My Golden Reminder to #facethesun

Golden Hour 1-B

Today is the fourth anniversary of my sister Lori’s passing, so, predictably, I woke up in the grips of sadness. I wanted to spend the day in quiet contemplation, perhaps, dreaming in purple, but Monday means necessary work. I was not exactly looking forward to a long “working meeting” day and wondered how in the world I would get through, but God reminded me that work is sacred and that as long as I continued “working for Him,” He would do His part in helping me feel safe, focused, and strong enough to get through. 

After a gloomy weekend, the sun is shining brightly, an invitation for me to glow in the moment. I am thankful for this moment. Though grieving the loss, I am grateful for Lori’s beautiful life.

I crafted the sunflower in today’s post for the Week 36: Golden Hour prompt for 52Frames. Unable to find a good “golden hour” to shoot in, I spent a figurative golden hour with this sunflower. It is just the image I need to have in my mind–a sunny reminder to change my focus or #facethesun [the Son of God] when I encounter the unpleasant moments of life.

Sunny Blossoms | Sunflowers at Her Grave

“Shine Brightly.” PhotoArt by Diane W.

Some time ago I shared a short sunflower poem written by rupi kaur on the blog. I think of this poem often—whenever I think of my sisters, my friend Julie’s oldest daughter (who was also my student), my pen friend Eileen V’s daughter, and others who passed far too soon.

As I was noting the darkness in my office one stormy morning this week, I mentioned to Julie that I need to transfer my sunflower wall back to my office at work, and she began telling me her special sunflower story.

She planted sunflowers at her daughter’s gravesite. For some time, she tended that garden, a necessary act as she worked through those first shocking moments of grief. The garden grew and grew, as gardens do. Eventually but unsurprisingly, she was told it had to be scaled back (out of respect for other decedents and their families). She was able to chuckle a little when she shared that part, as there has been by this time enough distance between the shattering pain of losing a daughter so young and the present moment.

The image of a gravesite bedecked in sunflowers reminded me of the statement my blogging friend, writer Ellen H, made in a comment on one of my recent posts about grief—

Beauty is both stunning and sad. —Ellen Hawley

There is a cost to beauty, so while I marvel over the amazing grace God showers on mothers who lose their daughters, I am keenly aware that the loss leaves a wound that never heals. As Julie says, “it’s a club to which no mother wants to belong.”

Even so, I thank God for Karlette, Lori, Témar, and Alanna. Though there is sadness, I am in awe of the stunning gifts of their brief but brilliant lives.

despite knowing
they won’t be here for long

they still choose to live

their brightest lives

rupi kaur, “sunflowers,” from the sun and her flowers


About the Image: The sunflower art in this evening’s post comes from a photo-art journal crafted by my swap-bot pal, Diane W (aka midteacher). I shared most of the beautiful journal on the blog a few years ago, with a promise to come back and share four of the images in individual posts. I’ll get to the other three…eventually.

Seven Favorites from World Watercolor Month | Faith and Butterflies

Watercolor 30-2022

World Water Color Month 2022, Day 30 (July 30, 2022)

If I had to choose one favorite from the images I crafted for World Watercolor Month 2022, I think this Spice Bush Swallowtail would be the one. I worked this one on my father’s birthday as I thought about him and all the gifts he gave me. 

“Faith,” the poem below by Ullie-Kaye seems an appropriate fit for this butterfly, since the journey with grief is also a journey of faith. 

faith
ullie-kaye

faith does not begin where fear ends.
she comes when you are still lying in

the bottom of the gutter. hands trembling.
doubts running rampant. seas stormy.

breath insufficient. darkness winning.
thoughts blurring. skies fading. more black
than blue. obstructed view. no way through.
there. in the absence. in the tragedy.
in the emptiness. in the wreckage that made
its way into the very marrow of your bones.
in the fire that could not be drenched.
in the thirst that could not be quenched.
in the wounds that would not heal. in the

heart that could not feel. in the broken.
the lost. and surreal. that’s when she comes. 

I hope you enjoyed our seven-post trip into photo art and the beautiful words I encountered daily. 

