Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Equinox Cleaning

Equinox is the mid-point between the longest night of the year and the longest day. We already feel the effects of the lengthening days but we can finally bask in the warmth of the light. We’re itching to throw the doors and windows open and air out our living spaces. We’re ready to shake out the cobwebs and clear out the dust.
In our lives we are constantly shedding skins and starting over. Shedding skins and reinventing ourselves. Shedding skins and letting go of what is no longer needed. I’ve been living that through my recovery.
I’ve found it extremely helpful to take stock of the layers of things I surround myself with, to see what I no longer need. Every spring equinox I tackle a room or two, going through my possessions and furnishings, culling what has gone unused or forgotten. It invariably parallels as a spring cleaning of my emotional house as I evaluate my attachments to the items I consider letting go of.
Two years ago, it was my office, my nest. Included in that room was the dreaded storage closet of doom. It was full of boxes that hadn’t seen the light of day in over a decade. I re-organized. I put hands on everything. I stopped to read through old letters and cards from specific places of my life, which revived memories I had previously left to whisper and rest.
I am at a crossroad, roughly halfway through the years I expect to live. Sorting through that closet, my life unfolded behind me, mementos of everywhere I have been and everyone I have loved. And I felt the firmament of those choices beneath me.
I smiled joyfully through most of it, as the memories rippled through me. What a treasure it was to remember, in my body, the friendship and love of such innocent times. It helped buoy the box of painful things that had been tucked away. But those memories didn’t sting so badly this time. Even that box held lessons for wiser eyes, ways to not repeat those mistakes. I read and I culled, and as I culled, I re-organized.
I found the hole the mice were using to get in and sealed it. I found the alien spider’s secret corner of egg sacks. I found a box of crafts and stories I thought had been lost. And I found the last card my Grandpa gave me before he died. Which made me pause again… He’s been gone 13 years and I find it hard to believe so much of my life has been lived without him, when he is such a firm part of my identity as a grown-up.
I still have so much life left to come. I will never stop missing him. It wasn’t just spring cleaning and de-cluttering. It was time travelling. I walked through who I was and the choices I have made, making more decisions about what to hold onto and what to let go.
This year I have been sorting through my clothes. I have a drawer full of fun and kooky socks I can’t wear because the elastic cuts into my scar tissue pretty bad still. I’m packing up my favorites for a couple of years, in case I can wear them again. I’m going through and taking out the clothes made of synthetic fibers that irritate my new skin. I’m getting rid of the shorts I am unlikely to wear for at least five years. I am accepting the limitations of this new body. I am grateful for this new body.
Shedding skins is a journey of healing.

I don’t regret the path I took to get here. I like who I am. I don’t regret the obstacles I have pushed through, climbed over, or swam under to get to today. I like where I am.

[Updated from “Spring Equinox Cleaning” originally published March 19, 2014.]

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Mothers That Bore Me

Whitcher sisters Ellen, Harriet, Emma*, & Frances.
Across the country today, women are standing up and stepping forward and being seen. In my heart I am thinking of the women who paved the way for me to be here, walking this earth and living in this beautiful world, fighting to be seen as a person wearing female skin. My thoughts are with the generations that came before me. My heart lives in the daughters and son of my sister and brother, who will inherit this world after me.

The First Generation above me is my mother, still living. She sacrificed a lot to give us a childhood free of worry, no matter what circumstances we found ourselves in. She’s the reason I believe in Santa Claus still. She always encouraged me to dream big. She is a deep well of conversations and dreaming, and she inspires me constantly in the ways she manifests her own dreams into action and gives them life. She instilled in me that the worst thing that can happen is you fail and have to try again, but if you never try, you’ll never win. She’s one of my closest friends and our summer time visits sustain me.

My mother’s mother is still living and my father’s stepmother is still living. Both women have had long, often difficult lives, and have courageously battled cancer. I have seen such bravery and quiet strength in the women I have known, especially my Great-Grandma Elsie. She was a guiding force for me as a child and she continues to be one for me through my dreams. I have to believe that spirit is embodied in some way in the women I never met. This is how I honor them.

