2013-2014 was a very awarding and challenging for me in many ways. But even though very wonderful things happened for me in 2014. Sometimes life also happens. Things that you are never prepared for even though they are part of life. Where there are ups and downs. And the joy also has sadness. And those things make your life come to a screeching halt and make you hold onto your seat for dear life.
In 2013 (one month after another )certain events struck all at once in my life. One of my mentors and fellow sister in my global work was diagnosed with breast cancer. My life mate and husband was critically ill and hospitalized. And one of the women in my life who was the mother to my family passed away peacefully in her sleep in November before the holidays. My dear Aunt. Elizabeth Harris ( Lisa Mayo )
And it took me over three months to really return to my computer and start write again. Not afraid of the phone call in the middle of the night. Not afraid that it is finally the time. For first time I was able to actually think and process it all in with reflection.
But as I sit at my desk and even write this, it made me come to the question:
How do we create when someone that you love is taken from us in death?
How do you put your mind to it and not feel selfish about it?
Basically the question I have asked myself over and over again during these months is:
How do you go on when there is a death of someone that you love so fiercely?
In those months that followed and in the early 2014 I have suffered severe writer’s block an experience that I have never really had until after the death of my aunt. It is one of the writer’s dreads and it was such a block that I knew it was for a reason and that was I am still in the mourning process. I- could- not- write. Not a sentence. Not an idea. Nothing.
So I just decided to write small things at first and read as much as I could but not the usual lusty romance novels. I started with the speech that I had to give in Europe and just read very heavy minded international legal documents. On the plane I outlined my speech and wrote in the details and made notes on the spark of ideas that those documents have given me.
When I came back from my European tour, I realized that my writer’s block was gone but I still could not get myself to write the way that I am used to. But, two things happened when I came back that made me write once again. First of all I was given a deadline for my play so that helped and the other was the Anniversary of the death of my friend Ingrid who was murdered in Columbia. She was someone that meant so much to me and it not only devastated me but it devastated my community as well. It triggered many things but it also triggered that when she died, we did not stop and only grieve, we stood up and saw the reality of where we stood as Indigenous Women in the world. It made many of us work closer to the front lines of the international level but it also made me create, for I felt that I owed it to her to go on and make my path.
Today as I think about the most recent death of a close family member, I couldn’t see past my grieve, maybe I was a waiting for a sign, I really can’t say. But I do know that those were the two major deaths in my life as an adult woman that had the most impact on me. One made me create to my highest degree and the other paralyzed me to my highest degree.
All I do know was that both made feel my mortality in one swift swing. It put a fear in me that life is too short and we only have one shot. And that started me to think about how do you create while in the mourning process? How did ancestors in my lineage continue to go on when so much was ripped away in their genocide? Not that this was genocide but there is that sense of historical trauma that is built in your very DNA. Making you remember the past even if you were not there. How do you find the laughter again not with others but with yourself? How do you justify your creative self that it needs to speak with your intellectual self and emotional self ? How do you do that and go on with your life and figure out that it is okay to laugh and smile and create once again. The only answer I do have is that it is a personal journey; the same as giving birth it is an individual unique experience. Death and the mourning process are also a very individual experience. There is not only one way.
I realized after all is said and done that death can bring out the worse in us and sometimes the best in us. It brings out the gratitude, the rage, the anger and the family drama. It makes those come to who will hold you up when you can’t walk and help you crawl. Friendships are strengthened and ties broken. You see the weave of time and the fragile center of a heart line. A friend of mine once told me that the death of a close family member makes you part of a club that you don’t want to belong to but we all will have to join it one day. And I know she was talking about that it is the club of the survivors and those that must go on but yet not really sure how to.
We all know that the time will come when the old must go on their way to the other side but it does not make it any easier for us and the grieving process. You try to go on and ignore the rage inside of you but realize that you can’t help the rage that comes to you. It is a blackness of anger that grips and chokes and a rage at life and the unfairness of it makes you want to scream and argue with the universe.
