A loss talisman

Loss is awful.

Loss keeps coming up in my life this month, not as in new losses but as in memories of past losses, perhaps insufficiently grieved. In the West, we use therapy to uncover and discharge past griefs. Indigenous people use ritual, but they have the same understanding that unexpressed grief blocks joy.

I decided to make a talisman to honor my losses, my grief, and the newness that loss makes room for.

A talisman is an assemblage of natural objects, chosen because of their symbolism. The elements come from nature because when you’re done with the talisman, you don’t want to throw it in the garbage—you want to be able to break it apart and let the elements rejoin the natural world.

To make a talisman for a specific purpose, you walk in nature with your goal in mind and look for elements that fit. I also thought of items lying around my house that seemed appropriate. When I was ready to make the talisman, I put everything on the kitchen table, made a circle of ash around my chair, and sat down.

The first two talismans I made involved sewing up leather stuffed with cemetery earth, but this one was simpler, built around a branch with a bird’s nest in the crook of two twigs.

The empty nest—the losses that occur as a child grows, separating from us step by step. In a recent divination, Glenn asked me if there had been somewhere in my family a child, either born or unborn, who was cut off from development. I thought of my cousin Elizabeth, who died at the age of three. There was also my father’s little brother, Eddie, whose severe physical and mental disabilities struck when he was a baby.

A week later, I remembered that when I was entering menopause, I went through a powerful grief over the second child I never had.

Around the branch holding the nest, I twined bare roots from trees that were ripped up by the hurricane and deposited on the riverbank across the street from my house.

I found a letter from my father in my files, about my daughter’s college account, and tore out the signature. I wrapped this scrap of paper around one of the twigs and tied it with thread so I could still see the ink of the word “Dad”. (My father died two years ago.)

I had plucked a dried-out half of an empty milkweed pod. I inserted the stem into the tree roots, symbolizing my past as an herbalist. And I stuck a chicken feather alongside it.

Now the talisman is sitting in the dark of my closet, and I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but the making of it was a deeply graceful experience.

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5 Responses to A loss talisman

  1. So beautiful, Ellen. I linked to this on my Facebook page. I’m also chronicling loss (leaving my apartment) on my blog, ? dubious labia !” http://dubiouslabia.wordpress.com/. Your writings here are wonderful and inspiring (as you yourself are). Let me know when you’ll be in Brooklyn again. With much love …

  2. Dawn Markle says:

    I am greiving loss too. I have lost a parts of me I really liked. I have hope that i can gather my broken pieces and create a new much more interesting Dawn. Like broken glass, though, it is hard to put the pieces together. Light that shines through will now reflect with prisms of rainbow light. like the seams in a stained glass window scars become what will now be my strength.

  3. ralph gallagher says:

    I think that is a Vireo nest, I love you for all the rest

    • visnow77 says:

      Really? A vireo? I’m so glad to know that. The one in the picture is actually not the one in my talisman but is just like it. THe one in the picture is in a sapling next to the tree I stand by to do my morning prayer. Or used to do. I kind of stopped.

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