One moon ago, on midsummer’s night, my mum died. Just like that – no farewells, no teary goodbyes. The most peaceful death anyone could wish for. In the midst of life and light, just like the dancing fireflies. After all this loss it feels like my world has been shattered. What am I to do now? Thankfully a dear friend showed up with pink flowers and the book I had once lend her When things fall apart: heart advice for difficult times. The book is exactly about finding yourself in this no-man’s-land of not knowing where you are or what’s going to happen next. She explains that being alive means always being in no-man’s-land. Because the fact is that we never know what’s happening. We might think we do, but we don’t. Life is challenging and never perfect the way we want it to be. So she tells us to face up to the enormous space that has opened up. That we should move towards the turbulence and doubt, not away from it. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not die.
It is easy to write about rainbows and butterflies. About the abundance of life blooming all around us. It is much harder to write about tragic loss. To sit with our pain and to actually acknowledge it. In the past I’ve often tried to push myself through it, to prove how strong and resilient I was. But this time I wanted to give myself as much space and time as I needed. So instead of running back to my old life, I read It’s ok that you’re not ok by Meghan Devine. It’s one of the most enlightening books on grief I’ve ever read. It felt like a voice in the dark telling me: what you are feeling is completely normal. It helped me to understand that it’s not crazy to feel all over the place, have mysterious pains and aches in your body, or feel anxious about EVERYTHING. That you’re allowed to collapse – after all, your world has collapsed. And that this isn’t something we’re supposed to fix. As Adrienne Rich wrote, “There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.”
This winter was one of the darkest winters in years. At first it seemed it would be beautiful season, full of new adventures and love. It was the discovery of a tiny heart beating inside of me that illuminated our world. Isn’t it the most miraculous thing, to carry the seed of life within you? From that day on you are the guardian of another living being, protecting it with all your might. Words fail to describe the sadness and grief when this little heart stops beating. Together we surrendered to the dark, letting it cut more deep. It was only after a few days that I realised that somewhere inside I might be holding onto it, not wanting to let it go… but that eventually I would have to. Over the years I’ve learned that rituals help with grief, so that night we put a blossoming Curcuma flower on a silver tray in the middle of the room and lit three candles around it, a healing stone and seashell heart, and as the sage was burning and the drum beating, I cut the seed of life and offered it up to the stars.
As the autumn leaves are falling, the end of our gardening season is near. After weeks of looking after the beautiful calabash, who has almost completely conquered our little plot of land, it’s time to harvest it’s fruit. The incessant rain hasn’t done it much good and only three large calabashes remain. We bring them home to dry, but it soon turns out that one of them won’t make it, turning brown so quickly it takes us by surprise. The two that remain are hanging from the ceiling until they are ready to be carved into shape and made into a cabaça. Meanwhile, some plants are thriving at this time of year. The chrysanths is in full bloom and so are the winter cherry’s. The lavender is looking lush and abundant too. So I gather all of the pots we own and get them ready to be shipped off to our balcony. How will they adjust to this new, contained life? I ask myself the same question as the days are getting shorter and I fall into slumber. Six more weeks until the solstice… and the return of the light.
I used to be so creative as a child. The walls of our kitchen were covered with my work, colourful paint splattered across every canvas I could get my hands on. But then something changed: it happened on the first day of the fourth grade. Our new teacher handed out beige notebooks with a little house on the cover, blotting paper between every page. I got to work with my usual enthusiasm, but when it was time to show our assignments to the class, I came to realise that my drawing wasn’t very ‘good’. Everyone was in awe of the horse that one of my classmates had drawn. And there was a girl who had made a beautiful, realistic portrait: eyes, lips, hair – all so perfectly captured. Until then I hadn’t had the faintest idea that I couldn’t draw, but there it was. Eleven years of art classes ensued, and how I hated every minute of them. Do schools kill creativity? In my case, they did. For sure. It took me thirty years to build up the courage to say: Master Henk, I won’t be coming back!