In the Midst of Loss

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My retreat house recently began to offer some limited online experiences. The first one that I explored was about the losses we’ve confronted during this pandemic since March. This was a two hour session, split into two days one month apart. I know the presenter, Father K, through other classes and workshops I’ve taken through the Diocese. He’s a local priest who also works in the area of mental health and I really enjoy the way he approaches things. He also reminds me of my therapist. At the end of the first hour, I thought I had been given an extra therapy session this month! It really was a comforting hour that led me to spend the next twenty-four hours deep in thought. For the first time in a long time, I felt calm and thoughtful but also, in a way invigorated.

To start out, he asked us to think about the losses we’ve faced since March, and to write them down, and then to share a couple of them with the group. I was one of the first called on, and for me that meant that I hadn’t any time to prepare what I might say. I had a list, but it felt superficial. I began with a pseudo-apology; something that many of us do on a daily basis, especially women. That isn’t to say that men don’t do it, but women, I’ve found are the primary apologists for things they aren’t at fault for. For example, have you ever had someone walk into you on the street or in a store, and you apologize to them? I do this almost every time. Women apologize for taking up space, for taking too long, for a myriad of things that men just don’t apologize for, and really, that we shouldn’t apologize for.

I began by saying that I was fortunate that my family and I haven’t lost anyone to covid and we haven’t been ill, minimizing what we have been going through, and that while it hasn’t been life-threatening (so far) it has also not been easy for our family. My husband already works from home, so we continued receiving our salary. I feel guilty. All of my losses come from a place of privilege and I feel it’s my obligation to add the disclaimer of our privilege even while trying to be honest with the emotional and mental toll this pandemic crisis has put upon us. I mentioned a few things that we have lost since March, and as I listened to the others share their losses. I was reminded of things that I hadn’t thought of as losses and I added them to my list as well.

At the close of this part, Father K said what I already knew (and I’m paraphrasing): whatever I’m going through is just as valid as the next person. Their struggle may seem more difficult, harder to get through, having more emotional value, but my losses are still just that: my losses. These are the losses that I’m feeling every day; that my family is feeling every day and I shouldn’t dismiss them because someone else has had a more challenging time than I have; whose struggle appears more difficult or more painful.

My losses are real, and this session allowed me to accept that and confront the actual loss and how I can move forward.
What are the losses that I don’t feel measure up to others’ losses?

The loss of time. What day is it? Even trying to tell time based on a favorite television show has been eliminated with the shutdown of Hollywood and all the global acting studios. Anything that wasn’t completed before March 17th ceased production; how many season finales were postponed? How many cliffhangers left hanging? On March 31, more than one friend mentioned how long March had been. March was a year long. I felt it in my soul. Would April also be a year long?

The loss of routine. School was canceled for my kids, but their schoolwork continued. They slept until nine, did some work, took naps, grazed all day or skipped meals. We were eating breakfast at ten in the morning, and dinner at nine at night, bedtime after eleven even on a “school night”. Haphazard doesn’t scratch the surface of our “new routine”. The kids’ independent learning and creating their own schedule seemed to be working, but at what cost?

Mass was canceled, and it took a few weeks to get the livestreaming set up, so at least now I know when Sunday is. All of my spring retreats were postponed at first, then canceled entirely. Therapy moved to the phone. Meetings canceled or moved to Zoom. If school and work were gone, was there even a weekend to look forward to?

The loss of being lazy. That’s wrong and a little harsh on myself. It’s more the loss of choice. It could also fall under the loss of routines. If I didn’t feel like cooking, we couldn’t just go out to dinner. Even if we did takeout, the restaurants closed about two hours earlier than normal. Menus needed to be planned so groceries could be shopped for in a way that minimized our leaving the house and coming in contact with other people. Planning every meal. Having food for the kids to eat lunch when they would normally eat lunch in school.

The loss of of seeing and hugging my adult son. We barely saw him. He came by once every two weeks until I was exposed to covid, and then he stayed away until my fourteen day isolation was completed. He’s an essential worker and a first responder, and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t want to expose him to something that we still know so little about. Fortunately, I did not have covid. We eventually had our family Easter dinner.

