Transmuting Loss into Joy

Carol A. Hand

The past two weeks have been a time for clearing clutter – getting rid of things that I no longer need. It has also meant cleaning out old papers from my file cabinets – some old journal articles, syllabi, and confidential documents from past work on boards of directors. I gave my paper shredder away before I moved here, so I needed to cut up piles of old documents with scissors. In the process that gave me blisters, I had time to reflect about dreams that never came into being. Even by hand, it is so much easier to destroy these old papers than it was to create the ideas and hope they signified years ago.

A group of Native American people from different tribes came together to create possibilities for improving the health of Native Americans in Missoula, Montana. We were a diverse crew. It took us time to figure out how to work together on a shared vision. We did learn as we shared ideas, meals, tears, and laughter.

But we didn’t succeed. The forces of destruction came from too many sources – many from without but some within, all in large measure due to the heavy legacy of colonialism – as were the harms we were trying to address. As I shredded the documents that symbolized our work and dreams, I relived the sense of loss and deep sadness. I also thought about the friendship and laughter we shared. I hope they know that I will always love each one of them dearly.

The garbage bag that I filled with shredded paper was still sitting in my living room when my granddaughter arrived earlier than expected for her week’s stay with me. Her eyes brightened when she saw it and she immediately began pulling out strips of paper to create art.

ava 4 december 21 2015

Ahma, do you have glue so I can put these together to make things?

ava 1 december 21 2015

No Sweetie, but I have tape and a stapler.”

ava december 21 2015

So the memory of things lost was transmuted into art and laughter.

“Alchemy is best known for its belief that lead can be transmuted into gold. However, the transmutation of non-precious metals into gold is simply a metaphor for the soul being freed from a ‘dead, leaden state of mind,’ to that of realising its own light nature and that is derived from pure spirit.” (Nigel Hamilton, 1985, The Alchemical Process of Transformation)

ava 2 december 21 2015

It’s a blessed way to greet the solstice and get ready for the new year ahead. May the suffering in the world be transmuted into joy by loving our children enough and honoring the magic they bring into our lives.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

37 thoughts on “Transmuting Loss into Joy

  1. This is a beautiful post. I find it interesting how for many people this can be a sad and introspective time, and the joy we find is that of creatively managing the pain. Have a good, and joyful, holiday season.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel very touched by these deep insights! It’s beautiful how your spunky and loving granddaughter was able to perform this wonderful alchemy! I wish you a very joyous time with your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely and inspiring post Carol!

    Your post underlines how perceptions, unexamined assumptions and prejudices can lead to blinkered vision for each one of us. And how someone without the constraints we have is able to see things differently, What you saw as garbage and something you had been carrying around occurred to your grand-daughter as an opportunity to create something new.


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  4. Ah, the balm that your granddaughter brought to your soul by transforming sad memories into happy ones. Thanks for sharing and we can both celebrate that the sun is going to stick around a little longer every day, starting today.

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  5. Thanks for sharing, Carol. We don’t always succeed in achieving our goals. But I’ve discovered that the joy of giving and sharing as we work together with others far outweighs our intended goal. Lives are changed in the process. Hope lives. What greater gift can we give to another?

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  6. Hooray for your granddaughter! and thank you for a beautiful post! But I hope you still carry in your memory everything you shredded as the good fellowship along with the obstacles to the Missoula project — all that deserves to be written about and analyzed in your inimitable way.

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comments, Diane 🙂

      I still have piles and notebooks of research articles about urban Indian health issues to remind me that maybe – someday – I’ll get to that project.

      For now, I’m working on chapter 19 in my very spare time. But as grandma, I need to sign off now – it’s Netflix time.

      Again, thank you ❤


  7. Hats off to your granddaughter’s creative flair. The shredded papers become raw material for a finished product with the same magical facilitation of grapes transforming into sparkling wine. On the same note, may I wish you and yours, Carol, a merry Christmas and a greatly rewarding 2016. May life pamper you with all the goodies you can hope for…

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  8. Comforting and encouraging. I did a few pics with torn and pasted horse racing form from the horse track and added a few non winning tickets to the collage. Then I painted jockeys on horse on some of it at the finish line. Many different subjects and ways to do that.

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  9. Thank you for helping me remember ways to clasp my sorrow close but wrap it in memories of joy. On a personal level, my life has been a patchwork of pain, laughter and sometimes just plain contentment and thanks giving. On a national level, how can we ever forget the pain caused by manifest destiny and when will we as a nation assume the burden of apology and genuine reparation? Thank you for your beautiful blog and thank you for “liking” my postings.

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