Wednesday, December 08, 2010


That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been.
-Ecclesiastes 3:15

I had a lot of time to think, while we were on the ferry back to the island. We embarked on our 31-hour journey from Prince Rupert in the afternoon, under a cloudless sky. We sailed south past barge terminals, docks, and canneries. Then those dropped back to the stern, and it was tugs and seiners and buoys. Then those dropped astern and we moved on into isolated channels, past narrow coves and innumerable waterfalls. As the sun set, dropping smudgy and red through the clear winter sky behind the western mountains of Grenville Channel, the full moon rose pale and chilly in the east.

It was too cold to be much on the outer decks, but I spent as long as I could tolerate outside, thinking, staring at the steep sides of the channel we were navigating.

Darkness crept up on us while we were still in Grenville Channel. I put the children to bed, and stayed curled on the porthole sill, watching the moon.

I was hundreds of kilometres from the nearest electric light. The ship was barely lit. The passage we traveled was waveless – protected from the open sea. The black ocean slid underneath in a heavy liquid ink that felt bottomless. Above me was the round and silent moon, sailing in her own black unending sea.

For hours I watched it – saw it above, saw it below. I gazed at the coastline, an otherworldly, blurred slash of distant paleness, the only proof that we were divided: sea and sky. If it weren’t for that shoreline, we – the moon and the sleeping children and I – could have been on the continuous inside of a dark liquescent ball.

Bathed in the moon and the remoteness of the night, my communion with the dark Pacific brought a sudden realisation.

Sandy died hours after September’s full moon, in the early morning following the autumnal equinox. The high tide had begun to ebb one hour before - and not long before that, she had sat up in bed and said her last words. I have to go.

Four Fridays later, I had watched October’s full moon rise and thought of how she had left - intentionally, it seemed - on the turning of the tide, the turning of the moon, the turning of a season – her favourite season.

And now eight weeks had passed, and on my journey home from retreat, I saw a third full moon rise.

I know when the next one will come: a rarity – a full moon on winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Solstice marks the time when earth’s life forces are at their lowest ebb. Everything is dead or sleeping. But every day afterwards will be a little longer...our faces are turned towards the sun for a few extra minutes of warmth every day, until finally it will be enough to awaken the plants, and rouse the animals, and break open the seeds lying under the melting snow.

The wheel of the year will turn again.

It has been a hard time. Nearly a full year has passed since Dad came to tell me of his diagnosis, and since Sandy came to me and told me her cancer was back. Now he is cancer-free – healthy – and she is dead.

And we have suffered.

So there is one more moon to come: a full moon to light the longest night – the moon that will close this season of mourning.

The morning after, light will begin to return to the sleeping earth.

Light will begin to return to me.

Last spring, I wrote “I’m lost. I don’t know how to lose a friend. I think the handbook for that might turn out to be short: muddle through as best you can.” Now I’ve lived the end of our story, hers and mine, and I can look back on the last twelve months and say, with peace: I have done well. This job I had to do, this task given me to accomplish, was painful and difficult and it broke my heart...but all I could, I did.

And it was enough, and more than enough.

Now I find, at the end, that one of the most important things is to let go of a thing that is over. To know the job is done, to have experienced it fully, to let it become a part of who I am, and to go in peace towards something new.

There are times in your life that grow you up – push you up a steep and rocky slope, which you have to scramble to stay on top of, and when you reach the summit your hands are bleeding and your fingers ache from holding on, but you’re changed, and stronger, and the view is incredible.

Life is a beautiful thing. Death can be a beautiful thing.

The time for weeping is nearly over. I can feel the season of mourning passing away. I’m ready for the wheel to turn, ready for the next season to begin. It’s an everlasting cycle, and I am a part of it.


kate said...

Love and peace.

kristieinbc said...

Twice I have tried to leave a comment about what you have written, and both times I have just sat staring at my keyboard. So for attempt number three I will just say that was an incredible piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Annalea said...

This is beautiful, Shan.

You have experience I haven't yet earned--knowing how to feel, breathe, live with loss, and what it's like on its other side. I wonder when my time will be, and honestly, I'm somewhat fearful . . . letting go isn't something I've yet done very well. The privilege of experiencing your loss through your writing has been a blessing; one that has eased my mind. Thank you.

lizbon said...

Oh my god. Also, wow.

Lesley Sprung said...

I find myself tearful reading your post and I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. You are so insightful, so strong, so inspirational. I admire you more than you know.

geekknitter said...

And once again you've made me cry.

Peace to you. Comfort, rest, healing. But peace most of all.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond, I simply didn't have the words. I still don't. So I won't try.

karen said...

This was the longest year... I will light a special candle for you and Sandy on the longest night(21st) as a tribute to the trials and the journey and the celebration of the new paths ahead...

Linda W said...

I'm going to look at that moon on Solstice, and know that you are looking at it too. And then be in amazement and awe at all of the multitudes of others that are, or have, looked at that same moon. Thank you, and God bless.

Gwen said...

It was Sandy who taught me about pathetic fallacy, and I think in her English-teacher's heart she'd be so tickled about the lovely symbolism of the day of her death. Shannon, I think you understood Sandy like no one else but Brian. How wonderful and precious that she had a friend who knew her like you did!

Joan said...

Beautiful. How blessed in friendship you both were.

Kasie said...