Let's not ignore the elephant in the room (or in this case, on the screen) shall we? Grief. Really? Yes, really. It's uncomfortable and awkward and if truth be told, extremely lonely. I lived in a fog of grief for about a year after my mom passed away unexpectedly. The story of how she passed is irrelevant, but I was surprised by people's inquiry about this soon after hearing the news. 'What happened?' As if knowing would allow them information for how to avoid that fate for themselves. If it didn't feel like that, it felt like break-time in the staff room at work - a little bit of gossip to get through the day. Because it was my reality, the inquiry made me feel lots of things. Pissed off that life was still going on with my mom's death story serving as five minutes of gossiping entertainment; upset that I was hurting and the expectation that I needed to be my happy, bubbly self so that my pain wouldn't impose on anyone else's comfort. Mostly though, it made me sad. As if my mom's death wasn't sad enough, the question of how it happened sometimes followed by an obligatory 'how are you' left me feeling like I was sailing on this painful journey completely alone. It's a journey I'd never been on before and one that I didn't quite know how to navigate. Do I turn left or do I turn right? Do I say yes or do I say no? Basically I said 'no.' A lot. Like a lot, a lot. If I said yes during this time period it was a very intentional choice and a rather selfish one at that. I said yes if I thought the experience might make me happy, be fun or take little to no emotional work at all and I allowed those yeses to be yeses to things or experiences that would serve me, even if just a little bit. I surrounded myself with people who loved me and were just happy to be...even if they might not have known what to say.
We were approaching the anniversary of my mom's death when I was asked at church if I would make the decorations for the Easter photo booth. This was an easy yes and it checked all the boxes. Designing a backdrop is fun - check. Crafting is not emotional - check. Seeing a project go from conception to completion is exciting - check. Knowing that I'll get a cute family picture makes me happy - check. Seeing other people smile while they use my creation will make me feel good - check. All of these yeses are rudimentary at best and served the purpose I hoped they would, but what I didn't expect was that by saying yes, I would ultimately be saying yes to healing and good-bye to the fog of grief I had been slowly climbing out of.
The design was simple. It was early spring and I wanted fresh cherry blossoms. Cutting them fresh was too reliant on Mother Nature's bloom cycle and trimming several off of trees seemed rude to the tree or the gardener I'd be taking them from. So I set out to make them. A quick gathering of downed tree branches and a trip to the craft store to stock up on tissue paper, hot glue and one green garland later and I was in business. I spent hours on this project - cutting small pieces of tissue paper and twisting them into blooms; deconstructing the green garland just to glue each individual green leaf on the branches I had collected; building the stands that the branches would sit in, lest they be lying on the floor. It was a process. But I loved it. About an hour into twisting tiny pieces of tissue paper I realized that doing a project like this would have been something my mom would have done. Growing up she was my model for all things creative. She sewed, decorated cakes, and hand crafted a new set of Christmas ornaments for our tree every year (just to name a few). She used to say that she was 'the jack of all trades and a master of none.' I couldn't disagree more. She was brilliant creatively and that passion for creating was something we both shared. Realizing this on hour one of my cherry blossom creation was a blessing to me. It brought joy into my darkness and helped lift me out of my fog. I don't think this was coincidence or circumstantial. I believe in more than that - in healing through the power of prayer. This crafternoon and those cherry blossoms were an answer to prayer for me.
Do I still miss my mom? Of course. Absolutely. But instead of thinking about her in sadness, I think about her in joy. Tears don't well up as easily as they did the year of the fog and I can speak about her without getting choked up. Grief healing is a process, just like the making of the cherry blossoms.
*A postscript note on grieving: I don't assume that everyone's experience with grief is the same. We are each on our own journey and it is as nuanced and unique as our own stories. But I do believe there is one similarity in all of it...grief sucks.
* A postscript note on loving those who are grieving: Everyone's journey through grief is different and caring for one person through their journey might be different than that of someone else's. Some people want space, others don't. Some people want to talk, others don't. Sometimes it changes minute by minute and day by day. Be tender. Be present. Be patient. Be love.
The cherry blossoms are currently on display in the store window at Sparrow & Nightingale's in Sumner, WA.