While swimming this morning, I was thinking about these recent weeks. They mark the anniversaries I mentioned earlier in the week and my father died this week 17 years ago. My brother-in-law died last month and a friend (the dad, grandpa, father-in-law, and husband to close friends) died this month. Swimming is a good place to be with myself, quiet and undistracted. From reflecting on the lives of those on my mind, I moved to questions about how we live. How is it that we keep on keeping on? that we get up and keep going? I alluded to it in yesterday’s post. It is more central on my mind today.
Two strangers suffered a similar loss. Armen’s son Alex and a few years later Nancy’s daughter Rachel died. A mutual friend introduced them and Armen became a guide and mentor with Nancy after Rachel’s death. As they wrote and exchanged thoughts and feelings, each was drawn deeper into this land we call grief. They became close friends and their writings became a book I recommend you buy: Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship.
Nancy and I had corresponded in a web-based support group over the few years before Rachel’s death. In 2009, I showed her a picture of a doll I made in a workshop based on the work of Marita Dingus.
I did not have knowledge of some cultures’ beliefs about dragonflies when I put one on my doll, but I liked it even more when I learned the symbolism. Nancy asked me to make a doll for Armen as a thank you for her presence in Nancy’s life. She mentioned she would like one too. They each sent me a few items that were meaningful artifacts in their families. Nancy wanted each to have a dragonfly.
When the dolls were complete, I explained them to both women:
Armen, I have never met you. Your friend Nancy describes you as passionate, a gypsy at heart, deep, powerful. She asked me to make you a dragonfly doll and yours is my second in a series of three. Thank you for shepherding and sharing this journey with Nancy. Having held the artifacts you gave to Nancy, there are ways I feel I know you. When I look at the photo of earlier days, I see the connection among the four of you. Your traveling cross and your passport express other components of your spirit.
I imagined a wild gypsy for you at first and the picture that I had in my mind was actually the doll that I made. When I look at your veiled dancer now however, she looks more subtle and gentle. She is the gypsy, the carrier or holder of your story, as much as another could represent it. She is clothed in layers that can swirl or hide. She is complex. If she is a carefree gypsy, she is also a tender soul who can hold much in her softness for those whom she loves. Your dragonfly is made from Swarovski crystals. Crystals should refract light to show a rainbow: many colors, many symbols in many cultures. Your doll would embrace the variety, which for me mean life and hope and beauty. When you look at the inside of the cape, it becomes obvious that the story is yours. The cape is held down, weighted, grounded by the two beads that are bone, raising your friend’s question of where do the bones go?
The lizard on your shoulder is for Alex, who loved lizards. The mother and two children: Danielle and her two and of course, you and your two, all linked to each other. The ring is for your many years with your husband. The weights at the edge of the cape are also for your connection to writing, to Setrakian and Sorayan. The key, from Rachel, is what keys are, both the means to open and move through, and also the reminder that we do not have to do these walks alone. You are the living demonstration of this in your friendship with Nancy.
The heart is within the key; no key functions outside of our hearts. There are two word notations, “peace” and “&”. You live in words; may they bring you peace. The “&” is an inclusive word. Your cross is of course for your travels, and for my wish that many jeweled adventures lay ahead. For this walk, you need boots; Nancy felt shoes were a key symbol for you both. That they are boots is my touch: they do work, they touch dirt, they kick when necessary. There is a bit of imaginary cowgirl in me. We also share the material in your doll’s veil; my doll has the same fabric as a cape. Both yours and Nancy’s dolls have the same fabric in their capes, reversed.
Nancy, your doll is the Lady in Red. This was your stretch, and for us, always remembering to stretch will help keep us sane. That we have never met is really rather amazing when I think about our connection. Making these dolls was a treat for me. Because of your request, I could know you better. Your dragonfly is like an amulet, a shield, beaded with the colors of earth and fire, the counterpoints for this insect that lives between air and water. It is fastened with the button from your youth, because those years are the template from which you have grown. It emerges from your paisley fabric, linking you further to your past. It is fringed to represent a talis for whatever form your spirituality takes.
As with Armen’s doll, the inside of the cape is where your family tree lives, showing that the doll is the keeper of your story. I picked a quote from Saroyan’s book Where the Bones Go, because really, this project came to be in large part because of Rachel bringing you to Armen.
Your dragonfly doll is regal and proud and unbound. She strikes me as a protector who can stand tall, feel everything, living in her domain, not constrained by tradition or dictum. Jessica’s cameo is on your skirt. Do you and Jessica know that cameos are seen as a vow of love, sometimes given to travelers? Josh’s Aztec cross can be another talisman, protecting you from evil. Rachel’s Mama Bear icon became part of Rachel’s key, because how she saw you and your heart will be part of your discovery as you use your key. The beads then encircle you and thread connects the three siblings to your heart. The heart on your doll is one from a pair of earrings; the other one is on my doll, as our hearts are linked. And of course, there are two keys; you have one and Armen has one. Your word is grace. You also live in words and your journey is rich with grace. The “&” is inclusive; do you remember in seminar hearing how “but” negates and “and” expands? You told me shoes were very important. The boots are my touch. Boots do work, they walk through shit, and they kick when necessary.
Oh, Sharon, the doll you made for me is right on my work desk at home and reminds me of our bond, of the beautiful way you created a kind of talisman for my stretch and later, for my grief over losing Rachel. Since you wrote this we have met a few times, and each time is a balm to my soul. You are an incredible woman, friend, physician. Whether it is your intimate relationships with your friends, patients or other grieving parents, you always show up. In a day and age when people generally flee from those who are so grief stricken, you wrapped your arms around me in love and complete, unconditional acceptance. On this day, the first day I discovered your blog, I want to pledge my love and support to you in all that you do or aspire to do in your life. You are a giver, Sharon, the best kind. I am honored to call you friend. Because in the end, friends — good friends — are the best gifts of all.
Big hugs from Olympia!
Sharon, this is beautiful!