August Break: Day Two

the sky over our house last night

I’m not sure why, but the sky here has really been showing off lately, the clouds and light making these amazing patterns and color, stopping me in my tracks, making me bend my head back and stare, whisper “holy wow” and take deep breaths, exhale long sighs.

I was reading this post on Judy Clement Wall’s Zebra Sounds yesterday and clicked on the link to Dirty Footprints Studio and read this post about the art project Connie put together to honor her friend who’d recently passed away. She’d taken a photo of the sky right after she learned he’d died, and couldn’t stop looking at it, taking more pictures of it, thinking about the connection between the sky and those we’ve lost, and she asked her readers to help her create a memorial for her friend–326 people sent her pictures of the sky with a name of one they’d lost, and she made a video.

The response so overwhelmed her, the “stories were so touching and it really proved to me how very connected by love we all truly are,” that she’s extended the project:

So everyone can share the way they were touched and lives were changed by loved ones lost…please, take the time to share a photo of the sky on your blog–and tell us who it is for and how they touched your life–how you remember them.

I’ve been taking so many pictures of the sky lately, and my life has been so changed by loss, that I decided to dedicate this second day of August Break to taking part in this project.

the view from our porch this morning

Connie suggested sharing about one person, but as you know, my most recent loss came as a pair, two separate griefs that are so closely linked in my heart and my memory that I can’t think of one without touching the other.

Obi was our first dog. I learned with him that when you rescue a dog, they actually rescue you, like little Bodhisattvas in fur suits. Obi taught me about fear, both by being fearful so I could see how unfounded and harmful most of our fear is, and by making me feel protected and safe so my own fear softened and relaxed. Obi gifted me a confidence about being loved and capable, about things being okay even when they were terrible, and it fundamentally changed the way I move through the world. I’m still traumatized by how we lost him, (diagnosed with incurable cancer after a check of a tiny lump that we weren’t even worried about when he was only seven years old), but understand that’s the deal with dogs–you will outlive most of the ones you have.

The same week Obi was diagnosed, so was my friend Kelly. We’d met in graduate school and I immediately loved her. She was the kind of person you couldn’t help but adore–funny, smart, creative, strong, and kind. She married another friend from graduate school, Matt, and they moved to Kentucky, which is where they were living with their six month old little boy when she found the cancer. Even though the doctors told her it was a rare form that hardly ever came back, it did, and Kelly passed away six months after my Obi did. She was only 37 years old.

the sky over us in kentucky the day of kelly’s memorial service

Both of these losses were so sad, so shocking, traumatic–both of them were so healthy, so loving and loved, so young, so vibrant and alive when diagnosed. It changed everything for me. I was compelled to begin living my life with my whole, open heart, the beauty and the terror of it, all of it. The grief and the anger that came with having to let them go was the energy behind the birth of this blog, (as well as many other positive changes in my life). I was inspired to rehab my life, and this blog is a way to contemplate, process, record, and share that experience.

Even though it is brutal, loss and grief can be a catalyst for health, sanity, wholeness. It reminds us that we aren’t guaranteed a set amount of time or health, that anything can happen to anyone of us at any time, so we have to squeeze the life out of every second, fully live each moment and be so grateful for every breath, every heartbeat, every sunrise.

Postscript: I had already written this post, scratching it out longhand in my journal, when I turned on my computer this morning to check Facebook to find a status update from Patti Digh that her husband has been diagnosed with cancer. She asked, “Please pray for him, for us.” Only hours before they got the call, Patti had had shared the most amazing picture of the sunset, the view of the sky from where they were on vacation.

While I had entirely other intentions for this post, (to fulfill my August Break commitment, to take part in Connie’s art project), what I really want to do is offer my pictures, my writing, my experience of grief and loss, all my love and my openhearted, precious and messy efforts to live life with my whole heart as an embodied prayer. May John be healthy and well, may their whole family and all those that love them have their worry and sadness softened, may all others who are receiving bad news today be comforted, and may suffering in the world be eased. I also humbly request that if you have any good energy, love or prayers to spare, kind and gentle reader, that you send them John and Patti’s way.

26 thoughts on “August Break: Day Two

  1. carole

    A heartfelt post about loss and our connection to the natural world. I’ve only been back for two days and I’ve noticed the amazing colors our Colorado skies have been showcasing.

