Category Archives: acts of grace

TO Fall With Grace

As delicate as an apology
exhaled into the hope
of being embraced in forgiveness,
Autumn leaves fall, without regret, 
into the promise
of memory's grace.

I took the photo this morning on my walk with Beaumont. As I sauntered further along the path through the grasses and into the trees, the line, “as delicate as a breath” wrote itself in my mind.

I wondered if I’d remember it by the time I got home.

As soon as I opened the photo, it flowed up and out of my body, through my fingertips, onto the keyboard and then the screen.

Without trying to hold on to them, or make sense of their meaning, or force them into order, I let more words follow.

And I smile. Because without even realizing it, ‘breath’ was transformed to ‘apology’.

The words (and the change of breath to apology) may seem random. Unconnected to this moment right now, but I know they’re not.

I often think there’s an equation for life’s journey. It’s not as simple as A (what we do) + B (what the world does) = C (the value of a life well-lived)

It’s more like,

[A + (Time/Events/Reactions/Unfinished business/Messy places/Wounds and Warts) + (Self-Awareness) + Self-Acceptance]

divided by

Temperment + Environment + Life Skills + Life Lessons + Life adaptations

equals

the beauty experienced in all the moments adding up to a life well lived

Which is really just my very complicated way of saying, Life is messy. Humans are messier. Messes are inevitable. It’s our responsibility to clean up our own messes.

Which is why I had to apologize to my beloved last night for something I’d said that was not delivered with grace or kindness.

And here’s the messy part…

I’d really like to justify my actions with all sorts of caveats like, “But… you said/you did/you were…”

Fact is, regardless of what another person does, I am 100% accountable for my words and actions (thoughts too).

When I am out of line, it is not because of another person crossing the line. No matter how much I’d like to make them the problem, when I respond without integrity, I have crossed my own line of how to live my life. And making someone else’s stuff a reason for my bad behaviour is an excuse to not be accountable.

Ha. Says the critter. But you were in your rights…. You felt….. They did…

Yada. Yada. Yada.

And while all that may be true (the stories we tell on others are often a way to not have to tell the truth on ourselves) I am still and always… you guessed it… 100% responsible for how I respond.

No matter how heated the moment, or how hurt I am, or upset, or confused, or angry, or whatever else I may be feeling, I am 100% accountable for how I respond. And no matter how I’m feeling, I never have the right to be unkind or cruel or mean or dismissive of another or disrespectful or anything that would make another feel small or less than or dispirited or that we are not both fellow travellers worthy of respect and kindness on this messy journey of life.

I acted out of line last night.

This morning, nature beckoned me to fall with grace into the moment. Embraced in the beauty of my messy human nature, the sun shone bright, the trees whispered and the grasses swayed in harmony. And as I breathed into the delicate nature of the morning, I felt myself falling effortlessly into the beautiful messy of life flowing all around, lifted up by the beautiful grace of Love.

Her Prayers Were Her way.

No matter the season, prayers dispel the darkness and open our hearts to Love. — Two page spread in altered book art journal, My Mother’s Prayers

I am an experiential learner. I love to try new things. To combine different processes. To learn and challenge what I think I know by expanding upon the things I learn along the way.

I don’t follow instructions well. I don’t walk trodden paths with comfort.

Creating the altered book journal, “My Mother’s Prayers” has been a gift and a learning experience.

When I began, I thought I’d just be using my mother’s prayer cards as emphemera on each page. I wanted to honour her and to somehow enshrine her cards in a way that would preserve them, and perhaps enlighten me as to her true nature.

I have been blessed.

The cards and the process has become so much more than just a ‘task’ or an art project.

It’s become enlightening, nourishing and healing.

I always balked when my mother said she’d pray for me. I thought her prayers were a judgement of me. I thought she was praying for me constantly because she thought I was a horrible human being, an awful daughter, sister, mother, person.

The ‘art corner’ at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

In working with her prayer cards, in allowing myself to be present to the images, their messages and to the process of creating each page with a loving heart, I am discovering a new perspective.

