VALE

“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” ~ Khalil Gibran

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Slice my core:

Cavernous hole

Where you used to go.

Earthworms

Glow, casting

Shadows of old.

Mould grows

As stale crevices

Yawn.

Move me!

Your pawn

Pretending to be

Queen

On squares

Unseen.

Peel my mind

Like a grape,

I know nothing:

Less than yesterday,

Yesteryear …

Our sphere

Still turns

And burns.

Forget-me-nots

And rosemary

Remind me of

Bitter

Southerlies,

As motherly

Instincts

Recede.

The Day I Buried My Menstrual Pads

 

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Image: Pinterest

 

Last week I buried my menstrual pads in the beach dunes behind my flat. Freak not, they were organic cotton, bien sur. But I didn’t just haul ass, dig a hole, dust off my hands and trot home. I made a ritual … just for me.

It was two weeks ago, under a Scorpio Full Moon. For astro-buffs, the moon was rising on my ascendant. Indeed, it was a rebirth. The end of decades of seeing the familiar ruby stain between my legs.

Blessedly, I have a gorgeous son who’s the light of my life. I separated from his father when he was two years old. I was reasonably confident that another child was on my horizon. But it was not to be.

As a solo parent juggling work and study, I had no desire to repeat such a scenario. If I was going to have another child, it would be with a solid man with whom we could share life’s journey. He never appeared. Perhaps in guises but not the real deal.

I knew women who’d taken the practical – albeit unromantic – route of friend + turkey baster. Or got jiggy with a one-night stand and, a month later, beamed at the affirmative pink lines. And seriously, no judgement. Each to their own I say. But I remember my mother’s words: “Think about the one who’s already here.” So that’s what I did.

Whilst I have no regrets about not having more children, when the decision is unceremoniously taken out of your hands, it hurts. As a girl, getting your period is a rite of passage and often celebrated. But menopause … not so much. We’re swamped with fear and loathing.

There are physical symptoms – hot flashes, weight gain, mood changes – but there are also emotional changes. It’s remiss to reject the link between emotions and their physical expression. As Hippocrates, the father of medicine, observed: “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”

Menopause isn’t generally seen as an exciting, empowering process. And yet, that’s what it is. Procreation turns to creation. We turn within, harnessing our gifts and resources, generating a new vision for the rest of our lives. In ancient societies, the wise woman or crone was revered for her experience, knowledge and wisdom. Sadly, some of this innate intelligence has been lost.

The cult of youth and beauty sits uneasily with the reality of women in this phase. We’re bombarded with the latest lotions, potions and procedures. Grey hair is something to be coloured into oblivion. Lines must be erased … masking the joy and pain, growth and insight of our journeys.

So when the one-year anniversary of my last period rolled around, I wanted to do something special. To honour those wonderful years of fertility and to acknowledge that such fertility is now within. A fertility we can access, cultivate and re-generate into creative and artitistic pursuits. To see the world with fresh eyes. And yes, to grieve. That’s been so important for me and a factor in my weight gain. As I grieve, the weight melts.

Last month, I saw my cotton pads sitting in a drawer. I stared at them and picked them up, turning them over in my hands. The idea of throwing them out was unexpectedly painful. So instead of throwing them in the bin, I decided to craft my own ritual.

I took some crystals, white sage incense and a candle to the beach. The Full Moon smudged the horizon with silver. As the moon reached her zenith, I dug a deep hole and placed the pads in the wet earth. I covered the contents and cried. And sat. And contemplated. And gave thanks.

I packed up my small bag and walked home.

I felt lighter, liberated.

I’d love to see a return to sacred women’s circles where we can all celebrate this powerful, poignant phase of a woman’s life. Instead of skulking in the shadows, let’s honour our magnificent minds and bodies and the universal wisdom that guides us all.

 

I was a Death Doula

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Maria (Ria) Monnier, circa 1959, Gold Coast, Australia, © C. P. Monnier

“Working with the dying is like being a midwife for this great rite of passage of death. Just as a midwife helps a being take their first breath, you help a being take their last breath.” ~ Ram Dass

I was a Death Doula.

