June 6, 2018
(c) Sheridan Hill
The Day Corey Left This World
On June 6, 2018, when I woke, I had to think: Is it Monday? Tuesday? And then, only then, did it hit me. It’s “that day.”
It is amazing how much time it takes for the immensity of pain to begin to diminish around a gaping wound. For an unhealed gash to stop taking in every fleck of emotional debris as it wafts past. To stop gathering up the roaring intensity of loss—while you’re not paying attention.
We have had the rush and roar of flood waters here lately in the Swannanoa Valley, calling to mind the emotional floods of mourning. The pace of grief is akin to the way the rain waters build quietly…at first, we don’t notice how they are gaining in speed and velocity and volume as they rush down the mountainsides. It’s only when they visibly press out of the narrow stream beds and river beds that we begin to sense a problem.
There is a phase when the rains are falling in torrents and reoccurring flash-floods, dropping four inches of rain in as many hours, when everyone can see their terrible force. Like when the first news arrives of a horrendous loss--a death, a disaster, a crime--the sympathy lunges forth. People see your pain and can’t help but speak to it. Part of you feels less crazy, because others are, however momentarily, with you in the pain. That’s the definition of empathy, really: to suffer with. It takes a strong person to suffer with you, even for a split-second, to allow the pain to be shared. I maintain that when we “go there,” go into the pain, especially together, that it creates a portal for grace to pour in. For the angels to make their winged presences known. And all the beautiful grievers, are given a moment of feeling less like an insane person who is alone with your constant waves of grief.
With flooding rains and with the waters of grief, when the blue and the sun return to the sky, when folks turn their focus to their daily routines, that is when the flooding is most dangerous, because hundreds of thousands of gallons of what has been gathering upstream are about to cycle past your town, your neighborhood, your house, your heart.
After our loved ones are buried or turned to ash, after we have been awarded a couple of weeks to be sad and unable to focus on anything but the loss, after the generous expressions of sympathy have stopped arriving in the inboxes, that is when mourning begins.
It comes along slowly, invisibly like that.
There we stand, alone, in a vague, blue, spotlight, courageously trying to figure a new way of being, struggling to learn how to walk while carrying something large and weird: a humpback of loss.
Grieving is how love expresses what it is missing. Grieving is love crying out: Where are you?
I have a part that screams, “I’m over it!,” and I have a part that whispers, “I’ll never get over this,” and I have parts that still weep in the dark when no one is around and parts that feel the presence of my precious Corey and sometimes even smile with her.
Today, I miss Corey. I got through “the day” by staying very busy and volunteering time for a flood-recovery project at my church, dinner with relatives to celebrate my grandson’s graduation from middle school. We are so proud of these wonderful children!
But that night in bed, probably between the time the black bears made their trek through my yard and when the screech owl sounded, while my ego was at bay and unable to resist the true pain of loss, I awoke, feeling my daughter’s presence upon me, feeling the rawness of her life here ended, and hot tears descended as the love and the loss crashed together. Then, quiet.
I love you, Corey. We miss you so. We are still working to find you, to meet you where you are, with your big, courageous, spunky, Leo heart. Thank you for your beauty. Thank you for the love, then and now.
(Images at the beginning and below this post are from Corey's IPad.)
October 1, 2017
The Chromebook is cold against my wrists. It sat on the floor under my bed last night, and here on the second morning of October, 2017, the temperature on this north slope below the Eastern Continental Divide is in the forties. I made the second fire of the season, and the old Papa Bear Fisher stove is putting out heat as I sit beside it. The cold metal laptop allows me to sit by the woodstove and write you. Cold wrists, warm shoulder. Polar extremes. I need both of these extremes right now. I need you.
Heather came by with her two girls yesterday; do you know how they’ve grown and are big versions of little girls now? Still little girls inside but taking on a more grown up body. Oy veh.