Her prayers weren’t a condemnation of me. They were the only way she knew how to express her love.

It’s one of the many things I love about the creative process. An idea sparks something and from that ‘something’, new awareness, insights, understanding blossom as I deepen into being present within and with whatever is unfolding.

In this case, I feel a deep, soulful shift within. No longer do I experience her prayers as a condemnation of my human condition, I am being gifted the experience of hearing them as her way of saying “I love you and want always the best for you.”

There was a deep gulf of misunderstanding between my mother and me. One of the things she often said to me was, “Why can’t you be more like the others? [my brother and sisters] Why do you have to do it your way?”

She struggled with my experiential learning essence. She feared for me constantly because I love to push limits. To test boundaries. To challenge what is in search of what is possible.

For me, it is just my way. To my mother, I was always in danger. And mothers are hardwired to keep their children safe. I realize now how often she must have felt helpless – she couldn’t keep me safe if I was constantly putting myself in danger.

My mother’s way was scary to me. I didn’t want to walk her path. And in being so vocal and I admit, obnoxious about not wanting ‘her way’, I wasn’t able to give her what she wanted most — peace to walk the path she was on, trying to keep her family safe by engaging God with every step. She wanted to live deeply embedded in her faith. I didn’t want any of that!

And I smile.

In retrospect, (though I thought I was being pretty random) I realize that it is no accident that the book I chose to use for this altered art book journal is called, “Contentment: A guide to finding the path to peace of heart..” The closing quote is from Henry David Thoreau, “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

Most of my life I kept fishing for my mother to tell me she loved me — My way.

In creating this journal with her prayer cards, by being present to their beauty and their gifts, I am discovering my mother always loved me the best way she knew how — Through her prayers.

What a beautiful gift.

Namaste.

Time. Unplugged. Unpressured. Unstructured.

There is something sublimely magical about time spent in the mountains.

Time. Unplugged. Unpressured. Unstructured.

So rare in these days of constant connection. So challenging to attain in these times of pandemic and environmental disasters and political discourse straying far from the peaceful way.

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge from the far side of the lake

I am back from my sojourn in the mountains. Back from time spent savouring unmapped moments along the shore of Bow Lake and Num-Ti-Jah lodge.

I am back but I carry with me those days of breathing clear mountain air and hearing nothing but nature calling me to slip into reverie beside her running streams.

I carry those moments with me and still I struggle to hold onto the untrammeled path, the silence and the space to simply be present to whatever is unfolding in this moment right now filling my heart and mind and body with its beauty and possibilities.

I struggle and in my struggle am reminded to let go.

To let go of ordering time and managing my thoughts into what I want to be present.

I let go and remember the glacier high above the lakeshore, spanning the gap between two mountains. It has lain there throughout time watching in majestic silence life unravelling and passing by. It has been witness to the travels of Indigenous peoples who called these mountains home long before the first settlers arrived. It has lain unphased through the wars and pestilence befalling humankind and held space beneath clear blue skies turning dark.

I spent an afternoon painting by a window of the lodge. This is what I saw. Watercolour on watercolour paper – 7 x 6″

The glacier is smaller now. Receding. Drawing back. Releasing its ice cold waters to the streams and rivers flowing steadily down the mountainside. And still, it lays in silent majesty, watching, bearing witness, baring its bones, revealing the land beneath its icy blanket.

I close my eyes and breathe deeply. My pulse quietens, my heart slows down, my mind and body meld together. I become the peace I seek. I become the quiet.

And I wonder. Does the glacier love the mountains holding it against the sky? Does the sky give thanks for the glacier’s icy ways? Does the waterfall give thanks for the water?

I think it is so.

And I give thanks. For this day. For the time by Bow Lake. For the quiet along the trails and the moments shared with friends around a dinner table. For the beauty of this moment right now and above all, I give thanks for the love that fills my life.

Here I am, I whisper to the sky and the trees outside my window and the river flowing by. Here I am. Thank you for this day. Thank you for these blessings that make my life so beautiful and rich and oh so full of love.