The loss of myself. I stopped being me. I had to become the covid expert. I had to tell everyone to wash their hands every time they came home from school (before the lockdown) or the grocery store after. The one time my husband needed to go into the office, it was half an hour of discussion weighing the pros and cons, and how to do it safely. I had to know how much toilet paper we needed and go shopping with all the others preparing for their own lockdown. I had to educate people about this virus and call out misinformation because if I didn’t do it, who would? I became teacher again.

And the burden that I put upon myself led to the loss or permanent change in status with some friends. It’s hard to maintain the reciprocal, balanced relationship with people when their fundamental values are so at odds with mine, like wearing a mask and isolating or simply the basic idea that covid was made in a lab somewhere to ruin the President’s term of office.

Some losses that others in the group brought up that resonated with me included the loss of purpose and the safety and peace of mind that I’d had from only a week before; the loss of trust especially in the authority of the federal government to take care of something so catastrophic as this and which they ignored so much and let us fall so far, and of course, the loss of the Eucharist and the rituals of mass, so much a part of my life.

I craved the Eucharist, but when the opportunity arrived to return to in person masses, I decided against going, and I surprised myself that as those in the pews received their communion while I was at home watching the livestream, I felt just as close as if I’d been there and received it in my hand and consumed it. I credit my parish and my priest for giving me that feeling of belonging and even though I wasn’t there in front of him and others, I was still present and G-d was still present for me. That was a good thing.

In the midst of the losses, there have been some gains, some good things to reflect on. What was good about this time as lockdown comes to a close? The last question asked in the session was how do we find joy in the confusion and the chaos? These are things I need to meditate on, to think about and discover the answers to. Reflecting more on the losses I’ve documented above and move toward accepting and then moving forward to finding the joy is a thing I want to work on between now and the next group meeting. I want to acknowledge the gains; find my joy.

In the coming days, I’ll share the one day back in March that kept me going, and then hopefully after that I can answer the question: how do we find the joy? At the moment, I don’t know, but I hope to find out.

New Year, New Retreat

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My first retreat of the year. A weekend devoted to writing memoir. I’m glad that it’s occuring at the end of the first full week of January. As you know from my previous writing and posts, I try to assess my life, goals, and writing at various times throughout the year and recalibrate. And coming at the traditional New Year, after all the major holidays are winding down and finished, January is always a good time to reassess nearly everything.

From past experiences, I know that this weekend’s retreat will be prayerful, but in addition to that it is primarily a writing weekend. This is the first retreat that I’ve brought my computer to, partly because it’s a newly acquired computer, and partly since it was offered as an option for our writing this weekend. I hesitated because despite my bringing my Kindle on retreats, I still try to unplug and get back to basics, but here I am: pad, pen, headphones, and computer.

I feel like this is an opportunity to jump start my commitment to writing, whether here on Griffins and Ginger Snaps or my ongoing book projects, journaling or what have you that I keep listing on assorted organizing apps. As I prepared for this weekend, I considered what I might want to accomplish before I returned home on Sunday afternoon. I don’t want to overwhelm myself with a to-do list or unrealistic expectations, but I also want to get things done. I’ve started a few ongoing series that I want to keep fresh and consistent. Talking about my Election Connection series on Twitter got me two likes (one from Alyssa Mastromonaco and one from Jon Favreau), and as you may remember, I collect likes just as I used to collect autographs when I was a kid. It was thrilling to get that small acknowledgement from two people I respect so much. But I digress.

As I thought about this weekend, made my packing lists, and prepared my mind, I really wanted to put a spotlight on my priorities and my intentions, and the three things that immediately came to me was

spiritual
political
writing.

This weekend allows me to remind myself that my writing is so many things for me. It is a creative outlet of course as it gives me space to express myself, my thoughts and beliefs. It lets me share with others and absorb new ideas. It is therapy. It is spiritual, prayerful even.

What do I want from this weekend and this ongoing year?

Do I really know?

Spiritually: Well, I definitely want to increase my spirituality and my faith. I want to use what I learned on my Cursillo weekend more consistently and routinely; pursuing persistently.