We went through some boxes of your stuff that were brought to me from the homeplace in Ashe County. Apparently, mice were getting into them and your dad told your brother and sister to go through it all when Sean and his family were in town in August. Then they brought the rest to me. It would have been cool if I had been invited to that, but I’ve learned to let go of the things I can’t control. God grants me the serenity if I beg long and loud enough.
During the first three years after your passing, I began to wonder if there is some quota of anguish that God needs for some reason, kinda like when you get pulled over for barely speeding at all, but the officers have a quota of violations and penalties they need to fulfill. Of course, you never got any speeding violations, despite zipping all over California and North Carolina. I doubt you ever had reason to notice a speed limit sign or look in your rearview mirror for the rotating light atop a patrol car. Once the cop came around to your car and saw those twinkly blue eyes and your goddess body, and then got hit with your smile, the violations book vanished from memory. It might have actually turned to dust and ceased to exist. People who didn’t know you think I’m exaggerating, but those who loved you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I can’t do it alone, anymore. In the beginning I had to do it in solitude, pour over every inch of everything you left here. This material world you left behind when you departed. Departures. Sudden departures. Honey, the human heart just doesn’t know what to do with that. Whether it’s a job or a home or a pet or a wife or a child, we walk around like, well, zombies, going through the mechanical motions of our lives. Zombies don’t really know they’re not human. Know they’re missing something, teeter around with desire seething from their poor old bones, but don’t know what to do to help themselves. I think that’s the fascination with zombies, really. At the heart of it is the fear that you have a big gaping hole that others can see, and the feeling that everyone else has some kind of peace of mind you don’t. We think: “If only I had what they have….”
So Heather gave me the moral support, and the loving presence, to open these boxes that have sat stacked next to my bed all summer. I don’t mind sleeping next to your stuff. Heck, I sleep with a snake in the bedroom, too. Ryan gave it to Ethan, and it didn’t work out as the best pet for him. Probably because he is so tactile and loves small, soft, fuzzy things and had been hoping for either a kitten or a rabbit. Snakes are cold blooded and don’t really need petting, and feeding the snake involves the torture and murder of small, fuzzy, defenseless, young mice. In the wild, this is nature’s way of controlling the rodent population, and it’s perfect. But as usual, humankind has to go and mess with the perfect order.
What I really wanted to say is that I was glad for the chance to cry with Heather. Your brother and sister don’t cry about you in my presence, and I try not to cry too much about you in front of them. It seems that we have all been trying to protect each other, protect ourselves, and now, after four years, it’s a hodge-podge of feelings and memories and questions and love, and…yes, peace. There is the peace that comes with acceptance. But it’s still a very unreal reality to try to accept, that you are not out there in Northern California loving life and about to marry your sweetheart.
I miss you, honey. I’m always wanting more connection; it’s a problem with me.
You and I live in the eternal, and I know that you meet me there all the time. I'm just saying...living there with you and lifting out of "the grieving mom" reality is mighty high work for a mom.
Heather sat on my bed, so respectfully, not touching anything until I pulled out a piece of your stuff and marveled and mourned over it and handed it to her, and that was perfect. She would touch each thing as if it were a golden angel wing that fell to earth, and she would tell me something about you that I didn’t know, or from an angle I didn’t have.
That is like a breath of life to me. Like life support.
Somehow she understands that it’s all ritual space for me, that when we touch your stuff, the air is full of you, full of angels and I don’t know what else, There is so much presence, and my heart is flooded with “this is all sacred” and “this is all sad” and “why aren’t you still here?” and that is why I need for the process of touching your stuff to go slowly. Inchworm slow. That’s what Heather gave me yesterday.
After she left, I put on my leather work gloves and stacked more firewood outside. Lifting each piece of oak and hickory, mixing in some poplar judiciously, sizing it up, stacking it like pieces of a puzzle, nuzzling each piece into its spot…it heals me. There is never-ending work around this place, but doing the outside chores causes so much to get worked out in my head. Worked out of my head.
