is wrong. Death can come with terrible sadness, worry about the future, and confusion. Yet alongside it may live tender memories, feelings of love, and gratitude for suffering ended.Stormy Weather

So the invitation is to come in out of the cold, stomp the snow off your feet, and settle down for a healing conversation, where all the parts of you – the pain, doubt, confusion, love, and hope within you – can be met with warmth and acceptance, and where you can move towards reconciliation and healing. The Open Hearth (even without a real fireplace) is waiting for you.

This month, I am offering an introductory Art Therapy Workshop for grief called “Art to Ease a Grieving Heart” where you will

  • Connect deeply with yourself so you can discover exactly what you need to avoid emotional overwhelm as you grieve.
  • Learn how to communicate with family and friends about expectations so you can make plans and decisions without defensiveness or guilt.
  • Create a concrete self-care plan for dealing with important milestones and special days to help you stay grounded and moving forward in your healing.

You can find out more about it on my workshops page, and registration is available online at Eventbrite or by contacting me directly by email or phone (250) 595-0405.

Poetry as a Meeting Place

heartswirlPoems have the capacity to be so many things.

From silly limericks to the grand historical sonnets, to the rawest spoken-word poetry-slam creations, they are used to communicate an incredibly wide array of feelings and intentions. I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry lately. I use it frequently in my small groups and in my own life as a starting point for thinking, talking, and making visual art. It’s a beautiful way to get a glimpse of what’s going on inside of us, without staring straight at ourselves, and maybe scaring ourselves off.

While the writer of a novel can take hundreds of pages to say what needs to be said, a poet is trying to distill the essence of a feeling, thought, or experience into something small and concentrated. Imagine a mad scientist hunched over a bunsen burner, watching liquid in a flask bubble up through coiled pipe until a mere dribble of something more precious comes out the other end.

So few words, to express something immense like love, or loss. The fascinating thing is how much space there is – infinite universes of space – between those few words. They allow me to see my world, and you to see yours, all the while also containing the poet’s world. I think poetry is a lot like visual art in that way. I can draw something – let’s say a flower. What I might mean by that flower, and what you might feel or understand on viewing that flower, can be miles apart, and yet we can be together in compassion while looking at it.

I’d like to share a poem with you here, one of my favourites. It’s called Love After Love, and was written by Derek Walcott. It was published in 1976. Here it is.

Love After Love

The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I read joy in this poem, and a promise that I can find myself – that I am always, and still, there to be found. I’ve read it different ways on different days. For today, I’m mostly playing with the idea that I’m reading it at the same time you are (or pretty close!) I’m enjoying the picture of an imaginary space where all our possible meanings are meeting together for a moment. Hmm… I wonder what that might look like?

mixcolours

Pet Loss: Grieving For My Dog

Audrey - by Marion Evamy
Audrey’s memorial portrait by Marion Evamy of Red Art Gallery

I’ve been preparing to write this post for about 8 months…

thinking that it would be helpful for those who have felt left out of the discussion around grief because they are “only” grieving the death of a pet. For those who have been told that pet loss is “not the same” as mourning a person. In a sense, that much is true. There is no such thing as “the same” grief.  Every death is a terrible loss. Every grief is a complex experience of memory, pain, and myriad other emotions. No one wins in the competition of “who hurts worse?”

My dog, Audrey, died four weeks ago, and the preparation made no difference at all.

I have been conscious of watching myself grieve pretty constantly since then. It’s an odd experience, being fully immersed in the feelings and direct experience, and then unexpectedly finding myself popping back up into my head to think “I’ll have to remember this, so I can write about it later.” I don’t really recommend it, but it’s what is happening, so I guess I’ve just got to go with it. My hope is that both you (and later I, too) will find it useful.

