MIGRATION | Living With Heart: Loss Grief Transition Renewal Meaning Support

jamesI grew up in a simple house with a big yard.  Yards aren’t so important anymore.  Kids don’t play outside much and where I live old houses are taken down and new ones are built that are all house, no yard.

Our yard was my mother’s favourite playground.  Over the decades I watched her turn it into a garden so glorious it radiated her life energy out into the streets.  People walking up and down would stop and comment, beaming back the joy in their smiles.  It was by no means a seriously coiffed garden – far too stuffy!  It was semi-cultivated and landscaped according to designs that perpetually evolved in her head.  It was a collection of birthday and Mothers’ Day shrubs, vines and flowers, plant sale bargains, and many a reject from garden shop bins she investigated on her way back from the grocery store.

Birds loved that garden – lots of birds – blue jays, chickadees, bush tits, flickers, robins, sparrows, towhees and all the others I don’t know.  And hummingbirds!  All those hummingbirds zipping around here, there and everywhere.  It was a magnificent 100 room palace for that co-operative and robust community!  Over the years I spent many enjoyable Sunday afternoons on the deck looking across the garden at the view of the inlet and its unceasing activity.  One day the birds caught my attention and suddenly I became acutely aware of their presence.  There were so many and they were so busy!

I thought about them after my mother died and our house was sold and demolished.  I thought about the chickadees who built their nest in the birdhouse hanging from the eave.  They would come back and find their home gone.  Come spring all the birds would fly back to their summer sanctuary with the tall, dense deodar tree, the fragrant cedar, the screaming yellow laburnum, the bright camellias and rhodos and all the flowers, flowers, flowers.   None of it would be there.  I wondered if they would be confused and frightened having faithfully followed their magical compass only to arrive to an empty dirt patch.  I felt a well of sadness for them, or so I thought.  But it wasn’t for them.  It was for the primal human longing in me that could no longer be fulfilled.

In my sadness I wondered what they would do.  The answer came so quickly and clearly it almost embarrassed me.  They would find another home!  They do not long for home. They go home when the flow of life directs them there.  If home is gone, they stay in the flow and follow where it takes them next.  The birds would be just fine.  I, on the other hand, had no idea where I was going.

For more than 40 years that simple house and its big yard had been my home base.  For a long time after it was gone I felt like I was one of the migratory birds being called back over and over again.  Just like them, when the need to return to the place of nests and family came upon me, I did not question.  I let those Divine whispers lead me.  There were certain places, certain days, certain times when the call would be so strong it would transmute from ethereal to physical and pull me toward our house.  If I was driving east I’d turn the car west and get on my familiar route.  Other times it would come out of the blue with no connection to time and space.  It was suddenly there inside my being and I had to go.  It was never planned.  It was always unstoppable.  I heeded the call many times in those first two years.  Friends and neighbours told me to stop because they feared the pain I felt.  I went anyway.  I knew my grief needed an exit.  It wanted its freedom and its opportunity to transform too.

Gradually the call became more and more faint and my trips back home less and less frequent.  I saw our house and its yard in many phases of leaving; when it was desolate in the winter, when the untended garden bloomed in a mad spring frenzy, when the grass had grown three feet high and when the dismantling began.  Then my heart knew there was no need to suffer.  It was time to stay away.  There can be great healing in witnessing and there can be torture in the inability to let go.

Our House2After a long absence I was called once more but this time as I drove I felt a preparation going on inside me.  Coming down the lane I could see the open space where the carport had been.  When I got to the street and looked across I saw one small fragment of the basement wall still intact.  The big steel caterpillar was still at work, its job all but complete.  In the rush of raw emotion that swept through me I was surprised that the most dominant of them was my gratitude for being there in that moment.  My home, the place that had helped shape me and gave so much to me, did not slip out of existence unnoticed.  I was there to see it go and to say thank you.

Going through loss is different for everyone.  I needed to bear witness to the process of an ending.  At the end, I needed to hold a space for gratitude to flow out with the past. Being a witness is what allowed my sadness to transform into gratefulness.  One day when the new house was built I drove by and saw someone’s coat flung over the railing of a staircase I glimpsed through the front door.  To see their home lived in was the completion of the process and I let all attachment to the place that had been my home go.  A different dream was unfolding there now.  The obvious came into crystal clear focus.  The perpetual motion of life carries on no matter what.  I’m grateful for the healing that allows me to go with it peacefully.