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May 11, 2021

Fire on the Mountain

Fire on the Mountain

You Here Now's first episode features Ann Black's story of loss and grief as she is slowly reborn. She shares her story of the fire on the mountain and what the loss of a home due to fire meant for her and her family. We begin the episode with the back story, a short discussion about the fire, the location, and some processes that the Earth undergoes when there is a loss of a home. Then we share Christine Boyd Miller's interview with Ann who shares her story. Following that Amy speaks with Michelle Marlahan about grief, loss, ceremony, and ritual.


You Here Now's first episode features Ann Black's story of loss and grief as she is slowly reborn. She shares her story of the fire on the mountain and what the loss of a home due to fire meant for her and her family. We begin the episode with the back story, a short discussion about the fire, the location, and some processes that the Earth undergoes when there is a loss of a home. Then we share Christine Boyd Miller's interview with Ann who shares her story. Following that Amy speaks with Michelle Marlahan about grief, loss, ceremony, and ritual.

Michelle Marlahan is a yoga teacher, writer and Creative Grief Advocate. After teaching yoga and Ayurveda for nearly 20 years, her work has expanded into more directly spiritual offerings, including grief and loss. Her own loss experiences have led her to question how we think about and approach loss, and invite more permission, gentleness and grace around the cycles of life. Get in touch with Michelle here.

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A Mindful Soul Center Podcast

Transcript

Fire on the Mountain: Episode One’s Full Transcript

Voices:

Amy Adams, Christine Boyd Miller, Ann Black, Michelle Marlahan

Amy Adams (00:00):

Welcome to you here now, a mindful soul center podcast. We share real stories that remind us that change happens and we’re not alone. Today’s episode is entitled fire on the mountain. Ann Black shares her story with us. And later we have guest Michelle Marlahan. This is our first episode, I’m Amy Adams .

Christine Boyd (00:38):

and I’m Christine Boyd Miller.

Amy Adams (00:39):

We’re going to be telling a story well, we’re not really telling the story. We’re going to allow the person that actually experienced this story to tell this story. Christine did this first interview. You’ll hear her voice in the interview itself at times, but mostly the person who is telling the story will be sharing it. Christine, what are we going to talk about today?

Christine Boyd (01:08):

Today we’re going to talk about the fire, the wildfire that ravaged through the Santa Cruz mountains in Northern California. Last August when during a powerful thunderstorm about 11,000 lightning bolts hit the coastal redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Amy Adams (01:26):

Well, I know when you were going through that, because this was a huge thing and you were, I don’t know if the word is right dislocated from your home. You had to evacuate,

Christine Boyd (01:38):

We were evacuated with about 77,000 other people from the Santa Cruz mountains. Wow. We were evacuated for about two weeks, which was really mild compared to the thousands of people who had no home to return to. Ann Black was among those people. She and her family lost their house to the fire. It was completely destroyed

Amy Adams (02:13):

Even though you were evacuated and you were fortunate enough to be able to return to your home people who lost their homes. I guess there was the melting of plastic and appliances and all of the different human things, um, that are not natural to that glorious Redwood forest area that you live in, went into the earth and create some kinds of problems. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Because I know that there’s something called scraping and there is something else that they do. I don’t know if it’s the same thing as scraping, but what is that process

Christine Boyd (02:55):

Waddleing. To waddle what happens during, during fire, a lot of chemicals, and like you said, uh, unnatural human debris went into the earth and was in the Ash and was loose on the surface of, of the soil. And so, uh, there was a big group of volunteers went in and made something called waddles. Waddles are long, usually maybe 20 or so, 20 to 40 feet long. Uh, it’s a porous material that you fill with compost and leaves and natural debris and line at around the perimeter of a burned property so that when the rains came and the winter, the rain from the water filtered all the debris through the Wattles, before it entered into the creeks and the San Lorenzo river watershed that All of the homes that burned down had to go through a phase two process. And the phase two process crews come with heavy equipment and they actually scrape the land. So they take all of the debris and scrape the soil clear so that there’s nothing but natural earth beneath it. So they take all of the debris, they leave the land completely blank. And once they do test on the soil to make sure that the land is indeed safe, then the property owners are free to rebuild on that land.

Amy Adams (04:28):

Okay. I mean, I honestly, I would have never even thought about that from a fire before. No, about what we do, like our things that we have and how that impacts the earth. Uh, so I find that so fascinating

Music (04:46):

music

Christine Boyd (05:04):

Or the crews came to scrape the land and, and her family held a funeral service and they did that so that they could say goodbye and to help offer them some closure and maybe open a door to the hope of rebirth and regrowth and starting a new. And I think just as we say goodbye to the people we love when they die, and we recognize them through this ritual of either burning their bodies or putting their ashes or their bodies into the ground. And some way we’re recognizing that they are becoming part of the earth again, we’re acknowledging their physical absence from our lives. And for Anne, this was really important to do for her house because to her, her house as much a part of her and who she was as a family member.

