Taking My Time Driving in the Mountains

I am driving to Divide, Colorado, to see the wolves at The Wolf Sanctuary. The indirect route is many more miles on a highway. Why would anyone want to go out of the way? I decide to take the local route. But I’m an East Coast woman, with no experience driving in the mountains. Now I am driving on a winding mountain road through Pike National Forest. If I look down as I wind around tight curves going under 20 miles an hour, I see that nothing is protecting us from careening down a steep cliff, except my attention to this 44-mile road. My nephew and son are oblivious to the way that I am clutching the steering wheel. My husband falls asleep.

We pass the remains of forest fires. At first I only notice what seem to be corpses of trees. I have never seen such a landscape. Hills and deciduous trees surround me. Then a field of burnt forest. Then living trees again. An invisible line seems to separate the trees that were spared and the trees that once blazed with quickly spreading fire. By the time I see my second or third field of burnt trees, I notice that there are green grasses growing, and if I look closely, I see that some forest fires are not recent. Life is coming back where fire ravaged and destroyed the land. I begin to notice a chronology of fire by looking at how high the growth is between the remains of the trees. Here the land is barren. Now I see grass and bushes. Another area has taller shrubs and saplings. Life comes back.

I am still adjusting to altitude after eight months here. A deep spiritual energy fills the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I walk up the stairs at Mother Cabrini’s Shrine in Golden and look out at mountains and the traffic of cars traveling west. I drive up to Georgetown, one of the first Rocky Mountain towns. The first time I am terrified as cars and trucks pass me. The second time is much easier. I pass some trucks this time. I’m only a little scared when the Georgetown train takes us on a narrow bridge over a precipice of two mountains.

My life holds many contradictions. On the one hand, I want to sit quietly and meditate on hills and God. On the other hand, the speed limit is 75 miles an hour in some places, and I am a 60-mile-an-hour-driver. How do I hold my yearning for peace in this crazy world? My son started school, and we are already fundraising. I have to market my book, go on a virtual blog tour, finish my novel. Will I ever get to the grant application with a September 1st deadline? I want to sit quietly and close my eyes to the world with its constant noise, emails, texts, and social media posts playing in a continual loop.

And with grief, people tell us to get over something that has burned our very hearts. It is time, they say, to get over your daughter’s death, your husband’s suicide, your mother’s illness. Who decides the timeline of the heart? Who can dictate my speed limit? More than ever I am driving slowly up the mountains. Slowly around the bends of the roads that offer no barriers to protect me from falling. My eyes are fixed ahead on the road, wherever it takes me.

Interview of Lakshmi, Pregnant with Siddha, Baby Diagnosed with Trisomy 18

I hope that readers find comfort in this video that was so comforting to me when I was pregnant with Mary Rose. I watched this video again and again, seeing Lakshmi, a mother whose unborn baby was diagnosed with trisomy 18 at 20 weeks of her pregnancy. I remember sitting at my dining room table after my son and husband were asleep weeping. Lakshmi was preparing herself to birth and let her son go. Shiloh Sophia McCloud, says “This tragedy is becoming a blessing.” She asks Mother Mary, “The Great Lady,” to bless Lakshmi and she did. Her son, Siddharta Izarra was born living on April 10, 2014 and stayed for a few days. I will be writing more about community now that Mary Rose’s book is done. Here we see a circle of women. I hope that each of us can be a part of a tribe and both receive and offer love and support as we live through various challenges. My virtual arms are open to families who will let go of their beloved babies too soon. And thanks to technology Lakshmi and I have become friends through Facebook. We are both blessed as we continue to walk our paths after loving, birthing and letting go of our babies. They are with us still…

Demeter: A Mother’s Grief Reaches the Belly of the Earth

evelyn_demorgan_demeter_mourns_persephoneI am thinking of Demeter again. I see an image of her roaming the earth searching for her daughter, Persephone. I am pregnant. My unborn daughter will die sometime after birth if I’m lucky enough to meet her alive. My pregnant body swells. My daughter moves for a few weeks and then I barely feel her. I put my hands on my small belly, Check in with me once a day. Please Mary Rose. Just once a day. I pray every night to St. Anthimos of Chios, a healer and relative who has been newly canonized, that she does not suffer, that I meet her alive.

I remember studying Greek mythology in school. I was in the seventh grade at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox School in Astoria, NY when we were assigned Edith Hamilton’s translation by Ms. Cathro, the teacher who taught me how to diagram sentences. I remember Persephone and Hades, the pomegranate, red succulent seeds. Now as an adult with my hormones raging I think of Demeter, the grieving mother.

