My mother used to say I was “so demonstrative,” because I loved to hold hands with my boyfriend, or put my arm around a friend. It was meant as a criticism, because what she really meant was that I was expressing with my body more than was seemly for a girl of good repute.  I never understood why I shouldn’t show through touch how I felt about someone.  I still don’t.

In museums I often stand at a distance and whisper about how great something is. I want to do what seems the most natural thing—to connect physically with what is mesmerizing.. Were artists  really thinking “I hope this is roped off so that people only see it from beyond arm’s length”?  Works of art vibrate with life, telling stories that can’t really be complete without direct contact.

I get it.  Masterpieces would be wrecks if we all could indulge.  But still, the sparks that touch creates are such a part of being alive. I think of movies I’ve seen—ET’s finger for one, and so many others where touch sent a person into another reality, or where it was the precursor to love. It is such a huge part of how we know that anything is real. 

I had such a moment recently. I was on the island of Lewis, off northwestern Scotland, visiting the Calanais Stones,  a Neolithic site known for several groups of deliberately  placed upright monoliths. Unlike Stonehenge, which this site predates, you can still walk around freely among the more than three dozen stones at the main site.  This meant that I could stand close enough to the stones to touch them, but even before I did, I found myself unexpectedly fighting back tears. I was standing in the middle of the story of everyone involved with creating this place—their lives, their beliefs, their needs. They must have had blistered hands and exhausted bodies. They must have stood together and admired their work. They must have hoped it could deliver whatever powers they needed it to have. And here I was, centuries later touching the same sparkling and corrugated shards of volcanic rock and feeling a link to everyone who has ever shared the same emotions I feel, the same hopes, the same uncertainties. 

Whether it’s Neolithic stones, or the thick impasto of Van Gogh or Monet, or the smooth surfaces of Barbara Hepworth and Constantin Brancusi, being able to touch connects us to others far beyond our time and place. People who know me see how I seek out artisan-made jewelry and textiles  because I want to sense the hands that shaped the metal, wove the design, set the stone. But most touch doesn’t reach across time and place. Most of it connects us more intensely to what is happening in the present. I recall one point in my time as a cruise lecturer when I had been away from home for several months, and I felt an almost electrical jolt from the grasp of a deck hand helping me off a tender onto the ship. “I have not been touched in such a long time,“ I thought, and realized how much that mattered, how much my life was not in harmony with that basic need. 

It’s why that extra second or two transforms a hug of greeting into a real connection.  Why snuggling may be more intimate than sex. It’s why it matters so much to me that after being on a ship for a few weeks, some waiters and bar crew put their hand on my shoulder when they are at my table, or give me a high five or a hug when they see me. It tells me we mean something to each other. It’s a way to know that we are real, both to ourselves and to others, some from the Stone Age and some right now. My mother was wrong. Be demonstrative, then be demonstrative some more. Touch as if your life depended on it, because in many ways it does. 


Maybe It’s Not About Iceland at All

Today is my last day of a month in Iceland.  What was supposed to be a shorter assignment was  doubled when the speaker set to replace me canceled suddenly. The lovely thing about the way I am living now is that I can say yes to so many things without encumbrances, including not going home when scheduled. 

I have been puzzling over why I feel so melancholic about leaving. The scenery is magnificent but I have been seeing much of the same kind of beauty in every port. I can’t say Iceland is my favourite place I’ve ever been, or if it would make “best cruises ever” list except for how much time I had to form a feeling of intimacy with it that I can’t get when ports and countries go rushing by. And I certainly don’t want to move here! Puffer jackets, wool sweaters and even long underwear some days in mid-summer?  I need shorts, sandals, and t-shirts to feel really at home this time of year. 

So why was I tearing up a little today that  this is my last waterfall through tundra-covered rocks, my last chance to pick Icelandic thyme and smell its fragrance, to feel the cold mist on my cheeks, to watch the fog brush the tops of jagged volcanic peaks.  I have been in this port four times, so why was I taking some of the same pictures, like this one from the deck of the ship?  It’s not even as good as some I took on visits one, two, and three. 