Having to hit the “reset” button every other moment …

For me, anyway, that’s what it felt like for the first few days. That scuffle I’m hearing: no, that’s not Audrey following me, it’s just wind outside. Her collar jingling? No, that was a cellphone in the next room. Thinking that I should wait a few more minutes before getting up to go to the kitchen to make sure Audrey’s soundly asleep so I don’t disturb her? Oh, she’s not here; I can get up and do anything I want without bothering anyone. Except what I want is to have her here, to have to (to be privileged to) consider her, to be irritated by her constant needs. While I am surprised less frequently by her absence now, after a month (which feels like about two weeks), it still happens more than I expected, and I imagine that it won’t go away entirely any time soon.

Self-Care, whether you think you need it or not

I  thought it might be a hard decision to cancel appointments in my Art Therapy practice when Audrey died. I knew I’d “probably” need to give myself the same time and permission I advise to others to deal with her inevitable death. Good old ego, thinking only in terms of “probably,” and thinking that all the other pet losses I’ve “had experience” with would have anything whatsoever to do with this loss. I thought I’d feel responsible and a little guilty, so I might let myself waffle a bit on self-care. In the end, there was no question. I didn’t want to see anyone. I wanted so badly not to see anyone that I gratefully accepted my clients’ graceful responses to my last-minute emails telling them I had family circumstances that required my attention for two days. Thank goodness I did. And thank goodness there was a weekend and a “business and paperwork day” as a buffer zone in there too. I would have been good for absolutely no one if I had stuck it out and kept my appointments. I’m still catching up on paperwork.

So what would be useful for me to say here?

It surprised my “witnessing self,” how many of my assumptions about my own reactions were inaccurate. I thought my previous experiences were going to make more difference for me than they did. I thought I was completely committed to one particular course of action, and in the end I went with something else. What my heart wanted in the moment was stronger than any of my rationally considered plans. Perhaps what I want most to get across here, and what I know is still just outside the reach of my language, is the sensation of grief, beyond the whirling thoughts that want to explain explain explain – not really able to mask the true experience. No matter how often I slide upwards into heady observations, turning clever words and ideas over and over in my mind, that I would write a great little essay with, the solidity of the feeling remains, and grows oddly comforting. Stay with that, I remind myself. That is the truth; that is the medicine that will heal me.

Since my own art and poetry haven’t quite come through yet, I leave you with the image of Audrey painted by Marion Evamy of Red Art Gallery (above) and the words of David Whyte, a master of finding words for grief:

THE WELL OF GRIEF

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

from River Flow
New & Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press © David Whyte

Acceptance and the Unexpected

audreynov2016I’m pretty sure I owe you all some news. I’ve been asked off and on for the past few months, often tentatively and apologetically, whether my dog Audrey was still alive. I wrote some months ago about the expectation that she would die soon because of an inoperable cancerous tumour. It’s a funny thing, expectation. When a vet (or a doctor in human medicine) tells you that illness has taken hold and that death will come immanently, you tend to make plans based on the numbers given. “You have about six more good months; you should do what you can to wind up your affairs and make every day count.” “She’s close to the end, you should come and visit now while she’s still lucid.” Or in my case, back in March, “July’s a really long time from now, for her, I don’t think you will be needing a pet-sitter for that trip you have to take.”

July was four months ago, and while I still think in terms of “will she be here for (whatever the next holiday or visit is)?” I have become pretty used to Audrey still being here. We joke that she is “the dog that never ends, yes she goes on and on my friends…” like the children’s song that goes around and around (and never ends). Under the joke though, is the sure knowledge that one of these days we’re going to have to go through whatever her death will look like. I am reminded of a line in an obituary (and I’m not sure if this is a real memory, apocryphal, or from my own imagination) that says someone died “suddenly, after a long illness.” That’s what it feels like. We can expect the inevitable, but no matter what, somehow it still manages to sneak up and grab us by surprise. And so we waver, caught in that gap between expectation and acceptance.