Namaste.

_________________

As a side note — it was easy to keep social distance as the lodge is closed for the season — it’s gracious and generous owner, a dear friend, chose not to open it under Covid’s risks. It gave him an opportunity to keep a small staff onsite to do maintenance work.

It also meant, he occassionally invited a few friends up to spend time with him in the beauty of his home away from home.

What a beautiful gift of time and space. Thank you TW!

Doing. Alchemy. Faith.

One of the gifts of art journalling (and there are many) is how it offers up ample opportunity to explore your creative nature without judgement interfering with your discovery.

Ok. Let me reframe that. It offers up ample opportunity to see where judgement interferes with your discovery. In the process, you get to choose to explore your discovery of its limitations, or not.

This two-page spread began differently. It was going to be a simple, uncluttered background of flowers. I was working it. I mean workin’ it hard. I had a vision. An outcome. A goal. I was going to make it so.

And then, it became a reflection of what I wanted it to become, not the flow of what it was becoming. That’s when judgement stepped in and decided I wasn’t working hard enough.

So I dug in. Worked it some more until eventually, all my ‘hard’ work became a really big messy, cluttered ‘ YUCK!’

I painted over the whole thing with a thin layer of white paint thinking I’d just ‘start again’.

And then, I went for a walk and found the yellow flowers that appear on the page growing wild amidst a grove of poplars by the river.

I picked a few and kept smelling and admiring them as I walked home with Beaumont, the Sheepadoodle.

Their smell was redolent of children playing in fields of wildflowers dancing in the sun. Their colour felt like I was bathing in liquid forest.

They were calling for me to preserve them so, I hauled out my flower press and la voilá! They became the focal point of my page.

They also became the path through which I found harmony and flow within my creative exploration.

See, it would have been easy to give into my internal critics yammering about how bad the page was and just give up by painting over it entirely.

The critter would have been happier. It likes ‘the win’.

But the still quiet voice of knowing and grace would have been saddened by my ‘giving up’. It would not have criticized me, the still quiet voice of knowing and grace doesn’t criticize. It only presents me with opportunities to grow through myself. To discover new and more gentle ways of being me.

The words for this page were always floating on the periphery. They were always about a garden of prayers, but it wasn’t until I took the photo and decided not to write them on the page and instead worked in Photoshop that they gained clarity.

The lesson being… Creative expression is one part the doing, one part alchemy and one part faith.

Doing. Alchemy. Faith.

Just like my mother’s prayers.

as Soft As A Petal Falling

Altered Book Art Journal page — “My Mother’s Prayers” – ‘Soft as Petals’ “As soft as an angel’s kiss, her prayers fell like petals from the heaven’s above blessing everyone on earth.”

For the past three days I’ve been working on a video of my creative process. I filmed myself working on another page from the altered book journal I’ve been creating of my mother’s prayer cards, and have been editing and editing and editing…

It is a good stretch for my brain and a good reminder of how the creative process is not just founded in ‘art-making’, it is everywhere! I have to keep reminding myself that creating a video is in and of itself a creative process. Rather than thinking it’s taking me away from time in the studio, I am focussing on the value of learning new things and how it is expanding my capacity to evolve into new forms of creative expression!

The other day, after commenting on my Mother’s Prayer Cards art journal, someone asked if I was okay. “You seem to be grieving so deeply,” they said. “Are you okay?”

I appreciated their question and concern. It felt very loving.

The fact is, I told them in response, I feel great. Creating this journal of mom’s prayer cards, immersing myself in an exploration of the power of prayer and memory has been a very healing, loving journey. It has expanded my compassion for my relationship with my mother and deepened my knowing of her love. It has also given me an opportunity to heal some of the broken places of our relationship.

In the eulogy I gave for mom at her celebration of life, I wrote, “Being the youngest, I wanted to be the rebel. In fact, for a large portion of my life, I wanted to be anything but like my mother. I am so grateful that through her prayers, I have become more like her than anyone else I ever thought I wanted to be. As I sat with her in the quiet of the night over the final week of her life and prayed with her and sang to her and read to her, I realized that the gift my mother gave me was and is the one I cherish most in my life today – an unwavering belief in the transformational power of Love. “

Kindness was my mother’s North Star. No matter how unkindly I responded to her when she told me she was praying for me, she never responded in kind, she only responded in kindness.

