Category Archives: Grief

The Red Bridge

In the early days after my husband, Randy, died, I found myself checking a status box on a form, to indicate my marital status. There, for the first time since it happened, I saw the dreaded word: Widow. 

My reaction to the word was swift and visceral. It jarred me to my core. I felt the stab of the pointy “W’s” on either end, and the huge expanse of emptiness in its gaping holes in the “d” and the “o” in the middle. Widow? My head was spinning. What?! I am now a widow??

Today, I was going through the journal I’ve been keeping with some of my notes and scribblings that will someday be a book about my loss and journey in grief. At the end of the page with my most recent notes was the word, “Widow,” followed by the word, “Window.” I honestly don’t even remember writing this.

And I saw that all that differentiates these words from each other is the letter “n.”

As I considered this, an image of a red bridge immediately came to mind. Last week, when a dear friend who lives in another city came to visit, we went to a Japanese garden that is near my home. In the many years I’ve lived here, for one reason or another, I have never been there, but have always wanted to see it. The garden did not disappoint; resplendent in its early-spring bloomings; offering a place of beauty and tranquility in the middle of a not-so-safe neighborhood.

As in many Japanese (and Chinese) gardens, there were lovely ponds; two of which with arching red bridges carrying us from one side to the other. The first of the bridges was quite short, but also quite curved — so much so that, on the rainy day of our visit, I held on to its railings as I crossed it, so as not to slip on the steep arch.

The red bridge was shaped as an arch — like the one in the letter, “n.”

Widow. Window. The “n” smack-dab in the middle.

A red bridge in a Japanese garden is called a Guzei and is laden with symbolism. Bridges, in Japanese gardens, represent a crossing from the physical to the spiritual, and offer a way of transformation toward a place of wisdom.

The color red also represents a notion of the sacred, as well as wisdom and transformation.

A red bridge, then, offers a double-dose of these concepts; entwined with the Zen concept of preserving the life force, rejecting attachment to the physical and coming to a place of true discernment. A double-dose of positive growth and spiritual transformation.

In my journey as a widow, I realized, I’ve crossed many metaphorical red bridges; offering a window, an opening, into something far beyond the small borders of the box I checked on that form, indicating my new marital status.

A new identity, yes. And maybe in the process of crossing, I had to hang on for dear life. But in that often-steep and foreboding transformation, what I have ever-so-slowly discovered, is an opening to more of the garden that was, and is, my life. And, there is beauty on the other side.

I marvel at how God moves and works in our lives. It is no coincidence that we crossed that red, “n-shaped” bridge just days before I revisited my journal notes about the word, Widow.

Oh! The kind and gentle way that God safely carries us to the next beautiful vista of our own life when we can, even in pain and uncertainty, trust the process of transformation.

Even Far Is Near

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can run but you cannot hide.” I have found this to be true in my own experience when it comes to God’s presence. Regardless of my physical location, state of heart or circumstance, if I can awaken myself to it, I have always found that there is a Divine Presence that never leaves me. No matter what.

This Presence is not a menacing, watching-my-every-move presence that is there to catch me red-handed. Rather, when I can enter stillness, even in my darkest, most despairing moments, the Presence that I have experienced is as gentle as my next breath; as reassuring as my own heartbeat.

Today’s Lenten reflection word is: NEAR.

On the morning after my beloved husband died by suicide in our home, I found myself alone in the house after my sister had gone home for a few minutes to get a clean change of clothes. I was still in a complete state of shock; my body sensing a kind of buzzing feeling that I imagined someone might experience after being hit by lightening. My mind was simultaneously racing with thoughts and completely numb. I was as lost as lost could be. And God seemed as far away from me as the closest neighbor in the house pictured in this blog post. Never had I felt utterly and completely Alone.

I closed my eyes for a moment, and heard an unexpected sound. At first it was very faint, and I strained to hear it; almost as though I was turning the dial of radio to find bring to clarity the faint, scratching sound I heard. After a few moments, I recognized the sound. Crazy as it may sound (and I know that this DOES sound crazy!), I realized that it was the sound of purring, and it was coming from the walls of the room I was in. I looked to see if one of my cats was nearby. Nope. I tuned in to hear the hum of the refrigerator. No, this was a different sound than that. I closed my eyes and let the purring sound resonate in my ears; so much so that I could almost feel its vibration.

