In this week of sunshine and gentle breezes and flowers blooming, I have felt a subtle shift in my grief. The warm weather and sprouting leaves have helped me to approach my days with hope. I have cried less often and smiled more. I have begun to consider how I might live this new life without him. I have had hours and days of calm and gratitude. I have had fewer days crouched in sadness. Some days I think that perhaps I will be alright.
On other days, though, a simple slight can open the dam, tapping into the grief that is stored in the deep recesses of my heart, sending it like an electrical surge through my body.
Last Monday, I made my usual trek to the Buddhist Centre, after work, to share a meal with my sangha friends before our evening teaching and ceremonies. It is a familiar, welcoming place of wood and brick, set in the middle what is known as the Northern Quarter. I feel Stan's spirit, there, when I visit, and his influence lives on in the people who knew him and in the lives he impacted.
Each time I entered, I would glance at the photo of him on the bulletin board, promoting the bursary fund that was set up, using the donations people made, in his memory, to help those with less money to attend Buddhist retreats. The bursary fund was something he had proposed and was passionate about, before he died. He wanted the dharma to be available to all people, not only those with enough money to afford expensive retreats. He would have been so happy to see it flourish.
It was a comfort to me, to see his photo and the poster, there, on the board. I would smile at him, pat his picture, and say hello.
I didn't notice it, at first. I was immersed in conversation, and appreciating my food, when I glanced at the board. And his poster was gone. Just gone. The board had been rearranged, and other announcements had taken its place.
I panicked, as a mother would do when she realises her toddler is missing. I raced to the board, to get a closer look. I ran to the reception desk, to see if it was there. I asked people what happened to it. No one seemed to know. My voice got louder. I began to cry. Then I began to sob.
Friends came to help me. No one could really figure out what could have happened that would cause me such great upset. A good friend from my study group stood with me as I explained it. She rubbed my shoulders and tried to help me gain composure.
Some folks looked at me as if I had truly "lost the plot", as they say in the UK. And I suppose I had. Some did not understand why it mattered. It was just a poster. It was a large one, and other events were coming up at the centre, and the board needed to be rearranged. Simple. Logical. It was just a poster.
But, to me, he had disappeared. He had been discarded. Someone had decided that he no longer mattered. His legacy had been tossed out.
Another good friend helped me to find a quiet place where we could talk, so that I could sort through all these surging feelings, and make sense of the enormous grief and loss that had erupted, seemingly, out of nowhere.
It was just a poster. But it symbolised so much. It meant that he still had a presence there, and that his contribution to the place was still appreciated. It meant that new sangha members who came along, and did not know him, would at least know a little about him. It meant that I could come there, and see him, every time I entered. It meant that he was not forgotten.
I work so hard to make sure that he is not forgotten. I would prefer that the shrine be decorated, always, the way it was on the day of his funeral. Or that his photo be enlarged, and framed in gold, with an eternally glowing light directed at it. Or that one of our talented artists create a life-size bronze statue of him, and place it in the reception area, next to the Buddha.
I want to preserve him, just the way he was.
But the truth is that, with time, his memory will fade. Not from me, and those who were closest to him. But, for others, the sweetness of his spirit, his kindness, his strength, his funny stories, all those things will drift away. People will come to the centre, as the years pass, who never knew him. Friends who knew him a little bit will no longer talk about him. Time passes. Memories fade.
My husband is gone. He is not coming back. He has disappeared.
This constant effort to preserve his memory takes so much energy. And, in the end, it is futile. Those who loved him dearly will carry his memory in their own way, and those who barely knew him will not think about him anymore. I can't control it. It is the way of the world.
Yet, there are some things I can do. I have decided to hike to the top of Mount Snowdon, one of the highest peaks in the UK, on the weekend before the anniversary of his death, to raise money for the bursary fund. Others have agreed to hike it with me, in his memory. Perhaps we can make it an annual event--a tangible reminder of the kind and compassionate person he was.
My husband will live, always, inside me, and in those who knew him well. Those who did not know him missed a lot. He was a great man. He was the kindest person I ever knew. He never met a stranger, because he turned them into friends.
I can't preserve my husband. But I can hike up the mountain, raise money for those who need it, and honour his spirit. I am touched that my friends and the people who loved him want to join me in this effort.
On to Mount Snowdon, June 6, 2015!
The first Memorial Walk for the Stan Kukalowicz Bursary Fund!