Life is a journey. It isn’t about how fast we go on the road of life nor how long we’re on the road. It’s about how much kindness we invest into each step along our way. It’s about how much we joy we instill in each day and how deeply we fall into Love with everyone and everything on our path.

My mother would have been 98 today. In her life and in her passing, I have found myself growing deeper and deeper into Love through her prayers that continue to be a constant on my path. Thanks mom! Happy Birthday!

___________________________

About this altered book art journal page:

I started this spread knowing what the words were. They had appeared while I was in meditation before starting the page and were my guide as I created. “As soft as an angel’s kiss, her prayers fell like petals from the heaven’s above blessing everyone on earth.”

And Roses Fell From Heaven

One of the questions I ask myself when I’m feeling stuck or undecided about what to do next is, “What makes my heart want to dance?”

And then, I close my eyes, take a couple of deep slow breaths. In. Out. And listen.

I listen to my body, my heart, my skin, my heart.

I imagine myself sinking from my head down, down, down into my heart. Further still, I imagine my consciousness sinking down, down, down into my belly.

And I listen.

I listen to the sound my body makes as I breathe. In. Out. I listen to the sounds around me. The quiet hiss of my computer. The piano playing softly in the background. The leaves rustling outside my window. The hiss of traffic crossing the bridge. The birds cawing. The hum of the refrigerator. The purr of the furnace fan. The river flowing.

And I feel.

I feel the sensation of the air entering my body, up through my nose, down into my lungs. I listen to the sound my body makes as I breathe. In. Out. The feeling of my thoughts floating down, down, down, from my head into my body. The stillness within as I sit and embody all that I am. All that is here. All that is in this moment.

And then, when I feel myself settled deep within my body, when I feel my entire being held in silence and grace within the moment, I repeat the question, “What makes my heart want to dance?”

Yesterday, the answer surprised me. Not because it wasn’t about painting or creating. It was.

What surprised me was the image that rose up from my belly and made my heart want to dance.

My eldest sister found a couple of prayer cards from my mother in the room where she used to stay in when she was strong enough to go for weekend visits. One of the cards was of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux, also known as, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

When my mother left India in 1946, her father gave her a statue of St. Thérèse. It was standing by her bedside when she took her last breath.

St. Thérèse was named my patron saint when I took my confirmation when I was about 9 years old. “Pray to St. Thérèse” my mother would tell me in those moments when I was struggling or being a ‘bad girl’. “She is your heavenly advocate. She will help you.”

I didn’t like being called a bad girl and didn’t think a saint would actually call me that. I also wasn’t much into praying so I let my mother do the heavy lifting.

In later years, I left Catholicism behind but held onto the mystical, spiritual nature of life. Angels felt ‘real’ to me. I would call upon them to guide and support me, though I wasn’t too enamoured with the saints. I could not relate to their piety and as a consequence, seldom named St. Thérèse as my advocate.

And then, I fell into a pit of darkness of a relationship that almost killed me. I remember thinking in the really dark moments towards the end, that even death was too busy to bother with me. Why would the angels answer my pleas?

Of all the things I lost during that relationship, one of the one’s that has been the hardest to reclaim is my belief in the spiritual nature of life.

Creating this altered book art journal of my mother’s prayer cards is leading me back. It is connecting me to the spiritual essence of this journey called ‘my life’.

Yesterday, as I held the St. Thérèse prayer card in my hands, a tiny voice whispered in my mind, “And the angels heard her prayers and carried them to the wind who blew them all around the world in a song of love for humanity.”

And my heart danced and I began to create.

This morning, as I checked to ensure I spelled her name correctly and had the accents properly placed, I read the expanded quote written on the card. Words spoken by St. Thérèse de Lisieux before she died at the age of 24. Words I hadn’t read before I started painting…

“When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”

Thanks mom!

