January 25, 2015

Adrift on the White Sea

        It’s been three years since my world exploded. With the sudden death of our Son, Lucas, Tom and I were cast into icy blackness, rotating slowly to the glimmer of distant galaxies. All of my careful plans—everything I thought I was—sucked away into deafening silence. It was a place I had never been—this Void.

Luke 1993

       I recall little: winter darkness, candlelight. Holding a little pewter statue Lucas had given me, a mother koala with her baby, clutched in my frozen palm. Friends came with food, plowed our driveway. Snow fell endlessly. I sat and rocked by the flickering wood stove. Tom and I clung together, weeping. Lost. Forever changed. With the gradual return of spring, sunlight blushed the hills, and slowly I awoke on a vast, White Sea. It seemed that I paddled listlessly toward a horizon where water melted into sky. No hope, no land. Ever.

       And yet . . . the Void is not empty. It is the creative genesis of All, where Universes are birthed—a place of pregnant possibility. With everything gone, I was also oddly free; free of fear and even of hope. Numb yet aching, I turned my small canoe into the Void and paddled. Without an imagined future, I no longer felt compelled by the machine that expects its interchangeable parts to take their two weeks of grief and get back online. I watched myself with remote curiosity and noticed that I was still breathing. Perhaps there was more to my Journey? Adrift on that eternal Sea, I began to sense a witness, One who observed my voyage with compassion.

       Tom and I retuned to the Arctic wilds that summer of 2012, where the land welcomed us home like a mother. My dreams were gentle too. Trees spoke in calming whispers. Unhurriedly, the wind breathed warmth into my veins, thawing the ice in my heart. My body began to re-member. In dawning wonder, I felt immense love from this sacred Planet. I was her child, bone of this Earth, blood of this river. She knew me—even when I had lost myself.

        Back at our cabin again the summer of 2013, another layer peeled away—new skin softly glowing beneath scars. The land continued to rock me awake, singing lullabies. At last, I was ready to descend into the underworld in search of wholeness. I invited Tom to dive with me into our shared Grief—to face this darkness and heal our fractured hearts. Soul work cannot be accomplished with the head—that part which cycles endlessly with “what-ifs”—or even the heart, where tears pool in a bottomless well. Yet beneath the controlled grid of daily life, there runs a numinous current, a shifting river of dreams and ancient secrets. To touch it, one must set aside reason and court Mystery. To grieve is to face our greatest Fear—by relinquishing hope, bargaining, plans—and realize we have no ultimate control over events. From surrender, new life takes form.

       The steps were ours alone—for there are no maps—yet each of us carries coded messages for navigating these depths. It is our birthright. Most do not seek the hidden tunnels until forced through a keyhole by pain and loss. Beyond tranquilizers and counselors lies an inner gate to the Soul. Tom and I took six weeks in this descent, feeling our way through the darkness together. We wandered the wilderness, created ceremonies, gave each other permission to grieve in any form that served.

        Listening for the song of running water beneath the ice of our shared grief, we groped through the decades. We examined Luke’s toys, writings and clothes—choosing what to save, to give away, or to commit to earth, river, and fire. When Lucas was fourteen, he had planted a clump of blueberries in front of our cabin. It had seemed a pointless gesture. “That’s where we stack logs,” I had said. “That ground is too dry for berries.” I look at the picture now, seeing his wise young face, and realized he did it for me—a gift to a future neither of us anticipated. Once you accept the possibility that the Planet is an evolving consciousness, that we are part of a remarkable and awesome Process, you can embrace such contradictions.

       Tom and I cleared away the logs and created a memorial garden around that small clump. Our Son’s blueberry plants were but a few sprigs in the moss, for growth here is measured in decades. Two nearby saplings had grown a foot in those twelve years. I combed the stony ground with my fingers as, on my knees, I placed steppingstones and transplanted bits of moss and wildflowers between tree roots. It was a slow meditation, perhaps an atonement. We planted a young birch tree; Tom crafted a curved rail and a bench. We carried out the smallest task with tender care. A guardian spruce tree was decked in feathers and beads, and at its base we arranged the naturally shed antlers of a caribou, Lucas’s totem animal—Rangifer, the wanderer. Tom carved a box from a tree trunk, and into it we set childhood treasures along with a lock of Lucas’s hair wrapped in locks cut from each of us.

       We enacted other ceremonies—days in preparation. Tom built a new fireplace in our yard, and into the virgin flames we gradually committed our Son’s writings, drawings, and handmade toys. We wrote letters to him, and I also wrote to anyone for whom I harbored feelings of hurt or anger relating to him. All were released into the flames. Tom carved a small boat, and in it we placed degradable objects before setting it adrift on the river. We built a pyre on the beach and offered up his clothing, item by item. Gradually, through these intense days, a great weight lifted from my chest, and against all expectations, my heart began to beat. In surrendering to my Soul and having the courage to look down, I began to rekindle my flame.

       A wounded friend tells me, “Grief is a harsh mistress. You cannot escape, but must make friends with Her.” That is what I have learned. Yes, I still miss my beautiful Son. There are moments of profound melancholy. I’m still adrift on the White Sea. Yet there is also a clarity and peace out here, freedom in humility and surrender. While I was striving to make Life turn out, I was always fearful. Now that it hasn’t, I am grateful for the beauty of each day—at home with uncertainty, resting in the eye of the storm. Grief, I have found, can be a Portal into Life, a window into the Universal Soul. Would I still give all my tomorrows for a single day on a mountaintop with Lucas and Tom? Yes, probably. Life doesn’t have to be long to be a Jewel of perfection.

       I had not intended share these deeply private events, yet Tom and I are not alone in suffering what seems unbearable Grief. No human life is without wrenching moments of free-fall. I hold this most personal story up as a candle across the waves, should you find yourself alone and bereft upon an endless Sea. I have been guided by such sparks of light form the darkness and the notes left in bottles by other wanderers. It is a warrior's journey—one that takes great courage—but it holds the possibility of transformation. Your little canoe on that vast White Ocean can be a healing cocoon from which you may one day be reborn. Trust the Sea, listen to your Soul, and—when you are ready—find the courage to look down.

We wish you Wonder, Beauty, and Peace.
Jeanie and Tom,
January 2015

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