Contemplative Photography & Reflections

A Waterfall at the Edge of the Wilderness

It is May, the month my mother died last year, on the 27th. And lately I have been experiencing a gaping, intense sense of loss.

It’s not just the loss of my mother. It’s how her death has opened my eyes to the brevity, gift, and opportunity of our human lives and shown me what is not working in my life and what needs to change. After a fairly frenetic summer and fall, I spent a long, dark winter wandering through the vast wilderness of grief. Deep snowfall covered the path for several months, and I lost my way, bewitched by shadows and longing for light. It was a very long winter of record-breaking snowfall. But below the thick, silent blanket of snow, there was movement. I confronted issues that were long overdue and witnessed people close to me undergoing painful yet powerful transformations. To witness extraordinary transformation – to know it is even possible – is a blessing. Even in the deep darkness of winter, there is a light that can nourish us and help us grow if we choose to turn toward it.

Eventually the snowbanks melted, the first flowers bloomed, and the birds began to sing again. Trees and shrubs sprouted buds from unpruned branches still hosting the lacy ghosts of last year’s blooms.

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The snow and ice to which we had become accustomed melted, and the water began to flow. The river levels rose, and grief took on a different, more fluid quality that came at me in waves, like labor contractions. Some particularly huge ones hit this week.

Again, it wasn’t just the loss of my mother – although that is big enough on its own. There is a confluence of loss arising in my heart, including the loss of my profession and having an empty nest earlier than I had planned. Two nights ago, I began sobbing uncontrollably. I felt grief and loss deep in my bones and in my heart. It was perhaps the deepest manifestation of emotional pain I ever have experienced in my life. I became a human waterfall that continued to flow all day yesterday. When a stranger wished me a good day and smiled at me, it brought tears to my eyes. And it occurred to me that when we have reached the limit of what we can endure and feel so broken, we are about to learn that we are much stronger than we believed ourselves to be. It is an opportunity to redefine our limits and our lives.  And to remember the importance of basics, like getting enough sleep and exercise.

Putting up the May pocket chart calendar in my empty classroom, I had to blink back tears – especially when I put the 27 card in place. Tears flowed again when I took out the May books and came across some Mother’s Day books – which I realize I will not be able to read to my class this year.

I checked my email and, as if on cue, received A Note from the Universe that read:

“Any and all forms of separation, disconnects, divides, partings, breakups, and goodbyes are temporary. Very. You’ll be together far, far longer than you will ever be apart.”

Realizing I was having a grueling day, a woman whom I consider a soul sister assured me that it will get better and that even when you think you have gone backwards, you will find that you moved forward but just didn’t know it. She assured me that I will be myself again, but it will take time. She said I will never forget but will find peace. I am grateful for her wisdom and friendship.

At the water’s edge, I recently watched several geese floating peacefully. Whenever a wave approached them, they floated calmly,  gracefully, and effortlessly up and over it, as if not phased by it in the least. Oh, to navigate the waves of life and loss with such grace!

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And I know I can do it. I have an incredible toolbox that has been underutilized in recent months. Now that spring has arrived, life feels more spacious, and it’s time to put those tools into fuller use once again. First of all, I must restore my own center as the axis about which my life spins, for it has wobbled.

Now that the snow has melted, the labyrinth I love to walk has revealed itself and invited me to enter. Filled with a bittersweet mix of gratitude and sorrow, I walked through the threshold of arched willow branches and along the winding path to the center. The sun was descending in the sky and shining through the daffodils surrounding the labyrinth, giving them the transparency of stained glass mandalas.

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The scene was just like it was a year ago, when I found it so breathtaking that I called my mom and asked her if she wanted to see something beautiful. She said yes, and I immediately jumped in the car, picked her up, and brought her to the labyrinth to be amongst the flowers.

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I continued to walk the labyrinth with hot tears streaming down my cheeks. One step at a time, I returned…to myself and to my sacred space. And the sunlit daffodils whispered: This is your life. Enter it fully. And I knew these words to be true.

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And I shall do so, with gratitude. This little life of mine is far from perfect, and there is much room for growth. But it is mine, and it is time to shake off the spell of the wintry wilderness and reclaim it, one mindful footstep at a time.

As for all that no longer fits or that moves beyond my embrace:

I release you to the universe with gratitude for the gifts we have given each other and for the seeds we have planted in each other. We exist forever in the places we were together and in each others’ memories and heart. All is well. And in the end, love is all that remains.

And so I wake up to the spaciousness of this new day, this new month – no longer a waterfall but with a heart budding with hope and open to the generous offerings of spring. The daffodils seem to be a good place to begin.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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