The Middle Place of Unity
By Karin Vanhinsberg & Ancestors, edited by Gwenith Kikkawa
One of my Muses, David Whyte, seems deeply fascinated and attuned to life and our relationship to everything as journeys of endless arrivals and departures…
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witnesses to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
you, at times, have felt the array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~ David Whyte, “Everything is Waiting for You”
The Beginning of the Passing
Early this summer I reached my slow arrival of the decision to change my last name back to my maiden name, after being divorced for several years. It felt in alignment with going forward, bringing all the pieces of me back to my wholeness. As the universe would have it, my elderly paternal grandmother, Mysie, phoned me; she was very confused, which was new. In my mind I was frantically wondering if she had lost hers. She started the conversation with “I can’t remember how you got your last name.” I said I had married. She couldn’t remember if I had ever lived with my mother; I reminded her that she babysat me every day for several years while my widowed mother worked, and that I had also lived with her for part of my highschool years. Then out of the blue, she said; “Well, welcome home.” I felt stunned because no one knew of my decision, and yet there was my grandmother ‘out of her mind’ welcoming me back ‘home’. Soon after this, all seemed to be back to normal, and I carried on with the physical tasks of my name change.
Work of the Ancestors
During the process of my name change, a sadness suddenly arose. I had thought I had already looked at all the pieces – all the repercussions, the timing, and the effect my name change would have on my daughter. It had been a slow turning of the tide over years from a deep knowing that ‘it does not matter at this time what your last name is’…to a gathering wave of Soul Knowing that NOW it does essentially matter. I thought the decision was already made with only the “leg work” to complete.
Listening deeply into this sadness to perceive what it was telling me, I could see a vision of a hand clutching my heart. I had the sense that it was the ancestors of my former spouse and daughter’s father, that didn’t want to let go of me, and wanted me to continue their work for them. I felt like I was abandoning Erin. My heart’s response was to thank them, and to ask them to continue to help Erin. Would they be willing to continue to hold space for her and to help her grow? I wanted my daughter’s ancestors to step into the place I had been holding.
I am not sure my mind will fully be able to understand what “work of the ancestors” means.
I had a dream once in which I received a template from my Ancestors on how to resolve very difficult situations. They wanted each individual involved in the problem to sit in circle with one mutual, neutral friend. Then they guided for each person in the circle to invite in their own Ancestors in, asking them to guide them through the process of each person sharing and being heard, and a process for moving forward found.
My heart knows that “work of the ancestors” is my soul’s ‘calling’ to keep going on a path laid out for me. I believe there are wisdom infused pieces and patterns and family stories we constantly carry with us. They are for us in our time to tell, resolve and let go of as we reach out for new experiences, new dreams and expanded ways of being.
The Breaking of the Bone
The way forward, the way between things,
the way already walked before you,
the path disappearing and re-appearing even
as the ground gave way beneath you,
the grief apparent only in the moment
of forgetting, then the river…. (David Whyte, “Camino”)
I had barely completed my name change when my grandmother had what would have been a little stumble – but the landing was enough to shatter her femur. Earlier in the spring, I had written Honouring the Grandmothers and the Flow from our Ancestral Bones, where I shared about the comparison I felt between my two grandmothers and what tools and ways of being they taught me. I explain how I saw the image of the long bone with the ‘diaphysis’ or shaft symbolically representing the distances we travel or keep between our relationships.
The word diaphysis (the shaft of the long bone) came to me when I was reflecting on what it is to navigate the distances between ourselves. It speaks to me of the lengths we go to maintain our comfort, our comfortable view of the world, our personal narratives and the distances created that foster misunderstandings. It is from my Grandmother experiences and tools that I see that navigating and growing through our relationships is our life’s work and our spirit-work. This work is grounded in our human-ness, it is in our bones.
It is only now as I reflect back on my journey that I realize my name change had sent me metaphorically splashing into the river, taken by the rushing flow, transported through a series of rapids and a waterfall or two before arriving at a calm reflective wide space to where I am now. I can see the bigger flow of this story from my last ‘grandmother’ story and the significance of breaking this bone, shattering the distance between us.
Change – Being in the ‘Thick’ of Things, and Milkshakes
After the surgery for her broken leg, I travelled to visit her in the hospital. I stopped for a bit of food and got a strawberry milkshake; not a normal purchase for me. It was so thick, there was no way I was able to drink any as I drove. I arrived to a distraught grandmother asking me where I had been. I offered the milkshake that had melted into a drinkable state. A sweet welcome and soothing remedy.
A swirling stream of questions now… How will she recover from this? Will she be able to go back to her residence? Will she require long term care? Her unknown trajectory was dependant on if she would ever walk again. I floundered as I tried to hold space for all the possibilities yet to be determined. During all these heavy thoughts, was a bigger holding of her sacred passage.
Unity in the Middle Place
On one of my hospital visits, my mother came with me, and the 3 of us began to reminisce. My mother brought up a rare but well remembered time when the 3 of us had gone on a little trail walk together. “Do you remember” my mother said to my grandmother, “that time we went for that walk along the river?” “Oh yes” chuckled my grandmother. “We were walking along looking at the river and we didn’t notice the nettles. We ran home and all three of us were parked on the edge of the bathtub rubbing our legs with baking soda, laughing and moaning at the same time!”
