The Reliquarian | Severing Places – Why I am Quitting
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Severing Places – Why I am Quitting

Today marks a year… One year ago I stood at the side of one of the men I have most admired in my life and watched him take his last breaths in this world.  I then had to return home and tell his children, the people he loved most and lived for that they had lost their father.  There will be few moments in life that will rival this for me in terms of devastation.  They say… {we’re not sure who “they” are, but they certainly have a lot to say, about many things}… ‘They’ say that time heals all wounds, but they don’t say how much time.  ‘They’ don’t mention the treatment, the struggle, the suffering that it takes not just to heal, but to strengthen.  ‘They’ don’t clarify that healed is not the same as unwounded.  ‘They’ don’t actually know anything about what you are feeling, or what you have gone through, or what you must do to make it through… in fact for all the judgement, and wisdom, and advice, and words they offer… ‘they’ don’t even pay very much mind to your plight, or even notice or know what you have endured… who are they anyway?

We live in a world now that we receive the abridged moments and emotions of each other in the moment, and in brief, and assume from this we know who a person is… but most of us don’t even know ourselves.  Pain teaches us a lot about ourselves, and it teaches us a lot about humility and compassion in regards to others.  This is something that was also taught to me very much by dad, both in his life, when I remember him strong, and intelligent, and unimaginably kind, and in the final days and hours, when his strength failed, and my own was tested.

I have been thinking a lot of him, and all he’s helped build in my life.  He raised the man I so deeply love, and I am always so grateful for the father and husband Michael is.  The very walls of the studio his hands are on every stud of.  I went looking for photographs of him, knowing he wasn’t fond of having his picture taken.  Most were from a single day of him and Michael building my first studio together… He was the first to open his door and take me in when I felt like no where was home.  He was the first to buy my first published book… the first to tell me I had to finish the Reliquarian…

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A few military photos, and very few family photos we hold.  This is why I picked up a camera in the first place… because when we are faced with the impermanence of all things, especially our loved ones, we often find that the photographs are the only things we have that offer us some sense of immortality… a way to preserve moments, and keep them.  They are where past, present, and future converge into one seamless moment.  We have so few moments preserved of his, but as I went searching I found something unexpected.

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The photographs he is in will always be a bittersweet thing for me.  They are the only way I have now to see his face.  I imagine if you are reading this, that your thoughts fall to your own losses, and hold just as tightly, memorizing the lines on their face, the colors in their iris, the shape of their hands… why do we do that?  Why do we not hold the same gratitude, the same reverence when we have them here to love and hold to?

I have suffered loss.  I have lost family, I have lost friends… I have learned this lesson from childhood, and like all wounds time has lessened the pain, either through the pain depleting or the self strengthening to endure; in either case it has also taught me that pain is an important teacher.  Pain heightens the feeling of everything, most specifically fear.  An excerpt of the Reliquarian speaks: “In Truth, Fear is the Shadow of Love, and Shadows Denote the Presence of Light.”  Fear is designed to show us what is essential, it diminishes all else from focus, and all that is left is the truth.  The truth is Love.

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It took time… a year in fact.  For me to write this.  For me to find my courage, for me to find some semblance of healing, and peace.  To be honest, I’m not really there yet.  I am haunted many days.  It’s a bit like having an important conversation and then thinking of all the things you should have said after the fact.

Regret.

Regret is something I deal with deeply.  I regret that I spoke too much instead of letting him rest, I regret that I didn’t say it sooner.  I regret that I pushed Michael to go visit him only to have him sit for hours watching his father sleep as he slowly died, only to have him wake up 5 minutes after he left and ask for his son.  I regret that I didn’t leave the last night and so robbed Michael of the chance to be at his father’s bedside in the last moments.  I regret that I called to tell him his father had passed instead of going home and saying it in person, I regret that when he was sleeping in the last hour that I disturbed him by asking the nurses to change the linens.  I regret that I cried and in a panic said I loved him repeatedly, hysterically; instead of simply holding his hand and being peaceful.  I regret I didn’t visit more often, stay for longer, that 5 years ago he moved away and out of the second building so I could begin my studio, that 10 years ago I didn’t push for him to take better care of himself, that one year ago it was too late to do what we might have done to keep him with us a little longer.

“You better hurry and finish this book girlie, I want to see the movie before I die.”

“I promise I’m going to finish it dad.  I’m working on it, I’m just busy.”

For months afterwards I couldn’t touch the book in writing or artistry because I regretted failing him.  I failed in so many ways, and I can never have the opportunity to absolve any of it.  That was the last conversation we had at home.  In the hospital he became less and less lucid, and in what was the final moment of clarity between us he was fighting to recover.  “I have to take care of them.  Megan, Matt, Michael…the grandkids…”  He lamented as he looked at the floor.  I got on my knees to look at him and said “Dad, I PROMISE, I promise, I’m going to take care of them.  I’m going to take care of them.”

