Change. Transformation. In the course of one’s life, what greater opportunity is offered for profound positive change in a person than the loss of a loved one?
Of course, it’s hard in the early stages of grief – seemingly impossible – to see opportunity. A heart broken feels so: a shattered organ splintering shards out to extremities, blasting a hole in the chest and hindering movement previously taken for granted by the body.
The walking wounded. And there are so many from just this past week, like family and friends of Mr. Hockey, those shockingly lost to violence in Orlando over the weekend – singer Christina Grimmie and an unthinkable 49 more victims hours later, Philippines captive Robert Hall, and, closer to home for me, the husband of a Jazzercise member.
Grief has no timeline, but we know lost loved ones would want us to honor them, yes. Miss them? Yes. But they’d also want us to go on. Have a happy life. So we seek a way and in seeking we can learn so much about ourselves. Our strengths, our weaknesses. When I struggled and bumbled my way through grief, I often found solace in the lyrics to Frou Frou’s song Let Go:
So, let go, let go
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
“Beauty in the breakdown”. Ah. Cry. Get angry. Be confused. Make mistakes. And be assured that, within and beyond that which appears anything but beautiful, lies beauty. Like beyond the water bug? The dragonfly.
Says www.learnaboutnature.com: “The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world, symbolizes change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the deeper meaning of life.”
Here’s an excerpt from Long Climb Back, Trekking through loss and beyond, about dragonflies, a profound symbol of magic and beauty and transformation for me:
Prior to losing loved ones, I didn’t give much consideration to dragonflies. In Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul, a book friends Don and Tina gave me after Mom died, I read a touching tale about them called, “I’m Okay, Mom and Dad”.
Lark Whittemore Ricklefs tells how she’d been to the funeral of a church member. The priest told a story about a group of water bugs and how they’d noticed other water bugs climb up a lily pad and disappear. Where could they have gone? They made a vow to one another that if this ever happened to one of them they would come back down and explain.
A short time later, one of the water bugs climbed up the lily pad and as it sat there, four wings sprouted on its back and its body took on an iridescent sheen. Testing out its new wings, the dragonfly remembered its promise, but try as it might, its wings would not allow it to penetrate the surface of the water. The dragonfly realized that even if he could return, the others wouldn’t recognize him. He then knew they’d have to wait for their turn.
Ricklefs shared this story with her daughter when she got home. “Mom, that’s really beautiful!” Jen exclaimed with tears running down her cheeks.
Two days later, Jen said an early-morning goodbye to her mother and set off for work at a distant lake resort. Her mother would be joining her that night.
Several hours later Ricklefs received the horrifying news that her daughter had been involved in a head-on collision. Jen died later that night.
At the end of that week, after viewing the accident scene, a distraught Ricklefs asked her husband to take her to a greenhouse so she could immerse herself in beauty before having to face other grieving family members. As she stood staring at a rose, a large dragonfly appeared and landed within arm’s length of her. “Jenny is telling us that she’s okay,” she told her husband and they studied the dragonfly for a long time.
Two weeks later, Ricklefs’ husband ran into the house and told her to come outside. Hundreds of dragonflies were flying in front of their house and between it and the neighbours’. Never before had she seen so many dragonflies in town.
I’d read this story to my husband Hugh and it prompted him to suggest to our daughter, Jetanne, a special Mother’s Day purchase to mark my first one without Mom. “Just wait till you see what Tan has for you,” he said, his eyes glistening. When I opened the small box that Sunday, I found a sparkly dragonfly lapel pin inside and looked up to see both of their expectant, smiling faces.
A bit more than a year later, it is the day after my first birthday without Hugh. Turning 47 bothers me because now I am older than him, a thing I’ve never been. Since we were both born in the same year, it was always him reaching an age in June, then me in July. Him, then me. Him, then me, year after year. Him locked at 46 is weird.
I’m in my Jazzercise studio at my house preparing for my 7 p.m. class. I remember the garbage bin is still out at the road, so I leave Tina in the entranceway to greet students and wander down the driveway in the sun that dapples through the maples. I’m wheeling the bin back when I notice things – huge, black things – darting in the air to the right of the house above Hugh’s barbecue, which has sat dormant since his departure. I leave the bin in the driveway to go closer, get a better look.
Dragonflies. At least 30 of them. Huge. Each as big as a fist. They are incapable of graceful flight. They zip, sporadically, this way, that way, making z-like patterns in the air. Busy. I don’t want to stop looking at them, for fear they’ll disappear, but time is passing and class will start soon. I run to get Tina and they are still there when we get back. Tina knows the dragonfly story from the book as I’ve shared it with many of my friends. “I’m getting goose bumps,” she says, showing me her forearms, rubbing her hands over them. We study their jerky motions for a while, and I look beyond them, to the sky, wondering if Hugh is watching us somehow. Then we reluctantly leave.
I follow Tina back to the studio, wondering: How much grief can a person be expected to contain? All that which can fill up the entire body – from the toes to the nose, from the fingers to the rib cage, from the top of the head to the edges of the heart. But no more! The body is finite, but the spirit is infinite. Spirit cannot be physically injured because it is intangible. It can slip away and hide from pain because it is as light as a feather, sailing on a summer breeze. Which reminds me of that Pauline Johnson poem I used to recite to Hugh, “Summer, summer that came drifting through, fate’s hand to me to you.”
Light and airy, happy as a dragonfly dancing in the sun, as sunny as a summer day, as optimistic as sunrise, sunset, as pleasant as a dream of angels. That is my spirit. That which will go on when my body fails, my heart stops and my brain ceases.
And it is that spirit of Hugh that I must hold onto, for it will never go. It is everywhere and nowhere. It can’t be stolen from me.
As I teach my spirit soars, beyond my activated fingers and extended toes, to comingle with Hugh’s dragonflies above his neglected barbecue. I dance. I am energized. I feel magical.
When class is over, I hang up my sweaty mic, turn down the music and picture the huge cottage project I’ve been working on with my friend Deb in Grand Bend. We work, we walk, we talk, she colors, work, walk, talk, color. She paints my black and white existence the most exotic colors, some I don’t even know: ochre, viridian, cadmium. The color gives meaning. She’s been calling our work something, she loves labeling things. Transforming things. Something from nothing? Something from something? The Dragonfly Inn. A place to fly away to.