As a teenager, you found Heather, and then she came to be best friends to all three of you, which hardly ever happens in any family. Now, she is now a full-fledged daughter of mine.
The older I get, the more I realize how much human beings need connection. And I have become heart-and-soul connected to the women and men who loved you. Your friend Maggie came to visit all the way from Minnesota. She also told me stories about you that I’d never heard, and brought me pictures on her cell phone, God if people only knew what they give me when they do this.
One thing Maggie said, talking about when she found out that you had vaulted off the earth, was, “When I found out, I connected with some of her other friends, and I said, ‘She was my best friend,’ and they said, ‘She was my best friend, too,’ and then we all realized that Corey had been the very best friend to a hundred or more people. She was just that kind of person.”
So thank you, honey, for giving me all of these new daughters and sons. We have you, and each other, so deeply in our hearts.
(c) 2017 The entries in this blog are protected under copyright law and are part of an upcoming book about love, grief, and being an empathic person.
Two weeks before Christmas I moved, just two miles down the road, to the quiet side of town, an old, wooded neighborhood on a hill. You would remember this general area, because from here you could walk to the place I took you and Sean so long ago, the Asheville African Drumming weekend. You were both still living at home, and I was thrilled to finally find something that my teenagers would do with me. That’s where we met Onye Onyemaichi, a joyful man and gifted drummer: an old soul. Then you wound up going to college at SRJC in the town where he lives, and he has been an important part of your continued journey.
You would love this place. I have my own little forest here on the hill, and a fishpond by the front door, and the house and I are in love with each other. I know this is how you felt about the ranch and the land out there. I know now exactly how you felt, to be at peace, to be completely in harmony with a piece of land. I named it Harmony Hill, and I find every single inch of Harmony Hill a delightful curiosity. This knoll and I are continually healing each other. I have no other words for it. As I go about the yard work and the cleaning and planning and arranging and rearranging, it is in a prayerful state of gratitude, because something in me is healing as I perform those labors…and I seem to feel the instant gratitude of the property, the way you feel the gratitude of a dog who longs to be petted and you oblige.
Slowly, I am finding a place for my things. One of my favorite possessions is the photograph that Zach took of you posing with Stephanie and two guys out on the California golden hills. I have hung it on the old pine walls above the new altar for you. In the middle of the altar is your last photograph that you posted on Facebook, because I figure this must be the one you like the best. To the right and left of that, I placed the pictures of you reaching at the sky, one when you were just a year and a half old, at the beach for the first time. When you spied the seagulls soaring and squawking above, you stood barefoot in the sand, taking them in, and then instantly threw your little arms wide. You couldn't help yourself! It was the most glorious moment watching you, your little Corey spirit airlifting up and flying with them. On the left of the altar I have placed the photograph of you from just a few years ago, reaching your beautiful young woman arms skyward at sunset on your favorite hill at the ranch. That same hill where, at nightfall, you came tumbling down for no reason at all.
This morning, working around this altar to you, I am scrubbing down the stately pine-paneled walls. When I look up, the light from the sun passing through the mustard colored curtain makes a burst of light around you and above you, and I think: that must be what happened when you went off the hill that day. You soared off into a burst of light.
I want you to know that my goal for 2017 is that every single time I think of you I simply give you praise. That every time I think of you, I say, “I honor you, Corey. I honor you, I honor your life, I honor your life choices, and whatever and wherever you are now, I honor you.”
I will continue to wipe down these pine walls and scrub these oak floors and make roaring fires in the wood stove and figure out where is the best place to feed the birds and how to keep the water from freezing in the birdbath, and as I go about all of these actions I am healing myself and the place, somehow, wordlessly, is healing me. God knows I pray for my own healing, all the time, every single day I ask for healing. I want to be whole. I want to be wholesome. I want to live my life with so much joy that it pays the greatest honor to you. And so every time I look at your picture, even if I feel this sadness tugging deep inside, I will say: I love you, I honor you. I honor you Corey, I honor you and I praise you.
