My dad got into my bones
I didn't know he was there
until he started to fade away
The other night at Red Lobster he talked about bunnies eating lettuce—
the kind on his plate
He didn't just talk, he mimicked their bunny eating ways
I thought: what is he talking about....
and what does this have to do with anything....
You see, for me, the conversation has changed
as my dad's brain gets chipped away by diabetes or
alzheimer's— we don't know. He says it’s spiritual, he's going "higher" so maybe it's that
But gone is the comfort of bringing him anything
and him always knowing the right thing to say
or when not to
Now I speak and he munches on his salad like a bunny and laughs
Later we sit on his driveway at dusk
There are the bunnies!
They munch on his grass and
driveway crack microgreens
I see what he means
There are two chairs on his lawn—
two choices on where to sit and watch the bunnies munch
As we watch together the crows caw and he says
the crows crow, the squirrels squirrel and, yes dad, the bunnies bunny
This is his lesson now
He was once an athlete,
top of his football and baseball game
It's hard to see the cuts and bruises on his body from losing balance
Once a strong, intimidating man—and still so damn stubborn—
he now laughs, smiles and attunes to my emotions,
even the angry ones about what is happening to him
Lou, my dad's name, is Lou-ing,
becoming more real
As he fades and goes higher the strength and wisdom of him
is in my bones.
What do you do when the world, at least as you knew it, is ending? How do you grieve that?
For me, a white cisgender woman, it started to end globally on November 9, 2016. I went on a bike ride the day after election night to my usual spot— an “island” on the Mississippi River. Before this day, I’d go there to reflect on my personal trials or to escape them. However, there was a new kind of angst— not only the weight of my personal life on my shoulders, but the collective life. It is not that I did not care before, this just felt different.
I wish I could find the words to express where I find myself now, 6 1/2 years later. I’d like a story or fable that would help me frame it, or to write my own if I could focus long enough and stay motivated. What I do know, what I am beginning to feel is there has been, and is, a lot of loss personally and collectively, a collective reckoning and grief process.
Our primitive brain likes to make it one thing because then that one thing can be fixed, managed or contemplated easily. But we are not in primitive times. These are complex times. We are complex and to think in this way is difficult, but necessary. These days, the loss isn’t just A, B or C, it is the whole damn alphabet and then some.
Just in my own life, I am started to comprehend the losses and how each one intermingles and connects to the others, and as they do their capability of fully sinking me is real.
The sinking has been happening. As I reflect I see I’ve sunk many times. As a teenager I wondered how could one person, still so young, cry so much. As a 50-year-old it is starting to make sense as I am sinking like that again and again.
Yesterday I could not find one think to pull me out. Then my husband asked if I wanted ice cream. In the ice cream line I found myself smiling, then I asked him if he tried the frozen peanut butter cups. Later a stranger approached us, happy and friendly as can be, and asked how we made our “love it” treat. Before this, I watched a small child look up at her older brother, saying “again” over and over to pick her up as she squealed. Once we got our dark chocolate with extra peanut butter ice cream, we sat on a bench outside and I saw the sliver of moon. I didn’t really eat my ice cream because the point was not the ice cream.
On the way home, Neil Diamond’s Hello Again came on shuffle. I cried again, a deep, hurting cry as if I was in physical pain. I said to myself: it’s my mom. She was and always will be my first experience here on Earth as me, Nikki DiVirgilio. Nothing will ever change this. And she, my first experience, has dementia and I miss her. There is a hole in me. There are several now, but she is at the center of them all.
It is weird for me to state this and experience it to be true. My relationship with her has always felt like a loss, but what it is now feels like that sliver moon, it is all that is left and what I had with her was more than I realized. She was a best friend, someone I called to vent to, someone I hung out with. Someone who created a million and one beautiful experiences and distractions for me, for us— vacations, cabin getaways, shopping, lunches, going to the “new” place and buying the “new” thing. Over time all of this became hollow for me, but now, sinking into nothingness, they were the things that kept me afloat. These were the days. That was my mom.