Namaste.

A Prayer for Present Me

Watercolour and acrylic inks on watercolour paper – 9 x 12″

I didn’t know I was still carrying energy around a long-ago event until my daughter told me about my grandson waking up inconsolable with a fever.

Ah yes. I remember those feelings. That sense of helplessness. Of worry and fear grappling for dominance in my mind.

She was three months old. Thanksgiving. She’d been fussy for a couple of days. I asked Wanda, our next door neighbour who was a pediatric nurse, for help. What do you think? Should I take her to a doctor?

She’s just teething, Wanda asserted.

I wanted to believe her but the next day when she would not stop crying, (Alexis never cried as an infant) I insisted we take her into the Children’s hospital emergency room. We were on our way to my then in-laws for Thanksgiving dinner. Dinner can wait, I told my then husband. This is more important.

I remember when they took her from my arms and placed her on a cold steel examining table.

I remember when they put a tiny IV needle into her scalp.

I remember holding her and trying to soothe her and all the while she is mewling and I am forcing myself not to cry because I need to be calm for her.

She was admitted to hospital that day. An infection. A spiking temperature.

She was there a week.

I only went home to shower and change my clothes.

I could not leave her alone no matter how kind and caring the nurses and doctors.

I could not leave her alone.

I had forgotten about those moments and days 34 years ago until I heard about my grandson. He is okay. Whatever was ailing him passed through and he is once again his sunny self.

I am grateful.

That he has weathered this storm, whatever its source and that I can breathe again through memory, letting time wash away the traces of those moments and days long ago when I felt so helpless, so incompetent and like such a failure as a mother.

How could I not have known when first she started to cry that it was something serious?

How could I not have immediately whisked her off to the doctor?

And I smile.

I remember.

I never wanted to be ‘one of those mothers’ who was constantly dragging their child to a doctor imagining the worst.

I wanted to assume the best. To be calm, collected, thoughtful in everything I did.

Years later, when Alexis was about 12, she’d break her foot climbing the doorframe to the kitchen (I know. It was a thing to do.) Not wanting to foster her assertions that something was seriously wrong after having listened so many times to her cries that a fall had resulted in a break which ended up with unnecessary x-rays, I put ice on her foot and told her if it was still hurting in the morning, we’d get it checked out.

Sure enough, this time, the break was real.

And again, I wondered, how could I not have known? How could I be such an incompetent mother?

I’m smiling as I write that. I think being a mother has taught me more about acceptance of my limitations and fears as well as made me aware of my blind-spots and ego’s need for reassurance than anything else I’ve ever done in my life.

Being a mother humbled me. It still does.

And being a YiaYa has given me the gift of remembering those places where old fears still linger, where charred spots in my psyche can still burn.

And I say a prayer of gratitude. And I say a prayer of hope. And I say a prayer of remembering what it means to be human.

We do our best and our best is all we can do.

Namaste.

___________________________________________________-

As part of the course I’m taking online with Orly Avineri, the invitation was to take one image and repeat it 3 times in a journal page.

This page in my altered book journal, My Mother’s Prayers, is called, A Prayer for My Inner Child — it became 3 prayers, one for my inner child, my present me and my future me. My mother always lit candles for her children, particularly when something was going on in our lives. I’m pretty sure, 34 years ago she burnt a candle and prayed for Alexis every day.

A Prayer for My Inner Child
May you always feel safe in my arms of Love, free to run with abandon in the garden of dreams blossoming in my heart. May you never fear that I will desert you or put you at risk. May you know peace within me.
A Prayer for My Present Self
May courage be my constant companion, drawing me deeper and deeper into the great mystery of life where I am bound in sacred partnership within the luminous present opening my heart to Love always.
A Prayer for My Future Self
May you feel deeply and passionately connected to the exquisite nature and intimacy of the whole dancing fearlessly in the ephemeral nature of the embodied present. May you dance with life, falling forever into Love.
And so it was.
And so it is.
And so it will be.
Forever and Always.

