Category: 2020

Loss, Grief and the Joy That Awaits Us

The year of 2020 has been one for the history books. Every one of us has experienced a gamut of emotions including fear, loss, sadness, despair, hope, gratitude, care, anger, frustration, love, acceptance, longing, grief, compassion, empathy, worry, anxiety, faith and confidence. It was not the best of years. Big changes had to be made and new habits adopted. It is not natural to socially distance for most people. It is not easy to withhold hugs and physical closeness with our family and friends. These are everyday habits that uplift us, support us and make our lives rich and meaningful.

I want to acknowledge our (your) losses this year. Perhaps the loss was from death. Perhaps it was loss of intimacy from an overload of sustained exposure to lockdown and social restrictions. Perhaps it was a loss of employment and financial independence. Perhaps it was loss of travel and social freedoms to go where you wanted. Perhaps it was the loss of your social life or recreational connections. Perhaps it was the loss of seeing/visiting family and friends. Or even the loss of receiving treatments and care in the way you would like or needed it. Children lost ‘normal play’ and natural engagements with other children in many places. These are but a handful of losses we have experienced this year. Some of us have lost intensely and much while others have lost less but feel great empathy for those who lost more.

This time of year offers us, in whatever tradition we may enjoy, a season of hope and light, a season of celebration and ritual, a season of coming together with great efforts towards peace and goodwill, a season of rejoicing and shared generosity with family and the world at large. And so, this season may put our hearts at odd with these two realities, each seeking to be acknowledged and honoured in some way… loss and joy.

Our family’s traditions involved opening presents Christmas eve, celebrating our family time with joy and song and gifting. My father’s last Christmas, my father got a radio. It was 1974 and it was a big deal. He had such a big smile on his face.

Christmas eve, 1975, is a very different memory. Equally short, but without the smiles and laughter. Looking back, I can only imagine what my mother did or would have wanted to do to make this first Christmas without her husband and her children’s father a good one. She bought gifts and followed the traditions of the past that we as a family had created. However, that Christmas eve, I remember my older brother and sister leaving to go snowmobiling with friends shortly after we started opening presents. A brief conversation between my older siblings and my mother occurred, but the choice to get out was made. I could feel the pain in my mother’s heart.

My younger brother and I opened our presents and I remember him not exactly liking what he got. He ‘didn’t really want that’. I heard the pain again in my mother’s and brother’s voices. For my part, I just went quiet, not wanting to ‘be a burden’ and add to the grief and sadness I felt everywhere. There was nothing she could have done to mend the pain in all our hearts. There was no tradition she could have repeated that would have stopped each of us from expressing our grief and loss in the way we each did. No material gift could fix the pain of a father gone. For all of us, in our own way, it was a most difficult Christmas, because we faced a reality that would never be different. My father wasn’t coming back.

In my mother’s wisdom, she recognized this huge loss for us all. She recognized what would never be again. Rather than try to hang onto the past, we began to change our Christmas traditions to reflect the family we were post my father’s death. It took us several years, but as we grew into teenagers, my mother invited us to share in the responsibilities of making Christmas ‘our celebration.’ And we did. I have fond memories of our family Christmases. As the years passed, my mother invited widowers who had lost spouses or those who did not have ‘family’. My siblings and I never objected. We remembered those first Christmases after our father died.

As our family grew, grandchildren arrived, siblings moved, things changed, our tradition continues to evolve. Hope and love continue to flow and bring new meaning and light to our lives. This is some of what I learned in that journey:

  1. Like that first year, we must remember that everyone is hurting during this pandemic in some way because loss has been experienced by us all this year.
  2. We all process our own grief and pain differently. There is no one way.
  3. Learn to release resentments for how others express their loss and pain. Forgive them for the pain that was caused. Nothing good can come out of holding on to your resentments.
  4. Acknowledge those who are facing a significant loss this year and invite them for a walk or bring a tea and join them on the porch. Their hearts are broken.
  5. Play is necessary to maintain mental-emotional wellness. Both the day of my father’s funeral and that first Christmas after, when I was 11 years old, I asked my friends and cousins to go outside and play with me. At the funeral, we ran across the road to the public school and played in the playground. That Christmas, I remember my cousins and us going tobogganing, a Christmas ritual. Play resets and regroups the nervous system and the spirit.
  6. Have genuine hope that with the courage and commitment to take steps forward each day, and in making changes to meet the current needs of the people still here, new life, new joys and the flow of love can be restored and re-created.
  7. The new way may have little resemblance to what once was, and yet where love is real, the new way is built upon the shoulders of what was. The deeper threads of love and connection remain flowing from the past, opening to the mystery and creative dreams still meant to be lived in the future. Embrace the change calling you. More joy awaits.