Now all I have left is that promise, and a sparing amount of photographs.

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When I finally found the courage to write this I looked for images of him… While we often speak of the drama and dependency our generation has with Facebook, I think as with all things, its good or evil is dependent on the intention.  It can be a means of connection, a means of communication, it can serve the ego, or as in this moment, it becomes a time capsule. It gave me a great truth.  All of the photos in this blog come up under “Pictures of Bill”  They are photos he saved, or ones the rest of his family tagged him in.  Pictures of his children and grandchildren.  His daughter’s wedding, his son’s deployment, the birth of his grandchildren, birthday parties, christmases, the random ordinary day… Far more photos of who he loved than of him, himself.  Even in today’s generation and youth that have coined the term ‘selfie’ and have at their disposal an infinite roll of film in their camera phones, looking through other photo albums showed me the same, that the photos of us, are less often of what we look like than they are who we love, and what we experienced.  It’s about what matters.  In the end we take photos of what you see, to show how we feel about what you see.

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An empty pie plate to coerce him into making more of his infamous apple pie.  A photograph of the first cappuccino, because I can’t drink “real coffee”  A photo of his grandson’s 7th birthday cake because neither his father nor grandfather could be there physically, but were there none the less.  Love is the source of all magic in this world.  It is the greatest proof of immortality.  That even when we seem to be gone we are a part of the moments that fill our loved ones with pride, with excitement, with love, with sorrow, with humor, with awe.

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In my pilgrimage for these images I turned on his old laptop, and found quite a few recipes, as was to be expected.  I also found a letter to his children.  As I read it I saw that what was from him, was actually an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my own children on my account, that they might someday find, when they take it upon themselves to also seek some sign of my presence, when all they feel is absence.  It was both incredibly humbling, and heart wrenching, and also the greatest respect or accolade I could ever earn from the merit of my words… It took me a year to finally feel ok sharing these words now.  And as expected it began with his usual wit and sarcasm.

“Dear Michael,Matthew, Megan, Cadence, Steven,Alexander and Riley,

I copied some of this from Jess Jess, she said what I’ve been thinking and I’m glad all her ramblings finally offered something useful.”

{If you’ve lost a parent, and they didn’t get to say what they meant to, my guess as a mother is that what is written below is universally thought; most of us just get lost in the day to day, and don’t think to say it until it’s too late, or we no longer have the opportunity.  So chances are, just as this letter turned out to be not only for my children, but for his children, it might also be for yours, and/or for you as well.}

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Someday you’ll be going through files, and statuses; out of curiosity, mourning, love, or boredom… you’ll find things that make you roll your eyes, make you laugh, embarrass you, make you proud… Maybe you’ll come across this one.

You are the love and light in my life… You inspire me to be and do more, to be worthy of the legacy you are. You are such beautiful souls, such courageous hearts, and so genuine… And you remind me of that constantly… I have seen you in your purest moments and I am humbled by you. I am awed by your capacity for love, and the simplicity of how easily you find happiness… As your father I find myself wistful, longing for the ability to shield you from the skepticism, the meanness, the ignorance of the world that will tear away at that as you grow older…

I try desperately to be someone of character, and integrity, and gumption, because I see you observing and mimicking my movements, and speech and way of thinking… And often I feel I am failing to be worthy of being your North.

While you are trying to grow up and be like me, you are also teaching me how to be more like you. More loving, more trusting, more genuine, to feel things in their true rawness, every sorrow, every joy… To think nothing of shedding tears, or laughing out loud, to believe in the things others don’t, to have no limitations inflicted by some other person’s definition of reality.

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I want you to follow your heart, but take your head along the journey as well. I want you to fight injustice, fight for your beliefs, your rights, fight monsters and dragons, and know they don’t always look like the ones in your fairy tales, but that makes them no less real.

Find yourself, and your passion, find your purpose… Hear no one in the world that tries to make you feel bad about being happy. Be with someone that makes you happy…more importantly just be someone that makes you happy all on your own. Find the beauty in everything, in everyone, and when you can’t find it, create it… Leave everything better than when you found it, everyone better for having known you.

You’re so full of talent, of promise, of hope, of life.

Fall in love as much as possible, with people and things and places, if you are lucky enough to find someone you love, love them with your whole heart, it is a gift to love someone, to be loved, regardless of who they are, their race, their religion, their gender, their faith, their stature; all these are irrelevant, anyone who tells you otherwise is then by definition incapable of unconditional love…

Learn the lessons in life… And learn a few of them the hard way. Fall flat on your face, and forgive me when I didn’t help you up, because I want you to know the value of your own strength.  My first instinct is always to save you… From a fall, from pain, from bad dreams, and skinned knees, and bad decisions and broken hearts, but my stronger instinct is to let you feel the agony of defeat, so you learn that defeat is not defeated, that you are your own source of strength and renewal.  I’ll be right there cheering you on, and offering solace and love, but in the end I didn’t want to save you, I wanted to teach you that you can save yourself.

