Today is my 42nd wedding anniversary and we are nearing the 21st anniversary of Holly’s death. Looked at this way, I have been grieving her loss for as long as we were married, give or take a few weeks. But Holly and I first met five years before we were married and began dating a year later. So we are nearing a half century since we have been a part of one another’s lives.
Far from being inconsolable, I still believe myself to be in relationship with her. We have a son together, and I speak with him at least once a week on the phone. He has never gotten over his mother’s death, and his sense of loss feeds mine. But more than that, I still consider my relationship with his mother to be present-tense rather than something from the buried past. She is still an active presence in my life of which I am reminded constantly.
If any proof is needed to demonstrate that Holly still exerts an influence on the lives of those of us who loved her, I offer this true story which first appeared in this blog four years ago, and at over 3,500 views, it has become the fourth most-popular post in the Wandervogel Diary. Forgive me for repeating myself, but we have many new readers and visitors to the Diary since the story first appeared, and it is truly remarkable and not to be missed.
Truth is truly stranger than fiction…
It had been a little over a month since Holly’s last surgery. When the surgeons saw how widespread the cancer was, they closed her up without removing anything. Nothing more to be done, they said.
Holly refused to speak of it for weeks on end. As more time passed, the more this unspoken thing became an intrusive presence between us. We needed to discuss her approaching death—soon—but I had no idea how to broach the subject.
I set a deadline—April 29th, the first day of Laguz, the water-rune. On the runic calendar, Laguz is directly opposite Hagal, the rune generally associated with death. It seemed an appropriate day. It was also on April 29, 1987 that my father had died.
Yet, April 28, 1993 had arrived, and I still had no idea how I was going to start the conversation with Holly. I drove through downtown Minneapolis, thinking about this problem. To my right appeared an open parking space. It was directly in front of a building where I made regular visits. A friend, Cheryl Rydmark, had her goldsmith studio there. I was particularly drawn to Cheryl at this time because she had been most generous with her art and friendship through Holly’s long struggle with the cancer. Cheryl is as much a priestess as an artist. Her aesthetic has much in common with ancient rings and amulets. When Holly’s cancer was first diagnosed, she gave Holly a gold necklace which, she had hoped, might help Holly to heal. The parking space seemed to be waiting for me. It was an end-space, so I didn’t even have to parallel-park. I just pulled in. It was like an open door.
I walked to the entrance of Cheryl’s building. Before I could pull on the door handle, the door swung open as a young woman with a backpack came out. She held the door open for me.
As I approached the elevator, the door opened before I could push the button. A delivery man stepped off as I stepped on. Interesting coincidences, I thought, as the elevator made its slow ascent.
I stepped off the elevator and looked down the hall to the fire-door and the flight of stairs leading to Cheryl’s studio. By the fire-door was an Asian lady, a member of the building’s maintenance staff, sweeping the floor.
Walking down the hall I thought: “If that woman opens that door for me, then something’s really going on here.” As if on cue, the woman opened the door. She wedged it open with a worn wooden triangle and walked away. I climbed the stairs, more amazed with every step.
“Cheryl, what is this?” I asked, just a few minutes into our conversation. I loved to browse the tops of her workbenches, where Cheryl and her assistants had their tiny sculptural projects in various stages of development and manufacture. I held up a silver ring for Cheryl to see.
It had water waves all around the band and a nautilus shell as its crown. “It’s a prototype,” Cheryl said. “I made that to test my design before I cast the final ring in gold.”
“This may be exactly what I came here for,” I said. “Would you be willing to make one for Holly?” and I told her why.
“Of course,” Cheryl answered without hesitation.
This exquisite ring would be a perfect way to get Holly to think about death and what must lie beyond. Embodying a sacred proportional mean in its design (which can be used to make a spiral) the nautilus shell is an ancient symbol of eternity. I hoped that its symbolism would assure Holly that she—and we—would continue on.
Cheryl let me borrow the silver prototype so I would have something to give Holly the next day. By tradition, the fortnight of Laguz begins at noon, and I wanted to give the ring to Holly in the morning when she awoke.
At first, Holly didn’t like the idea of the ring. She knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish through this gift. She wanted to delay acknowledging the inevitable as long as possible. Yet, a couple days later, having promised Holly she could pick out any other ring or piece of jewelry she might prefer, we visited Cheryl’s workshop to measure Holly’s ring finger and place our order.
After looking over every possible alternative, in the end Holly chose the nautilus ring. It would be made of gold, and Holly picked out a deep blue sapphire stone to be set in the center of the shell. Blue had always been her favorite color.
“I love my ring,” Holly told me three months later. “I love you for giving it to me,” she whispered. We sat silently for a while, holding hands. Holly seemed at last to be at peace with her fate.
After she died in September, I gave that ring to her best friend Kathe Murphy. This is where Kathe’s voice must tell the rest of the story:
I wear Holly’s gold ring. I treasure it. Her husband gave it to me after she died. Although she had managed life with Multiple Sclerosis for 15 years, she died after two years with Ovarian Cancer. She was incredible, an amazing miracle woman. Nothing stopped her. She adopted a son and started her dream business while “physically challenged” with MS.