Politically: I want to encourage friends, family, and strangers that being political is life-saving. It is life-empowering. While politics can seem a far off, abstract, divisive, talking aimlessly without really listening, doesn’t affect me in real life, it actually affects our daily lives and trying to respond to that and protect ourselves from the current climate of racism, lies, and disinformation (propaganda) is all of our responsibilities; to ourselves and to each other. This is an election year. Well, they all are, but this presidential one has serious ramifications and consequences. The GOP is taking away Americans’ health care, women’s autonomous rights, LGBT+ rights, fair and free elections, and so much more that I can’t even get it all out without screaming into the void. I will not be silent.

Writing and Publishing: I want to write. Well. Constantly. Consistently. Be published. Finish a project and then start another one.

This retreat is one way, the first step to get that focus, write what I need to write, what I want to write, center on my personal priorities, set up my writing, schedule my goals and subjects, and just get shit done. And it’s only the start of what could be a great year.

I arrived here on Friday night in the dark amid a mixture of rain and sleet. It was cold, but I was pleasantly warm once I entered the building. I was greeted by familiar faces and the hushed tones of others settling into their rooms. I expected to be assigned my regular room, the one I had requested, and was taken aback and surprised to be given a different one. Simultaneously a short, internal struggle and confusion took place while outwardly, I took it in stride. As much as you read my rants, I’m not much of a complainer, and this new room was just as comfortable as my regular one, just as close to the bathroom, and included a recliner next to the window. I checked out this different recliner in this different room, which was mainly what I was looking forward to in the old one. This one was blue, rather than red, and slightly too close to the wall (which I rectified immediately), and it worked out just as well, just as comfortable, and after unpacking and settling in, I sat down, reclined, and got out my kindle. Before long, it was time to meet the group I’d be spending my weekend with. As an aside, after lunch, my intention to write was undermined by the comfort of the chair as it put me to sleep, easily for an hour. I was lucky that I set an alarm or I would have missed the next session.

Three things I noticed that were unusual for a retreat weekend: First, I made dinner (homemade chicken pot pie, and it was delicious) and ate before I left for the retreat center. We often grab something on the go or I eat in my room while my husband takes the kids to Sonic or McDonald’s. Second, I brought my computer, which made me feel odd at first. I’ll get used to it, but it’s such a different mindset to be in. And, third, I’m in a different room (which I may have mentioned), and that will take a little time to adjust to.

Morning brings bright sunshine to make up for the night rain, warm oatmeal, inspired daily readings, book recommendations for writing and for writing memoir, prompts, and then writing. What’s seemingly wonderful is the time given to write, think, pray, rest; whatever needs to be in order to get the mind in the writing place. There are no wrong answers. A bottle of soda, a handful of M&Ms, reading my devotional, listening to Saturday’s Lovett or Leave It, also the first for 2020, stepping out into the cold courtyard for a moment of fresh air. Inspiration is everywhere. Motivation, however…

How will I tackle two sessions before mass, and one after? Will lists be enough? Will focusing on three separate topics keep me going? And once this weekend is finished, how will I keep the momentum moving forward?

I’ll leave you with a list of what I plan for the rest of the weekend, and I’ll check in on Monday (another “New Year”) with what I actually got done, word counts, new words learned (thesaurus.com is a lifesaver), and other motivation that I hope you can use for your own writing or New Year’s goals.

1. Set up editorial calendar for the next three months from my personal Book of Days.

2. Finish planning and research the rest of the tea series for January.

3. Plan out Election Connection through Leap Day.

4. Write stories from Canada that I’ve been meaning to write since the summer.

5. Wales book outline.

6. Labyrinth book outline.

Reflecting

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​With borrowed car I was able to attend my first retreat/workshop of the year! There is another one next week, but what brought me to keyboard was what happened when I arrived and then when I left, and on leaving I realized that it is something of a habit for me.

Each time is different. The subjects are different; the program director is often someone new, although not this time. I always walk in, greet the greeter, settle into my seat, drop my things, and return to the entrance to pay my fee and sign in.