    I derived much comfort about my own losses through your words. Thanks for this post.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      The sky here is typically gorgeous, but it’s been a whole other kind of amazing lately, right? And I’m glad this post offered you some comfort, you are so welcome.

  2. drstephm

    I love this post. It’s so interesting because I am always drawn to the sky… and my research and specialty area in psychology is grief. I am now sure the two are connected. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings…and allowing us to be “with” you on your journey.

  3. Tina Tierson

    I cried when I read about John Ptak and then again when I read this amazing post. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, just now, so can only say thank you for being you and for affording me the opportunity of getting to know you. xoxo

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      Sometimes I wonder if you understand, even a little, how special you are? You are a person with a heart so big, so kind. You cry, feel sadness for someone else’s suffering, know that pain and are compassionate. I’m so grateful for you.

  4. Becky

    Jill, loss has been so prevalent in my life the last few years… a day doesn’t go by that I don’t cry for my father or my mother or my dog… I cry for a friendship that ended before it should have and left me searching and wondering and wishing and hoping. I can’t even articulate what all of this has done to me, how I slipped so far under the approaching tide that I didn’t want to come to the surface, I just wanted to slip away. I thought maybe then I would be understood, maybe then I wouldn’t need to grieve.
    And now… coming through the other side of grief and I still ache for the losses.
    I’ll try to take pictures, I’ll try to do this.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      Oh Becky, I know what that feels like, to be stuck in the flow of grief, to feel like you are going to drown and at some point, for even just a moment, you just don’t care if you do. Pema Chödrön told a story once about asking her teacher how to deal with the hard stuff, the difficulty of life (and forgive me, I’m paraphrasing this from memory), and he said that those things are like ocean waves, and we are standing in the sand. The waves knock us down and pull us under, but if we keep getting back up, at some point our strength will have developed and they won’t be as likely to knock us down anymore. I suppose either that or learn to swim really well 🙂

      I just have to keep reminding myself that every time my heart breaks and heals, it gets just the tiniest bit bigger, and even if there are cracks, “that’s how the light gets in.” And I remind myself that at some point, if you have loved, every person will have lost, so I am not alone.

      You are not alone. Sending you so much love.

  5. Sandy V

    Beautiful photos! Such a heart felt post about your loss. It’s so hard to understand cancer and the people it takes way to early from our world! Thanks for sharing.

    {I also used by Day 2 of August Break for my Sky post}

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I know, so many beautiful people lost, for all kinds of reasons. This quote from Thich Nhat Hanh (he said in about the tsunami in Japan) brings me some comfort, or at least a method for coping: “An event such as this reminds us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It helps us remember that what’s most important is to love each other, to be there for each other, and to treasure each moment we have that we are alive. This is the best that we can do for those who have died: we can live in such a way that they continue beautifully, in us.”

  6. Pingback: Piecing together Connie’s sky

  7. Estrella Azul

    I’m all teary now, Jill. Loss and grief are so difficult to deal with, and your post just hit me hard right now when I realize that I’m still processing the death of my uncle.
    This isn’t the place for recalling what I went through, but it is the place to share that on the afternoon when I found out he’s dead, I took several shots of the sky… Can’t shake that off to coincidence after reading your post and about Connie’s sky.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I’m sorry for your loss. I do hope that reading this, thinking about your pictures was helpful in some way. I find that I tend to hold too tight, try so hard to keep it together, that I don’t relax into the grief, which needs to be acknowledged and felt, so it actually helps to be “triggered” by things, softened so that I can surrender to it. Much love to you.

  8. Terri

    Jill, thank you for these beautiful images and for sharing and connecting with others’ grief and loss. I will be taking my camera outside tonight or tomorrow in honor of your process … everyone’s process. This makes me think of Alfred Steiglitz’s “Equivalents” series. Don’t know if the link will work: Peace to you and to your friends (and their families) who have suffered the beast that is cancer..

  9. Connie

    Dear Jill,

    This post touched me so deeply that I am at a loss for words. Thank you for sharing–but even more, thank you for committing publicly to a life open hearted. That is so inspiring.

    Sending you big hugs and love,

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      Connie! I am so humbled, touched that you are here. I felt so completely the shock and grief you knew, and the desire to transform that into something of beauty is just about all I’ve done since. Thank you for providing another chance to do so. Big love right back to you.

  10. Pingback: Thoughts from places… | Life's a stage – WebBlog

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