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Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage

I started planting roses and for a few years it was this peaceful respite that I looked forward to each summer. Radiant petals would bloom, rising out of cold, lifeless soil bursting into an explosion of color.

Early May, I started the cycle again and for weeks the roses were vibrant and rich with life. My dad died and I realized I was no better at grief than I had been before. For two days we clung to the tiniest sliver of hope. We showed up, we stood vigil, we prayed, we cried. I watched my mom, my sisters, my children…so vulnerable, each one of us far too accustomed to loss.

In the hospital room it was busy, pulsing with expectant energy. People came and went, conversations were lively, doctors discussed next steps. And if there were next steps, there was still a chance, right?

His body was warm. He looked like himself. He was still with us. I went out to my gardens today and stood silently, the stillness of the world echoing in my ears. The moment he left; the world went quiet. It was as if a light went out and the darkness became consuming.

The world went gray…a colorless splotch of nothing. You keep busy, of course, in the days following. You go through the motions, tend to the people - all the people. And for a while they fill the void. There are stories to hear and memories to share. You go back…only to walk through the years again, suspecting that someway, somehow the ending is different.

The leaves on my rosebushes are tinged with brown, the thorns sharp and piercing…undoubtedly the effect of a particularly dry spell and limited water to nourish their roots. Yet, in stark contrast, the soft, velvet petals wear their colors boldly in hues of magenta, crimson, peach, coral.

My phone rings and for a brief moment, I think it is my dad. A butterfly dances in the breeze. The trees sway, casting shadows in the noonday sun. My mind is fleeting between past and present. There is no after yet. No future I am ready to embrace. There is only today and yesterday.

In all the potential circumstances I had considered might happen in life this was never one of them. There is an overpowering sense of injustice that the world should carry on. Had his work been complete? What do you with an unfinished existence? I suppose life reveals its mysteries only slowly.

Perhaps in time, this too, will make sense. Stepping out from the hospital doors that day there was a tangible sense that the whole world had shifted. Suddenly everything had changed. The bells had sounded for last orders and there was no refuge for the unprepared.

I had taken advantage of time. And somewhere along the way, I created the delusion that there would always be more. That there would always be another day.

While I was busy worrying about a million other things that in hindsight seem significantly unimportant and entirely irrelevant, time was slipping away from us. The pilgrimage from holding tight to letting go was underway. Great love is so intimately connected to that of immense suffering that denying this reality can only bring further despondency. And the paradox here, is that this great love is the same love that allows us to let go in order to move through.

With his last breath, the world fell silent. We were left to confront death with an unflinching courage. To let go of fear and face our own human boundaries and limitations. I suppose that is the hope that reignites our power to live. That even with fragile hearts - even there, in the midst of our mourning, we have faith that the deep pain of this suffering might one day allow us to experience the true fullness of  life.

Out of the vast stillness a bird sings out.

About the Author

Shannon Shpak is a writer and bereavement educator who is no stranger to grief. After the deaths of her son, daughter, nephew, and father, Shannon has continued to carry on their legacies of hope, strength, and perseverance. She and her 5 children are rebuilding their life after loss.

Nov 15th 2022 Shannon Shpak

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