How to Build a Stone Wall (and breakthrough one)

It’s been 2 months since my last confession. So much internal and external shifting has happened since my dad’s death this winter, that I did not have words for a long time. They are beginning to return.

No one tells you that when an intense period of caretaking ends, the body and soul of a person need time to decompress, like a deep-sea diver coming out of the depths at intervals, less they explode from the sudden change in pressure. It was not until weeks and months later that I found myself gasping for air, grasping for words, and indelibly changed from the experience of his death and the events of his and my own life. The scenes of his last days are etched into my memory, the “most real” and most present experiences I have ever had.

There is a great relief from the cessation of mountains of paperwork, legal battles, medical decisions, dysfunctional family interactions, and waiting for “the” call. The pressure lifted, yet I’d had no idea how heavy the load was until I set it down. It’s not that I would have done anything differently, and I am grateful I had the love, time, skills, and fortitude to do it, but it was Hard Going. And it changed me. That’s another thing they don’t tell you – when a close loved one dies, it changes you – the life you return to is not the one you previously knew.

While grieving the loss of my father, the estrangement of family members, the tragedy of Parkinson’s Disease, and my stagnation in life, I fell into a deep depression. There seemed to be nothing worth living for, no loyalty to other people, no good that could outweigh the pain and suffering of humanity. I could find no reason to continue. A dozen times a day, the thought of ending my life seemed the only logical course of action, and I would cry. The higher part of my mind, the part honed by decades of yoga practice, said “If this is really what you want, then why are you crying?”

I decided to clean up my own life so my adult child would not have to sort through mountains of paperwork, sell an out-of-state house, and wrangle through financial issues once I was gone, the way I’d done for my father. I made a new will, made him Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, and started putting my affairs in order. I decided to sell the house so he wouldn’t have to. There were a lot of repairs to be done, but no money for the biggest of them, like after the furnace caught fire. I was not able to financially sustain my own life, and I’d given up on finding a life partner.

When I bought my house, there was an unfinished wall backing the woodstove that I’d hoped to purchase someday. I had borrowed money for the woodstove along with my house loan, but the robbery of the good pump and pipe that I discovered immediately after closing claimed the money earmarked for a woodstove. I decided to renovate the wall myself and construct a faux stone wall. I ordered stone molds online, bought a few bags of cement and a trowel, and started casting stones.


This project turned out to be so enjoyable, and the stones looked so realistic, that halfway through I decided to finish the entire cinder block exterior of the house. I took a deep breath and a large chunk of my savings, ordered a truckload of cement and mortar mix, and had it delivered. Nearly every evening over the next 7 months, I returned from work, changed into old clothes, and cast a new batch of stones. An old friend of mine had done masonry work, and he came over and showed me how to affix the stones to the wall. He said that a professional would have charged $20,000 for this work, but it cost me about $1,000. It was a huge, messy, and extremely satisfying project.

Unexpected byproducts of building this wall were increased physical stamina – those bags of mortar weight 80#, and I’ve moved close to 200 of them! I got to work outdoors during a very mild winter, and had neighboring dogs visit, watched red tail hawks soar, jumped at scary wolf spiders, and befriended a large toad who kept appearing amidst the drying stones. The physical act of moving my body in unaccustomed ways for hours at time-released stress and left me sleeping like a baby at the end of the day. And slowly, my house took shape. There is only one more day’s work to do on it, and the results are beautiful and professional.

Now, my plan is not to end it all but to consciously end that chapter of my life. The next chapter involves a truck, a travel trailer, and a plan to live more sustainably amid nature and closer to the wondrous creatures of the earth while I travel. My three priorities are to visit my son, drive Hwy 1 along the west coast, hug a sequoia, and share the joy at contra dances along the way.

Last week, I had to have my yearly mammogram repeated due to a suspicious spot. After repeated imaging, the technician showed me the spot on the film and said I needed to wait to have an ultrasound. During the 30 minutes, while I sat in the waiting room, I contemplated my fate. Either I was fine, or I was not. If I had cancer, I would still sell the house, buy a truck and travel trailer, and tell my son the news in person. Depending on his reaction, I would seek a traditional course of treatment, or not. But first, I would drive Hwy 1 along the west coast, hug a sequoia, and dance at as many contra dances as I could until I dropped.


The sonogram showed a specific area of concern, and after meeting with the radiologist, it turned out I had a small cyst close to a rib. It was nothing to worry about. “We’ll see you next year” was the pronouncement. And it struck me how my plan for my future was the same if I thought my death was imminent than if I thought I had all the time in the world. What a gift is that kind of clarity!

It was not until I typed the preceding paragraph that the irony of my journey since my last blog post has hit me. When I sat in the hospital waiting room thinking about death, it was the first time that possibility had even crossed my mind in months. Somehow, during the building of a literal wall, I had passed through an invisible one.


Think: Grief is a powerful force. What people or losses in your life have you grieved well? Are there any you still have hidden away?

Say: Tell someone you trust about your loss. If you are really struggling, consult with a trained counselor. Ask for help if you are not able to work through this loss by yourself.

Do: Move your body and physically work through your grief. Construct something new to help shift into your new chapter of life. The external act of creation helps to create an inner shift.

Please: Share this post with three or more of your friends. If it has been helpful to you, it may be what someone else also needs to hear right now. And, it will help me launch my upcoming first book. Thank you!

Categorized as DIY, Family

By Charlotte M

Being able to laugh at the end of an “unsuccessful’” day and being okay with not managing to “do it all”. It rocks!

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