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A Death in the Family

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A Death in the Family

Bonfire-post-2-Suzanne-GrenagerIf you lose your partner, the common wisdom is you don’t make any other major changes for three years. Not unless you want to go way off the stress test charts, and maybe expire yourself. No, don’t worry, I have not lost my beloved husband Trond, who is alive and well and splitting firewood or something of the sort outdoors even on this winter day. And thank God for him!

Trond and I are alive all right, but there is a pall hanging over us, which you too must be feeling. It is exactly as if there has been an unexpected death, or two, in the family—one in the world family of which we are all a part, the other in the micro family here on our precious farm.

The first death of which I speak is, of course, the destruction of nearly every value and ideal I—and I dare say we, as a people—hold dear. For once, I am almost speechless, finding only paltry words to describe the unspeakable horror unfolding before us just two hours south of my house.

One hideous, destructive misstep and outrageous appointment follows another, and lie after lashing lie, the President projecting his deceit onto the media and anyone but his Pinocchio self. Day by day, the very ground on which we thought we stood, is being yanked brutally out from under us. A shocking percentage of us gleefully, and I dare say ignorantly, cheer him on.

Worse, those who, if the tables were turned, would be making a terrible uproar, are unwilling—almost to a man (and, sadly, woman as well)—to utter a bleeping peep. All the while, the emperor struts his forlorn, naked self about the land, pillaging and pillorying as he goes.

“The emperor has no clothes!” Would somebody please shout it out!

In this new kingdom, which we must not let become the new normal, fear reigns. And wherever there is abundant fear, love and its sister, compassion, must be invoked like never before. It’s the one and only antidote. We who refuse to close our eyes and shut up in the face of massive injustice and unkindness must be all in for love. And our campaign to bring love to the fore needs to begin, as all love must, with a self love so powerful we’ll have to break our hearts open and bathe in it, before we can shower it on others. Not an easy assignment in these disruptive and distracting times. (One way we can perhaps do that is a topic I explored in my last blog post.)

The need for extreme self love brings me, however indirectly, to the second death I alluded to. It’s the one happening right here on our Lewisberry farm, as Trond and I move into the late stage of life. That is the death of 45 years of our two lives—and a way of life—we took for granted, until we began to dismantle it fiercely two weeks ago. Let me explain.

In January, we returned from a sojourn to the West Coast, where we’d gone on a mission to hang out with family and find a new home. As some of you know, our two kids and four grandchildren are all now settled in California. Since we couldn’t quite imagine moving through our seventies while being 3000 miles away from the people we hold most dear, we planned to put the farm on the market this spring and head west. It seemed the smart, self-loving thing to do!

Someone asked me yesterday, “But what if you resettle out there to be with them and they move?”  “That would be a miracle akin to the Virgin birth,” I replied. It ain’t gonna happen. Both kids and their spouses adore the Bay Area where they live, and which also happens to be where Trond started—and loved—his life in the U.S. almost 60 years ago. Here’s the rub.

To move to the West Coast, we have to sell our farm, the sanctuary we have called home for almost a half century. On these hallowed 55 acres, with its 205 year old stone house, barn and five outbuildings, we have lived and loved, birthed and raised our babies—and a herd of black angus cattle. We have chased those darned cows through blizzards, and watched hungry sheep make short work of the flower beds. We planted 500 saplings and saw them grow to 30 feet tall.

We tended a vast organic veggie garden and reveled in generations of blue bird and cardinal fledglings. We cherished and buried countless horses, dogs and cats (yes, Trond dug graves for the horses). We have welcomed family and friends to the guest quarters Trond and Teg built in a classic barn raising, a sacred space where I write and which housed a woman’s meditation circle.

Burning memories by Suzanne Grenager

Burning memories by Suzanne Grenager

Two weeks ago, our wonderful children dropped everything and came to help us clear it all out, all but the furniture, art work and books, which stay till the house sells. Trond said it felt like a funeral. For him it was about sorting through decades of recollections invoked by sheds full of equipment, tools, lumber, nails, screws, and detritus large and small. Not to mention all the stuff in the attic that he had shipped back from Norway after his mother died but never opened. Phew!

