Grief shatters us

shattering

“Grief shatters our lives. Figuring out how to pick up the pieces is a critical part of the journey.”  This is the thought that was running through my head as the light case in the kitchen crashed to the ground freaking out Soren, Demetri and me.  I had just changed the light bulb and thought I had tightened the screws back in tightly enough.  I guess not.

I just stared at the shattered case for a few seconds as Soren jumped into action to get the dogs out-of-the-way and safe.  Then, I started laughing.  Talk about serendipity with my thoughts and the action in the room.  Wild, just wild.  As Demetri, Soren, and I figured out how to safely get everything picked up my musing brain began making connection after connection between the shattered light case and my experience of Russell’s sudden death and my grieving journey since.

*Pieces go everywhere.  The shattering of one’s self at the loss of a loved through death, divorce, rupture in the friendship, etc. is broad and all-encompassing.  Not a piece of our lives is unaffected by the loss.

*Just when you think you have all of them gathered up some more pop up, sometimes in your foot, causing renewed pain and a search for missing pieces.   The grieving journey is not like a trip that has a beginning and an end time.  It is a journey that goes on and on and on far longer than anyone thinks it could.  The causes of renewed pain vary for everyone, but they do pop up for us all.  Sometimes the expected times cause less pain than the ones that seemingly come out of nowhere.  All of them open up new wounds and the need for more healing.

*The shattering is quick and startling.  Staring for a while at the shattering as your brain tries to process what just happened is very common. It leaves us in shock, wanting to sit on the floor and cry, and even at a complete loss as to what to do next.  Even if the death of a loved one or the finalization of a divorce is expected the final moment of loss is startling and devastating.  In the blink of an eye one of the ways we may have defined ourselves for years has forever changed.  Our naming of ourselves begins to shift and it can take years to settle into this new reality. All in the blink of an eye.

*Sometimes, no matter, how careful we are things shatter and can’t be returned to its original condition.    Much of our lives is out of our immediate control.  We cannot keep everyone and everything in our lives safe all of the time.  Even if we are able to patch ourselves back together it is impossible to return our lives back to the original condition we were in before the shattering.  No matter how well we heal nothing will ever be the same as it was at the moment of shattering.

*Patching up the old or creating new is one of the decisions that must be made and it depends how shattered things are.   Sometimes we are able to take enough of what was there before the shattering and carefully patch it up enough to make it functional again.  Other times it is much healthier and smarter to just start new.

*Expect to find pieces in weird places for a long time afterwards.   Things will pop up for days, weeks, months, even years that are part of the initial shattering. The question isn’t if they will pop up instead it is when and where.  Making ourselves stronger on a daily basis by focusing on self-care and our own healing helps us to handle better finding things that can drop us back into the moment of shattering.

*Talking to others about how to pick up the shattered pieces is a good idea. Doing parts of it yourself also a good idea.  In the initial shattering and in those moments that we find new pieces and are deeply reminded of the shattering it is a very good idea to have others around to help pick up the pieces for one’s healing.  There are many parts that we can only do on our own for our personal self-care.  But much can be done to find strength and hope by allowing others into our healing journey.  Find those folks who are willing to companion you on your journey, taking you as you show up each day.

*The shattering may play over and over in your mind for a while, ringing in your ears.  The moment of loss and the shattering of ourselves can play itself over in our minds for a long time.  It affects our waking and our sleeping dreams.  It affects all we do as we learn to allow our brains to assimilate the moment of shattering.  This can be especially hard if the shattering was unexpected and without warning.

*The shattering affects everyone involved to varying degrees.  Each person who experiences the shattering by the loss of a loved one is affected differently.  Two people can be present at the same exact occurrence and experience it radically different.  Who we are, what our own life learnings are about, other losses we have experienced, how we handle stress, and so much more impact how something affects us.   What is important to remember is that just because one person’s loss isn’t the same as our own it doesn’t mean their loss is any less than ours.  Each person’s is authentic to their own journey and just as valid as another person.

