From the wild thyme archives: On Grief & Green Play Doh

I dug this post out of the archives; it came to mind as I was reading from Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies yesterday morning – an Ash Wednesday tradition.  {A Nashville friend shared her practice of reading this passage on Ash Wednesday; several years ago, I adopted the practice too.}  I’ve tried to remember what was going on in my world when I wrote this post; nothing comes to mind.  I think I was simply missing my father, who died seven years ago on a sunny day in March.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

gremlin_1Thank you, thank you, to all the lovelies and friends who reminded me that sunshine gets rid of Gremlins. Your emails and words were (are) appreciated.   The overwhelming didn’t eat me!   And a weekend away with Randy opened the blinds all the way.  Rose-filled rooms and chocolates on my pillow helped revive me.

A camera + a mountain drive & my boyfriend = a deep breath X remembering to laugh…

Boyfriend

Boyfriend 2

Boyfriend 3

I took the Anne Lamott book, Traveling Mercies, to NC so that we (the book and I) could get better acquainted.  I read  the chapter “Ashes”, over and over again; and I wept in the wee hours of  the morning, as I read the chapter entitled “Traveling Mercies”.  {This is how I know Rands loves me:  He didn’t complain when I poked him awake so that I could finish my cry with a friend.  A connected memory ~ He also used to wake up with me when I nursed babies in the middle of the night.}

The past few days have revealed grief ~  in conversation, in relationships, in books and inside of me too…  Interesting how themes emerge.   I haven’t been on the lookout for grief.  I didn’t decide one day to call a therapist because it was time to do “grief work”.  As a matter of fact,  I thought that I could control how and when we met – that I could make an appointment and meet Grief at the door with a journal of lined paper in hand. I thought that I would go through a sequence of stages and then it would be over.  (and silly me I thought I could ask him to come back another time…)  But Grief didn’t ring the doorbell.  He just walked in the back door, sort of sneaky- sort of not.  Sort of screen door slamming.  Sort of me turning around saying, “Was that the back door?”

Here’s what I read:   An excerpt from chapter 2 “Church, People, Steeple: Ashes” in Traveling Mercies:

Twice I have held the ashes of people I adored – my dad’s, my friend Pammy’s.  Nearly twenty years ago I poured my father’s into the water near Angel Island, late at night, but I was twenty-five years old and very drunk at the time and so my grief was anesthetized,  When I opened the box of his ashes, I thought they would be nice and soft and, well, ashy, like the ones with which they anoint your forehead on Ash Wednesday.  But they’re the grittiest of elements, like not very good landscaping pebbles,  As if they’re made of bones or something.
I tossed a handful of Pammy’s into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day, with her husband and family, when I had been sober several years.  And this time I was able to see, because it was daytime and I was sober, the deeply contradictory nature of ashes — that they are both so heavy and so light.  They’re impossible to let go of entirely.  They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater.  I licked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed, burned away.  They tasted metallic, and they blew every which way.  We tried to strew them off the side of the boat romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on shore, under a true-blue sky, but they would not cooperate.  They rarely will.  It’s frustrating if you are hoping to have a happy ending, or at least a little closure, a movie moment when you toss them into the air and they flutter and disperse.  They don’t.  They cling, they haunt.  They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.
By the time I reached into the box of Pammy’s ashes, I had had Sam, so I was able to tolerate a bit more mystery and lack of order. That’s one of the gifts kids give you, because after you have a child, things come out much less orderly and rational than they did before.  It’s so utterly bizarre to stare into the face of one of these tiny perfect beings and to understand that you (or someone a lot like you) grew them after a sweaty little bout of sex.  And then, weighing in at the approximate poundage of a medium honeydew melon, they proceed to wedge open your heart.  (Also, they help you see that you are as mad as a hatter, capable of violence just because Alvin and the Chipmunks are singing when you are trying to have a nice spiritual moment thinking about ashes.)  By the time I held Pammy’s ashes in my hand, I almost liked that they grounded me in all the sadness and mysteriousness; I could find a comfort in that.  There’s a kind of sweetness and attention that you can finally pay to the tiniest grains of life after you’ve run your hands through the ashes of someone you loved.  Pammy’s ashes clung to us.  And so I licked them off of my fingers.  She was the most robust and luscious person I have ever known.

And here’s what I wrote:

Grief leaps out from behind bushes
that have special place branches
and certain song leaves.

He hides behind trees made of perfume
and blue skies, then jumps out,
squeezing my heart until my eyes water.

green play dohIt all put me in mind of green playdough.  To me, green playdough represents the side of life that eludes our control.  Years ago I walked into a room full of my three small boys and a container of green playdough.  It  brought about one of the most important paradigm shifts of my life.  Watching my children get playdough under their fingernails and in their hair and wondering how making pancakes and snakes resulted in playdough mashed into the carpet left me feeling more than a little out of control and more than a lot furious.  But in that moment,

I witnessed delight and free expression.

I saw a wonderful picture of how messy it can be when people embrace life.

That playdough day was the beginning of a shift – or maybe a returning, because as I recall, I loved mudpies when I was a little girl.

Most days I am uncomfortable with mess – especially my own.  It’s why I’ve wanted Grief to stay away.  In part because crying is such a messy endeavor, but mostly because the whole process is unmanageable.  However, I’ve since decided that inviting Grief in for a cup of tea (or a good argument) is probably more prudent than continuing to swallow lumps in my throat.  Besides, I am running out of glue to paste smiles on my face.

When Rands worked nights, there were times when I wouldn’t hear him come into the house.  He would walk up behind me and greet me or reach out and touch me and scare the living daylights out of me.  But after that initial moment of panic, there was a huge relief, when the Oh-it’s-just-you-reality hit.  Grief keeps surprising me, but I am learning to say, “Oh, it’s you.  I’m glad you’re here.  I’ll put the kettle on.”  I think I shall acquire some beautiful handkerchiefs for the occasion.

By | 2016-10-19T14:20:37+00:00 March 10th, 2011|Art is Life is Art|3 Comments

About the Author:

I create containers for words and paint and I fill them. I craft safe, sacred spaces for people to wrestle, create, heal and shout from the mountain tops.
 
And I teach people to do all of these things for themselves.

  • Elizabeth

    I remember this. So beautiful. I meant to get the book and didn’t. I mean to all over again.

    Coincidentally, as I was reading, I was really hoping that bbgirl would not wake up and disturb my peace and quiet. She didn’t.

    Your insights on grief and your poem are spot on -the personification, the random order of the different stages, the wicked element of surprise, and the beauty in the mess.

    • Liz – Traveling Mercies is a lovely, thought-provoking book. I think you’d also enjoy her book on writing: bird by bird

      Awwww…. I love that bbgirl – Sleeping and awake. I’m glad you got you some quiet time. Saw a hawk yesterday and thought of you…

      ~b

  • Meg

    So so lovely.