When I woke up the next morning, after several days of sinking, I didn’t care much about anything (balance, right?). I wondered what was the point, especially after reading a Twitter thread stating a very real possibility for the 2024 election. It’s not good. It’s bleak, and it seems the world, including my own, is over in the way I knew it. I don’t really know 1) how to navigate these times or 2) how to grieve or if I even can fully. But the sweater I bought was on my front step. I opened it, tried in on to make sure I loved it, and instead of folding it, tags on, saving it for a special occasion, I took it off, cut the tags, put it back on and decided today is the special occasion.*** 🌙🍦
Be well during this time,
~Nikki, The Soul Reporter
***snippets from a memoir I’m writing…well, several actually.
I travel to this space— a retreat space about an hour from Duluth, MN. A place, I heard Cheryl Strayed wrote a part of her book, Wild. It used to be run by nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the founders of my alma mater. Then, they’d prepare simple meals and leave them in your kitchenette prior to your arrival. Now, with the new owners, it is BYOF. Now, it’s less “we are here to acknowledge and support your retreat” to more “you’re on your own, but here’s the same space.”
There are seven cabins to choose from. Over the years I’ve stayed in three— the smaller ones because I always visit alone. Traveling here began as an escape— to run away from kids, my marriage and suburban life. This is the first time I am not here to escape anything (well maybe the instability of our world right now). Since the world events, my fantasy of a cabin in the woods has increased.
I am in an empty nest now and my marriage is more neutralized and maybe not having anything to escape from is why this visit feels different. This time, I chose The Woodlands, a small cabin that is more secluded within the forest. Immediately out of my car, when I arrived, I was swarmed by insects, and after a short hike I picked off at least 10 ticks. This is disappointing because one reason I came here was to hike the several miles of wooded trails. So far they’ve all been short lived and cause more stress than rejuvenation.
This brings me to where I’ve spent the majority of time so far— the screened in porch. It is modest, rustic and cobwebby. It supplies one small round table and a camping chair. But I don’t seem to mind. I listen to the wind through the trees, watch the sunlight sparkle and fade on their leaves and feel relieved when I hear the loud buzzing bugs have no way in. While I sit, I wonder why I am here if I am not escaping something. I don’t quite know but I sense I need to be, even if I don’t venture far beyond the screened porch.
I brought a lot of notebooks, along with my project calendar and my computer with the intent to write and schedule my summer writing projects. But, so far I’ve only opened my computer to buy a book and to watch Netflix. I just finished J Lo’s documentary. Now there is a woman who knows what she wants and go gets it. I finished it feeling slightly depressed. I went back to the warm porch. I’ll journal, I thought. Maybe draw and certainly finish the book I am reading. Then, I got on Twitter….
I’m sure you did what you could, now do what you actually want.
Instead of bad news, I saw the quote above and it interrupted my amnesia (the whole who am I and why am I here thought pattern) and I burst into tears. This “tweet” is a two-sentence summary of where I find myself— a crossroad I have been on for quite some time, since the kids left the nest. I said: I still don’t know what I actually want. Seemed legit, but there’s more, another truth emerged both silently and loudly: yes you do. That is true. I do know what I want. But I’m playing like I don’t.
There is a comfort in the longing for what I actually want, but not actually doing it. But imagine if J Lo was only longing. I’ve longed long enough, haven’t I….?
If I actually want what I want, it is time to surrender the longing and relax into the doing, being and expressing. And I suppose, also risking and trusting.
It has been a long road of doing what I could, and it was exhausting. Hence, the retreats. But, now, like me in this one room cabin, there is just me now and the naked truth of what I actually want to do and the opportunity to do it.
The transition from what I could do, and did to what I actually want to do has left me wondering who am I? Where am I? There has been enough life, now that I’m 50, where scrambling to figure that out, making lots of missteps and mistakes along the way, is not necessary. Now I can be still enough to let it all settle— what was, what is and what I might actually still want.
This is why I am here at the Woodlands in June, in the heat with the insects— to settle.
I met a woman here, briefly, that was alone, staying in one of my earlier cabins. She stopped me on one of my short walks. I noticed her when I checked in. She told the owner there may be another person joining her, but when pressed she could give no details to when, or even if. Not long after her check in, she was packing up her car and that is when she stopped me.
“Have you been here before?” I gave her my stay history. She chocked up a little and said someone she knows is in the hospital and she might have to leave. “I’m a frontline worker and this is the first break I’ve had.” When asked if it was family, she said it was a co-worker and she’d have to leave to cover their shift. Seemed believable, but I sensed something more: fear.
