On Tuesday, I am going away for four days on a Buddhist Retreat. I will spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day there. This is my first Christmas without Stan, and it seemed the best way for me to let the holiday pass, as much as possible, without notice.
I won’t be celebrating Christmas this year, but I have wrapped some simple gifts for the people who have held me up when I felt I would surely crumble. Stan’s friends and family have found their way through their own grief to reach out to me and remind me that I am in their thoughts and hearts. I hope my small token of appreciation will help them to know how important their generosity of time and presence has been to me.
My Buddhist sangha, my spiritual community of friends and teachers, has been the rock that I have leaned on through these last few months. I am not certain I would have survived without them. They made sure that my husband’s memorial services were meaningful and beautiful. They generously gave of themselves in those first few days and weeks, when I could not eat or sleep or think. They lit candles in his honour and placed his photo in the reception area and on the shrine, next to the Buddha. In the months since his death, when most people have returned to their daily lives, they continue to allow me to express my sadness, and they are not afraid to speak his name.
I sit in meditation most days, but some days, I am afraid to make space for what will come, that whatever it is underneath all my busyness and chatter might overwhelm me, if I allow it to surface. I sit at home, on my own, or meditate with friends at the Centre.
When I make time and space to sit in silence, not planning or doing or thinking, the sadness inevitably erupts, from a place deep within, from the pit of my stomach, and, most often, I cry. It is not something I can control, and I think it is best that I don’t try to control it. It feels healing to sit quietly, before the shrine, with all that I am, at that moment, and to let the tears come. I breathe with the tears, and let them fall onto my cushion, not moving to quell them or rub them away.
Particularly, during our ritual pujas, in which we chant and recite ancient sutras and sacred texts, I am moved to tears. The aroma of incense, the trail of smoke rising to the ceiling, the glow of candlelight, the harmonies of chanting, the people in my sangha bowing in humble reverence before the shrine—all of these elements combine to move me beyond my thinking head and toward my heart. It is then, when I allow the controls I place upon myself to slip away, that my sorrow arises. I remember Stan and feel his absence from our sangha. I feel the emptiness he left behind.
Not long ago, our sangha gathered to celebrate one of several festivals we hold throughout the year, and we concluded our day with a ritual puja. Little tea candles lined the pathway from the back of the room to the shrine, and the chanting was hauntingly beautiful, that night. I remembered Stan, and I let the tears come.
People walked toward the Buddha with gifts of flowers and incense, offerings to lay upon the shrine. I closed my eyes and deepened my breath. When I opened them, I found that a flower had been lain at my feet. An Order member had seen my sadness, and, when taking his offering to the Buddha, decided to give the flower to me, instead.
His gift of the Buddha’s flower meant the world to me. It meant that my sorrow was witnessed and accepted. It meant that my grief could be held and responded to and met by others.
I am blessed by the compassion and presence of my friends in the sangha, my spiritual home. My heart is soothed by the simple gifts they bring to me—an invitation to share a walk together, a conversation and a cup of tea, a thoughtful card in memory of my husband, the Buddha’s flower, lain at my feet. These simple gifts bring me strength and hope and the courage I need to face another day without him.