*Lights are left bare while waiting for a new cover.  It takes time, as much as is needed by each individual, to be ready to move on into something new.  Being raw and exposed for a while is a natural part of the healing journey.  It is essential to be extra careful and gentle with one’s self and others during this time.  This exposed time can be a scary time to walk.  It can also be a time of great opportunity as one explores new things to embrace as a new reality.

The reality of life is that we are going to experience times of great loss that leave us feeling shattered.   We cannot change that fact.  All we can do is to find ways to pick up the pieces of our shattered selves and move forward into a new reality.

The winding path of grieving

griefpath

Today I and my kids take another step on our grief journey.  This afternoon we will be burying Russell’s ashes at the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Columbia, IL.  We’ve explored many ideas of what to do with Russell’s ashes and finally settled on burying them at this cemetery.  Russell was deeply connected to the community at Immaculate Conception and in many, many ways they were helping him find his way back to a sense of mission and calling that had been hidden from him for many years.  It is a community that continues to embrace and support us and it seemed like a fitting place to place Russell’s ashes.

There are many places we had talked about scattering his ashes but I admit we all felt a little daunted at the thought of traveling with him in our vehicle to these places. While we might have someday felt more ready to travel to some of his favorite places and scatter ashes along the way, we also know that this is a part of the journey that we don’t want to drag on for months or years.  Heck, we still have cremains from several dogs we need to bury at our home at some point and these dogs died years ago.  The thought of having Russell’s ashes remain in limbo somewhere for possibly years was just not something we wanted to do.

As we prepare ourselves for this afternoon and the new or renewed emotions it may stir up, I have been reflecting deeply about the grieving journey for myself, my kids and those who are supporting us.  This morning I keep coming back to my belief that the grieving of Russell’s friends and extended family is just as real, raw, and ongoing as it is for me.  And in some ways I think the shock of it all hits other folks sharper on days like today.

I (and I hear this from my kids too) have an underlying, constant thread of loss and missing Russell that winds through all that we do.  Living in the house that we lived in with him for so long is a constant daily reminder that he is gone.  Much of what we do each day can lead us back to thinking of him as we want to tell him things or show him things or expect him to walk in the door at 10:30 at night when he usually came home from work.  Most of the time now these are just a thread of reminder, not a sharp jab to our hearts.  Some days are much easier than others, especially when we get busy with just living our lives. Days like today, or his birthday, or holidays, or other anniversary dates are more challenging as we can’t help but think of him and deeply remember he is no longer here with us.

For those who didn’t live in this house – his friends, all of his family, his parish community, folks in the Avalon community and other communities he belonged to – the grieving journey is just as real, albeit perhaps not as constantly raw.  The degree with which it is felt on a daily basis varies from person to person.  I know many are experiencing it as deeply and consistently as I am.

I do think, in some ways, days like today in which we will say another goodbye to Russell are extremely sharp reminders to these people who loved Russell that he isn’t here.  Most of these folks expect to see Russell with the kids and I when they see us.  To not see him, and have that strong reminder that they won’t again has got to be like a slap in the face or a punch in the stomach.  I would imagine it is like being dropped back into a pit of confusion and sadness and questions of “how the hell could this be?”.  It might stir up powerful emotions that lie dormant most of the time.

Mind you these are only observations and come out of a great deal of pondering I do around the universal experience of grieving and loss we all experience.  It comes from some of my own experiences of being one of the support people for someone grieving the loss of one of their closest loved ones.  I have many memories of moving through my life in a somewhat normal fashion after the death of someone who I loved but maybe didn’t see a whole lot.  And then being slapped upside the head by sadness from seemingly out of nowhere. It would leave me feeling stunned and exhausted and barely able to function for days.

I in no way want to tell someone else what they are experiencing, I am simply trying to give voice to my recognition that there are many, many more folks than just the kids and I who I know are deeply grieving our loss of Russell.  I recognize that we are all traveling a jumbled up, winding path like pictured here.  There is no straight clear line from point A to point B.  There is no clear definition of what it looks like to support one another as we learn to move forward in a world without Russell’s physical.  There is, sometimes, no way to answer the question “what can I do for you?”.

When things are so twisty and jumbled up, I think all we can do put one foot in front of the other and hold onto each other’s hands along the path.  Each of us must stay true to our OWN journey whatever it looks like.  Some of us want to talk about it as much as possible. Some of us can’t talk about it at all just yet.  Some of us need to do something. Some of us need to do other things so we don’t feel consumed by the grieving.  Some of us want to embrace and celebrate Russell any chance we get.  Some of us want to hide under the covers and never come out.  And I think many of us could yes to all of these things at some point on our journey.

My main hopes for all of us is that we can stay true to our own individual journey, respect the journey of others walking with us at this time, support each other in whatever way we feel comfortable, and hopefully come together in celebration of the love we still feel for one another.  In our joys, in our brokenness, in our laughter, in our tears, in our silence, in our speaking, in all of it I hope we can feel the love that wraps around us all and learn to take people as they come before us each day.

As ever, in this time, in this moment I am filled with gratitude for the journey I am on and my companions along the way.  I could not walk this path alone and am deeply grateful that I don’t have to.

Dancing the dark and the light

dance

Dancing with wild abandon and joy and emotion and freedom and complete connection to the music, this has been one of my great passions since high school.  As I came out of the dozens of awkward stages I had as a child and into my early teen years I discovered that not only did I love to dance I was also pretty good at it.  My awkward body that knew only how to play sports and hide away under boyish clothes began to blossom into a body that could glide, shake, bend, and move deeply in rhythm with the pulse of the music, especially if there were lots of drums involved. I fell in love with dancing and all through my teen, college and twenties years danced every chance I got.   Some of my best memories from the first 3 decades of my life involve dancing into the wee hours of the morning, often having part of my dancing time on top of whatever table or bar I could find.  In the dance I could lose myself so completely that the world would just fall away.  Bliss!

Dancing to reggae and salsa music was a passion that Russell and I shared.  Early in our friendship we spent many nights out with groups of folks from Aquinas Institute, the theology school where we met, dancing at Casa Loma or Blueberry Hill.  Russell seemed to love the music and the dance as much as I did.  Not only could we talk theology during the day, we could go dancing at night.  Those nights out opened up doors of possibility for both of us to consider entering into a friendship that led to a much deeper relationship.  I have many, many stories I could tell but perhaps another time.

As we entered into parenthood, our nights out dancing decreased.  Late nights with the added ability to sleep as late as we wanted the next day fell by the wayside.  And I found that my body began to return to a feeling of awkwardness in the dance.  My beat was off much of the time.  My ability to abandon myself completely to the dance faded and the times of dancing grew less and less.  Oh the occasional weddings we attended always were great times for dancing, but just going out and losing myself in the dance became a thing from the past that I remembered with great longing.

This awkwardness and inability to lose myself in the music, allowing my body to move with freedom and ease, speaks greatly to my journey grieving the death of Russell.  I write and speak often of the image of learning to dance in the center space between and the light and the dark.  This comes from a deep desire to be aligned with myself no matter if it is a dark day or a light day for me.  I long to feel balanced and able to function with ease again.

However, my body, my mind, my heart, my spirit don’t feel quite my own.  There are many days I find myself completely baffled by what I am thinking and feeling.  These are the darker days for me, the days that I feel the water I swim in rise up to draw me deeper into its depths.  I’ve been spending a lot of time in this space over the last 2 months.  When we went to Florida on our wonderful beach vacation, I felt my inner self slide into the darker water where the Kraken resides.  I slid not kicking and screaming but almost with a relief to go deeper into the darker, sadder spaces of my journey.

My first trip to Asheville for my year long mentorship found me diving head first deep into the depths of the grief.  In that space and in that time, I willingly embraced the opportunity to feel all the sadness, anger, confusion, and loss. My companions in that space 100% allowed me to come just as I was.  Broken, in tears many times everyday, silent, turned into myself.  And I embraced that gift.

In the time since I have returned I have found myself stopped almost completely in my tracks at times by the heaviness and awkwardness that holds me.  The thought of dancing has seemed almost impossible.  How does one dance in the dark if you can’t see where your feet are?  What if the dark is so heavy that the music is almost impossible to hear?  I’ve known I want to learn how to dance with both the light and the dark but in the dark spaces I have worried that I may never find my rhythm again and so I have avoided the dance.    Awkward, heavy, exhausted body is a hard thing to move.

And then, sometime in the past week and a half, I heard the voice inside of me say “The dark is the place you need to dance right now.  Until you learn to dance the dark, embracing all of the gifts the dark has for you, seeking only the light, you will never be able to fully dance the center space with joy and free wildness.  The dark has the gifts that you must open in this time, this moment.  The light is within you all of the time, the dark too can bring great joy if you only allow it to.  Moving in whatever way you can, for however long is okay.  It is the movement and the tuning into the music that matters right now.”

Ah yes!  Such freedom has flowed through me since I heard this so clearly spoken to me.  I am learning to turn all of my movement – walking Walter each morning, cleaning stalls, doing the dishes, folding laundry, drinking my morning tea, tucking kids into bed – all of it is part of the Dance. It doesn’t matter if I look or feel awkward.  It is MY DANCE, MY MUSIC,  MY JOURNEY!  I must love it all.

I am loving the slow awakening to feeling the strength I am rebuilding in my body.  I am loving the feel of music within me that leaves me swaying to something only I can hear.  I love the grace I feel when the music and dance come together just how I want it to.  I am loving the great joy I have going to NIA each week, a form of exercise and mediation that leaves me feeling more connected, more graceful, more whole, and more healed each time I go.  I weep with joy most night I go as I feel myself fall in love with dancing and the movement of my body again.

As much as I love the sunlight and all that symbolizes for I find this an easy place to dance and feel free, I am allowing myself to remain in the darker abyss of the waters I swim in right now.  I am finding that even in these darker waters of my journey I can laugh, I can smile, I can feel hope in the fact that I am dancing with both the light, the dark, and the center space between them even if I am the only one who can see that right now.  All of me – my joy, my hope, my sadness, my anger, my longing, my worry, my trust – all is part of my dance and for that I am deeply, profoundly grateful!

Firestick – another step along my path

firesticknew firestickrussell

Another step is being taken today in my journey to learn how to dance between the light and the dark of my life.  We will be having our first bonfire of the year tonight at Avalon.  Normally, at this point in the year we would have had at least 3-4 bonfires already.  The solstices and equinoxes have almost always been celebrated with a bonfire and wonderful hanging with folks at Avalon.  These fires are a time of celebration, relaxing, letting go of our tensions and worries, laughing a lot, and simply relishing being in the moment.  Tonight we hope to do all of these and begin the process of shifting the energy at the farm and within ourselves.  I am seeking, at least for tonight, to bask in the glow of the fire and dance in the light.

For many, many years at Avalon the Spring Equinox has been the time of celebrating surviving winter and enjoying the first fire of the year.  That had been the plan this year as well, until Russell and I stepped into a rabbit hole and ended up in Cuckoo Luckoo Land.  Not only could a fire not happen to celebrate the beginning of spring, the kids and I simply couldn’t handle the thought of one at Summer Solstice either.  The very thought of it almost caused us to scream “No, not yet!”

For you see, Russell has always been the Fire Master of Avalon and usually for our family gatherings at home too.  I love fires but Russell LOVED fires, finding great joy and pride in building big, beautiful fires.  It was like watching an artist paint a great work of art when watching Russell with his fires.  Oh, it could get a little scary watching him at times as he liked to “dance” as close as he could to the fire, moving branches around, stirring the embers, making it just right.  He would spend hours and hours and hours playing with the fire. And I believe some of the greatest conversations he had with folks at Avalon occurred around a fire.

firestickrussell

The weekend after Russell died Avalon’s community gave me (and all of Avalon) a great gift in doing a massive spring cleaning, de-cluttering, and beautifying of the farm.  In the midst of the cleaning someone found Russell’s fire tending stick.  Before it could be thrown on the to burn pile, someone  (I think it was John Wottowa) said “NO, don’t throw it out! That was Russell’s fire stick.”  That stick was made into a beautiful memorial for Russell that hangs outside of my office in the entryway of Avalon. It reads “May his fire burn eternally.”  Every time I see it throughout my days I smile and think of Russell and his joy for playing with fire.

My journey to find just the right, new fire tending stick this morning was one I am deeply grateful for and reminded me how much I love walking the land of Avalon.  I walked into the wooded area of Avalon that we call the Small Trail.  Rue and Hinata gladly went with me staying close by as I explored and searched for just the right stick.  Hearing the birds singing, feeling the strong breeze blowing my hair, seeing the light streaming through the trees, listening to my favorite songs I’ve saved onto my phone,  all of these filled me with quiet gratitude for being in this time, this moment.  We wandered for quite a while checking out stick after stick, waiting for just the right one.  And then, as Sam Smith’s song “Stay with Me” started playing on my phone, I found what I had been looking for – a strong stick capable of handling moving logs around in a fire, green enough to not burn up at the first hint of heat,  and long enough for me to reach the fire without burning my face off.  The magic of finding this stick while this particular song played was very special. For you see, this was the song I played over and over and over again when I would sit alone with Russell in the hospital.  It was as if Russell was with me in finding my Fire stick and helping guide me to the torch he could pass to me.  A wonderful moment of feeling the continued connection and knowing I am not alone.

firesticknewI

I dragged my stick back, cut off the extra length to make it just the right size for me and decided to paint it to make it my own.   Of course the chakra/rainbow colors are what I chose to paint. I had great fun painting and thinking of hanging with folks in front of a fire tonight.  As I painted it felt more like I was decorating a Power Stick than just a fire tending stick.  It feels like a reclaiming of something deep within me is occurring.  And my heart is singing as I feel more excitement about having a fire tonight, instead of just being sad that it is the first fire without Russell.  He would be so very, very pleased that we are doing this tonight.

So tonight we will have a fire at Avalon.  This fire is to celebrate the Fall Equinox as we have always done. This fire is to celebrate Russell as I couldn’t do on his birthday due to the emergency surgery for Kateri’s horse. This fire is to honor and mark the 6 month anniversary of Russell’s death we face tomorrow, a large milestone my kids and I set as a marker for ourselves in our healing journey.  This fire is to give myself and others a chance to write out the things we need to let go of and burn them in a fire.  This fire is a chance to celebrate all of the things we are grateful and that can bring us joy.  This fire is a chance to gather and begin to see who will now emerge as the new fire master/tender of Avalon.  This fire is a chance for me to take another step in the dance I am learning to move in as I play with the fire tonight, remembering my partner and the joy he had for the simple things in life.  The fire is a chance for me and my kids to take another step forward into powerful knowing we can heal and find joy again.  The fire is a chance to PLAY and BE deeply in the moment of NOW!  This fire is a chance to dance with the light and the dark and be grateful for it all!

Walking my day with grace

waltershadowlight

Today is going to be a great day!  We are bringing Walter back home to continue his healing from emergency surgery last week.  Yay, yay, YAY!

As I was scrolling through emails this morning a daily horoscope popped up.  I don’t usually read these and simply delete the links. For some reason I opened it up today.  I’m listening to my inner voice a little bit better each day and following those inner nudges that can come to all of us.  Nothing radically new came through for me in reading the email, but I did smile with the gentle reminders I received as I read.

What lion needs an espresso today? Oh, probably you, Leo. That’s okay. Don’t allow a little hectic stuff to throw you off your course- and don’t try to multi task so much today. Focusing on one thing at a time prevents a lot of problems and this is what you do to get through today so you can get home and relax.

Feeling a bit like you need a boost? You may want to consider brewing the coffee pretty strong today as many of you will be experiencing a busier than usual day. Roll with those punches, get things done, and you will find that others really pay attention to how you handle it all: so, whatever you do, handle it with grace. The way that you handle things today will have an impact on your future. If things get hectic and a little crazy, just breathe and remember what you’re trying to accomplish. If the list is long, take it in small chunks until it is done: but whatever you do, do not lose your cool. You will find that your persistence and your grace under pressure definitely shine, so, allow them to and then, wait for the results.

Great words to live by everyday, not just today.  “Roll with the punches, get things done, focus on one thing at a time, just breathe and remember what you’re trying to accomplish, find your persistence, handle it with grace.”  Yep, perfect daily mantra for a life of purpose.

Hope you all have a wonderful day and are able to handle with grace all that comes your way.  Pretty sure we will be dancing through our day of Walter’s homecoming with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.

I am enough

youareenough

I have been sitting in my chair for a good 30 minutes trying to figure out what to write. I know only that I want to write this morning.  It is a kind of tapping into my wellspring of inner self that provides more light for the path ahead.  It’s as if, as I write, a few more twinkling lights pop on along the darkened path I walk making it all feel more magical.  And magical is definitely a good thing for me. Magical makes me smile even when all I want to do is cry.  Magical makes my feet tap a tune only I can hear.  Magical gives me hope.

I have a good dozen blog topics in my journal as of this writing.  Lots of ideas ruminate in my head all of the time.  And yet none of these grabbed me this morning saying yes that’s what to talk about.  My wanderings feel very squirrely these days, kind of bouncing all over the place.  Settling on one course of action, one thought, one conversation, one anything is a most challenging endeavor.

I find I am impatient with myself these days.  I see glimpses of new paths that I want to take and ideas I want to explore.  They pop up like lightning bugs pop up in a summer sky.  One second they are there bright as can be and I think “Yes, that is something I could pursue.” And then just as quickly they blink back out.  It’s not the lightning bug, or the idea, is no longer there but seeing takes more concerted focus and effort than I really can or want to muster at this time and in this moment.

In the darker, more shadowy moments of my days I watch these fleeting light ups and my seeming inability to follow them leaves me worried I will never be able to move again.  In these dark moments I feel as if I am no longer enough for myself, my kids, for those I serve at Avalon, for my family, for my friends, for the world.  The simplest of tasks can still leave me utterly exhausted, ready to curl up under my covers and hide from the world.  Working a full day only seems possible if I see few to no people at the farm.  Following through on helping plan anything is more monumental than I realize until I get into the tasks and want to run as fast as I can in the other direction.  I am second guessing myself left and right, often worried that I may never be a person others can rely on with any confidence again.  I am so deeply into the rabbit warren of my own journey that I can often be startled that others are even around me.   Even in those moments that I am talking and seemingly engaged in a conversation or a project, I will almost jolt awake realizing I don’t know exactly what is happening.  It’s an odd, odd experience.

How can I possibly be enough for another person, for my business, for anything I am involved in when I can barely function in a conscious way each day?    How can I possibly continue to try and run a business when I can’t even get the dishes done each day?  How can I fathom taking on new students when I can barely be present to my current ones consistently?  How can I move forward with new ideas for my business and my family when I can’t get through the basics of more than one day at a time?   How can I help the kids look towards future plans for college or other life paths when just getting us out of the house to go play for an afternoon drains us all?  How can I continue to guide the energy and heart of Avalon and my family when my own heart feels so very dark?  These are some of the ticker tapes that run through my head each day.  I listen to them. I honor the wisdom they are pointing to. And then I quietly and firmly try to shut them off from taking a stranglehold in my head.

What I slowly am coming to is that the how I can do things, the what I can do, is not what is important.  I’ve been hearing myself ask “How can I be enough” yet the real thing I’ve been questioning is “How can I possibly do enough for everyone else in my life right now?”    When I drop my expectation to be doing lots of things for others right now and simply do what I can, the tension starts to ease.  What I need to and want to and plan to play with settling into is that I AM ENOUGH.  My being present is enough, whatever I can bring right now.  I don’t have to DO anything to be enough for my kids in the way they need me.  I don’t have to DO anything to be enough of the energy heart of Avalon.  I don’t have to DO anything for my family and friends right now, I just have to be there when I can.

