This is the second post in a series I’m calling I Gave Myself the Gift of a Haven Retreat. So Now What? Every winter I hand my blog over to other writers for a few weeks to explore a theme. Today, Carol writes about what the future holds after her stroke and Emily writes about writing through grief. If you’d like to come on a Haven Retreat, here’s our 2015 calendar:
February 25- March 1 (only a few spaces left)
June 3-7 (filling fast)
June 17-21 (filling fast)
April 29- May 3- Haven joins the fabulous luxury guest ranch Ranch at Rock Creek for an activity-based retreat that will blow your mind!Click here for more info.
You do not have to be a writer to come. Just a seeker…
Living the Life We Are Given: CTA- Etiology Unknown
By Carol Wooten
I didn’t choose my life purpose, it chose me. A sudden vice like pain at the right occiput hijacked my attention away from the conversation I was having with friends at a summer patio birthday party. Interesting, their words sounded as if they were coming from a TV in the next room at a cheap motel. If I made a BIG effort I comprehended them. More compelling was the absence of the feeling of knowing we take for granted. Was I was leaning over or sitting upright on the picnic table bench?
“Would you like to go inside? “ asked Pam. “Yes,” I said. However I couldn’t get my body to follow the intention to stand up. Blessed to be in the presence of nurses, all of whom had been in Vietnam, two came to my side. Each supported an elbow lifting and guiding me up right. OK, standing up. Now what about walking. My left foot felt rooted. It required a nudge from Pam’s toe to prompt it to slide forward. I stepped right, nudged, slid left foot, stepped right. One slow careful step at a time.
To safety – the living room couch. Only it wasn’t safe. I was swamped by forceful dramatic waves of nausea. My friends, some former group members, will think I’m drunk, I mused. I did my best to keep every part of me still even my lidded eyeballs as if I could prevent the waves of upheavals. My friends kept me overnight, thinking it must have been the heat or too much to drink. I was right. They called my husband to tell him I would spend the night. They brought me to the ER at 6 AM after I toppled to the floor. They saw me try to crawl to the bathroom: my left knee, arm, torso failed to support me or to move. I collapsed on my tummy, felt like a beached whale. I suspected I had had a stroke.
The CT Scan confirmed my intuition: a blood clot blocked a tiny artery in my cerebellum. Blood thinner was given, followed by an extensive diagnostic work up - CVA: Cardio Vascular Accident, etiology unknown. It was 1985. I was 38. Then came rehabilitation.
My attention wandered. I did my best to graduate from Stand Up class, brush my teeth, dress myself in sweats: ADL’s. Activities of Daily Living filled my day. Exhausted after dinner, but not too tired to swap stories with friendly fellow patients in the “dining room.” Jack’s wife, an attractive well groomed woman, told me she was a figure skating champion and teacher. He worried she would have to take care of him and lose time on time on the ice. He wondered if he’d fly fish next summer. Arnold, an accountant who worked so hard to get his thin body to stand. He failed to graduate from the Stand Up class. He refused to join us in the dining room. I understood why.
Each patient at Saint Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco had a private room. Mounted on the wall at the end of each hospital bed was a TV over which hung a crucifix. If this were a movie, I’d have changed the channel by now. Who wants to be stuck in a Grade B melodrama? Not me. A Jewish woman from New York City, a former high school history teacher, a new Psychotherapist. “I” planned to build a thriving practice and a dynamic career in the non profit sector by age 40. Then my husband of six years and I would have our first child. Maybe another or I’d get a PhD. Looking at the crucifix I understood “I” was not in charge. “I” had to surrender, welcome this thing called stroke. IT became my teacher. Now, my work is Keeping Hope Alive for other folks with strokes by passing on hard won lessons.
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
Gift of Haven
By Emily Janowsky
Paint with beauty and boldness on the page, Laura’s words echo in my mind as I recall the four days we spent in that serene Montana wilderness, basking in the warmth of a cozy lodge and the nurturing, supportive atmosphere that can develop quickly given the right conditions – in this case, ten diverse but like-minded, creative women and a very skilled and encouraging facilitator.
Show me how big your brave is. Why is it I somehow hear this exact phrase of the Sarah Bareilles song when scanning through my pre-set radio stations. You could say it’s just a coincidence. After all, I’m in the car a lot, shuttling my kids around and doing errands, and the song does still get a lot of airtime even though it’s been more than a year since its release. But I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.
I don’t believe it was a coincidence that my plans to celebrate my mom’s birthday fell through on the exact day I first saw Laura’s announcement on Facebook that she had limited spaces available for her Haven retreat a short month away. And of course, that retreat would be held on my mom’s 75th birthday, a milestone to which I’d ascribed a huge amount of meaning, feeling inspired to mark the day in a significant way given she couldn’t do so herself.
Show me how you big your brave is. I hear my mom’s voice, gentle but strong, and see the love in her face. She was always there, behind me or beside me, offering words of encouragement and support. You can do it, Emmaline. I heard this voice for forty years and it became enmeshed in my psyche.
You got this, I tell myself, trying to fill the void that has existed since my mom’s death three years ago. I’m learning to give these words the same weight I gave hers, and it hasn’t been an easy process.
“Brave” is a word Laura uses frequently to describe the women who come to Haven. I have to admit, there were times in the beginning when I didn’t feel brave. Most of us had come alone, called to retreat for different reasons, whether a major life event or simply a gift to oneself. We came with our stories, our experiences and perspectives, and a willingness to share them.
Is everyone a writer, even at some level? We all have stories within us. What compels some of us to share them on the page? For me, I’ve always loved hearing others’ stories, have always been drawn to memoirs and biographies over other genres like fantasy, mystery or sci-fi. The human experience is what interests me, and as I get older, I find myself more willing to share my experience with others.
My mom’s death from cancer three years ago and the ensuing grief have shaped me as significantly as any other major life event. I know that would surprise many people, but losing her is right up there with becoming a mother myself. In fact, I’d put those two events at the top of my list in terms of transformative life experiences. So, I guess it’s no surprise that I find my writing focused on grief, loss, healing, life and death. I was a grief rookie who now considers herself an advocate for the grieving process, with lessons learned that I want to share in the hope of helping others.
Being at Haven was a gift because I left the retreat restored, energized and even more committed to my writing project: Grief, Grit & Grace. Yes, it takes bravery and courage and discipline to make this project a reality. But I view it as both the final stage of my grief journey and a way to honor my mom’s life. I got this.