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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


Last night, as I got into bed, I lit a candle, prayed to God, and talked with Craig. I asked both of them for peace during the night (as in, bless the two Tylenol PM’s I just took so I can sleep), and also when I wake. This did happen to some degree. Today there was less of the constant, low-grade anxiety I walk around with; that feeling like my finger has been connected to a trickle charger all day. Whether it was God, or the drug that kicked in, or gentle changes going on in my heart and soul, I am grateful. A good night’s sleep is precious for anyone.

So, finding some rare energy, I took Cyon to doggie daycare, waited for the deck painters to show up, and left to run a few errands - tasks I would have done on my own anyway three months ago. How different it feels now. How burdensome. I feel “at capacity” all the time with just my regular daily tasks. Adding activities that involve interacting with people who don’t know my story, or doing tasks that Craig usually took care of is overwhelming.

My final stop was the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get my new driver’s license, which was almost thirty days expired. Mercifully, I got in and got out in record time. But looking at my printed card, with my new, short haircut and forced smile, it hit me. There will be no one coming home later to show my license to. No one to playfully judge it, like we always did with each other’s bad license photos.

Those are the moments when the inside of my stomach churns, the adrenaline releases, and I remember the strange and difficult trajectory I am on, so different from the one we were about to embark on two months ago. I am now a real-time illustration that “life turns on a dime.” I am now “in a club I did not ask to join,” as is stated in so much grief literature. And yes, I now notice the “widow” box on all the forms I’ve been filling out. I must keep reminding myself that I am still in the Coracle, alone and adrift, awaiting some far-off destination where I can finally stand, however wobbly, on solid ground.

Two months ago, I was happy, excited, looking forward to being with Craig in a new way, a new phase of life. During our Peregrinatio, we planned to visit small towns and write in coffee shops or local diners, perhaps strike up conversations with complete strangers. We wanted to find out what was on people’s hearts and minds. We wanted to visit co-housing communities; places where people lived together with spiritual or ecological intention. Was it for us? We didn’t know but wanted to find out if we were that courageous and committed.

Craig wanted to experience freedom. In our 32 years of marriage, he had never been on a vacation where he didn’t have to check-in daily or actually work, answering phone calls or emails. He kept telling friends, “The only decision I want to make on this trip is which direction I’m turning out of the driveway!” We were looking forward to a true adventure.

Now, it’s as if someone yanked me from a vacation paradise and threw me into a solitary work camp. It is surreal, and I have no idea how long this irreconcilable situation will last.

Surreal; Adjective; having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic.

Irreconcilable: representing findings or points of view that are so different from each other that they cannot be made compatible.

But this life is not a dream, though it is disorienting, irreconcilable, and so much more. Yet, with the help of an amazing group of friends and family near and far, I am finding my way in the dark. They sit with me and spend the night...and have for nearly two months now. They listen to me sob the same things over and over; lament the same things over and over. They bring me meals I don’t yet have energy to make. They tell me to eat something, anything. They call me on the phone to see how I’m doing. They make phone calls for me because they know I don’t want to do it. They plant my flowers. They text me songs and heartfelt messages. My life, though desperately missing Craig’s familiar and comfortable love, is filled with other kinds of love for now, and for that I am also grateful. These wonderful people are the only tangible lights in my life.

Tonight, and every other night, I hope to keep the same ritual of setting a candle to flame and asking God, and whatever cloud of witnesses that surround me, to give me what I need. I’m trying to cull the voices in my head telling me I am failing at overcoming grief (Can anyone fail at grief?). Like a lover, I am wrapping my spiritual arms around these small days of barely moving forward. I’m trying to embrace small tasks instead of long lists that were killing me early on. Small visits. Small excursions. Small weeping walks with the dog. And a small flame and simple plea to light my uncertain path.

Below is a comforting prayer I have recited each evening and morning for months…

Beloved source of Security

I ask for total freedom from all forms of destructive fear.

In its place, lead me into the freedom of surrender.

You hold me while I grow,

And in this confidence I release anxieties about my life-

Its survival and success

And trust you with my unfolding story.

Peter Trieben Hass

Cindy Steffen October 25, 2016


© Cindy K Steffen  2023

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