One of the things I have been blessed with is the gift of not caring too much about how people perceive me. It started relatively young. I remember in fourth grade, I was determined to play the drums. My parents said it wasn’t really an instrument for girls, that made me all the more determined to play it. I lugged the hard plastic bulky 3 foot round case to the bus stop, banging it against my leg as I walked, a few times a week for years. My drumset was like the giving tree, it provided an outlet when I was angry or sad and when I couldn’t take it with me, it provided money for college. Ironically, I had bought a drumset for my youngest daughter’s birthday that arrived two days after her sister past. She doesn’t play it often, but when shes frustrated you can hear her wailing on it.
As a teen, I was determined to go to a four-year school, when I was told that wasn’t an option for me, I decided to join the Army. I was called a bunch of names, I cannot blog about, because nice girls didn’t join the military back then. It was definitely the road less traveled, but after Desert Storm, the military trained me in the medical field and that led me eventually to nursing.
Losing a loved one is as unique as the person you lost. It means no one had the relationship with that person except you. This s why grief is a lonely road. My grief as a mother is different than my husband’s grief as a father and different than my daughter’s grief losing a sister. The best we can do is support each other in their own process in the ways they need to process. Do they need to build something? Do they need to create something? Do they need to talk to others with a similar loss? Do they need help cleaning out a house or a closet? Do they need to go somewhere symbolic of their loved one?
Last week I went on a spiritual journey. Another mom from my online support group invited me out to Pheonix. We had been talking online for many months because we lost our children on the same day and about the same time. She has struggled, losing her only child, as a single Mama. I have been telling her that God still has a purpose for her here, and I believe it is to help others in this same lonely spot.
I had a desire to go to Sedona. I had seen a picture of a beautiful church built in the side of a cliff that was difficult architecture back in the 1950s. I also wanted to see the beautiful Red Rocks and the other Native American landmarks like the Kachina women and Bell Rock. When I was in Iraq at 19, I had a feeling of closeness to God in the desert. The complete quiet surrounds you. The stars are so numerous and bright like a blanket over the earth and the desert seems like an endless ocean.
So I went to Pheonix. My friend found me by a picture and our loosely planned trip we let develop on its own. It was difficult for both of us being control freaks and planners. We thought about a tour guide in Sedona, but we didn’t want someone else telling us their stories, or going at a different pace than what we wanted, and we definitely didn’t want to be in a group with others.
We googled things to do the first night and found a paint night nearby. We trudged off to paint together at a couples painting, that we both liked how it would look alone. We sat down in the group and of course, the instructor wanted to ask everyone about who they were and what their relationship was. I wasn’t going to say anything, but my friend said, “We are two mom’s that have come together because we have lost a child on the same day.” There was a heartbeat of silence and then a thank you for sharing our story. She was right, there is no need to keep quiet just to make others not feel uncomfortable. We need more open and honest communication in this world. Our paintings, of course, were Blackbirds and full moons.
The next day we headed to Sedona without a real plan. I had booked a hotel for one night. As soon as we came around the bend on the 179 I saw the enormous red rocks emerge. We stopped for a map of the area and a bathroom break, a map was provided by a volunteer but the bathrooms were locked due to the government shutdown. I looked down at the rock garden and noticed a sign, Healing in progress. I love how I get little signs and some are actual signs.
Too early to check in we went on one of the first marked sport of the map, after of course, a gas station bathroom break, snickers, and water. Looming in from of us was the awe-inspiring Bell Rock. We weaved around and around, up and down, left and right. I kept thinking of a fortune cookie saying, “to go up you must first go down,” or “to go left you must first go right.” I could see the giant rock, but on the path, we seemed to not be getting any closer to it, though eventually, we did get to the base of the rock.
My friend stayed behind and I decided to try and climb up. At least to the first or second level. Up I went to the first level and I saw people higher up so I decided to go to the second. At the second level, I saw lots of gaps in the rocks and the surface of the rock was smooth from thousands of years of erosion. A memory came at me. “Mom, come down, the tide is coming in.” My girls giggling as I am soaking wet now after climbing rocks at the Oregon coast by the shore. I could hear their infectious laughter at their silly mom. I was thankful for that gift of memory and I climbed back down.
