Returned to Earth’s Heartbeat

TEST angel candle forest

Griev­ing the Loss of My Moth­er and Uncle I have been try­ing to come to terms with this real­i­ty, now five years past and yet ever present in mem­o­ry. She and her broth­er, my uncle, died sud­den­ly in a high­way auto­mo­bile acci­dent one Decem­ber evening, and to this day we still do not clear­ly know what tran­spired exact­ly. The day after the acci­dent, I col­lect­ed my mother’s purse from the police offi­cer who was at the scene. Small shards of wind­shield glass were wedged in the crevices. Held up to the set­ting sun, they caught the sun­light in a dis­play that was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly dev­as­tat­ing and beau­ti­ful. I held on to these shards as though they would some­how help bring me clos­er to where my moth­er and uncle died.

Part of my grief was that I nor any of our close rel­a­tives were there with them when they died, to have held them in their pass­ing. The loca­tion where the inci­dent hap­pened was a mul­ti-lane high­way, a place where I could not linger, and a road­side memo­r­i­al was not my family’s way. I would not want a mark­er there any­way; no, noth­ing to hold them to that non-place of con­crete, met­al, debris, and death. For me, at least, my moth­er and uncle returned to the heart­beat of the world.

A few years lat­er when we were ready, my two broth­ers and I kayaked out onto Ouen­tironk—an old Huron name mean­ing “Beau­ti­ful Water,” colo­nial­ly known as Lake Simcoe—where we grew up, and released her ash­es. We linked our kayaks togeth­er and took turns let­ting go. Let­ting her go there felt right. She loved that lake, that Beau­ti­ful Water who we lived beside, walked along dai­ly, and swam in with almost rit­u­al sig­nif­i­cance for health, joy, and a deep­er con­nec­tion to the world around us.

The lake, the land, and wildlife were good to us; we were for­tu­nate. In times of grief and dis­tress, going to see a par­tic­u­lar tree in the yard and going down to the lake led to expe­ri­ences I can only describe as sacred in their heal­ing pow­er. Numer­ous expe­ri­ences with some mem­bers of the neigh­bour­ing wildlife com­mu­ni­ty also con­tributed a sense of the sacred—of the inter­con­nect­ed­ness, the heal­ing gentleness—in that place.

To my knowl­edge, there is no word in Eng­lish for the feel­ing of sort­ing through, hold­ing, or open­ing the pos­ses­sions of a deceased or lost loved one. This is espe­cial­ly so for items one wouldn’t oth­er­wise be han­dling, like a diary or jew­ellery. Grief is present, to be sure; but, what more, specif­i­cal­ly what is it to this expe­ri­ence? It feels as if you are hold­ing a shad­ow. The strange­ness of it—how pos­si­ble it all seems.

Amalia C Moir

I lack any ade­quate term to describe what I felt when I returned home after see­ing to my moth­er and uncle’s bod­ies in the Hamil­ton area. I walked out­side, bare­foot as I always did and climbed the Nor­way spruce I always did since child­hood and clung to its trunk. Sit­ting there like that, clung to the tree, I could feel it sway in the wind. I could see my house, my mother’s gar­den, the Lake, and the two roads that bor­dered the prop­er­ty. I imag­ined the spruce’s roots going deep into the soil, and imag­ined some­thing of my own being grip­ping the earth and hold­ing fast in the wind. I thought, if one lis­tens care­ful­ly enough, one can hear the beat­ing heart of the earth in the rhythms of the land, water, and sky; the cycles of life, death, and new life; the sounds of mem­o­ry and imag­i­na­tion at play with the sens­es of the here and now where one is… It is to this beat that I lay my moth­er and uncle to rest. And so I can see and touch them where­so­ev­er I go.

This place, my child­hood home, taught me about con­nec­tion, love, and diver­si­ty. The trees I remem­ber well: east­ern white pines, east­ern white cedars, North Amer­i­can beech, Nor­way spruce, sug­ar and sil­ver maples, paper and yel­low birch­es, east­ern hem­lock, bass­wood, wild apples, white ash, iron­wood, and weep­ing and white wil­lows were our arbo­re­al neigh­bours. Cana­di­an geese would rou­tine­ly fly over the house as they moved from the lake to the Black Riv­er and vice ver­sa. The dawn cho­rus was spec­tac­u­lar; an avian col­lec­tive rejoic­ing in the light of each new day. This was where I con­nect­ed with the heart­beat of the world—through these beings, sights, sounds, relations.

Upon every vis­it to the lake, I always felt the need/desire to touch the lake with my bare hand; my way of say­ing “hel­lo” and “thank you.” My thoughts/feelings of love and grat­i­tude over­lap and I try to think of all the plants and ani­mals that live there. At first, my hus­band kind­ly teased me when he asked if I would do “matha tek­na” (bow of respect and bless­ings) when we vis­it­ed Lake Sim­coe, and—without hav­ing real­ized previously—I thought and said, “Yes, I do—I am.” I nev­er thought about it before, but feel that, when I crouch down and touch the Lake with my bare hand or hands, it is my way of greet­ing it, reflect­ing, and med­i­tat­ing on grat­i­tude to the place and all those who dwelt/dwell there. I touch the Lake and say or think, “Hel­lo. I have come to see you. Thank you,” and “Hel­lo, Mah…”.

The lake is a liv­ing being and a kind of liv­ing mon­u­ment for me; it and the land are alive and yet a spec­tral geog­ra­phy of my child­hood and loss as well as all the won­der­ful things that have hap­pened since the acci­dent. All that has passed on comes to life through mem­o­ry of and in that place. It is an affec­tive land­scape full of the spec­tral that is yet still alive in me and my fam­i­ly, in all the beings that still live there, and in per­son­al and shared mem­o­ries of my moth­er and that place. Life, as it always has, car­ries on, even in the pres­ence of absences.

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