Those Who Have Gone Before Me

Second Generation
maternal father’s line
Donna MacDonald (1938-2001) age 62
paternal mother’s line
Ruth Emma Ruston (1916-1959) age 42

Third Generation
maternal mother’s line
Margaret Loretta Burke (1899-1938) age 35
maternal father’s line
Elsie Elizabeth Durant (1904-1994) age 89
paternal mother’s line
Minnie Estelle Wicker (1890-1964) age 73
paternal father’s line
Hattie Eva Smith (1882-1969) age 86

Fourth Generation
maternal mother’s line
Eliza Conners (b.1866)
Katherine S. Pils (1871-1946) age 74
maternal father’s line
Emma Louise Burnah (1869-1939) age 69
Frances Gillette (1877-1963) age 85
paternal mother’s line
Emma Angeline Whitcher (1845-1929) age 83 [*photo above]
Ruth Ireland (1861-1940) age 78
paternal father’s line
Hattie Eva Dutcher (1857-1882) age 24 in childbirth
Theresa Cordelia Tenney (1850-1930) age 79

Fifth Generation
maternal mother’s line
Ellen unknown (b.1836)
Mary Dowd (b.1834)
Mary Burzee
Katherine Maria Schmeelk (d.1901) –or- Ana Catherine Blume (1833-1901) age 68
maternal father’s line
Jane Berry (1841-1901) age 59
Rosella LaValley (1843-1921) age 77
Sarah Clickner (1830-1876) age 45
paternal mother’s line
Ordelia De Lozier (1810-1888) age 77
Cynthia Lusk (1819-1888) age 68
Phoebe Lenton (1826-1887) age 60
Anna Richardson (b.1822)
paternal father’s line
Eliza Marsh Bird (1837-1926) age 88
Sophia Sears (1829-1909) age 79
Malvina H. Targee (1829-1852) age 23
Hannah Ann Treadwell (1817-1884) age 66

Sixth Generation
maternal mother’s line
Wilhemenia Wernersbach (b.1798 GER-US)
Ann unknown
Betsey unknown
maternal father’s line
Esther LaLonde (1811 PQ-1894 US) age 83
Rosella LaRoche (1805-1871) age 65
Elizabeth Ann Hill (1825-1899) age 73
Mary Ann Boots (1825-1899) age 73
Mary Ann Hayner (b.1793)
Abigail Chaffee (d.1829)
paternal mother’s line
Lucy Raymond (1789-1874) age 84 [**photo below]
Dorcas Kittredge (1774-1828) age 53
Rebecca unknown
Chloe Morgan (1792-1850) age 58
Mary Wilson (b.1785)
Jane Brooks (b.1794)
paternal father’s line
Irene Pond Marsh (b.1803)
Cynthia Ann Feagles (1814-1890) age 75
Clarissa DeBois (1806-1873) age 67
Betsey unknown
Ellen S. unknown
Esther unknown
Fermicy ‘Fanny’ Peters (1798-1875) age 77
Lucy Gould (1777-1840) age 62

Seventh Generation
maternal father’s line
Marie Amable Langevin (1795-1840) age 44
Gertrude Dixon (1783-1855) age 71
Harriet Gower (1806-1886) age 80
Abigail Hannah (b.1780)
Elizabeth Weager (d.1844)
Engle ‘Angelica’ Coonradt (1746-1833) age 87
Deborah unknown
Mary/Polly Thomas (b.1760)
paternal mother’s line
Lucy Richmond (1755-1841) age 86
Eleanor Erkells (1767-1789) age 22
Mary ‘Molly’ Bailey (1730-1815) age 85
Elizabeth Dow (1735-1776) age 41
Mary A. ‘Polly’ unknown (1795-1895) age 100
Susannah Parker (1750-1825) age 75
Elizabeth Wright (b.1748)
paternal father’s line
Mary ‘Polly’ Coleman
Jane “Jennie” Palmer (1762-1815) age 52
Abigail Andrews (b.1776)
Abigail Darby (1765-1837) age 72
Delilah unknown
Anne Arnold (1752-1833) age 81
Hepsibah Skiff (1733-1800) age 66

Eighth Generation
maternal father’s line
Amable DuClos (1766-1795) age 29
Marie Agathe Charland (1751-1800) age 48
Nancy Machet (1767-1844) age 76
Margaret Anthony (1773-1819) age 46
Mary Glyde (1760-1812) age 52
Mary Calhoun (1732-1798) age 65
Julianna Merchant
Rhoda Cady (1739-1799) age 60
Rebekah Moulton (b.1742)
paternal mother’s line
Hannah Caswell (1729-1756) age 27
Elizabeth Blackmer (1716-1765) age 49
Fytje Sophia Zabriski (b.1707)
Sarah Fowle (1696-1739) age 43
Martha Hanniford (b.1721)
Jemima Davis (1706-1753) age 47
Jane Pearson (1724-1811) age 87
Abiah Washburn (1726-1812) age 86
Elizabeth unknown
Elizabeth Porter (b.1715)
paternal father’s line
Silence/Celenia Lyon (1755-1821) age 65
Jemima VanDeusen (1744-1831) age 87
Helena “Lina” Eleanor Van Deusen (1713-1769) age 55
Susannah Townsend (1740-1782) age 42
Lucretia Cleveland (1736-1824) age 88
Mary Bingham (1734-1821) age 87
Tabitha Luther (d.1746)
Elizabeth Brooks (1731-1815) age 84
Elizabeth Hatch (1697-1743) age 46
Elizabeth Parker (1700-1739) age 38

