Ten days ago, I flew to Denver to accompany a dear friend through part of the grieving process following the death of her husband. The memorial service was on Saturday, but I arrived early to support her in various ways. I and another friend helped her work through the liturgy for the memorial service, then I proofread the bulletin. I helped her choose foods for various meals and flowers for the altar. We set up the altar together (including a collection of over thirty books her husband had published or contributed to during his lifetime). I scanned pictures and collated a photo slide show for the reception. And I sat alongside her when the tears came.
It was a time of grace and gift, of challenge and perseverance. It also reminded me that sometimes the good times are not the easy times, but the hard times.
One of the deepest gifts—for both of us, I believe—was taking a day trip up to Estes Park, which had been one of her husband’s favorite places (I would say, a holy place) since he was a child. There was a time when they lived in Estes Park, and I have fond memories of visiting them there, blessing their home (at his request), and hiking part of the Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We drove up from Denver in time for lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, where she ate his favorite entrée and I indulged in his favorite chocolate cake for dessert. Then we drove into the park and headed for Sprague Lake.
Sprague Lake was a focal point of their time together in the park. He had a number of “offices” around the lake—benches or rocks where he would stop, sit, and write on warmer days. It was definitely a cold winter day for us, with wind pulling myriad tiny flakes of snow off the mountainsides and creating flurries across the frozen lake. The path was sometimes icy and slippery, other times completely bare of snow and ice where the sun had managed to work its magic.
We stopped at his various offices, and at spots where my friend remembered the first time he had brought her there, before they were married, and excitedly pointed out beloved vistas. They had talked with me about Sprague Lake at various times during their marriage, and it was a gift to visit, and remember, and give thanks for a long and treasured relationship.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about #whatwintergives. Sometimes winter gives us death, and grief, and loss. Sometimes it gives us slippery ice, at other times sun-warmed paths. Sometimes it gives us blessed memories and aching emptiness—at the same time. During that trip, I felt winter give me the painful and precious realization of our fragility, our humanness, our perseverance, and the deep grace of love—at the same time.
What memorial blessings has winter given you during your lifetime?
I don’t know that I can answer the question right now… need to give it more thought. I just wanted to tell you that this was one of the most lovely messages I have read in a long time. What a gift of grace you were to your friend – and what a gift to one another to maintain/ sustain years of friendship that had deep meaning for both of you. I have two or three friends that I have that kind of deep connection with and I am going to share your blog with them. I don’t know that any of us have the skill sets to do the things you did for your friend in terms of writing/ editing, preparing liturgy…. but I would hope that should the need arise, we would be willing and available to walk around a sacred space with one another and just be present and hold space for them and their beloved. Thank you for sharing this intimate story.
Thank you, Joyce. I’m so glad this message was moving and helpful for you. There was a lot more I did that any of you and your friends could likely do, in terms of driving the car (she didn’t feel aware enough of her surroundings, which was an important insight in a time of grief), fetching meals and flowers, putting food away in the fridge and handling the trash, recycling, and dishwasher so she could focus on family…it’s about being present and available–and also asking “Is it okay if I…?” so you don’t overcrowd a friend with trying to do too much.
I welcome your further reply if/when you’re ready to answer that question….