WWCM 2022 Collage

Here’s a collage of the photo art posted for World Watercolor Month, including the three extra (butterflies) I posted on the blog (but not on Instagram). Do you have a favorite?

Sorrow | The Butterfly [Tattoo] Effect

Butterfly-3 wm

I have been fixated on butterflies most of the week, reworking butterfly photos into watercolor photo art. I didn’t realize why until, while scrolling through my camera roll Thursday evening, I came across a picture of my son and parents that was snapped last summer. In the picture, I could clearly see most of my father’s butterfly tattoo. 

Ah! That explains it!

In addition to the intangible qualities and gifts, there are certain tangible items that I associate with my father. Among them are his ruby ring, his hearing aid, his jazz collection, and his butterfly tattoo. Only one of those was buried with him, and I was miserably grieved that I had never managed to intentionally photograph the tattoo while he was living–neither had my photographer brother nor any of the other photographers in the family!

The tattoo was simply a part of my father; he had gotten it when he served in the United States Air Force. It had been there all our lives—so we never thought about taking a snapshot. Until he was gone. I combed through image after image and could see parts of the tattoo, but never enough of it. Furthermore, the quality was diminished in attempting to enlarge any photo enough to really see the tattoo. Failing to capture the tattoo troubled me for weeks after his passing, till I finally convinced myself to let it go. I did so grudgingly and with the hope of eventually finding someone who had a good shot of that tat. 

I don’t know how I’d missed it in the photo referenced above! I think it was waiting to be found when I needed it most. With my father’s birthday approaching [today], I guess, the butterflies settled into my spirit and provided a way for me to connect with my father’s memory that was soothing for my soul.

Daddy Butterfly Tattoo wm

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

Sorrow | Lessons from Grief

Butterfly-2 wmLoss and grief are inevitable parts of life. We know this, but that doesn’t make it easier to manage. In fact, the inevitable is often a source of anxiety for some. Despite how ab-so-lute-ly awful it is, grief teaches us many lessons about life, love, and ourselves. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Love is more powerful than we can ever find words for or even imagine. We continue loving long after the person is gone.
  2. Grief is a journey for one. Others may grieve the loss of the same person, but not the same loss. Every loss is personal and the journey to healing individual.
  3. There is no “getting over” a loss, but eventually the wound will heal. As with all wounds, there will be scars.
  4. Grief stays with us. It morphs and shape-shifts until it settles into our beings.
  5. Eventually, we learn to live with grief, but our hearts may never stop aching.
  6. The gaping, person-sized hole inside never gets filled. We miss the person for the rest of our days on earth, but mingled with the pain will be fond memories and laughter.
  7. It is important that we find space to express ourselves and talk about our loved ones.
  8. We should never apologize for grieving, even if it makes others uncomfortable.
  9. The Divine draws closer to us when we grieve (Psalm 34:18).
  10. We learn how to sit in the dark and still believe in Light.

What lessons have you learned from grief?

Sorrow | Bow Down

Butterfly BW Pink Border wm

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been given

–Mary Oliver, from “Love Sorrow.”

My dad’s birthday is in a few days. He would have been 87. How do I handle this first birthday without him?

Grief and I have been wrestling for control over my emotions the last few days. This is a busy time, so I keep reminding myself that I don’t have time to fall apart. But sorrow is no respecter of persons, does not yield to schedules or timelines. It expects me to bow in obeisance. I resist…at first. Eventually, I give in because I am neither monster nor machine, and I cannot control this thing.

Photo Poem | A Blazing Light

Light2 wm

I opened Facebook this afternoon to find a suggested post featuring Jeff Foster’s poem, “How I Became a Warrior.” I loved it instantly. It felt like an expanded version of Emily Dickinson’s “Pain Has an Element of Blank” (Poem 19). Whereas her poem speaks of the all-consuming nature of pain, Foster’s shows us how to embrace and move past pain, trauma, and darkness to get to the other side. His poem points the way toward Light. Foster and I probably have different definitions of Light [or the Source of Light], but that is the beauty of reading poetry. The author isn’t the only one who creates meaning. 

