Heal: From the Old English hælan, meaning cure; save; make whole, sound and well.
Then to mend from a significant loss is possible. The pain that comes with the loss can not be ignored, but must be unraveled, met, knit into new form. The new form must be put on rather than put away because it is undeniable part of you now.
Reading the literature of grief there is a strand that seems to say, “You will always be broken now.” This message doesn’t invite me to heal. I want:
You have been cracked open and through these cracks the light will enter. Some day you will be whole again. No, not as you were before, but in a new way.
I hold a vision that I can heal after my loss: the death of my partner John in a car accident last November. This journey to wholeness may take the rest of my life; healing may not be a goal with an end point, but a continual process. Still I seek it as a worthwhile destination.
The Tarot is a guide for me on this journey. My years of study and play with the cards and their symbols offer me ready access to the world’s wisdom’s traditions. They stimulate my ability to see signs in the natural world, find meaning in images, and pay attention to synchronicities out there in the every day world. They help me find new patterns when the pattern I thought was in place fell apart.
I want to share some stories from my experiences with these healing images. Perhaps it will help you to see how images can be part of your healing journey.
I could start the story in many places, perhaps talk about all the years of daily practice, of Tarot workshops, of developing a relationship with the Tarot, but to align with my theme of image I’ll start with something concrete.
I’ll start with a naughty necklace.
The Naughty Necklace
For my 40th birthday John gave me a present: Tarot wise woman Rachel Pollack. Well, what he really gave me was a private class with her. We went over to Rhinebeck and I had a deep dive into the four worlds of the Kabbalah and worked with her Shining Tribe deck (a long time favorite and spiritual practice deck for me). At the end of the session, Rachel brought out some of the necklaces she was starting to make with pendants picked up on her travels.
I was attracted to the necklace with a pendant from the Danish National Museum, even though it was one of the plainer ones. I didn’t really know much about the Viking symbology of the pendant. Were they bird people? But I was attracted to them; they could have been on a card from the Shining Tribe, which draws on indigenous and ancient imagery from across the globe.
I bought the necklace and wore it frequently. Until it broke.
I was standing in the coffee shop and for no apparent reason, the beads suddenly streamed down around me. I gathered them up. This happened just a few weeks before Readers Studio, a Tarot conference that Rachel and I both go to. Rachel said to bring the necklace along. She took it home for a few days to her necklace workshop and it was repaired in a snap.
All was well until a few weeks before the next Readers Studio when, once again, the beads streamed down for no apparent reason.
I began to think that this naughty necklace wanted to spend time with Rachel. It had a personality of its own and the ability to make very direct communication.
I was amused.
The police officer at the end of the telephone line said, “He didn’t make it.”
Thirty-six hours later I was on a plane to Montana where John had been living while working on a project for the Biomimicry Institute. I was going to claim his body, do a memorial circle with his co-workers, see the crash site, deal with the car, and clean out the apartment where he’d been living. I had five days.
I’d grabbed my Shining Tribe Tarot before I left the house for the airport. I didn’t have a plan for the Tribe, but I just wanted it with me.
In the middle of those days of pain and pressure, I found a few moments of meditation. I couldn’t ask the Tarot a clear question. I just said, “Help,” and pulled the Six of Birds.
I felt an immediate sense of relief. I didn’t have any intellectual understanding of the card. I just received this image as a gift of solace coming from the Greater Than.
Later that day, my sister and I went to the crash site. One of John’s co-workers lived near by and guided us there. She took us the long way around so we could see that the last images John saw were of the Bitterroot Valley’ beauty. As we came over a hill and started down, a red-tailed hawk rose up and seemed to lead the cars for a while. I couldn’t take my eyes off the hawk. He eventually turned east, veered toward the Sapphire Mountains, blended in with the dark horizon.
Words of understanding for the Six of Birds came to me then. I saw the red sleeping woman as John in death – when I’d seen his body it was so like he was just a sleep and could be shaken awake – and the bird as his Soul taking flight. No longer in the body, he could go where he needed to go.
I had a feeling of John going “home.” Though home was no longer a physical place we would share, this comforted me. It helped me to leave Montana and head east, to come home to Massachusetts.
