Forward Living: Setting a course for a new future

(Credit: Celia Iannelli)
(Credit: Celia Iannelli)

Of late, I’ve been fascinated with cloud formations. I head down to my “sacred spot” at the beach almost daily to photograph the ever-changing sky. I especially enjoy taking shots of the magnificent sunrises and sunsets — so much so that I’ve dubbed myself a “sky junkie.” I sometimes post my pictures on Facebook with a few descriptive words taken from a song or poem. 

One morning, as I watched the sun rise gloriously over the water, the words of a lovely hymn came to mind: “Lord of all to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.” And, without warning, tears of gratitude began to spill down my cheeks. I didn’t care that my mascara was running; I was fully present to life in that mystical moment. Reaching out my arms as to embrace the universe, I whispered, “Thank you.”

Although life has taken a good deal from me, nowadays I can sincerely say that I’m thankful for all that life has left to me: my children, family, home and health. A group of wonderful (you know who you are) “stand-by-me” friends. The superb doctors who held my hand and guided me when I was blinded by grief. I feel blessed to have meaningful work — and that’s just for starters.

Rewind to November 2013.

I was on a long solo journey in uncharted waters, again. After the first difficult months following Frank’s death, my reality became my feelings of loss. I felt like I was in the midst of a treacherous storm in a leaky boat without a compass. I would look back on the life I had known … slowly the horizon became dimmer. I would look ahead and see nothing. This was the most frightening time for me.

A friend handed me a compass and threw me a life preserver when he offered this quote from his dad: “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” These wise words kept me buoyant when I felt that I was sinking into the deep.

Season after season passed, then a year and beyond. Folks stopped asking how I was — and rightfully so. I looked well, was busy and involved in life. However, the undercurrent of loss never receded.

Late spring brought a shift in the tide. The waves within were less turbulent and the horizon became clearer. Sure, I was still sideswiped by tidal waves of grief, but I was learning how to navigate my boat though the storms. And, yes, I became a skillful mariner.

This was the beginning of healing; day by day, step by step I re-entered the world of the living. Battle-scarred, weary and sad, I didn’t realize that I was arriving on a distant shore.

I’m not the only one who has gone through a transformation born out of the storms of life. Those of us who survive know that getting by isn’t living. We realize there is something beyond us that holds our lives together. Loss is an inevitable part of life, as I have learned, twice now. I’ve also learned that loss always contains a hidden gain.

We can stay bitter, I suppose, but what’s the point? If we stay stuck in our pain, we’ll never experience the empowerment that change brings. We’ve been taught that what we love should never leave; it doesn’t, you know — love is eternal. It’s those very cracks in our broken hearts that allow love to flow back in.

Nowadays, I see a beautiful shoreline. Setting my compass to this place, I realize I’m headed in the right direction. I will make it! As I get closer I realize that although the landscape is different from the life I’ve known, it’s very beautiful.

Recently, I was at my “sacred spot” looking out over the water. The seagulls flying overhead seemed to cry: “Follow me, follow me, to a new life.” My heart did a happy dance. I stretched my arms to the heavens and called after them, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.