This event took place nine months after my husband, Stephen, died of colon cancer.
I was traveling with a group of six American spiritual seekers, visiting ancient and modern sites related to Celtic spirituality. On July 13, 2009, our little group drove to Kildare as part of our pilgrimage to the sites of Ireland’s three great saints: Patrick, Kevin, and Brigid, who embodied both the pre-Christian and the Christian Celtic traditions.
Our first stop was a neat modern condo that serves as the home and welcome center for the Brigidine Sisters, who are an official restoration of the fifth-century Catholic Order of St. Brigid of Kildare.
They also hold great reverence for Brigid the goddess, who is often shown bringing a rainbow light to ancient Ireland, in this case beautifully rendered in a large fabric hanging on a prominent wall of their center.
They receive pilgrims from all over the world, so Sister Mary Minehan received us warmly.
Gathered with my fellow travelers around a large candle in the center of her reception room, I instantly felt my spine tingle with energy as she lit the flame and began her invocation to St. Brigid. Oh, my God, I declared to myself, this woman is the real spiritual deal I’ve been looking for ever since I left home.
Sister Mary had been a great soul friend to John O’Donohue, the former Catholic priest and popular author, poet, and Celtic wise man who had died suddenly on January 4, 2008, two days after his fifty-second birthday. The next thing she said flew like an arrow into my heart.
“When our loved ones die, they do not go away; we just can’t see them any more,” she said. “I feel John with me always.” Then she spoke of his humility and brilliant use of simple language.
“He was a genius and a great healer,” she said with obvious tenderness. “He would ask my opinion, even though I felt like a worm next to a giant. He had a way of hearing the heartbeat of the Divine in every person who crossed his path and he was always in tune with what he called ‘the music of what’s happening’ in the present moment.”
As our visit wound to a close, my companions thanked Sister Mary and went back to the car with mementos of jewelry and candles the Brigidine Sisters sell to raise money for the pilgrimage center they are planning to build on the outskirts of Kildare.* I hung back for a final word with this incredible woman.
“I just want to tell you how much it meant for me to meet you today,” I said, with tears brimming in my eyes. “I lost my husband last October and he was my anam cara.”
“Then, of course, your heart is fractured, isn’t it?” Sister Mary said, looking at me with immeasurable tenderness.
“Yes. And it’s almost more than I can bear.”
“But he’s not gone, you know,” she smiled. “He’s right here.” Pulling a copy of Benedictus from her shelf, she said, “Let me read you the blessing John O’Donohue wrote ‘On the Death of the Beloved.’” She read several passages, ending with an invitation to the departed to be with us until we meet again in a place where we will never be separated or alone.
It was all I could do not to dissolve on the spot. Sister Mary steadied her gaze into mine. “You’re strong,” she said, taking both my hands in hers. “I feel your strength. You can do this. But you know you cannot walk around your grief; you must walk through it.”
“I know,” I said through my tears, accepting in my heart that the pain of being separated from Stephen might never really go away. “And I will do it. Thank you for everything.”
We smiled deeply at each other. Sister Mary enfolded me in her arms; and, with the simplicity of a hug, she took away my pain.
Let Wise Grief Call You to “Let Go & Let God”
Loving Your Way Through Loss
Webinar: “Processing Grief in Our Homes and Classrooms”—presented by Age of Montessori
A Beautiful Grief: Reflections on Letting Go – The Book
Cheryl Eckl reads the opening chapter: “The Music of What’s Happening”
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