It hit me just a few moments ago that it is because goodbyes are so much harder than they used to be. Maybe in our seventies we start to grasp that even if we outlive the actuarial charts, we don’t have forever. We may not even have much time at all. I am not feeling morbid about this, just realistic that probably I am seeing this place for the last time. Lucky me to have seen it at all.  Luckier me to have seen it so abundantly. But still…

I think my mood today may not be about Iceland at all. It’s all the goodbyes life hits us with.  Some are heartbreaking at the time, and others later. We often don’t know we have seen someone for the last time until we learn that we won’t ever be seeing them again.  So far I have been lucky, in that my age-mate friends from high school, college, and various jobs are almost all still here, but I recognize that the time is approaching when I will get sad news a lot, if I am among those who live longer. I imagine I have already seen some of my friends for the last time, but I just don’t know it yet. 

The Dao teaches that everything contains the seed of its opposite.  Maybe that’s part of it too.  I often whisper to myself “I am so happy,” while on a bus taking me on a tour through wonderful countryside, or watching beautiful landscapes go by from the windows and decks of the ship.  All the sensory, soul pleasure of the moment, however, gets more and more tinged with sadness at this point in my life. Often thoughts of my two lost boys are next, as if the joy isn’t real without the loss. One of my favourite words, which I first heard used to describe Strauss’s “Four Last Songs,” is “autumnal.”  The bittersweetness of this stage of life can be felt at any time of year, or perhaps more precisely can never not be felt any more. 

I am just leaving Iceland, not losing it. It’s not as complicated as it is with people, because I don’t have an emotional investment. I won’t be leaving a chunk of my heart behind. I think I feel the emotional heaviness today because of all the other times when leaving has become losing.  Particularly one time, seven months ago, when I learned that I had had the last earthly contact I would ever have with my beloved son Ivan.  My goodbye to him continues every day.  A cold, rainy day in Iceland is a good time to grieve all the leavings, all the losses. A good time too to practice gratitude for all the memories and all the time I still have to experience things autumnally. Even if it is for the last, or perhaps the only time, it is good to be here, good to be wherever I am. 

My last photo of Iceland leaving the fjord for open sea.


What I Remember

I am feeling melancholic in a way I didn’t expect, as I come to the last few days in Iceland before the ship turns south for the British Isles.  I’ve been in Iceland a month now, for all or part of four different sailings. There are some ports I have seen four times and none I have seen less than twice. In at least the parts of towns that cruisers see, I know where everything is, what is just a bit off the beaten path, and what is worth seeing or doing a second or even a third time. I feel settled in, as if these familiar cliffs, valleys, rocks, fjords, flowers and birds are at least a little bit mine. 

Today I spent the day in Heimaey, the largest of the Westman Islands just off the coast of Iceland, and as I came back to the ship on the tender, I thought about how this was the last time we would stop here.  Never say never, of course, but despite the soul soothing I have gotten from Iceland’s clean, clear air and water, its friendly people, and its magnificent scenery, when I think of how many more places I want to go for a first time or return to, I really doubt I will be back.

That got me thinking about what I remember, not just about here, but from all my travels. What sticks? What, on the other hand, is really just one wonderful moment before moving on? I have to admit, I have trouble remembering what I did even yesterday when I am cruising because I live most thoroughly in the present when I am traveling. It seems as if trying to burn a lasting takeaway into my mind is only a distant thought compared to what is registering with my five senses at the moment. Perhaps that’s part, at least, of why I post  here so rarely when I am on the road, or sea in this case.

I rarely remember the weather in the places I’ve been unless it is an essential part of the experience. I don’t often remember whether a day was sunny or cloudy, chilly or warm. I don’t remember food. In fact, I am amazed that on my land trip from Croatia to Barcelona, I can only remember eating once or twice.  Obviously I did, but most food just doesn’t leave a lasting impression. As for people, I meet so many, but I only remember a few.  Often I remember vividly the person I was traveling with, how their being illuminated my time in their presence.

