I map the topography of love.

Yarrow blooming in front garden.

March is the month that my husband fell asleep in the Lord, two years ago now. My experience of bereavement is all over the map, following the topography of the seasons and the holidays and whatever physical ailments fall on me.

Most of the time I am happily swamped by a myriad of plans and activities, and tasks I’m behind on. But sometimes the absence of my husband when I lie down and when I rise up, when I go from room to room or when I come home from a walk, is like a huge and strange presence.

March always features Lent, which is a mercy, because that is an opportunity to focus on prayer, which keeps me in the present, where my husband and I are both living in the Kingdom of God. I can put our marriage in historical perspective and in the context of eternity.

This year once again I cooked for 100 people, with the help of several dear friends, an agape meal after last Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, as a memorial for my husband. I made the same menu as last year. We had so much fun cooking on Saturday that I completely forgot to take pictures.

But the night before, I had been soaking 20# of Great Northern beans to make the Greek Beans , and I took pictures of them soaked and being dried off on a tablecloth. They have to be dried off a bit so you can sauté them in olive oil before stewing them. Neither of the photos shows the whole 20#.

I also borrowed some pictures from last year that are pretty much identical to the scene from last week.

garlic and bay leaves
Preparing tarragon for cabbage salad.

Partly because of Lent, March is always very busy. Not all Orthodox churches are able to celebrate a full calendar of services, partly because many parishes have only one priest, and he might also have another job. But God has arranged for me to be where I can be nourished and helped a great deal by praying in church and receiving Communion several times a week during Lent. We have so many services that no one can attend all of them.

Yellow freesias starting to bloom in the distance.


March is when the garden takes off. If I didn’t have my garden, what would my life be like? Would I keep a tidier house? Pray more? Probably neither. I am always happy in the garden – and it’s a good place to pray, without a doubt. Better to have a garden that is somewhat neglected than to have no garden.

I started thinning the lamb’s ears with the help of a kneeling bench
that my cousin Renée gave me.

I used to not like Euphorbia (above),
but now that it is falling over my own garden wall I find I am quite fond of it.

lovely lithodora

The native currant bushes (ribes) aren’t very bushy,
but they are three times as tall as last year.

Bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in a pot.

The first week of Lent I started out grumpy. But Lent is a good cure for that. I have since been given wonderful gifts of thankfulness. God has let me see how all through my life He has abundantly provided for me, and He continues to do this every day. When I think of the love that has been given me in my childhood, my marriage, my children and my friends – and now the Holy Orthodox Church that is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all,” my cup runs over.

No doubt I will lapse into grumbling and self-pity before long, and have to repent again (That’s what life is for!) but the view of my widow’s world from this mountain on which I stand at the moment is quite beautiful, and it’s a Happy Spring.

I began this post yesterday, and then went out to pull weeds and deadhead flowers. I was kneeling in the mulch by the yarrow when the florist delivery girl walked up with an elegant vase for “Gretchen.” Lilies, roses, carnations, blue flowers, sweet smells… Before I could get it into the house I started weeping, not being able to guess who would do this – it could be anyone, in God’s world that is full of miracles, and seemingly brimming with people who care about me. But it was my children and their spouses, with an early remembrance of their parents’ wedding anniversary:

“Mama, these are sent in celebration of you and Papa, and with love for you,
from your children.”  See what I mean about that landscape?

18 thoughts on “I map the topography of love.

  1. Your words have brought tears to my eyes too at His goodness to you. Sometimes He does overwhelm us with the gifts of His tender care and love in all the little details of our lives….that unfathomable abyss of His loving-kindness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What you have written is so beautiful. Very much how I feel also. May God give you strength, peace and joy and a blessed remainder of this holy Lenten time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely gift from your children — not to mention those lovely gifts from the garden, and from your community. And how blessed you are to have services available, to help you through this time. The liturgy itself is meant to be a support — not at all the dry ritual that some imagine.

    And I loved this: “Better to have a garden that is somewhat neglected than to have no garden.” That is truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If I didn’t have my garden what would my life be like? That certainly is true for me as we come to the end of winter and look forward to warm weather. Which you seem to have if your garden is already blooming. Lithodora is so pretty. I need to get a few more to fill in spaces left by the colder than usual winter.

    How sweet and thoughtful of your children to remember the day with a lovely bouquet.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh Gretchen. You describe that absence as so tangible, it’s a presence. But I appreciate that you can put your relationship in the context of eternity — how we are blessed to have that context to rest in.

    Your garden is lovely even at this early stage in its life with nonbushy bushes and sprinkles of vibrant color. Glad you can be in it with joy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emily, I know it was a gift for me and a help to my grief in those first weeks, that soon after my husband’s passing we were entering Holy Week – and then the glory of the Resurrection and the blessed Hope that was our shared confession. Maybe the only thing sweeter would be to die on Easter itself, which was the gift given to a dear friend and Sunday school teacher of mine, who had the wish to die on Easter, and she accomplished that, or was given that, when she was 100 years old.


  6. Anything that continues to direct our focus up to Him is a gift indeed.

    I was thankful to journey through this post regarding your humbleness, your faith, your delights, and your sorrows, all shared poignantly in such a small space. And it caused me to look up and thank Him, and I also offered a prayer for you too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You write so beautifully always but this is especially so. You have a way of encouraging us, even when there is sadness there. I just wanted to tell you that I read almost all of your posts on my phone during the day but fail to comment unless I’m on my laptop like now. They always lift my spirits. Your cooking for 100 is amazing. I love cooking dried Northern Beans but have never tried sauteing the soaked beans in olive oil first. I’ll try that.

    Liked by 1 person

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