I cannot nest. There will be no nursery. I change toilet seats instead and weep over toilet bowls. How is this my fate? When strangers congratulate me I stare at them blankly. And there in my mind is Demetra. She is raging. She wears loose robes that flow around her form. I hear her keening. Grief wells up inside of me and I sob and sob. I know what it is like to be grief-stricken over a child’s death though my daughter still lives inside me. Demeter wanders the earth looking for her daughter. Her grief dries up fruit. Her grief stops the blooming of the earth. Her grief is a force. I rage with her.

Only I have no place to run. I can barely walk from sciatic pain by the end of the pregnancy. I sit in pain. I limp. My form is crooked. My baby is moving less. She shudders inside me and I imagine that she is having seizures. I meditate and see an infant coffin before me. People tell me to have faith that she will be healed, that she could be born healthy. Everything I do for her is accompanied by weeping. My parents send her funeral gown, a Victorian baptismal dress with pink roses. My sister sends a small cross. I touch the silk and the tiny gold jewelry knowing that Mary Rose will be buried in them. I want to buy her something. What can I give my daughter when she doesn’t need anything from our earthly plane?

In Rachel Zucker’s poetry book Eating in the Underworld Persephone says “the body of my mother is everywhere.” Persephone is looking to leave her mother by entering the underworld. Demeter is everywhere looking and searching but not finding her daughter. There is power in this grief, but there is also madness. I start to intuit more, to see more. My eyes see prisms of light before a terrible migraine. I see my ancestors surrounding me. Matina. Yiayia. Mother Mary. They tell me that I can do this. I can face my biggest fear because my child will die. I am scared. I am grief-stricken. I am in awe of my daughter’s Light.

I birth my daughter two weeks late after 21 days of contractions. I hold her in my arms and look at her weak form and know that we don’t have time. Get my mother now, I tell one midwife, Bring my son. The other midwife looks at Mary Rose and says Baby Girl, Open your eyes and look at your mama. Mary Rose, whose limbs are splayed from no muscle tone opens her eyes and finds my face with her gaze. They are blue. I continue having contractions and then soon after I birth the placenta she slips away and I nestle my still baby wrapped in a blanket in my arms.

In Women Who Run With the Wolves Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of Demeter and another Greek goddess, Baubo. Dr. Estes tells us “…she flew out over the land like a great bird, searching, calling for her daughter.” (337)

We bury Mary Rose the next day. My milk comes in the day after that. Your whole body is weeping says the midwife. She is a phantom limb. I wake up at night looking for my baby. My body asks Where is my baby? I wake up. I sit up. I look around. My body yearns for its offspring. My breasts pour their milk. Where is my baby? I am awake hours each night longing for that which my body created and grew.

Dr. Estes writes “Demeter raged, she wept, she screamed, she asked after, searched every land formation underneath, inside, and atop, begged mercy, begged death, but she could not find her heart-child” (337-338). In those post-partum months I wanted to die. My heart felt broken like bone. I was weighed down and I wanted the earth to take me into her so that I could be with my baby. Once after the “diagnosis” when I was 22 weeks pregnant I thought about throwing myself down a cliff near the lake in my neighborhood. It was a fleeting thought. It passed, but the grief is intense and it takes me to the belly of the earth where her heart beats and pulses through each of her creatures. We want all babies to live and be healthy. We even want them to be beautiful and smart. But one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Every year one million babies don’t make it to that first birthday. The earth has my baby and I want to be with her.

In speaking of Baubo, the goddess who appears to Demeter when she is completely spent from exhaustion and grief, who laughs and ignites Demeter’s fire to continue her search, Dr. Estes says “we only need one shard in order to reconstruct the whole” (337). I am shards of shattered heart. How do I reconstruct myself?

It is Autumn and the earth is changing. Demeter must say goodbye soon and so she starts to withdraw her energy from the earth. Soon the plants and trees will be resting from their work. Soon winter will come and we will feel the naked truth: that life and death are irrevocably woven together, that to live on this planet we must let go again and again. We give our babies and our parents and our friends over to the spirit world and the depths of the earth. We weep like Demeter, but we won’t have them back for a few months out of the year. We howl. We keen. But at some point we laugh again sometimes in the presence of a goddess like Baubo who has no head and sees through her breasts. We brush off the dust from our dress and take one step. We gather our broken hearts and grief and walk until we can transmute the pain. Little by little some of the ache flies away like little birds learning to fly in spring which always comes again no matter how cold the winter may be.



“Demeter Mourning for Persephone” by Evelyn de Morgan.

The Veils of Grief

IMG_0041[1]Autumn is my favorite season. After the hot summer I look for naked trees and the simplicity that is winter. Our surroundings change as nature prepares to rest. Most of us keep up a fast pace through the holidays, but I like to walk at dusk and watch the light fade as if God has a dimmer switch. The silhouette of trees against a graying sky comforts me. In my poem “Winter Comes” I write “I long for bare bone of tree./Why can’t my excess catch fire/and blow away becoming one with the wind?” Somehow the bright and dull-colored leaves falling help me to process my past year. In the Orthodox Church as well as other traditions such as Judaism and Native American spirituality, the new year starts in September. It is a time of harvest and the start of the school year. It is a time that leads us to a more quiet place, a time of prayer and intention setting.