Amy Adams (06:03):

So maybe you could tell us a little bit more about Ann.

Christine Boyd (06:06):

Well, Ann and her family were evacuated from their home two days after the fire started. Uh, they made it safely to a hotel in San Jose with their dog and two cats, uh, and also has a husband and two children the following day after they had gone to the hotel and returned home alone, circumventing, close roads to grab whatever keepsakes and essential items she could fit into her car. And then she raised the fire back out of the mountains. Uh, she realized that she had just enough time to come and retrieve a few items. And she wrote when she realized that the very real possibility that her house might indeed burned down. And she, uh, she rushed together photographs of her children. She started hearing explosions from the neighborhood above hers. As she looked up through the orange sky, she realized that the explosions were coming from the 500 gallon propane tanks that are attached to the households here in the mountains. That’s our primary source of heat here. And the explosion sounded like bombs. They terrified her and she left. And that was the last time she ever saw her house. And she shares her story with here.

Music (07:19):

Music

Ann Black (07:32):

Like, I needed to say goodbye to the home that we bought and that we shared those beautiful memories in. There’s no way that they could just come and, and scrape it. And, and actually I had wanted to do it before I wanted to do it, like after we were able to go and, you know, one thing led to another and it just didn’t happen. And then it, it really was like, okay, well, they’re going to come and scrape. And I want to make sure that, that, you know, I say goodbye properly to the home and all of our scorched belongings, it just wouldn’t have felt right without it, just to get that closure, appreciating the home that we had and acknowledging that, you know, was destroyed and bringing closure to that. And so we could move forward kind of felt like, yeah, it just was something that I was compelled to do. And I had wanted to invite more friends and family, but with the Corona virus, you know, and, and then I saw, I was like, you know, it’s fine just to have a couple close friends. And for us, it was very special.

Christine Boyd (08:45):

Was there something, was there some part of that home that you were holding onto that you’ve been able to let go or are you, are you ready to welcome something else in its space?

Ann Black (08:59):

Yeah. It just, um, it was just really more of a sense of, of closure and saying goodbye to what was, and then that in turn helped me to feel like more able to move forward. I guess I often feel like things have energy, right? Everything has energy and even non-living things have energy and that they’re not like necessarily alive, you know, but they, they still, I don’t know, somehow I feel like they have, like, there’s some kind of spirit there, I guess, or something and losing our home. And the fire was, it was really like, it died, you know, especially like going and, um, when, when we’re more certain that the fire was coming and that it was more real that the fire could actually take our home. And when I went to get whatever belongings I thought I really wanted, and we did get cut short, sadly, but I mean, I said goodbye to the house when I left. And I said, sorry to it. I felt bad that it might fall to the fire. And in that moment I felt that there was really nothing I could do to save it. I have children and a husband and students and my family that depend on me. And I, I couldn’t, I wasn’t, I wasn’t, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to risk my life for the home, but I felt bad about it.

Christine Boyd (10:36):

Whenever you go back there to visit what’s your favorite spot, where do you gravitate towards, or do you like, do you have a ritual, either space that you go to or something that feels ritualistic it’s that you do every time?

Ann Black (10:50):

Yeah. Um, I, I always, I like check the plants to see what, you know, as, as something grows more, what else has grown back has anything grown on things that seem like they might not be alive, like the small tree in front. Um, and I, I checked the plants on the hillside that lead down to the Creek and I always go to the Creek and there’s this little spot that’s behind the, the large Redwood tree. And then the stump that provides privacy from the other, from the only house that stands in that area. So it’s, and it’s right where the hot tub was. It was kind of like my sanctuary area where I could just relax and feel at peace and at one with the trees and the nature and the Creek. And so I put, now I have a couple chairs back there now. I mean, I wrote my name on the leg, the last name going to kind of semi conspicuous, but not really in case the one wants to steal them.

Ann Black (12:00):

At least to my name is on them. If they take them. And I made sure they weren’t too expensive, so I wouldn’t be too upset if they did get stolen, but I have a couple folding chairs back there behind the Redwood tree. Like we just go and sit and just enjoy the Creek. I mean, that was like probably the number one reason that we bought that house was because it was on a rambling, uh, running water. Um, there w we felt really, like, it was amazing to be able to purchase a home, a piece of property that was on a Creek. Like that’s like that second to ocean front. Yeah. And like to go down and, and kind of navigate where the stairs were down to the rock steps when, and get closer to the Creek. And, and then just sit in that spot behind the redwoods, above it, and just look at all the nature coming back when it’s dark, you can’t tell it’s burned. And so I kinda just imagine it the way it was, Try to just be in the moment without thoughts. Um, and other times, just try to imagine what home would look good there And just Look forward to when we’re there a hundred percent of the time. I like to walk the dog, you know, and keep trying to keep a semblance of the routine that we had there.

Christine Boyd (13:33):

So your kids and Ryan liked to go to?

