The woodpecker at my Mom’s feeder, shortly after Mom died. :: Photo by Cynthia Plett
This morning, I sat at my computer venting over email to my sister about a situation that is affecting both of us. While I sat pouring a little grief, anger, and frustration onto the computer screen, a faint hint of pink caught my eye on the horizon outside my window. I paused from my typing and watched as the pink foreshadowing began to grow and the sun prepared to make its daily visit to our half of the earth. Like a flower in stop-action video, the pink petals unfurled, showing finally, at the centre, the icy gold of the winter sun.
It was one of those moments – a thin place as they talk about in Celtic spirituality – where the veil between the mundane and the Sacred is suddenly especially thin. In those moments, the Divine brushes up against us, and if we are paying attention, we find ourselves in awe. I sat there in reverent silence, watching the pink turn to gold, still holding the grief that wanted to spill onto the page, and yet reminded in that moment that I was being held.
I’m finding often, in my grief, that I can hold both beauty and pain, both wonder and devastation, both love and anger, both tears and laughter in my heart simultaneously. In the depths of my pain, I am caught by the wonder of unexpected beauty. In my tenderness, I am especially vulnerable to devastating heartache and surprising beauty.
I miss my Mom terribly, and yet I have never felt so held in her love.
It’s a strange paradox, in fact, that the thin places seem to appear more often in times of grief – as though God were making a special effort to be present in the sadness. Just a few days ago, I watched in wonder as two crows did a strange and mesmerizing sky dance, diving, soaring, dropping, and spinning – always within about 6 inches of each other. There must have been some unheard music guiding their dance.
Birds have been especially present for me in the months surrounding Mom’s death. She became an avid bird-watcher in her dying days. A week before she died, my sister and I spotted a bald eagle near Mom’s house. Shortly after she breathed her last breath, my siblings and I sat in wonder as a woodpecker stopped to feed at one of Mom’s birdfeeders.
The birds serve as messengers of the Divine, bringing the thin places into my grief.
When we run away from grief, we miss the raw beauty of these tender moments. We miss the surreal beauty of life through grief-tainted eyes.
When my husband and I lost our son twelve years ago, it was the same. We both remarked how vivid everything seemed at that time and how we felt an unexplainable sense of peace carrying us through our days. Colours looked brighter, conversations dove deeper, beauty seemed crisper. Every day in our vulnerable state, we felt like we were living in the middle of a thin place. I’ve heard the same from other parents who’ve experienced loss – there is a strange beauty to vulnerability.
Grief takes away the layers that we normally build around our lives. It chips away the bravado, the masks, and the false courage and leaves us exposed, raw, and open to pain, but also to beauty.
I want to live in the middle of this paradox for now. I don’t want to run away from it. I want to be fully present in the thin place. I want to notice the pink sky, the dancing birds, and the bald eagles. I want to be mindful and open. I know that comes with a risk, but I’m willing to open myself up to it.
I want to hold the paradox in my hand and feed it scraps of my memories like the hungry birds at my Mom’s feeder.