Nearly everything he touched evoked early memories or represented a project completed, half-finished or imagined but unlikely to get done now that we’re moving on. The kids have gone back to their busy lives. But we are still filling a second dumpster, after we throw whatever burns onto a great bonfire. Yesterday it was the contents of the basement that went up in smoke.

The attic was where I lost it. Weeding through box upon box of files became a heart-rending life review. One afternoon while the others worked outside, I sat alone on a broken chair by an open attic window, chilled but fascinated by what was left of me there amid the dust, debris and sun rays. For hours I devoured my creations, from D.C. Mayflower Hotel ads in my copywriter days, to elaborate proposals— for a Master’s thesis and syndication of my Philadelphia Inquirer column. There were dozens of articles and a proposal for a book approved by a top publisher which I chose not to write. There was a play, and many unrealized pitches to share my work.

I turned up numerous thick issues of a newsletter I apparently edited for the Philadelphia Board of Education, a publication that garnered awards and congratulatory letters galore, all of which I seem to have kept. I unearthed my letters to the editor, published in faded Time and Newsweek magazines. But I spent the most time pouring over dozens of files documenting my 20 intense, transformative years as a Kripalu devotee, yoga teacher and Network regional leader. I found fine writing about yoga that I had done for the guru’s never published book, years of detailed student lesson plans, and outlines for the support group leader workshops I was terrified to lead.

Most compelling were the warm, supportive letters written to me by long deceased family members, sometimes forgotten friends, bosses, colleagues, even Superintendents of  Schools—Philadelphia (where I worked) and Oakland (where my grandkids recently went, of all things). I am pretty sure I didn’t take in all the kudos way back then, when I needed it most. But I found all those kind words deeply moving the other day. Most poignant of all, though, were the dozens of handwritten epistles from two men. Both loved me so much it nearly broke my heart to read their words all these 50 years later, not least because I probably broke their hearts all those years ago.

By the end of my attic afternoon, I felt as if I had been watching a monumental movie about someone else’s life and, okay, a little like I’d been attending my own funeral. I was astonished and cheered by the richness of the life I had lived. Did I really do all that? But I was at least as sobered—and saddened—by how utterly over those many life chapters are. Putting them to rest had the finality of death. Where did that life go? Who has it helped me become?

bonfire-figure-Suzanne-GrenagerSo here we are now, Trond and I, down to the bare bones, in pretty much every sense of that phrase. Things have been cleared out and stripped away, and it should be time for us to go—if not yet to the grave, to California to start a new life. But we are not sure we can do it.

Having relegated the stuff of our lives to the funeral pyre, and that against the backdrop of our country’s terrifying democratic demise, may have been enough upheaval for now. Tearing ourselves from this solid, familiar ground we call home for an uncertain future far away could well send us off those stress charts—and sooner to the grave than need be.

Moving to California right now might just be one death in the family too many. We’ll see.


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Categories: Facing Fear, Surrender
  • MaryStewart

    Thank you for writing that beautiful piece Suzanne. Well done. I can feel the grieving as you experience burying or cremating so many things that made up your past. I experienced some of this when we moved from our farm 9 years ago almost to the day. Gone but not forgotten. Good luck with whatever you decide.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, Mary, for your appreciation, empathy and good wishes. I take them to heart!

  • Jim Dreaver

    Beautiful, honest, very personal…. but most of, bravo to you and Trond for risking it all to start anew… thank you, Suzanne!

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, Jim, for taking time to read my post and send us a “bravo.” You too have risked it all to relocate, so know whereof you speak!

  • Jan Hively

    Your blog rings a lot of bells. I’m sharing it with a couple of friends as the basis for some good, deep, personal discussion. Thank you.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      I am thrilled my piece resonates so much that you’re moved to share and discuss it with friends. Warms my heart! And I’d love to hear the wisdom I am sure will emanate from your deep conversations. Thank you for being here!

  • Vicki Fox

    Wow, another beautifully written piece where once again you are bare naked exposing your inner thoughts and vulnerability. While we are not at exactly the same stage in life, this was written in a way that we can all relate as life is always changing, we need to grieve our losses and then move forward reinventing ourselves. Wishing you and Trond a wonderful new beginning creating the life that has meaning for you.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Yes, bare naked I am, and thanks for noticing! I am heartened to hear that my elder words can speak to you as a Boomer. I appreciate your pointing out the common ground we humans all share in an ever more quickly shifting world. And I am especially grateful for your kind wishes for us.