When I arrived on Thursday, I was greeted by the associate with such joy that it almost took me aback. I missed last month, and I guess I had forgotten to email that I was coming since I was already registered, but her joy became my joy at belonging in this place; with these people. It filled me.

Upon leaving, I take more time than I should. I put away my tea cup and throw out my napkins. I say goodbye and I slowly return to my car. Then I sit in the car, whether it’s for two minutes or ten. On this day, I read from my daily Lenten reflection book that I hadn’t the time to read in the morning when I woke up. As I began to drive away, I saw the windmill/hermitage, its stones stark against the gray sky and the bare branches of the many trees that will fill in the coming weeks. I pulled over and took a picture, similar to the one you see here.

Windmill/Hermitage. (c)2019


It just spoke to me.
About halfway home, I realized that the car was very quiet.

It occurred to me that I never turn on the radio after an event at the retreat center. I continue to be at the retreat for my commute home, not wanting the morning (or the day; or the weekend) to end. It stays with me until…

I don’t really notice the changeover, but at some point on the drive, the stillness of the retreat house, the words of wisdom, the spirit, and the calm make way for the lists in my head that had been pushed aside temporarily. Once I realize that the retreat moments are gone, I’m practically home.

On this day, however, I decided to jot down a few thoughts, those very thoughts that you’re reading, and prolong the wonder of the spirit before writing the checks and making the phone calls.

I’ve been waiting to be called to post this. As you’ve already read, this was written during Lent this past spring, but it could have been written any time in the last few years. Every time I’ve returned to the “house” I’ve thought about this, and always meant to post it, but never did for whatever reason.

Now, I’m back at the House for my first weekend of the year. I say that as if I go on many weekends throughout the year. I do not. I’d love to do more, but that is simply not financially feasible.

When I walked in this time, I was greeted (by one sister and one associate) and I checked in. My son brought my suitcase down the hall to my room and after inspecting the recliner and deemed it worthy of his admiration, he hugged me goodbye and left. He asked if I wanted the door closed (I did not) and then I was alone. I usually unpack a few things so I’m not living out of a suitcase for the two and a half days, but today, I just sat in the recliner. I knew how it felt from the last weekend I was here, and I had requested this room mainly because of this chair. I almost never sit in the chair. I don’t find the wooden rockers comfortable and the side chairs just don’t make me feel whatever it is that I’m looking for, but when I sat in this chair, it was perfect. Not so comfortable that I’d fall asleep or so uncomfortable that I couldn’t relax or contemplate the weekend, but, like Goldilocks, I found it just right.

I sat.

Not for very long, but it only took a moment or two to feel it; that feeling of belonging. Of the world drifting away for a few moments. It was like a release of …everything – the bills, the kids, the politics, the lists; it all melted away. I didn’t notice it happening; I just knew that it did.

Whatever the subject of the retreat is, while it’s important and interesting, and giving me something to both hold onto and to reach for, it is only part of the retreat experience. Last night, we talked about resting, but not resting as in sleeping or brushing off this day and getting ready for the next; the resting that comes through meditation, which isn’t legs crossed on the floor, eyes closed, hands still, although it is that for some. It is the meditation that is contemplation, that is searching, but quietly, letting it come to me rather than my running after something that I can’t see. It’s a refresh, a recharge, but it is also more than that.

Through my bedroom window there is a copse of trees and through them there is a parking lot. I know this, but when I looked out this morning in the very early morning light, it looked like a lake and its stillness brought me stillness and it reminded me that wherever I am can be where I want to be.

Things are not what they appear to be. (c)2019


When I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, I typically roll over and return to sleep while I can. For an instant I think I’ll get up and write, but I never do. Not even here, but today that is what I’m doing. It’s five-thirty and this is what I’m doing, and it feels perfectly just right.
Once I finish, which is coming very quickly, I am going to put on a long sweater and sit out in the courtyard. I picture myself with a warm mug of tea but I know that I’m not getting the tea; I just want a few minutes outside feeling the breeze that I see blowing the leaves around. That’s how I will start today.

Good morning.