Ann Black (13:37):

the children don’t my son says it’s boring there, even though I said, Hey, no, that one rredwood tress it’s down. Now you can put them on the log or whatever, but he doesn’t want to, my daughter doesn’t want to go ever. And, um, I don’t know exactly why I think she just knows. I mean, I can’t even guess her reasons. Um, but my husband goes, he goes periodically, uh, just to, and, you know, enjoy the Creek and probably remember, you know, our good times there.

Christine Boyd (14:09):

So you guys go together?

Ann Black (14:10):

The other spot. I’m not too, no, we haven’t much, no. Only to meet architects or, or home builders or whatever. Um, mostly I think because our schedule is, is different, you know, when I feel like going, he doesn’t. And when he goes, I mean, he has an invited me. Um, so When he goes, I don’t know that he’s gone usually, like maybe I’m not home and he comes home from work and he’ll go from there.

Ann Black (14:40):

Um, I don’t think he’s purposely excluding me. I just doesn’t think about it. You know, one time when I showed up to me, um, an architect the last time, um, my neighbor, actually, my neighbor’s roommate was there and he was getting his mail and he’s still receiving mail there. And I thought that was really kind of humorous and interesting. Cause I, they did see meant a new mailbox and post-it, and I, I, to me, it was more like a statement like we’re coming back, you know, or at least the families rebuilding, but now, uh, it’s like, it’s, it’s more of a practical reason because a resident is still getting mail there. You think that things are mystical or emotional. And then now it’s just, um, what was the word? It’s just a practical reason, you know, you want it it’s because of all of these and the moon and stars, but no, actually I don’t have an address, so I need to get my mail.

Ann Black (15:40):

Um, and he, he had, um, gathered some, he was actually, he was washing some crystals that he was sending to a relative that, um, is dying of cancer. And so he was like cleansing them in the Creek before sending them to her. And then I saw on the ground, there was like a rock, you know, like a Rose quartz, um, that was polished. And I’m like, Oh, you know, is this, is this one? You know, I found this right now. He’s like, no, it’s not mine. It’s like, it’s yours. And so I put that at the base of, uh, the Redwood tree back there by my little, my little spot that I guess I could go live in if I put a canopy right there. So just have my chair in my canopy, keep the rain off and a blanket. And if you’re now, but, um, and I did see another neighbor, the guy from the end of the road, I’ve seen him over there a couple times, just kind of coincidentally that we were there at the same time.

Ann Black (16:36):

And, um, and like the one time was great cause he had his dog and our dogs would play just like our kids. And for a little while, I’d be like, go play with your friend Webster and let her out. And she would go run around with Einstein. And it was really nice until, you know, I was told not to anymore because some of the neighbors are scared of dogs. And then my dog is not well-trained. And so she might jump on them and scare them. And so that was sad. So then I had to like go chaperone around, go with her over there and stay there. That was kind of a bummer, cause it was so cute. Cause his dog would run down and I’m like, your friend’s out there poster. And then I would let her out and then they would just go run. It was really fun. Like a person coming to give their friend is very cute.

Christine Boyd (17:20):

They probably miss each other.

Music (17:20):

Music

Christine Boyd (17:27):

What’s fresh in the naked after afterburn.

Ann Black (17:31):

Well, I mean for smells, it has lost its smell. And for a while it was replaced with, I don’t even know how to describe it, but the smell of the burnt landscape and, and the human materials and it’s not a nice smell. Um, but now that those last properties have been cleared. It smells less like that. So I’m hoping that that continues so that fresh green kind of plant smell is no longer there. So, you know, that’s kind of a negative, like I said, I think that other kind of, I don’t want to say putrid. I don’t really know what that smell is. Acidy. I don’t even know. I can’t describe that smell, but it’s that burnt smell? Um, I think it was last the last time I was there and I, I know that I would notice it as I went past the homes that hadn’t been cleared, but now they’ve all been cleared. So I think that that will go away and as more plants grow in and there’s more needles and stuff grow on the trees that, that, that kind of like you’re out in nature smell will return.

Ann Black (18:48):

I think I still have heard some birds. I remember seeing some birds soon after the fire and I was surprised by that. And um, just the sound of the water, you know, the sound of the water is it’s very cleansing and soothing and just call me in a peaceful and happy, you know, and I like, I really, um, seeing all the growth come back, that’s really wonderful when I first was seeing green come back. I mean, that was really emotionally impactive. I have this video that I made for, um, other fire survivors after like, you know, reading some stories on the support group. And, um, so I was thinking about them and kind of the theme was it’s coming back and I encouraged, um, other people who lost their homes to keep going back to their land. Because when you first go back, it’s like destroyed. I mean, it’s, it’s like it was unrecognizable. I couldn’t even recognize that it was my home. It’s shocking. And um, but as you return and keep going back more and more than you, you start to recognize it. Like this is the same, same place, you know, it’s just, it’s changed and it has the fire scar. You can even start to see that it could still be beautiful.

Christine Boyd (20:26):

What’s the most comforting thing about visiting your property?