I remember some things very well.  Views, for one.  I remember standing overlooking a spectacular river in Montenegro.  I remember being gobsmacked by the Matterhorn.  I remember looking out over the Negev desert.  I remember the hugeness of the Amazon, the power of waterfalls, the outlines of islands. Sunsets, sunrises.  

I remember people whose stories seemed written on their faces.  Little villages where life seems to work despite hardship.   Cities buzzing with people going about their lives every day, not just the one I happen to be there. Children chattering in languages they have no idea how few people understand. 

Sometimes I wish I had noticed more, asked more questions. Stood a little stiller, been a little quieter a little longer . But those chances are gone. Now all I hope for is to expand my capacity for amazement in the moment, because that is the only place we actually are.

Of course Mary Oliver says it far better than I can. Here is one of her poems:

My work is loving the world.

BHere the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness. Hear the quickening yeast; they’re the blue plums.

Hear the clam deep in the speckled sand.  

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, 

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.


Whale Time

I haven’t posted in quite a while. I’m not sure why not, other than it must be a mix of having simultaneously not much and too much to write about. I suspect this is a common state of mind for people returning to what passes for normal while still processing an enormous loss that takes away the feeling that things will ever feel normal again. 

For the “back to normal” part, most days pass now without debilitating emotional surges.  I suspect people I meet for the first time would have no idea that there is a fairly freshly grieving Laurel underneath the cheerful, friendly one.  They can’t know the deflation of energy I feel, the pep talks I sometimes have to give myself to rise to being the person it used to feel so natural to be.  Sometimes I realize that a day or more has passed without a huge rush of overwhelming sadness, but then, there it is again.  Something triggers the enormity of the truth that I will have to go through life without either of my children. No one to call, no one to send a photo to, no one to joke with, no one to do any of the things that require both people still to be in this world.  

But everything else is pretty much as it was. I am currently on a cruise assignment that is going very well. I give and get a lot of affection from the crew. I find guests who are fun, intelligent and entertaining to do things with. I get to talk to audiences about subjects I find interesting—one of the things that is central to my identity and that I know I am good at. 

There have been plenty of triggers, plenty of opportunities to try to find meaning in the experiences I have been having on this remarkable itinerary that has taken me from the west coast of France, through the British Isles and now extended time in Iceland. I have wiped away tears on buses, walks, and boat rides.  I have stared out at dramatic land and seascapes sometimes with my head buzzing and other times empty. I have passed hours, and sometimes days without any sorrow at all, just wonder and gratitude.  It’s not like there hasn’t been plenty to write about.  

I guess what I am trying to say is that it seems important to me now not to try to force anything to have meaning. Archibald MacLeish said a poem should not mean but be, and I guess that’s true of a grieving person finding her way as well. So the simple answer to why I haven’t posted is I haven’t wanted to work as hard as writing demands.

Today I went whale watching.  It was a huge success.  One woman said she counted sixteen surfacings.  I’m not sure how many were different whales but I would guess at least a dozen.  Humpbacks in particular love it here in the north of Iceland.  We would see one surface and the boat would try to get as close as it safely could, but usually by then the back had arched and the fluke had risen and the whale was gone.  Then we would stare out at water that seemed empty but is full of life, waiting the five, eight minutes the whale would stay under before it surfaced again. Occasionally it would break very close to the boat, but often much further away. Or there would be another we would go off to see.  

I struggled with the waiting. I’ve always been like that.  Maybe that’s why I hadn’t gone whale watching before. These days I am trying to talk with myself about patience, since something is telling me it is key to my well being. So I thought about whale time. For the whale, the day was going just as it should.  It came to the surface, breathed a little, then dove again to do the business of its life. It changed direction when that seemed like a good idea. It stayed down for as long as felt right. I was the one out of sync, out of my element floating on the water, feeling stuck in a moment I wished would pass. I need more of my life to be like whale time.  And there it is—a flicker of meaning worth writing about.  A long time coming, but it feels good. It feels like me.



