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The Valley

A few nights ago I wrote a post entitled, Head in the Clouds in which I mentioned my favourite psalm, Psalm 84, which refers to the Valley of Baca, or weeping.

Paula, a regular reader and friend wrote, "So often, your blog sparks me to action and I have to write what is 'burbling' inside me. Sort of like indigestion !"

Hmmm, Paula, I'm not sure I want to give people indigestion, but I'm grateful that you graciously agreed to let me post the result.

By Paula Walker

I entered the Valley of Baca ( of Weeping ) on a warm Sunday evening in August, 2008 when my cherished husband of 48 yrs died suddenly at home.

He had been, as the Brits say, poorly. On oxygen therapy for at least five years, others might have considered themselves disabled. Not Dale. He still worked at his accounting practice; was our church treasurer and helped me care for our nephew who was born with cerebral palsy. As far as we knew, his lung disease was definitely not 'end stage'. In fact, just three days before his death, Dale's Respirologist had pronounced him 'fit' to fly to PEI for our annual holiday.

Though we knew this miserable COPD could/would affect his life span, we chose to live each day to the full, ignoring the threat. During those long, hot Ontario summer days, our wonderful cottage overlooking the tidal Howe Bay kept calling our names ...... we had even counted the exact number of 'sleeps' until our arrival at this magical place. For Dale, a Maritimer, it was 'going home' and after just 14 more 'sleeps', we would be sitting on our deck, enjoying the golden sunset over the bay.

We could hardly wait.

But God had a different plan and after just 24,865 days on this earth, almost two thirds of them with me, Dale was called to take his final journey to his Heavenly home. And I; I started a journey through grief that I would have given anything not to be taking.

One of the decisions that came very easily in those first few days was that I would only cancel Dale's airline ticket. I would keep mine and head for the 'island' just a week after the memorial service. This may have surprised some people but there was never really any question in my mind.

Was it in part to continue what he and I had started together ? Possibly.

Was it in part, a flight from the pain here at home to a safer, happier space. Certainly.

Was it a need to be with the friends and family who always join us and in whose large noisy circle, I would find the love and support to keep on going ? Likely.

Was it the knowledge that I was safe to laugh with these people and to remember all the humourous things my ridiculously funny husband had done on other such holidays? Probably.

Was it the promise of music filled evenings as the family 'band' played melodies that made me sing and made me cry? I'm sure of it !

Over the next two weeks, I never was able to get through the singing of the 'grace' before our meals without breaking down. In our family, Dale has always lead this time and it represented all that was wonderful about our breaking bread together, whether it was 6 of us ... or, as was so often in our home, 26 of us !

Singing old hymns was impossible for me but I loved to sit and cry through them.

I needed to be bathed in their familiar, comforting words. To hear in my mind, Dale's very true bass voice singing the harmony. To listen to the gentle sounds of our oldest son playing his guitar and to watch our grandson thumping away on his jam bay drum. ( Did I mention that the airline compassionately gave me two tickets for Dale's cancelled one, so that both the 'boys' could be with me for those two weeks )?

The inexplicable, unending grace that was showered on me over that holiday time by those dozen or so people bathed me in its warmth and filled my heart with determination.

But I missed Dale with every particle of my being and I believe that out there on my pilgrimage through Baca on an island of red mud, God made it a place of beginning the long process of healing. It became not just a magical place but a miracle place of refreshing springs given to me through signs and wonders. And each person in their own unique way helped me in the process.

Let me explain.

As is our custom, after our first dinner together, we topped up our wine glasses and set out to 'walk our beach' and for the first time ever, we found loads of beach glass. Hundreds of diversely shaped and coloured pieces washed up on our beach by the ocean tides.

My dear cousin found a pearl shaded, heart shaped piece and brought it to me saying "I think this was sent for you." I took it in to the local jewellery maker to see if she thought it worth making into a necklace. "Oh my dear," she said, "on the island we say that finding a heart shaped piece means the Divine is reminding you that you are loved very much !"

She had no idea how very much I needed to hear those words.

Days later, several of us went to a nearby town to 'explore' and spent the afternoon in a very old cemetery reading the inscriptions to learn some local history. In a desolate part of the cemetery, in some deep grass, my friend found a small piece of crystal, exquisitely etched with a guardian angel.

He brought it to me, saying "I think this is meant for you" and although scratched and battered by many lawnmowers, the etching is clearly visible and reminded me yet again that I was loved.

And on our final evening after a day of heavy autumn rains, as my son and I walked our beach, a beach now covered with muddy puddles, the sky came alive. First, with rays of gorgeous sunshine and then with a brilliant, full rainbow that just lingered over us as we walked.

For us, it was both a promise that God's grace would be sufficient for our journey and also a blessing on our time together in that place. A time so bittersweet that we could scarcely even talk about what we had gone through just four weeks earlier, when together we had found Dale. His body, lifeless on the bathroom floor. His spirit, already soaring with the angels into God's presence.

We didn't need to say words. It was enough to be making our 'Baca pilgrimage' in that place of peace, a place of healing springs, of autumn rains and of muddy pools ! Psalm 84

Today, almost two years later, I am so very grateful for the visual reminders I have been given. For there are still many days when it seems overwhelming still to be without him but God graciously gave me, in those first days, reminders of His love. Reminders that I can look at, handle and even wear !

(In the first photo above are my brother, cousin and nephew, and my son on guitar !)


Susan said…
Wow. You have a lot of friends who are writers, Belinda, but this is one of the best.

Thank you, Paula, for sharing this with Whatever's followers. I am encouraged and challenged to trust God more in the valley... Your words moved me deeply.

And just yesterday I found a piece of sea glass - picked up on our first ever trip to the Maritimes two summers ago and accidentally tucked away too long in a drawer. It will be delivered the next time I see the friend it was meant for... I'll have to check to see if it is shaped at all like a heart!
Marilyn Yocum said…
Thank you for posting this!

And thank you to Paula for capturing and sharing a grief journey so beautifully and succinctly. Some experiences of life are almost beyond the reach of mere words, but you have managed it. How many shells do we walk right past? Rainbow miss? Angels neglect to see? But in times of deep loss, it happens, that our hearts are open to hear.
Billy Coffey said…
This is an amazing piece of writing.
mercygraceword said…
Thank you Belinda.
Bless you Paula for sharing your "bittersweet" experience of grieving so transparently.
Janet Sketchley said…
Paula, what a lovely testimony to God's touch in your grief. He knows just how to give us such personal messages of His love when we need them most.

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