The Raggedy Months of the Year–and Joy beyond Grief

Last weekend at the cabin, everything was raggedy: trees were down, nothing was blooming, appliances were acting up, and roads, boots, ditches, and even our faces were running with cold rain. But, or, as Butt the Hoopoe says in Salman Rushdie’s playful Haroun and the Sea of Stories, “but but but.” But but but for every raggedy vista, I find a tidy piece of solace–even a joy.

Let me start again. In Grief Group, the facilitated workshop I’m part of through Lumina Hospice, we had an assignment to make a list of fifty joys. And even though sometimes I am sad, burdened, or apathetic, the joys flowed.

And yet the context of my list of joys was that they are a codicel to grief. “My dearest brother Charlie died, but but but,” … and then I list a joy, and another, and another.

“Looking out lace curtains” epitomized my joys. Charlie died, and what turmoil I have had. I grieve for his loss of the present that while living, we take for granted–that he no longer has new landscapes to his life. I grieve for the losses experienced by our family and his friends. And my losses pull me down. I’ve lost my brother to tell my stories to and hear stories from, to encourage and hear encouragement from, to evaluate situations with, to plan with, to be accepted by, to share excitement with, and yes, with whom to share grief. He isn’t even here to share this loss, the biggest one in all my years. And with him gone, my thoughts are pulled, as if by weighted shoes, toward the past. Living too much in the past is another of my losses.

But but but when I walk through the green room in our house in town, I enter a pass-through room with two doors. It’s cozy; I take credit for making it that way. One wall is covered with books, the others with peeling wallpaper with effusive wisteria painted on a sky of white. The furniture: a daybed set with pillows for the dogs, and a small dark desk. The carpet: hooked, with squares of flowers. And then the window. Above it is a valance I sewed long ago to try to tame the wisteria. And over the bottom half of the pane, two tiers of flowery lace. They block details. They let me see the light. I emerge from the green room passage slightly changed by the fleeting joy of containment, comfort, and interiors, with the knowledge that there is also something out there if I choose.

To every grief, there is a but. At least I hope there is.

So moving on to the cabin, which I do frequently this time of year, let me laugh about the smaller griefs.

  • I found a mouse dead on the floor. But the dogs didn’t find it, and we haven’t had much mouse or rat damage lately, after the two-year siege led by families of bushy-tailed woodrats.
  • Six weeks ago, both dogs nibbled rat poison that a rat had jangled loose from its hiding spot. But they got quick treatment, and the dogs survived.
  • And I feel indecent about rat poison. But, but, but. Rats and mice have menaced us, and nothing else we tried worked.
  • The propane fridge hasn’t stayed on since December, in spite of our cleaning the flues and thermocouple. But now it works, thanks to Southside RV (who we discovered after seven or eight months of trying to get help from the manufacturer last time it didn’t work). It’s true, the fridge fell off the dolly into the mud on the way to our pick-up, but Southside fixed it up. What an amazing comfort it is to have it going again. Also, when we removed it, we had to shut off the propane, so the stove didn’t work either, and we were cooking on and in the woodstove.
  • Which reminds me of our wood-fired pizza. We used purchased crusts, covered them with pesto, goat cheese, pear, and gorgonzola and they caught fire—an incredible sheet of flame that flowed from our pizza up the flue. But after a while, we figured out how to pull the pizza out and extinguish the fire, and with fresh basil and parmesan cheese, it was kind of edible.
  • The generator spewed cups of spent oil. But somehow, it worked again the next time we turned it on. Then the inverter shut off in the night. But we reset it in the morning and it worked. Then the generator turned itself off with no error messages on the inverter. But it went back on. Who is playing with whom or what? We don’t quite know, but for this very brief moment, we have an equilibrium, and I will take that for a joy.
  • I smelled something electrical. But my husband didn’t, not that that was a joy. Later in the day we heard a pop, and the Edison lights went off. We suspect it had something to do with the section of cord that the rats had gnawed the insulation off that my husband had tried to cover with electrical tape. We will remove those defunct lights, and so we have a joy of a fire averted, right? I believe that’s a joy.

That was raggedy insides. Now for raggedy outsides.

  • The roof was covered with leaves and it has been too cold or too wet for me to go up and get them off. But feeling intrepid, I went up this past weekend between rain showers, only slipped once and not very far, and discovered a sward of maple seeds just germinating up there—very pretty.
  • We went out mid-week to collect maple sap, and ran into three trees across the road. But the first (this photo) we pulled to the side (at least for now), the second we got through with a handsaw, and only the third, which was closest to our cabin, needed the chainsaw.
  • The maple taps had been unproductive for the past few weeks. But when I re-drilled every tree, productivity went up by a factor of ten.
  • The restoration project that has employed a couple of hardy workers part-time all winter, wrapped up, leaving one area without plantings. But the coordinator said he has another 400 plants we can put in ourselves, which will be fun, which we will do. And watching plants grow and landscapes evolve gives forward motion to my life, and helps me keep my personal raggedy bits in perspective.
  • We hadn’t had mail out there for two months. That had happened once before, but the mail had started again. We got junk mail and the monthly Alsea Valley Voice. But when we contacted the post office, they said the carrier decided the address was abandoned (but why? We emptied our box weekly and put mail back in, writing “no longer at this address” about former occupants, and with the restoration workers, there has been much traffic on our road). She will resume deliveries because we have mentioned we’re alive, so we’ll suffer the weekly handful of of soggy junk mail to get the much-anticipated monthly Valley Voice.
  • Almost nothing is blooming yet, with the cold we’ve had. Only twelve species have bloomed (including hazel, above), and none of them the giggling, gurgling effusive types, even though thirty-one have had earliest flowering dates by now in our nine-year record. But that means we’ll have a lot of burgeoning beauty in the month to come, including the nineteen tardy ones and some of the thirty-seven more that can bloom in March, to be followed the the other two hundred thirty seven in the rest of the year. Weather, bring them on!
  • I said it has been cold, but has if ever rained! Gray cold, and rain. But sometimes there are moments of platinum light that make the ground glow and that outline the shapes of each tree on the slope we face. And the cars are working. We are healthy. The dogs are fine now after the poison scare. My dad is well–and even grinning at the loving comments people wrote about Charlie on commemorative stones.

Tomorrow is the last day of my Grief Group. That is both a sorrow and a joy. The facilitators helped us learn a lot of things, including that grieving does not follow a schedule; it has a time course that is hard for grievers to understand or predict.

But but but I experience a richness of life I would not have had if there were no deaths of loved ones, breakages of emotional connections that I valued, rats that remind me how good it is when they are gone, same with uppity appliances, downity trees, and cold weather that delays the giggling bursts of bloom.

The facilitators also helped us understand that we are not “supposed to get on with life,” or “get back to living.” Grief, setbacks, difficulties—even those trivial rats, are part of life. So is the coping skill of adding “but but but” … and then our listed joy. Not that I will always smile, but I will know that raggedy months of the year have tidy bits as well.

A world out there. A valance I made, and two tiers of curtain, white. And me, cozy, and alive, within.

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