Saturday, December 6, 2014

The First Thanksgiving

This post was originally published on November 27, 2014 on River-Bliss.com.

 This first Thanksgiving without my mom is a holiday I'm experiencing from the sidelines. Even though I've been cooking all day, there is no formal, sit-down meal to share with family, for we are scattered in different directions. (I think the cooking is mostly therapeutic.) My dad's neighbors have adopted him, my daughter is in Georgia, my son is spending the day with his dad in their new home, one of my siblings is in New York City, and the other is celebrating with her in-laws. I had considered volunteering at a soup kitchen and made some phone calls to explore possibilities but didn't follow through. The bottom line is that I just want to lay low this Thanksgiving. It is quiet here in this little empty nest on the river.


Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the season. This morning, I woke up to a snow-covered world and went out in search of beauty for the first time in a while. I took a walk in my special sanctuary close to home, where I spent many frigid mornings last winter in silent solitude. It occurred to me that the last time I walked there in the snow was when my mom was sick. This is the first snowfall since she died, and I'm filled with gratitude for how the snow-kissed beauty of this special place saved me almost daily last winter. In this place, I found tranquility, inspiration, beauty, and joy. I was elevated above the challenges and filled with energy to attend to everything that called for attention. I'm grateful for the snow-covered trees that were here for me last year and transformed my grief into gratitude today.


While walking, I contemplated gratitude. In addition to family, food, good health, and shelter, the following blessings rose to the forefront of my mind:
  • Reconnecting with old friends. Many friends from high school and even earlier resurfaced in my life upon hearing of my mom's illness and death. Connecting with long-lost friends is like collecting lost pieces of myself. Some people who were little more than acquaintances in high school have showed up most faithfully and literally have offered me a shoulder on which to cry. As much as I've tried to forget the teen years ever took place, there is an undeniable bond that is forged through growing up in the same town and sharing a common history.
  • New friendships formed by shared grief and understanding. Knowing that others in my circle are experiencing the same loss gives me strength and comfort. I know I'm not alone. And the most wonderful gifts are the stories we share with each other - of dreams, peculiar occurrences, and awareness of our loved one's presence. Many times, I have experienced a tingling, hair-raising sensation from head to toe when listening to friends' stories. I long to hear them and share mine freely. We speak the same language, describe the same sensations, and transmit hope and joy to each other. The friends with whom I was close when our children were babies always have held a special place in my heart, and clearly it is the same with the friends I have made in the wake of our parents' deaths.
  • The helpers who stepped forward out of the blue. Often, they weren't the people closest to me but natural helpers who find their way to those in need - for example, one of my dad's neighbors who shows up frequently on his doorstep with home-cooked meals and even an apple pie (with a heart-embellished crust) on Thanksgiving morning. These dear souls fill me with hope for this world and inspire me to be more helpful and giving.
  • Having a closer relationship with my other family members. My mom was the only extrovert in my family of origin. She was like a puppy that greeted us gleefully at the door. She did most of the talking and often talked for us by being the default family messenger. A large percentage of our communications took place through her. Now that she is gone, we have to step out of our introverted comfort zones and communicate with one another. I'm building a much closer, direct relationship with my dad, and my sister and I turn to each other when we miss our mom and when we feel upset about matters we would have brought to her. I think it would have been unfortunate for my dad to have died without experiencing a more direct relationship with his children. It used to be that we would talk with Mom on the phone, Dad would come on and say hello, and then Mom would fill him in on all the news afterward. But now he doesn't get the news from her; he gets it from us. He is able to receive presence and love directly from us now. This is perhaps the greatest gift my mom could have given him - and us - by leaving us.
All of the above are blessings received as a result of losing my mom. It's easy to sink into sorrow when thinking about what her death has taken from us. But I know that on Thanksgiving - and every other day - my mother would want us to celebrate the ways in which our lives are richer as a result of her life - and even her death.


