Guest Post by Elaine McGillicuddy
(First in a two-part series by Elaine on living as a widow)
For me, the process of dealing with my grief through the loss of my beloved husband was through writing. I felt compelled to preserve Francis’ words, and what we experienced together during the 100 days from the date of the cancer diagnosis until his death on January 3, 2010.
Poems that “came,” did that; hence, my first book “The Poems”. And then (I knew and know Francis would want me to tell it) – our love story, in prose. And again after that – “New Poems” came. These express more directly my grappling with what it really feels like, being a widow, and also my pondering the mystery of death. Altogether, I published three books in five years.
But it all flowed from “Dear Family and Friends” letters (posted on my website). Their purpose, initially, was to ask for prayers for Francis. In that process, however, I took our family and friends along for our journey.
I’ve continued writing those letters, though much less frequently now; for example, only three in 2015. But each one is significant in tracing my way through the labyrinth of the loss of a spouse.
The main title of my books, Sing to Me and I Will Hear You, is taken from Francis’ touching request of me that I sing this to him as he lay dying.
I found this remarkable, recognizing that as a non-clerical Catholic priest and former chaplain, he was in a position to know that the last sense “to go” is the sense of hearing.
The song Francis was referring to is the one which I, as a leader of the Dances of Universal Peace, had learned from Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz (or Saadi, his Sufi name) an Aramaic scholar who had created the melody for the biblical passage: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, set me as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8:6).
After Francis’ death, I told Saadi that his chant had helped my husband die. Once we knew the diagnosis, my goddaughter’s father, Lee Slater, recorded Francis and me chanting it. It was played over the intercom in church at Francis’ funeral. (To link to Francis’ service: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aF73DQBKi90)
When I reread the final chapter in SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU – A Love Story, entitled, “Last Suppers,” I feel as if I’m on holy ground. Why so? It’s a verbatim transcription of Francis’ and my last conversations, thanks to Dr. John Devlin, Francis’ endocrinologist. After reading my Christmas Eve letter in which I had reproduced, by hand, the first of our conversations, Dr. Devlin brought us his recorder. We used it during our four remaining meals together.
It took three years before I had the courage to listen to the audio files. Words cannot express what it was like, listening again to Francis’ voice.
Sentence by sentence, over several days, I typed what I heard. When completed, ready to edit by adding dialog tags, I knew that something was stirring. It took the whole next day to write the first draft of my long poem –“The Last Conversations, 2009.”
As Francis approached the threshold (which he called “the transition”), I was accompanying him on his last journey. I have never been the same since.