Just Like My Mother

“My Mother’s Hands” – 10th 2-page spread in the My Mother’s Prayers altered book art journal

When I was a child I was mesmerized by my mother’s hands. They floated and fluttered around her face as she spoke like angels wings floating gracefully through the air around her head.

Mesmerized by the beauty she created as she spoke, I practiced fluttering and flitting my hands with every word I spoke just so I too could have angels flying around me. And also, so that I could speak just like my mother.

I never did master the softness of her voice but to this day, my hands are as much a part of my speaking as my voice.

“Just Like You” 9th 2 page spread

Five months ago when I brought my mother’s prayer cards home to my studio, I had no idea what stories they would inspire.

Creating an altered book art journal with her prayer cards is a journey beyond the surface layers of grief and memory deep into soul-restoration.

Every day, when I sit down at my work table and open the journal, I am reminded of the power of creativity to restore and heal. And the power of prayer to create miracles.

My mother and I walked a delicate truce. She wanted peace. I wanted answers. For me to have answers, we had to talk about the things that upset her. I didn’t want to upset her and so I let go of searching for answers in the past and settled instead for peace in the present.

Walking on Eggshells

It worked. I no longer felt like ‘the bad daughter’ every time I spoke to her and prodded her with my endless questions and insistence we walk together with ‘the truth’. Instead, I could be the ‘good enough’ daughter she could tell her friends about because, as she liked to say, “I was doing good things in the world”.

In our delicate truce my mother felt like her prayers had been answered. She could let go of praying to God to help me be a better person and simply pray for good things to come to me in my life.

Between Heaven and Earth

There is truth in everything. Not every thing is true.

My mother’s prayers were a powerful force in our lives. The truth is, my mother prayed for everyone she knew, every night of her life. When I was younger, I used to scoff at her constant reminders that she would pray for me. Sometimes, before I remembered the value of kindness in the world, I’d tell her I didn’t want her prayers. She should keep them for herself.

She’d pray harder for me in those times, beseeching God to soften my heart.

As age began to take a toll on her mobility and strength, she spent more time in bed or sitting quietly in her wheelchair. Her prayers became a constant song in her life, filling the space around her head with whispered incantations for blessings from God to rain down on those she loved.

As the end neared, we prayed with our mother whenever we were with her. And when she fell into the deep sleep that would eventually lead her to her eternal light, we prayed together for her safe journey to the other side.

Sometimes, during the nights of her final week when I sat alone at her bedside, I’d say the Hail Mary over her sleeping body, just as I imagine she whispered it over my sleeping body long ago when I was a child.

One night, as I sat beside her bed reading while she slept, she opened her eyes, lifted one of her hands slowly off the covers and beckoned me to come in close. Crippled with arthritis, her hands no longer fluttered like angels’ wings dancing around her head. They moved slowly like a leaf drifting towards the ground on the final breath of an autumn breeze.

Leaning over the side of her bed, trying not to jostle her frail body, I dipped my head towards her mouth. Her hand fell to the blanket covering her body as she whispered softly into my ear, “I’ll pray for you.”

I smiled and looked into her eyes. I didn’t know if she could see me or simply feel my presence. Gently, I stroked her forehead and whispered back, “Thank you. I’ll pray for you too.”

This is Where I Stand

This book is my prayer for peace for my mother and me. Each page is filled with my handwork and, even though mostly invisible beneath layers of paint, each page contains one of my mother’s prayer cards.

It is created by my hands that float and flutter about my head when I speak, just like my mother’s hands once did.

My Mother’s Prayers

My Mother’s Iris At The Altar – Mixed media on book page.

My mother prayed. A lot. No matter the time of day, situation, pressing need, she would pray.

After she passed away, my sisters and I sorted through her belongings and came across the leather pouch where she stored her many prayer cards.

None of us knew what to do with them so I took them, thinking I’d eventually use them in an art piece.

That time has come.

On Tuesday, I started a mixed media online course with Orly Avineri. Orly is my kind of creative force. Free-flowing. No ‘steps’. Just you, the muse, your intuition. And the courage to take risks.