It is not easy to go on retreat alone, in a cabin with no TV, where at night it is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of you. In my younger days I came with luggage full of anxiety, along with all of my OCD traits acting up, organizing my retreat and worrying about what was happening at home. Before I spoke with the woman, I watched her start down a walking path by my cabin. She stood there looking down the path, then turned around and walked away from it. I too have impulses to turn around and instead go where it is safe and known. But, more often than not, I listen to the part in me that understands in order to expand I have to keep walking the path, even when there are insects that might give me Lyme Disease. I understand I have to give myself space to stay in a place that is dark and unfamiliar. I need to be here, even if I am not writing or scheduling the writing. Even if I am not escaping anything.
I’m still not sure exactly why I am here, but what I do know is, this time I did not bring as much baggage. I’m unconcerned about what the husband is doing at home. I took a nap at 2 pm without writing one word. I have not OCD’d my retreat, and the anxiety that was once an intrusive roar is now a dull pant.
I’m okay and I am going to be okay. Also, if what I actually want is to create my fantasy cabin in the woods life, there MUST be a screened in porch. 🛖🌲🕷
The flowers I recently planted are important to me.
A few weeks back they were all I cared about. They were what I woke up for. Each morning I’d head outside, even in my pjs, and walk to each plant to see how they were, and sometimes speak to them or pick off dead flowers or leaves.
One morning I woke up to several of them in a clump on the grass. When I went outside it looked like a critter dug them out, ate some, carried others away and left the rest out on the grass. Maybe it wasn’t a critter…maybe a person…or the fox I saw the other night? I bet on the fox.
Immediately I went to the hardware store, explained my situation and was told I want the fox around- they take care of the rabbits, and they were the likely culprit. They sold me deer and rabbit repellent that states would not harm plants or animals. So far it is working and I’ve replaced the discarded plants.
As I write this, I look at them and they appear to be flourishing. Tonight, after clients, I will soak them with water, and in the morning say hello to them, making sure they are okay.
My thoughts are telling me this is a boring post. Why tell the people about the flowers…? I suppose, as I investigate deeper, it’s about trust, showing up and working with what I have. As I stated in my last post, I have not written here in over a year. There are so, so many reasons why.
To write again, or at all, is to trust. I sit, set a timer, open up and hear the word flower. Then, I hear judgment: boring. And I keep writing.
For me, right now, it is the act of it, more than content. It is the showing up for it even through judgment. It is the sharing, even though boring. It is the waking up for what I have, flowers. 🌷
What does it mean to be a witness to the atrocities that surround us, sometimes overtaking us?
In my small therapy office I am witness to the journey of those who go to the deeper wounds, and to the majority who only need to stay on the surface to feel the pin pricks and enormous jolts coming from their lives.
In my personal life I am witness to the wear and tear of a, mostly inactive, body that leans toward comfort and rest and eats what soothes the tender ache. It’s caught up to me now— the medications need a pill organizer.
I witness the decline of my mother and father, and my two daughters making a life outside of the family home.
And then I, along with the majority we, witness the daily, sometimes hourly, onslaught of news stories that haunt, disturb and tempt to take away any belief that life is secure, safe and hopeful.
We bear witness to a lot.
I don’t know that I have a remedy to process what we see, hear and experience, but I want to name it, even so.
We witness a lot.
And what do we do with it matters. A lot. Do we digest it? Internalize it? Ignore it? Deny it? Fight it? Become paralyzed by it? Mourn it? Disease, label and justify it? Politicize it? Analyze it? Mostly we just keep living our lives with it. Some of us wonder what more we can do. Others get out and do it.
A long time ago I went to the circus and witnessed the elephants parading around in a darkened arena while dressed up humans with whips led them. I never again went to a circus. The witnessing of the elephants “living” in an unnatural way was enough for me to make a clear choice not to participate. But I didn’t do anything more. I did not protest at circus doors or go to an elephant refuge. Then, not attending felt enough of a protest.
So why is it then I can continue engaging in a life where I am, along with countless others, parading around in unnatural ways, succumbing to a way of life that is not of us, not of me? Why aren’t I protesting in some way? Why am I not refusing to show up and participate in this unnatural way of living? What happened to me? What happened to us?