What I remember about that story was seeing the beautiful inviting path, lush and green and shaded that followed alongside the shallow laughing Ganaraska River. We didn’t notice the tall minutely razor sharp nettles overhanging the narrow path and stinging our bare legs until we were deep in. We did not know how much further the nettles might be along the path – as if standing at the fulcrum of a teeter totter – turning back seemed an equal gamble as going forward.
I think that we have found ourselves in this spot very often in our daily situations, interactions and relationships. As I look back from my vantage point of calm reflection I see that my grandmother was that person whom many turned to when they were in ‘the nettles’ and when I shared this story at her funeral all those present murmured in agreement. She taught me that when I am in that middle space we go forward together, we laugh, we run, we sit together and apply a healing remedy to the scratched up bits, and with the telling and re-telling we create a precious story.
I believe we need to Trust in this middle space. Let it hold us as we feel around for our tools. Let it feel as if all our earned and innate wisdom is companioning us through planning ahead, dreaming ahead or bracing ourselves for our ‘Landing’. This is the rich place. This is the growing place, stretching our skills of honing our intuition for seeing into the dark abyss of the unknown that lays before us.
And even more significantly, this middle ground between departures and arrivals – this dark tipping point of the fulcrum of decisions – this is a place of Unity. It is a place of Unity because it is a shared experience, a place we have all been many times; and too a place our Ancestors have been and emerged from.
Everything is Sacred
In keeping with universal timing, I had an unexpected day off. I went to visit my grandmother and she was having a ‘good’ day. Alert and cheerful. She had stories of many visitors. I felt an expansion in my heart, allowing me to leave this visit feeling relieved and hopeful.
Even through her sudden decline in health the next day, the universe seemed to slow down time and create space to orchestrate a visit from one of her sons, Keith, and a phone call with her other son from across the country. After my grandmother gave Keith a really good hug (with all the physical strength she had left), I could see he was just stoic-ly destroyed. I could sense how challenging it was for Keith to sit there and hold her hand over a period of time, for he is a person who wants to be able to fix things, and he couldn’t fix this. I offered to go with them to get dinner, I knew it was the best thing we could do for everyone there. When we returned from dinner, she was unconscious.
After Keith and his wife left, the nurses moved my grandmother to a private room. Now we were alone. I suddenly noticed the intimacy of being alone with her in that moment, her not able to speak or respond or physically not being able to register. Her lungs were breathing and her heart was beating but that was all. At first I sat in silence, taking in all this intimacy.
In my sacred and intimate time with her I could feel my father, grandfather and other ancestors arrive in spirit around us. I spoke and sang as my heart and spirit guided and prompted me to. I took her hand, and experienced an arrival of what felt like a portal, a big ball of energy that almost tipped me over. It reminded me of that feeling of being on a rollercoaster ride that I could barely handle, spinning at a tremendous speed; I thought I was going to lose consciousness like when a pilot reaches the maximum G force that their body can tolerate.
Then a sudden release and my spirit was out in the universe, where my grandmother’s spirit already was, with all the stars and planets. As I sat with her there for several hours, that sensation repeated two more times when I held her hand, to the point where all I needed to do was touch her hand to check in with where her spirit was and if there was anything she needed.
There came a point where I realized she was so far out in the universe that she was no longer here on earth at all, irregardless of her breathing body. I checked in with her spirit and asked “Do you need anything?” and “Do you want me to continue to stay?” She said no. I asked her if she was with my grandfather and father’s spirit, she said yes. She didn’t want to me to witness her body taking its last breath; she wanted me to remember her breathing. I felt a peaceful invitation to then go home, leaving with this ‘heaven on earth’ feeling.
A phone call that woke me at 7:00AM the next day from the hospital stating that she had passed. Through my career as a nurse, I was prepared for this expected news. Working closely with death I have nurtured and revised my own – and what I feel is essential to my mental health – ‘working theory’ of why we are here as humans and where we go after death. In the intimate time of simply being with my grandmother the night before, I was honoured and at peace that I experienced her spirit travelling out into the universe.
There was part of my mind that questioned and doubted my intuition of leaving her the night before. But then like flashes of light, I recalled how she had physically, mentally and emotionally suffered in her last weeks on earth through her disorientation, being continually taken out of her safe environments, moved from hospital to hospital and sterile room to sterile room. My plan was to have her placed in a home near me so that I could visit her. But it was not ideal. Deep down I knew she would have been unhappy to be placed in long term care. I knew she chose the path of the universe that lay before her, even if that meant going through the path of nettles through the greatest unknown, as she held the hands of my father and grandfather’s spirits.
I felt a relief from the complex unknown trajectories and coordinating of many resources. Relief from her suffering and her rollercoaster ride of confusion and disorientation, being surrounded by no one and nothing familiar. Relief from the vast container filled with daily worry, of going to work, phoning the hospital to check in with her, while keeping all other family members up-to-date with things, and driving to visit her on my days off. It was a container of managing and preparing for an unknown end that had the potential to stretch onward for an unspecified length.
