This acreage once housed my dream. When Rob and I bought our property in 2018, we sensed a shifting as our children eased out of homeschooling and into hybrid schooling. For the first time since our early marriage, I would have some time to spare, some extra space to breathe and dream. Rob and I had always longed for land, and I began to pour myself into dreams for this acreage. Our move had been hard for me, and I was hopeful about this land offering me new purpose.
The plan was that when our family returned from our road trip last fall, I would renovate the interior of a workshop on the back of our property and turn it into a quiet retreat for local artists and writers. Rob helped me brainstorm and create my business plan to turn another outbuilding into a rental space. Instead of looking outward for purpose, I would turn inward to this 2.5 acre plot we’d chosen together.
But last summer’s road trip ended in death, and last fall was — and every day since has been — not a shifting but a sifting. Sorting out the dreams I could keep alive. Saying goodbye to the ones that died with Rob’s death. As I realized I couldn’t manage our big property alone, I had to admit that my vision for our acreage was a dream I also couldn’t keep.
Walking the Land
Yesterday, I walked my land for the last time. I traced the old stone wall lined with oaks and maples that have guarded its boundaries for generations. I said goodbye to the hydrangea and her blossoms, to the lavender my sister planted for me after Rob died. As I neared the little unfinished workshop overlooking the pond, a quiet deer bounded off into the woods, its white tail waving a farewell. The workshop’s windows stared out at me like mournful, empty eyes. It never lived the life I hoped it would.
As I walked my land, I wept. Deep sobs that exhausted me, emptied me. I carry so much sorrow. There is so much I leave behind. The memories of Rob. The dreams for my future. The good, good life we lived together. Grief has lived on my land as long as Rob did. As I stood in silence, listening to the birds in the marshland nearby, I could not help but think. I am weary of grief’s companionship.
The Companionship of Grief
I didn’t want to move to Massachusetts when we came here two years ago. I didn’t want to return after Rob died. Over the last year of grief, I have struggled to shoulder the burden of maintaining this acreage without him by my side. I knew from the very beginning that I didn’t want to do it alone.
But yesterday, on that last day, I wished I could take it all back. I wanted to cling to this place, the last one that will ever have memories of Rob in it. I wanted to somehow resurrect our old life, revive all the dreams I’ve had to bury since he died. I wanted the little workshop with its broken glass panes to miraculously become before my eyes a dream realized, not a dream lost. I do not love this place, but I have loved this land.
I write often about the growth I believe can be born from grief. I firmly believe that transformation is possible. But we will never get there unless we allow ourselves to experience the full weight of our sorrow. Unless we open the door to grief, let her drop her suitcases in the hall, offer her the spare bedroom and invite her to sit down to tea. Transformation after loss only happens when we acknowledge grief as our companion.
There is no other way.
When I signed the closing papers for my property, I came across this line in the legal writing: “I, Clarissa C.B. Moll, being unmarried…” I wasn’t expecting it, and it hit me like a gut punch. I still have to remind myself of its truth many days. I came to this acreage a wife but am leaving a widow. I dreamed new dreams on this land but am leaving with different, fledgling ones. I leave behind the marks of a life with Rob and take with me only memories of our life together. Grief, not Rob, walks beside me into this new chapter.
For the last year, this land has not been mine alone. Grief has walked every inch of it with me. My new unwelcome companion has marked this land as much as I have. As I say goodbye, I am reminded of these words from one of Rob’s favorite novels, Hannah Coulter:
“Sometimes…I wander about in this house that Nathan and I renewed, that is now aged and worn by our life in it. How many steps, wearing the thresholds? I look at it all again. Sometimes it fills to the brim with sorrow, which signifies the joy that has been here, and the love. It is entirely a gift.”Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter
This land. This life. This love. This sorrow too. Somehow, in ways I still cannot understand — entirely a gift.