From a Mother

There has been such an overwhelming response to my earlier post about grieving, and so many kind comments. Buried in those comments are the words of a grieving mother. Rather than leaving her there, unseen, I wanted to share with all of you what I hope others need to hear. Please pause for a moment and listen to my dearest friend and Sam’s mother.

‘For the past month I have been feeling the anxiety building as the first anniversary of Sam’s death approaches. I cry more easily. I imagine his death with a depth that makes me uncomfortable. I find that all of the ways I have carefully kept myself insulated from the deepest pain associated with his death are less effective now, this too seems part of the process of accepting that he is well and truly gone from the world.

His spirit has been a strongly motivating force this past year. I have pondered my reason for being, made drastic life changes (one of those things that you’re not supposed to do, sorry but it’s been really good for me, I am financially poorer but richer in all other ways) and am trying hard to leave some good in my neck of the world.

I have also been making some art, which is far more therapeutic than I ever knew. I’m carving lino blocks for printmaking, most recently one with his kayak, one that says ‘for Sam’ which I will put under the other blocks I have made that say ‘shine’ and ‘love’.

I made some prayer flags and will block print them and those who attend the one year anniversary get together can write messages and then the flags will hang around his kayak. His dad and I have plans to go to the rapids where he died and hang some there as well. It’s a difficult place to get to, by land, by water and also emotionally.

I thank you so much Lisa for continuing the conversation about the grief associated with his death. For saying his name, for not letting this whole thing slip into the past. My biggest fear is the erasure of time and as long as I live I have to keep him here close by.’

As she says here, we say his name lest we forget. We say his name in order to allow others to grieve with us. For all of those grieving, never be afraid to speak their names, or to speak up about what you need as you grieve. There are many on that path with you who will understand.

Hair and Loss

Warning: language

I’m losing a lot of hair. I mean, a lot. Way more than seasonal. The last couple weeks, when I brush my hair, there’s enough to over-fill my hand. Enough you can’t see the brush. During the day I can run my fingers through my hair and come out with handfuls. I find hair everywhere.

Our cat caught a dragonfly and stored it in the bathroom. It might have survived, there on the mat, if not for the hair wrapped around it. I tried for several minutes to unwind my hair from the dragonfly, feeling oddly teary.

So I did what anyone would do and went to the internet. Two things immediately came up.

Extreme hair loss several months after an emotional shock or trauma.

Health reasons such as something going on with the thyroid.

I decided to call the doctor and get my thyroid tested, because, after all, that first reason didn’t apply to me.

And then, one word. One punch to the gut. One breathless, all-encompassing weight on the heart.

Sam.

Eight months ago a lot of people went through an emotional shock.

The world lost a world-class kayaker.

A community lost a member.

Parents lost a child.

A brother was lost.

A friend was lost.

Last week someone posted a video of Sam on Facebook. He was being interviewed prior to kayaking a river in Kyrgyzstan. He was serious and focused. But right before the camera moved on, he smiled that famous Sam grin. I watched the video in sadness, but that unexpected grin for those few seconds made it all raw again.

So I’m losing hair and now I’m mad at myself. What right does my body, my soul, have, to claim emotional trauma or loss that makes your hair fall out?

I wasn’t his mother.

I wasn’t his sibling.

They’re the ones who wear that soul-deep grief. They’re the ones whose hearts will never fully heal. I actually thought to myself, you don’t have the right to that kind of grief.

How messed up is that?

But I do have the right to grieve. I do have the right to mourn. I do have the right to sit here crying as I type these words.

I have the right to go completely fucking bald if that’s what my heart needs.

I’m going to make a doctor appointment just in case. Probably. Maybe.

But I’m willing to bet those tests will all come out fine.

Because I’m losing hair from loss.

Because eight months later, nothing has changed.

Because Sam is still gone.

Owls And Rivers

Owls, in some myths, are the keepers of stories. My sister once had a vision of me surrounded by owls during a period when, due to illness, I couldn’t write. I clung to that vision of hers as if it were mine, as if all those owls promised words would return.

I read a poem today. It grabbed my heart as hard as a poem I once read years ago. Both were about the river, with potent imagery. The one today was by a young woman, Annie, who has never written poetry. The one years ago was by a close friend, Sabrina. What ties these two women together besides poems about the river? Annie is part of the family who just lost Sam to the river. Sabrina is Sam’s mother.

Is. Not was. Always his mother.

Those two poems are stirring inside. I can feel their power, like wind through feathers, like strong wings lifting upwards. Their owls, taking flight, carrying the spirit of their words out over that whitewater. Returning their stories to the river. To float forever with Sam.

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For those of you who don’t know Sabrina, she’s a river spirit. She swims the wild river year round. She floats held up by the foam of whitewater. And she once wrote about how the light changes under water when summer turns to fall. How the river changes with the seasons. Until she wrote that, I’d never given any thought to light under water.

Annie’s poem is a tribute to Sam, but also a tribute to Sabrina. She talks about how Sabrina swallowed the river and a drop grew to become Sam. How the river runs through their veins.

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Now I sit here thinking of light and water, of rivers that give and take, of rivers that always, always, change the land around us, change the very mountains, change our lives.

Change Is Just Behind the Mountains by Sabrina Grafton

Late summer light comes with more orange mixed in, the mountains that line this valley glow with it early and late in the day with the middle fading through yellow to light blue.

The river’s lost most of the current in our favorite swimming hole, green water is shallower and drifts past without much serious purpose in heading downstream.

Not like late fall water, which is all fattened up with ongoing rain and moves like it really has somewhere to go or the spring flow-runoff mixed with rain that belts towards the mouth, forty miles or so downstream.

Now it’s the slow time, before salmon return and the sprinkling of vine maple leaves that season the water with drifting red flakes.

When the rains move in the river water cools and even if the heat of summer returns for a late few days the river has already turned, readied itself for the next season.

There’s a few days, right at the end of summer when the days move so slowly that time is very nearly stopped and, the truth is, fall is hurtling toward you, unheeded but speeding on just the same.

Poised underwater, eyes open to the greenish cast that surrounds me

I glide silently along, just above the textured river bottom which is dappled in light that exactly reflects the pattern of the waves on the surface above.

Completely at peace

Fall can come

I surface, then quickly return to the green world below

To the bliss that is a perfect day in the river.

Today the wind blew steadily as I took my plunge, just before dark, at our favorite swimming hole.

The town bridge arches over the water like a great, breaching, concrete fish and a deep humming song like Tibetan tones resonated from the cables that stretch to the peak of the arch

Sounds so low that they seemed to come from the river itself

Deep songs of change

Weather’s coming in, the old timers say

I shiver as I dress, content with what I’ve had

But hoping that the mountains will catch the clouds up for one day longer

And give me one more perfect day.

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