I want you to see that we all make wretched mistakes, and terrible choices that hurt the people we most dearly love, that hurt ourselves; and that others are going to hurt you, maybe even I will unintentionally wound you, but bad decisions are that, and they do not make bad people, sometimes that is the only way to learn what the right choices are…

You will learn sometimes getting lost is the best way to find your path, that it may be your destiny to walk many paths, that life and love, and success, and destiny, they are not the destination, they are the journey itself.

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I love you. I am proud of you, proud to be your father and grandfather.  I am proud to say that while most fathers teach their children they can have heroes to admire, to look up to, and hope to one day meet, that I gave Michael, and Megan to you as a mommy and daddy and that is the best thing I could have done, they will teach you courage, and compassion, and a deep kind of selflessness in love that I have never experienced in another human being.

They will give you patience, and understanding, and they will always be someone that will help you find YOUR way while the rest of the world insists you follow theirs.  Michael, Matthew, and Megan understand service, as only soldiers who have served do, and they have always served you and your father, even when we argued, or forgot we were on the same side.

They will do for you exactly what they have always done for me: love you for exactly who you are, and make you want to be the best version of yourself. Of all the reasons I loved my children that is the most profound… It has healed me from some very deep hurts, and made me everything that I find extraordinary about myself. It reversed all the damage I have carried and been since they were children, and they have been surrounding you with that same love, acceptance and encouragement for you since your first moments.  

Their love for you is the very best gift I could give to you as a grandfather, to have them as your parents, aunt and uncles.

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I’m sorry. For every time I have failed you or will. For every harsh word, every time I spoke to you without kindness in my voice and love in my heart, for anytime I made you feel abandoned, for anytime I made you feel unloved, or unworthy, please know in those moments and words… you are not in them… they are my failings, and not yours, my ugliness and ignorance, not yours.

You have boundless potential, you are gorgeous beings, full of warmth, and love, and light, and you will accomplish wonderful, monumental things in this world, as long as I am able to teach you that everything is solely what you make it…

You are responsible for your actions, you may not control how you feel, but you control how you choose to react to it, and I hope I teach you to have gratitude. For people and things that get in your way, and later show you that it was for your own good, for the lessons learned.

I want you to be intelligent enough to not take yourself or anyone else too seriously.  To have a quick wit, and sense of humor, to speak your mind honestly, but not with unkindness. I want you to hear no voice, not even mine, louder than your own.

I want you to know how proud I am of you, of the children you are, of the people you are becoming, of the parents you have become, and how many times I have cried with joy over that, that you are the parents I always wanted to be for you … I want you to know that all my most favorite memories have you in them, as do all of my most beautiful hopes for the future. I want you to know that since I was your age, my hope has always been to change the world, to leave a mark on it that made it better for my having been here, and that I have now done that seven times, with a daughter and two sons, a granddaughter and 3 grandsons, you are my legacy, my life, my past, present, and future, you are my immortality, my hope, and my greatest love in this world…

You were created in love, though my marriage did not last, that relationship certainly mattered, and you each embody everything that was beautiful and strong and hopeful about your mother and I.  None of that was lost because it lives in each of you, passed through.

You will learn that love is the core of everything, the purest most genuine part of our humanity, and you are the literal, beautiful embodiment of love, you are the marrying of that into one form of existence.

I wish you happiness in all the ways you hope to find it, I wish you success, and comfort, but above all other things, I hope that you find someone you love as irrevocably and passionately, deeply, desperately as I have loved each of you…

That love is you: My dearest pieces of my own heart.  You have been the roots from which anything worthwhile that I have done, that I have created, that I have been, has flowed from. You are every breath and beat of my existence.  I can not look in your faces and not see the light of God, the truth of love in it’s purest form. You are phenomenal beings, courageous creatures with a strength of spirit that will cause others envy and fear, and I hope I raise you to open your hearts and home to the weary, and those in need, but never to anyone that does not enter your life with love.  I hope that you never accept the perspective of anyone that doesn’t see you are magic, that you are beautiful, that you are powerful beyond measure.

I have carried these thoughts and this love for you since you were infants sleeping in my arms, when I could not bear to set you down because it filled my heart with peace to look at and be with you, and I will carry all the same thoughts when I am old and frail, and it is your arms encircling me until I sleep… and when it is my time forgive me if I do not wait for you to be with me in final moments.  

I don’t want your last thoughts to be of me in the face of the end.  I want you to remember life, not death.  You were my life’s purpose, you are my greatest gift in life, and the one I share with the world, you are my story, my legacy, my immortality…

If someone could look at, and hear what my love was, they would hear your laughter, and know the color of your eyes, and the sweetness of your fingers that fit perfect laced through mine no matter how you grow.

