The Circle Game: Loss and Healing

Dear Readers you may be wondering where I have been. I have been wondering that too. If one has lived a half century or more one has endured loss. Sometimes the losses are monumental like death or war, and sometimes so subtle we may hardly notice them. Then one day you wake-up to the passage of time and realize all the things that have slipped away… Everyone who has lived through the last two and a half years of the Covid-19 pandemic has lived through unspeakable loss and yet we hardly let it register in our consciousness. There have been 6.4 million deaths from Covid-19 world-wide; well over 1 million in the US. Many fundamentals of the way we live have shifted, and yet we barely take note.  We may telecommute, shop more online and attend more meetings remotely. and only in reflecting back three years ago to the summer of 2019 do we realize how different life was then—to what it is today. Within that backdrop, I have lost my 98 year old neighbor, friend, and mother/grandmother figure. I have become estranged from a child and I have lost a previously dear friend.

I have dealt with personal demons involving a prescription drug taken occasionally to help me sleep that turned into a nightmare. It took months for my to realize what was happening. It was only by keeping careful notes did I realize the drug was causing anxiety, sleeplessness, and other issues— which was why I was taking it in the first place! The reason it was hard to figure out was that it has such a long half life it’s a few days after taking a dose that the rebound or withdrawal happens– so no easy cause and effect. We all make missteps. No one gets by unscathed.

I find comfort in my ancestors like my 2nd great grandmother Catherine Adeline STEWART MOSIER who endured more loss than seems possible in one lifetime. And of course I have (with my cousin’s help) transcribed and illustrated my great grandmother, Mary “Lulu” PADEN MOSIER ANDERSON’s diary which covers the years 1913-1922 that are to be found as chapters of the Soprano’s Aria. After a recent trip to the library I happened upon the new novel by Isabel Allende, “Violeta.” And finally I have just finished the novel, “Lemons in the Garden of Love” by Ames Sheldon, who as it turns out, is my 5th cousin once removed on my SHELDON line. And what all these stories have in common are strong women, who have faced loss and yet they had meaningful lives. As Friedrich Nietzsche said: “What doesn’t kill me –makes me stronger.” We age, discovering new pains and new strengths, and things about ourselves that were previously unrealized.

In an age of the constant drone of helplessness and the futility of hope– it’s nice to be reminded that our kin have trod these paths before us. One of my favorite quotes:

We are all just trying to make the best of a crazy situation.

Ram Dass in “How Can I Help”

I think that sums up life rather nicely, don’t you? Over time the world keeps speeding up. Getting crazier and crazier and we humans feel we can’t cope. Climate change, Covid-19, deep political divisions tearing families apart, gun violence in the US; and an increase in fascism around the globe with a concordant contraction of personal freedom. And here in America, especially for women, a turning back of the clock that our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers worked so hard to achieve. Equality and body autonomy just ripped away, couched as a religious right to life, is really the destruction of freedom for all those born female. As a woman, the world looks more and more like the dystopian world of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  

While we have never had more women on the US Supreme Court; we also have never had a Supreme COurt justice who was also a member of a religious pseudo-christian cult like the “People of Praise”. Founded in 1971 the People of Praise teach “that men have authority over their wives.” I cringe as I write the words. It is groups like the People of Praise that inspired Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” first published in 1985. Ames Sheldon credits a dream about her grandmother’s aunt in the early 60’s as the genesis of her novel “Lemon’s in the Garden of Love” which tells the fictionalized story of Blanche Ames and her work in the early 20th century for Women’s Rights especially in regard to women’s reproductive rights. The regressive movement towards earlier times, when females could not vote, had no access to birth control and males held all institutional power is not something I can sit by and idly mourn, as just another loss. A recent Emerson University poll found among women “a 10-point swing for those saying they were much more interested in voting in the midterms because of the Supreme Court’s decision compared to September. Among women aged 18 to 29, the swing increased to 20 points.” There is palpable anger and determination.

In Amanda Ripley’s recent opinion piece in the Washington Post titled “I Stopped Reading the News” (published July 8 2022) she identifies 3 things the News lacks: Hope, Agency and Dignity. It’s well worth a read. All of us, are in need of more hope, agency and dignity. Reading my great Grandmother’s diary I see how what began as the American Women’s League, an organization where women sold magazine subscriptions, led to a national network of women joined together to fight for the causes that mattered to them. Foremost was the right to vote, followed by the right to birth control. I came of age in a time when “the pill” was widely available to young women and that was followed in 1973 by the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs Wade that until recently made it possible for women to have autonomy over how and when they chose to have children. This allowed many women to escape poverty and abusive relationships. As you can read in my great grandmother’s diary, how she became a “divorced and emancipated women” at a time when a huge social stigma was attached to women choosing this path in life.

As a teenager Joni Mitchell was my favorite artist. I listened to her songs hours on end. Someone recently posted a video from the Newport Folk Festival of Joni singing the Circle Game. The chorus is worth sharing.

