“We forget that to give us more than we currently have, life must make us more than we currently are. And that the first act of every creative change is the destruction of the existing order.”
– Martha Beck
There were days when I would stand in front of his photograph and plead with him. “WHY did you leave me?” I’d stare at his beautiful, smiling face and will him to explain a higher meaning to what just seemed like a horrible mistake in the Universe. My niece, Shanthi, told me that there were times she would hear me walking past her door, muttering to myself, “stupid man, stupid man!”
I’m guessing that was the anger phase of my grief.
I know he didn’t choose to leave me. But he did. After 4 years of cancer and chemotherapy and 5 surgeries and dozens and dozens of hospital admissions, Greg died on May 16, 2014. We’d been married for 28 years.
How am I doing now? Most days, I’m doing fine. I think I’ve gotten used to Joy and Grief sitting alongside each other in my soul. It’s surprising how “doing okay” and “NOT doing okay” can co-exist in one day, even in one hour… heck, over the time it takes to drink one cup of coffee.
Let me tell you how coffee saved me from my life. Or helped me find it.
That first sip of coffee. Under the jacaranda tree. Ruby, my black Kelpie, curled up at my side. The river sparkling beside us.
This place is my sanctuary. I come here to breathe. To write. To unravel the chaos. To drink in the calm beauty of the Swan River. And to drink my one cup of coffee for the day.
My whole life I’ve tried and oh how I’ve tried, to develop routines: Exercise every other day, grocery shopping on Tuesday. Filing papers on Friday. NOTHING ever stuck. I’ve always ended up doing what I do whenever I do it.
Except this. And I didn’t even try.
I wake early now, watching the trees silhouetted against the sunrise as I get dressed. I walk Ruby to the park. We keep going along the Swan River until we reach my cafe. Then we settle down at Table 101, under the jacaranda tree, facing the sun and the glittering river. The lovely staff know my usual order, it often just appears even before I’ve caught anyone’s eye! And then I breathe in the heady aroma of coffee, breathe in the amazing feeling that I get to be here. That I get to live. Just Breathe.
In the days after Greg’s death, when I forgot to shower, go for walks, drink water, I felt a strong prompting one night that I needed to remember to do all three.
The real story is he’d been gone about a week and I felt like my whole being had dissolved into The Chasm of Grief. I completely lost myself. One night, sobbing in the darkness, I begged him to tell me, from wherever he was, how to do this. How to keep going when it was so black out there, I couldn’t see a path. How to do the rest of my life.
And I clearly heard these words in my head.
Every day, take a shower, drink water, go for a walk.
I argued with this. ‘I pour out my existential anxieties, and you tell me to take a shower?’
Every day, take a shower, drink water, go for a walk.
Eventually I stopped sobbing and calmed down. I’ll never know if it was Greg’s voice in my head, or the brief return of my sane self reminding me that basic hygiene, water and movement were pretty important parts of being alive 🙂 But it dawned on me that I hadn’t, in fact, showered for four days, hadn’t drunk any water that entire day, and hadn’t walked outside in weeks.
So the next morning, and every day after that (you’ll be relieved to know), I showered. I drank water. And I walked.
And eventually, I found myself here. Table 101, under the Jacaranda tree.
I’ve shed many tears at Table 101. Some of them just from a profound grief that never really leaves me. Some of them – a welling up of gratitude that, despite the things I’ve lost, my life has been so rich with blessings.
Like when Luke, the owner of the cafe, donated 4 trays of their luscious cakes to my students. It happened shortly after my beloved mother passed away. I held some art workshops where students who had suffered extreme hardship were given a free spot in my mother’s memory. Luke added his generosity to those special workshops. Soon after, I sat Luke down and told him he had made a difference. That his kindness and delicious donation meant something to those people who’d really suffered (and I mean suffered – we’re talking abuse, murder, suicide). That this cafe, The Partisan, was more than a place to eat and drink, it was a sanctuary of beauty, warmth and friendship. That his staff were gorgeous people and I love that they love my dog 🙂
It’s been three years and a thousand lessons since Greg left me for other adventures. Some days I feel his presence strongly. Some days I feel alone and vulnerable and scared. But underneath it all, I’m grateful that The Universe “destroyed the existing order” of my life. I’m being shaped into something different, and I hope, something a little more than I was.
When it hurts, I remember this: I get to wake up in a gorgeous blue and white cottage that I chose by myself, and just moved into. It’s so pretty, I can barely believe I live here. I get to walk out the door and into a fairy garden. I get to walk through a beautiful blue wrought iron gate and step onto the street that leads me to the Swan River with my dog, and bask in the wonder all around me. I get to see the light playing in the leaves, to contemplate the mystery of struggle, to notice the sweet kindness of people, to remember the life Greg and I shared, to sit with the unique ache of its loss. I get to connect with the people in my neighbourhood. I get to live.
And let’s not forget that one steaming cup of coffee, next to the Swan River, under the Jacaranda tree 🙂
Are you on the brink of a transition? Maybe you can feel it inside but you don’t know where it’s leading?
I’ve found that using our creativity can be both healing and transformative, especially at times such as these. There’s nothing like using our creative magics to help us move from the thinking mind, right into the present moment! If this sounds inviting, come join me – make something beautiful, chill out with some lovelies, get lost in texturey goodness and leaves and patterns and colour at my art workshops in Perth and Melbourne. They are super suitable for absolute beginners and dabblers. Painting with Texture, July 29-30, Painting for Beginners (one day intensives in Sept and Dec), and Finding Your Way Home in Oct.
And if you’d like to share your transitions, or just say hi, drop by over here, I love, read and reply every comment!