I didn’t register this fact until this morning: I read an article about people volunteering to spend time with the dying in hospices. Transitions have always captured my attention. We have less control than we think or imagine.

The Second World War marred my father’s boyhood in The Netherlands. Food was scarce, and his health was poorly. The Red Cross sent him to convalesce with a family in Switzerland. Seventy years later, he’s still in touch with the family. But the scars run deep.

Dad recently confessed that he retired at 55 years of age as he didn’t think he’d make it past 65. He hoped to live to see the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Next week, we’re celebrating his 85th Birthday. He had no contingency plan for being here in his mid-80s.

Conversely, we’d joke about the day Mum would get her “100th birthday” telegram from ‘King’ William. I was shockingly unprepared to learn she had terminal cancer at the age of 69. I can still see her sitting on the lounge, examining her driver’s licence with finely lined fingers: “My license expires this year and so will I.”

She voiced similar thoughts that rattled me to my core. I was torn between hearing and acknowledging her and being an optimistic foil without minimising. It was an emotional tightrope, and I fell many times.

Years earlier, I was inundated with advice and aphorisms when my pregnancy began to show. Stories fell from peoples’ mouths unbidden. Unevenly stacked books and magazines on the subject annexed my bedside table. Women spoke of their experiences and shared the good, the bad and the ugly. But the topic of dying still resides in uncomfortable, hushed shadows.

We were lucky. The Queensland Cancer Council had a free counselling hotline, so I rang. And Mum rang. We had our own therapists. We also had nurses who’d come and check up on Mum, talk, sit, laugh, cry. A surreal blessing. So today when I read about Death Doulas or End of Life Doulas, I realised I’d already been one.

Mum was crystal clear: She wanted to die at home.

To smell the sea, watch her willie wagtail and hear familiar voices. I understood, having seen her struggle for two nights in a palliative care unit, that wreaked of despair and disinfectant.

One night, as she slept at the hospital, I spoke to a dying woman whose family had shunned her. I didn’t ask or probe or question. I listened. What I heard was deep sadness and the realisation that the only thing that matters is love.

I took Mum home for the last time.

Her best friend and sister from Holland visited. And when they left, and she’d said all her goodbyes, a calm took root in her bones. I wanted to help her have a ‘good death’, but I had no idea what that was or how to do it. I read On Death and Dying by Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: “When your fear touches someone’s pain it becomes pity; when your love touches someone’s pain, it becomes compassion.”

It took time to let go of my fear, sadness and anger. I was pissed off: at others, the world, God. How could this happen to such a beautiful soul? It was bitterly unfair. And I railed. But her fear snapped me back to love. That’s all we had. That’s all any of us have. Death reminds us what’s important … the rest is mindless drivel. We waste days, months, years in petty battles, weighed down by futile grudges that keep us prisoners to the past.

Ironically, my mother died nine months after diagnosis. It was a profound privilege to witness her journey — physical and emotional, spiritual and mental — towards her last breath. I learnt and continue to learn so much from the experience. I hope that End of Life Doulas become the norm rather than the exception … learning to honour this passage that we’ll all navigate.

At Mum’s funeral, my son placed a coin over her mouth to pay Charon, the Ferryman. It was such an intimate, poignant moment. One generation farewelling another and the realisation that death is not the end but a new beginning.

Truth

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth” ~ Buddha

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He regarded me intently, peering over metal rims: “What’s your Truth”?

An ambivalent word.  It sounds honest and yet hides a multitude of sins. Where to begin?

Decades past, the girl within battled to purge Truth from her lips. Struggled with vowels, syllables, syntax … how to make words? String them together and still breathe?

The mocking disbelief and well-meaning platitudes stuck in my throat like a fish bone.

Stuck. Stuck. Stuck.

My body screamed in a mute world.

It made me question … “Did that really happen?”

Female submission … second-guessing doused with doubt, guilt, shame.

How to name Truth?

Buried for decades, as Hercules buried Hydra’s heads. The bliss of forgetting held me in her comatose embrace.

