A few days ago when I was on El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, I  visited a village that was lived in for hundreds of years and was only completely abandoned about fifty years ago.  It was all built of rough lava rocks—even the painfully uneven floors of the homes—and few bigger than a single room. They all had small garden spaces enclosed by low walls also made of porous volcanic rocks. The surrounding lands would be suitable for goats to graze but little else. 

As often happens to me as a lifelong story teller (if only to myself most of the time), I looked at one of these little gardens, and a woman who had lived there centuries before appeared in my imagination.  I saw her standing over young corn plants only about two feet high and still shiny and light green because dust and time had not yet dulled their lustre.

I had been feeling a little low and was casting about for signs of something that would help me through this time. I thought about how the woman would feel as she tended her spring garden, stroking the soft and pliant young leaves, completely comfortable with the patience a garden requires. The corn would form soon enough.  The squashes would come in their time. She could see the young plants and know that all they needed was time and her tender care. 

I felt as if my entire surroundings were vibrating with the same message, and all day I tried to see things through the lens of patience. The crumbling houses that had been left unrestored were patient about the time it took to return to the earth.  The wildflowers growing in the spaces between the rocks had awaited the time and place to set down roots.  The entire coast was a story of waves shaping the cliffs over endless time.

My travel companion Francine has known me about forty years, and in another conversation about healing we were having a few days ago, she commented that I’d never been very content with a slow pace for anything.  “You want things to happen boom-boom-boom,” she said. And it’s true. I check my watch every few minutes when things seem to be taking too long. I walk faster than I need to a lot of the time. I interrupt people before they have finished talking because I think I’ve already gotten their point. I dig into the grocery bag to eat something before I’ve gotten home.  I could go on, but I’ve lost patience with thinking of other examples. 

I need to let my life after losing Ivan take the shape it will.  I have to remind myself that moving on sometimes means not moving at all. It means waiting for the right moment. It means recognizing that growth is happening even if too slowly for me to notice it. It means being present rather than focusing on what’s next. I can get better at this, but of course I want to be better at it right now.  I’m impatient about being impatient.

Feeling completely at home in my new reality is going to take time. I have to remind myself that if fate is kind, I will have all the time I need. 


The One I Will Become

That moment when you can stop pressing something on a wound because it is no longer bleeding is actually the first stage of healing. It’s raw, painful, throbbing, but you can wrap a wound up, and in most cases go forward with what you were doing before it happened. You still have to pay attention to it, sometimes for a long time, examining it and treating it, first with grimaces, and then more perfunctorily as the bandages come off and your beautiful body, with its remarkable capabilities, makes you whole again. Scarred perhaps, but closed over. Whole, perhaps but changed. And maybe in time you forget. Or maybe the scar is there for the rest of your life. 

Huge emotional losses are a bit like this.  First you feel as if you will never stop bleeding. You look in the mirror and see a person you don’t recognize, who cries all the time, who looks haunted, who can’t do anything but grieve. Then, little by little the mundane creeps in. You still have to shower, you realize you are hungry, you manage to go outside to run an errand. You have to go back to work, maybe, or tend to others who need you.   But you are still throbbing, finding it hard to think about anything but the pain, wincing at the slightest brush of a memory.

Then you find you can manage more things, but you have to call up a robot self to do it.  As Emily Dickinson so brilliantly describes it, ‘After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” She describes how in this “hour of lead,” “the feet, mechanical go round” in a “wooden way.” Exactly. You might find yourself being more polite than usual, because you can’t really think of anything to say except what your mother told you to say to grownups.  But you do more and more of the little things, like buying groceries, getting gas, maybe even having coffee or a walk with a friend. The wound doesn’t require all of your attention anymore. 

It still can break open.  You are still far from “healed,” if that word can even be used for this kind of wound. This is a lengthy period, one that may last for months, or even years. You still cry, maybe less frequently and probably more briefly, but the ambushes still come every day. But somehow your daily life, or perhaps a new project or obligation, begins to offer you protection.  The wound closes over, but underneath you are still far from whole. You find it a little easier to get through the day. Routines start to matter, activities start to absorb you. You are capable of genuine distraction from the loss. 

And then you realize you made it through a day without crying. You shock yourself with the realization that—can it be?—you went through a whole day without thinking about the person you lost. You are not sure you like this. It seems disloyal, cold, and that is not at all how you feel.  But inevitably, this happens again and again, and you start wondering whether those people for whom “never a day passes” without thinking of the person they lost years before maybe need more help than you do. Or maybe they aren’t being 100 percent truthful. Or maybe everyone is simply different. Or maybe some wounds are too big. You thank whatever internal force gives you the power to set your life right again, because you know you are truly on your way forward.

That’s where I am now, having made it through the bleeding and into the tender stage of the scarring. I do make it through some days without tears.  I realize sometimes with genuine surprise how long it has been since my attention has been drawn back to my sons. I am getting back to a feeling of wholeness. Changed, scarred, but whole again.