Whether you celebrate Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, be kind to all you meet. Be gentle with your hearts. Acknowledge that your loss and fatigue is real, and it is real for others too. These losses are re-shaping our lives.

I read there is an extraordinary miracle happening in our celestial skies this season. It seems to me that in our very darkness, a little extra light is given to us. “As 2020 comes to a close, the solar system has decided to grace us with a cosmic Christmas miracle that hasn’t been witnessed [visible] in nearly 800 years. On Dec. 21st (aka the Winter Solstice), Jupiter and Saturn will align so closely in the night sky that they’ll almost appear to collide from our vantage point here on Earth, creating a radiant point of light often referred to as the “Star of Bethlehem” or the “Christmas Star.”

I hope that light and beauty will return—in a new way. And embrace the change that this year is asking of you. You never know where the new road will take you. Joys await us all. Peace.


Shirley Lynn

The Grand River, All Nations Grand River Water Walk – and Five Lessons Learned

I have the honour of helping to organize and participate in the All Nations Grand River Water Walk from its inception to our upcoming walk in September 2020. A great many gifts have come to me in being of service to the water, specifically to the Grand River – gifts that have become life lessons. I would like to reflect on five transformative lessons that I use both personally and in my soul coaching & whole life therapies work with clients.

From the beginning of our gatherings, *Mary Anne Caibaiosai taught us the protocols for the water walk ceremony. As I absorbed these teachings, I began to see my own blindness. When we really open our heart-mind to these teachings, something new awakens within because the teachings, like the Grand River, are alive.

* Mary Anne Caibaiosai. is her English name. She is bear clan Anishnaabe kwe from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island. She has received and follows traditional teachings passed from her Elders from her territory and from the Midewewin lodge.

1. Water is life. It is alive.

Of course it is. Intellectually I know our bodies are at least 70% water and without water, we will die. But this knowledge was limited to my brain, and not yet fully alive and awake in my heart. In carrying the pail of Grand River water on that first walk, something awakened in me. She is my life. I need water, the Grand River, to be healthy and happy. Her water is the water in me. If she is sick, so will I be sick. If she is contaminated, so will I be—not only my body’s ‘water’, but my thoughts too will be contaminated, as body and mind are connected.

2. Water flows forward. It doesn’t stop and look back.

Of course. I know this. But do I? My worries and fears ‘paralyze’ my body’s water flow inside me rather than allow the natural and organic flow forward. I can feel the slowing down and freezing in my fear. When I restore mindfulness and notice the way of water, its natural activity, I see the Grand River simply flow forward, not stopping in fear, reminding me to let flow.

The Grand River never changes who she is. She is always a flowing river. Her destination is always clear to her and she never waivers from her destination. And though she winds and loops around, admiring herself and her environment, her overall destination is clear and continuous over centuries.

During the water walk, women carry the pail of water. We never stop while carrying the pail. Once we begin touchup in the wee hours of the morning, we walk until touchdown. Water flows. She doesn’t stop. It is the true nature of the Grand River to flow. Even when we dump toxins in her, she flows.

In one moment in 2018, I was carrying the pail of water. I was deep in song and looking forward. Someone drove by and called my name. I was momentarily brought out of my inner state of prayerfulness and in this surprised moment, turned to respond. Before I could turn, the Anishnaabe man carrying the eagle staff, put his hand on my shoulder and firmly said, “Keep looking forward. Walk.” I was so grateful for his guiding hand to remind me of the protocols and to focus on the task of walking forward, of allowing the water to go in the direction she flows, unimpeded by my momentary distraction. After handing off the pail, the person who had called my name also apologized for causing the distraction and then said, “it all got sorted out”. Yes, that’s right, let what’s behind sort itself out if I am not responsible to sort it out. Keep moving forward, staying focused on the task.

