had a generosity of spirit. He drew people to him. He was always so easy to be
around and had such a great, if a little wicked, sense of humor! Paul loved to
cook and go fishing. He loved being out on the boat, rivers, and beaches of the
Lowcountry where his soul shined. He loved music, all kinds of music, but what
he loved more than anything was his family. He was a devoted father to Aaron
and an adoring husband to his wife of 26 years, Malia.”
That’s an excerpt from my husband’s obituary, and this blog is about the resulting grief process, but a death and the subsequent grief can take many forms. My mother died when I was twelve years old. My husband died. Those are physical deaths, but there are other types of death. The death of a relationship, divorce or uncoupling. The death of a dream, a career, a beloved pet, and we grieve those losses in ways very similar to the physical loss of a loved one. This sharing so openly is not easy for me. I am by nature an introvert, not expressive. My friends and colleagues would tell you that I am a very private person, but writing this blog feels like a very necessary element of the grief and healing process. The transparency may be raw and painful at times, dear reader, but my hope is that something I write, something I share will somehow help someone else along the way.
In loss, there is pain. It’s debilitating. The good news is
that the worst of it is temporary. It’s what remains after the worst-of-it that takes real work.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 comforts us not to grieve as those who have no hope. We are encouraged to carry on despite the heartache, despite the hurt and despair. We.have.hope. And His name is Jesus. My family is the bedrock of my human existence, my sisters and brothers in Christ love and support me spiritually, my friends and colleagues are my ballasts, but the personal friend I have in Jesus is what carries me through each day. He is hope. He is why I don’t give up.
It’s been a little more than a year since Paul died, and I am only recently starting to watch TV again. I know how strange and silly that must sound, but it was about 10 months before I could even sit on the couch let alone watch a show. Likewise, NPR was a staple in our cars for decades. We enjoyed the news and game shows and especially Prairie Home Companion. I walked out of the hospital the day Paul died, got into my car, and immediately changed the radio to a local rock station because I could not bear to listen to NPR, and I haven’t listened to it since. I do miss it, but I just can’t.
In some ways, I am still operating under the conditions of my former life. I just leave things around the house to be done. I don’t know who in the world I think is going to do them or if I’m waiting for Paul to come back and pick up where he left off. It’s the madness of grief. I can do laundry, wash dishes, and pay bills like a champ, but that’s because those were the tasks that previously belonged to me anyway. It was these little divisions of labor that evolved within our relationship over time that made our household work. These little things are really the last hold-outs of my former life perhaps because they are the most deeply embedded in my day-to-day living. The grocery store and cooking were exclusively Paul’s tasks. I think to myself, “I shouldn’t have to do this. I won’t do it. That’s Paul’s job.” There is an angry, stubborn, rebelliousness to it. I don’t know how long it will take me to accept this new reality and really take ownership of these tasks, but I am indignant and not in a hurry.
It’s been about a month now since my return from the Camino, and the adjustment issues are lingering. Initially, it had a lot to do with the time change, but it’s been so enduring that it can’t just be that. I think it’s me. I think I’m different. I think I am fundamentally different. The pace and rhythm of my daily walks on the Camino have filtered into the pace of my life.
I am continuously making connections between my daily routine and my Camino experience, faster here, slower there, the need for careful steps, what it’s like when the day is smooth or rough, connecting to others, when to dig deep, to finish strong, to stop and rest, to be quiet, to observe, to look for signs. It’s all here in my daily life. On the Camino, I had to physically adjust to many of these things. In my daily life, I am making the connection to adjusting mentally and spiritually. It continues to be a journey and a profoundly interesting experience to witness in myself.