Ann Black (20:32):

I guess that, um, even though like it’s been burned, it’s still, still my goal. It’s still the place that we failed, but still it’s still that special spot. The Creek didn’t die. Okay. And life continues. It goes on. Life continues even after a catastrophic event, you think that things are dead and they’re broken, but they’re not Right. And you know what? The land can be. You people can be, you move forward and things can still be beautiful, even though they’re changed. And they don’t look exactly the same. Like you remember they’re scarred, but it’s still the same spot. It’s the same geographic. Like it’s the same longitude and latitude. It still has the same feeling if, if that makes sense. Like even though the fire went through there still, it’s still there. You know, like if a nuke dropped on it, that it would w there was a big crater there from an Astreroid that might be different. I don’t know when we were in the hotel after our, we know our home was burned every day, you know, it was like waking up to a nightmare every day when I opened my eyes and bed, I cried for a long time. And I don’t know if it was just the reality of what had happened, you know, that like the evacuation and then the knowledge that our home was gone and all of our, our possessions, I mean, I’m a keeper.

Ann Black (22:41):

I had things from very early on in childhood, like under 10 handwritten notes from my grandparents letters, from my friends in childhood, I had this little tiny address book. It was from the peanuts that embarrassingly, I did steal as a child because my mom didn’t have enough money to buy it for me, but I loved it so much. And I did take it from the store and I’m very sorry, but I kept that thing my whole life from when I was like nine. So a lot of those things from my childhood that were lost, it was very painful, um, to lose those things. And it was very painful to lose the land, all of the lush green, the red, I loved the Redwood trees so much. And for them to have gotten so charred and burned, and that was just very painful, the loss of big basin park that was painful.

Ann Black (23:39):

I’m like, I can’t believe that then what was, uh, bothered me a lot too, was, um, the fact that my children, the losing that continuity of like, this was the home that we wanted for them until they grew up. Right. And so now we have to have this time period. So it’s fragmented. And that, that is, you know, it was really that pain to me, especially for my son for it to be like, now he has this whole second kind of now this is my home right now. He had the home that we rented. Then we moved, bought this home and then now we’re, we’re displaced and then we’ll go back. And so just them having know, my daughter didn’t seem quite as impacted by it. So it was more like my son where I didn’t want him to have that break. I wanted him to have the stability of being in the same home for his whole life, which I didn’t have.

Ann Black (24:49):

My husband didn’t have, we wanted to buy a home before my daughter went to kindergarten, but then the economy crashed and he was out of work for a long time. And so that pretty much destroyed that. Yeah. And just like, and then not having our, our place. And then here I am, I had to look for a place to live again, and I’d spent so long just finding that home was very, it was dark. It was very dark. It was just like our home’s gone. It’s just, you know, that, that loss of security, what are we going to do now just brought like too much uncertainty. And then like all the other things that I said,

Christine Boyd (25:40):

What hopeful, pleasurable, good, positive things. If any, have come out of it?

Ann Black (25:50):

Well, I can throw things away a lot easier. I mean, I wasn’t a hoarder, but anything that I was given by somebody, or my kids were given, including the cards, I kept everything. I had shoe boxes, full of cards, holiday cards, birthday cards, whatever cards. And, um, my children had like every toy or anything that anyone had ever gotten to that gotten them. And it did actually become a little overwhelming, the amount of toys and stuffed animals to where I would feel burdened by having to find homes, reorganize the home, you know? Okay. Oh, all that’s, all those things are piled up over there. Every surface in my house is covered again, uncovering the surface and getting covered again. Um, so I guess in that regard, it’s nice to have less physical belongings. It was kind of suffocating. I mean, I couldn’t let go of old clothes that still fit me because they were still useful and good. And, or I liked them. And even if I didn’t, I kept clothes that I liked that I didn’t fit in anymore in the hopes that I will fit in them again, you know, we moved and there was just like so many clothes. My girlfriends were like, wow, I have never seen somebody has so many clothes. It was, they took up two closets. I mean, it’s kind of like, I’m lighter

Ann Black (27:23):

I’m not burdened with so many possessions. That makes sense. Anything that had any value. Like, I didn’t want to throw it out because, Oh, I might need that. I might be using that. So yeah, like at least, I mean, I didn’t keep garbage. I wouldn’t have been on the hoarders show. Our house didn’t look like that, but wide, we did have a lot of stuff. You had a lot of stuff. So now we don’t, and I’m okay with that. And I don’t want a lot of stuff like ever again, but I think that I still am sentimental. I mean, it might over the next second half of my life. Maybe it will happen again, but I don’t think, I don’t know. I don’t know how much, like I’m, I’m already like, okay, you’re not playing with that. Let’s donate it. You know, it’s like, so I feel like I’m able to let go of stuff a little better, a little more freely.

