A couple of weeks ago I worked with a family to co-create a memorial for a brilliantly multi-faceted and talented woman. Her life interconnected with many others through the arts and travel: the Tucson Art Museum, Tucson Opera League, hiking and international travel groups. Her vibrant presence right up until she passed was one of elegance and radiance. These two words kept surfacing again and again as her family members and friends retrospectively described her being in the world.
While listening to families at times like these, my thoughts often turn to how physical absence after someone dear to us passes can flood our senses with how someone was present while alive. Through absence, we may come to more fully know a presence. During grief, there may be an ebb and flow of yearning for this presence. Yet over time, as John O’Donohue wrote in the blessing “For Absence” (posted below), “absence is alive with hidden presence.” It is a paradox, yes. One I believe we may choose to draw comfort from though, after somebody we love dies.
Last month I was in retreat with the Metta Institute for a session called “Opening to Mystery.” I learned more about this paradoxical ‘absence and presence’ concept on a deeply personal and reflective level. One session involved a guided meditation with a story about being in a garden while experiencing the scent of lilacs. The session leader repeated the story twice, with ample space for listening and absorbing the story. A passage from it went something like “we wandered through the garden after a gentle rain, lilac boughs heavy with blossoms, and we were drenched with their scent.” For me, I was flooded with the presence of my late maternal Grandma. I felt as if she and I were walking through the same garden as the subjects of the story, side by side, totally delighted by “being drenched with their scent.” Her absence gave way to a purely radiant presence. And her presence comforted me beyond words. I was completely covered in goosebumps.
I’m sharing all this as a context from which to share O’Donohue’s “For Absence” – which could be very encouraging to read at a Memorial during the service – or even in a quiet period of reflection with close family during the time prior to a ceremony. It is from his book of blessings to which I continually turn, called “To Bless the Space Between Us”:
presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.
May the absences in your life grow full of eternal echo.
May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere
where the presences that have left you dwell.
May you be generous in your embrace of loss.
May the sore well of grief turn into a seamless flow
May your compassion reach out to the ones we never
May you have the courage to speak for the excluded
May you become the gracious and passionate
subject of your own life.
May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle
words of false belonging.
May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and
twilight are one.
May your longing inhabit its dreams within the