We’ve also had some really good things happening lately. My son has graduated from college, gotten engaged, and been accepted to graduate school. He and his fiancé have moved to the same city that I live in, and I am so excited to have them close by. My Camino experience was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I have recently earned a new, exciting and challenging position at work that I am very happy about. We’ve had a lot to smile about and celebrate which is wonderful, welcome, and certainly a change from the year that has preceded it. Some folks even say, “After the year y’all have had, you deserve it”, or “Y’all were due some good news!” or “God owed it to you after what y’all have been through.” When I hear sentiments like this, I smile politely most of the time because I know that people love us and mean well and are genuinely happy for us, and I am so grateful. But here, in this post, I feel like I need to set the record straight. We have done nothing to deserve anything. No one, least of all the Lord God we serve, owes us anything. It is, in fact, we who owe Him everything as much today, or even more so, as on the day we took our first breath and even on the day Paul took his last breath. We don’t deserve it……but by God’s grace, Paul and I had thirty years together. We were able to learn and grow from each other. We were gifted with the stewardship of another one of God’s children, our son. We had the opportunity to seek forgiveness from one another when we fell short of the promises we made each other. There’s no way to earn God’s favor. Faith, no matter how great, does not spare us from adversity. You see, both plenty and adversity, are worthy of our gratitude to God. I seek only to Glorify God and use my experience as an opportunity to tell others that any strength and grace of which I am possessed are not mine but His. It is a high honor to reveal His strength in my weakness and pain. God comforts me, and, for me, true healing means that after all the suffering and pain, we will say, “The Lord has been good to me.”
Now, I am not naïve. I know that this stance is counter-cultural. In American society, the denial of self comes with a sad sort of pity for a person who is unwilling or incapable of tooting their own horn. Some may even say it is anti-intellectual whatever that means. I take that back. Let’s be clear about what that means. That sentiment comes from folks who are trying to be socially correct and call other people dumb or backwards in the same breath. Either that or it’s an attempt to pigeonhole other people into a place where they are perceived as valuing the spirit over intellect, but I reject the either-or model and embrace the both-and model. I am both intellectual and spiritual. I value intellectual approaches to problem solving and seek the wisdom of the Spirit, and I think there is plenty of evidence in this blog to support that assertion.
I’m going to leave you with Romans 5:1-5 which really could be a sort of road map to my experience, my theme song if you will. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy spirit who has been given to us.”
Time is on my mind. Both literally and figuratively. Physically, the time change coming back from Spain has put a hurting on me. That combined with the excitement and activity surrounding my son’s engagement gave me a serious case of jet lag that lasted well into my first few days back at work. It was three days before I could even think about doing laundry or turning on the TV. It’s nearly two weeks now of trying to get another post completed.
Then, there’s this.
How on earth I can fly to another continent and manage to take care of myself but can’t go to the grocery store is fodder for another post. Ugh. Ridiculous. At any rate, I would like to officially add travel to the Griefwork Toolbox. I can certainly attest to its healing affect. One aspect that was made abundantly clear to me during the course of my travel is that it’s no credit to me, I get no sense of accomplishment or confidence, if I’m able to manage when things are going smoothly. I only learn about myself and my capabilities when things are going wrong. That’s not to say that I need or want things to go wrong. I am just saying that I am grateful in both sets of circumstances as I have opportunities to learn and grow. I spent the last 30 years in partnership with my husband. I do currently have a need to fully understand my ability to manage life on my own.
I’ve tried to adjust to the time change by sticking to my routines, exercise and regular bedtime, and not napping even though I really wanted to, but it was still nearly five days before I felt normal, like myself again. I felt like a person out of time, removed from a previous state of existence. The first time I experienced this was after the death of my mother. Even at that young age, barely 12 years old, I was aware that time, or the way I experienced it, was different. My very existence as I had known it was over, and a new existence had begun. A quick search of my posts yielded 107 occurrences of the word time. I have written previously about how my calendar is different, but it’s more than that. I experience time differently now.
This painting by Salvador Dali is titled The Persistence of Memory. I was fortunate to see it in person at the Museum of Modern Art during my unexpected stay in New York.
The title is so curious. In fact, it’s often called by other names like “Melting Clocks” or “Melting Watches”. But clearly, Dali, recognized, or pondered like myself, the connection between time and memory and perception. I am intrigued about the possibility that time and memory are actually one and the same and the potential of that equality.
I have a time machine. My memory is good. Too good sometimes. Memory is routed through the hippocampus and stored in the temporal region of the brain which is responsible for how we process memories and integrate them with sensory information, the way we perceive the world. I remember everything with nearly perfect recall. Many family members confirm that my earliest memories are from not too far past my second birthday. They are images only, but they are accurate. Lately, these memories of mine have been tricking me into thinking I am somewhere else or talking to someone else about something else, and I make mistakes in my references. I never noticed myself making these kinds of mistakes before Paul died or at least not to this level. A puzzled look from a friend or family member usually brings the mistake to my attention, and I say, “Oh, I meant, ______. I was in my time machine.” In other words, I associated the current circumstances for another place and time.