My month-long stay in the Comox Valley is almost at an end, so  today I took one last walk to the tidal estuary a few minutes from the place I am staying.  The water is so shallow that at low tide as much as a kilometer of barnacle-crusted rocks, broken shells and sandy silt  is exposed. Today the tide was the lowest I had seen (see the photo above), reducing the waters of the strait to just a ribbon between the shore on this side and the mountains of mainland British Columbia on the other. I decided to walk all the way out, and it took more than a half an hour to put my toes in the open water. 

I was surprised to see how many different kinds of shellfish live in these waters—I would guess I saw the shells of at least two dozen species, mostly clams of various sizes, but literally thousands of oyster shells as well. A small river feeds into the estuary and at low tide it forms channels that support the lives of aquatic plants and even a few tiny fish. Scattered here and there, wherever the land was even a few inches higher were swaths of grasses and other plants that could withstand periods of inundation.  Tiny crabs that could have fit easily on top of a quarter scurried from one hiding place to another. And of course the flats I walked on were home to so much that I couldn’t see, or at least failed to notice. 

One particular cluster of plants stuck out, literally, from the rubble. I hadn’t seen any other plants like it, and indeed there was no other vegetation of any sort near it.  ‘Why is it there?” I asked myself. Why only there, and why only it?  That got me thinking about the whole idea of habitat.  There was something about that spot that was perfect. That spot and no other allowed that plant to fulfill its purpose, to reach its potential—words that we more often use when we talk about people, but nonetheless apply to all living things. 

As I crunched my way back across the flats, my thoughts stayed on the idea of how there is a right place for all living things.  How when that place vanishes they do too, and when it is sustained, they thrive. I saw myself as both an interloper in their habitat and as a member of a species able to make a wide range of habitats its own.  We put on shoes of various sorts to go places bare feet can’t take us.  We pile on parkas and long underwear to live where we would otherwise freeze.  We build structures to keep inhospitable climates out, and invent ways of travel that extend our range far beyond what we could reach with only our bodies’ capabilities. 

The definition of habitat is quite simple. It is”the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.” So yes, the clams and I were both in our natural habitats in a sense, even though I was just a visitor. When I hike in the forests I belong a little to it but not as fully as the birds, the  ferns, and the cedars.  My ambles become more special because I know I will be leaving.  The flexibility of being human is a great gift, but there’s a loss in it too.  Speaking for myself, but perhaps for some others as well, I don’t think it is possible ever to be fully at home anywhere because there are so many other places I can comfortably be. I am not like that plant that found only one option in the middle of that tidal flat and stuck with it.  I am partly at home and partly a visitor everywhere I go.

What is my habitat? Well, right at this moment, it is in the living room of my rental in Royston BC, sitting on a leather couch with my iPad balanced on my thighs as I write this.  Outside my windows several trees move languidly in the light afternoon breeze. A rooftop of another home is visible  between them, habitat for others of my species. It’s warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts and no shoes. I have food, air, shelter—all that I need for the opportunity to thrive. When I leave, I will find another, and another, because  as long as I can adjust to my surroundings, my habitat is everywhere. 


Body Love

I have been traveling the world as a cruise lecturer for over a decade now, and I always came home actually looking forward to going on a diet. I’ve done quite well managing my weight throughout my adult life, learning from childhood obesity that I never wanted to feel that uncomfortable in my body again.  I’ve been told that fat cells don’t disappear once they are established.  They are greedy little buggers that lurk in a shrunken state eager to fill up again. Maybe that isn’t all that scientific, but ask anyone who has ever been overweight how easy it is to gain weight, and compare that to someone who has never been anything but thin to average, and I rest my case.