There was a Nearness in that sound that felt like coming home, and I knew that it was God; there to bring me the sound that had always been so comforting. It was exactly what I needed to carry me in one piece until my sister returned to be with me. And somehow, I sensed that my husband, Randy, was near too. There was Beauty and Light in a moment of the ashes of despair.

I don’t have a scientific explanation for how this happened. That’s not at all important to me. God was near and that was all that mattered.

While the walls in that room have never purred to me since, I often think of that moment, and of the words of the psalmist, David, who had also seen his share of tragedy:

“God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!”

~ Psalm 139:1 – 12 (The Message)

Maybe not always in purring walls, but I know from firsthand experience that God is always near.

The Gift of the Morning Moon

Yesterday morning was a bright, sparkly blue-skied gift. As I showered, I was filled with anticipation for my drive to Cannon Beach, Oregon and for a few days at the beach. And, while most of my anticipation held the feeling of excitement, I also knew that this trip was also a time to be in a healing place as I marked the day two years ago when my husband passed. Like so many things in life, there was a mixture of feelings– a blending of happiness and difficulty; the yin and the yang. I have learned that things in life are rarely one thing or another. They are almost always one thing and another, at the same time.

Back to my shower. Rinsing my hair, I looked up through the skylight in my bathroom and saw the moon; still visible even in the bright morning light. In that moment, I became aware of the gift of the morning moon. It reminded me of the night that was, as well as the night that would come again – and of the presence of light, even in darkness.

Two years ago, almost at this very moment, I kissed my husband good-morning. How could I have known that it would have been the last kiss? As I re-visit that day today, I sense the gift of the morning moon. I have come through the night. And while the night of that loss will always be with me, it can be a reminder to me of the light I experienced that day in the shining-moon presence of God as expressed through the family and friends who surrounded me. Healing has come, yet sometimes the wound is as raw and gaping as that first day. Those days are becoming fewer.

When the barista handed me my morning coffee today, there, in the foam was a lovely heart. Randy is here with me. That last kiss — seen at the top of my cup. Here in this heaven-on-earth spot where surf meets rock and sand, I experience the morning-moon gifts of presence, love and light.

A dear friend reminded me today of this Grief blessing, by John O’Donohue:

“Gradually, you will learn acquaintance

With the invisible form of your departed,

And when the grief work is done,

The wound of your loss will heal

And you will have learned

To wean your eyes

From the gap in the air

And to enter the hearth

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time.”

Morning moon, indeed.

Living in Our Newest Chamber

You may be wondering why I used a chambered nautilus as the banner photo on my blog site. This sea creature, with its spiral shell holds deep meaning for me, and a lesson in living from which we can all benefit. As the nautilus grows, its body moves forward, and in so doing, produces a wall that seals off the older chambers of its shell. This process not only ensures that the nautilus always lives in the newest and largest of its chambers, it also helps to keep the nautilus buoyant.

I came to understand the rich lesson of the chambered nautilus in a daily devotional reading from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. Not coincidentally, the date of this reading was September 16 — the day of my husband’s death — read exactly one year after it happened. Mark Nepo’s words helped me to see the point at which, by moving forward, we resolve and honor our past. An excerpt:

“Can we, in this way, build strong chambers for our traumas: not living there, but breaking our past down till it is fluid enough to lose most of its weight? Can we internalize where we’ve been enough to know that we are no longer living there? When we can, life will seem lighter.” — Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

This reading, so timely in my grieving process, brought healing, hope and, quite literally, a sense of lightness. Such a wise lesson in living — whether or not your past holds traumatic events — that only by integrating the whole of our life can we dwell the fresh expanse of its newest chamber.

Could it be that, in the creation of this magnificent sea creature, God encourages us not to ‘stuff’ our past, but to honor and draw from its lessons so fully that its very edges can no longer hold us? In this, we become fully present to what is before us — here and now. With gratitude, I embrace and aspire to the message of the chambered nautilus; to enlarge my capacity to love deeply and to live completely.