"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

03 January 2012

A Mourning Ramble

We stood in my grandmother's old house. It was said she was either crazy or masochistic for staying there after my grandfather died. The house became a museum to her mourning, sometimes terribly cold, and you could get yelled at for touching things that had been left just as they were the day he left.

I was telling my mother how my father had to leave that house out in the Rub 'al Khali of the badlands of eastern Colorado. Without her there, the isolation and loneliness was all consuming. Had he stayed, he woud've acted out one of my worst fears; that, with her gone, he'd have crawled into a bottle and never come back out.

My mother nodded, understanding my father's need for dynamic over my grandmother's need of stasis. There was a look of sadness in her eyes, though; leaving all that land and the all the other creatures they shared that farmstead with. The quiet and the immense scope of the sky when you get out somewhere that flat. I felt for her, but it was all over now.

The sound of movement pulled me away. Two of the cats were running and playing through the house. Milarepa was making sounds indicating she wanted to join in the fun. Sabina made some half-awake sound, which warned me of grumpiness should she awaken right then. I was back in the mountains. My mother was gone. It was time to face the day.

I got up and threw some clothes on. Took care of the hounds and ushered the offending felines outside to continue their mayhem elsewhere. I put on Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain, because it's the album I listen to on this day at one point or another, and thus it has been for the last couple of years. I listen to Bunny Bergman's version of I Can't get Started on the anniversary of my grandmother's death. So it goes.

There was tea. Jasmine. Once upon a time, it was said hot jasmine tea cold fix anything, even that, which was not broken. The Bruja showed me what a bunch of who shot john that was. Back when she was going, I was all but mainlining tea, and I still had to help my city friends bury her. When my grandmother was walking on, I drank a fair amount whiskey. With Jibril getting sick I was quite fond of cheap beer. With my mother it was water and the occasional glass of wine. One thing this has taught me is the drinking of anything does not help, but it does very little to hinder as well.

Over the last two years my sense of belief has been in a state of flux. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke; how do you get a heretical Tibetan Buddhist to question his dubious faith? Being glib, I could say the heretical adjective is a good start, and dubious helps explain a bit too. The more serious answer has to do with this recent double-whammy of mortality I've dealt with, because there is no statue of limitation on grief, and anyone who'd tell you different is daft or try to sell something. 

I believe there is magic, but it's nothing like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. There is divinity, but it's certainly not some anthropomorphic entity that keeps tally of the monkey-made concepts of naughty and nice like fucking Santa Clause. Realizing that in the face of universe filled with harsh and unforgiving beauty and tossed along by the winds of chaos often keeps me screaming. 

My mother has been gone two years to the day, and I am obviously still trying to figure out how to approach the subject. I sip my hot jasmine tea and listen to Miles Davis. Later, Whistler and I will go on walkabout to the Bull's Head. There I will leave a tattered string of Tibetan prayer flags, more out of habit than anything. I have never preyed, unless it's been in the context of the foodchain.

Her ashes are scattered in these mountains, not very far from my house, though up on the tundra. In that, I find a queer sort of comfort. It's as though she's close in more than memory. Perhaps, if I allow for the superstition, as I wander out into the bush to get holy on this somber day, I'll hear her voice on the mountain wind, singing to me.


  1. From one buddhist to another, I should be able to say something helpful, meaningful, like there is no beginning or ending, there just IS. Instead I will share something I have just recently learned:

    When my husband died last year, I wailed and wept and raged against the unfairness; I questioned everything, including my beliefs, which for a time I kicked over the cliff into the abyss.

    A few months ago I had an epiphany. I realized that I was bitterly mourning when I should have been doing the exact opposite. We can't change the fact of death, it truly comes for all of us at some point, and yes, when they leave us we can miss our people with a deep pain.


    I should have been celebrating that he had lived, that I had loved him, that he had loved me, not wallowing in misery and despair. This epiphany of thought changed everything for me; I felt a weight lift, my heart steadied, something in my mind clicked. I could feel joy that I knew him, could smile that he had lived.

    Drink your tea, take your hike, put out the prayer flags, listen for her voice in the wind. And smile with true joy that she lived.

  2. When my mother first got sick, I would tell people it proved the First Noble Truth; the reality of suffering. From the theoretical standpoint, it was a wonderful rationalization. The reality of watching the sickness consume her was horse of a different color.

    On days like this and times like these, I realize I am still walking wounded. That sometimes the void of those I've lost is much colder than others. Having said that, I like to entertain I'm a little more stitched together than I was a year ago on this date, and most assuredly two years back.

    Thank you for your kind words and sharing your epiphany. Perhaps I am wrong, but I imagine writing some of that must have been difficult.

  3. Writing it wasn't difficult...getting to the epiphany most certainly was.

  4. I can't find the right words at the moment but still I wanted to let you know that this is a brilliant piece of writing. It's beautiful.

  5. Robbie

    Of all the things that you've written and that I have enjoyed, this is the one that reads the most beautifully and truthfully and (forgive my presumption) where I feel a real connection.
    Terlee has also touched me with her wisdom but things reveal themselves slowly. I am only a year into my relationship with Buddhism but 46 years into a sense of mourning and loss.
    You have expressed yours wonderfully and I truly hope that it helps. xx