In the past, whenever I finished a cruise assignment I stepped on the scale at home to assess the damage and got rid of any gained weight by the time my next contract started. This wasn’t entirely vanity—I have a thing about the expense (and admittedly a feeling of defeat) in having to buy larger clothing.  But something in my attitude has been changing in the last few years (see my entry “Dear Feet, I Love You”), and a new mental calculus has recently taken over. I am moving away from “how much do I weigh?” or  “am I going to need a larger size?” to “how does it feel to be in this body?” And the answer is  usually “pretty darn good,” and when it isn’t, I make changes to get back to that.  

When I moved to Victoria, I threw away my scale and switched to assessing my weight by whether I could button my pants.  Now I have pull-ons—the best fashion innovation since cute flats!—and that enables substantially more denial. Overall, I am not sure how reliable weight is as an arbiter anyway, because changes in body mass index and fat distribution are natural parts of aging. As a result my pear shape is starting to resemble an apple, and I accept that I would need far more motivation than I currently possess to change that.  

And that’s okay. When I look in the mirror, what I see is an amazing organism that has served me so well  for so long, and continues to do so. It doesn’t matter if my stomach isn’t flat, and that so many parts look, well, kind of doughy. It is the story of my body’s survival to this age, and I am getting so much better at being grateful rather than judgmental.  

Since losing Ivan, I tend to view everything through a new lens, trying to find what messages are there for me to take into this new chapter.  One things rings loud and clear: my sons, wherever they are now, see me for all I was to them and who I am today, and that has nothing to do with my body at all.  ‘Love yourself, “ they tell me, “because we can’t love you in the land of the living anymore.” It is up to me not to look negatively at how my body has changed, but simply to love myself however I am.  

Which leads me to the insight that made me sit down to write this blog entry today. Because I was the only real stability in Ivan’s life, it was probably scary for him to watch me age. Though we rarely touched on the inevitability of my death, I know we were both rattled by what this would mean for him.  As he saw my hair go gray and my skin get more wrinkled, did he have moments of panic?  I suspect he did.  It wasn’t just vanity that made me want to continue to look youthful; it was critical to his sense of well being that I did.  One of the few ways my life actually feels better now is that I am free not to have to live up to what Ivan needed.  And of course, he will now be spared going on without me.

We all know our children can’t help but see the swollen blue veins in our hands, the loose skin around our joints, the droops and creases in our faces.  We want to reassure them they don’t need to worry. We have always wanted to comfort them in ways we—and they—know we cannot.  We try as hard as we can to convey that really nothing has changed, that we are as vibrant, and energetic, and youthful as ever. I escaped this feeling of responsibility in the most brutal way possible, but now I can see what an unacknowledged burden it was.  

In the horrible deflation I experienced after Ivan died, I thought to myself, “I guess this is how it feels to grow old.”  It was a strange thought for me, because even though I am in my mid-seventies, I feel scarcely older than I did ten or even fifteen years ago.  I have since recovered at least some of my energy, and I intend to take good care of my wonderful body because I want it to be a help and not a hindrance to the life I want, creases, sags, and all.  I can hear my beautiful boys cheering me on.  They don’t notice the wrinkles at all. 


This Without That

I arrived back in Victoria yesterday evening after a month in the Canary Islands, the south coast of Spain and France, and a week in Paris. After the fitful sleep and predawn awakening typical of jet lag, I went out this morning shortly after daybreak to walk along the city’s Inner Harbour. Unexpectedly, looking out at a beloved place, I started to cry. I so wanted to find a place of beauty and potential for growth to call home, and indeed I have done that. But I wanted to have that without the accompanying loss I have experienced this year with the death of my son. I wanted this without that.

