When grief answers first … wait.

When Grief Answers First When grief answers first, it isn’t pretty. And, sometimes, it's raucous and self-involved. At least that’s my experience with it. Maybe I am more messy than most – though I suspect not. I suspect that what I am giving voice to here will not seem strange – or sacrilegious to the preciousness of life – if you have spent intimate time with grief. Singular grief sucks. Multiple grief sucks. Overlapping grief sucks. I’ve done them all. When that gut-punch, double over, drop-to-your-knees moment hits, it is hard to imagine that there is anything beyond the pain. When I found out I had breast cancer – just months after Ray took his last breath – grief spoke first. “Well, here’s your ticket out of all this pain. Your work here is done. It’s been a good run.” When losing someone or something you love becomes a reality, it throws off the order. Ray’s run with a cancer that ended in death turned my days – and my morning prayer time – upside down. The pain felt in his absence left me with a desire for connection at any cost. Even if it meant I spoke to Ray first – and God second. Something I never did while he was alive. My healing hierarchy fell out of balance while cancer cells feasted on estrogen without supervision – or should I say without “super vision.” When the small lump grew and ate away breast mass, I witnessed what the physical demonstration of grief must look like in a part of my body designed to nurture life as well as receive pleasure. There are those who believe that disease gets its footing in times of dis-ease. As I look at the overlapping distress and disappointment, compressed into a span of five years, I have to say my dis-ease has carried on long enough. Even for this messy muse. Each day, I wrestle with angels until I find a blessing – knowing that it will not be a blessing that offers a re-do. It will be a blessing where grief – singular, multiple or overlapping – learns to live with grace and gratitude, moment by precious moment. When grief speaks first, I am learning to let it say its piece and forgive myself for what feels like an indulgence, for grief is not indulgent. It is simply a part of life. Then I wait for the whisper of grace. And I embrace grief as a part of evolution – not involution.
I wrestle with a greater awareness of love through the face of loss. And I evolve because I love – not because I loved.
Grief and grace invite me to be part of the equation. To notice the places where I am missing from myself as I am missing him or her – or this and that. To love more deeply and receive more freely. How much grief and grace can a heart hold? A lot. An awful lot if we allow ourselves to evolve and expand through the process. I intend to heal through this grief AND the cancer in my breast. And that means I have to give my ALL to the process. I have to be fully honest, fully present and fully human. (Got that human part down pat.) I told you in my “Life. Death. Breast Cancer.” post that it would get messy here. I also said that if I share anything heavy, it would be to build muscle. So, if grief is a challenge for you in this moment, you are not alone. When our hearts expand, they touch. Here’s to building muscle, together. I welcome your journey with grief here. And if you, too, are working hard for a physical healing in your life while wrestling with an overlapping grief, I would love to hear how you are doing with it. Sharing is Caring. And feel free to subscribe.

Why I’m Not Fighting Cancer – Again.

