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Writing my way through loss and hope

Amy Welborn

Photo by Petr Kratochvil
The night of the day my husband died so suddenly, I started writing.

Not a book, not a blog post, and never thinking it would be for publication, I wrote nonetheless.

Page after page in my journals, I scribbled, scrawled and stabbed the page in frustration and grief.

I did other things during those first weeks and months, of course. I drove my younger children to school and picked them up, got my daughter through her junior year of high school, cooked meals, and took walks. And sorted through Mike’s things. Again and again I did that, wondering what to hang onto and what to let go.

But why the writing? Why sit down every night, recording the present, remember the past and reaching out for eternity? What good can it do?

Because that’s how I seek understanding.

We all have our ways. For some of us, it all clicks and makes sense as we meditate or read. We work it out through our building, planting and digging in our gardens, or in the midst of bowls and pots in our kitchen, dusted with flour, fingers scented with garlic, we gaze out the window and think, yes. I understand.

For me, it’s writing. When I’m even simply in the habit of journaling, I’m far more alert to the ways of the world and the ways of God in that world than I am when I fall out of the habit. (And I do.)

In those weeks and months after my husband’s sudden death of a heart attack, I was extremely alert, because I had to be. It all happened so fast, it was such a wrenching event, it turned our world so joltingly on its head, that if I didn’t write, I would be left with just the surface of events, and the surface - that worldly, flat surface – seemed quite bleak at the time.

And so, knowing that my journal – and eventually, when I felt it was appropriate, my blog – awaited, I tried to keep my eyes open, and I noticed.

I noticed that the name of my parish was Our Lady of Sorrows and that every Sunday, I was invited to contemplate those images of death and grief that surrounded me. I noticed this during the Easter season that came soon after. I was grudgingly alert to the Alleluia I was invited to sing sitting there, surrounded by sorrow.

I noticed the box of new running shoes he’d ordered, that arrived a week after he dropped on the treadmill. I noticed how the woman at the grocery store bakery responded to my panicked-last minute phone call about a cake for my son’s birthday party, happening two months to the day after his father died. I noticed what my children said and what their eyes told me as darkness fell and memories gathered each night before bed. I noticed the generosity of strangers in the steady stream of Mass cards and promises of rosaries said and Communions offered from people around the world I would never meet on this side.

I noticed and remembered The Man in the Box, icons, the persistent presence of Warren Zevon and Solanus Casey, friends and acquaintances dying and dead – it seemed someone new every week. I noticed that summer was coming, and remembered baseball games, beaches and searching out unlocked doors of monastery chapels and hulking locked urban churches because somehow there must be a way to see what’s inside. Somewhere.

And at some point, I noticed Sicily.

I can’t tell you why or how, but at some point that spring, Sicily, before this nothing but a shadowy island somewhere in the Mediterranean that I’d barely thought about, took firm, solid shape, and evolved into the most natural place for us to be that summer. Necessary, even.

For amid everything else that might attract us there – the castles, the beach, the chocolate, the volcano, the gelato, the total strangeness of it that might distract us and help us forget – there was, it seemed to me, a landscape that fit our life now.

For, I gleaned from the guidebooks, you might walk about Sicily in the present, but there was also no denying the past. You walked amid it every day, among Greek and Roman ruins, alongside walls still bearing the scars of a world war, in sight of olive trees gnarled with age. On every road you took, at some point, you would be met by a stone shelter for a saint, erected in years past, but every one holding a silently glimmering candle, placed there today in hope in God’s eternal faithfulness.

This was my way of life now: to walk in sharp awareness in past and present, in constant search of a glimpse of the eternal, of the truth that Love never dies.

Traveling to Sicily then, with three children, seemed right. I would take a suitcase, a journal and a pen. I would be alert, I determined. I would notice. I would write about it, and perhaps, at last, I might understand.

Topics: Death , Grieving , Marriage , Personal Growth , Prayer , Travel

Amy Welborn is the author of twenty books, including her new memoir, Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope (Image Books, $14). She blogs at Charlotte was Both and Booked: A Travel Blog. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

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