  • Terry Lewis

    AHHHHH……my dear Suzanne! In your grace and style, you have once again allowed the world to see your vulnerabilities. We as a nation, need to continue to heal, and the only way to begin this process is to practice authenticity and love….fear continues to prevail. Life provides many seasons, and you are going to find that in this season of reflection and relocation the peace you and Trond need to move forward with your plans. May you feel my love surrounding you and providing you the energy needed to breathe through the boxes and decisions in the months ahead. You continue to be one of my guides!
    With love and appreciation.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Wow, Terry! I am humbled and honored to be one of your guides and am deeply touched by your eloquent appreciation. Not least, I am hugely grateful for your love and support, and for your faith that Trond and I will move forward in peace. May it be so. All blessings to you too, dear one.

  • Joyce Converse

    Suzanne knows quite well that I am facing the same challenges of change — tectonic shift. She and Trond stayed in my Airbnb in California for a couple of months. I, too, am weeding through things that I have not looked at for years — things that no longer have meaning all the way to things that have been begun but not completed. I, too am moving from this holy place with its beauty and space back across the country, close to where I grew up in RI. For me, it is coming full circle. I see it as a chance to match the person I have become to the young woman who ran away from home at 23. I have spent my 46 years in CA trying to keep food on that table — basically alone without a long-term partner. I had a useful but not fulfilling career. Here’s the thing. My move is the beginning of a new chapter. I’m taking my incomplete work with me – The Troll Who Hated Cabbage – My First Years – lots of poetry and all my painting paraphernalia. I still feel that my reason for breath is not expressed. Where I am going I will not be distracted by the need to care for 20 acres of land. I will learn discipline. I will paint. I will write. I will finally do what I have spent my life waiting to do. Blessing to Suzanne and Trond!

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Dear Joyce, I continue to applaud and support you for your brave decision to make such a major move after so many years in California — alone yet! You are a heroine and your determination to uncover and LIVE your purpose is an inspiration to me, who also feels not entirely yet fulfilled. We both have more work to do and I look forward to seeing yours. But you are too modest. I have seen your paintings, the quality and quantity of them, and I strongly urge you to “own” what a gifted artist you already are! Thanks for your blessings on us, which I assure you are fully returned!

  • Mary Fowke

    I am so moved by your blog post. What tough, tough times and tough decisions about your house. A stone house too – stone houses are especially wonderful . I feel such empathy and such solidarity. Together- and there is such strength in your togetherness- you and Trond will decide what’s best but, whooooaa, what a process you are going through.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      I am hugely grateful for your empathy and love from across the pond, Mary. Thanks, too, for your helpful reminder about the power of our blessed union, Trond’s and mine — and of what you rightly call the “solidarity” among those of us who are awake, aware and struggling in these extraordinarily tough times. Let’s keep holding each other’s hands!

  • Geoffrey Gyrisco

    Thank you for one of the most succinct and powerful summaries of what is happening to our nation. Even more, I appreciated your so honest description of what you and Trond are going through in preparing to leave your truly wonderful home in Pennsylvania. It took me over half a decade to be prepared to part with our family home of 63 years in Ithaca, New York, set near waterfalls plunging down to Lake Cayuga far below. It meant going through the memories and things of four generations, going back to my great grandfathers books he bought in London in the 1880s. And I am totally unprepared to part with our family’s summer home of four generations, set on a spectacular lake just north of Montreal, Canada, knowing I will never be able to afford anything like it again. We are not our minds, we are not our memories, we are not our bodies, we are not what we own, we are not where we have lived and where now live; yet all those things create so much of what we are in this life. And all of it is sacred. What an immense moment of life and death for you and Trond. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Yay! I love that you really *got* my heartfelt summation of our nation’s demise. Thank you for that! I also really appreciate your articulate acknowledgment that the stuff of our lives, while not exactly “us,” contributes to the sum total of who we are and, as such, is “sacred” stuff. Yes! Thanks, too, for sharing your moving story of divesting from your family home in Ithaca. We found touching some of the old books — in our case Norwegian treasures, including a Grenager family bible from the 1700′s — to be hugely moving. Please hang on to your summer home as long as you can, Geoff, something we also hope to do with our much less grand one in Nova Scotia.