And the seasons, they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return, we can only look

Behind, from where we came

And go round and round and round, in the circle game

Joni Mitchell

Putting difficult experiences in writing; that is hope and agency. In writing, we give ourselves and our readers their dignity. There is so little in life that is not bettered by the collective experience– the knowing that others feel the same way, that our paths are not new. That is the reason to explore the lives of our ancestors and actively work in the present– to prepare for the future. Women’s greatest successes have been accomplished via their natural talent for networking, collaborating and shared sacrifice. We can meet each loss with the mourning that is its due—but then we must pick up our hope AND our agency and get to work.

A recent example is a teen named Olivia Julianna, 19, who heard Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz’s speech arguing “women who are worried about dwindling abortion access are too unattractive to become pregnant.” She used it as an opportunity to raise $1.9 million and counting for the Gen-Z for Choice Abortion Fund. ( This fund splits all donations evenly among 50 local abortion funds across the United States.) The organization is a “youth-led nonprofit working to educate our generation and create tangible change on issues that disproportionately affect young people.” That is Agency! That is Hope! Give women their Dignity! Things may look bad—but we CAN make it better.

Kelly Wheaton © 2022 All Rights Reserved.

16 Comments on “The Circle Game: Loss and Healing”

  1. Sorry to hear you are having a rough time, everything you wrote is true! We can get through this together.

  2. I feel desperately sorry for the women of America having to face this backward step in their fundamental rights and I also see a shift in political attitudes here in the UK which could if allowed lead to a similar situation here.
    My thoughts and best wishes for a speedy reversal of this legislation.

    • Thank you Anthony. I think these sinister currents are circuling the globe. It will take courage to claw back what have lost, and the vigilence of all to insure it does not spread.

  3. So sorry to hear of your recent painful times! My heart aches for you, because I know you to be a kind, helpful, smart woman always willing to give to others. I do hope that you draw strength and joy from other family, friends, spirituality, your writing, and of course the writing of others.

  4. Hi Kelly,

    You were missed!  And I am glad to hear you are recovering.

    I was moved by your piece and shared it with the women of my life.  My
    wife before the Wade reversal told my granddaughter, a college freshman
    at the time, that it was going to be up to her generation to fix this;
    after the ruling she understood!

    Thanks for sharing both pain and perspective.

    Best, Ross Williams

    • Thanks Ross. And thanks for sharing with your family. I feel the same way as far as the youngest generations having to fix this. Funny story about my grandfather he and my father hydraulicked for gold on the Trinity River in northern California during the depression (fouling it with many others along the way). His great grandson, (my son) did River restoration consulting on the same river over 100 years later. We all play the Circle Game!

  5. Your piece really struck a nerve for me and brought back memories of a conversation with my paternal grandmother when I was a young girl. My grandmother got married in late 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic. Not exactly the best timing for a happy event in the Philadelphia area. She told me that shortly afterwards, she applied for a job and one of the questions that the man asked her was “are you planning on starting a family right away”. She said that no one would hire a woman who was going to start having babies. But, they had no plans for that and she said no. Unfortunately, she got pregnant almost immediately and rather than be fired and embarrassed, she quit her job to have my father. She always told me how lucky women were “these days” that we could vote (women couldn’t even vote until after my father was born in 1920), that we had choices and that people couldn’t ask inappropriate questions during interviews. I wonder what she would be thinking now.

    Thank you as always for such a thought provoking piece.
    Patti

  6. On the approach of my 65th year, you are exactly right. And I don’t mean this in a Reader’s Digest version, (I tend to wander) but this place we call planet Earth would already have ceased to exist if not for women. I don’t and won’t understand how we obtained the best reasoning skills, negotiation abilities and common sense genes but sure glad we have. To watch any kind of political smoke blowing, how it rambles on, yet of all the skills we do have? Standing up and saying, let’s move along here. We could be here til Christmas is just not here yet. Matt Goetz should have been hit when he was born aka knock some sense into him & hurry it up, like a stuck record player.
    My mother and I both been through the medication advised by our doctor ordeal. Mom’s due to shingles and mine in a horse wreck. In both cases looking back, we were both physically dependent on pain medicine that could stop a heart, with no plan of action and never a discussion about caution and long term. It sounds like you were a lot like mother and me. Never a medicine taker, almost to extreme aversion. Then to call her refill in and be matter of fact told no. It’s time to be done. Due to addiction? She’s 83. So what. I weined her myself and it wasn’t a picnic. Lastly, our heart wrenching personal loss of friends and family, list too long. I can say though since 2019, my high school class of 1975 has lost 1/4 of us very few pandemic related never the less, no funeral or memorial to say goodbye. We finally got together last October to memorialize them all. It helped.

    • Marti, very much appreciate your sharing similar challenges. Yes I hate medication as I often have sensitivities. This one snuck up on me. I didn’t even realize it wsd the culprit. I hope in sharing we leave breadcrumbs for others. Take care. Give your mom an extra hug from me!

      • ❤️ Mom passed in 2011 leaving an incredible legacy of mothering not only her 5 children but our doors were always open to any child needing a pillow and a meal.

  7. Thank you so much for writing this. It echoes so much of what I feel. It seems we live in an era of almost total destruction. Yet it is not without hope.

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