July: Sum Sum Summer: Quotations

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​The first two really spoke to me during my weekend retreat. The subject was losing the clutter in order to be closer to G-d. I’ve realized a lot of my mental clutter, and physical, is unintentional procrastination and leaving things aside creates this weariness that is much more than too-little-sleep tiredness. These three quotations give me something to ponder and hopefully begin to break out of the suffocation of clutter, both in my physical world and my mental.

“Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.”

-Eric Hoffer

“Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.”

-John Ruskin

“Fear stops a lot of people. Fear of failure, of the unknown, of risk. And it masks itself as procrastination.”

-Lisa Anderson

Sundays in Lent – 5th Saturday

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​Bless my continued Lent;

I give thanks for my community.

Bless my travel;

I give thanks for my safety and well being.

Bless my family as I leave

and keep them safe.

Bless my baby off to work.

Bless my others off to play.

I give thanks for their safety and well being.

Bless my communion,

fraternity, my peace, my muse;

I give thanks for camaraderie.

Bless my meditation;

I give thanks for the time to discern.

Bless my sacred space;

I give thanks for that space.

Bless my writing and

bless my co-retreatants.

I give thanks for each and

pray for both the solitude and 

the communion.

Thank you, G-d for the opportunity.

I am eternally in your debt.

Amen.

March: Blustery, Green, Wet: Reflection

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A Self-Retreat

​Right about now, the middle to end of March, I begin to feel the heaviness. The clouds are fat with moisture, lumbering across a grey sky. When the sky is blue, the air is wintry cold. yesterday was grey, but I didn’t wear a jacket. I did, however have on my snood and gloves. That was enough to trick my body into thinking it was warmer than it was.

It’s not just the weather that’s heavy. Things are picking up for school assignments. Drama club has finally ended, but it’s been replaced by notes to parents for help on those end of year assignments, and how can it be the end of the year already? There’s Easter upcoming, full weekends, bills to pay, taxes to do, and nowhere to escape.

I’ve kept busy with my kids, our weekly television viewing, a church breakfast, reading Chernow’s Grant, tagging along to find The Lost Book of Moses, two days of reflection that were everything I’d hoped they would be, and more, and still not enough.

One or two times a year I try to give myself a retreat. A self-guided retreat, some planned out and some spontaneous, encompassing both spiritual and writerly things and if I’m lucky a tiny bit of travel, too.

I am lucky this weekend to be heading out on a spiritual-slash-writing retreat and I hope to bookend the weekend with two days of my own guidance.

If you don’t have a retreat center nearby, I would highly recommend giving yourself a self-retreat.

Begin by blocking out a few days in a row. I would suggest a minimum of three days. If that’s not possible, try and arrange your regular work days off to be two consecutive days.

Choose a theme. What are you trying to get out of this time “away”? Are you looking to get something done? Are you looking to get nothing done? Quiet time? Or contemplation? Meditation and prayer? Silence and solitude?

Will you bring music along?

Will you bring food or eat out?

Will you return home at times or is one of the objects to get away from home except for sleeping?

Be flexible, but plan your itinerary. You don’t want to spend most of your limited time trying to figure out what to do.

Have a map and/or a GPS.

Have a fully charged cell phone and keep the charger in your car in case you run out of battery power.

Even if you don’t normally use one, bring a journal. You can record where you went, the weather, what you saw, what you ate, what stood out to you, what you were thinking.

If you draw, bring a sketchbook and a pencil.

Dress in layers and bring a sweater or shawl. Wherever you are, you will either be too hot or too cold, I guarantee it.

Unless your phone functions as one, bring a camera. Looking at pictures later can highlight a memory.

Most importantly, know what you hope to get out of it before you go.

For awhile last year, I would take myself out to lunch once a month to “write”, and after awhile, it was rote, and I was getting nothing new out of it; nothing helpful. This kind of self-retreat is a good way to jump-start your creativity, your motivation, but also to jump-start your SELF.

[The above photo is from my first self-retreat. On that one, I had a little guidance from Father Jim Martin’s enhanced ebook, Together on Retreat, which can be found on Amazon.]