The Walking Women
It's been awhile since I've added anything here. I considered letting it go dormant. Allowing the site to lapse into the sleep of forgotten websites. But this morning I felt the quickening of Springs promise and this piece arrived asking to be written and shared.
The Walking Women
The sky is dark. Some mornings the moon brightens the sidewalks my shoes are treading upon, warning me of the cracks and bumps along the way. Other days the mornings are just dark and I rely on the 12 years of repetitive footfalls to warn me of obstacles.
The neighborhood I live in is that of the working class. A mixture of homes and condos and apartments too.
Once I would go out for a morning run in this darkness but now I walk with my dogs or my husband or both.
There is a peace in this between time. No longer night yet not quite morning either. I wonder at the lights popping on in kitchens and living rooms I pass. While some remain dark and slumbering. There are work trucks warming up and sometimes cars left running in driveways awaiting their occupants.
The birds are beginning to sing.
And the women are walking.
There is the woman who used to run and walk down the middle of the street playing podcasts on the speaker of her phone but who now walks a dog on the sidewalks. A well mannered dog with its own lighted collar no less.
There are the two women who I gather work together based on the brief snippets of conversation I have heard, who walk a beagle several days a week (also down the middle of the street). One of which lives just a round the corner from me but who I have never spoken to, outside of a brief hello.
There is the woman with the semi well behaved husky who watched me fall one day when one of my dogs knocked me down in the excitement of seeing her fluffy canine. Words have never been exchanged between us, yet I’ve seen her leave her house and we have actively avoided our paths crossing too closely since that fateful day that resulted in skinned knees and elbows.
There is the woman who is out every single morning, and who during the pandemic upgraded her walking garb to include lighted arm bands. She wears headphones and is out and about for well over an hour. For a time this last summer I saw a young girl with her. Mostly though she is alone. We wave and smile at each other sometimes.
There have been others who have come and gone. Or who intermittently reappear in this predawn exercise.
The woman who walked often during the first year of the pandemic, also with headphones almost always smiling and waving as we passed, but who I have not seen now for months.
Or the one who took up running and I would see every few days in her exercise clothes, headphones and smart watch, jogging along the various paths I too was walking, but who has seemingly decided on another form of exercise.
I do not know these women.
Yet I feel an affinity for them.
A closeness and camaraderie.
I feel safer knowing they are out in the darkness with me. Creating patterns as we wind up and down the streets of this neighborhood.
I know where and when our paths will often cross and I find myself looking for them.
Or wondering where they are if they are absent.
I wonder if they think these things about me.
I make up stories about who they are based on the clues and assumptions my mind discovers and creates, and I’m curious, if I ever spoke to them, how many of these stories might be true.
What I have come to believe though, is that we all find solace in this quiet time. Before the day has officially begun. Before the responsibilities of work, and family emerge completely, we are all taking this time for ourselves. A time to come into our bodies with movement and into our minds with the steady rhythm of our footfalls and cadence of our heartbeats.
A time to connect to self before the world explodes in the cacophony of motion that births each day into being.
The walking women.
10 years ago today my world did a flip. Or maybe it was a crash. This was the day my Dad died. It was the day that I learned that grief is a tangible thing, that it can alter the very fabric of being and change the lens through which one sees the world.
10 years. It seems so long ago, so much has happened. Yet the other thing I’ve learned about grief is that it creates a separate timeline, one that exists parallel to the day to day one we live on the clock. It is time out of time.
10 years and yet when I close my eyes I can still hear my Dads voice.
Sometimes I dream him so clearly I can smell his Dad smell old spice and lever 2000 and that hairspray he used. Familiar smells. Comforting smells.
Sometimes I miss him so much my gut wrenches and tears come seemingly out of nowhere.
Other times I laugh because I recall a story he told or an experience we had together.
We talk to him here at home. When we can’t find a nail that is the right size and then discover one in our inherited stash we thank him. When I am scared or something is hard I ask him to hold my hand and have my back. Sometimes I’m pretty sure he hears me.
I carry so much of my Dad inside of me. He taught me how to love hard and with abandon. How to be a friend. He taught me that it’s ok to agree to disagree (even though he was always right )
My Dad taught me much through his death too. He taught me about resilience, rememberance, reminded me about the power and necessity of ritual, the requirement of connection, and the gift of solitude.
Sometimes people become saints in their death, their flaws stripped away until only the good remains in remembrance.
I remember my Dads flaws. He was not perfect. But neither am I. And that perfect imperfection is part of what keeps us connected it is a part of the remembering that matters.
There is more. There will always be more. Things I learned and things I am learning.
What is remembered lives.
And even still I miss you Dad.
I used to love the dry wind
The fierce blowing
Invisible fingers tearing at my hair, stealing my breath and whipping my clothing and sending its powerful story deep into my bones.
I used to love the wind.
Now I feel afraid
That wild wonderful air, gusting, whispering. Awakening me, reminding me that I am alive.
Only now it has taken up with fire. And together these two untamed forces, wreak havoc.
Remember who is in control here.
Remember who rules this place
This is the whisper
The story unfolding in the threads of air
In the promise of sparks
In the destruction of my home
I used to love the wind
But now I am afraid
Watching my grandma die
Recently the 3 year anniversary of my grandmothers death occurred. As I reflected on this loss, I spent some time recounting the day she died.