The Hawk and The Crow
A friend brought a packet on grief to John’s memorial circle with a helpful list of normal signs of grief. Along with the signs that might come more quickly to mind (crying, wanting the person who has died back), there were less obvious reactions including being angry with the dead -around any unresolved issues or even just for dying.
Anger was not the first place I visited on my grief journey, but it waited patiently for me, digging down deep into my body. I might have let that anger fester if it hadn’t been for my Reiki sessions at Groundings. Not only did the sessions move my energy and surface the hidden, but they also invited me into a trance-state where I dreamed without sleeping and images from photos, from Tarot cards, from the natural world mixed together, moved with purpose, and invited me come with them and see that my grief story could evolve. Birds again came as helpers.
Hawks are fierce hunters, but the caw of the crow has its own power. One the day that we scattered John’s ashes, a hawk circled high up in the clear April sky. We watched without a word. In the silence, a crow swooped in to harry the hawk. The hawk flew higher and higher toward the sun. The crow pursued, keeping up the cawing. We thought she was protecting her nest.
In a Reiki session I felt myself become crow chasing John as hawk. I cawed and scratched and chased. He circled. This went on for weeks. We had it out up there in my imaginal sky without the words and actions that would have moved us through our rift if he had been alive. I couldn’t ignore this hurt, but had to figure out a way to go – or should I say fly – through it in some way.
And then we rested. These were moments of truce but not yet resolution. I drew the Two of Birds multiple times in those weeks.
We stood back-to-back. The snake around our legs gave me hope. The snake is a symbol of transformation. Sooner or later, it will have to shed its skin.
Return of the Naughty Necklace
One Sunday morning I lay in my bed as the sun rose. There was a steady quiet that comes only late at night and early in the morning on my busy street. A rasping caw broke through and there was fluttering in the leaves outside my window. A crow sat just outside my bedroom window – chest extended, beak up – calling out. There were no other crows around.
Crow was calling me?
I looked down at my bedside table to see the naughty necklace. I hadn’t worn it since before John’s death. The first birthday that were together John had given me a necklace with a little amber pendant. I’d put it on to go to Montana and had worn it ever since.
But now I was looking at the black shining beads and the two birds on the pendant facing each other, embracing. Some clicked inside and it came to me,
I can put this on. We can face each other. The love between us – inerasable from the past, eternally present, feeding the future – can flow again.
Thinking around the grief process has shifted from stages to tasks to be circled through. An ultimate goal is to find a new way to relate to the lost loved; a way that both keeps a connection and allows the griever to move forward in their own life. My journey with the help of the healing images has allowed me to change integrate, release, and re-form through working in the realm of the imagination.
I was surprised to find this change manifesting on the outside as well. Soon after I started wearing the necklace again, a new acquaintance admired it and asked, “Is that an owl?” Hmm, when I let go of my idea of there being two figures, I can see the owl eyes. There is no longer separation. The two are one. And I am now the one who moves forward in wholeness.
And Finally, Rubies
The second time the Naughty Necklace broke, I lost some beads and Rachel added rough rubies into the pattern. Little points of red break up the lines of black beads.
The red of the ruby carries a whole host of meanings. Red is the color of life-giving blood and when there is prick or a break you bleed. Red is the color of love and when you love there is both joy and the possibility of loss. Red is the color of the base chakra, the energy center that connects you to and grounds you in earth. Red is flow and stability, a gift and a risk.
The breaks changed the necklace. John’s death changed me. But we are not broken now. We are just today different.
[Note: If you have experienced the death of a loved one or major loss and need support for your own grief process, I am trained as a spiritual mentor. Sessions can be arranged where you tell your story and I listen with the “ears of my heart”. The storytelling and listening are central, but additional supports used in session include questions, Tarot work, stories from ancient traditions, nature awareness, and writing/art making prompts. I choose the word mentor because it implies not an expert, but one who is out a little bit ahead of you on a particular path. I’ve been on the path of creative morning since November 2012. Please contact me with your questions, we’ll see what fits your needs, and figure out payment possibilities.]