The first exercise includes an invitation to use whatever papers are on hand, affix them to a page and create.

My mind immediately leapt to my mother’s prayer cards. This would be a good home for them. Not just on the first page, but on every page I create in this art journal.

In this case, the journal is an old book I found in a box that I’m willing to release to the creative forces. It is part of a set of three I’ve had for years. Unique to this one is the way the inside pages are inserted. They are all upside down.

A book with upside-down pages seemed appropriate at this time. The world right now feels a little topsy-turvy. Like everything we once knew, relied on, took for granted is no longer so dependable. So known. So inevitable.

There are no mistakes.

Working on this art journal, “My Mother’s Prayers” is stirring up my thoughts and feelings and memories of my Catholic upbringing, my mother’s prayers and her unshakable faith and our relationships. It is giving me pause to look at it all through different glasses, angles, lenses, perspectives. Upside down included.

Yesterday, I completed my third 2-page spread in the book. As with the previous two, this spread also includes a couple of the cards from mom’s collection.

As I created the page using flowers from the garden that were at the end of their life-cycle, my mind swept back to childhood days when my sister and I would help mom with the flowers in church on Saturdays.

I go back to this memory a lot. As if somehwere in that sacred space I might somehow find the key to where my mother’s and my relationship went off the rails.

Because it was. For much of our life together, not a very well functioning relationship.

In one of Orly’s videos for the course, she talks about how it’s important to live within the gifts, not the trauma of the past.

There were many, many gifts that came through my relationship with my mother. It helped forge the backbone of who I am today and who I am as a mother, an artist, a woman, a human being.

In her final years, the tensions between us eased. In her passing, they fade away leaving behind only Love and memories of the sacred moments of grace we shared.

The gifts in those moments are what fill me up today. They give me peace, hope, faith, Love.

Perhaps, one of its gifts is also in the surrendering of any guilt I may be unknowingly carrying from the past.

And I smile as I write the word ‘guilt’.

How very ‘Catholic’ of me.

My middle sister and I used to joke a lot about our Catholic guilt. We were good at it. Doused in it as children, it felt only natural to carry it into our adult years.

It took me years, and lots of therapy, to realize guilt is not natural. Nor is it constructive.

It can however, be a powerful force for change.

To not carry guilt, I must clean up my messes. It isn’t about tidying up the past as much as honouring it so that I can let it go without feeling… guilty.

And so, I create.

A book of prayers. For my mother. For me. For my daughters. My soon to be born grand-daughter.

The Crosses We Bear – first 2-page spread in My Mother’s Prayer Cards Art Journal

A book of prayers that begins with the words I wrote on the very first 2-page spread. Words that surprised me even as I wrote them: “The crosses we carry through the centuries burden us with their blind faith in what to believe in the here and now. Their weighty presence strangles our breath as we struggle to free ourselves of the guilt and shame of a past we cannot change.

I cannot change the difficult times with my mother.

I can honour our past, all of it, and in the here and now, celebrate and cherish her beautiful thread in the tapestry of my life.

Being the mother she was, her spirit is praying for all of us now.

What a wonderful gift of life and death in an unending circle of Love that remains, as always, nourished by my mother’s prayers.

Just As My Mother Taught Me.

It is four months today since my mother took her last breath.

The Irises are blooming.

This is our third summer we have lived in this house. The first that the Irises have bloomed.

They were her flower. She carried their name. Iris.

Iris Marie Gallagher August 31, 1922 – February 25, 2020

And I smile. My mother is here. Around us. With us. Amongst us.

For a few weeks, she kept visiting me. Usually, while I was in the bath. That kind of bothered me so I kept pouring in extra bubbles to blur her view.

“I’m spirit, Louise. I can see through everything. Including you. Stop hiding.” She said this to me on one of her many visits over the past four months. Her laughter tinkled like cutlery and crystal amidst the chatter at a cocktail party.