So I’m writing this little piece to simply let you know, Audrey is still here. She’s even slower, has the same temper, and the same sweetness that lies just under her skin if you take the time to let her show it. I have to help her up and down the stairs, but she still seems to be happy to be a dog, despite her limitations and occasional limp. For whatever reason, she perfectly happily munches up her various pills without needing the bribe of a treat. We suspect she’s trying to make up for her old habit of snapping before thinking. Good dog, Audrey.

Goodbye: Endings in art and life

"Grieve", Acrylic, 2012

Goodbye – What word creates more intense emotions?

It can be said in so many ways. Goodbye can come with an emphatic exclamation point; a slammed door. Sometimes it comes as a question. Is that all there is then? Are we done? Really? Other times, it’s simply the end of a sentence that has gone on too long, and we reach the period with a sigh, perhaps relief.

My preference is for the type of goodbye that is followed by an ellipsis (. . .) 

Pardon me for geeking out on punctuation for a moment! And please, don’t go looking up a grammar guide online – I’m sure my writing wouldn’t pass the test. Let’s just go with the metaphor for a moment here. If we end a sentence with a dot, dot, dot; we are left with the knowledge that something is being left out – with a sense that there might be something more.

Goodbye . . .

Welcome to the Open StudioI made a hard decision this spring. After more than three years, I chose to end the Open Studio program at St. George’s Church here in Victoria, BC at the end of this month. We’ve made art together, laughed, cried, ranted, made messes, and cleaned up. Over eighty people, in all, at some point experienced our little community. At any individual session, our attendance usually didn’t get much above six people, but WOW, those six (whichever six came that day) were invariably brave and sweet and committed to their process and to each other. I got to witness kindness, comfort, and respect. I watched courageous souls take a look at themselves and make decisions to change, to try something new, to stretch and to grow. I watched hurting souls find comfort in quietness and colour, a brief touch or a cup of tea offered by a stranger. I watched the shy and the gregarious, the young and the old, men and women, self-identified artists and those who say they aren’t a bit creative, figure each other out and figure out how to BE with each other. Just to be. What an honour and adventure it has been.

Of course, we’ve had to end things all along in this process. Every piece of art made at the Open Studio has needed to be dismissed at some point. Sometimes the dismissal has been unconscious. I think of the occasional artwork left behind and never reclaimed, its creator having done what they needed to do at the Studio, and choosing not to return. Sometimes an artist needs to put their work on hold, set it aside for a session or a  month or a year, until the time is right to say “hello again!” and continue to work. On those lucky occasions when an artist feels satisfied with their work and can say “I’m done now! It’s finished,” the goodbye can be clean and optimistic, looking towards the next idea, the next canvas. More often though, the ending is fraught with doubt. Is this finished? Did I miss the mark somehow? Where did my original idea go? This looks nothing like what I planned. What can I make of it now? Or even with work that feels good to its creator, there can be the doubt of what to do with the piece. Should I give this away? Am I ready to let it go? And of course, always, the wondering – Will I ever have a good idea again? I loved this creation, and now it’s over, and now I feel so very empty!

Sometimes my job as an Art Therapist is to hold the lamp of hope that there will, of course, be more good ideas. And the lamp of acceptance that sometimes there will be a big, blank canvas. And that that is okay too. There will be different canvases, different opportunities, different relationships. There will be new knowledge. Practice will never make perfect but it will do a much better job than never trying again. I might say. “Art is a way to practice all the hard stuff in life – like letting go and learning something new and tolerating just not knowing!” And sometimes I know I’m lucky no one has dumped a paint bottle on my head (yet.) We want so badly to move on to hello.

I know you all know this.

Life includes endings. Without Goodbye, we do not get to say Hello. We’ve heard them all. I’ve said most of them. And sometimes I’ve said those things at the right time, but not always.  And despite the truth in all of them, and despite my desire to go zooming past the ellipsis . . .  right away into the next truth . . .

