Roots and Smoke: Coping

June 29, 2016

A symbol repeatedly shows itself and whispers a message, becoming representative of the time and process of my healing. Still desperately ill, but no longer dying, I find hope and focus in this symbol. Hanging above my head for years, seemingly unnoticed, is a black, white, and grey canvas painting of a lone tree by Saskatoon artist Kelly Cutter. When the physical pain lifted, when I used the bedroom for sleeping and not treatments, I began to notice the painting above the bed again. The colourless canvass creates cascades of vibrant memories. Childhood evenings skating on the frozen slough by moonlight. Canoeing on prairie ponds where a solitary tree grew upon a solitary hill. I feel like that lone tree, bending with the winds and standing tall on calm days. It represents the power of taking responsibility for my health and finding strength in quiet solitude during the hardest times.

Sometimes the darkness of the painting reminds me of forest fires. I spent summers in the mountains as a child and was hit with a sense of horror when driving past a burned mountainside. The felled blackened trees, branchless and barren made me feel sad and alone, like the mountain had seen the last of its beauty. Imagine my shock when told that some of these fires were set purposely, as a safety and helpful measure! That grass and trees and flowers and creatures would thrive here again in time. My childhood mind took time to soak this in and research how beauty can rise from ashes and seeds are released when scorched.

Those blackened stumps on a seemingly devastated mountainside covered life that was stirring below, preparing to emerge. Through the silence, no birds singing or creatures stirring, quiet life was unfolding. My journey has been like a forest fire. Though charred black, and still smelling of smoke, I am one step closer to extinguished danger and onto pyriscense.

Over the years this fire consumed everything: my dreams, career, hobbies, and abilities, leaving only ashes and barren stumps. At first, lightning sparked during the storms of dangerous health crises. Fast and furious flames seemed to take control. Every few months I received more bad news and disheartening prognosis. One thing went wrong after the other in all areas of life, not just physically. Bang, flash, flash. Lightning and thunder starting fires all over. This was not a controlled burn situation.

The lightning-caused fires had the potential to destroy me. Sometimes natural fires can be worked and manipulated to become part of a controlled burn with a focused plan.   After much research I found a medical team that prescribed a controlled fire of sorts to kill the infections and bring my immune system back into business. The once unpredictable wildfires that were sweeping through the forest of my life could slowly be suppressed and managed. The low intensity fire lasted for years, and is still ongoing. But like scruffy underbrush, the myriad of health problems had to be reduced so that they no longer provide fuel for the forest floor.

We have to be careful. Too intense treatment could mean permanent damage, like a fire that burns too hard and too long, leaving a white, nutrient-empty ash. Soil needs to be alive in order to accept moisture or else rains just run off the surface, resulting in a malnourished and unsustainable area. Likewise, I have to protect my organs and blood cells, not strip the branches clean that can provide the ground with shade and protection from sun. Thankfully, this process is working and having the desired effect.

The phrase “a pine in the wasteland” plays over in my mind, too. I am like a pine in this wasteland of chronic illness and medical mystery. Not often, but sometimes, I grieve all that was lost. I picture my losses as the pine cones that drop in a fire. Many things had to be dropped, were taken from me when illness struck. The stress of it all was like flames that lapped at my dreams and abilities. Pine cones are sealed with resin, and it is the flames that melt this away and release the seeds. Heat is required. This image encourages me to endure the heat and the burning away.

I won’t emerge from this fire the same person, a new version of me will grow. Hope and wisdom sow seeds that will produce a good harvest. The devastation is widespread, the air heavy with smoke, and the scenery black. But underneath the charred landscape are deep roots. The roots of healing are spreading; I am growing down before growing up. I feel like a new tree planted by the water that sends out its root by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes…it has no worries in a year of drought.

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  • Reply yaya August 4, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    I just read through your blogs. You are such a brilliant writer. You are such a strong woman to find such beautiful light and lteracy throughout this. I miss you and will always keep you in my heart. Did i tell you my grandad passed last year?


    • Reply Jillian August 16, 2016 at 3:25 am

      Yaya! All these years….Thanks for reading and touching base. I did not know he passed. I phoned him to chat quite a while ago but he did not remember me very well. I am so happy to have met him and to have heard his stories!

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