I’m told I have breast cancer – invasive lobular carcinoma. Stage 2. The initial test results came through 7 days before the Celebration of Life I had planned for Ray – my husband for 37 years – who died on the fast track of a cancer found too late. I chose to put the news of my party crasher quietly on the backburner and go on with my plans to celebrate the LIFE I shared with this man. Maybe I am just too raw, with this overlapping Ray’s passing, but I’m not accepting the invitation to play war here. I’m not fighting cancer – again. I am LIVING while I navigate this next chapter in my LIFE as I learn to live it without his presence. What you say? Isn’t the battle with cancer about fighting for your life? No. Not when you STOP LIFE to fight it. Anyone who’s gone through this knows what I am talking about. A lot of stuff goes through your head when faced with your mortality – or that of one you love. You say “Yes” where you might normally say, “Stop” or “Wait” or “No, let me try another way.” Ray and I barely had time to digest the news that his was Stage 4 metastatic before we found ourselves caught in the revolving door of tests, doctors, hospital beds, pharmaceutical cocktails, heart monitors, iv drips – and blood drawings that turned his arms black and blue. Of course he would fight it and I would support his wishes. Given the circumstances, fighting was probably a better option for him than devastation and grief – as he lived only 50 days beyond diagnosis and most of that in a hospital. (And now, I am left to digest that it was a slow-growing cancer, missed by a medical system of specialists and primary care that only looked at their piece of the elephant. A blog for another day.)
“I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” – Mother Teresa
I am not fighting cancer. I am embracing life and that embrace is my basis for recovery and healing. So many precious moments were lost in Ray’s fight. Moments that we did not know were to be our very last because we were too busy fighting “it” to check-in with the rapidly changing terrain. I do not wish to lose my focus or balance. Family and friends have been put on notice to rouse me if they see this happening.
They know cancer is not part of the equation when it comes to creating what matters most in how I love to move through my life and how I move to love through my life.
This does not mean I will not be diligent in my research and careful in my decisions. That I will not be attentive to those offering me alternative approaches to balance, strengthen and heal my body. That I will not be respectful of and grateful for the medical professionals as they share with me what they know, as well as their assessments and treatments for this party crasher in my breast. This does mean I am not going to operate from panic. Last week I got a call from the oncologist’s office. They scheduled an MRI for me. Efficient, I suppose, except they forgot to ask me before they booked it. They forgot I have a life. A simple thing, I know. No big deal. Why not change my schedule and keep the appointment? After all, it’s CANCER. Cancer is a noun, not a verb. I do not wish to start CANCERING. Call me crazy, but I sense the point where that noun-verb transition occurs. And I teeter there some days. Not in fear, but in the scramble for insurance coverage, in the assumptions made by doctors and their staff, in the measured urgency of loved ones not wanting to lose me – the way I lost Ray. I choose, daily, to be conscious of where that CANCERING point is so I don’t cast aside LIVING. Another verb. The medical machine whisks us through the door after the word cancer is spoken. (And how willingly we go because, YES, it is a scary frickin’ word.) Once we get through that door we start to lose our perspective. We forget we have choices that may be outside the realm of discussion among our providers. We forget we are the patients, the most important part of the recovery equation. Fear and urgency rule as we cast present moments aside while we aim for better days. I’m not a fighter, folks. And I am not fighting cancer – again. I am living – still. LIFE is my point. When I remember, I invite those who forget, to remember. When you remember, you invite those who forget, to remember. And when WE remember, we remember together – and it doesn’t get any better than that. That’s the point where miracles happen. Our journey continues ...  
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”  – Thomas Paine
PS: Treat yourself and read the comments. There is some great experience and wisdom being shared! XO Sharing is caring. And feel free to subscribe.  

Life. Death. Breast Cancer.

Life. Death. Breast Cancer. I have no clever first-line hook for this post. And it won’t be neat and tidy with a beginning, middle and end. If you’ve spent any time here at all, you know I am not shy about sharing when life gets messy – though never for drama’s sake. God knows we all have our tribulations and don’t need another magnifier in the world.
A wise woman recently said it perfectly. If I am going to share the heavy stuff with you, it will be to build your muscle – not sink you.
When I posted about the only New Year's resolution you'll ever need back in January, I had no idea the hurricane that was mounting at sea or that there would be no stopping it when it hit shore. I also didn’t know how challenged I would be to catch my breath, let alone post anything in the messy room. I figured, when I could show back up here, I’d post about my beloved’s battle with a cancer found too late (that had metastasized throughout his body) and all the stuff you witness to in that agonizing race to buy time – at least enough time to digest the news. But then he died. Just 50 days after diagnosis. So, I figured I’d make my way back here and blog about death and grief and how precious life is and the things we say “Yes” and “No” to and all the silly stuff that captures our attention while the really important stuff gets lost in the hooplahah. But now I find myself in a most bizarre overlap. The cancer train has not yet left the station. It seems that I have breast cancer. That the lump they told me was benign in January, before the hurricane hit shore, is not benign now. It has grown and gotten greedy and is invasively feeding off healthy breast tissue. Another intimate life-long partner, challenged. Were it not for my journaling, my morning quiet time spent with God and His divine messengers, and the tribe of wise souls circling around me, I would have washed out to sea before the third tidal wave hit me. But I’m not drowning. I’m here. And I’m back. And I’m writing. My walk with life, death and cancer continues. And I have messy stuff I want to say. I awake with grief and grace, daily, in a scavenger hunt for gratitude and understanding. I am not in resistance – but am in persistence – as I prepare for this next round. It would appear that my life is in what marathoners call a “split run race.” (That’s when you run faster in the second half than the first.) By divine design no doubt. A sacred overlap, perhaps, with my beloved who is now assisting from the other side. I am the stuff of stars. Not cancer. And I will find out what this old girl is made of as I work to reconstruct my life in this next most curious chapter. So, get ready to build some muscle with me or unsubscribe – cause the messy room just got messier. Thanks for listening.