On the second night in the big old creaky house, Corey comes to me in a dream. She stands right in front of me, appearing as beautiful and spirited and strong as ever. With a rush of indignation, she throws her hands onto her tiny waist and says, “This is not right! I am supposed to be getting married!”
And there it is, her palpable sense of surprise and ferocity, the way she always was when she saw an injustice and immediately set her Leo mind to correcting it.
It has been three and a half years since the accident, which I still call “Corey's accident,” because my mouth refuses to form the words “Corey’s d—th.” Understand the dichotomy: I want to be all good with it, I want you to be able to look at me and see a sane person who has “worked through her grief.” But Corey is not gone from me; she is always a whisper away. And she visits me in dreamtime and daydream time. There is a secondary reason, which is that if I said the words out loud, my heart would stop beating that very instant. Because it is an impossible sacrifice to ask a mother to keep on living when her child's beating heart has stopped. I don't really know why my heart is still thumping in the cavity of my rib cage.
What are we supposed to do when we feel the intermittent presence of our dearly departed? As a parent I must acknowledge that my daughter is still with me. How could I possibly ignore or deny this child's presence when she is so vividly apparent?
My daughter’s question deserves an answer. Corey wants to know why we are not all in California having her wedding!! I pray on it, asking for guidance, waiting quietly for a leading. The answer comes, and it is the most simple gesture of all. I will do what I would do if she were alive and asked me that question. I sit up in bed, get my mind quiet, and say, “Honey, you are absolutely right. You should be getting married. We should all be having your wedding now. But there was an accident, and you don't have that beautiful body anymore, and Ryan can't marry you that way that we had all planned. The promise was there, the plans were there, and then the laws of the physical universe interrupted it all. Honey, there is a new way that we will be celebrating you and your marriage, but it is the marriage of your beautiful spunky self with the spiritual graces, with the heavenly realms. Ry must, and we all must, find you on a different channel now, call you and text you from a different kind of cellular mobile connection. I promise I will continue to be your devoted mother in this strange journey of love and loss and light. And I will answer this question for you, and any others, as many times as you need to ask.
Corey came to me in a dream last night, in a night with very little sleep. We were having a family reunion, and Corey and Ry were here. All Pat's family were there. Ry's mood was clear and alert and happy; he was wearing black, with his black cowboy boots and his determined gait. Corey was a few months pregnant --barely showing-- and Julia was also several months pregnant, so everyone's mood was light and jubilant; we were all so happy to be together again.
Julia and I were looking at Corey's belly--she was so excited to be pregnant-- and Corey was in her super-bubbly sparkling mood, so effervescent. A celebratory feeling saturated everyone. At one point, before we were going to head out on a hike, Corey came to me as I sat on a sofa, and curled herself into my lap; I held her tight in my arms and she said, so clearly and with so much love: "I miss you, Mom."
My heart nearly exploded with love. "I miss you, too, honey, I ache for you every single day."
Death is Nothing At All
Henry Scott Holland (January 27, 1847 – March 17, 1918)
Death is nothing at all. It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
April 5, 2016
I’m here visiting the life you left behind, and honey you would love this spring. As if playing a harp, the wind fingers the spindly stalks of canary-colored poppies; the calendula you planted three years ago has come back for another bloom, and, this time, you don’t seem to be so present here at the ranch. Your loving fiancé, who, like all of us, still doesn’t understand why the beautiful future you imagined together was trashed, is going about his life, and he seems more calm. How any of us have survived losing you I still don’t know, and the fact that it has been almost three years seems a lie; it could have been a few months. Because the soul does not observe the 24-hour cycle that we call “a day.” To the soul, a day could be a year and a year could be a day.