We checked into our hotel with the view of Bell Rock, Bell also the nickname of my oldest daughter coincidentally, and then headed to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It was breath-taking, built in the side of the red rocks, illuminating the cliffside. Just a small chapel with a view of the canyon and a beautiful crucifixion statue in front of it. I went in to light a candle for each of my family members. I am not Catholic so I wasn’t sure of the proper way of doing it. I about lit my finger on fire while trying to light 8 candles while saying a prayer for each one. I then noticed they had three-day candles (donation of $5 for each and the little ones were $1). All I had left in my pocket was $2, I had put the rest in the other donation bucket. I figured God knew what was up, so I lit the three-day candle for my daughter. As I looked at the crucifixion, I felt a feeling of Grace and love.
Later exhausted from our first day, I asked my friend about the candles. I told her I felt bad I only had $2, with a suggested donation of $5. Her number for her son is 11. She told me she lit 11 candles. I asked her if she saw the suggested donation of $5 each? That would be $55! I was rolling on the ground laughing so hard as she was completely oblivious to it. I hadn’t”t laughed that hard in a while, I was thankful for the gift of laughter.
The morning brought rain clouds that were to clear up by noon so we headed into the local shops and galleries to see what Sedona had to offer. We wandered around and looked at the paintings and sculptures. We eventually landed in the rock and crystal shop I had wanted to go in when we first got there but it hadn’t been open. We were greeted by Fleur for Fleur-de-lis. A grey kitty that seemed to run the shop and then by the store owner. We chatted and eventually told him our story.
He turned out to be a pastor at a nearby church. He also ran the crystal and rock shop. There were angel statues and a painting of Jesus on a nearby wall. I told him I liked rocks and crystals but I was also a Christian. He told me never apologize for being a Christian. Sitting nearby he has a thermal heat pad where you could place you had on it and it measures the thermal heat around you, what we also call our aura he said. Always game, I placed my hand on it and the picture printed out my thermal heat image. It was purple and green with my chakras out of alignment. I giggled because I have slight scoliosis. It was off just like my back is off.
My friend did hers next. Similar green color with a line across the top. I’d never seen a picture of someone’s heat image or aura with a line across the top. Not that I had seen a lot of auras or heat images but it seemed odd. The pastor said that’s your connection to divinity, it’s a blockage. I knew that she struggled with a strict religious upbringing and now the death of her son. Later on at the hotel, we talked about setting aside all the religious guilt and just allowing the Grace of God to love us. So many times we get caught up in guilt we cannot except unconditional love, especially if we have only given it we might not know how to receive it.
We headed next to Airport Mesa and again I climbed up alone. This spot had wire rope to hold onto. I was thankful since I tend to get vertigo. We then went to the pastor’s recommended spot next in Boynton Canyon and a hike to the Kachina women rock formation. She is a Native American landmark. Up and up we hiked, neither of us in great shape. Finally, we found ourselves standing at the base. I went over to the first level by myself. As I stared at the cairns placed around the rock, I had the overwhelming feeling of thousands of people that had journeyed there in their grief to cry, to spread ashes or to build cairns in someone’s memory. (Cairns are rocks stacked on top of each other in an artistic formation). I felt a huge wave of sadness and cried for those that had traveled here before me. I then felt relieved and a sense of peace.
We built cairns of our own. Not exactly sure what we were doing, but busing ourselves with finding rocks that would balance on top of each rock one at a time, not saying a word while we built each one. We ended our trip trying to find a spot by cathedral rock that was closed but ended up walking down the Secret Slide Rock at dusk recommended by a passerby. At this spot, you can catch Cathedral Rock reflected in tiny pools on slide rock. We lay there side by side on the cold, smooth red rock chilling our bellies, looking at the reflection in the ponds and the full moon above us. I put my arm around her as we took a picture and reflected on the reflection.
When I got home, in the mail was a letter from a Jehovah Witness church, addressed to my daughter that passed. The address is from Bell Road in Pheonix (I was at Bell Rock and in Pheonix) A little thank you note from heaven?