In his essay, “To Grieve is to Carry Another Time”, Matthew Salesses refers to this same phenomenon. He read and researched the mechanism and function of time hoping for a way to go back to before his wife died but with, obviously, no success. Salesses wrote, “So why, my grief asks, can’t we change times simply by changing our perceptions?” According to Salesses’ research, physicist Carlo Rovelli offers the mind itself as a time machine so that we may travel via memory. I, too, have attempted time travel by seeking the answer to this same question. The fact that we, the grievers, would even think such a thing is possible is yet another indication of the disorder, confusion, and madness with which grief wrecks the rational mind. Since Paul died, I have consciously worked on cultivating my ability to go back in time through memories to visit with him. Instead of my memories playing like a movie on a screen, I go inside my memories and walk around, talking, feeling. Salesses asserts, “This is a disappointing compromise. In mourning, memory is only another cause for mourning. It does not change time, only reminds one that time has passed.” I’m not sure about that.
all know that humans experience time in a linear way, past, present, and
future, like following a string. But I am thinking of that string wound around a
spool. From the inside of the spool, we could view all of that wound up time
and select a strand of time to experience. And, what if, just what if the
string of time is not being wound up? What if it’s the other way around? What
if the string of time is being wound out? Think about that. The past is
something that has already happened right? If the future is something that is
already set, already on the spool, whether it’s known or unknown, then it is
equal to the past. This is actually comforting to me. The
future may be a puzzle that I have struggled to piece together, but it is
I was talking to a friend recently about how long Paul and I were
together, and I blurted out 31 years. Thirty-one years. That’s the number of
years IF Paul was still alive, and I just blurted it out like our clock was
still ticking, but it’s not. I was in my time machine. Our time is over. They
say that time heals all wounds. In my experience, time heals nothing, but God
does. Healing happens through faith and hard work.
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. – Psalm 147:2
Santiago de Compestela, Spain to home, 4,986 miles
“Travel far enough, you find yourself.” – David Mitchell
I departed Santiago de Compestela, Spain, at 4am on 4/19/19 and arrived home at 6am on 4/20/19. Total travel time = 27 hours – 3 hours sleep in-flight.
Once again, I found myself where I was not supposed to be.
After a very early flight from Santiago to Madrid and across the Atlantic, I
arrived in New York to find that my outbound flight home had been cancelled due
to weather. In fact, many people’s flights were cancelled, and it created a
domino affect among many airlines and their schedules that left me with very
few options. So, I got creative. I opted for a flight to Atlanta, four hours
from my home. It was as close as I could get. I took a one hour bus ride from
JFK to LGA to catch my flight and arrived in Atlanta at midnight. It took
standing in line for an hour and a half before I could rent a car. Then, I hit
the road. For once, the Atlanta roadways were not a parking lot. I finally
walked in my front door at 6am.
Kurt Vonnegut quipped, “Bizarre travel plans are dancing
lessons from God.” I certainly did a lot of dancing on this day! After sleeping
for about three hours, I got up and swung into action. Why? Because today,
Aaron asked his girlfriend to marry him. Friends and family from out of town
were gathering to toast the happy couple, and there was much to do. The ring, a
cake, arrangements at the restaurant, corralling family members for the
surprise dinner party afterward. Thankfully, all went as planned, and it was a
It’s Easter Sunday, getting on toward late afternoon. It’s a crisp, breezy, bright sun-shiney spring day, and the house is quiet. My heart and mind are so full thinking of everything that has been and everything that is to come. I am thankful that you joined me on this journey. Your likes and heartfelt words of encouragement meant the world to me. Even though it could be said that there are many things that went right on this trip and some things that went wrong, I am sitting here with the sense that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be. Something has shifted, inside. The view from this vantage point has me feeling different about my life and everything that has transpired. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I do know now that I’m actually exactly where I am supposed to be, and I am at peace.
