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.

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