“You were a pliable girl,” mother said.

So pliable, I chiselledTruth into a manageable mass; safely entombed in deep, dark recesses.

Until one day, Truth seeped through layers of metamorphic rock into the light of consciousness.

This time, he would not retreat, back away, disappear.

Truth was so near, I could taste the revulsion.

Now a woman, Truth and I faced off, and he was left wanting.

He made me the warrior I am.

Artemis breathes in my bones.

Bones aged long enough to carry the weight.

 

Purple

 

How odd … the childhood vignettes we recall.

No rhyme or reason. He is purple.

Father always struck me as melancholic.

He’d mouth sacraments – we’d faithfully echo. 

Gentle, deliberate and perpetually deep in thought.

The pensive, purple stole caught my eye … crucified with gold.  My virgin zeal, as I held the chalice, amethyst wine swirling around its cold edges. The heat as it stained my lips, tongue, throat.

My ire when forbidden a role in ritual, simply by virtue of my sex.

“You must linger in passive pews”.

And mute, violet eyes reflected in vestments which swept behind him like a bridal train, as incense burnt my eyes.

priest monk purple catholic

The Creative Dilemma

“2 am’s were made for poets. Lovers/writers. Visionaries. Photographers. Painters. Over thinkers. Silent seekers. These are my favourite hours.”

I love the wee hours of the morning, but I have a predilection for the evening. Dusk. Twilight. I’m an unapologetic night owl. That’s when I come alive, find my stride, unfurl. Words pour out of me. The foggy morning struggle lifts and the landscape is one of peace and clarity. I’m not distracted by mundane requests or daily obligations. I close the door to my sanctuary and invoke the Muse.

A sweet spiral of frankincense ascends from my humidifier. The hum of traffic slows as the ocean surges behind me. I hear the sea, as a child holds a conch. I open the sliding glass door, invite the saline breeze – the smell, the sound … It comforts me.

I look up from my mummified position on the lounge, notebook balanced on lap, and survey the domestic chaos: a Feng Shui purgatory. Dishes in the sink, an unmade bed, stray tissues, plastic takeaway containers clumsily stacked — my leaning tower of Pisa.

Normally, I’d attend to the task of tidying my environment before writing. Clear the space, establish order; a harmonious room in which to create. But not now. Not tonight.

In the past, I stacked the dishwasher, hung clothes, vacuumed tired carpet, wiped sticky fingerprints from glass tables … and then. Wrote. Nothing.

I was too tired.

Writing always came last.

I told myself I couldn’t write in a place that a resembled a bomb site. So, my pristine environment remained devoid of words, syntax, verse. I promised myself I’d write in the morning … A morning that never came.

This evening, I drew a symbolic red cross through my mental ‘To Do’ list. I made a commitment to write. And only write. My tidy sphere is an interesting metaphor: A symbol of procrastination and the uncomfortable truth that my creativity has always come last.

I can trace such origins to well-meaning platitudes: “It’s a hobby — not a serious career, you’ll never make any money, get a real job, there are too many other talented writers, you’re too young, old, inexperienced … fill in the blank.”

The rhetoric echoes through waves of time.

This is beautifully captured by Clarissa Pinkola Estés: “I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write … and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning … it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she ‘should’ be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.”

On some level, I’ve absorbed these sentiments. Writing — or any creative endeavour — has sauntered across the finish line, collecting the wooden spoon. I’ve not made it a priority: “I’ll write when I’ve moved, renovated, lost 10 pounds, travelled, finished my course, blah, fucking blah”. Now I see it. Or perhaps now I choose to see it: My complicity, fear, excuses.

Responsibility knocks on the door, inviting me to examine beliefs and behaviours; to scrutinise my ‘ability to respond’. There is innate freedom in knowing that, in any given moment, we have the power to choose how to respond … to a person, situation or circumstance.

The alchemy of transmuting passivity into agency.

© D. E. Monnier, Excerpt from ‘My Year Abroad & Other Salacious Tales’, 2018.