3. You never need to reach your destination alone.

The Grand River starts as a collective of small springs and begins to flow, not yet being a big river. I was surprised to learn that it begins rather like a creek. The watershed along the Grand River is rich and diverse and abundant. The Eramosa, Speed, Conestogo and Nith Rivers all join and merge with the Grand River. At each confluence, the Grand River grows in size and strength. At the mouth of the Grand River into Lake Erie, she is a river to be reckoned with. Indeed, she is big enough to sustain a port (which she did for a time).

I realized then, if my projects arise from the ground of my being, not to worry how small me and my project may look at the beginning. Just start flowing with what I have. Let what needs to, arise. Come together with the small arisings of like-hearted others and start flowing. Trust that those who wish to join the flow, the movement of my project, will come along. There will be confluences that grow my project organically, especially if it brings life to the community. Just like this water walk is doing for our community. The Anishnaabe water walk ceremony contributes to the healing and spirit health of the Grand River, the infrastructure and life of our community.

4. Let go of fear. Water will always find a way.

This lesson is linked to the lesson that water, by nature, flows. Along the route of the water walk, we carry the water through busy centres, streets and high traffic areas. To honour water, the Grand River, we must allow her to be who she is. When we pick up the pail, we cannot stop walking and wait for traffic to stop for example. In such a moment, we must remember to walk in circles and pool as water does, while never going backward.

During rush hour traffic when people are focused on getting to work, not thinking about their relationship to water, navigating the flow of the pail forward can be very challenging. These moments call all walkers to become fully present to the moment, always looking and aware of the opening to the way forward. But as Josephine Mandamin taught us, “water will always find a way” to flow. She is a river. When we block her from flowing, she will simply create new routes that allow her to flow. It is her truth to flow.

Now, when I encounter a problem, I think to myself, ‘become like water and flow.’ Where is the way forward? Where is the opening so I can be who I am meant to be and do what is mine to do? Let go of my emotional attachment to my fear or my restricted thinking. Let go and flow like the Grand River does. As soon as I return to this state, the opening to the flow arises, and I can see my way forward and I move.

5. The Grand River is my Elder. She is my relative.

I have known this concept for a long time. Walking beside her and participating in water ceremony every two months has restored my heart connection to her. She now knows me by name. And I remember her as my Elder. She holds great wisdom as she remembers what we have done to her, done for her and with her. Water has memory. The Grand River has memory. I want my relationship with her to be harmonious, to be kind, healthy and just. When I die, I want her to remember me with love and fondness as I do her. She and the Conestogo River watched me grow up. She has given me life for 50 years. I drink from her watershed. I play in her. I sing to her. I offer her prayers. I offer her Reiki healing. I pray that my relationship with her is healing for both our spirits.

She flows between the Six Nations on the Grand and settler communities. She links us. She gives life to us all. And I hear her say it is time we honour the Haldimand Treaty and the Haudenosaunee and First Nations land titles. She loves us equally and is the Elder to us all. She grieves and feels the deep sadness of the grave injustices to the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Attawandaron (Neutral) peoples, being denied their treaties. You may wonder how a River grieves, but she does. As I said, she has memory. She is my Elder and the only response to her is love and respect. And when I do remember her as Elder and relative, who sustains life, I will protect her. Such clarity of relationship brings clarity to my lifestyle choices, values and decisions.

These are but five lessons which have transformed my way of being. The Grand River has given many experiences and provided rich learning that I now carry as wisdom. I am grateful to the Grand River for my life, for wisdom gained and for her beauty that opens me to love. And when I live these lessons, this wisdom gained, Love flows. Like ee cummings’s poem, to the Grand River I can whisper:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

If you are seeking a new way of being amidst these times that call for new adaptations and flows and balances of your body, mind and spirit, contact me to discuss how we can work together to support this new flow and balance, personal and unique to you.

Shirley Lynn