It doesn’t matter if the person who is ripped out of your life was on this this earth for 89 years and that you knew it was coming. You are never prepared for the finalization of it. The reality of it. And there is nothing that you can do about it. It is never easy to say goodbye to someone that you love. Never.
Surviving after a death is like picking up your life once again one piece at a time in small tiny fragments that are like tiny crystals of sand and the tears are an ocean as the pieces fall through your fingertips. You realize that the person who left had to go and that is the way the world works but it does no stop the grief. It does not stop the anger. It does not stop the rage. It does not stop the pain of never seeing that person again. It doesn’t stop the extreme sadness. It doesn’t stop that sense of control to hold it together but the grief paralyzes, seizes your heart and takes your knees out from under you and wakes you up in the middle of the night and just simply takes your breath away. The grief that makes you want to stay in bed and never get up until you have to eat and then eating isn’t such a great idea.
The biggest question I have had was how do I actually let go, not only the grief but the rage and the bitter anger. How? How do you come to the conclusion not only intellectually but emotionally? Do you dance it into submission? Numb it. Smother it. Sing until your voice is raw? How?
And then at one point you come to realize that they are gone and you are alive. You are alive to laugh and cry and move in the world. If that is what death teaches us. If death can teach us something, I do not know. But I know what is has taught me and that is I don’t control the world. I don’t have final say on matters. The Creator has the final say and it is on the Creator’s time that I am here. The highest power in the Universe has spoken and I must accept it.
My very faith in life was tested and my faith in the Creator. But as one said you cannot box with God and if you do you will get the knockout punch. As I was knocked out on the mat crying for the solutions, I finally saw that all is well in the world because this is the turn of life and there are no other explanations.
I came to see that we are only fragments of time within the great world that exists for us and around us. We are all spiritual beings that are a force of light that inhabits this very body. Nothing is perfect and nothing ever will be. But you can speak to the Devine through death and know that there is one equation and that death is the common dominator to us all and so is life. And you know that deep in your heart that you will met each other again in some way or somehow. That your destiny is intertwined with people for a reason, season or lifetime. I believe that my aunt was with me for all of those things.
I knew that I had to start to write again it was something that cannot be stopped. To me writing is something that is in my very makeup. It is who I am and how I express to the world. To tell stories that need to be told. To talk to that voice that says “Here is the story, please tell it for me”.
As tears pour down my face as I even write this, I know my aunt wouldn’t want me to be too sad, she taught me to be tough and that I have to make my own connection. I have to make the choice in the cross roads in life, that this is my life and I have to take it by the horns. I have to make the change because nobody else can do it for me. She would want me to not only live my life but to create as she taught me to do. There will never be a day in my life I think that I will not miss her and she knows that and I know that she is with me in my work and every sentence I write. She sacrificed for my family and sacrificed so she could live the life that she wanted. She loved deeply but her passion in life was her work. And she instilled that in me. She wanted me to write so she told me the stories for my books. She was the connection to the river of my dreams. She taught me that the Rappahannock River was the place of our ancestors and right or wrong that is what made us who we are as a family. She went deep into her mind to give me these stories and told me things that I know she didn’t tell many. She knew as I was writing these books that I was writing her legacy to me.
She told me of my great grandmother and my great- great grandmother. Things that were only whispered about in low tones in the family parlor and stories of the past that she called crisscrossed under the Rappahannock River and over the bridge of life. She was a woman of the theater as I am but she was a storyteller and I know that I am that too.
If I am happy about one thing right at this moment and that she heard and saw my book read. Even though her illness was starting to take its toll on her during the time of the reading, after I was done, she smiled that Aunt Elizabeth smile and said “Boy that was great!” And that is why I continue because I want to hear those words in my dreams and from the other side to tell me it was all worth it.
Dedicated to the living.