top of page

Sacred Absence

A Pilgrimage of Love, Loss & Grieving Well

“Perhaps for now it can be enough to simply marvel at the mystery of how a heart so broken can go on beating…” 

  -Jan Richardson, Blessing for the Brokenhearted


I wanted to share some thoughts with you all today on this 5th month of Craig’s passing. First, because Sundays are always rough for me, as I've mentioned before. I feel his absence most profoundly on this day, when we would have spent a quiet, relaxing time together with one another or with friends. So, writing about him, or us, helps me feel less lonely; more connected at a time when I feel so disconnected from the most important person to me.

Secondly, I decided I wanted to start my week spending time with Craig, my soulmate spirit. We took a walk with Cyon…and I sang the silly song Craig wrote for her. We often sang it when we played outside. I looked through photos on my computer and decided someday I would make a photo book of our years together. I wrote a letter to him in my journal. I cried for him. Later this afternoon, I’ll put the Packers game on, have a drink or two (maybe one scotch for me and one bourbon for him) and “I’ll start the coals,” a phrase he must have said to me hundreds of times. Yes, today I plan to grill out a steak for the first time in honor of “us.”

But the last reason is because something very wonderful is happening, and I believe it is being orchestrated by Craig (pun intended…you’ll see). Some of you may recall that the Thursday before his Monday morning death, Craig and I attended a Beach Boys concert for free. The night before, he won tickets at Story Slam Dayton, based on the audience’s vote. We had a great time. Ironically, the first concert Craig ever attended was a Beach Boys concert at the Iowa State Fair when he was in High School. Turns out they were also his last concert. But I also believe it was the beginning of Craig’s new relationship to music; music he is sending my way on a regular basis!

If you knew Craig very well you knew he was NOT a music buff. He had a wonderful, booming voice but couldn’t really carry a tune. He grew up music-deprived within a very religous home…listening to only talk shows or baseball on the radio. In church, hymn singing was accompanied by a single piano, and often sounded like a dirge. So, music was never really on his radar screen, though I tried many times to initiate an interest. But over his last seven years, he began to open up to music. He downloaded some of his favorites from my CD collection…Bruce Cockburn, Marc Cohn, Jason Isbell and Adele. He used to say that if he couldn’t understand the words, he wasn’t interested in the song, so his collection of musicians was somewhat limited. But I believe he now draws from the largest music library in the universe…all the music ever made!

You may be skeptical of the stories I’m about to share, and that’s okay. What I know is these random “music downloads” were very intimate and helped me make it through some of the darkness. They gave me great comfort, which I know were the prayers of many of you from day one. So, here goes…Craig’s playlist!

The day after Craig died, Tuesday morning, I woke up from an eight-hour, Lunesta-induced sleep with the chorus from one of the Beach Boys songs going over and over in my head.

"Don't worry baby. Everything will turn out alright"

This divine “ear worm” played in my head ALL DAY, rather unconsciously until throughout the day, I would realize I was hearing the chorus. I remember putting a plate in the dishwasher later that afternoon and becoming conscious of it rattling around in my head. Those two beautiful sentences never stopped calling me back to something I could hold on to; something that seemed so personal to me and to him. I wrote in on the bathroom mirror in lipstick. It is still there today.

For a several months after that, though, I received nothing in my dreams or upon waking. They say that grief blocks you, as do the medications we take to sleep. Yet every night I asked Craig to speak to me in my dreams. Other words and phrases kept me going during this time…his book quote, Journey Forward without Fear…a medallion a friend gave me that read, Be Still and Know that I am With You, a verse from Psalm 27, I would have despaired had I not believed I would have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living, and…a fortune cookie that read, You are going to have a very comfortable old age.

Hey, has ANYONE ever gotten a fortune cookie that said that?!

As the months passed, I went through various up and down phases of grief. But then something finally broke. Last weekend, I was anxious about family and friends gathering at my home for dinner. This would be my FIRST hosting without Craig. Food choices would now have to be different because he usually grilled out. Preparation and timing was no longer our well-rehearsed choreography. The whole dynamic would be different because the other life force in the house was absent. The day before, I remember crying out to Craig, asking him if he knew how much I missed him? If he knew how hard this was for me to go on without his love and security? I asked if he was even there?

The next morning, before I even opened my eyes, this song chorus by the Beatles was playing over and over in my mind:

“Golden slumbers fill your eyes / Smiles await you when you rise /

Sleepity darling do not cry / And I will sing a lullaby.”

I had not heard this song in probably decades. I don’t know why I would be thinking of it…or any song when I first wake up for that matter. But there it was. And I thought, Craig found the magic of music and is speaking to me in a language we both now love. I wept in bittersweet joy…the first time in five months.

The books I read talked about building a new relationship with your deceased loved one. A reiki nun told me I must cultivate a “spiritual relationship” now because Craig is a spiritual being. I have been at a loss as to how that actually happens. Even both songs could just be a coincidence or me just recalling something I heard, but didn’t really register consciously.

Even so, you would think that these two “messages” of love would be enough to stem the sadness for at least a little while. But the very next night I stood outside, lifted my head to the starry sky and asked through tears, Are you watching out for me, Craig, guiding me, protecting me, loving me? Some say you are my absent presence now, but I don’t know how to relate to you. Are you near me?

The next morning's song threw me for a loop. I can only believe it is my once tone-deaf husband, answering the questions of my heart from the night before.

“I’m in the mood for love / Simply because you’re near me Simply because you’re near me / I’m in the mood for love.”

Now, this is a song from the 1930’s, first sung by Frances Langford, then subsequently covered by many artists over the decades. But I cannot tell you the last time I ever heard it. One does not pull something like this out of thin air. But one might who has access to the eternal playlist.

Then, last week, I was silently driving in the car. Ironically, I have been listening to very little music. The themes are usually about love and remind me too much of the deep connection I lost. But I was feeling fairly ok that day and turned on the radio. It was set on a classic rock station, and this is the first thing I heard:

“When she gets lonely, and the longing gets too much / She sends a cable coming in from above / We got a thing that’s called radar love /

We got a wave in the air. “

Yes, Babe, we do. That did it. As Craig used to quote from the movie Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” I wept tears of sorrow and love, until I reached my destination.

And on this morning…the 5-month anniversary I planned to spend with his "spiritual self"…I woke to this chorus from the 1965 song, She’s not There” by The Zombies. I had to Google the words because I couldn’t have told you what band recorded it. It’s not a song in my repertoire…yet it felt like a message from Craig saying he remembers me. He misses me:

“Well let me tell you about the way she looked / the way she acts, and the color of her hair / Her voice is soft and cool / Her eyes are clear and bright / But she’s not there.”

These stories may sound pathetic or silly to you, but they helped me turn a corner in my grief. I am less anxious and more hopeful than I have ever been. I am deeply comforted by them all. I believe my hubby has finally found music. My hubby is telling me not to worry. My hubby is telling me he is near me. My hubby is telling me he loves me still…and is waiting.

FUTURE NOTE: There were more morning songs after writing this. Someday, I will look back in my journals and compile them all.

Cindy Steffen January 22, 2017

© Cindy K Steffen  2023

bottom of page