Last Friday our local Kona Hospice hosted their annual Circle of Remembrance event at Hulihe'e Palace. I didn't go last year; I think it was all just too raw for me then, but this year I felt myself drawn there. I've been taking part in their grief counseling services for over a year now which is free for spouse and child loss. We are incredibly lucky to have that, especially knowing how many people have a hard time finding and affording good therapy. The program here is wonderful and the people are extraordinary. I can't say where I would be now without it.
Hulihe'e Palace was built in 1838 as a vacation home for Hawaiian royalty, and in 1927 the Daughters of Hawaii restored the building and converted it into a museum. When Mike and I first visited Kona in Christmas of 2000 we were both thrilled by the history and gorgeous scenery. As I checked in I couldn't help thinking of the tour we'd taken of the place together and how many times he and I had walked the sidewalks outside. My sense of nostalgia was palpable as I walked around to the lawn in back on the edge of the ocean.
I had known they had a special table set up with candles and flowers where we could place photos of our loved ones, so I added one of Mike and took a seat at the end of a row. I opened the program and was immediately knocked over by the poem they had chosen. Rabindranath Tagore was Mike's favorite poet, and during our marriage he became mine as well. I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to his works. I just couldn't believe they'd chosen this verse, Peace, My Heart, and I felt Mike softly smiling down on me as I stifled a sob - and immediately regretted not bringing any tissue. (What was I thinking??)
As the sun set, the lawn became full of people, even to standing room only, and the program began. My therapist was one of the speakers, and - having asked if it was ok with me - she honored me greatly by quoting one of my recent blogs about the lava flow and its metaphor with grief, something we here in Hawaii can relate to, I think. A minute or so later I felt a tap on my shoulder, looked up and saw two friends of mine, both widows whom I didn't know would be there, but found me when they heard my name. I got up, gave my chair to someone else and stood with those two beautiful ladies for the rest of the program. I am glad for it, because the tears were flowing.
The main part of the evening was spent with the organizers reading the list of those lost in Hospice and in the community. I heard several other names familiar to me who had passed in our little town, and recognized a few other faces in the crowd. As we heard the names dear to us we went over where they had baskets of Plumeria flowers, took one for each person lost, and placed them in the beautiful little pools on the lawn, surrounded by candles. It was a deeply poignant way to remember, all together, and yet also alone, in our grief. My therapist was there by the pools and gave me a knowing hug.
We were blessed by several lovely songs from a local musician, and graceful performances from a local hula hulau. At the end, everyone got up and held hands in a giant circle around the lawn as the last song was played. As I stood there looking around - there must have been some 300 people there - I couldn't help but think of the post I wrote last week about all standing in a field together arm in arm. So many of us grieving together. It made me feel less alone in my grief...and a bit overwhelmed how many of us there are, and always will be.
Afterwards I stood chatting with my two friends. We are all three dating new people now - in fact I met these ladies because my new guy is friends with one of their new guys. None of them had accompanied us to this event though and I wasn't surprised - in these moments, it's not about them, no matter how supportive they are in our grief. We agreed it has been helpful for us to have companionship in the here and now - something not everyone finds or even wants, I know...but it never, ever replaces our missing halves and the love we shared with them. No matter what else is going on in my life, no matter where I am in my strange new world, I'm always missing Mike and the life with him I treasured and lost when he died. It's nice to have people in my life now who get that.
Before I left, I stood looking out over the ocean for a moment, the waves crashing against the stone wall on the edge of the lawn. Mike loved this place so deeply, as do I. I took in all the candles, flowers, palm trees...history, spirit...aloha. I saw a lot of smiles and hugs and heard a lot of laughter...saw a lot of tears, and heard a lot of sobbing too, as I walked back to the table to retrieve Mike's photo, and head on back home. I walked the sidewalk back to my car thinking again of how often Mike and I wandered there and felt like my heart was breaking in two.
But on the drive home, I looked up and was surprised to see a huge, beautiful full moon hanging low over the mountain. Full moons were one of Mike's favorite things...he always looked forward to them; he was always in awe of them. In that moment I felt not only his soft smile, but his knowing wink as well.
Miss you, Mike.
Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end
in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle
like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment,
and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.