Settling into BEING enough rather than worrying about DOING enough is something that makes me smile.  I can picture the playing into that being like watching hundreds of lightning bugs light up the sky as I simply sit smiling at the little bursts of light.  There is freedom in playing with being and breathing and being and breathing.  Huh, maybe I can learn to simply dance following the lightning bugs.  I don’t have to catch them or find them, just flit around from light to light listening to the music only the dark can bring.  Huh?!  Interesting thought to play with as I learn to truly believe…

I AM ENOUGH!

Mi Corazon de Alegria

dragontattoo

Mi Corazon de Alegria, my heart of joy, is what I have named my new butterfly dragon.  How I meandered into this name is a fascinating mind journey for me.

My tattoo artist, Matt Hodel of Ragtime Tattoo, asked me after he had finished what I would name her.  At the time I didn’t know, partly because I was so stunned by the fact that I had actually done it.  I had somehow, someway breathed through the pain to have this amazing piece of work permanently placed upon my body.  My arm was throbbing and my head was reeling.

On the way home with Kateri I thought of words like love, joy, peace, transformation, power, all of the things I daily play with focusing my energy and intent upon. I bounced a couple of ideas off of her and settled on nothing.  I kept coming back to the word Joy but it didn’t feel quite finished those first few hours.  Plus I kept coming back to this stunned realization that I actually did it.  Wild!

For hours I though of what this tattoo means for me.  I’ve thought of getting a tattoo, much smaller than this one, off and on for a long time.  No image ever grabbed me enough to fathom saying yes to the painful process of getting a tattoo.  Oh friends who have tattoos have said “It’s not that bad. More of an irritation than real pain. You can do it.” I never quite believed me them enough to say “Yes, I AM doing this!”

Until the week I walked with Russell in cuckoo luckoo land on his last earthly journey.  During that week I stepped into my core power and love in a way I never imagined that I could.  In the midst of the confusion and pain,  I felt myself both a butterfly bursting out of its’ cocoon and a dragon powerful enough to fly and protect her loved ones.

With the amazing, creative play of my brother, Jeremy, the thought of a butterfly dragon was born.  An image worthy of tattooing permanently upon my body, symbolizing for me the power of the journey I find myself walking in this time and in this moment.  I have pictures of the first, wonderful butterfly dragon Jeremy found for me. I have shirts that I love.  I have another butterfly dragon hanging from my bedroom window.  I love, love the symbolism of mythical creature meets transformational reality.

So I did it, I actually walked into an experience I knew would be physically painful.  And it was. Seriously I almost passed out at one point and could have punched Matt a few times.  The process was also a way for me to live my journey in a new way.  I just kept thinking I’ve made it this far in cuckoo luckoo land and experience more pain in my heart daily.  I can and I will survive this temporary pain to have a tattoo that forever shows me my strength and my hope.

Finally after hours thinking of names I came to the thought of my heart of joy.  Turning it into a Spanish name was a fun connection to Russell and one of my favorite stories of US.  On our honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta we spent everyday on the beach, drinking lots of beer, sleeping, reading, talking and not really eating a ton.  There were beach vendors who would walk around selling various items, our favorites being mini corn muffins and bbq shrimp on a stick for me.  One of the days, the shrimp vendor ran out just as he got to us.  Russell went into full, dramatic Russell mode saying “Oh, mi corazon, mi Corazon esta lleno de tristeza.“Oh, my heart, my heart is filled with sorrow.”  I could barely stop laughing at the utter seriousness with which he spoke to this guy.  It got me my shrimp, brought back to me by the vendor laughing with us in joy at Russell’s dramatics. Throughout the years Russell would tell this story or just randomly starting speaking about mi Corazon.  Always, always got me laughing.

So my tattoo, my forever symbol that I can handle the pain to get to something of beauty, my daily reminder to myself that I can transform my sadness into joy, my butterfly dragon who makes me smile, will be called Mi Corazon de Alegria.  She is my link to Russell and another physical step into the new me I am becoming. She is my love, my power, my hope that I will one day walk with great joy again.

She is my Heart of Joy.