The Grief of Returning
A New Adventure
After several years living in Abbotsford, BC, my husband, my sons and I stuffed ourselves and our suitcases into our little Sunfire and set off to embark upon a new adventure. We wove our way out of the Fraser Valley and onto the Coquihalla highway bursting with hope and anticipation at everything that lay ahead. If there was any regret or melancholy over the memories – the experiences – the home – the family – the life we were leaving behind, we paid it little attention.
That is the way of life. We move from day to day, situation to situation, opportunity to opportunity. We grow, we change, we move… and we return – changed.
This summer, my husband, my youngest son and I made our way back to BC. As we progressed down the winding, granite edged highway it felt as though we were travelling in ‘the missing man formation’. We had taken my eldest son Errol, with us when we left but he was not making this trip back with us. The intervening years had brought many happy adventures, much growth and even another move. But while we were gone, Errol had left us behind to take up his own great adventure in the life beyond this one.
This was the first time I had returned to BC since leaving more than 10 years ago with my heart filled with hope and anticipation. All the memories I had so carelessly left to rest awaited my return. From the resting places they had taken up, coiled asleep at the various places they had been made, the memories stirred and rose up to greet me.
When we grieve, we know to expect floods of bitter-sweet memories that accompany all the various celebrations, events and feast-days. I had not prepared myself for the similar experience of returning to a precious place in the absence of one of the people who had made it precious.
A Family Gathering Less One
The majesty of BC greeted us, taking our breath away as it always does. Family we had not seen in far too long also swept us up in loving embraces. On the second day of our visit a family gathering was held at Gramma and Grampa’s house. At the appointed time, the back deck blossomed with siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. Matured familiar faces were interspersed with delightful new ones until the space burgeoned with comfortable chatter, fabulous food and companionship. From my seat I rejoiced in all the wondrous changes. The accomplishments of the cousins – college completed, exciting jobs secured, new relationship cemented, and delightful new shoots added to the family tree – brought such joy… and a little twist of agony.
A couple inconspicuous trips to the washroom allowed me moments to give quiet voice to the strangled sobs and bottled tears I couldn’t express amid the celebration. It is a precarious tight-rope grievers walk. The last thing we want is to allow the shadow that flits across our hearts at times like these to tarnish the joy that is being shared.
Getting Ahead of Grief
My husband’s mother is a gifted botanist. She has no degree, but her knowledge of vegetative life has crawled its way into her heart and mind at the same time as it slipped beneath her fingernails along with the rich loam of the Earth. My husband’s family home is a wonderland of antique and growing treasures. The sunken garden in the back yard was the perfect sanctuary for me to sit, wreathed in the subtle perfume of growing things and unpack my memories.
Native British Columbians are no stranger to avalanches, but this Prairie girl had come into the mountain wilderness unprepared for the deluge of memories and melancholy that threatened to bury me. Since releasing my son into the arms of God I have worked diligently to face my grief with courage and fidelity. My former tactics of covering grief with a blur of action had not served me well so I knew that I couldn’t resort to the same false fixes to see me through. That is why I set aside some time for myself, cradled in the bosom of a space cultivated with so much love it burrowed to the depths of each root and swept the sky with the dance of the leaves. I sat on a bench, my faithful dog companion nestled in my lap, slurping the salty stream of tears from my cheeks. As I sat, I welcomed each memory as it came. I drew each one fully from my heart and celebrated the moments they represented. Errol’s essence engulfed me more fully with each memory unfurled. In his presence I then took some time to think about what his life would be like now – where he’d be, what he’d be doing, who he’d be doing it with, and what he would be like as a father. These imaginings gave me great joy because I know Errol’s bright Self would have permeated whatever he did. As my tears dried and my energetic doggie companion began to fidget with impatience, I was able to stand and face the remainder of the trip with peace in my heart. The truth that I had been able to recapture in Gramma’s Garden is that Errol is watching all our accomplishments, celebrations and achievements with love. He feels our joy and understands our pain from a perspective we can’t yet fathom. He has completed his journey and will be eager to celebrate our great graduation with us, when we complete ours.