Ninth Generation
maternal father’s line
Marie Agathe Bourgault (b.1745)
Marie Madeleine Coulon (1732-1799) age 66
Katherine Coe (1700-1732) age 31
Margaret unknown
Mercy Smith (1720-1793) age 72
Abigail Lee (1703-1782) age 79
Jemima Chadwick (1686-1759) age 73
Rebekah Walker (1717-1802) age 84
paternal mother’s line
Elizabeth Barney (1691-1757) age 66
Mehitable Deane (1697-1745) age 48
Mary Mercy Brickett (1698-1725) age 27
Deborah Balch (1693-1717) age 24
Antje Terhune (1681-1758) age 77
Tryntie Catherine Slote (1671-1708) age 36
Susanna Blaney (1673-1711) age 38
Hannah French (1664-1755) age 91
Jemima Eastman (1677-1760) age 83
Mary Hoyt (1664-1723) age 59
Jane P. Noyes (1704-1773) age 69
Sarah Lillie (1702-1775) age 73
Hannah Johnson (1694-1780) age 86
Rebekah unknown
Sarah unknown
paternal father’s line
Lydia Perry (1729-1763) age 33
Lena Vosburgh (b.1714)
Rachel Fowler (1702-1780) age 78
Jacomyntje VanSchoonhoven (1678-1777) age 79
Jannetje Hendrickse Bondt (1677-1721) age 44
Huldah Hopkins (d.1731)
Desire Tobey (1707-1781) age 74
Dorothy/Deborah Hyde (1702-1769) age 67
Elizabeth Spaulding (1698-1770) age 72
Ruth Post (1711-1796) age 85
Abigail Wood (1700-1776) age 76
Ann Coggeshall (1699-1726) age 25
Mary Bateman (1696-1726) age 22
Priscilla Bateman (1687-1730) age 43
Amy Allen (1663-1709) age 46
Hepsibah Codman (1658-1696) age 38
Thankful Hemingway (1668-1736) age 68
Lydia Gay (1679-1748) age 68

I am that they were.
**Lucy Richmond, married DeLozier, my 4x great-grandma and one of the oldest generational photos we have.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Remembering Luna

This is a post I first published March 2, 2011, about the grief I felt over the loss of our middle cat Luna. Her death was the impetus for me to star my ancestor blog. She was my spiritual companion on the physical world and she guides me in the spirit one still.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I almost died last year and what that means to me. I’ve been thinking about it while I’ve been working on my book over the experience of it. I found my thoughts drifting to grief, and as Luna’s anniversary is near, she came into my heart. I wanted to update my thoughts on the grief of her loss. Here’s the quick of it.
I didn’t realize it had been seven years. In two years, we will have lived without her as long as we lived with her. And that hurt. It stung me. It was a dagger in my chest. It hasn’t been that long. It’s impossible. But it’s true.
Our fourth cat Mara never knew her. Bella, the baby, was still our under-the-bed monster. Bella didn’t bloom and come into herself until after Luna died. And now Bella is gone. So it must be that long.

It still hurts.

