This weekend, I travelled to a retreat centre in the beautiful countryside near Bakewell, in the southern part of the Peak District. Driving along those winding roads, I felt Stan’s presence with me, as I gazed upon the vibrant orange and red and yellow trees lining the hills, their leaves laying a royal carpet over green grasses.
Stan loved this area, just 25 miles from where we lived, and we spent many Sundays exploring the villages near here, in search of new pubs and grand Sunday dinners, his favourite meal of the week.
When I pulled up to the retreat centre, I realised that the last time I came to this place was in July of last year, just a few weeks after his death.
I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how I managed to bring myself to a retreat, with fifty other sangha members, just six short weeks from the day he collapsed in front of me. I must have still been in shock. I must have walked around in a fog, that weekend, my tears flowing like rain, in a never-ending river of grief and sorrow.
Those early days are so heart wrenching. I don’t know how we survive them.
This year, 16 months from the day of his passing, I am no longer felled by the sharp stabbing pain of his absence in every moment. But the pain is still there, sitting, like a dull ache, in the soft recesses of my body.
Anne Lamont, in her writing about grief, says that losing someone you can’t live without means that your heart will be badly broken, and never be the same. She says that losing your beloved is like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly, that it 'still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.'
This image speaks most clearly to me, this morning, as I reflect upon the ever-changing landscape of my grief.
In the early days, I could only reach him through the pain that lived within me, a raging fire whose flames threatened to consume me, whole.
But today, I find him everywhere.
He lives in my memory, and in the present life that swirls all around me.
Today, he lives in the hills he loved, in the winding roads that lead to the pubs we visited, serving his favourite hot Sunday dinners, in the leaves that carpet those roads in layers of colour.
He lives, still, in the people he knew, whose lives he touched, so many of them graced with the gift of his friendship. He lives, in my broken heart that will never seal back up, as Anne Lamont writes, in the dull ache that is a part of me, now, in the ever- present awareness of his absence.
This weekend, the bursary fund that was set up in his name allowed three women to attend the retreat who couldn’t have otherwise afforded it. He lives in them, and in the others, this year, who have been able to come and sit and breathe in precious quiet, to grow, and to learn, in the midst of their sangha. Though they may not have even known him, his generous spirit, his warm heart, lives in them.
When I am happy, I feel him dancing. And when I am feeling the pain of his death, he lives inside there, too.
He is not here, in the way that I wanted. But he is still very much alive, in all of us who have been touched by him. In this landscape he loved. In this world he cherished.