|During the first week of February, I repeatedly ask myself the same question: how are you doing?|
The first of the month is the anniversary of my friend Dave’s suicide. The days that follow lead to the anniversary of my brother’s death on February 8th. These were two of the three big losses I experienced in 1997, and some of the biggest losses of my life.
I can’t ignore their impact on me.
So how am I doing?
I’m at peace. I invite my grief in when it wants to visit and then say thank you when it leaves.
Over the past few days, I’ve cried while listening to songs, smiled at sunsets, petted my sweet cats, and laughed with friends. Throughout the past few days, Miss Foxy has been my lap buddy and fluffy companion.
Twenty-six years have passed since the phone calls that changed my life. While flying home for my brother’s funeral, a voice whispered in my ear: you will write about this, and it will change you. I wanted—no, needed—to write about Joe’s death, so I bought a notebook a few weeks later. Some of the entries from that notebook served as research for my memoir.
But grief is not like a book, which has a final page.
Grief is something we orbit. With each rotation, we acknowledge we’ve loved, lost, and been changed by a relationship that no longer exists, at least on this earthly plane.
But how do I write about this anniversary now that my book is done?
For a few days, my morning pages were either blank or a word salad no one would ever want to read. So, I went back to my Julia Cameron work.
Week two of her program, Seeking Wisdom, is about prayers of petition where we ask Creativity for help with our goals. She says prayers of petition have two parts: “We ask, and then we are open to receiving,” but as I read her book, it seems like there are actually four parts:
Asking for guidance
Affirming that good is on its way
Trusting the guidance we receive
Building intimacy with the Creativity beside us
First, we ask for guidance. Julia says, “Each human being has gifts and characteristics that are intended to be fulfilled. We were not created to be thwarted. Rather, we were made for flowering.”
If our desires are meant to be fulfilled, then we ask NOT from a place of unworthiness and need, but with the expectation that Creativity is on our side and happy to meet “our true needs.” Julia says that “Our hope is in itself a prayer.”
This has been my prayer to Creativity: What do I write about this year?
As the days passed with nothing but more word salad or ruminations about songs on my Spotify playlist or work that needed to be done, I engaged in Julia’s affirmative prayer practice, which boils down to asking for what we’re hoping for or something better.
Affirmative prayer “teaches us to believe in a benevolent and supportive world, a world friendly to our dreams and desires.” To pray affirmatively, we write our prayer as if it has already been answered. Mine looked a little like this. “Thank you, Creativity for giving me a new way to write about grief.”
After the prayer, we trust that the good we seek is on its way. Bowing to the wisdom of Creativity’s timeline, which often differs from our own, requires us to surrender our will and stop fighting the process. Fighting the process often leads to flat prose and stories that go nowhere or writer’s block. When we surrender, we unclench our fists, let go of expectations, and then patiently show up to the page, or go for walks, or schedule artist’s dates, or, in my case, write the same question in my morning pages notebook.
But waiting isn’t passive. Our job is to pay close attention to everything so we can listen for the still small voice within. For me, that’s been noticing all the hawks around me. At first, I heard two hawks crying in nearby trees during my morning walk. Then one lit on a fence post and followed me for a bit. Yesterday, another one whirled in the thermals directly above my head.
Hawks symbolize fierce vision and singular clarity. They are a reminder of the importance of our spiritual awareness, which is interesting because the answer I received around what to write about was “write it like a prayer.”
It sounded silly, but then I decided I would leave it up to you.
So, this is what I wrote:
What if grief was a prayer for the world? What if the sting in my heart is needed to bypass the armor I’ve built around myself, so I can survive in a world filled with pain, uncertainty, and an overwhelm that’s sometimes too much to bear.
What if the hurt I feel is love—not the absence of it, but its essence—and as a result isn’t something to shy away from, but rather something to embrace, because each time I hurt, I say Joe’s name, and in that way, he remains eternal.
Joe Cooper was here. I will always love him. I embrace the complicated, amazing, sensitive soul he was. I say thank you for how my hair has curled in middle age, because it reminds me of his. I laugh, because when I do, I hear his voice in mine, and in those moments he’s with me.
Tomorrow, on the anniversary of his death, I will crack myself open by listening to the songs we loved, and the ones I discovered since his death that so clearly express the essential nature of my love and longing, because music was our conduit to the place between worlds, that liminal space between the living and dead that we all have glimpses of, especially when we trust that Creativity is on our side, and we allow for its assistance.
So, what songs are on the playlist that cracks you open? How do you give yourself permission to trust that your desires have a higher purpose? Send me an email with your answers. I’d love to hear what moves you.
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