There’s words and phrases for it— capitalism, patriarchy, internalized misogyny, colonialism, white supremacy… you name it— we are not only swimming in it, we are drowning. We have lost our way.
I look back upon all that we’ve said yes to, at least since I was born in the 1970’s. Food coloring, additives and processed non-food. Bottled water. Coffee shops and fast food on ever street. Gas. 9-5’s. I could go on…..
As a child I said yes to Oreos and Ho Ho’s. When I got a little older, and was continuously bullied, I said yes—yes, I’ll hide. Yes, I’m too much. Yes, there’s something wrong with me. Yes, you’re better and I’m insiginficant. Then I said yes to alcohol, Newports, boys and sex. Then I said yes to kids, marriage and a mortgage. Some of the yes’s should have been no’s— but it was too late. I’d been programmed, traumatized and neglected.
Now, I’m 50. I got through the pandemic (for now) and I’m witnessing what I have done. I am witnessing our culture and what it has us do. I sense all of it is enough to not only leave the circus but get off the circus grounds altogether— but how, and to where? Which cause will I protest, show up for? Which cultural, repressive institution will I leave?
All I think about lately is a cottage in the woods— fuck it all, eat mushrooms and berries and sit among the trees and the ferns, touching moss— live like the hobbit or the fairy tale old lady I know that I am.
I wonder who I could have been had I not said yes to it all. Who we might have been. What if I had said no, that’s not for me. Or no, we could have cried, this is not for us! This is who I am. This is who we are.
What I want to be a witness to now is a new cultural uprising for us, for me, for we. 🌲🌿🍄
Note: This is the first blog I have written in over a year. I sat down with a pen and paper, planning on writing something else, but instead listened and what I wrote above is what came through. I hope it reaches someone, in some way and I hope to return to this space more frequently.
In my current home, it is a wooded trail— the Mississippi backwaters on one side and a junk yard on another. I’ve worked to ignore the latter. Although I appreciate the trees and the river, this trail is my least favorite of all the ones I’ve walked. And so I found another one that goes mostly through my neighborhood to a dirt road circling an abandoned lot edged with pine trees. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken to sitting under one of the pines, the one that now has a sign that reads: No Trespassing. Also ignored.
But today I needed the backwater trail. It is a short trail, made a bit longer if I take the narrow, tree root, moss filled one along the rivers edge. I took this route. On my way back to the neighborhood I noticed another trail with fresh black dirt and took steps. To my surprise it extended beyond the trail I have known and further, extended not only my walk but my time with the trees. As it ended in a familiar place, I felt grateful for the creation of a path I had wanted since I moved here.
During COVID-19, other than moving from panic to calm, panic to calm, I’ve observed people in my life and the ones I see on my essential runs, and notice how they are responding to this pandemic. My father, for instance, finds hope in the blades of green grass sprouting in a newly dug out hole in the ground. Another laughs loudly with the gas station attendant saying, “Well you know we are all going to get it.” My mother texts daily from her assisted living facility, “Is everyone at home now?” Or today, “Prince Charles has the virus.” Sadly, others have become more self-centered, ego-centric, individualistic and shut down.
As for me—today, on my walk I found a new path that shows me the life road I am currently on. The soil is fresh. It has not been traveled yet. It comes as a surprise, and yet offers what I have been seeking for a very long time. It tells me if I venture to take a new path, even while things are falling apart and feel unstable, I will arrive in a familiar place, feeling grateful and changed.
I wish for all us to be guided and changed for the better, while knowing there is loss and unimaginable grief, known and unknown to us.
My dad once wrote, inside my Shel Silverstein’s book, A Light in the Attic:
Poems are the purest expression of ourselves. Always be true to yourself and make your life a great, living poem.
This has been a challenging few weeks for me. There have been many shifts and changes. As I find myself in the space between here and there, when one way of being has ended and before a new way begins, I resist the urge to create from a space of urgency and distract from discomfort. Instead I remind myself to be curious, open, and to listen and lean in to what is before me, even if it only feels like empty space and nothing new is here for me.
