Tenderness and Time


On my way into town the same stump always catches my eye. The winter snows pulled back a month ago, revealing its dark stature against the ocean-spray green of the sprouting understory. It’s the only stump around, surrounded by vital towering pines and cedars. It was once a mighty tree judging by its girth, much larger than those around it. I always do a double take, thinking it’s a stooped hulk of a person waiting for something important. Maybe it’s waiting for someone on horseback to bring a message, or a bear to wander its way for a back rub and a conversation. But then I remember it’s just that stump I always see. It’s just an ending, as clear as day, immovable and bold, a life cut short amidst the affirmation of life.

Terry is letting me say goodbye to her in dreams, giving me the romantic moments I wanted so much at the end. She’s still sick when I see her, but I can feel the vitality of her body. I get to love her through the small gestures of familiar couples one last time. We went to the market together, had a meal with our friends Lora and Don, held hands on our way home to rest. I could still feel her strength as we walked, even though we both knew her body was fading. We made plans for how her passing would go, I found great peace in that knowing.

She probably feels so close because this is our anniversary.

On my drive all the people who have died in the last few years cross my mind, but I’m not letting their deaths weigh me down today. The helping spirits have advised me to be with my grief, but not sink into its rivers. Grief has been a master to me for three years, now it’s becoming a respectful companion. I’ve started to remind myself of the beauty and joy of my beloved’s continuing journeys by always saying “is free” as their name drifts by with the passing trees.

  • Terry is free.
  • Doug is free.
  • Jessica is free.
  • Erin is free.
  • Eric is free.
  • George is free.
  • Jorge is free.
  • Dad is free.

Some of their lives were cut short, others felled when they were ripe for moving on. But all are free. I don’t know if I’d be this far along in my relationship with grief if Covid hadn’t isolated us so much. I have nothing but time with myself, few places to hide from myself that last more than a moment. I’ve gotten used to being with me in this deeper way. It is a reassuring gift.

  • Terry is free.
  • Doug is free.
  • Jessica is free

The stump is a footprint in this world, the last step here before the next leg of the journey we will all take. Terry’s footprint in me was her body. All of the changes it went through are still with me. The most startling was just after she died. A tumor blocked a main lymphatic artery, causing her wasted, skeletal body to swell horribly. But when I lifted her after she passed to lay her in our room for the viewing, her body was heavy, dense, like the lovers body I knew. A Hospice nurse explained it to me with a knowing smile: the body re-absorbs all of its fluids as it begins to die. A kind gift for the living. She looked and felt more as she did in life than she had for almost a year before her death.

Awake now, the dream-gift of her sitting across from me at a cafe lingers. I’m left with the feeling of wanting to tell our daughter how strong her body was. How her journey with her illness only revealed her super powers. Even though she couldn’t heal, she could endure far beyond what most people can suffer. And now she flies to me in dreams, giving me gifts of warmth.

“Daddy, how do I get real superpowers? I want to fly too.”

“I don’t know sweetie, maybe you can invent a super-suit that flies?”

“It’s not the same!”

“Momma was with me last night in my dreams. She told me how much she loved you, she told me to tell you how strong she was. How strong you are. That her strength is always with you. No flight, but super strength!”

“Not. The. Same.”

Over our dream lunch Terry and I planned her passing, which is not how it really happened. Even though I was with her when she died she didn’t say goodbye. She was so focused, first struggling to heal, then to take her final steps into the next world. But in the dream everything felt so graceful, her certainty was there, and her kindness. I got to feel the greatness of our ordinariness, the wonder of just being together. The balm of tenderness.

It’s been almost a year since her last dream visit, I have been asking for one.

In my morning journey ritual I visit with my Seal friends at the edge of a stoney beach. They used to visit me in dreams when I swam in the Ocean, now I visit them. They have always awakened a feeling of family, of ancient ancestry when I work with them. Even though they have been in my practice for years I know I’ve barely begun to explore what’s there.

  • I come as the Seal Maiden
  • to cherish you
  • to hold you
  • as we cross these many thresholds together.
  • Family makes unity
  • braided ties
  • of our sincerity
  • of our trust
  • of our love.
  • Terry is free.
  • Dad is free.
  • The Ancestors are free

Our eldest child reminds me most of my relationship with the Seal people, another footprint of hers in this world. We always called him our Deep-Ocean-Heart. Even as a young child he had sweet emotional depths that were ever present. I think his heart is a natural bridger of worlds. She had so much to do with that, celebrating him as she did. When I look in his eyes I can see her, and the Seal people.

Tonight I sat by our fire circle and wrote letters to those who had passed. I felt them all with me, crowding my heart. “Dear Dougie … Dear Jessica … Dear Erin … Dear Terry.” I’ve written Terry many times before, its not that I don’t talk to her enough, I just like the feeling of sending her messages. Truly decided she wanted to write her Grandpa who died before she could know him.

“Dear Packa, I wish you could come back in your body soon so you can visit us. Love – True.”

I keep hoping for dream visits for her, but she’s not really remembering her dreams yet. Maybe thats something that older people do. “Dear Dad, We talk of you often, you are sorely missed here.”

I say “for Dougie, who is free” as I slide each letter into the small flames. Its a low fire, the winds are strong and we’ve already had a few spot fires in our area. The paper lays flat as the flames eat my words, it turns dark grey, a small footprint to crumble soon.

The tenderest of shoots are adorning that stump as the high desert spring morning dresses everything in dew. A gathering of ancestors to be, they surround that footprint, slowly reclaiming it over the seasons. After her dream visits I’m always left with a feeling of tenderness, which feels to me now to be the only medicine that works for grief. Tenderness and time.

“Hello and goodbye…” I say to the stump as we whip into town.

  • Terry is free.
  • I am free.
  • We are free


Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.


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