That would be unfair. And grammatically incorrect. Those dots are there to tell us something is missing, or left out. And to rush past that space is to deny the time we need to feel the absence. For me there is a breath that happens at . . . .               I think it’s an inhalation – an anticipatory gathering of my energy. Something in me probably knows I’m going to need it.  So let’s take a minute to breathe here. We know there will be a helloBut right now it’s vital to recognize the loss. Whatever loss might be up for you right now. If you’re one of those who is directly affected by the ending of the Open Studio, or if you’re someone who missed it, or someone who is just here checking this space out – take that breath. What’s missing that needs to be acknowledged? What has life required you to say goodbye to – with all the pain that entails – right now? And what needs to be felt and known in this time of ending? Not what your friends think, not what our culture tells us we should feel, or know, or do, but what do YOU feel and know about goodbye right now, in your own soul and bones?

Let’s just be here for a while. Take the time we need. We can wait together until it’s time for the  Hello  after the  . . .

 

If you are feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, or alone as you mourn a loss, ending, or other goodbye, I help people find their way to the other side of their unique grief. Please contact me if you feel I might be of service.

Living in Dying

2013-09-02 19.50.03I know my dog is dying.

Audrey has been with us for almost three years, and, honestly, she rescued me, not the other way around. She is 15, of uncertain heritage with something of a wolfhound, and something of a border collie in there somewhere. Her temperament has always been uncertain as well. Not too trusting, not always polite, but quick to feel terribly ashamed of her bursts of temper.

We have a lot in common. I have always been a person who experienced what an old teacher of mine called “creeping enlightenment” rather than those sudden cataclysms of joyful change. As I watch Audrey move towards what is inevitable for us all, in her own doggy way, I find myself experiencing those new and painful cracks within that tell me I’m growing again. The creeping vines of changing awareness are once again at work inside me and I’d better be prepared to make some room for them. Open a window, let more light in, drink more water … and find the courage to let people in to support me, to be my trellis.

I watch her for cues and clues to what she needs, and find I need those things too as I prepare to wade into grief again. We walk much more slowly now. We save our energy for when the foolish squirrel  wanders into our vision and THEN we put on a burst of speed, and enjoy the hell out of the 10 second run, goofy grin on both our faces. She needs to watch what she’s eating, so as not to disturb the very inconveniently placed tumour that won’t stop growing. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if I paid more attention to my diet too… We stop and smell every … single … thing …. I stop multi-tasking with my phone while I’m walking her and let myself notice that there’s a certain flower bed in our nearby park that has been planted with hundreds of hyacinths that bring me memories of a t-shirt in grade 5 that had (yes, really) a scratch-and-sniff decal of a hyacinth on it. She is clear when she’s done and wants to go home. I have a harder time with that one.

Each new grief brings back memories of every dying we have ever experienced.

I remember my friend who died on the last day of high-school. I remember the boy who took his own life in middle school, who I so regret not making my friend. I remember my grandparents, each of whom died in their own way, consistent with who they were. I remember other pets, from Tippy to Sean to Nanna to Zeke and on and on. I remember and revisit the traumatic experiences when death has come too close to my beloveds. Through the surgeries I’ve had to wait through, breathlessly, when the mortality of my parents, my nephew, my child, my friend reaches up and slaps me in the face. And then not just theirs but mine, and yours, and every living thing. If I’m not careful, I step back into the fear. I step back into the closed room where the sun doesn’t shine and the vine cannot grow.

Instead, I’m going to choose to walk with Audrey. She’s smart, this dog of mine. When she hurts and needs our help, she does let us know -thanks to that wonderful temper! When she’s happy she does not hide it behind dignity. I’m going to honour my memories, the painful and the good, with gratitude. I’m definitely going to be making a lot of art to help me see and hear what my soul needs more clearly! I’m going to keep facing forwards, into the sun. And if I should happen to fracture a bit, in this wonderful tension between past and future that is our current life, then that’s where the vine will creep through, blossom, and bear fruit.