This morning, I did not stew in my bed with my unhealthy thoughts. Instead I did two things: I yelled at my Higher Self (something I have never done) and said: WHERE ARE YOU? YOU SEE ME STRUGGLING! WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING ME? DON’T JUST SIT THERE AND WATCH ME SQUIRM! and then I went on a walk. As I made my way on the path, my Higher Self said: Listen. And I did. What I heard is below. The opening to my Higher Self begins with this trickle of water:
The coolness of the breeze The sun shining between clouds The still barren trees The ones sprouting buds The cardinal I could not catch The camouflaged deer The still swollen river
Today, I arrive in a clear open space after a long fought journey.
I have risen- again.
Today, I praise Life Itself. Today, I praise the Life I AM 🙏🏼
My parents grew up Catholic. They did not bring me to church. They did not have me confirmed. The closest I came to anything religious was baptism.
This, other than their bodies and intentions that brought me here, is their greatest gift to me.
Without a religion to follow and adhere to, which I knew quite young, when my very religious aunt made me go to church, that it was not for me. My entire little body recoiled sitting there amongst praisers of Jesus.
How did I know at such a young age this was not my way? What did I know instead?
The answers to these questions have unfolded as a journey to mySelf. In this journey I have found who I am and most importantly, who I am not. That proved to be the hardest part. It’s an excavation of Soul and it leads to our Self- our higher self. At least this is my truth and journey.
In so stating my spiritual path, I am fully aware that it is unpopular. I feel this and have experienced this- especially with Christians, and even those who do not attend church regularly call themselves this. I have been judged and isolated by them and others.
A Jehovah Witness friend would not break bread with me, yet asked me to lunch- telling me if I wanted to see her she’ll be at the Kingdom Hall. I had a cousin- a born again Christian- tell me following any other religion is following Satan- after I explained to her what Namaste meant. Never heard from her again. As a young girl, Christian parents forbid their children to hang out with me saying I was a bad influence.
More generally, from what I understand, Christianity does not condone a path that believes that salvation lies within. It believes only salvation lies with accepting Jesus. Where does that leave the rest of us? Not saved, of course. Fortunately, I’m secure in my journey and I am fine being left to it.
At this time, when so many of us are coming out of our shame surrounding who we are and stepping into our truth- it’s Important for me to come out with what I just shared about a topic we are told not to talk about but infiltrates everything. And what a better day than on Easter!
It’s always been my least favorite holiday. When my kids were young I made the most of it with colored eggs and hiding Easter baskets. Until this morning I still dreaded it. There’s an assumption in this country that most of us are Christian. It can be triggering to those that are not.
But today, I claimed the spiritual path I’ve always been on. It’s an ever expanding one where I rise and fall a lot but I always learn and grow when I do. Salvation, for me, lies within and that is my journey. Namaste.
I went for a forest walk this morning. I entered, expectant. Further along, afraid. What twists and turns might I face? As a woman, would a man try and hurt me? As a human in mid-life, more feelings of loss? As a spiritual being, enlightenment? The wondering passed and my feet on the path continued. The journey felt far, and at times I felt tangled within it with no escape, like that branch above (1). As the path turned I found a paved path. It led where I began. The return was so close, and had always been (2).
Nature can be used as a metaphor for our personal/spiritual journeys. It can be symbolic of our relationships with ourselves and others. Today for me, feeling entangled in the forest, and then to find the paved path to where I began, was a metaphor of my journey. Within the journey are many twists and turns, moments of being snared and entangled, to then being pushed into a clear open space. There is darkness. There is light. There is mess, debris and branches and old leaves everywhere (3). All of this tricks the mind that I have gone too far from myself, from where I began, and will not make it to where I am trying to go. But— my feet continue to step. The path leads to where I began and I see I was never far away, I was really never far at all, ever, and will not be again.
Below are the images and metaphors from my forest walk. Tip: if you’re feeling stuck creatively or worried about where you are on the journey, take your own nature walk. See what you see, how it reflects where you are and how it can be used to provide you with some expression and guidance.
This instantly brought tears to my eyes. I see two trees meeting together at the root, joined at the heart and growing individually as one.
Change & the touch of Autumn
(3) The mess of the forest and as it should be: as it is.
Moss: how I love thee. Had I known I could have made a career studying moss I might have changed my major. Seems to me studying moss may be more enjoyable than the study of people and relationships. #IAmASocialWorker