Ann Black (28:23):

I we’re going to get a brand new house. I mean, we could never have afforded a brand new house. It’s going to be all modern and well, not modern style, but good plumbing, Insta, hot water heater. I mean, the things that, some things that we’d always wanted, uh, a larger deck, um, nicer furniture, um, the hot tub, we’re going to build the deck around the hot tub this time, we’re going to be able to step down in it. I feel confident that, that we won’t have to worry about a fire there. Again, out of all the places in the world, our home has already been cleaned the forest already cleaned itself there. So we shouldn’t have to worry about that. And our Creek still runs and it’s still our home and I’m going to have the front porch that I wasn’t able to get. We’ll always miss some of the possessions that we had, But They’re all up here. Um, let’s see other good things,

Ann Black (29:34):

But I kinda like have an maybe a, a more, a better appreciation for life. Um, maybe able to take risks, a little easier, a little less fear, a lot less fear of the Corona virus. I mean, getting evacuated and burned out by a wildfire, you know, like that’s a real threat. It just made Corona virus like the size of a pinhead. And, and then, and I mean, that was the first time I would forget to grab my mask after that happened. It was just like, that’s not even real. What is that? I mean, maybe that’s false, but that’s the way I felt. And, um, I’m glad I’m not so scared of it anymore because I was really scared of the coronavirus that, I mean, I was, I have trauma from, from that, but I don’t have that anymore. So that’s good.

Ann Black (30:28):

I mean, I probably would still be, I might not be going to the grocery store if I didn’t, I’d still be washing my groceries when I came home. I mean, getting evacuated, you know, and all that. It’s just like, it all went over there. And then that was a practice that I just never felt like I needed to do that again. I can wash my hands before I prep food, prep, food, touch things. I can wash my hands again before I’m doing more. I can wash my hands before I eat and I don’t need to spray alcohol all over my groceries and wipe them down so that I don’t get the coronavirus.

Christine Boyd (31:04):

getting crammed into a hotel with a few hundred people in the middle of a pandemic, that will definitely test you. Yeah. Yeah. We’ll test you calmed down a lot after that too.

Ann Black (31:16):

Right. I mean, it kind of helped to just give you that push, you know, and other people don’t have that push and they’re still scared to death and that’s too bad. I thought about people who especially appear who are kind of, um, already isolated, right. They’re already maybe kind of loners. And so they were fine and staying away and really worried about it. And then they got thrust out into the world, into somebody’s house, into a hotel. Like, I felt really bad for people who were scared and so uncomfortable because they had to leave their safe place. You know.

Christine Boyd (31:50):

Do you feel like you’ve gone through sort of a rebirth with the land and the house and the property? In symphony? You know, there are the four stages, there are four movements of each symphony, then its birth life, death and rebirth. And the fourth symphony is the fourth movement of each symphony is always like, it’s this beautiful, like it’s springtime, it’s entering into something new and unknown and glorious and amazing, like the, this is where this is where your energy has gone. Kind of, I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed that when you listen, but I just, I wonder, like, I, I feel like the forest that’s burned is almost, it’s, it’s going through a rebirth. It has to regrow itself. And you’re, you’re taking part in that you’re, you’re giving new life to your property. And I guess just so or.

Ann Black (32:47):

yeah. Um, I don’t know if I’m completely at that level. You know, I don’t feel overshadowed by despair anymore. The cloud is not hanging over me. I mean, it’s still like, the burn scar is still there inside, but it’s, it’s not casting its shadow over me anymore. And that was a very kind of gradual, I don’t know if there was any one thing that helped that happen. It was just maybe just shedding enough tears to finally not have that sadness be right in the front. And like this poem that I read was very helpful. And I, um, this one was written by, um, Cynthia Phipps and she was out of the, I think it was the Santa Rosa fire or was it paradise? I don’t know, but it’s just like, it’s so true. Um, it’s called A New Start.

Ann reads a poem (33:58):

Through Ash filled glasses. I look on my view is blocked from all that’s gone. I wiped my lens so I can see the pain that rests in front of me. It’s in the layers at my feet. It’s in the faces that I meet. I feel the pain in every breath of those who whisper nothing’s left. I wrap my arms around them, all the ones that stay on the ones that fall. I beg all to take life in and let your heart find strength. Again. Each day you wake some another day. We’re hope and joy can come your way. It may feel far from where you stand. When you feel sad, reach out your hand, let others come to help you out. It heals the soul without a doubt. It brings you close to those around and to the place where dreams are found through Ashfield glasses. You can’t see the loving, the loving faces of your family. So wipe the lens clean on, on your heart. It’s not the end. It’s your new start.