Holly and I were the kind of friends that few ever have. We knew it. We knew how to make each other laugh until we cried. When she died, I realized that no one knew her like I did. Who could she talk to about her husband but me? Who could she talk to about her parents, but me? Her sickness. Her funeral.
Holly had very thin fingers, smaller even than mine, and this gold ring was too small for either of my ring fingers, so I had it made into a pinky ring. Besides, it does look like it could be a wedding ring—an 18 karat gold band especially made for her by her husband when she was sick. It was designed to represent the different forms that water takes symbolizing the different forms that spirit takes. The seashell on the ring holds a tiny dark sapphire. It is a beautiful little ring and reminds me daily of my best friend.
I’ve lost it twice, the first time not for long. I had literally washed it off my hand while doing the dishes and found it on the kitchen floor. The second time I noticed the ring was missing was during the funeral of another friend of mine.
My first thought was that Phyllis was with Holly, and that they were watching me together from the wonderful other side. But on this side, my heart was sinking. I had lost this little material thing that meant so much to me. I had to find it! I would retrace the steps of my day and revisit every place where I could have possibly washed the ring off my hand again.
The first place I looked was in the used hand towels in the girls’ room at the Elks Club, where Phyllis’ “Life Celebration” service had taken place. People must have thought I was crazed, because I was. I left word with the manager that I had lost my precious gold ring.
The second stop was back at my house. Again, I checked the kitchen floor. Not there. Nor in the bathroom or anywhere in the bedroom. I even stripped the bed and shook out the covers. Nowhere.
It was late Tuesday afternoon, and I had gone to work that morning, I could have lost the ring in one of the waste baskets. But Tuesdays and Fridays are trash days, and everything from the building had already been put in the dumpster for pickup the following Monday. If the ring was in the dumpster, I could look the next day.
After placing a personals newspaper ad (“REWARD–LOST GOLD RING”) the next day, I climbed up and peered into the building’s dumpster. My I-have-an-important-meeting work clothes stopped me from jumping into the dumpster then and there. Besides, it was only Wednesday and I had five days to carefully weed through the dumpster’s contents before the garbage was hauled away on Monday.
Friday night I had supper with friends who knew about my lost ring and understood the Holly connection. I told them I was convinced at this point that the missing ring was in the dumpster. If I didn’t look for it the next day, I said, I would regret it forever.
My friends fired up. They volunteered to don wet suits and gloves and help me “dumpster dive” in the morning. They even called my answering machine with a reminder to set my alarm for our morning dive.
Before reading myself to sleep that night, I searched for the ring again in my dark blue bedding—just as I had the previous three nights.
Sometime between two and three in the morning, I was awakened by a soft voice that whispered in my ear: “Open your hand; the ring is there.”
At first I didn’t move. I struggled to just open my eyes. Then I opened my hand—and the ring was there!
Kathe said she slipped the ring onto her little finger, but had trouble getting back to sleep. She was perplexed by how the ring found its way into her hand as she slept. She told me the ring seemed to glow slightly in the dark.
Kathe seemed surprised that I was so quick to believe her story. She is down-to-earth and even skeptical in most things. Kathe doesn’t drink much or take drugs. She is a businesswoman and homeowner. A taxpayer. She probably even pays her bills on time.
If Kathe says something happened, it did.
I believe that ring is infused with an energy we cannot explain. Amulets and other magical devices, as I understand them, collect energies as a prism collects light, and focuses these energies into a narrow beam of power. Human experiences of the most intense nature were indeed focused in that ring. There is also the weird coincidence of all those opened doors at the ring’s inception, as well as the profound meaning attached to the ring by Holly and those of us who love her. I am convinced that this remarkable story would never have happened had it not been initiated in accordance with my observance of the runic year.
In this instance I fumbled into an important discovery of what life might be like if one were able to permanently inhabit a natural and sacred space defined by runic measures. How much more might be possible if a spiritual community were to combine its individuals’ efforts to find their pathways with the Runic Compass?
Many years ago I lived in rural East Africa, where a belief in magic is mainstream. The stories one hears about the effectiveness of magical cures for illness convinced me that, contrary to the view that all magic is superstition and to be dismissed, magic has real power in the bush. There it is a coherent system for understanding time, the universe, and the role of human beings in the natural order. With so many people believing in this system and contributing their energies to it, the people in effect “manufacture” the magic.
In heeding the underlying design of the runic year and observing the first day of Laguz, in working with a gifted and spiritual artist, in allowing the symbolism of the ring to help Holly find peace with her passage, I believe we tapped into a pure aspect of the universal energies of the runes and in the end, created a magic ring.
My subsequent experiences with April 29th have been similarly remarkable. On that day in 1994, my mother called me to tell me she was dying. The following year, at an impromptu lunch on that date, a mentor told me his cancer had gone into his bones, the equivalent of a death sentence. Thus, in my experience the first day of Laguz has shown a tendency to present harbingers of death.
I do not profess to understand it fully at this time, but I do know that these experiences suggest it is possible to walk in a zone where the physical and spiritual worlds meet, where one can be supported by the waves of energy in the universe rather than fighting them. It is a zone where the past is preparation for a positive future, where intuition and foresight are reliable, and where creativity is the order of the day everyday.
Here I go, repeating myself again. I have posted this song before, but it always reignites memories for me of tearfully dancing with Holly when we learned her death from cancer was inevitable.
Groove of the Day