Arlo, Lyle and I flew to the desert for some deep soul searching. I was scared at diving in deep to do some major internal work and I was proud of Lyle and Arlo for joining me.
Los Alamos was on the way to Golden Willow Retreat Center in Taos, our destination. We stopped by the Bradbury Science Museum and took in some history of the nuclear bomb. Was it really necessary? They named the first two bombs Little Boy and Fat Man. Seems like a lot of young men naming the most destructive tool after their insecurities.
As contrast, we went to the Earthships in Taos. This is a famous passive solar housing community made of tires, bottles, aluminum cans and natural materials. Evidently the founder did a lot of acid in the 70’s and 80’s and created these amazing structures that took into account passive solar, greywater, blackwater, trash, was off grid and the average person could learn to build. They are all over the world now. And I think he stopped doing acid and began building these beautiful structures en masse.
I remember Lyle building many of the systems we saw at the Earthships or inspiring them at EMJ, The Plant, our house and the early days of the biodiesel coop.
Arlo was jazzed.
Finally, we pulled into the Golden Willow Retreat Center which is about 12 miles outside of Taos. A beautiful adobe home turned into retreat center with a little chapel in the yard. We were beginning our custom grief retreat with a team of people that knew our unique issues and had been planning for our arrival. This team is lead by Ted Wiard who unfortunately is one of the most qualified individuals to host a grief retreat. Ted lost his dear brother to a fishing accident in the sea. He pushed it down and had his second baby with his beloved wife. She died shortly after from an incredibly rare cancer, leaving him with two beautiful young daughters. His mother in law picked his daughters up from school and accidently rolled through a stop light and they were all killed by a garbage truck. This man almost ended it to join his family (anyone that has had a traumatic loss has thought of ending it, by the way).
We were well taken care of by the nurturing Diana who came in and cooked for us (she prepared our meals at home on her woodstove) and even made special exceptions for my all fat, no sugar diet that is saving me from my neuropathy. We awoke to Clint, the intuitive yoga teacher that took us to the chapel and lead us through yoga class. He had a knowing and a sparkle in his eyes. Clint was open, honest and I immediately bonded with him.
“Don’t cheat the transition” he said.
From there, immediately into individual therapy sessions for all of us. We had to spread out. The team knew our story and each therapist fit us perfectly. Lyle had Jim, the wise elder shaman that also lead our ceremonies. He smudged us, was gentle and had a wisdom that could relate to Lyle’s spirit. A sweet man, Ted D. was Arlo’s therapist. I didn’t have much time with him, but I know that Arlo fell in love with him. I was so grateful for that. And I had the lovely Lindsey who was so refreshing. She felt like someone that would be a very good friend of mine in Chatham if she lived here. She gave me permission to feel my feelings. Sometimes I don’t have compassion for myself and she was great at helping with that.
The first assignment was to write a timeline of our lives, the good, the bad and the ugly. I was surprised at what made me sob. Losing Uncle Mark, realizing how my best friends must have felt when we lost Zafer, the pride I felt at being born in a trailer, the “crucible” I have created. Burning everything down and starting anew.
From there, we were asked to write letters and to go to that childlike emotional state and let your emotions flow. I went out to the chapel and sat by the fire and started writing. I had lots of letters to write. As I was writing one to Zafer, the 400 year old doors creaked open and a white wolf like dog came in and licked me. I gave him a pat and he walked back out the door.
It felt great to write those letters. A weight was lifted, although it was emotionally exhausting.
Jim, the shaman, gathered Lyle, Arlo and I back into the chapel and we had a ceremony around the 7 directions. I had only heard of the 4 directions. He explained East; New Beginnings, South; Finding one’s truth, West ;Going within, North; where the veil is the thinnest & our loved ones, Father Sky; Potential, Mother Earth; Healing and Abundance, and Unknown; Trust and Faith, Forgiveness.
We made prayer tobacco ties and tied cloth and tobacco into 7 specific colored cloths. We prayed into each bundle as we built and tied. I put the most amount of tobacco into the unknown which was a purple square.
Lyle and Arlo had a ritual of walking each night after dinner into the snow and the first night they happened upon an elk. It had a huge rack and just watched them. When they described it they said they were talking about Zafer, the good times and being grateful for him. The shaman mentioned these are no coincidences.
There was so much going on in my mind and so much to process that sleep was difficult even though we were in this cocoon of complete care and warmth. I woke up one night at 3am and just put on my mittens, hat and boots and went walking into the night. The stars were a bazillion more than at home. I walked out of the house and the vastness overcame me and I just started laughing and running and jumping in the snow. Something about nature, the universe, the cosmos, being so much bigger than us tiny humans made me so happy even in my sorrow and troubles. I love that walk and the spirituality of the desert. Incredible healing.
The second day of yoga, Clint came and he clued in that we had sorrow, grief, difficulties, perhaps some anger and he choreographed a beautiful class of partner poses. Poses that are about support and connection. We were deeply moved and I believe it was a turning point in our healing. He snuck out so we could have family time as we were a puddle on the floor.
We met with our therapists every day and the second day we read our letters to them. And believe me, they were not pretty. There is something about witnessing the pain with no judgement that helped me release the feelings. An acknowledgement that I felt that and it was my truth. Might be far from the truth, but that is MY TRUTH. My story. It was another deeply healing session. And someone to witness and reflect with made it that much better.
The next task was to get to Taos to have massage. OMG. Essential Massage in Taos, I highly recommend. We were all stoned from such great bodywork.
Ted Wiard, the founder joined us that evening for a “Ted Talk” and he explained the story of the Chapel. Ted is a joyful, full of light mischievous character, and also has a depth to him that he was gifted from his losses. He immediately connected with Arlo because of his love of youth. I appreciate his special attention to Arlo knowing what it’s like to lose a brother and knowing where many people head after a tragedy (betty ford center etc.). Ted built the chapel with 10 12-year-old boys that he homeschooled. He took on this challenge. The chapel has so much love and symbolism built into every crack and door and cross. It has a story about the boys, the stories, the losses, the meaning and it draws people from all over that need to honour their dead including Zafer.
And I found fascinating the research and studies that Ted has embarked on with his ministry background. After a traumatic complicated loss, the brain reacts like a physical brain injury with loss of short term memory loss, confusion, concentration issues, irritability etc. The neural pathways start to work differently and we go through a process of denial/insulation, anger/protest, bargaining/cognitive understanding, depression/sad surrender, acceptance/acknowledgement of a fact, the unknown/spirit connection and forgiveness of self, relocation/service-concrete to abstract.
Loss causes us to dig deep into all of our childhood losses and bring those back up. We tend to go back to infancy and early childhood behavior and sometimes have tantrums. If we embrace it, we can heal those areas and it becomes a super power. We are given a gift from this horrible situation which makes sense. There has to be something positive from such pain.
But we need to accept grief and do the inner work for this to happen.
If we push it down like nothing has happened or it is too painful to deal with, we will not realize the potential magic and spirit that is there for us.
Ted told me that people that experience traumatic loss often start popping up like a prairie dog and just peeking out of their hole at around 2 and ½ to 3 years after the loss.
I think I’m popping up. I think I’m seeing the light out of the hole just a little bit.