For ten days, at a retreat centre in Shropshire, I put away my books, pens, and paper, and embraced the quiet. I did not rush to scribble down each passing thought. I did not seek the distraction and comfort of the books that called to me. I sat with what came, and let it flow through me. In that spacious and quiet place, I learned to set aside my well-worn stories about myself and the world.
We arrived at Taraloka, a Buddhist Retreat Centre built by, run by, and designed for, women, at 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon. We were the first ones there, and I used the time to settle into my room and become accustomed to the silence. Our first evening brought the arrival of 24 other women, a leisurely dinner, and a meditation, before we all wandered off to our rooms for an early night of rest. Our next 9 days would begin at 6 a.m.
Though the initial two days were talking days, I found this time without the written word to be excruciatingly painful. Without the easy comfort of internet, books, and writing, the images of my husband, all the memories of our life together, and the tragic story of his death, poured through me. A well of sadness erupted from deep within, and I cried. And cried. And cried. I cried for the first two days.
And then, it shifted. Allowing time for things to move through me brought me to a different place.
Walking down the long path at Taraloka, one morning, after a deep meditation, I lifted my head and noticed the beauty all around me. I marvelled at the hay bales, recently cut and shaped into large cylinders. I saw the intricate threads of spider webs draped across nettle plants, the morning dew drops clinging to them. I felt the sun warm its way through the mist. And I felt my husband’s spirit encircle me.
Before that morning, I would go for long walks in the countryside, and each sight, smell or sound would bring forth a memory of Stan. I would see a beautiful flower and remember the time I sent him pictures of flowers from my phone, and he texted me back the names of all of them. Then I would chase that memory with another memory. I’d remember the time we stopped at the top of a hillside in Scotland, and it was ablaze with orange and yellow and purple wildflowers, and we sat in the car together, in silent awe of them. I’d remember the time he drove me through our neighbourhood, hunting for lilacs, my favourite flower.
After that, another memory. And then another. And another.
Before I knew it, I’d be awash in memory, and filled with the pain of his absence. Gone was the beauty of that present moment. All I could see, then, was the loss of him.
Standing on that gravel path, I recognised that I have been clinging to those memories of him and of us like a drowning rat on a sinking raft. I thought that I could only hang on to him through memory. To move from those memories was too frightening to consider. It felt like a betrayal of him. I was so afraid I would forget.
I saw that I have spent the last year of my life camped out on Memory Lane.
But on that sweet morning at Taraloka, I kept my feet and heart rooted in the present. I had a memory or two, but I let them go, instead of clinging to them, and gently brought my attention back to the rich world unfolding around me: the wild geese, flying through the mist in perfect formation, the cows, noisily chewing their grass, the smell of damp hay, the feel of the gravel beneath my feet. I stayed with the moment, and I felt his presence. He felt as close to me as my breath.
I realised I did not have to live on Memory Lane to keep my beloved husband in my heart. I saw that I could bring him alongside me on this journey through my life, as it is, today. It is not the life I had planned or wanted. But it is the life I have.
And memories fade with time. It is no use clinging to them.
When he was alive, he tried to help me see the joy of inhabiting this planet. But I was too wound up and anxious to truly understand what he was trying to teach me. My life has always been cloaked with a layer of melancholy, a veil of sorrow that even meeting and loving him could not entirely erase.
For some reason, that veil has been lifted. Perhaps it is his last gift to me. This gift of the present. This knowing. This sense of belonging. This peace.
I will still take a stroll down Memory Lane, from time to time, recalling the stories of our life together. I will laugh at his adorable and endearing ways. But my husband knew the value of the present. He delighted in living. And I know he would want that for me, too.
It is not that the pain of losing him has vanished. There is no ‘moving on’ from this grief, completely. Just yesterday, I sat with others in my grief writing group, and, as I read something I had written about missing him, I let my tears fall.
But now, I can carry this grief alongside the joy that can be found in this life I am living. I can be filled with gratitude for having known him. For getting to share a bit of time with him on this planet. For having met a man who had such wisdom, such kindness, and so much love to give.
I can visit Memory Lane, but I no longer have to live there.
As I step foot into the world of the present, I feel his big, wide arms surrounding me.