Messy or Magical: YOU Be the Reason for the Season

Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room Messy and Magical Holiday Message I find myself off the map this holiday season, alone with my kitties and the “ghosts of Christmas past.” Caught in reflection and releasing attachment to stories that cannot – need not – be revisited, repurposed, or recycled. Being mindful not to compare what my “reason for the season” looks like to those displayed around me. Just quietly aware of the many nuances of human experience beneath all the hustle and bustle, and living with the sense that it is okay for me to be alone this year. That it is, indeed, necessary. There is a freedom that comes in recognizing that there are times when tradition serves us well and other times when it simply does not. This is a “not” year. I am grateful to recognize that and embrace the gifts it has to offer and not grasp for the questionable recreation found in re-creations of the near or distant past. Guess you could say this is a “we three kings disoriented are” holiday. (I am not without a sense of humor. When my GPS is down, I look up.) If you are off the map this holiday season, this is the deal – what I know to be true. First of all, you are not alone. Secondly, whether through tradition or ritual or breaking all the rules of thumb, you are the magic-maker found in every season of your life. So, wherever you are this year, make it count. Love anyway. Laugh anyway. Be present anyway. This may be one of those silent whisper gifting kind of holidays. Find peace with the pieces and joy in the little pleasures found on the fringes of your day-to-day activities. Some years we have to enjoy the trimmings while the gift is "made ready." Those three kings may be disoriented but they do deliver. They look up, too – and they will find you where you are. Be ready to receive. I know I am. Peace be with you this season.

Down and Dirty: Recovering a Sense of Possibility While Under the Influence of Gravity.

Visual journal, mixed-media page inspired by the poem Feet of Clay posted on the blog, Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room.

Feet of Clay While her dance on earth bid her stay, she came to love her feet of clay. Though they crumbled and caved in life’s tidal wave of unknowing, she learned to reshape them and fire them with the glowing golden embers within her heart, the place that remembered where she got her start on wings of angels delivered to birth, royalty not subject to the mirth of fault-finders with cast iron feet bound to the earth, impenetrable and too deep to leap for the stars and catch fireflies in jars on hot summer nights when naked feet find delight in the dance that bid her stay while she came to love her feet of clay.

Bernadette Rose Smith

  Feet of clay is an expression we use that points to character flaws found in our humanness. You know. Those times when we are so good we must be found bad. Or so bad we are good enough to raise the eyebrows of those mirthful faultfinders around us. (Inner critics included.) Lets face it. Whether a Hollywood starlet caught in a nose-picking event by paparazzi or the King of Babylon exposed in a dream by prophet Daniel or somewhere in between like the rest of us, having feet of clay ranks low on the bucket list of “I wants” or things to be celebrated. We try to rise above them with store bought miracle grow wings that promise to elevate our consciousness. Or we hop on brooms with “swoop and sweep” features that offer to deflect or hide our questionable character. Or we travel the earthbound distraction route, clicking the heels of our sparkly ruby slippers on the latest offering of a freshly painted yellow brick road in a search for more brains, more heart and more courage ... to what? Escape them? Well, how ‘bout we embrace them?

Don’t wait for clay feet to kick you in the pants on your way out!

Visual journal, mixed-media close up of art inspired by Feet Of Clay poem in Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room. The first two lines of Feet of Clay haunted me for days – like a mantra by Dr. Seuss – encouraging me to follow the impulses to its completion and start the visual journal page seen here. All during a creativity challenge I agreed to host for The Mused Community – a group on Facebook of which I am a grateful member. This particular challenge wove together chapter 5 from The Artist’s Way – Recovering a Sense of Possibility – and the earth energy medicine found in the dragonfly’s dance from its originating form as dragon. Lively discussion topics about virtue traps, not limiting God and finding the source of the stories we tell pointed to an evolving sense of possibility and recovery for embracing our feet of clay. For years, I tried to rise above mine. My sense of possibility anchored in a belief that I could learn how to be happy and feel safe here only by sustaining flight; lighting down occasionally to share the sights I’d seen from above. (Muses and creatives tend to do this but lack of oxygen in higher realms can make us fuzzy in remembering how to plant our visions here.) Visual journal, mixed-media page completed for Feet Of Clay poem posted on Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room blog.

After multiple attempts and crashes, here is my basic guide to arriving – and thriving with clay feet.

1. Be the first in line to embrace your mess. (Love yourself.) 2. Get there before the mirth slayers. (Be not afraid.) 3. Perfection is found in imperfection. (So relax.) 4. Strength is found in vulnerability. (So relax some more.) 5. If you claim your feet of clay you won’t miss a leap to live – really live as you. Not someone else’s idea of you. (Be authentic.) 6. Whether you are stomping in the mud or re-firing in the glow of your heart, the edits and rewrites are yours. (So play.)  
“No one can awaken from a dream the world is dreaming for him.” A Course in Miracles (text, P. 541)

Visual journal, mixed-media page of art inspired by the Feet Of Clay poem on Bernadette's Musings from the Messy Room blog

Don’t be a stand-in in someone else’s dream. While this dance on earth bids you stay, learn to love your feet of clay. It starts with you. That’s all I’ll say.