Ann Black (35:40):

And, um, actually I remember a turning point now reading that, and it’s true because all the people in the community that all of the giveaways that were organized and especially that holiday love where people donated their, their ornaments. I mean, it really did help to heal me, close friends, people checking in on me and, um, accepting gifts, no matter how small or whatever they were, it really does help to heal you. But if you’re going to be prideful, no, I don’t need help. I don’t, you know, I mean, I’ve been, I had that kind of attitude or whatever in the past. And I think that would have hindered me from healing more. But instead I say, you know what I will say yes. And accept, and it does help. And, you know, we’re still alive. At one point I had picked up a fork, there was some silverware that would sifted and I’m like, I’m probably not going to save that, but I didn’t want to hurt the people’s feelings who had helped sifted or wherever. So I just said, yeah, just put it over there. And, um, and I was like holding it and then, and it was sad, but like, it would be so much sadder if we had perished with our belongings, right. It’s like, but we didn’t die. So we need to live. We need to embrace that, that you are alive. And I know it might be corny, but you know, pit bull said it best every day above. Ground’s a great day. Remember that.

Ann Black (37:30):

So it is, it’s not the end. It is a brand new start and that’s okay. Life’s like that sometimes. And every great story that you read or see has a tragedy, and this is our tragedy, but you grow from it and you heal from it and you’re stronger from it. And as long as you have hope, like one of the ornaments that I got from that giveaway, it actually is the word hope. And I had, and there was a little red Cardinal that was there on like a little clip. And I have that in my car. And for some reason that lone red, Cardinal to me, kind of represents hope. And I just, I have, I still have it in there just to be like, there’s always hope. And that, that helps. It helped me a lot.

Music (38:34):

Music

Amy Adams (38:51):

We’ll be right back.

Amy Adams (38:53):

I want to take a moment to tell you about a beautiful garden planner that is available through a mindful Soul center. It is 220 pages of full color lists of flowers, journaling pages, calendars, and it walks you through a planning process. Now I’m not going to tell you that much more about it. Just head on over to themindfulsoulcenter.com/a-garden-planner. You’ll love it. It’ll help you to create the garden of your dreams. Now back to

Amy Adams (39:30):

The podcast, because we have these kinds of experiences with grief. I invited Michelle Marla Han a yoga teacher writer and creative grief advocate to speak with us today. She has been teaching yoga and Ayurveda for nearly 20 years. And her work has expanded into more direct spiritual offerings. Her own loss experiences have led her to question how we think about and approach loss and invite more permission, gentleness and grace around the cycles of life. And I’m really, really pleased that she’s here, that we can talk about grief because, and story is one form of loss that we don’t necessarily always think about that we’re going to attach grief to. I mean, part of the purpose of this podcast is to share really profound feelings and stories and to let people know that they’re not alone. Welcome Michelle. Thank you for joining me today.

Michelle Marlahan (40:39):

Hi Amy. Thanks so much for having me

Amy Adams (40:41):

We’ll get right to it. Why do you think people are so uncomfortable with grief?

Michelle Marlahan (40:46):

I think there are numerous reasons. I, I would like to touch on three of them. One it’s totally natural for us to want to avoid pain. You know, that just makes sense. There’s a sort of instinctive reaction to that avoiding pain. Of course, I want to avoid pain, so that’s perfectly normal, but we also can’t avoid pain. I mean, loss is a natural part of any life. And if we love, then we are very likely going to have really painful, hard feelings when we lose something. So we’re not taught. And particularly in Western culture, we’re not taught how to handle grief, how to handle, handle the cycles of life. We’re very cut off from that entire cycle of birth, death rebirth. And we just want to be in the life part. We want to be in the birth part. We like creating things. We like new things.

Michelle Marlahan (41:51):

We like novelty. And we tend to just let things sort of go invisible when they get to that end stage or when they are ready to be over. Then we just distract ourselves again, back at the beginning with this newness and creation and you know, things that are vibrant. So as we weren’t taught how to be with grief and how to be with others in grief, I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of community and communal living and tribal living. We don’t have ritual, we don’t have ceremony. And those were ways that people came together and loss was really, it was just acknowledged as a part of the cycle of life. We see this in nature. We see this in our own bodies, even though we don’t like to acknowledge it. And so I think that’s kind of the third piece, really, ultimately we’re talking about our own death and that brings up the unknown, which is very mysterious.

Michelle Marlahan (42:57):

And we interpret that as very scary. And then this lack of control, like, well, I, I have no control over how, or when I don’t know when that will be. I don’t know what that will be. Like. I don’t know what happens after. And, you know, as many people have religious, um, beliefs that do bring a kind of certainty for them. But in many ways we could say that no one knows we don’t know. And so then there’s, that brings up fear. And so if I can’t think about my own death, if I can’t go there, then any little loss that I’m talking about ultimately touches that place in me. And so I just can’t go there.

Amy Adams (43:39):

I haven’t even really thought about it being so personal about being our own thing that we have to confront. What is inevitable change change is inevitable. And I guess it’s just easier when we’re choosing it versus when we’re thrown into it. What are some ways that we can acknowledge our losses?

