“Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
October is such a vivid, dynamic month in the Northeast as the natural world undergoes dramatic transformations of appearance and temperature. It’s a time of year that really nestles into your memory, perhaps because it is so fleeting. Whereas snow can cover the landscape for four or five months a year, the blazing colors of autumn foliage are pretty much limited to a few short weeks during October. I am in the midst of creating my 2016 photography calendar, and it will be a painstaking task to select only a couple fall images. I wish I could fill the entire calendar with them because they are among the most vivid images of the entire year!
I have been experiencing a lot of déjà vu this fall in regard to certain dates. It seems a piece of our essence remains in places where we experienced special moments – and that we also leave behind an energy imprint at significant points along our elliptical orbit around the sun. I’ve noticed this especially during the past year, which was the first year following my mom’s death. Meaningful dates took on an extra weight as memories from the previous year(s) arose like ghosts determined to haunt me. I have been told (and hope it’s true) that these ghosts are strongest the first year as we circle back around and become less intense as time goes on.
So, I’ve been reviewing my photos from the past year to select images for my upcoming calendar. My photo library serves as a poignant reminder of what a challenging year it has been – probably THE most heartbreaking, intense, bewildering year of my life! In May – the most anguishing month this year (and the month of my mom’s death anniversary) – the lilacs reminded me of her rapidly deteriorating health last year, just as the cooler temperatures at this time of year generate other associations. Some are more wistful and emotionally charged than others.
In nostalgic moments, I sometimes ask myself: If I had the power to return, would I really want to, knowing what I know now? Would I want to relive that all over again? What, if anything, would I do differently? Could my intuition have been the voice of my present self returning to guide me? Or would I not have done anything differently because I understand from a higher vantage point that everything I experienced served an important purpose and that the spiritual gifts would ultimately outweigh the tears and fears?
It’s no small consolation to realize that, as I watch colorful leaves twirl to the ground just as they did a year ago, I am better off today than I was a year ago today. And that is something to be grateful for. I have weathered some storms and become stronger as a result. In the past year, I have liberated myself from restrictive energies and have learned a thing or two about myself in relation to others. The journey wasn’t an easy one, but it is a net positive. No doubt about it.
Sometimes we require or choose bitter medicine. Difficult circumstances shake us from our sleep so we can perceive things from a different angle that may help us to grow and to position ourselves more favorably in relation to key situations, people, and events moving forward. Perhaps we can come to know our suffering as labor pains that we can handle with some support – for ultimately we are all midwives for one another, helping those around us to give birth to their greater selves. I’m so grateful to be looking behind at, rather than heading into, the storm of the first year without my mom and grateful, too, for the wisdom that resulted from it.
Historically, fall was the time of year my mom became more available to us again after we hadn’t seen much of her during summer, her busy season. So fall was when her loss really began to hit hard last year. It also heralded the cold, dark time of year and a string of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays when her absence would be felt most poignantly.
Memories are often activated when we return to the same spoke on the wheel of the year – except that this time around, following significant loss, everything is different. Our world has changed. Any sensory impression or seasonal nuance can serve as a trigger that reopens a wound that is still in the process of healing: sights (colorful trees, leaves twirling down, plants going to seed), sounds (crunching of leaves, geese squawking), smells (decomposing leaves, bonfires), foods (apple crisp, squash, soup), changes in temperature and angle and duration of sunlight, etc.
It’s as if these sensory impressions are keys or passwords that unlock memories that tug at our heartstrings and pull us back. But of course, we can’t go back. We can only move forward.
While traveling through significant dates and memories where ghosts lurk, I have experienced myself doing everything in my power to resist trains of thought that could hook me and set more tears in motion. It was as if the train was approaching. I heard and saw it coming and felt the ground vibrate as it came closer. I felt the anticipation of getting on it – and jumping on that train had become a habit. But I didn’t want to get on it, even though the destination sign was lit with the name of a place that excites me. I whispered to myself (out loud!), “Don’t go there! Don’t go there! Don’t go there!”
But in the next breath, I realized I can go there – but not as a vulnerable child who becomes overwhelmed by the view and is afraid of the shadows and the precipitous drops. Rather, I can go there with a wise and loving guardian and not linger in uncomfortable places but pass through safely and unharmed. I need not avoid this thought territory altogether because it’s so “scary” or “dangerous” but can go there with someone who understands the terrain and is looking out for me and my best interests. That caring presence is the inner presence and consciousness that arises. It’s the witnessing presence that is strengthened through mindfulness practice on and off the cushion and is able to be there with me as I navigate the colorful and sometimes dramatic landscape of thought. Sometimes I will stumble, and sometimes I won’t. But when I do, the witnessing presence will assure me that it I am okay and will see me through.
My mom has been gone for 17 months, and I have longed many times for the nurturing, maternal presence that only a mom can provide – especially with all the changes and losses I’ve been dealing with since she passed. She was a devoted listener who always stood up for me and wanted to make sure I was being treated right. It didn’t matter who it was, even if it was one of her grandchildren! She would declare, “This is my daughter, and I love her and want you to treat her right!” My mom is not around to do that anymore, but there is a familiar voice in my head that had never been there before and keeps growing stronger. It arises from within and is so comforting, loving, nurturing, reassuring, and maternal. I don’t know if it’s her voice, but it is the most tender voice of loving-kindness I have ever known. And it arises instantly, without me attempting to conjure it. It feels like this is the same voice that mysteriously wakes me up and prompts me to look out the window at exactly the right moment to catch and photograph a magnificent sunrise. This voice looks out for me and is one of the greatest gifts I have received since my mom’s passing.
If weathering the storms of the past 17 months has cultivated this new voice inside me, it is one of the best justifications I have to be grateful for this bittersweet journey. It’s true: My life will never be the same. There is a kind and loving presence growing in me that will not allow me to be mistreated or undervalued by anyone, including myself! And the best part of all is that it is a gift I can give to others by being a loving, affirming, maternal presence in the world. It is what we moms who have lost our own moms can do for others. We need not limit our mothering to our own children and can spread it around the world because we truly and deeply realize what a difference it makes. We can become, ignite, and inspire that voice and presence that makes inner space a kinder and more welcoming place to be. A place where new stars can be born from the gaping void where the brightest stars used to shine.
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.
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