I spent the remainder of that day with Erin, driving down to an immediate expectation to plan the funeral in dizzying detail, and then releasing ourselves to the beach there on Lake Ontario. A round-stone and pebble beach that we and my grandmother loved. I placed the now dried flowers from my grandmother’s hospital room in the water. We looked for patterned pebbles and beach glass. We dipped our feet in the waves and threw skipping stones. An intimate interlude of Solace and Water.
Sorting Through the Remnants of Another’s Life
When one thing dies all things
die together, and must live again
in a different way,
when one thing
is missing everything is missing,
and must be found again
in a new whole
and everything wants to be complete,
everything wants to go home…. ~ David Whyte ‘What I Must Tell Myself’
I travelled back and forth to her residence over the next month to go through her belongings, to sort, give, receive and donate. Whenever I went to her residence I had people coming up to me saying “I’m sorry for your loss”. This felt incongruent with my feeling of joy and being in this heaven space. I began to craft a response that shared, “She lived a healthy and full life, she would not have been happy unless she was able to go back to her own home and self care.” This response allowed me to stay in my joy, and for others I hoped this offered them a comforting perspective that in grief there can also be joy, relief, and a greater peace and understanding of our working theories. Just as my grandmother broke her femur bone, shattering the distance between us, my joy remains in how my spirit connection with my grandmother has only grown and deepened.
It took me time to fully settle into this feeling though. I was going through the sacred ceremony of unpacking and sorting through her possessions, down to every pair of earrings, and every ball of string. Every remnant of her life had a spirit, asking for time and space to be acknowledged and listened to with respect and gratitude. A fascinating find happened when I came across the tickets, menus and songbook of the steamship she travelled from London, England to Canada when her family immigrated and she was just 1-year-old. This was during the days when you dressed in your best for dinner, went to church on the ship, or went to sing-alongs at night. I found other things like my father’s death certificate that needed to be freed and let go of. I appreciated that she kept her mother’s day cards, and I sent those back to her sons from which they came from, so they could decide what to do with them. I laughed wholeheartedly when I found a box stuffed to the rim with four leaf clovers; it felt like she had all the four leaf clovers in Ontario! I sent them just as they were to her son in B.C., who had been unable to travel to Ontario for the funeral, and I said, “Here’s all the luck in Ontario for you.” I had a fortuitous event where a flyer entered my mailbox of an antique dealer that would come and look at and appraise anything you had. I arranged for him to come view her things, acknowledging the value of certain things, he bought some and advised me of the lack of value of other things which gave me the freedom to then choose to receive into my home or donate other items. I packed up boxes to be mailed to close friends and decided all the extra soap and shampoo etc was not an annoyance, it was abundance. Some items I knew were not mine alone to make decisions for; they were personal items and pictures of other family members that were kept and cherished. Those items I mailed back to those members so they could choose to remember, keep or let go of.
This work was heavy at first. I felt a strong sense of urgency to honour and place everything where it needed to go,to make room for new arrivals. Life and new opportunities continue to flow whether we choose to be in that flow or not. My intuition was telling me not to let things stagnate and collect dust or be forgotten, forming into unhealthy clutter and foreign stuck energy; but to help it all move on. That urgency was at times raw and uncomfortable, like going through the rapids of a river, where I was getting dunked under over and over. I knew and trusted that I had to simply stay the course of the rapids until I was through. Because I knew that things were coming, I was also responding to this feeling of having someone else’s life imposed in my space, that I had been tasked to deal with and take care of, doing it for myself and my daughter so that its energy would not impede on our lives. It was a very clear tasking of taking what is useful to carry on with and pass on to my ascendants, while letting go of what was no longer useful, such as the letting go of old family patterns, stories or beliefs that no longer serve our greatest growth.
Through every step of this large process of clearing and honoring of these many pieces, I was able to honor my grandmother’s life.
A Soul’s Calling
I’ve had a chance to rest from the rushing river that was the whole thing, from the threads I can trace back to knowing the beginning of her passing…ever since entering the river, navigating the sets of rapids and going over the ‘waterfall of no going back’ and landing in the final calm and rest in the reflective pool.
I have come to understand that if I am in alignment with my soul’s calling, I am continuing the work of my ancestors. My soul’s calling is an ancestral path that has been laid out by my soul.
On my last drive home related to my grandmother and the sorting through of her things I heard “Let the story begin and end with a strawberry milkshake.” So, that day I had no lunch on the way home and thought, well, I will get another milkshake and close this the way it started. It came from the same place I had bought the previous one that was so thick I could not drink from it, and ended up gifting to my grandmother. Only now it was the thinnest milkshake ever, like strawberry milk. I wondered at the theme of thickness and thinness, no longer ‘in the thick of things’ I am in a place of easy flow…
As we head inward into fall, how can we support each other as we search in the dark for our tools?
What might it be like to honour the movement toward the middle dark, and celebrate the rich space it is in which we will find our gems?
What is it like to begin and end each journey into the dark unknown with a ‘strawberry milkshake’?