I integrated the last seven lines in the photo-art above. The full poem is below. I hope it fills your soul…

How I Became a Warrior
Jeff Foster

Once, I ran from fear
so fear controlled me.
Until I learned to hold fear like a newborn.
Listen to it, but not give in.
Honour it, but not worship it.
Fear could not stop me anymore.
I walked with courage into the storm.
I still have fear,
but it does not have me.

Once, I was ashamed of who I was.
I invited shame into my heart.
I let it burn.
It told me, “I am only trying
to protect your vulnerability”.
I thanked shame dearly,
and stepped into life anyway,
unashamed, with shame as a lover.

Once, I had great sadness
buried deep inside.
I invited it to come out and play.
I wept oceans. My tear ducts ran dry.
And I found joy right there.
Right at the core of my sorrow.
It was heartbreak that taught me how to love.

Once, I had anxiety.
A mind that wouldn’t stop.
Thoughts that wouldn’t be silent.
So I stopped trying to silence them.
And I dropped out of the mind,
and into the Earth.
Into the mud.
Where I was held strong
like a tree, unshakeable, safe.

Once, anger burned in the depths.
I called anger into the light of myself.
I felt its shocking power.
I let my heart pound and my blood boil.
Listened to it, finally.
And it screamed, “Respect yourself fiercely now!”.
“Speak your truth with passion!”.
“Say no when you mean no!”.
“Walk your path with courage!”.
“Let no one speak for you!”
Anger became an honest friend.
A truthful guide.
A beautiful wild child.

Once, loneliness cut deep.
I tried to distract and numb myself.
Ran to people and places and things.
Even pretended I was “happy”.
But soon I could not run anymore.
And I tumbled into the heart of loneliness.
And I died and was reborn
into an exquisite solitude and stillness.
That connected me to all things.
So I was not lonely, but alone with All Life.
My heart One with all other hearts.

Once, I ran from difficult feelings.
Now, they are my advisors, confidants, friends,
and they all have a home in me,
and they all belong and have dignity.
I am sensitive, soft, fragile,
my arms wrapped around all my inner children.
And in my sensitivity, power.
In my fragility, an unshakeable Presence.

In the depths of my wounds,
in what I had named “darkness”,
I found a blazing Light
that guides me now in battle.

I became a warrior
when I turned towards myself.

And started listening.

Photo Poem | Cry Wild

Cry Wild Red

Last week when my bestie asked how I was doing. I told her, “I am out of words. I need to howl.” So, we howled. Via text message.

Howl

There has been so much talking lately. So many words. Too many wrong words. Words that divide. Words that hurt. Words that maim. About five years ago—when the global noise had escalated unbearably—I shared the words of a former student, “the world needs a little silence.” 

I think we’re at that point again.

We need less words. Less commentary. Less opinions. Less arguing and defending. Less reacting. We need healing words. I realized this as I was reading Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” last night. The length, weight, and relevance of that piece made it intolerable for this moment. Though I indeed feel like “howling,” nayyirah waheed’s poem, “break,” more aptly captures what is needful.

cry wild.
you have probably never cried wild.
but, you know what doors
feel like.
you have
an intimacy with doors
that is killing you.

–break, nayirrah waheed, salt

The losses are mounting. The grief is heart-shattering, but our tears are restrained.

We must unleash them. We must break.

We must break to heal.

Wildflowers in the Mail | Discover…

from Gina

I happened across an extra copy of the postcard I made for Love Notes 38, prompt 1. I decided to share the words I wrote to my partner because, maybe, someone in my blogging audience needs the words today.

I hope you discover…
the sacredness of this moment with all its questions stirring up the wind. 

I hope you discover…
the lessons in the turbulence of sorrow and everyday struggle.

I hope you discover…
the stillness within and allow it to cradle you until you emerge whole. 


About the Image: This postcard came a few days ago all the way from Germany, sent by my literary twin, Gina B. I was going to save it for my next sunflower week, but decided to share it today because we can always use a little extra sunshine! Sonnenblumefrische [Sunflower Freshness?] is the work of Berlin illustrator, Arinda Craciun, who shares about her art and process on her website. You can also find her work on Instagram and Behance. Thank you for the sunshine and for introducing me to a new artist, Gina!