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September 18, 2020

Window on the World Column: The navigation of grief

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

It has been two years since my baby sister Rosie passed on to another planet. When some say that spirits fly close to the ground, I have found that to be true, also that they don’t fly in the conventional sense. Sister seems to pass through my aura not at my bidding, but when she darn well feels like it; typical of her. I watch her flitter by as a white butterfly, I attach myself to the wings of summer dragonflies and talk to them as I would talk to her, I find her often times in the water; I try and drag her back to our planet in whatever form I can recognize.

Milestones of grief are difficult to navigate; especially when the loss is fresh. To get through the often-agonizing days, you hold tight to your friends and family who know how you are feeling, really know. You are comforted by the outreach from the farthest reaches of the planet and reminded of the sometime blessings of social media. The accolades came pouring in on the anniversary of her passing and they warmed my heart all over again:

“Rosie, I see you and hear you on a sunny day as the orange trees are blooming, I remember you when I go to the sea and listen to the waves. Thank you for the wonderful memories …” —Almila (her friend in Turkey and the co-founder of the Breast Cancer Awareness group in Antalya). “Rosie, two days before you left, you called me and said, ‘Thank you Almila, thanks for everything,’ even though you were struggling to talk. First time I realized in my life that I would talk to you and not say ‘see you soon’ … you have been and will continue to be such an inspiration to so many and have shown us all how to be positive and how to live life to the fullest….”

“My life has been richer for your presence and I’m truly proud to have been able to call you my friend. Fly high, Rorabud! I will miss you forever, but you will always be with me in my heart — love you girl!” —Sue.

“Love you forever, Rosebud. Please look out for my 17-year-old Barney who just left us one week ago today. He was a naughty cheeky teenager — just like you and me …” —Bella (my sister’s old friend who just lost her son in a tragic car accident).

Other friends sent me gifts of photos I had never seen of our girl in full life force from years ago — fun and laughter frozen by time. I want to start compiling all the love and the emotions into a tangible entity for a journey through grief. My Rosie book will be my next project.

When she was passing on two years ago, my husband took me to Salinas River State Beach, where we sprinkled my Mum’s ashes years ago. I was in unbearable pain that day, as we knew Rosie’s heart was still beating, but that she would never wake up again. It was the gap between life and death I had never experienced before, a road never traveled.

Some amazing things happened to me on that beach that day and I felt the urge to pilgrimage — for want of a better word — back to the same place this year. I had also gathered driftwood that day and made my sister a memorial called a “Rosie Boat” — a nod to her love for boat trips and the sea. I knew that we would not be able to give her a traditional send off, since she would be buried the same day in Turkey, as their customs are; but I felt the need to build my own memorial, a place where I could go and talk to her, a place where I had already communed with stunning dragonflies, our shared spirit creature, the day she was leaving the planet.

I constructed the Rosie Boat in the Secret Garden next to my mother’s urn and by the ponds, surrounded by butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, turtles, water, flowers and peace. I laid special things around the Rosie Boat, like a watery gravesite, and painted the memorial in different colors and glitter. It was a therapy the like of which I had never immersed myself into before; but I’d recommend to any of you in a similar boat — pun intended.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to eat at The Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing this year, one of our favorite spots; but they had a great system going and outdoor seating with heaters, so it was only a few minutes before we were seated with drinks and appetizers and enjoying the peace of a meal exercised under strict social distancing guidelines. It really is very pleasant to dine with your companion away from the banter and noise of others — no matter that it took a global pandemic to get us to that place. The crab enchiladas and guacamole did not disappoint our palates, neither did the chilled Morgan chardonnay.

We then took off for the beach. The rest of the world seemed to already be there — plus groups of lovely horses I could watch all day, that were strolling along the sands and snorting into the ether. A feast of water birds — pelicans, cormorants and sea gulls were “helping” the fisherman on the beach and dive-bombing into the swell for more. The usual swirly waves of greys, silvers, blues and greens crashed to the shore — rip tide over rip tide. Not an ocean for the elementary bather. Cloudy skies alternating with dark grey and patches of azure made for a superb photographer’s palette.

I ran the 933 paces from the mouth of the beach to where surely a few sprinkles of my Mum’ ashes would still remain (she was born in 1933, hence an easy number to recall!). Away from the entrance to the beach, where most people hang out, the sands become quite desolate and, to my mind, even more magical. I start looking for my Rosie Boat driftwood circa 2020 and there I find it — a similar color to the original piece but asking for an inscription that I would not hasten to complete.

There is no race on the grief journey, no place where you will likely be able to stop after a while and say, “OK, all done there then ….” It is a road well-traveled, but not one we are much good at traversing — a human condition that we will suffer over and over, if we live long enough. I am still just about as bad at navigating grief as I was two years ago, though I cry a little less perhaps. Is that progress? The jury is still out.

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