Tuesday, May 6, 2014

a river to drown in, a forest for faith

I'm an atheist. Science has always made more sense. Religion just has better stories.

My father showed me heaven when we would walk through the woods along the Current River to Wishart in the morning. He and I watched a lot of sunrises through our living room window, which reminds me a lot of the living room window I watch the sunrise through now. Then, it would rise over the hill on the other side of the river which ran though the valley below. We would admire the white pines' silhouettes on the crest of the hill..., until developers on the other side crossed the property line and one by one the white pines disappeared.
That was probably the beginning of my interest in urban forestry, 
and what it means to destroy 
something that can't be replaced.

I loved those trees, my Dad loved those trees. He grew up in Utrecht, Netherlands during World War II; he starved, he watched his family starve, he witnessed death daily and destruction like none of us could ever really imagine. When he moved to Canada and could afford a home of his own he only wanted space, with trees and nature at every horizon. I really understand this need now.

Wishart Conservation Forest, which was adjacent to my parents' property along the Current River, was my playground. I used to count the white pines on the other side of the river on my way home like beacons. I was young, fearless and free; I could never get lost; the road was always in one direction, the river ran parallel, with Wishart on one end (with a crossing road), and North Branch Road on the other. Acres of trees, a rushing river (in those days), and all the forest animals were all I knew.
It would be a scene out of Snow White, if I believed in fairy tales. 
I tried to talk to a porcupine once who ran up a tree (in fear I realise now) 
but at the time 
I was just curious and friendly, 
like our dog, Zelda, who regularly came home with a mouthful of quills.

If there is heaven on earth, I think it's in a forest. The 30x30Challenge has been good for me, for this healing process..., especially now - in May when triggers find me too easily, 
they're so many and I'm just me. 
I do believe it's possible to still find half an hour of nature
 - even if it's only in my head.
Today I'm on the floor of Wishart surrounded by the smell of pines and moss.

It's no secret yesterday was hard. It was bad. My birthday reminds me of my mother, and her death last year, and how she would make some mention every year on my birthday about the great sense of loss felt this time of year. It made her feel bad.
Last year on my birthday the only nurse I didn't like insisted on singing happy birthday to me over her bed. I cried the whole time, wishing her to stop, seeing a look in my mother's eyes I still recognised. She didn't want to die on my birthday; she knew I'm sure..., I wonder how hard she fought to not die on that day.
My mother died two days later, on May 8th at sunrise.

I've wondered since the day after my fourteenth birthday - the day my mother's mother died, how my mom felt, how she went on with my day without letting on a thing, ....just learning of her mother's death. Helpless, confused, so so sad.... ?
She told me on the 6th, in the morning in the dark sitting on the edge of my bed. She had been crying, but stayed composed talking to me, letting me know.

My father died unexpectedly (but prepared for) two weeks to the day after my twenty-fifth birthday. A proud new Opa and ready to leap into the world of retirement and world travel, death took him before he even had a chance to breathe it in. From that day on the smell of spring has made me think of losing something huge - the irony, the Dutch in me, the tulips that bloom, the ones I'm about to plant..., yet spring still smells like death.

I wonder..., what will Finn's death to to my love of autumn? Will the coloured leaves always remind me of losing him? Or, will they remind me that he lived through my few favourite days in the year of all, the best - I've said it for years - September 30th is the best day of the year. The weeks before and after are great, peaking always around the 30th. I hope Finn keeps that fire alive in those weeks, when I'll look for him in leaves and find him in the painted foliage.

I received a lot of beautiful and thoughtful messages yesterday (some I still have to respond to); people who remember my mother's death, what the day last year meant, and what it obviously means now. Surprisingly, others had no idea what to say or do.
Heavily on my mind was (is) my mother. We went through a lot last year, fighting for a dignified death in a system of errors and swayed judgement. Keeping me going was Finn moving around inside me. I didn't have to worry about him because from the moment he could he let me know he was with me - always.

That's the difference. It's the difference between me and Rohan, me and anyone else who knows and loves Finn. I'm the only one who shared blood with Finn; he was inside only me - in more ways than physical. Last year at this time, while I said good bye to my mom for the last time, Finn was moving regularly letting me know he was there, bringing me peace.

Triggers, they're everywhere. In every tree from here to Duluth, from Family Day weekend to the day we drove home with the Outback with a back "big enough for three dogs and a stroller," every bit of it reminds me of being pregnant last year, the growth spurt he went through in May, my daily protruding belly, holding him and my mother's hand s she died that morning, being along with him on the balcony in Duluth a few weeks later as H and R slept in our hotel on Lake Superior.
A couple moths later we drove back and forth again, ...every time stopping at our favourite pizza place in Grand Marais.

I guess that was the plan for Sunday - drive to the border, get what R needs to pick up from Ryden's, go on to Grand Marais, enjoy the ride, take some photos, have lunch, drive home...
I subtly tried to talk them out of the pizza place the night before by noting that Hannah has never actually eaten at Sven and Ole's (not my favourite pizza place in Grand Marais, but obviously worth a visit). 
I'm not sure what happened, but the closer we got to Grand Marais, the more anxiety I felt. Finn and my mother are there in so many ways. Lunches with my mother and an infant Hannah, Shakespeare festivals with my mother and a toddler Hannah. Finn's dragonflies, the shops downtown where I bought some of his first things the first weekend we were "openly pregnant."

It was awful, my chest caved in. I didn't want to get out of the car. Again I had to resort to concentrating on breathing, like Sarah and Robin teach me to, go somewhere else..., I can't breathe. It's so hard to breathe.

Without lunch or leaving the car we headed home quickly and silently. 

Nobody knows what to do with me; not even my own family. Hannah, always optimistic, always compassionate, always finds a way to peace. It hovers over her. It's why I believe in her, and know she's going to be okay. I've never known anyone stronger. She's a rational thinker with artistic dreams, and I know she's going to be a change maker.
I try to stay out of her way - and Rohan's - when I feel as low as I do now. It's pretty clear I'm on my own in this. I'd rather have Hannah enjoy memories of hockey games with Rohan than watching me cry alone in a bathroom.

When she tries to become a mother herself, will she be excited, or will she be scared? Her brightness tells me (hopes) she'll use that forever optimistic sweet girl and be excited. ...But, she'll feel the grief. It's probably going to hit her hard. That's why I have to be here for her.
But, what if I'm not? What if Rohan isn't? The what ifs are a part of every thought swirling through my head every day. What if only.., what if I just did this..., what if he only did that..., What if the universe decides to throw another hard-ball at me?
Could I keep standing?

Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead...., that was the day I was born. For me it's not a day of margaritas and tacos (um, Canadaian Cinco de Mayo), but a day that reminds me of who's not here. I don't want a party, I just want a hug. There's a feeling of doom, like something bad is going to happen. I want to hold everyone close, but instead I have to let them go because that's what they want to do, need to do... .

I want to disappear to heaven, to a forest, where I can find the people who've left me and stop being afraid for the people who are still here. I want to walk with my Dad again in the morning along the river. I want to not wish for the day to end when I see a sunrise.

Struggling, treading water alone, drowning in tears.

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