When I received the news that my unborn daughter, Mary Rose, had trisomy 18 it was March. I felt mocked by the leaves sprouting and those first yellow buds opening. I walked through spring and summer and five months of knowing that my baby would die while life hummed and buzzed and blossomed all around me. My body was blooming too but I had a hard time processing my pregnancy. September came and I forced myself to go to my Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meeting even though it hadn’t yet been a month since I buried my daughter. I walked one step at a time tentatively moving forward hour by hour, day by day and then month by month as I counted and recounted days and months trying to measure the immeasurable.

In November I went to tour The Glass House in New Cannan, Connecticut, with a friend. It was Thanksgiving week and unseasonably warm. We met at the Visitors Center and took a shuttle to the home of Philip Johnson, the architect, now a historic site and museum. The leaves were mostly gone. The property with several structures is thought-provoking and lovely. After wanting to visit The Glass House for a few years, I was there at the close of the perfect exhibit for a grieving mother: Fujiko Nakaya: Veil. Nakaya uses fog as a sculptural medium. Our small group was standing outside The Glass House when the fog seemed to seep out of the foundation enveloping the house, trees and landscape. Since the house is all glass we could see through the fog into the house and then see the fog on the other side of the house, layers of mist overtaking our view then lifting softly. I stood in the fog remembering Avalon and God and Mary Rose.

Grief descends like a misty veil and covers my sight and my view. It happened when my friend Jeanette took her life at 27 years old. It is happening now that Cubby has died. I no longer see what other people see. I view life through my own lens which is now foggy. After Mary Rose I don’t know how to communicate with people going through their days normally complaining of trivial things while they are pregnant with their healthy babies and then become mothers again: not drinking beer, nursing, waking up at night.

And then slowly the mist lifts a little and I catch a glimpse of something that I couldn’t see before. In the case of this tour, I saw trees coming into view. I turned and could see the lake beyond the house. The veils descend and the veils lift. Sometimes the veil rips us open; everything inside breaks and shifts. I will never see the world the way that I did before trisomy 18. And I have decided that this is more than fine. I can accept my new raw perception of life and death.

We suffer and then we choose how we will integrate our suffering. I hope like Nakaya’s exhibit I can take my experience and make something beautiful. Winter comes. We too process and release our grief and excess. We too have bare bones like tree bark reaching up to the sky and the light. Even when the fog descends or ascends for a while I reach toward the setting sun and face my night with my eyes wide open.


Photo credit:  Dianna Vagianos Armentrout used with permission of The Glass House.

The Christ Heart Meditation

jesus pantrocrator imageI meditated one night last summer unable to sleep once again, tears in my eyes, when I merged with Christ’s heart for a few moments. I have done this meditation many times since, and though it is hard for me to stay  with Him and His peaceful, loving energy for very long, I return again and again to His heart. I wiggle and I squirm. Meditation is not my strongest skill, but I continue to sit and breathe. The first time I did this meditation, sitting on a purple cushion under the painting “Healing Companion,” I felt electrically connected to everyone in a web of golden Light. There was a charge in the connection. I felt total peace. I felt like I would be okay even if my baby died. My heart expanded in love and light and unity.

In the center of Christ’s heart I felt loved and whole, one small part of a bigger work of creation. I was one pregnant woman who would bury her baby, but I was loved and there was mercy being showered into every cell of my being, into the depths of my soul. Christ means “Light” and I am often stunned by the things that people say in Jesus’ name. Christ is loving, unlike some of His judgmental followers. When I hear something crazy that someone says on behalf of Jesus I sometimes have to take a breath and remember the Christ that I follow, who loves all unconditionally, no matter what, as I say to my three-year-old son. I imagine Christ appearing to the myrrhbearing women after the Resurrection. His love fills me to overflowing and through this meditation I can remind myself again and again of my place in Him, in His heart and in His creation.

Are you ready to try this?

Close your eyes and get into a comfortable seated position. Take a few cleansing breaths. Relax your body. Imagine sitting behind Christ who is also in the same seated position. Merge your heart with His heart. Enter Him through His heart. You are one with Christ. You are completely surrounded by Christ and His Light. Take deep breaths and feel this energy of deep peace. You might see certain colors or hear the refrain from a special song or hymn. Continue to take deep breaths and feel Christ’s energy. Feel your place and connection to everyone and everything in the Universe. Breathe in peace and acceptance. Christ accepts you as you are. Please accept yourself as you are. Forgive yourself as you are forgiven by God. Stay here as long as you like, allowing your heart to be showered with love and light. When you are ready open your eyes and wiggle your toes and fingers before getting up.

I will meet you at the center of my Universe with love in my heart no matter what.