The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Shifting Sands of Grief

This post was originally published on November 23, 2014 on River-Bliss.com.

This blog has been uncharacteristically quiet in recent weeks because I have been taking inventory regarding where to go from here. My intention all along was to pair nature photography with contemplative reflections. Why was I drawn to a certain image in the first place? What feelings and insights arise?


And then my mom became ill and died, and I find myself grappling with Big Questions and the many manifestations of grief. My writing has become more personal than I ever intended to share. Am I writing an autobiography of grief? Is it useful to share such personal feelings and experiences?
Much of the time, I honestly feel as if I am losing my mind - which I realize is one of the primary manifestations of grief. When I was in my twenties, I volunteered for an organization in Syracuse called Hope for Bereaved, which published a book called Hope for Bereaved: Understanding, Coping and Growing Through Grief that consists of short articles that address all kinds of losses. The title of the very first article is "I Wasn't Going Crazy...I Was Grieving." How reassuring!

It's not only the loss of the deceased loved one that makes this season of grief so challenging. It's the way relationships shift, like aftershocks from an earthquake. It feels as if the very foundation on which I stand has been removed from underneath me. Life feels unstable, unsupported. Even my sense of self feels like shifting sands. I have been floating in teardrops, releasing inhibitions, and dwelling in questions - Big Questions, like:
  • Why am I here in the first place?
  • Where does my responsibility to others begin and end?
  • Is my ultimate responsibility to myself, to live fearlessly and follow my soul wherever it leads?
  • How do I balance my own happiness and peace of mind with caring for others?
  • Is there some kind of divine blueprint for my life, and if so, how am I doing so far? How can I tell?
  • Or perhaps when all is said and done, is all the content from this lifetime just information to process and understand rather than to judge? (Will we review our life with an omniscience that allows us to see things as they really were, rather than through the limited, skewed lens of our own ego?)
Sometimes these questions threaten to overwhelm me, for I don't have the answers and can be very hard on myself. Sometimes I wear myself out by giving in to the temptation to seek external stimulation by filling my mind with the voices and opinions of others, when true peace and fulfillment is an inside job cultivated more effectively by sitting alone and still and filling with light from the inside out. Only then can I beam light to others. But I can't do that when my own battery is depleted.

It is more important than ever at this dark time of year to kindle the inner light and to be gentle with myself - especially now that my mom's nurturing presence is absent from my life. Yesterday, it occurred to me that there's nobody to buy me gloves and socks anymore. Sure, I can buy them for myself. However, that was something my mom always did - and that I often took for granted. She came through with sweet, small, comforting gestures that nobody else thought of. There's a certain kind of love and care that is missing now and that needs to be cultivated in other ways. And there's also the question of how to navigate new and unfamiliar relationship patterns. Who picks up the pieces? Who (and to what extent) cares for the most fragile family members? I try my best but cannot fill my mom's shoes, and my attempts often feel awkward and clumsy.

It reminds me of what it was like to become a mother. Having a child changes your life monumentally, and I remember wondering: When will life return to normal? The reality was that it never would return to what it was before. You become accustomed to a new "normal." And I think that's what I'm dealing with now, in the wake of my mother's death.



I find that when I feel overwhelmed by questions about how to manage relationships, the best I can do is to avoid taking the tempting detour into the thinking mind. Instead, take a deep breath and slow down. Return to the moment and practice self-care faithfully. Get enough sleep, to begin with. Meditate. Exercise. Eat right. Speak the truth. Say no when saying yes would overload my circuits. Channel the energy so it doesn't get stuck inside me. Listen to and follow the internal compass known as intuition.

These responses might not provide the answers to the questions that arise. They might not be exciting. However, they restore me to a more centered, balanced state from which I can discern the next step. And that's probably the best I can do. One step at a time, may I be led by the best and highest within me and honor the Self that unites us all.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a "custom print" in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears. 

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.