Sitting vigil while my grandmother dies is equal parts nightmare and peace, it is love and devastation. I am knitting as she sleeps. Stitch after stitch, watching her breath after ragged breath. Sometimes I cry. But mostly I sit and I stitch and I listen to her breath and wait for a moment of lucidity. Tending to her needs as mother might tend to a newborn. Learning expressions and moans like a new language. Here is the woman I have known all my life. The one who I have feared and revered and in my late teens befriended. Here is the woman who is a powerhouse of will and determination, whose curiosity is as rich as that of a toddler exploring the world for the fist time, she is capable and proud, and she is dying. It is a strange thing to watch someone die. To know they will be gone from this realm. Now in this moment as I stitch this memory into a scarf and a cowl, skein after skein of yarn, I am hoping death comes soon. As painful as it is to know my grandmother will be gone, seeing her suffer is far more excruciating.
In the past few weeks, she has allowed me to travel this journey by her side. As she has straddled worlds I have held steady on this side. Keeping her balanced, tending to her physical body, attempting to be present with her in her psyche and giving her permission to leave when she is ready. I have held her while she cried in pain for her mom and assured her my grandfather now long dead was fine when she worried that he wasn’t home. I have fed her, given her water from a small pink sponge, helped her with her bedpan and cleaned her up, administered medication and at times wished I had the courage to give her just a little more.
Watching my grandmother die feels a bit like what I imagine a receding tsunami to feel like. A disappearing and reemerging only to have her disappear again, reemerge again. A waiting for the moment when the tides settle and the surface is once again calm.
The day of her death I left her for a time as my mom took over the watch. As I was away my husband called me. After weeks of not wanting to see her he told me he was having an overwhelming feeling of grief and needed to go be with her. He joined my mom and spent a short time saying his goodbyes to my grandmother.
They were a pair my husband and grandma. She loved him in a way he had never experienced from a grandmother figure. They treated each other as friends and yet, she also let him know she loved him as her own grandson.
He sat with her, and talked to her, even in her unresponsive state. He sat with her and said his goodbyes. I still believe she was waiting for him. I still believe this was the visit she needed to be able to let go.
And later that day when I retook my position at her bedside, stitch after stitch, breath after breath, I knew somewhere inside of me she was preparing to go. Her will and strength that had kept her here in this realm, that had kept her lingering in pain for so long, finally was ready.
I left my grandma at 4:30 or 5 and just after 10 that night the call came. I dressed hurriedly, in these past weeks of vigil re-learning how quickly one can be ready in the middle of the night and I drove to her. The Reindeer King was playing on my car stereo as I drove through the dark, the February night chilly and so dark. The stars sparkling even as the streetlights glowed. Inside the home where my grandma had died, she lay in her bed, mouth open, face relaxed. A wash of relief moved through me to see her features so free from the pain she had been navigating for weeks and weeks.
I opened the window for her spirit. Allowing passage from this room that was her home only as she lay dying and I asked for warm water and a washcloth. I gently washed her skin. Removing the brace that had held her broken arm uncomfortably at her side. I washed her sacred body, the one that had born my Mother, the one that held a piece of the blueprint that would become me. I rubbed lavender scented lotion into the thin and wrinkled skin of her 95 year old body. I did not weep then. But I did sing quietly to her, I did whisper love letters to her. My mom and sister and niece came in and we sat in a semi circle holding the space for her spirit to leave this room. And we said goodbye.
I've been writing a lot lately about body connection and body image. Here is one of the pieces that came out of this.
“Take up space, This is the invitation, take up space, let your body move how it wants to move, let yourself feel how you feel. Be here.”
The floor is cool and hard beneath me. Sweat and tears and drool pooling beneath my face as I sob. Racking sobs. The kind that come from the very depths pour out, sounding more animal then human.
I am angry, and disappointed and so many other things too, and as the woman on the flat screen in my living room encourages me to keep going, don’t quit, and asks, “what’s coming up. What story are you telling yourself? What story ready to change?” I sob even harder. Then I pull myself up and gasping for breath start moving again. Up, down, back forward. Burpees of all things. Burpees are the thing in this pandemic that have finally brought me to my knees. The thing that opened up all I had been pushing down in order to manage the last 7 months of upside down we have all been living in. Burpees were the key to unlocking the chest of grief, sorrow, fear and chaos that I have been keeping shut up tight.
My body is the way in. My body is always the way in. Whatever I am holding back. Whatever I am trying to avoid. Whatever feelings I have been shoving down with homemade sourdough or mindless tv, moving my body unleashed the tidal wave. And once the chest is opened, once what was bound is free, there is no way back, only through.
This has always been my truth.
Just Another Pandemic Thursday
Yesterday started with this Facebook post.
“Another day another gathering of mugs collected from about the house (and yes these are all from yesterday)
Today I am tired
I’m tired of being home
I’m tired of stopping by my office to get the mail and seeing it piled with furniture from other spaces (like the waiting room) looking more like storage than a place to heal
I’m tired of walking around my neighborhood
I’m tired of seeing clients on video
I miss people
I miss hugs
I miss the feeling of being in shared space
I’m longing for open spaces and a change of scenery
I’ve ridden this wave over and over this past year
The up and down of I’m ok vs I’m not so sure I’m ok
I’m sharing this because I know I am not alone. I talk to people everyday who are struggling with the ongoing isolation, or throwing caution to the wind because of the challenge of tolerating it
I’m sharing this because if you’re tired too, I just want you to know I’m with you. ”
I had to go to the post office after I wrote this. So I did what any down in the dumps girl with a closet full of clothes and no place to wear them would do. I cranked on some tunes, got dressed up, and put on makeup. Completed the ensemble with boots and a little attitude and went “out”. To the post office For literally like 2 minutes. I spoke to one person. I left a pre paid package on the counter.
Things I learned from this experience.
Emily is a somatic psychotherapist, witch, nature lover, animal friend and writer. She resides in Northern California.