Michelle Marlahan (44:00):

There are infinite ways, you know, really again, because we, we don’t have much experience here. We don’t have good teachings in this area. We don’t trust ourselves very much when it comes to our losses. And so even if we have an urge to acknowledge or honor something in some way, we often don’t trust it, but the ways to acknowledge are infinite number one is just talking about it. You know, sharing stories and memories talking about that can just help us acknowledge as well as normalized like this thing happened. And this is a part of life. And, you know, I want to share my story and then we can also acknowledge things through symbols and markers. So something a little more common might be planting a tree or planting a Rose Bush, you know, like a symbolic gesture like that. We could also gather friends and share memories. We can hold space. If we’re talking about a person, a really common practice is the empty chair. And so at a holiday dinner, or there might be an empty chair to continue to hold space for, and remember a loved one. Who’s no longer there, whatever someone can come up with that feels right to them. You know, if they get a nudge to use an object or an animal as a symbol, anything is possible just keeping it at the, for keeping it close to heart, rather than shoving it into the recesses.

Amy Adams (45:39):

So something That really is meaningful to yourself. So you can just create something that has meaning to you and not having to fulfill someone else’s expectations, or I like this idea because it’s very empowering to Honor your Own way of doing it because I know sometimes people are, can be judgemental. Uh, um, for instance, um, when I was a teenager, a friend of mine, her, one of her parents passed away and she was laughing at, during some of the services. And, you know, some people were concerned or making judgements about it, but it was her way of dealing with it. And there was nothing really wrong with it. It was an actually, maybe it was nervous laughter or whatever it was, but it was fascinating to me to hear other people, just even be concerned about how somebody was dealing with their grief.

Amy Adams (46:46):

You also have something, you have a grief alter workshop or a process that you make available on your website. And I wanted to bring it up because I did, when I visited your website, I did go and I, um, signed up for it and I watched the workshop and you have like a download that goes with it. Anybody who’s interested in doing that and wants to try doing a grief alter, then definitely go to Michelle’s website. And I’ll put the link in the show notes. You talk about, uh, enduring bonds in your workshop reminding us that we don’t need to let go of old relationships, even when someone dies. Do you think that applies to the loss of a home too, or maybe a better way to ask the question is, is there a way that we can honor our relationship with our home when we lose it? Um, like we hear about in the story that was shared today,

Michelle Marlahan (47:48):

I think it is important to acknowledge and integrate all loves and losses. They just, you know, they’re a part of who we are and how do we do that? Similar to the first thing that comes to mind is similar to what I was just saying about telling stories, sharing stories, um, maybe writing them down and, and then we can get into that kind of symbolic area again, where maybe, you know, sifting through the ashes. There’s an artifact. There’s something that remains that’s meaningful, personal to the individual that they want to keep, or they want to integrate something from that structure into a new structure, integrating the old life and the new life like the funeral. The funeral was such a beautiful example of, of how to honor something, acknowledge it, pay it, respect again, anything that speaks to the person. And it, I think just because it’s a home loss has come in so many forms and we tend to only acknowledge if we acknowledge at all, when a person dies, maybe for some people when a pet dies, but that too can have a little, a little bit of judgment around it.

Michelle Marlahan (49:12):

Yeah. Any kind of loss. And you’ve mentioned change a few times there’s loss that comes just even from change. And that is to be acknowledged so that we can integrate it. Integrate is really my favorite word in loss. You know, we’re not even where the closure, we’re not necessarily closing a door. We’re just integrating this new reality because we’re still the same person. Who’s been through many iterations in one life. And all of those iterations are here with me now, even though I’m a very different person in some ways than 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or just yesterday. And that is really true after a major loss or, or change, I’m still all the versions of me. And, and now this is, this is coming into the fabric. This is being woven into the fabric of that. So integration and whatever helps you feel like you’re more yourself and can now take steps forward. Is a great way to honor it?

Amy Adams (50:25):

Yeah. I like the word integration and I like the idea of iterations because I’ve, I often feel like looking back at my life I’ve I’ve said I remember it some kind of introduction thing. I said, I’ve, I’ve lived many lives already. You just in this one life, really, because we’re always changing and growing, but how does ritual or making a grief alter that? How would that actually, or maybe not how, but does it reduce the level of trauma that we experience from loss or aid us in healing?

Michelle Marlahan (50:59):

Yes, I believe it does. Absolutely. Again, you know, we don’t have these ceremonies or, or rituals or symbols that we use so often, anymore, other than maybe a formal funeral. Uh, but then it’s over, you know, okay, now you’re done and life goes on. Um, whereas personal ritual and something like an alter either in your home, or it could be outside, it continues to acknowledge like this is still a part of my life, this relationship, or this energy, or these memories are still a part of my life. This continues this endures and it helps to normalize. I know I said that before, but that’s such an important piece of it too. Like it just, yeah, of course that cycle of life, of course, that’s true. And now I can just sort of live with that a little more in my daily comings and goings. And that helps to keep us out of shame. And shame is a real blocker to grief, which you, you know, you’ve already mentioned with your story of your high school friend. So shame, we wanted continue to normalize and stay out of that shame place, that judgment place. There’s also something that’s that active physical element to ritual, or even just creating an alter, gathering the things, collecting things, placing the things. And so this physical movement, part of it, even if it’s not much movement, but it’s going out gathering, placing, I consider that the motion to emotion, you know, emotion movement, and just that physical movement can help us keep things moving emotionally. It’s not like, Oh, you know, that just moved through and now it’s gone, but it can keep things more in flow, just like our circulatory system. Just keep it circulating, keep it moving, emotions, come and go like waves. They arise and pass.

