My senior year of undergrad began with losing my mother to cancers—yes, plural—followed by other losses that year as well, both tangible and not. Creative writing has not only been a way to pass my free time but also a means to process difficulties that I am faced with. That year’s NaNoWriMo was called The Decadence of Loss and was about all of the positive as well as negative ways that an individual can deal with grief and loss.
I am reminded of that work, not because I periodically work on it still, but because I received this photo in the mail from my spiritual teacher and aunt in Montana. It is of my grandmother holding my mom (age: 13 months) while receiving the awards for my grandfather. He voluntarily put his career as a commercial airline pilot on hold to fly helicopters in Viet Nam; he was killed while flying a MEDEVAC mission. I realize just how much my mom’s life, and really her family’s, has been marked by loss: anti-indigenous policies in North America and Scandinavia, death, the transience of military life, abductions, and more.
And yet, I never saw this tear down what was most central. I grew up learning what she could teach me as far as spirituality. She taught me about matriarchal leadership and that all communication should be polyphonic. One of my most vivid memories involved a discussion about understanding human waste helps with understanding what is occurring within the body. I swear there was a point I considered becoming a gastroenterologist because of this, but forewent this career choice. It did inform some of my environmental policy work in that understanding what is gone and how can be informative of what remains.
May the loss you experience show you new places for your light to shine and better inform how you understand what remains.
Jake Hearen is an indigenous UU, Chaplain Candidate in the Army Reserves while studying Interfaith Engagement at Union Theological Seminary, and is sponsored by Tahoma UU as a candidate for fellowship in UU ministry.