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.