Claim your feet of clay here!

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Writing Under Fire The Artist’s Way

Shameful Stories

Writing Under Fire

Writing under fire saves lives when desperation overflows pretty journals and sends pen in hand drawer-diving for a comp book or some lone sheet of loose-leaf paper.

Even toilet paper writes well at midnight with its multi-tasking talent for anger venting, tear catching, nose blowing, remorse flushing purges.

Dear God letters. Fill-in-the-blank-you-asshole letters. Therapy work. Gasping for breath and rhythm work. Dream logs. Synchronicity logs. Gratitude logs. Spirit dialogs. Ego dialogs. Alternate routes through heart and mind traffic jams.

When angst hits the wall grab a pen. Hit the page. Save a life. Make it yours.

Bernadette Rose Smith

 

Wish to amp up your life with creativity and delight in Divine Coincidence? Here's 3 things to try. (Hey, they work for me!)

 

Thing 1: Morning Pages.

In the fall of ’93, my then-husband-now-friend gave me a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Struggling with a loss of career direction, artist’s block and mild depression I couldn’t shake, I committed to reading the book and writing the morning pages that Julia prescribed. Some might call it irony. I call it synchronicity – amplified by a Divine Purpose. Then-husband-now-friend gifted me with a book that introduced me to a process of writing my way through pretty much anything. Then he left and gifted me with an opportunity to practice that process in a way that I never could have imagined! What are morning pages? In Julia’s words, “… three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: ‘Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah …’ They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.” She also says, “There is no wrong way to do morning pages … (they) are not meant to be art. Or even writing … not supposed to sound smart … nobody is allowed to read (them) except you … Just write three pages … ” Why write them? Julia jokes, “To get to the other side” but is quick to point to their power when she says they get us to “the other side of our fear, of our negativity…” She identifies a voice she calls the censor. (What I frequently refer to as ego in Bernadette’s Pages.) Writing three pages of chaotic, mundane babble miraculously clears the static that interferes with my ability to quiet my mind and consciously connect. Like a child allowed to run off a sugar high after a birthday party, my ego often settles down by the time I get to page three – after which I find I can be still and receptive to insights that often change my life.  

Thing 2. (Maybe 3.) Writing With Your Other Hand.

Years ago, a friend introduced me to the power of using my non-dominant hand to tap into the wisdom of the right brain. She guided me through a series of dialogs during which the right hand (my dominant) wrote out the question with a pen and the left hand (my non-dominant) answered with a crayon. The left hand blurts were surprisingly direct and wise. The process captured my attention but did not go beyond a few sessions. This powerful tool reemerged as a lifeline after then-husband-now-friend’s departure and is still something I do in my morning page time. You don’t have to understand how the right brain works to experience its effect. Creative or not, we all intuitively dip into it on an unconscious level. But, if you want to harness its power more consciously, I suggest you read Lucia Capacchione’s, The Power of Your Other Hand as well as the classic, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. These books direct you to a whole new way of seeing and experiencing the world.  

Thing 3: (Maybe 2.) Scribing Spirit.

Scribing – referred to as “Spirit Dialog” in B’s Pages – was not entirely new to me when I started doing morning pages. I’d had a few ‘scribing outbreaks’ in previous years––outbreaks that I attributed to twelve-step recovery work. (Specifically Step Eleven.) Often, in my practice of Step Eleven (that states, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him …”) I would feel a Divine Presence and an urge to write. Sometimes words flowed onto the page that were not my own. No burning bushes – or winning lottery numbers – but always appropriate to where I was and what I was concerned with. Without the established habit (morning ritual) of showing up to the page, I would not have a clear channel nor a comfort zone when Divine Guidance bumps journaling to the next level with whispers of redirects or offers of lifelines. And I would miss the crossroads – the opportunities to change direction – that lead to what I know and love about life today. I Write to Think poster A Shortcut?  These days, my writing evolves to fit life circumstances and time constraints but remains a foundational cornerstone; a primary tool I use to process and move through life’s stuff. Issues that show up on paper often do not have to remain as long, drawn out classroom experiences. And, at crucial times, they act as springboards for some pretty amazing communication with others. (I do not advise that you share your writing casually, however. It is important to have an ear that constructively hears beyond the guilt and fear that often gets dumped onto the pages.) Here’s a Thought.  Why wait for pain to motivate you when guidance is “at hand?” Let morning pages prime the pump and other-hand writing set the stage for your own insightful “blurts.” I would LOVE to hear your experiences and thoughts on what your “writing under fire” looks like and how it works in your life. Or your challenges with writing in this way. “Dump” them here ‘cause together we grow!

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