I don’t remember my mother laughing like that in real life. I also know she never sat in a glittery, tight, figure revealing cocktail dress, martini glass in one black elbow-length gloved hand and cigarette in a long glossy ebony holder in the other.

“Who are you?” I asked the first time she appeared. I knew she was my mother. She had her face. Her voice. Her scent. But the rest?

“Louise. I’m spirit. I’m the mother of your dreams,” she replied, again with that tinkly, almost girlish laugh.

“But you’re so different. You’re smoking!”

“It’s not like smoking is going to kill me,” she said and then, she threw back her head, blew smoke up into the skylight above her and laughed. Loud. Deep. Sexy.

Sexy? Oh no. Not my mother. She was beautiful. Exotic. Mysterious. Never sexy. As a girl I didn’t think she even knew how to spell s-e-x, which was always said in a whisper making my sister and I giggle at mom’s descriptions when she tried to teach us her version of the art of being a woman. If we had questions her favourite response was, “Go ask the school nurse.”

We never did. Ask the nurse. We mostly just muddled our way through it. My eldest sister taking me to buy my first bra. My first box of Kotex pads. My grad dress.

Girlfriends were the source of all things boy related and as to boys… Well, as long as you kept your legs crossed you couldn’t get in trouble. At least, that’s what my mother told me.

Which was why this mother, the one who insisted on visiting while I was in the bath and drinking martinis and smoking was so surprising to see.

“What happened to you when you crossed over, mom?” I asked her one day while she sat on the closed toilet seat lid painting her nails a bright red that she never would have been caught dead in if she was alive.

“Real life put so many restrictions on me,” she replied. “It was such a heavy load I always felt like I was suffocating. Now, I’m light as air and can delight in being all of me. And with you, that means being the mother you always dreamt I’d be. You did say you wanted a martini drinking, high heel wearing, cocktail dress swishing kind of mother didn’t you?”

Oh dear. My mother read my blog “Is This Grief” from the other side. She knows what I wrote.

But then, she always said she did. Know what I was up to. And it wasn’t always good, she liked to remind me.

Softly she whispers into my thoughts. “Louise. I know you did your best. I know you wanted to be a good daughter. It’s just the pain and the secrets between us were greater than our ability to see eachother as co-creators of our life together, not as adversaries.”

See what I mean? This is not the mother I remember. My mother never used words like co-creator and she definitely didn’t acknowledge that their was pain we shared. I mean, I was the one who inflicted the pain on her. Right?

Wrong.

At least that’s what she told me during her bathtime visits. To acknowledge ours was a challenging relationship from the get-go and to apologize for her role in it all. (Now that’s something my mother never, ever did in real life. Apologize to me.)

“You know Louise,” she said one day during one of her ‘from-the-other-side’ visits. “What if it wasn’t about my being the mother you wanted. What if it was all about my being the mother you needed to become the woman you are today?”

That one stopped me. Still does. Kind of makes me cry too.

What if it’s true? What if my mother was the perfect mother for me? Just the way she was.

And I breathe.

My mother hasn’t visited me in the bath lately. Last time she was here she told me she had other relationships to tend.

“Relationships are like a garden,” she told me. “You water and weed and tend them with loving care, and beauty will grow. Ignore them, let the weeds overrun the seeds of possibility, and everything will wither away.”

And then she said the words I’ve yearned to hear. The words she used to say all the time. The words I often dismissed and miss so much now. “I’ll light a candle for you and say a prayer.”

She took one final sip of her martini and did that thing only spirits can do. She threw her glass over her shoulder without breaking a shard and said,” My words will always be a prayer of Love for you, Louise. Nothing will ever change that. Especially death with all its deep and mysterious beauty stretching out into eternity.”

And then she, like her martini glass, disappeared into the deep mystery of eternity.

My mother is gone from this physical plane. But she is here. Showing herself in elegant blue wonder in my garden.

She is a candle burning bright in the mystery of life.

I too have lit a candle this morning.

My daughter asked me to light it. To say a prayer for her and my soon-to-be born grand-daughter.

And so I do.

Just as my mother taught me.

Namaste.

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