You are loved. You are love itself. I will always love you. Always be with you.

Dad.

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In the Reliquarian there is a point on the Impossible Climb called the Severing Place.  It came into being shortly after losing dad.   There are moments in life that are severing places, good and bad, where life is divided into before this and after this.  I’ve had several of these moments… Before I met Michael, After we were married, the moment I found out I was pregnant, became a mother, first held my children, Lost my best friend, my grandfather, and dad.  Life was never the same after those moments, who I was, and what mattered changed.  How I looked at the world was different.  Some of these moments we choose for ourselves.  When we propose, or say yes… or no.  If we choose when we become parents… these are enormous decisions that with anticipation or anxiety we mull over and chew on for days, months, or even years.  It takes time to build the courage to step to a place that we can never return from.

I have been, for the last year at the place before the Severing, seeking my courage.  It has been humbling for me, because I did not hesitate to begin photography, I charged confidently towards owning a studio and photographing clients.  I have pushed my apprentices so hard to go forward towards their dreams and goals without hesitation… but it was easy for me, I was so sure my ability and talent, and stubbornness would see me through…

The Reliquarian is very different, and it is the first time it’s different.  I’ve never taken on something that I felt so completely unqualified for, and unsure of.  That the scales seemed tipped towards failure… I’ve never had an aspiration that I was so frightened of, or that required so much of me.  I have been playing at it over the last few years, dipping my toes, even wading once or twice in, but to get to where I must requires diving in, fighting the current, tide, and looming storms, and possibly drowning in the process… and interestingly that is exactly where our protagonist is in the story right now… fighting the Oceans of Avonmorra.  To make this what I believe it capable of becoming will require nothing less than all of me… and I promised him I would finish the story.

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Sometime ago I went with Sarah Jane to our favorite little store Earth Speak, and purchased this set of Oracle Cards.  You may consider them nonsense, or you may believe wholeheartedly in their power… for me I think they serve their purpose in either case, and in-between… perhaps they are random and coincidental, perhaps there are guiding hands and forces behind them… perhaps it is a message for you, and perhaps the power comes in the sense of consciousness… that whatever we pick we will translate and identify what we subconsciously believe to be the truth… In any case when I feel lost, really lost, I’ll draw a card and ask for an answer.  So I left the collection with several of his belongings, in my 200 year old desk I’ve been writing the story on, I asked the Old Guy to give me some guidance, and drew a card.  The answer was ‘Big Bold Vision.’  The question was “Which path do I now follow?”

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Perhaps we believe what we need to.  Perhaps we see what we are looking for only.  Perhaps there is nothing beyond this life, magic, and spirit, and ghosts have no place in reality… or perhaps there is something beyond which we comprehend and perceive, and there are no coincidences.  Maybe this was from fate, from dad, from my own subconscious, from chance… in any case it was the final grain of sand that tipped the scales.  I am  1/3rd of the way through my life, perhaps even more.  I don’t know what happens after our time here is done, but I know this is the only life I have been given as I am, and I know this has been within me since I was a child, there were elements of it through every hobby, every talent, every interest, every career move.  Every experience has led me into the heart of this story and its pieces, and I wake and sleep with it on my mind and in my dreams.  Everything else I’m doing leads me to thoughts of it in some regard… a symptom of being in love I suppose; when you can not stop thinking of it… and life is to short to spend it on anything else except love.

So a year ago I was in a Severing Place, and I lost one of the most significant people in my life.  Someone who very much helped shape the woman I became.  One year later I have decided to step to the Severing Place again.  As of this moment I have decided to sacrifice everything else.  To step away from my successful studio, to step away from the Arcanum.  To make all else nonexistent, or at the least secondary to the Reliquarian… to see it through, to an epic failure, or wild success… but to make good my promise to finish the story, finish the project.  I have long preached that if you follow your passion long enough that profit will follow… if you follow it longer still, and with a true heart it will lead you to your purpose… I believe this is the path towards mine, and everything I have taught, all I have said would be meaningless if I too did not find the courage to seek it out with all my heart.

To be honest, scared is an understatement. I am terrified of failing, of the impact I am placing on my family, giving up the income that teaching and my studio provides, of asking everyone to sacrifice their quality of living, and putting all my winnings on the table for the next bet, which holds such high odds against me… but I have to believe that there is a reason that a wanderlust spirit such as mine, who rarely stays in any place, or home, or job, or hobby for very long has been so completely anchored into this one inspiration, because it is at the center of what I’m meant to do.  And I have to see it through, a promise I made to him, but now need to keep for myself…

It is my sincere hope that those who have followed me thus far, will see me into this next journey with the same love and encouragement that has become the blood in the veins of my adventures… with and for you.  Always.

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