“All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well”. Any of us familiar with Mother Julian of Norwich will know this saying very well and we hold it to be true with all the faith we have. But what about the times in between? What about when all is not well and the life you know is ripped away by quiet words from a consultant in a cold grey hospital office: “I think you have Motor Neurone Disease.” As I sat there, knowing my suspicions of six months past were now taking root as fact, my husband, the recipient of that news, began asking questions in quiet shock.
All was not well, and for the next two years we lived that harsh reality as symptoms grew, and losses increased. Friends came and went, and some mostly went. I am not a great friend of fear but it had to be faced so often that I became strangely used to it in smaller doses. And as always, my husband Peter stayed in the moment, refusing to experience the worst until it happened. Focusing on the now was his most admirable skill, and we all learnt to do the same, letting things lie or lift according to his wishes.
Two years, four months, and a few days after those chilling words in that hospital office, Peter left us. He held onto life with a strength that inspired us all; looking out for us, asking two close friends to hold us close in the times to come. Then, he left us. We were, and continue to be, bereft, and through it all, all was not well.
But that is not to say I let go of Mother Julian’s words. In the end, all will be well. Everything resolved. All loss recompensed. All doubts welcomed as they come home to that Great Love. All hearts that have been broken beyond recognition, healed. All scars turned to gold. All will indeed be well. But until that time, we struggle on, and if my grieving can help you walk a little easier in yours, just in this present moment, then read on.
What did I do?
I cried, wept, howled, and held onto the hand extended. I grew to accept the darkness rather than run from it. I learned to let go of anything and everything that is not needed for taking the next breath. I chose to say no, and hide when I felt the need, which was often.
I refused to pretend that cliches thrown carelessly in my direction, even though with good intent, were of any help. And I asked for help from my therapist through the trauma of illness and loss. We still talk regularly.
What did I learn?
I learned that those who stay close are the breath of life to me. That grief is not something to rush on from. There is no saying goodbye to this immense loss, it is for me to absorb, to carry within a space inside myself that now expands and contracts in turns. It is part of my DNA and I would not wish it any other way for that would be to deny the great love in my marriage.
I learned that forgiveness is an exercise necessary for life, one to be practiced daily until the hurt diminishes and peace comes. That bitterness only hurts myself, and that honesty is healing in itself. That humour has to win out at the darkest of times. That this was not “to God’s glory” as a well-meaning church acquaintance told me. Never, never can I attribute the cruelty of this disease to the God I know.
And I know that the sun rises and sets regardless of our circumstances. The world turns on an axis we cannot control. That the joy of the wren’s song has followed me joyously wherever I walk since the day Peter died, and that speaks to me more of God than so many once familiar words.
So here I am, 14 months later, walking an unwilling path but knowing so many others have walked this way too. I am not alone but did I feel God close? Sometimes. Did I know his absence? Often. Did I find my happy ending? No. But I still have a faith which, if I were to describe it in paint, would show some very different pigments compared to four years ago. As an artist, there’s a beauty in complete emptiness that only those who are empty can see. One day it might be filled again, but until then I will keep saying, all will be well.
Jenny Hawke is an artist and published author and posts a new painting each day on her Facebook page. This blog was written as part of the Life and Loss series in Woman Alive magazine. You can purchase a copy of the November issue here
Image by Jenny Hawke creativegrace.co.uk