I hope both of my sons, from wherever they are, listened as I poured my heart out, telling them that I hoped they knew that I had been the best mother I could be, and that any way in which I might not have been the audience they needed as they neared the end of their time here in this world was because I needed to protect the part of myself that would have to go on without them. I bore them into a world that would not love them enough, with minds and bodies that would betray them.  A world in which my role at its core would be to give them the absolute faith that they were indeed loved, despite all of that. Yes, like everyone else who has had a part of their guts ripped out by such losses, I feel guilty about thriving, at the same time I know that is what my own spirit calls on me to do now that my beloved children no longer need assurance of my love.  

Only when I let my heart be this open does the universe reply.  I pulled out my camera to record the early light over the harbour, and frowned because there was this log marring the image I wanted to retain. Then I realized that the log was the message. How long ago had it begun its journey from seed to a soft green shoot, to a tree on the rocky shoreline somewhere north of here?  How long had its roots clung to the crevices before it lost its battle with the pounding surf and fallen into the sea? From then, how long until it had been stripped down to just this last bit of itself?

Every living thing comes from somewhere and takes a journey to somewhere else. Sometimes the journey is long  and hard enough to strip us bare.  ‘That’s how mine feels much of the time these days,” I said to myself. And just then, an otter poked its head out of the water, lolled for a moment, and disappeared.  In another way the journey is all about the present, because that is how we live it.  I don’t know how an otter’s mind works, but my guess is it doesn’t focus on more than what juicy morsels lay under the surface of the water. No past, no future.  Those are our burdens, though they both exist only in our heads.

Having these thoughts, I was calm again, ready for my spirit to tell me what it had been thinking while the rest of me had been too busy to stop and ponder. What is emerging as a theme for me in this period while I adjust to the new reality of life without Ivan, is a stronger sense of compassion. In Singapore, my friend Megan bought me a statue of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, whom I first fell for because of his awesome name and then later for his message as he sits, one leg dangling, overlooking the world with the beatific smile of love beyond measure. I find myself stopping before every image of the Buddha I see now, asking for greater patience and more compassion, which I am beginning to understand are intrinsically linked.  

After Adriano died, I found a message a math professor at the community college he was attending had sent to him, telling him how disappointed he had been that Adriano had not finished the class because he had been doing so well. More that two decades later, my eyes still well up as I think of this, because that is how true compassion works.  It’s no more than genuinely noticing others and finding something to brighten their path.  I took this message to heart in my own teaching and asked myself a simple question whenever a stressed student came to me: “How would I want a professor to act if this were Adriano standing at his/her office door?”  Or, as a mentor once said, the only real question to ask is, “what would I do if I loved this student?” 

Since Ivan died, I have felt a surge of compassion, perhaps coming from a need for an outlet for maternal instincts that now have no place to go.  I try harder to see the crew on ships, and other people just going about jobs in roles that often make them close to invisible, as people connected by webs of caring to friends and family I can’t see, who worry about them, rejoice with them, and sustain them. Maybe just by knowing their name without looking at their name tag, I am supporting them on behalf of those who love them and cannot be there. It breaks my heart to read messages on Ivan’s Facebook page, to see how many people really did care about him when he thought he had no one except me. Maybe it falls to me—to all of us really—to make amends for how hard the world can be by treating everyone as beloved. 

Strange how that piece of driftwood became a sermon about compassion. But there’s one more realization it brought me.  Often people talk about how great a life I have, traveling everywhere, free to be wherever I want to be, without much in the way of obligations. Yes, all that is true.  But the part that would make no one want to trade places is what I had to lose in order to be in this position—the security and familiarity of a home, for one thing.  The loss of my entire family and a beloved husband.  Most people don’t even want to try that on for size for even an instant.

I had to lose everything in order to be where I am. In this chapter of my life, stripped bare, may I continue to grow in compassion for all sentient beings struggling with the difficulties of their own journeys. 

May I be a guard for those who need protection;
A guide for those on the path;
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood,
May I be a lamp in the darkness;
A resting place for the weary,
A healing medicine for all who are sick.
For as long as the earth and sky endure,
May I assist until all living beings are awakened.

—Santidevi Prayer



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.