The Grief of Returning

After several years living in Abbotsford, BC, my husband, my sons and I stuffed ourselves and our suitcases into our little Sunfire and set off to embark upon a new adventure. We wove our way out of the Fraser Valley and onto the Coquihalla highway, bursting with hope and anticipation at everything that lay ahead. If there was any regret over the memories, experiences, home, family and life we were leaving behind, we paid it little attention.

That is the way of life. We move from day to day, situation to situation, opportunity to opportunity. We grow, we change, we move… and we return – changed.

Lurking Memories

This summer, my husband, my youngest son and I made our way back to BC. As we progressed down the winding, granite-edged highway, I felt as though we were travelling in ‘the missing man formation’. We had taken my eldest son Errol, with us when we left, but he was not making this trip back with us.

The intervening years had brought many happy adventures, much growth and even another move. But while we were gone, Errol had left us behind to take up his own great adventure in the life beyond this one.

This was the first time I had returned to BC since leaving more than 10 years ago with my heart filled with hope and anticipation. All the memories I had so carelessly left to rest awaited my return. From the resting places they had taken up, memories stirred and rose up to greet me.

When we grieve, we know to expect floods of bitter-sweet memories that accompany all the various celebrations, events and feast-days. I had not prepared myself for the similar experience of returning to a precious place in the absence of one of the people who had made it precious.

A Family Gathering Less One

The majesty of BC greeted us, taking our breath away as it always does. Family we had not seen in far too long also swept us up in loving embraces. On the second day of our visit, we held a family gathering at Gramma and Grampa’s house.

At the appointed time, the back deck blossomed with siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. Matured familiar faces were  interspersed with delightful new ones until the space burgeoned with comfortable chatter, fabulous food and companionship. From my seat, I rejoiced in all the wondrous changes.

The accomplishments of the cousins – college completed, exciting jobs secured, new relationship cemented, and delightful new shoots added to the family tree – brought such joy… and a little twist of agony.

A couple inconspicuous trips to the washroom allowed me moments to give quiet voice to the strangled sobs and bottled tears I couldn’t express amid the celebration. It is a precarious tight-rope we grievers walk. The last thing we want is to allow the shadow that flits across our hearts at times like these to tarnish the joy that is being shared.

In Gramma’s Garden

My husband’s mother is a gifted botanist. She has no degree, but her knowledge of vegetative life has crawled its way into her heart and mind at the same time as it slipped beneath her fingernails along with the rich loam of the Earth. My husband’s family home is a wonderland of antique and growing treasures. The sunken garden in the back yard was the perfect sanctuary for me to sit, wreathed in the subtle perfume of growing things and unpack my memories.

Getting Ahead of Grief

Native British Columbians are no stranger to avalanches, but this Prairie girl had come into the mountain wilderness unprepared for the deluge of memories and melancholy that threatened to bury me. Since releasing my son into the arms of God I have worked diligently to face my grief with courage and fidelity. My former tactics of covering grief with a blur of action had not served me well so I knew that I couldn’t resort to the same false fixes to see me through.

To enjoy this vacation and not hide from my grief, I had to turn and face it. That is why I set aside some time for myself. I sat on a bench, my faithful dog companion nestled in my lap, slurping the salty stream of tears from my cheeks.

As I sat, I welcomed each memory as it came. I drew each one fully from my heart and celebrated the moments they represented. Errol’s essence engulfed me more fully with each memory unfurled. In his presence I then took some time to think about what his life would be like now – where he’d be, what he’d be doing, who he’d be doing it with, and what he would be like as a father. These imaginings gave me great joy because I know Errol’s bright Self would have permeated whatever he did.

Never Alone in Our Grief

As my tears dried and my energetic doggie companion began to fidget with impatience, I was able to stand and face the remainder of the trip with peace in my heart.

The truth that I had been able to recapture in Gramma’s Garden is that Errol is watching all our accomplishments, celebrations and achievements with love. He feels our joy and understands our pain from a perspective we can’t yet fathom. He has completed his journey and will be eager to celebrate our great graduation with us, when we complete ours.

Read more by Colleen Friesen: Riding the Ebb and Flow of Grief – Open to Hope.

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Colleen Friesen

Who is Colleen Friesen? I am a proud mother, a blessed wife, a blossoming daughter, a compassionate and supportive sister and friend. I have the peace-loving, inclusive heart of a hippie which serves me well in my role as Associate Director of Human Resources at the Community-based non-profit agency that employs me. I am a prairie girl who harbours a love-hate relationship with the climate of the glorious Saskatchewan prairie that is my home. I have loved to use words to lead others along with me through my experiences – both real and imagined throughout my life. I consider myself a word crafter – sometimes choosing to paint, other times sketch, oftentimes sculpt, frequently clip/paste/gluing words and phrases together in such a way that will draw my reader into a soul-synergy with me. It is my hope that I can draw people close, so they are able to experience the reassurances, comforts, and freedoms I have found for myself. I have survived devastating losses; I have healed crushing psychological injuries and I live… I LIVE. I live a life filled with joy, love, peace, and presence. I am enjoying the benefits of years of learning, growing, forgiving, loving, and observing. It is my natural compassion and gift of observation that has led me to yearn to bring those who are suffering to the oasis of Truths that sustains me within this world of challenging experiences. The passing of my eldest son almost 2 ½ years ago coalesced my passions for writing and helping into a focused purpose. My greatest accomplishment has been parenting my sons. Both boys are beautiful souls; loving, kind, compassionate individuals who have blessed the lives of those they touch. That was not an accident nor was it easy, but it has been the most rewarding and fulfilling purpose of my life. When my first-born left this dimension, it became imperative for me to carry his beautiful spirit onward. So, now I craft words with his guidance to bring love, hope and comfort to those who grieve.

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