The Altar


I can feel something shifting, almost imperceptibly.

I have had two burning rituals.  Fire inside, fire outside.   First, I burned my “orientation to divorce” papers.  I let the smoke rise, and I burned two sticks of cedar.  I waved a cedar bundle in front of me and behind me, as I’ve seen Native leaders do for cleansing and blessing- a smudging.  I cried and watched the smoke burn.

It helped. I reentered my house with a strange sense of peace.  It didn’t last, of course, but it was there.

A few days later, I did the same thing. The rain drizzled outside, so I decided to burn in my fireplace. I have an old fashioned fireplace, one without the special heating insert. The wood and paper sit right on an old metal grating.  I wrote all my resentments about my children.

I’m sure that sounds terrible, but let me explain.

My kids, especially my oldest daughter, was awful to me when I told her that her father and I had separated. She was sarcastic, judgmental, dismissive. She then refused to talk and didn’t want me to call her.

She’s since come around.

I understand it was her anger, her bitter disappointment, that fueled her behavior. I get it now, I got it then. But it still hurt..  Twenty year old grief is not the same as seven year old grief, or twelve year old grief.  I had to bear her anger, because her father got none of it.  None that I knew of, or ever heard of.

My younger daughter reacted with sadness and disappointment,  nothing like my older daughter. Her response was more heart wrenching, as my need to defend myself wasn’t provoked. Nonetheless, I needed to let go of feeling responsible for her emotions, too.  Up in smoke.

I don’t thinking hanging on to their reactions does them or me any good.

I will say that the outdoor burning seemed more satisfying to me.  Seeing the smoke rise in the light of the fire was helpful. Indoors, the grating of the fireplace separated me from the destruction a little. The smoke went up a chimney and disappeared, quickly, a little too quickly for me to notice.

Next time, Ill go outside again.  I’ll pick another item on my list from a couple weeks ago. I notice I can’t rush through these, I can’t do one a night for eight nights running.  I need time to think, reflect, let the ashes settle. Is it really gone? Has the smoke really risen? Is it in someone else’s hands now…the ancestors that my young teacher talked about?

Does my body tell me that the grief is lifting a little?  Honestly, maybe a tiny little shift, nothing I really have faith in quite yet.  My shoulders ache, and I don’t believe it’s entirely about the way I slept.

We’ll see.


5 comments on “The Altar

  1. Great symbolism of letting go – literally and metaphorically.
    There are many layers to separation and divorce and I feel slowly letting go of each in turn does wonders. Gradually you will get through them all..

  2. Christina says:

    I burned things as well. Love letters, bank statements, family pictures. It did help some, but in the end, as we all know, the burning has to come from within.
    It seems mothers get a lot of the abuse, blame, anger, ect…But I suppose it is because our love is unconditional.
    I will keep you in my thoughts and prey for peace of mind.

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