Michelle Marlahan (53:08):

And when that’s not happening, then maybe we can get some more movement there by moving our bodies in some way, you know, the two energies affecting one another. And lastly, I think no matter what your spiritual religious affiliation is having some kind of symbolic ceremony or thing can help bring a nondenominational sacredness to your loss or to that relating. And again, just this respect for life respect for other forms of life, for people, for your own belongings and attachments and loves just respect. So yeah, the relationship is still alive and relevant. And however we can, you know, keep that relationship going even though the person or the thing might be gone is, is really just that’s, that’s how it is. And memories are still here. They’re still vibrant and we can keep those.

Amy Adams (54:21):

So do you have anything else you would like to share today with the audience on grief and processing it?

Michelle Marlahan (54:31):

You know, I was really moved in the interview, how Ann talked about the fire scar on the land. And I think this is just the most beautiful metaphor for grief and tending ourselves, tending our, our losses. Um, we all have scars. We might have scars on our bodies. We might have scars on our hearts and it can be really tempting to abandon that pain, you know, to avoid, to not want to go there because it hurts. But just like, and kept going back to the property, going back to the land, going back to the Creek, you know, kind of checking in on it, staying connected, even though it hurt, even though it had been devastated. And she says in the interview, this is a quote, as you keep going back more and more, you start to recognize it. It’s the same place it’s just changed and it has the fire scar and you can even start to see that it could still be Beautiful. And

Michelle Marlahan (55:43):

If we can go, go to, tend to touch in with those scars in, in ourselves or those scarred relationships, the scarred places, then we can start to see what is there, you know, what lives on, what life is there, what endured, what is growing and little by little being with that pain being with that devastation, whatever it is, then we start to hold both, you know, there’s pain and, Oh my gosh, there might even be some beauty here because the is both both exist. And here we are in life, knowing that there is also death and loss. So I just, I really encourage people to tend their scars, to keep going back, you know, little by little small amounts at first, because it can be so painful, but just emotionally tending, you know, she’s physically going back, but sometimes it’s an emotional or an energetic going back just with our attention and giving yourself time. Time is something that gets really, um, wonky in grief because, you know, a day seems like a year and a year seems like a day and there’s no timeline of, you know, three months and now you’re done. So just, you know, over spacious, generous time, keep going back and tending to yourself.

Amy Adams (57:20):

Yeah, I think, um, I mean, for my own personal losses, I lost both of my parents within a short span of one another. And um, I mean, it’s already many, many, many years ago, but I still think about them. I’ve I talk to them. They’re not physically here, but

Michelle Marlahan (57:44):

Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Amy Adams (57:47):

So thank you for sharing, um, about grief and I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to come and speak with us and to share this information with the audience.

Michelle Marlahan (58:00):

Oh, thank you. I’m so happy to be here

Christine Boyd (58:02):

Thanks so much for listening. If you liked this podcast, please leave us a review and let us know what you think. Be sure to subscribe so you can listen to our future podcasts.

Amy Adams (58:13):

You can read more about Ann’s story on the mindful soul center’s, website, and visit Michelle’s website to access her grief workshop and other tools that you can use. You Here Now is a mindful soul center production produced by Amy Adams. Theme. Music is Fall’s Every Now and Zen. Additional music in this podcast, McCough’s, the liminal, Anchor’s Majesty and Greater Stills’ Not all who Wander are Lost. Visit themindfulsoulcenter.com or go to youherenowpodcast.com

Ann Black Profile Photo

Ann Black

Storyteller

Ann Black lives in Northern California and is a teacher and mother . She bravely shared her story of loss and hope with us on You Here Now.

Christine Boyd Miller Profile Photo

Christine Boyd Miller

Guest co-host

Christine Boyd Miller, PhD is a writer, anthropologist, permaculturist, and mother. She received her doctorate degree in anthropology from American University. She is a regular contributor to Mindful Soul Center magazine and was a guest co-host of the first two episodes of the YOU HERE NOW podcast. An East Coast transplant, she lives in Northern California. When she's not writing or practicing yoga, she spends her time frolicking in the redwoods with her son, hula hooping, cooking, and helping her husband tend to their garden and bees.

Michelle Marlahan Profile Photo

Michelle Marlahan

Guest Expert

About our guest Michelle Marlahan

Michelle Marlahan is a yoga teacher, writer and Creative Grief Advocate. After teaching yoga and Ayurveda for nearly 20 years, her work has expanded into more directly spiritual offerings, including grief and loss. Her own loss experiences have led her to question how we think about and approach loss, and invite more permission, gentleness and grace around the cycles of life. Get in touch with Michelle.