What I said in 2011:
A Year Ago
Two days from now will mark a year to the day that we took our nine year-old cat to the emergency vet. She was listless, having difficulty breathing and hadn’t been eating or drinking. In three days she had lost enough weight to appear suddenly skeletal. At the vet she perched like a rabbit on the floor between us while we waited for test results, so normal that we thought we worried for nothing. Two hours and a drive across town later, she came back from an x-ray in serious distress. I stared at the abstract art they were calling the x-ray film, her body obscured by a black mass where intestine and stomach should have been. I marveled at the sheer size of the darkness that swam towards the boundaries of her tiny body.
I wish, in retrospect, that I could have carved time out of bedrock and stilled her pain for a few moments more so we could have said a proper goodbye. She was audibly gasping and her tongue was lolling out. The earth mother in me who is wiser than my heart knew what we had to do and my partner and I were in agreement. It took a moment. I held her head and her gaze in between my hands. I told her she was the best girl ever and that we loved her so very much with as much stability as I could muster. My partner cradled her body. In less than three seconds she was gone. It was the hardest moment of my life. But it was the most decisive. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about us.
We gifted Luna death. The separation of the spirit from the body is one of the hardest Mysteries for humans to work through and the way our society distances us from death leaves us little tools to help with the working of it.
Luna was the first Household Loss I have ever experienced- the kind of loss that affected and threw hiccups into my day-to-day routine. I didn’t realize until after she passed how much she spent my whole day moving through the house with me, talking to me, sleeping on me, so much so that my skin holds memories of her the way my heart does. There were hundreds of new firsts I was unprepared for, like the first time we didn’t fill her food bowl, the first time Luna didn’t come running for treats, the first holiday without her, the first of every night she has not slept curled against or on me… The first time we called her name out because we forgot she was dead.
We allowed ourselves to grieve when we were sad and to cry when we felt like we would break from the loss of her. By giving into those moments and not trying to repress them because maybe it wasn’t a good moment or might make someone else uncomfortable, they passed quickly and offered us moments of reprieve. We took turns helping the other two cats through their own grieving, walking with the baby while she wandered the house checking all of the places where Luna used to sleep. My animal grief spoke the same language as their animal grief and we were bonded in the loss, stronger than before.
I’ve had dreams of holding her and feeling her weight against me and being able to recall perfectly the sound of her purr and the way she used to wrap her paw around my index finger like a baby- and not let go of it. And then I wake to morning, reaching for her, and then I remember all over again.
I have seen her running in the house when the other cats were sleeping beside me. I have felt her crawl into my lap and settle down only there is no cat there. I cannot say if it is her spirit or if it is the energy current and echo of a pattern she had established within our home, or both. Spirit visitations can be cruel when they remind you that you can never touch them again. Not the way you used to, skin against skin. And yet, the gifts she gave us in her life have not been diminished in the grieving.
We are all animals. She was our family. Luna was my first experience in the joy, love and fear of being responsible for a defenseless living being. I discovered much of myself in raising her and accepting the bits of behavior that were her way of exploring the world, and not mine to control.

Missing Luna
We go on the best we can. We move forward and keep our hearts open. I will set her ashes out and light the ancestor shrine on her death day. I will set her food bowl out on the altar with her favorite treats and toys inside it. I will write down all the stories I remember about her in the journal I have been keeping throughout the year. I will take a moment to reflect on the changes in our lives since she died, without judgment or preference, and I will acknowledge the gratitude(s) this year has brought me. I will cry if I feel like crying and I will laugh because she gave me such great joy.

She worked us from the start, this shy, scared, trembling kitten who popped out of the cardboard carrier like a demon seed. As a kitten, she was a bloody hellion who dug up the chicks and hens from Sicily every day. She chewed on all the electrical cords and liked to hold her catnip mice under in the water bowl. 
I found her curled up sleeping in my closet one day, totally cute, just before realizing she had chewed all of the buttons she could reach off of all of my shirts. One time, she somehow drained a tall skinny glass of milk dry without knocking it over, disturbing the table around it or spilling a drop. And yet, she always ran through a doorway at the same moment I was and I stepped on her tail a bajillion times. Her totem animal was a Jackalope.
She was the first of the cats to catch a mouse and she could leap off the back of the chair and catch moths in mid-air. Apparently, moth-wing dust was a special delicacy. She liked to bathe in the winter mornings in the fishbowl of warm water we kept on the grate for moisture. She slept curled in a ball behind my knees under the covers. If I said no to something she wanted she would sass at me with this staccato back-talk and I loved her for it. Her favorite two toys were this little gingham fabric mouse and a pink bouncy ball with a rainbow around the middle.
She ate through my plastic bag of valerian before I understood it was like heroin to some cats. I found her rolling in it in my office, her eyes glazed over. Luna always helped me sew by holding down the pattern pieces for me. She hated the wood floors and dreamt of a house lined with wall-to-wall sleeping bags. She always knew when I needed a break from work and would come tell me so. She sat with me through all my meditations and often appeared walking beside me in them. She was afraid of ants and plastic bags. In the winter time, she liked to sleep behind the bathroom door, where the v-shape trapped the heat in. When she was really mad at me she’d cuff me along the jaw with her cupped paw, no claws, and then run away out of reach- boy did she have a mean hook.
We have little prisms hanging in the windows and Luna used to run back and forth over the bed chasing the little rainbows. When I think of her now, even though there is still sadness at the loss of her physical presence, I see her chasing flashing prisms across the quilt and I know she loved us as much as we loved her and that she was happy, and the pain of loss is well worth the price of the time we shared together.

Back to the present:

It hurts to read that again. We have lost two fur babies, two members of our familial pack. But they live on in the memories of this house. I wonder if we will carry them with us when we eventually move. Will it be hard to leave those memories behind? Will I find the strength to let them go? Will I always feel them with me?

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