Today is Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It also marks the two year anniversary of my soul friend Emma's passing. This light filled day is my day for remembering the bountiful treasure of our friendship of eighteen years. Two years ago I recieved a letter from Emma's sister Judy, only a week after I'd mailed off Emma's birthday gift. I remember thinking, 'Oh, goodie, there's going to be a big party for her in Seattle, and I'm invited!" But reading the letter brought me to my knees. Judy wrote: "Emma is here beside me but only for a short time now. A few weeks ago she experienced initial symptoms of a very serious illness, which has progressed rapidly and will soon claim her life." Judy was writing from Emma's hospice room, and three days later, on the Solstice, Emma smiled, her eyes lit up, and she took one long last breath and let go.
What took her life is not important really, a rare degenerative brain disease, mysterious and always fatal. What is imp0rtant is that Emma chose the short route home, lingering less than a month from first symptom to final breath. Her community of family, friends, clients and colleagues in Seattle was a riotous group, her memorial celebration proved that. There was music and poetry and drumming and dancing, outside in one of her favorite parks where she romped with her dog Murphy for years, rain or shine.
Judy's note continued: "The 'Murphy' scarf you painted for her is hanging in her room at the hospice, at the foot of her bed. Remembering Emma playing with 'Murphs' lightens my heart." That silk scarf was one of my first attempts at silk painting (it is full of globby mistakes), and I sent it to Emma when her cocker spaniel Murphy died after being her companion for nearly twenty years. I painted him with wings, flying in the clouds, with many bones to keep him happy. Emma grieved his passing by weeping into that scarf, and she thanked me with these words: "Tears of Grief deserve to be caught by the softest silk" She always capitalized Grief, acknowledging its sacredness, that altered space in between the worlds. On one of our many visits, I took the photo of Emma with Murphy, and you can see my mischievous seven year old daughter's fingers reaching into the photo (that same daughter who was just married in New York last week).
Emma was my Muse. A teacher and therapist by trade; a poet, wordsmith, photographer, singer, drummer, circle dancer by Joy. She accompanied me through the passages of my life, as a mother of young children, struggling to find time for my artist's path. When I experimented with a new medium, I mailed her one of the first of my efforts. The silk Murphy scarf was joined by the Emma Box, where I merged my illustration with lowfire ceramics for the first time, using ceramic glaze chalks on clay. It stood on her mantle for many years, filled with white sage gathered on one of her visits to California. We never lived in the same city, she was my Seattle sister. I met her at a retreat gathering on Whidbey Island, one Winter Solstice long ago. We recognized one another at first glance.
I sent her one of my first ceramic doumbeks, a drum which was played at her memorial. I filled he home and therapist's office with the first of my flying heart silks and many more banners featuring her poetry which honored the passages of women, celebrated our bodies and our souls. She was a Soul Collage therapist and teacher, and created stunning collage cards of her own. The photographs she took of me on my visits to Seattle are luminous with the joy we felt in each others presence. I treasure one she took of me standing by a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. The exuberance in the poppies' glow, my gesture of open arms, my soft, dazed smile reveal what being with Emma gave me. Now, each year Emma has a place on my Day of the Dead altar, her picture near the tile I made that says: "Dear Friend". I plant marigolds in her memory each June, to decorate that altar.
A few months after Emma's death, I received a box from Judy, filled with all the art I'd sent Emma: silks, ceramics, a Soul Collage card she made for me, a silver Zuni bracelet from her travels and that last birthday gift (unopened) which I'd sent her a couple of weeks before her death: a pair of fused glass earrings. I wear them now in her memory, flashing pink and green and silver sparkles, Emma's colors. All of the art in that box was covered with ashes, her ashes, which Judy had sprinkled into a raku woman sculpture that had shattered in the mail. My art has never been so blessed, so honored, so anointed.
I'll finish with one of Emma's poems, which she gave to her Spirituality and Healing students at their last ritual circle, their last day of class:
May you walk your path with love,
with courage and curiosity.
May you rest when you need and take note of the lands
through which you pass,
the grand scapes of sky and mountain
the tiny plants and stones
at your feet. Hear the birdsong,
the crickets and the distant creek.
and please do keep following
the road before you, your road.
The call that draws you on,
until you find the next Sign,
the next clue, leading to your destiny,
your destination, your heart's desire.