WOW: Women's Older Wisdom

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Guest Post by Elaine McGillicuddy

Once the funeral is over, and the sympathy cards arrive less frequently, what is it like, after every errand, or meeting with a friend, to return to an empty house?

I couldn’t bear the void. It’s desperation that told me: “Just sit! Just sit.” What relief to find that in sitting, I experienced Francis’ comforting presence. For me, this ancient teaching of the Communion of Saints is a reality.

To this day, daily sitting is the single most important practice of my life. It’s not just Francis’ presence I find, often experientially,  and often also, in the dark faith of intention – but sitting is my lifeline to my own self.

Pat Taub, WOW blog, Portland, Maine

Elaine during one of her “sitting” practices

It’s my compass to find my way, from day to day. Moreover, the majority of my poems arose out of those experiences.

I’m not sure I could have managed without the support of others.  High on my list are:  other widow friends; my real family and my “adopted family” of my goddaughter, Rowan Slater, and her parents, Lynn Kuzma and Lee Slater; my publisher, David Gawlik, and editor, Mike O’Connor.  I also benefited from specific books on grief and death, which can be found on my website.

Pat Taub, WOW blog, Portland, Maine

Elaine with a member of her support network, her beloved goddaughter, Rowan

I want to emphasize the great value of grief counseling. Loss of a spouse brings up issues from the past that need healing. One’s identity has been altered.

In my case, retired UCC minister, Bill Gregory, the person whom Francis asked to help with his “transition,” became my spiritual adviser. After Francis died, I saw Bill every week, for a year or more. Now it’s every six weeks.

One of my greatest consolations was rereading, Francis’ love letters. There are 43 of them. Just to see his handwriting moved me, as it does still. I even saved a folder on which Francis had written: “For Elaine, after I die.”

The early love letters were written during the period from when I left the convent in January, 1971, until a few days before he decided to leave the clerical priesthood, also in January – 1972. Because I hadn’t read them in years, they brought back to me his unforgettable words: “You are in my central core, and I’m in yours.” (No wonder they gave rise to more poems!)

Francis’ letters were only one of many primary sources. Each of us had kept a journal over the years. My prose love story, therefore, bolstered by these, is rich in detail.

The two years I spent writing it were  energized by what felt like a sacred commission. A few months ago, in my online letter, THE HARVEST IS IN, I was able to give words to what I was experiencing then – an urgency “to leave our legacy of love, Francis’s and mine, in poems and prose.”

I had heard that it takes two years to recover from the loss of a spouse–maybe for some, but it took at least three years for me to realize, and with a jolt, what I had done: camouflaged my unbearable grief by retreating into Francis’ presence.

For a while after that, I almost distrusted the value of my earlier poems. But I’ve come to be amazed at how prophetic my tentative prediction proved to be, as expressed in the Postscript to my first book – namely, that my own poems are like a map or bells guiding me home.

Pat Taub, WOW blog, Portland, Maine

Elaine finding hope and life anew

Now, I give thanks for the genuine experiences touched upon in all my books. The poems nourish me anew. The wonder is, as my life evolves, they come to me unexpectedly, spontaneously, even yielding new meanings I missed before – because I had not yet grown into the new moments that continue to come.

Consult my website for the letters, “Dear Family and Friends,” which chronicle my entire journey. These early letters are especially significant: “My Next Step” 1/12/10 ~ “Lynn’s Dream of Francis” 4/3/10 ~ “Rowan Story Preparing for Burial and Tree Planting 5/20/10 ~ “I Forgot the Best Part and Notes from the New Yorker” 5/21/10 ~ “It’s Six Months Ago Today” 7/3/10 ~ . .
Elaine McGillicuddy, MA, poet and writer, is a retired English teacher and a former nun. Her website is: She is the author of: Sing to Me and I Will Hear You; The Poems (2012), Sing to Me and I Will Hear You: A Love Story (2014), and Sing to Me and I Will Hear You: New Poems (2015).

Pat Taub is a family therapist, writer and activist and life-long feminist. She hopes that WOW will start a conversation among other older women who are fed up with the ageism and sexism in our culture and are looking for cohorts to affirm their value as an older woman.