Grieving Shirley
Guideposts|December /January 2021
It was his first Christmas in 58 years without his wife. Author Cecil Murphey shares how he faced his loss
CECIL MURPHEY, Tucker, Georgia

Only one thing was missing that Christmas, but it was all that mattered.

My three grown children, their spouses and their kids crowded around the tree in the family room, opening presents. Laughter, conversation and the occasional shriek of delight from a grandchild filled the room. Soon the floor was strewn with wrapping paper. Just like Christmases past.

From my spot in the middle of the sofa, I gazed at my family. I was surrounded by people I loved, people who loved me. But without Shirley, my wife of 58 years, I felt empty. Joyless. She’d been my everything. There was part of me that couldn’t wait until everyone left and I was alone. Alone with my grief and my memories. It had been seven months since I’d lost Shirley, seven lonely months. I’d tried to throw myself into my work, my writing and speaking, telling everyone—including myself—that I was okay, praying that God would make it so.

Come Christmas, sadness hit me like a shock wave. Feelings I didn’t know what to do with, how to even put into words. Shirley would have been able to help, to draw it out of me. There was no one I’d ever been able to talk to so easily. She had been the one person in my life that I could be completely open and honest with, totally vulnerable with. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with anyone else. Not my closest friends, not my children. I didn’t want to burden them. Instead I withdrew into myself.

Finally there were no more presents left to open except for one. The room got quiet. My granddaughter Layla, a budding artist, handed me a slim, beautifully wrapped gift. The littlest grandchildren crowded around to see what could be inside. I tore open the paper. There, staring back at me, was Shirley. Layla had taken one of my favorite photos of her grandmother and done a line drawing. It was exquisite, but seeing it made me miss Shirley even more. “Thanks,” I murmured. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I hugged Layla and awkwardly met the expectant faces of my family. Finally my daughter Cecile announced it was time for dinner.

I picked at the sweet potato soufflé and corn bread dressing my children had prepared. Shirley’s sweet potato soufflé was a favorite of mine, a dish she made at least once a month for me. Now it just didn’t taste the same. I couldn’t take it anymore. I excused myself and slipped out of the house, desperate to be alone.

My feet automatically headed for a park about a mile away. How many times had Shirley and I taken this route? Walking had been one of our cherished rituals, a chance to talk about our days and our feelings.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GUIDEPOSTSView All

Rock Steady

A World War II veteran gravely ill with Covid-19, an Army social worker on his first deployment and the relationship they forged

9 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

Love's Pure Light

Ease back in front of the fire and let the singer from Checotah tell you about the gift we can all give at Christmas

7 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

KEEPING THE FAITH

TY’ANN BROWN, Vice President, Ministries

2 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

Sandwich Generation Blues

First my daughter and her husband had to move in. Then my mother-in-law. So much for my empty nest

9 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

I'll never forget you…Grandma Honeybunch

EVERY WEDNESDAY WHEN I WAS 16, I’d change into a nice button-down and my best jeans after school. Then I’d ride my bike on the path between our house and my grandmother’s outside Meadville, Pennsylvania. Exactly at four, Grandma Honeybunch— we always called her that, though I don’t know why except that it fit her sweetness—would pull her dark green Dodge Stratus sedan into the dirt driveway.

3 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

Hello Christmas

PEOPLE HAVE A LOVE-hate relationship with Christmas letters. I’m a lifelong letter writer, and even I struggle to hit the right note—newsy, fun, filled with holiday spirit but not bragging or full of details that no one cares about.

5 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

Grieving Shirley

It was his first Christmas in 58 years without his wife. Author Cecil Murphey shares how he faced his loss

8 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

Emilie's Light

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary eight years ago was one of the saddest events we have ever covered. Yet as her story from 2017 shows, this mother of a young victim found hope and healing

8 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

Faith in Food

The acclaimed food writer gives tips to make this difficult holiday season joyous

6 mins read
Guideposts
December /January 2021

SOMEONE CARES PASS IT ON

SIMPLY THE BEST The first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic got my husband, Kevin, and me down. We slipped into the habit of saying “That’s the worst” whenever we heard an alarming news report or encountered a rude person. Griping only added to our unhappiness.

2 mins read
Guideposts
November 2020
RELATED STORIES

WICKED WILLIE'S CHEATIN' HEART

Nelson reveals he couldn’t stay faithful

1 min read
Globe
October 12, 2020

The Dirt on Dirty Shirley

GEORGE LYNCH DISCUSSES THE FATE OF HIS CLASSIC-ERA GUITARS, HIS NEVER-ENDING LED ZEP LOVE AND DIRTY SHIRLEY, HIS NEW ALBUM (AND PROJECT) WITH CROATIAN-BORN SINGER DINO JELUSIC

6 mins read
Guitar World
September 2020

Broken Novels, Ruptured Worlds

A Conversation with Michelle de Kretser

10+ mins read
World Literature Today
Summer 2020

A User's Guide to Living - Part 6 - TRUTH & AUTHENTICITY

DAAJI continues his series on everyday living, introducing the fifth universal principle of the User’s Guide, which is about truthfulness and acceptance of whatever hardships come our way. As a starting point, this fifth principle helps us to live a contented, peaceful life, with acceptance and compassion. Then, as we progress, it guides us towards the ultimate nature of Truth and Reality.

10+ mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
June 2020

THE FOREVER HOUSE

A DIY couple help an already intact house embrace its age—and the new-old kitchen is an achievement!

4 mins read
Old House Journal
July - August 2020

Going Over the Line

In Josephine Decker’s new film, Shirley (and in life generally), being a muse is a trap.

10 mins read
New York magazine
June 8-21, 2020

DESIGNING for outdoor spaces SITE PLANNING AND THE ARCHITECTURE

Site planning and a consistent architectural vision made sense of this unique double lot near the sea in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Architect Frank Shirley “integrated two properties and made this a special place to be,” the homeowner says. Outbuildings, two of them newly designed and built, are critical to the overall design, providing not only additional space but also protection from the street. New porches, formal elements of hardscape, and plantings tie it together.

3 mins read
Old House Journal
June 2020

Passion Wins The Day

In 2019, two Old West Saviors stood out for their dedication to the preservation of our Western heritage.

2 mins read
True West
January 2020

Dream House

IN HER NEW BOOK, IN THE DREAM HOUSE, CARMEN MARIA MACHADO REIMAGINES THE MEMOIR FORM BY EXAMINING HER PERSONAL STORY OF DOMESTIC ABUSE USING DIFFERENT NARRATIVE TROPES AND SHINES NEW LIGHT ON THE HISTORY AND REALITY OF ABUSE IN QUEER RELATIONSHIPS.

10+ mins read
Poets & Writers Magazine
November - December 2019

The Return Of A Grunge Goddess

Shirley Manson, lead singer of ’90s band Garbage, heads back on the road with Blondie.

5 mins read
New York magazine
May 29-June 11, 2017