  • Mary Frank

    Change is incredibly difficult. Only when you and Trond are certain of the process, can it happen. Your choices are still ahead. I commend you for facing this a step together. You started this journey together many moons ago in Bryn Mawr and you still walk in tandem. Your future is a choice that will come to you together. Your love and compassion will guide you. I love you both dearly.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Thank you, Molly, for your loving words of support. Trond and I are indeed blessed to be able to walk so totally in tandem. But you are right change is still difficult, particularly when the larger world is undergoing so much change beyond our control. You are also right that our love — for ourselves, each other and all who struggle — is where we must look for our guidance.

  • Molly Satya Prakash Rettig

    Thank you for your honest and open comments. Sometimes it is easy for me to ignore how threatening politics can be- not just to personal liberties- but also how it filters in and affects how we feel about our smaller life decisions. Sometimes it is easy for me to ignore the myriad of feelings that come with letting go of something, or in this case a something-someone, you love. I deeply respect that you don’t ignore either of these feelings!

    On a personal level, I also will take your words to heart as I begin to learn and love my new 1812 farm house. What I know so far about this home is that it takes a great deal of work! But even more, it’s seeing my husband’s family and my family vollenteer countless hours to help us get the home ready to live in. Already we are creating a sense of home. I know that getting the chance to read your post now, in the beginning, will help me “feel” when the time comes to let go.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Thanks for showing up here, Molly, and for showing respect for how I share my feelings about things as diverse as politics and letting go of parts of my life, like our farm, that are (almost) over. Given our big age difference, your understanding of where I am speaks of a rare maturity. I wish you decades of joy on your new farm, which amazingly was built the same year as ours.

  • http://www.soundwisehealth.com/ healthnmusic

    So many of our age are clearing out, letting go, and saying goodbye to at least a piece of our former way of living and being, moving into the next step….and facing what lies ahead, knowing full well that while we are elders and wise ones, the majority of our years are behind us. I’ve been feeling the collective consciousness of the sadness and anxieties as well. What you wrote, Suzanne, reminds me that we are not alone. Many of us aware that “we are walking each other home.” Thank you. ❤

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      You are so welcome! I am glad you were reminded that we are not alone. None of us is alone in our suffering and struggles if we can but remember to reach out and clasp each other’s hands. Thank you for the beautiful words that “we are walking each other home.” Whatever “home” may mean to us, I love the idea that we stroll side by side as we make our mortal way!

  • Matt W

    I just read your post about deaths in the family. Very powerful stuff. I can only imagine how difficult making this transition is for you and Trond. I keep thinking about change, about how it is such an important part of life, in fact how it always brings about new life, but how for many reasons it can be so hard to embrace. Good for you and Trond in taking that step; it’s easy to stay put and get moldy. About the other change, I just don’t know what to say any longer. I don’t feel like I live in the same country I did six months ago. New things will come of this; whether they are good or bad only time will tell. I’m not much concerned about myself as am I the boys. They will live through the effects of what happens now for many years, the rest of their lives.

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      Thanks for weighing in, Matt. It does indeed feel like a different country, especially in the last month. I applaud your staying open to the idea that this major disruption in the status quo could lead to an improvement in what (as I said in my last post) I saw as a pretty dysfunctional system. But, like you, I worry about the current direction of the world we leaving to our children and grandchildren. All we can do, I suppose, is to stay awake and step up to meet the challenges we face with as much wisdom and compassion as we can muster.

  • HHughes

    So tough! So sorry for your pain. Lovely meditation. I hope that through it like your fiery images from your post the ashes fertilize the soil of your dreams and you grow a new vision that makes sense. I toast to Shiva!

    • http://suzannegrenager.com/ Suzanne Grenager

      What a kind and creative comment, dear Heather! From these ashes, a new vision will — *Shiva* willing — spring. I love it! Thank you.

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