There is no reason a child should experience the heartache of losing a parent at a young age. I will never forget having to tell my kids that their daddy was gone. Less than one month after his death my daughter graduated preschool. I can’t even begin to explain how heartbreaking it was to have to sit there and watch her sing her songs and recite her lines with this empty seat next to me, knowing her daddy should be sitting there. The whole graduation was really a blur to me. I just checked out. I had no choice, I couldn’t feel anything. I was just a body sitting there. I remember trying to pay attention but the loss was too much to bare still. I could feel people staring at me, their pity they felt for my family. I just wanted it to be over and go back into hiding.
Last week, a little over a year later my second youngest son graduated preschool. Same school, same building, same idea. This year though I saw it, I felt it. I allowed myself to be present in the moment. This year there were still tears of sadness for a moment at that empty chair. But as a family we smiled more, we embraced this accomplishment. My son was given the brightest star award, he is a shy little boy who is so kind and loving and has come so far in this last year. He makes me so proud and I know his daddy will always be with him.Read more
"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
Today is one of those days that I have no idea what to write about. Not because I have nothing left to say about my husband or us or my grief. That isn't ever the reason. No. It's because sometimes, there are literally no words that exist , to properly explain the depths to which I miss him. Sometimes, I just get tired of saying "I miss him." It doesn't feel like enough, and I hate the repetitiveness of it. It is soooo much more than just missing him. But there are days, like now, where Im just too tired to go into all of that. So, I miss him. Yes. Always. And I will never be able to find words that are big enough to express what this type of loss does to a person. How it immensely changes every single cell inside a person. It is impossible to explain this to anyone, yet it is always there, like oxygen.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