Speaking about grief, today I heard someone say about a woman, “She should go to a counselor and get therapy and get over it,” but I have learned that grief and all that it brings is a lifelong process, and there is never any such thing as “getting over” anything. In the end, that kind of platitude is a value judgement. I believe that what grieving people need is quiet acceptance of whatever they are feeling and wherever they are standing, emotionally. People who are in pain need, first of all, to be affirmed that they are not inferior beings because they are hurting. I know you would agree because all of your friends have told me, one by one, how you held a loving place for them when they were at their worst.
When I walked into the ranch house last night, your fiance’s cat came up to me; you know what an important greeting that is. Petting him makes me feel a sweet wave of connection to you because you loved him and took such joy in his presence. He and I both know that we have you in common. Today he licked my thumb, special kisses.
I took the last of your things back home when I visited last year, but a few pictures of you are still around the ranch house. Looking at them, knowing that I expected to see your wedding photos there instead of your brilliant smile next to a cremation urn, is both a reminder that time is passing and that we are doing a great job with our grief and also an acknowledgement that I don’t know how any of us are managing to live without you. But live is what we are given to do, since our hearts are still beating and breath still fills our lungs.
The big metal support ring your fiancé installed in the ceiling so you could practice your silks is still there, in the room that was your special creative space to paint and dance Nia and crawl up the silks and, laughing with joy, slither down them. Looking at the ring on the ceiling, I did not cry. But I wept last night in the back of your fiance’s car as he drove us from the San Francisco airport into Knight’s Valley. The tears spilled out because in my mind’s eye I saw your car, with us in it, at your favorite stops along the way: a gas station, a coffee shop, a place to buy American Sprits, a place that would let us pee.
I read that, statistically, people who mourn have more peace of mind when they believe that communication with their dearly departed is possible, believe that they are in fact still in contact, and that is true for me. I still see your bright face, that smile that makes everyone who sees it feel suddenly warm. Some part of me still does not understand how you can be gone when my sense of you is strong, vital, alive. You are not living in California about to be married, I get that, but at the same time, you have never seemed dead to me, and I still feel like I’ve been hit with a hammer whenever a well-meaning person uses the word “died” in relation to you. If I thought you were d..d, I’m pretty sure my heart would just stop beating.
I have learned to embrace these discrepancies, the awkwardness of the grief, the way it creates an entirely different reality for me. But I don’t judge myself and I don’t judge others. I do try to steer them away from the places people go that inevitably cause me pain.
Your sister and brother and your dad, your fiancé, your friends, all of us miss you terribly, and whenever we gather together we are comforted. Maybe you are here with us, as the Bible says, when two or more are gathered….
I love you and miss you,
Over Sunday dinner, a friend of mine calls me a workaholic. Three days later I think of what I should have said: No, I’m a writer.
January snow blankets this small mountain town and the rest of the Swannanoa Valley, and I climb the rickety pull-down attic steps, grab a small cardboard box, set it on the floor in the bedroom. Pulling out an unfamiliar pair of leopard-like gloves, a red scarf, and then a multicolored hat, I realize these are Corey’s winter things which I neatly separated last summer on my last visit to the Northern California town she left behind.
Pressing the hat to my face, I inhale her scent. One doesn’t forget the smell of your own child. The accident—the split-second it took for her four-wheeler to slide off a fifteen-foot slope and flip on top of her—was two and a half years ago but the trouble is, she is not dead to me. She is a constant presence in my thoughts, upon my skin, and in the center of my belly, not unlike when I was pregnant. The life is there, inside me, and contact with this being requires a specific kind of listening.
There are qualities worth striving for, subtleties worthy of developing, no matter how long it takes. As Clifton Fadiman wrote in the introduction to M.K. Fisher’s “The Art of Eating,” “The ability to enjoy eating, like the ability to enjoy any fine art, is not a matter of inborn talent alone, but of training, memory and comparison. Time works for the palate faithfully and fee-lessly.”
