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.
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.
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.
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.