"They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak." from The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
This quote is from a story by Tim O'Brien about men who were in the Vietnam war. It is a classic story that speaks to the universal themes of memory and loss. As I reflect upon the year of writing that I have shared with you, and this, my last blog post as Monday's Writer for Widow's Voice, I am moved by these words.
In this blog, and as members of a community for which no one wants to qualify, we carry each other. We lift each other up and bear witness to the things that others can't bear to see. We carry each other through the most difficult and terrifying moments of our lives.
We sit with each other in silence when there are no easy words or platitudes to fix our sorrows. We stand together, as different as we are, in age, ethnicity, status, and country of origin, and help each other navigate this bewildering landscape of grief.
We know that the people 'out there', who have not seen what we've seen, cannot begin to understand what sits so solidly in our minds and hearts: that there is so much pain, and so much beauty; that we grieve because we loved; that we don't know how we are going to get through each day, but that, somehow, for some reason, we are still here; that gradually, so slowly, we begin to enter into the world of the living again,but that we will never 'get over' this loss; that there is nothing to get over; that we carry them with us, and will continue to carry them, for the rest of our days.Read more
I have been writing this post for four seasons. For four seasons, I have come here, to the blank page, each week, and tried to find the words to express the ever-changing landscape of my grief. For four seasons I have shared my tiny triumphs, my progress, my setbacks, my worries and anxieties and fears and deepest sorrows.
Some weeks, it has taken every ounce of energy I had to come to this page and write. Some weeks, I have resisted writing until the last possible moment. And other weeks, the words have flowed onto the page as if they came from another source, from somewhere beyond myself, from a place bigger than my own mind.
Putting my grief onto the page has helped move me through its turbulent waters. Writing here has helped me reflect on where I have been and how much I have accomplished and how much more there is to do.Read more
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.Read more
It is a chilly October morning and I am listening to the wind and watching the early light steal across the sky. I want to write words that are meaningful and resonate with others who are grieving, too. I want to speak to the parts of me that others may keep hidden, even from themselves. I want to share the broken bits and the light of hope that shines between the cracks in the brokeness. I want to be eloquent and wise.
But some days, the words aren't there. Some days all I can do is speak of my direct experience with grief and loss. Some days all I can do is write what is present for me, in this moment, and hope that the words make sense.
It has been an exhausting week, though I didn't seem to accomplish much. Recently, the expectations at my workplace have made me question my capability for the job and even my desire to remain in the field in which I have worked for the past 35 years. And I have found myself searching for Stan, in the hope that he could, as he did when he was alive, ground me in the truth, help me shift my thinking and priorities, and gain a wider perspective.
But I don't know where he is.
My mind and heart feel a bit scattered, this week. I have returned from retreat to work and errands and the ups and downs that characterise life in the real world. Each time I go on a retreat, I want to stay there, where there is space and quiet and a relief from worry about finances and obligations and commuting and cleaning and all the things that we resist and resent. But I know that living the life of a monk or a hermit is not my path, however appealing it seems, at times. So I return, and try to juggle the mundane tasks of life in western society with the contemplative life that calls to me.Read more
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.
I learned the other day that my oldest brother and his wife are coming to visit, in November. They are going to Ireland, first, with their church, and then coming to spend a few days with me. It is the first time that a family member (besides my son) has come to see me, here in England, since I moved here 6 years ago.
I am touched that he would take the time to come see me. My brother is 9 years older than me, and through the years, our relationship has had its complexities. But we have always tried to stay connected, and he has made special efforts, this year, to reach out to me in my grief.Read more
Last week, the blooming heather in the hills called to me, and I set my feet upon the path to get to it. Around me there was the nutty smell of new mown hay, waiting to be bundled, the sun’s rays filtered through soft layers of cloud, and the vibrant oranges, purples, and reds of autumn’s last flowers in bloom. I watched silently as a rabbit hopped up the path on the opposite side, its cotton tail looming white against the green field.
I called out to my husband. I told him it was not right that all this vibrant beauty was here, surrounding me, and he was not here to see it. I let my tears fall onto the stone path as I breathed out the sorrow of his absence.Read more
As I write this blog post, I am preparing for a 10 day, silent retreat at a women's Buddhist retreat centre a few hours south of my home. I will be offline and encouraged to set aside all reading and writing devices for the entire retreat. The thought of this, I must admit, is a bit terrifying. I am well acquainted with being on my own and not talking much. I prefer silence to idle chatter. However, I do not go anywhere without a book or two, a magazine, my journal, and various pens and writing implements.
Writing and reading are my coping tools. I have used them since I was a child. I remember waiting with anticipation for the bookmobile to come around my neighbourhood in the summer. I learned to read when I was five years old, and from that young age, I consumed books like candy. They helped me learn about families and worlds far beyond my own, and I was soothed by the notion that other children struggled with issues and overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles, too.Read more
In the beginning, in the first edges of my grief, my heart felt like an open wound, and in the midst of the pain and shock of those first few days and months after the death of my husband, there was little I could do to close it.
My heart was open to the world. I didn’t have the energy or the wherewithal to shut it down, to protect it, to close the door on it. My heart was broken open and all the pain and love that I carried for him seeped out into the universe.
Gone was my customary shyness. I needed and accepted the kindness and embrace of those who knew of my sorrow. I spent more time in the company of others. In the early days, the scales were taken from my eyes, and I saw with such clarity the tenuousness of the life all around us. I had no shield from this truth. It was with me in every moment.Read more