Bittersweet – a quiet force


Bittersweetness is not, as we tend to think, just a momentary feeling or event. It’s also a quiet force, a way of being…an authentic and elevating response to the problem of being alive in a deeply flawed yet stubbornly beautiful world.”  – Susan Cain, author of Bittersweet

Here I am, with my family, back on Gabriola Island, once again. This also happens to be the third year anniversary of my precious Mother’s death. Bittersweet comes to mind, as we remember the glorious 13 last days we had with her. Days filled with laughter, joy, great food, swimming, music,  eagles, sunshine, tears, sadness, words, happiness, fresh scones, chilled wine, flowers, comfort, pain, loss, liberation…everything all at once. And all in the early days of Covid.

A window opened up, and we got to walk through, from one side of the country to the other, to join our family and celebrate this woman we all loved before she died. It may be hard to grasp the magnanimity of this time. And the great good fortune to participate in such an extraordinary good-bye. As we reunite here after these three years it is with an overwhelming sense of gratitude that we are able to look at the entire container of lives lived and not hide from the shadows nor get blinded by the light. Equanimity is one word. Gratefulness another. Bittersweet, perhaps the best description.

Myth of Normal

There is something liberating in coming to grips or to peace with the myth of normal.  Knowing full well the obstacles, impediments, and hurdles all of us have faced during a lifetime and, still, to be overflowing with gratitude that not only are we still standing but we have so many stories of significance, and why it is all worth it. This applies to each of us.

When we can shine the flood light on the whole of a life and not follow a narrow beam on just the things that we don’t like – we can appreciate precious moments. Ichigo Ichie, as the Japanese imply, is the idea that we take nothing for granted. The implication that every occasion is a treasured moment.

I suspect if we could get rid of the myth of what constitutes normal (meaning everything is going according to plan) and acknowledge the reality that all lives contain multitudes of things that do not go according to plan, no matter how hard we try – well, I think we would suffer less. It would be expected that loved ones get sick; drivers do stupid things, including us, and relationships get fractured, as do bones.

And, here we are this morning, eating the most delicious, made with love, cheese scones in honour of our mother. “Here,” is a Japanese Tea House, on Gabriola Island, hand built by our friend Jim. The most delicious cheese scones were made fresh this morning by my grandson Rowan, under the tutelage of the same Jim, who, amongst so many other things is a professionally trained chef and patissier.

Furthurmore, the sun is shining, the sky is blue and the Coast Salish sea is calm. Still, we may wish that an orca swims by, even though we have eagles, hummingbirds and sailboats in our line of sight. It is natural, even “normal” for the mind to always want more. As Holly Hughes writes in this excerpt from her poem:

But the mind always
wants more than it has—
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses—as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.
Poem copyright ©2004 by Holly J. Hughes, “Mind Wanting More,” from Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems (Grayson Books, 2017). 


One of the things I appreciate about author and scholar Susan Cain is her acknowledgement of reality. For example: “No matter how much your culture tells you to smile, it’s not human to simply move on.(when terrible things happen) But that doesn’t mean that we can’t move forward.” Even though it may superficially appear to be contradictory, this reminds me of the work of poet, Nancy Gibbs Richards. She introduced me to the small steadying sail that is hoisted when the main sails are taken down in a dangerous storm. ” The purpose of this small sail is not forward motion, but to keep the boat headed into the wind so that it will not capsize.”

A small steadying sail can be a metaphor for what keeps us from capsizing. Each of us is unique, for all that we do have in common. Discovering our “sail,” most often others,  can help us from capsizing in rough weather. And then we are also face to face or heart to heart with the goodness; the kindness; the help that accompanies tragedy. Even though we may be temporarily unable to steer the ship we can rest in the assurance that we will not capsize.

Love and loss

Every single one of us goes through this many times in our lives. “The very highest states- of awe and joy, wonder and love, meaning and creativity – emerge from this bittersweet nature of reality.  We experience them not because life is perfect – but because it’s not.” Susan Cain, Bittersweet


1:) The banner photo is from Van Dusen Gardens – a grove of astilbe. The postcard from friend Patricia. The s on thanks got cut off.

2:) With respect to last week’s post I did get to experience “collective effervescence,” at the big game on Sunday night.

3:)The air – the sea air is immune system boosting, I swear. I feel like I could lift off and fly.

4:) There are readers of my blog who live in devastated areas of the US like the Hudson Valley and Vermont.  May the waters recede and the reconstruction begin. May you stay safe.

5:) I am grateful for the care and attention you give to these musings. Thank you! And may you have a wonderful summertime week. Warmest wishes, Trudy


14 replies
  1. Sue+Fitzwilson
    Sue+Fitzwilson says:

    See you on Gabriola with mutual friends, scones to celebrate your mom, family, and good friends. Wish I was there. Much love

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Sue: you knew what was in store for me. I wish you could have been here too. You are missed. Big hugs, Trudy

  2. Terri Thomas
    Terri Thomas says:

    I like knowing that you are on Gabriola with your family and friends, Trudy. Please say hi to Jim and Sheila for me and enjoy your time in paradise.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Terri: thanks for your note, and I passed on your greetings to Jim and Sheila. (Where I am staying) kindly, Trudy

  3. Carol+Ingells
    Carol+Ingells says:

    Trudy, yes bittersweet is a good term for this time of life. I’m sure Gottfried is glad to have you there. Please greet him for me. Enjoy your days together. And thank you for what each of you has given me, which has enriched my life and helped me grow. And bless your memories of your dear Mom.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you dear Carol. I passed on your kind greetings. We had a beautiful sunrise birthday start for my son Rob, down on the sandstone beach. What a way to start a day. Warmly, Trudy

  4. Cathy McCloskey
    Cathy McCloskey says:

    Thank you for this Trudy – another beautiful tribute to your Mom and your family. I read Susan Cain’s book earlier this year and the bittersweet state of mind resonates with me – it is, as she says, the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain, and turn toward each other. For me it’s a path to healing.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you Cathy. I’m delighted to hear that you also enjoyed the book. It is full of richness and I agree that it is a path of healing. With appreciation and a gentle hug, Trudy

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you dear Sabine. I hope you are having a wonderful summer in Bavaria. Keep on saying YES. Warmly, Trudy

  5. Janice+Falls
    Janice+Falls says:

    Your words are all a delight to read dear Trudy – your mother’s legacy of love, the beauty of the west coast, the small steadying sail, the Hughes poem (so apropos), and of course, the reality of bittersweetness – no accident that bittersweet is my favourite kind of chocolate! 🙂 big hugs to you

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      So funny. I love what you notice. Bittersweet is by far my favourite baking chocolate and I didn’t even think of it. Son Rob organized a test kitchen of different bittersweet brands and percentages, last December, when I came to Vancouver to bake cookies. We all loved the experiment.😊thank you Janice. As always, Trudy


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *