We gathered at the top of the hill in the building called the WIG, taking off our shoes on the porch and entering barefoot. The pine boards were cool beneath the arches of my feet. Last year at this time, we had joined Otha Day for a drumming circle. There was sisterhood woven together with every drum beat. Otha set the rhythm with his drum, then invited the person to his left to add their own complementary beat by listening to his.
Around the circle we went, each person adding the next piece until the entire circle organically contributed to an original song comprised of the sounds of various drums. You felt each beat in your heart. Felt the floor reverberate under you as you sat cross-legged on the floor. It was moving and magical.
This year we gathered again in a circle. We were invited to recognize that the sisterhood woven together at women’s weekend did not have to end once we left camp on Sunday.
Our circle facilitator, Topaz Weis, asked us to glance around the circle. To try to make eye contact with other women as we moved our eyes around the room. We were invited to think about what the weekend meant to us and how it felt to be there surrounded by other women. Little by little she drew together our connections to our bodies, to each other, and to the Earth.
We were all a part of this divine and greater system, one that continued generation after generation. One that transcended the levels of Earth, time and space.
Then she taught us Grandmother’s Song – for which, I discovered, there are several renditions. This was a song that I found myself replaying silently in my head or humming in the car days after camp was over. With every note, I could picture us all standing and singing. I could feel the power and presence of the sisterhood woven together. It was with me if I just closed my eyes and imagined us there holding hands and singing. This beautiful, united group of empowered, enlightened, experienced women.
The version of the song she taught us went like this:
I can hear the voice of my grandmother calling me,
I can hear the voice of my grandmother calling me.
She says, wake up, wake up;
She says wake up, wake up,
May the rivers all run clear,
The mountains be unspoiled.
May the air be clear,
and the trees grow tall,
May the Earth be shared by all.
Once we were comfortable, we began to sing it in a round. First as just two groups. Then as three. And finally, as four groups. Each time was chilling. With each round our voices grew stronger, and we became louder. Some of us came to sing with our eyes closed, feeling the power of the words. Some of us swayed. We held hands.
For me, each time we sang “I can hear the voice of my grandmother calling me,” there was an incredible presence of my grandmother Berthiaume. She had passed in 2012, but there she was. Never has her face been so clear in my mind over the last six years as it was in that circle. The crinkled corners of her eyes when she smiled. The way she slapped her own knee when she laughed. She was there, in her mint green striped sweater and matching polyester pants. I was so overcome by the apparition of her, I had to bite the inside of my cheeks to keep from crying.
Had this sisterhood woven together and strengthened by song called her from the grave?
Were others around me feeling their grandmothers’ hands on their shoulders? Though I’ve always wished for particular people who have passed to visit me in my dreams after their death, none ever have. There I was completely conscious and awake and her presence was the most real I could have hoped for. She looked straight at me. Into me.
Perhaps I’m just highly suggestive. Maybe lyrics were putting me in a hypnotic state and my imagination was running rampant. I could have just been feeling and seeing what I wanted. It could have been a placebo effect or self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet I was struck. My sweaty palms, the tears in my eyes, the feeling of being with her was consuming and raw.
The feeling stayed with me well into the beginning of the week.
I spent a lot of time pondering her presence after leaving camp. Clearly I had invited her in, with or without intention. With or without suggestion or wild imagination. She was there. Then as I looked at the calendar that Monday, a few things struck me. Struck me in that sucker-punch kind of way.
One, her birthday was coming up that Friday. Nearly an exact week from the morning we gathered together in song.
Two, her birthday shares my due date for the baby I lost to miscarriage.
When I lost the baby initially, I found tiny solace in believing that my grandmother was looking after my blessed little one until it was my time to join them. In therapy, when I processed my loss through guided visualization and meditation, it was my grandmother’s hands that gently cradled my lost infant.
Three, she, too, had lost a child in her life. Her loss was not during pregnancy, but still, she outlived one of her children. A grief that far too many know; a pain that is hard to ease; and a hole that is never really filled.
So of course she appeared at women’s weekend during that song. I needed her.
I needed her to let me know that the anniversary would be painful, but everything was going to be okay. Additionally, she was fine and so was the baby. And I was going to be fine, too. Because I wasn’t alone in my loss, my pain, or my struggle.
Across realms, worlds, generations, we were all connected. Me, her, my baby and all women. All women who knew what it was to be a woman and struggle; to be a mother and lose; to be a grandmother and watch daughters and grand daughters succeed and fail, grieve.
We were all in this together, if we chose to be. If we chose to be united. If we chose to stand together in solidarity and to recognize our sisterhood woven together by our common threads and experiences.
My grandmother’s face appearing during this women’s circle may have been nothing more than an explainable emotional trigger having to do with the looming anniversary date. I could choose to accept it as that. I don’t. Instead, I choose to believe she was calling to me.
I choose to believe that she wanted me to know she is always with me in spirit. That she is happy in the place she is in. That she keeps safe the baby I lost and continue to miss. And I feel deeply that she wanted me to know, love transcends space and time, life and death. That love is not just between family members or friends, but your neighbors and even strangers – these latter categories representative of the women I held hands with to sing the Grandmother’s song. On a grand scheme of things, I knew little about each of the women attending camp, and yet felt spiritually closer to them than some of my oldest girlfriends.
I choose to believe she wants me to know that though we may suffer loss and failure, pain and grief, challenge or sadness, we have each other; we have faith; and we have the resiliency and determination to keep going and be happy in spite of it all.
In spite of it all: we need to keep singing; keep smiling; keep moving. We must nurture our happiness and honor our resiliency. And, we must care for one another.
There are others to sing and smile and move with you. Others for you to help sing, smile, and move. When the threads of sisterhood woven together remains in tact, it becomes a net to catch you when you feel you are falling. Then, when you’re no longer in need of the net, you move to the outside and hold the net for the next person who needs it. Falling is okay. You’ll rise again and you’ll be fine. Like all the women before you – both living and passed.