I believe it is possible that the dearly departed, or as Rudolf Steiner has called them, the so-called dead, are, in fact, present. Present in a way that, in order for us to sense them, we must train our minds to relax into the open spaces, like purposefully stopping for some minutes to stare at the moon for no reason at all other than to witness. What might the moon, this celestial being, be saying as it faithfully turns in space around our little green planet?
What we have lost deserves our attention
This is how much I don’t want to do the grieving. Two months ago, with a courageous heart, I signed up for what promises to be a powerful weekend of creating an African tribal grief experience with Sobonfu Some’. (Thank you to SOIL for sponsoring this.)
Tonight at 7 pm we begin. Several days ago, as the time neared, I felt the part of me that wants to grieve rising up, and I thought: okay, this is good, I’ve reserved time for you to come forth this weekend. I’ve allotted a safe time and place. Just wait until Friday. I am a good person because I have set aside this weekend to grieve.
Now Friday morning arrives and one of the first things on my mind is: I should make that trip to the big-box store to get discounted office supplies. It seems truly urgent to knock that off my to-do list immediately…although I’ve been running out of paper and ink since April.
What I want to avoid is being sad. Being sad is a waste of time in a life that is predicated on creating a to-do list, being productive, continually focusing on the future…but as for grief, grief is never done; it is merely set aside, put on pause. Grief is easy to forget it, like the dog we don’t walk, the relative we don’t check on, the recycling we ignore.
What we have lost deserves our attention.
What is most precious in the world cannot speak for itself, and grief is among these things.
The grieving brings me into the present moment. Here, in this moment, I hold the photograph of 12-year-old Corey with me, her arm around the back of my neck, her broad cheek pressed to mine, and I feel…loss and joy. I feel who she was walking on this earth on those petite feet, long blonde hair waltzing in the breeze, starsparkle in the blue of her eyes, a joyful smile to offer every face that met hers. And I hear her voice: “Mom, I’m right here. I still have my arm around you, my cheek is still pressed to yours. Feel me, right here, loving you. I am here.”
I don’t know how to grieve. But I know there is more grieving to do. All I can manage is to sit in this unknowing, call on the angels of love, and wait.
Hey Corey, I am headed out for Kauai tomorrow, and I will feel you so much as I fly over California and out over the wild Pacific, over whales and dolphins and hammerhead sharks and mermaids and seahorses. Out into the mystic, honey.
I felt you so strongly in May 2013 when I revisited Kauai, and we were going to see each other just in a few weeks.
You and I came especially close when I lived on Kauai for 15 months; you liked that you could call me when you were getting off work and it was still early in Hawaii, so we had so many good, long talks.
You called me right after that scary incident of hitting a deer with your car...and later that year when I was collecting your things, I saw that you had written in your journal something I said to you when we talked and I lived there. I had told you about the huge spiderweb I had, finally, gently swept down after letting it be there for about a month, because I just had to...and how the very next morning I saw that she had built her web back. I was deeply moved at her patience and fortitude, her keeping-on, keeping-on, her precision, her construction.
Then, you dreamed about that spider. Just one of many times that your connection with me, my connection with you, overflows between this world and that, between the material and the cosmic.
I love you, honey. I still cry when the force of missing you spikes up instantly, but I am increasingly comforted by the sense of your love, of your presence, even when and especially when the tears erupt. I look forward to the time on island again, where I know we will commune while my "to-do" list falls away and there is no interference between me and the great cosmic, oceanic love that holds you, holds me, holds us all.
Love Is Stronger Than Death
These entries are part of an upcoming book about love and grief, in honor of Corey Considine, my beautiful younger daughter. She was with us in physical form from August 12,1983 to June 6, 2013. It was a vehicle accident, at the end of a beautiful sunset she had just watched from her favorite hill. She was engaged to a wonderful young man, dabbling in art, planting gardens, planning her wedding, offering love, care, and healing to everyone she knew.