I love June. It is the time of weddings and graduations. A time of beginnings, surprises, freshness, and strawberries. And with all those good things, there too, is loss.
Last year at this time, I was planning a memorial for our family and the community to bid farewell to my father. It was a smallish affair, 60 people or so. The food was delicious, the wine mellow. My father would have loved to attend; he was quite a connoisseur. He, like his mother (my grandmother), loved good friends and good food, especially when they came together for special occasions.
At that ceremony, where we celebrated my father’s life, we wandered through his home and gardens, reflecting upon the good times. We built this ranch together over twelve years; there were many outside projects, ranch meetings, dinners and family meetings. We were a cohesive unit; we spent time together and we did stuff together. We all miss my father’s love for beauty, hedonistic delight, mental figurings, and his big heart and warmth. It was a loss we all knew would happen though I think one can never truly be ready.
Life happens as it happens and we are either here to receive it or resist it. People die. Marriages we thought would always last, break up. Bad things happen to good people. Now I am learning how to soften the impact, how to allow for a bit of grace. Less bracing, more receiving.
I always feared life after my father’s death. He was such an integral part of the ranch, how would we all continue? Of course I had gotten his papers in order with him. I knew who got what in terms of his estate. But there was so much else that was uncertain.
Here we are one year later. My father’s house has been rented to a stylish young man who is hardly ever there. We’ve managed to rent out the barn and are able to enjoy having horses in our fields with none of the responsibility (imagine!). My husband’s business has gone surprisingly well, though each month we wonder; life with an entrepreneur is never guaranteed.
My husband and I have continued to keep Oak Creek Ranch thriving. Our trusty ranch hand remains with us, carrying his secrets of irrigation and how to fix the tractor. He knows where the wild things live on the ranch and how to keep the Runner Ducks safe.
Inside the house, we have moved some of the furniture around, integrating my father’s comfy chair and the glass vase where we stored his ashes. We moved the rowing machine and a television into our younger daughter’s room, while our elder daughter’s room became a temporary recording studio. Ella and Grace come back for visits to the ranch and we go and visit them at their colleges in Pennsylvania and New York. They bring boyfriends to meet us. We get to visit them as they venture abroad to Paris and Quito. The adventures of our family continue beyond the borders of Oak Creek Ranch
Last year at this time, I couldn’t have imagined that my younger daughter would end up in Ecuador, or that my little brother would come and live with us for the six months of the year he doesn’t live in Brazil. I suppose I could have guessed we might put the ranch up for sale after my father’s death but not the ups and downs of our finances.
I have long known that I wanted to continue to contribute my gifts and talents to my family, friends and community in a more professional way. My coaching has evolved, from facilitating personal growth weekends to creating circles for women and girls. I combined my love for group facilitation with becoming an Enneagram teacher. Then I built an office so I could see people in private, separate from my home. And finally, this year, I became certified by New Ventures West, a coaching school in San Francisco. I have to admit, the course and the certification were tougher than I could have imagined and in ways I didn’t expect.
I am getting better at doing something I’d never considered before but that I’d first thought about after listening to the poet David Whyte: I am building my relationship with uncertainty. I’m exploring surrender, not knowing--taking life more as it is, and as it comes. I can see how my positivity is a gift and also how it gets in my way. I can feel the difference in my body when I’m truly inhabiting it or only hiding out in it. I’ve been studying presence and focus and commitment and allowing. My capacity and range are starting to broaden.
It’s as if, before, I had a small conducting wire threading through my heart and soul, grounding me to the earth. I could only really receive so much and the rest was excess. Now, I have a cable inside me, running right through from above to below. I know more specifically what grounds me and am open to further inquiry.
In two days, I will be having another ceremony. I have invited some friends for a purple and orange party where I will walk down our driveway in a purple cap and gown I bought through the internet. I have an orange and purple tassel to move from the right to the left side of the cap. The orange sash I will wear is emblazoned with the initials for New Ventures West and all the other schools I have graduated from but at which I never crossed a stage to receive a diploma. This ceremony is a summary of graduations, a summary of being a life-long learner. I’m curious what it will feel like to participate in this age-old ritual. And though others will not be wearing caps and gowns, they will be there to witness and support.
I am not alone these days. You might think that with 27 years of partnership and two grown children that would have been obvious: the balance between autonomy and belonging. Like the final puzzle piece being placed in the surroundings of all the other pieces, this ceremony may create a new family tradition. Next year, Ella may walk down the driveway with her friends from Ashland and her green cap and gown from Sarah Lawrence College. And the next year perhaps it will be Grace with her blue gown from Franklin & Marshall College. Or maybe they won’t think that is important and maybe nothing will happen, and that will be alright.
Each moment, we’ll take together as it comes. As my relationship with uncertainty grows, the only thing I’m really sure is how precious my life is to me, and what it is to belong, in my family, on the ranch, in my community. Blessed Be.