To Risk by William Arthur Ward
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool To weep is to risk being called sentimental To reach out to another is to risk involvement To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss To love is to risk not being loved in return To live is to risk dying To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken Because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The people who risk nothing may avoid suffering and sorrow, But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow or really live. Chained by their servitude they are slaves who have forfeited all freedom. Only a person who risks is truly free.
I wish you a safe and fruitful journey as you travel the road ahead, my friends! Malia
Today’s the day. The last walking day on the Camino. I do believe that Ada and I have formed a lasting connection. What a blessing and treasure she is!
Arriving at the cathedral in Santiago was everything I expected and more. The enormity of it is overwhelming, the sights, the sounds, the people, the pageantry, the history, and the emotion. In the midst of it all, I was able to have a quiet moment with St. James in the sepulcher. He and I talked about suffering and grief, sadness and healing, faith, joy, and eternal love.
The big takeaway from this trip is this. One of the first mistakes that pilgrims make on a journey like this is filling their pack too full with things they don’t need, with things that weigh them down and make the journey more difficult. At the end of each day’s walk, I would unload my backpack, examine the contents, and edit the items trying to lighten the load.
That got me thinking. What am I carrying in my walk through life, in my spiritual journey, that is weighing me down, that is making my journey more difficult? What am I carrying that is too heavy? That is unnecessary?
I’ve written before about how I have a tendency to put on a brave face. This habit has its good and bad attributes. It helps me, and quite frankly others, get through the day, but when overused, it’s emotionally exhausting and not honest. It also creates a barrier that doesn’t allow others to reach me. To truly connect, the brave face habit has to be broken. I’m working on it. My precious friend, Erika, and I used Marco Polo to communicate while I was away.
Marco Polo is an app that allows you to record and send video messages. In one of her messages to me, Erika said that every time she sees me that I am more energetic, lighter, genuine in my lightness, not like I’m trying to put on a brave face that everything is OK. I was happy to hear that. I am working on how to capture that as I move forward.
My trip may be over, but the Camino is not. The true Camino is this life we are living, the human portion of our spiritual journey. Our walking partners are our family, friends, neighbors and total strangers, too.
My friend, Ada, met me in front of my hotel and away we went.
Since I began this journey on Saturday, I have encountered only four Americans and even less English-speaking people from other countries. Fortunately, my Spanish has held up pretty well, and Ada speaks excellent English. I am equally thankful that she speaks excellent Spanish and has helped me improve my conversational skills. Today, the Camino Frances on which we are walking joins the Camino Norte. There are many more walkers and many more English-speakers as well as German. The Camino is like a web that stretches across Central Europe. There are many routes that all converge at Santiago de Compestela where the remains of St. James rest in the cathedral. Despite the increase in pilgrims over the last 10 years, it is still only equivalent to the number of pilgrims who made the trek EACH year during medieval times.
Today’s thoughts really centered around the future. I have always been a goal setter and planner. Since Paul passed away, that has been much more difficult. I find my vision for the future cloudy. I think that is happening for three reasons. First, it is just very difficult for me to imagine or envision myself doing anything either trivial or significant without him. I literally can’t picture in my mind what that looks like although this adventure has certainly helped me gain some clarity. It’s just that since I was 18 years old, my plans for my whole life have included Paul. That’s a hard habit to break, my friends. Second, I mainly am just trying to get through the day most of the time. Thinking too far ahead feels overwhelming. I try to stay in the present to lessen anxiety, but that becomes counterproductive when I’m also trying to begin to consider long-term plans. Finally, the future feels less reliable, less trustworthy than it used to. We had 35 days from diagnosis to death. 35 days. So much for the plans we made.
