Friday, August 26, 2016

#SOL16: Westward Towards Solid Ground

OBX (M.A. Reilly, iPhone, 8/2016)

“Forever is composed of nows.”  - Emily Dickinson


This past week I have written blog posts while seated in an Adirondack chair on a screened porch a hundred feet from where land meets ocean. Sand, bluffs and sea oats fill the space between the Atlantic and me. To spend a week on a barrier island is to know that beneath the relative sameness of daily life, changes are happening. Waves, currents, and tides change the shoreline, exposing and concealing shore. All week the wind has been from the North--so strong that regardless of heat and humidity, I have been cool on this screened porch be it morning, noon, or night.

Yesterday, I wrote off and on for more than 4 hours crafting a lengthy post.  Automatic saving happens without my effort and at 5:30 last night the file was updated. I had just previewed the post and went back to make a change. When I selected the preview button again, the strangest thing happened.  Everything I had written had disappeared except a few lines from the beginning of the post and a bit of recorded conversation.

Everything else, nearly 4 hours of writing, was simply gone--as if it had not existed. Nothing I did restored what I had written.


The night before, I stood outside on a deck for a couple of hours talking with Susie, Jane's sister who is no stranger to grief. We stood side by side watching the Atlantic darken.  Behind us in the house, 15 others were getting ready for dinner. Susie has traveled a far more arduous path than I ever could imagine and I was surprised when she asked me, "Have you experienced any electrical failures since Rob died?"

"I don't think so," I began all the while knowing something was tugging at my memory. "Well, there are the landline phones. None seem to work anymore. Regardless of the phone I pick up, within a few minutes it stops working. I just figured the phones no longer were holding a charge. It is strange though as none seem to actually work. These failures are fairly recent."

"Electrical outings are common. After J. died, my phone rang and I heard, Mom, Mom before the phone stopped working.  It was his voice. You may want to pay attention to signs."


Signs abound.
Naming does not.


The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina are constantly eroding and reforming being reshaped by rising sea levels, shifting sands, and high-energy storms.  Left to their own, these islands would migrate west--towards land.

But that isn't happening.

Given the acute tourism interest in these islands the natural erosion of the ocean side and land growth of the sound side have been thwarted by human modifications such as human-made dunes, sandbags, sea walls, and beach nourishment. Walking along the beaches here, I am reminded that change happens both gradually and quite suddenly, regardless of our attempts to thwart such progress.

Like the barrier island I have been staying on, foreground and background tend to shift, obscuring what is most necessary.

We sometimes see what we think we most want.

I walk the beach and I think that regardless of tourist dollars, these barrier islands are temporary.  


In between the writing I have been doing (and losing) I also have been reading Henri Nouwen's The Inner Voice of Love. I was stopped by his writing several times, especially when I read, 
" must go into the place of your pain, but only when you have gained some new ground" (p. 26).  
For the last year, I've been building new ground to stand on, acquired in part by the insights that have arisen alongside the talking, listening, reading, writing, painting, and walking I have done. With each post I have penned here, each mile logged, each art journal entry--a revised knowledge about sorrow and resilience; living and being has emerged. Some of these new understandings have yielded new emotional ground where I can stand as I peered into pain that has been more amorphous than not.

The goal here is not to build, but to stand still, lean in and learn, and then move on.

Gaining new ground may seem like an odd bit of figurative language. Yet to grieve is to attain incremental acquisition of solid emotional earth--footholds that help me to climb from where I have been to where I am now. This is record making.


In early June after the shock of Rob's death waned a bit, I thought about the previous ten months and realized that I had not died from feeling the bare loneliness of loss. I had not died from missing my husband more than I missed myself. I had not died when I was swamped by memories and reminders of the man I had lost. Instead I lived.

Grief is part erosion and part growth.


Since March, I have traveled more than 10,000 miles. I have been on hiatus from living the unplanned life before me.

Since January I have written 200 posts, most of these have been examinations of grief and loss and reclaiming life again.  I have filled more than three large art journals.

And this traveling through air and land and paint and pen has been good and necessary.

Living is part distraction and part invention.


Yesterday afternoon, as evening was coming on, I closed the top of my laptop and though I was disappointed that I had lost the writing, I was not upset. What I mostly felt was relief. Yes, relief.

And I wondered, after talking with Susie about electrical outings and signs if Rob might have had a hand in helping me lose what I suspect needed to be lost. It almost seemed as if he was telling me, Mary Ann, Get back to living. It's time for you to move on. Carpe diem.

And so I followed my feet.


I put away the computer and walked upstairs to join the others for a glass of wine before dinner. I felt raw and exposed.  I was drawn outside with Jane and we climbed the steep stairs to the small widow's walk that tops the house.

Dense cloud formations gathered off the horizon as the sun's reflection on the waves began to wane. Behind us the sun slowly settled over the bay while before us the ocean gradually darkened. It was as if the darkness gathered closer points of light as the horizon line was erased.

We climbed down the stairs and joined the others for dinner and later I played some bridge and I did all of this as Mary Ann, not Mary Ann who lost her husband this year.

And that felt like breathing solidly, hearing my heart say my name--a name I misplaced a year ago.


  1. Mary Ann I don't know what was lost but this ls a fantastic piece of writing.

    1. What was lost is gone. This was something new. Thanks Simon

  2. I totally agree. You are coming back but Mary Ann was never lost she was just doing what needed to be done which was saying goodbye to the love or her life.

    1. There is loss and being lost. Nothing remains whole after a large loss. Writing keeps me anchored. Thanks Deb.

  3. Grief is, in my experience, the path to reborn and renewal...being able to melt in pain and transform in the process instead of running away from it, gives us the opportunity to build or rebuild ourselves for a new cycle in life. Living is sometimes such a joy and others the most painful experience, living both with courage is what you are doing! I don't know you in person, we haven't met, but I know you when I read you. I send you all my love and admiration for reclaiming your life as you do. You have been blessed with true and deep love from your husband it seems, it will hold you together and allow you to grow stronger and find joy in this new period of your life. That love lives in you and it is yours, it will guide you to find the path to a new space, one between the by-road and the main-road as you so beautifully have created it.

    1. Thank you Caroline for these words. Trust love. Sometimes I forget. This was just the reminder I most needed.