I love this line from Josh Groban’s  song,”Let Me Fall”:

Someone I am 

Is waiting for courage 

The one I want 

The one I will become 

Will catch me 

That’s what healing means to me.  I didn’t ask to fall off this cliff. I don’t want to be in midair. But the person I become because of this suffering will be exactly the iteration of Laurel I need to be to step with confidence into my future. She will catch me.


The Way to My Own Door

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

I am in my hotel in Lisbon, passing the time from 4AM, when jet lag roused me, until the city resumes its life. Something that needed attention on my website got me looking at old diary entries, which I like to do this from time to time, not so much out of nostalgia, but to be reminded of all the opportunities for growth my life has given me.  

Recently my posts have focused, for obvious reasons, on the death of my son Ivan, but looking at the entries from the past three years, I see how rich my life has been.  It’s been marked by pivotal decisions, such as trading the security of home, familiarity, and possessions for the chance of a more vibrant and fulfilling life in Canada. It’s been shaped by times of solitude, some chosen and some imposed on me by Covid quarantines, that provided opportunities for reflection and inner growth. It’s been reshaped and reconsidered by my decision to “live travelly,” not just on long cruise assignments that took me all over the world, but by my first sustained solo travel on land. It’s been enriched by a rekindling of my love of writing. It has changed simply as a result of growing older and liberating myself from the burdensome expectations of others. Some boundaries have been shattered by my greater willingness to be outside my comfort zone, and other boundaries have been strengthened as I come to better understand my worth. 

Now, however, I find myself wondering what will constitute a full and authentic life going forward. It’s understandable that I should feel this way after such a great loss.  It’s understandable to question a future that doesn’t include the active state of motherhood that has been central to my existence for over forty years. It’s understandable that I should feel the stuffing knocked out of me, the once light footsteps more of a limp. It should come as no surprise that I have trouble getting excited about anything.

Where is the adventurer Laurel, the curious, observant Laurel, the boundlessly energetic Laurel, the one hungry for new experiences and insights?  The one I captured in the photos below. I like her more than this one I am now. I want, as Walcott puts it, to welcome myself like an old love at the door. To give back my heart to itself, to the face in the mirror, who these days doesn’t look quite like the Laurel I remember.

I have to find a way to be, now that I must carry this loss with me as part of who I am. I know I need time to see what my healing will look like. Already I see glimmerings of the spirit I used to have. It sometimes gently nudges and sometimes outright argues with the flattened me, saying “get up and look around.” Be alive to something, on my way to being alive to everything again. This day, this meal, this friend, this mundane moment made special just by stopping to notice it. This sight. This insight. I must rescue the love trapped in the grief, and use its power it to find my way to that place where I can be the best me again.


I Also Had This

I have been in San Diego for the last bit of time, seeing many of my longtime friends. It’s been a bumpy ride, full of both immensely gratifying expressions of love and also gut-clawing moments of loss. It’s going to take more than one post to work through all the things I think it is important to get into words, but I want to start here.

When I am feeling confused, or lost in what to make of the new reality of my life, I find that I often say out loud to both my sons, “Okay, help me out here.” I ask them what I need to know, do, realize in order to put all this loss in perspective. In order to know how to move on with my own blessed and beautiful life.

I believe they speak to me. They tell me to look around and see the messages that are right in front of me. A few days ago, I was walking on the trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (photo above). It was so beautifully lit with spring flowers, wind-carved sandstone cliffs, white breakers and brilliant blue water out to the horizon. I realized I was crying as I stood and felt the warm air and heard the crash of the surf. Ivan wasn’t here. I can’t bring him here next year, or ever. It is too late. I can’t change any of it.

Adriano comes back often to be with me now in spirit, brushing one shoulder while Ivan hovers at the other. ‘What can you tell me?” I asked as I walked along the path. Ahead I saw a single bench at a viewpoint and was momentarily disappointed to see it was occupied because I wanted to sit and think for a while. There was a father explaining to a boy of about seven how the helicopter that had just gone by managed to fly. His younger brother sat on their mother’s lap, listening also.

And there was the lesson my own children wanted to tell me. I shouldn’t dwell on just the awful final chapters for each of them. We had sat as an intact family just that way. I have countless moments of absolute joy in being their mother, and they were bathed in love. There was a time when a caring father was part of it too.

I had that.

No, I have that forever.

An electronic photo frame comes out of storage when I am in any place for more than a few weeks. It changes as I grapple with what I feel comfortable seeing. For many years I didn’t want to look at pictures of my family because all I could see were faces that didn’t realize the train wreck that was coming for us all.

I think I’ve changed. I think I can come to see those photos, those memories, as a time I once had, a time that I couldn’t hang on to, but that needs to be remembered, treasured, heard. I am so very blessed to have had those beautiful boys to love and cherish. They want me to remember that, and to let their faces, their precious hearts tell me through all those memories how much I was loved in return.