One thing that has helped… Back at home, I have a dream room. About nine or ten months after Paul died and when I was feeling well enough, I covered the walls of the dream room with butcher paper and began to brainstorm, writing down anything and everything I wanted to do, learn, and experience. Categories soon began to emerge like travel, possible career changes, bucket list items, and so much more. In terms of the grieving process, having something to look forward to, whether small or big, has been very important. Some days having something to look forward to has been the only thing that has kept me tethered to this life. As time has past and my outlook has improved, I have also noticed that making lists and plans has its place, but it is equally important to leave room for being open to how the universe is unfolding before me. “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has see, nor ear hear, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’-” 1 Corinthians 2:9
The future looks more like a puzzle these days, like a puzzle without a picture for reference. I am trying to fit the pieces together. Each time I find a piece that fits, the view is a little sharper and the whole picture makes a little more sense. I am going to have to be satisfied with that for now and remain faithful that there is no wrong move when I seek God’s will first by looking for His guideposts, asking for His help, and loving others. Jeremiah 29:11-13 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'”
Tomorrow, Santiago, and while I know it’s rather trite, I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frost and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening when I saw this stunning sight today.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”
Today, was much better. My friends from the Dominican Republic , Ada and Jesus, reached out to me this morning wanting me to walk with them today. I gladly agreed, and we met on the Camino after breakfast. Ahhhh, the joy of friendship and connection with others! It is, indeed, a gift from our maker that we are designed to be social in whatever style suits our individual personalities.
I spent much of the day, too, thinking about my precious friends and family back at home, thanking God for the gift of them in my life. Before I left, they gave me a little remembrance book to bring with me. It is filled with their pictures, thoughts, and best wishes for my trip. I am so grateful for the way they love me!
The weather was so much better today, a little cooler, but plenty of sunshine for walking through undulating, wooded hillsides and river valleys.
It was also the shortest day, only 13 km. We arrived in the next city in the early afternoon with enough time for a long lunch of hot, fresh paella, local wine, and the best yogurt parfait I’ve ever had. This region is known for its dairy products. In addition, for the first time since arriving, I experienced the Siesta. In the middle of the day, most shops close. People go home for lunch and a nap. I indulged. I slept an hour and a half. I woke at about 5:30 and went straight to the pharmacy for more foot repair. Then, I enjoyed a nice stroll around the city center where I met and talked with a lovely couple from England. We chatted over gelato, sharing our Camino stories and said we hoped to see each other again on the way.
I was reminded today that God designed us to be social, but he also designed us for rest and to enjoy His creation, food, people, and places.
Two more walking days, and one travel day to go. Both walking days will be about 20 km each day. I’ll arrive at Santiago de Compostela on Thursday, and visit the tomb of Saint James. It’s also Maundy Thursday, the day in Holy Week that we recall Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet. That Jesus would humble himself in that manner was incomprehensible, but it is the ultimate model for friendship. The disciples were his followers, his companions, his friends. He loved them and wanted to show them what true love looks like in action. He was setting an example for both our actions and our attitude toward one another. Be tender. Be humble. Take care of your friends. Speak, Lord. I’m listening.
Just so you know and for those of you who catch the reference, the rain in Spain does, indeed, fall mainly on the plain. I was alone all day. Apparently, when it rains, pilgrims take taxis. Not me. I bet I didn’t see even 10 other people in the entire 16 miles I walked today. I did take one diversion, about 7 miles off course and a wrong turn later, to see Castle Pambre. It was worth it!
On that trek, I didn’t even see any cars let alone people. I did see great forests full of majestic eucalyptus, a lovely stag bounding through a field, and quaint, sleepy villages across the countryside.
It was peaceful, but everything seemed so big. I felt very small compared to the enormity of God’s creation. People and pilgrims may not like the rain, but birds do. I saw many different kinds, but a sparrow caught my eye, and I recalled my grandmother’s favorite him, His Eye is on the Sparrow.
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely, and long for Heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?, A constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches over me.
Much of this day was about getting through it with sheer will, determination, and patience. The rain and blowing wind made the journey difficult and uncomfortable. This particular portion of the Camino is relatively flat and without many features especially the last section which was little more than a sidewalk bordered on one side by an expressway and on the other by a series of industrial buildings. And my feet! Ugh! In a shameless reference to Jerry Seinfeld, “These pretzelsfeet are making me thirstyangry!” (See how I replaced pretzels and thirsty with feet and angry? Ha!)
It all added up to a classic case of Are we there yet?!
Saint James to the rescue with, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Finally, today, I want to sincerely and authentically encourage you in this way. If you are curious or even longing to know more about Jesus, begin by reading His word, the Bible. I’m not talking about church-on-Sunday or religion, although those things have their place and purpose. Heck, you may have been a church-goer all your life. So, what?! You read it right. So. What. I’m talking about a heart-to-heart connection with God. That’s where you start. He longs for you, too.