Gentle Soaring, Focused Hovering

I’m settling into my life in Vermont. Settling and seeking normal. Seeking while knowing that normal as it was known will never return. There is a new normal, a new way of moving through my life holding grief with every step.

The normal of work now involves stepping out for phone calls to help coordinate my dad’s care from the other side of the country. The normal of living alone now involves better meal planning so I don’t skip dinner when the grief feels too heavy to cook. The normal of exercising my body now involves more stiffness, more resistance, more desire for moving slowly. The normal of going to sleep now involves playing guitar, letting the reverberations shake loose my grief & lull my heart to sleep.

There will never be a normal as it was known before. There will always be a “with dad” and “without dad”. A “before death” and “after death”. Right now I feel I am hovering in the space between “before” and “after”. Hovering – intensely aware of the smallest shifts, muscles tensed, fluttery, wondering when “the” moment will come. It makes me think back to a particular day when I was still in Oregon with my dad.

It had been a particularly shocking day and my spirit was reeling as I sat in the car outside my father’s home, staring blankly at the steering wheel. Dad had fallen a few days before and spent the night in the hospital to monitor a small brain bleed. Now he was back and suddenly needed full support. Within a couple days, I went from standing nearby as he carefully took the stairs one at a time, to physically moving his whole, fragile body for him. His body that held mine when I entered the world, his body that was always taller and strong than mine, his body that has now shrunk to weigh less than mine.

In this emotional and physical exhaustion, it began to hit me – the “after” is coming.

Shaking the shock from my mind, I started up the car and drove to the northern side of a nearby lake. I pulled over at a turnout, threw on my running shoes, and stumbled down a tangled & overgrown trail along the water’s edge. I stopped at a small clearing illuminated by the low hanging sun. I sat on a large, sun-bleached piece of driftwood and closed my eyes as a gentle breeze turned sweat to salt on my skin. My spirit leaned into this breeze, receiving the messages the wind was carrying. Rustling leaves whisper “you are supported”. Wind-blown water lapping against the shore sings “don’t forget to rest”. Then, an osprey called out to me, beckoning “open your eyes and see with clear vision”. And so I did.

I opened my eyes and saw this beautiful osprey circling high above the water – circling, seeking, looking. Osprey stopped mid-air, hovering. Powerful wings asking the wind, “is this it? Has the moment come?” I watched Osprey navigate this dance between gentle soaring and focused hovering. Then the hovering changed.

I felt it in my body before I saw it with my eyes. The moment had come. Osprey’s wings folded as they rocketed down into the clear water, breaking through the space between. Almost in the same moment as Osprey dove, they emerged with a juicy fish clutched in sharp talons. Osprey flew straight towards me with their catch, up and up, then sinking slightly on their flightpath to shake & shimmy water from their wings. I watched until Osprey had disappeared into the forest, and imagined the hungry babes joyfully seeing this beautiful osprey returning with dinner.

As I move through my days of not-normal, I see myself mirroring the osprey. I hover – tense and watchful – every time my phone rings with an update on my dad. He isn’t as responsive and seems confused. He slid out of bed again, but don’t worry he didn’t get hurt. He can’t hold himself upright anymore, but he’s not in pain. (He is dying, but they aren’t use these words.) With each text or call, each new piece of information I hover in place & wonder “Is this it? Has the moment come?”.

While I was at the lake, I watched this osprey return again and again to the water. Returning to dance between the gentle soaring and focused hovering. Osprey kept watching with open eyes and awareness, stayed engaged and dove when the moment came. More often than not, Osprey came up with empty talons. But they kept seeking & always came back up to gently soar and rest.

This is what we must do with our grief. We must pay attention, stay present and engaged, and be brave in diving towards the sorrow of our souls. There is nourishment there, swimming under the surface. At times it may feel elusive, helpless, impossible to keep trying. Yet we must remember that our Grief is matched, is made possible by, the depths of Love in our hearts. We must remember this, letting our love hold us as we soar, bolster us each time we hover, and trusting it will carry us when the moment comes.

Note to reader: As I am formally publishing this post, it is exactly 2 days since my father died. I wrote this a week prior, yet it was destined to rest in the purgatory of my draft folder. This post is no longer resting in the space between, and neither am I. I am formally now in the new normal of life “after dad”, adjusting and finding my feet. More to come, as grief moves me.

With love, Rachel

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