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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


I have had many roles in my sixty-five years on this crazy and marvelous earth. I was a child of the tumultuous 60’s and a young woman in the free era of the 70’s. A daughter and sibling within a military family. I attended college twice – once as an art student in my 20’s and once again 25 years later to become an interpretive naturalist. I’ve been an employee numerous times and twice a business owner. I was a wife, happily married for 32 years.

Now, I am an expert on grieving.

If you are reading this blog, you are probably an expert as well. We are authorities, not because we have degrees hanging on our walls, or hold space with those in mourning, or researched the topic in-depth. We are experts because we have lived the reality of grief deeply every day since we lost our Loves.

Allow me to share the full story of when grief came to my life...

There is a phrase people say in grief circles. "Tell your story and tell it often." Some say it must be told 100 times before healing can begin. You have your own unique story of loss and grief. I hope you tell yours to all who will empathetically listen. I'm not sure what number this is for me, but here is an important part of my story from before he died.

One Sunday afternoon, my husband Craig and I were together in our family room enjoying some quiet “down time.” He read a book in his recliner, while I sat at my desk at the picture window, excited to begin an online retreat through Abbey of the Arts, a virtual online monastery. I began by reading the daily reflection, which was about something I’d never heard of before called a Peregrinatio. It was a journey of faith ancient Celtic monks took when they felt God was calling them to a new purpose. Peregrinatio has its roots in the Latin word for “pilgrimage,” and some have translated it as “wandering for the love of God."

The pilgrimage began when a monk got into a small, round boat called a Coracle and pushed off into the sea with no means of propulsion or navigation. It was a complete act of trust. The monks believed that wherever the currents took them and wherever they landed would be their “place of resurrection.” The reflection explained that this is how many of the coastal monasteries of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales were established.

The theme was about trusting to see the hand of God when there are no certainties of purpose or direction. I turned my chair toward Craig and told him I wanted to read something to him. When I finished sharing the paragraphs from my computer, I turned back around and said, “Isn’t that cool? He was staring at me as if he had seen something wild and revelatory. He responded, “Oh, we are SO doing that! I don’t know how, and I don't know when, but we are!”

I was stunned at his enthusiastic reaction, never thinking he would take it to heart. But two years later he worked out a year-long sabbatical with his employees and his one and only long-term client. He sold our aging camper van and bought a newer one. I rented a beautiful venue to host my 60th birthday, and announce our own modern and modified Peregrinatio. We also decided to surprise our friends by renewing our wedding vows and exchanging newly purchased rings of Celtic design. We called it the Birthday & Bon Voyage Bash. Unbeknownst to me, Craig had even bought license plates for the camper van that read, CORACLE. He was that excited


But one month before our send-off, he died in the hallway of our home.

As you will read in these pages of reflections, lamentations, and poetry, I was utterly lost. Like many of you, I was numb for weeks, even months, maybe even years. I was uncharacteristically fearful. I wanted to die. Looking back, though, I think I also sensed deep, down, this was a moment that would change not just my life, but me, forever. I think I also heard, in the deepest depths of my soul, whisperings that this very moment in time was also sacred; that I would be going on a sacred journey, even one I didn’t want. I realized this upon rereading the note I wrote on the back of Craig’s Memorial Service program many months later. Here are a few of the pertinent excerpts:

“Thank you all for coming to honor and remember Craig. He was one of the best people on the planet and my true companion. The outpouring of love and respect for him has meant the world to me.”

“As many of you know, we were about to embark on a journey. As we traveled about the country, we were looking forward to being changed and nspired, meeting new people, and perhaps being filled with new passions and purposes for our second half of life. No one could have prepared us for this.”

“Craig has found that great Love. His pilgrimage ended – but mine has just begun. I am now in the Coracle, adrift without him. This is a great, heart-breaking mystery. One that will take sacred time from which to heal and find new meaning. The greater the love, the greater the sorrow.”

“I have to believe that the ripples of good and holy things moving out from Craig’s early death will be greater than if he had lived on. I know there were times when he encouraged or challenged you. Remember them.”

Over time, I did come to understand that Craig’s absence was sacred for me. So many synchronicities from the very first day. So many unexplained “connections.” So much wrestling with questions that can’t be answered and so must be looked at in different ways; ways that hold new meaning. So much ongoing pain that it keeps breaking open an already broken heart; breaks that can let the light in somehow; breaks that make our hearts softer and able to see pain outside ourselves, where we might have never seen it before. Pain that takes us to the very core of who we are and prepares the way for transformation. Though I could not fully receive it as I was writing the Memorial Service program - definitely didn’t feel it, definitely didn’t want to feel it – I did include the last quote on the back jacket of Craig’s book about searching for his biological family. It felt like one of his last messages to me. It read:

“We Journey Forward Without Fear.”

And though I wanted to feel fearless, it was not the case for a couple years.


© Cindy K Steffen  2023

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