The Strange Events of Grief

It was just one of those nights. He had to get out of the house. Oh, he understood that his adult children were just worried about him and that is why they doted on his every move. “Come on Dad – you have to eat – have more food… Dad, now you have to get things done while we are home with you… Let’s get things ready for Christmas while we can help” and the list went on and on. It was not that he did not appreciate their help, the truth is that if they were not there he probably would not eat at all or even think about Christmas. It was just that they kept him so busy that he did not have time to sit with the memory and grief of his wife of 43 years who died only three weeks ago.

So while they were busy with sorting her clothes in the closet – he slipped on his coat and boots, went outside, and set off for the woods behind the house. The air was cold and crisp and the skiff of snow that had fallen earlier that day crunched with every step he took. He took some deep breaths and the cold air filled his lungs. He had made his way along a path so well known to him that he did not even need to look down.

Marg and he had spent hours walking these trails in the woods behind their house, and with each step, the intensity and clarity of those times together grew until he sank to his knees unable to go any further.

It was never supposed to be like this. He had never imagined that she would go first and they often joked about him having to go first because he would not know anything about how to look after himself. But they didn’t get to choose and now here he was – it seemed like a nightmare.

portrait of a senior adult with gray beard in winter forest

He stayed on his knees for what seemed a very long time, his mind bouncing between the memories of her hand in his, her smile and smell, and the horror of those last days in the hospital where she looked so frail and weak. He could not stand it anymore, he cried out “Marg how could you leave me here like this, how am I ever going to do anything again.” The words spilt out and seemed to echo and reverberate through the trees.

Suddenly he was aware of a light in the trees above him. Not a bright spot of light, but a glow, like a star had decided to leave the sky and come close to the earth. He felt a warmth that he presumed was from the light but it seemed to embrace him outside and in. His anxious fear suddenly grew still and subsided and he felt a deep peace in his heart. He could not prove Marg was there, but he did not need to because he knew she was.

The quiet of the forest became even more so, he had never been in a place where he felt such peace. He could not have spoken even if he wanted to, and for the next few moments, he was still and never wanted to leave this place. It was as if she was speaking to him without voice, the words simply were there for him… “Jack I am safe, and so are you. Grief and sadness is the gift we get because we have loved so deeply. You will find your way – because I will always be there with you. You will talk about me and brag about our life together and it will be such a legacy to who we were and are.”

Then the light grew dim. The air took on its chill and the forest sounds came alive again. Jack stumbled to his feet, amazed at what had just happened. He looked around trying to understand these moments. Suddenly his eye caught something hanging in the tree branch just ahead of him. It sparkled and as he reached out to grasp it he realized it was a necklace, not just any necklace but the one that he had given her on their wedding day. Now he felt the chills run up and down his spine and the hair at the base of his neck stand up because Marg had been buried with this necklace on her.

How was he going to explain this to anyone? Then he heard or rather felt her voice deep within his heart, “you don’t have to explain to anyone, just live in what you know is true.”

Jack felt a huge weight lift. Oh, the sadness was still there, he missed holding Marg physically, but now came the deep assurance that she was with him no matter what happened and that gave him peace. His walk back to the house was different because he was different, hope now sat with grief in a new way that changed everything.