Grief in a Barn

grief and loss stories on the path the three pathways the way within Jul 13, 2023

I first began offering and facilitating retreats centered on grief after the death of my Beloved husband Joe. I create programs around both what I am most interested in and where I struggle. From the grief I experienced after his death, I knew that one way to integrate my suffering into meaning, was to create space for people to gather who had also lost their life partner.

I will always remember a woman who attended one of the retreats, she was 7 years out from the death of her husband and was sharing how grief had changed over the years. She referred to her grief as a “respectful roommate.”

I loved that image! As acute grief integrates and fades, the loss of what you grieve is something you continue to live with. Loss can shift to being mostly quiet and generally picks-up after itself. It perhaps will help you to rearrange the furniture once in awhile. And since it resides with you, it can give you honest insight into deciding if you really want to buy that piece of art for the living room.

Over the years I have broadened my personal relationship with grief into what I named: ‘The Three PathWays of Grief’. One PathWay is ‘The Haunted House’ which contains the loss of unrealized dreams or the unfinished paths. This grief is often less obvious yet occasionally we look around and think: ‘My life or this part of my life, feels very different than I thought it would at this point.’

When my husband, Joe and I visioned and planned for our future together we wanted a home for our lifetime where we could create a small retreat center. We eventually found the place of our dreams: 40 pristine acres in the mountains, backing up to thousands of acres of state and national forest. Along with a house and other out buildings, it had a sweet old barn that felt like a cathedral. As we walked the land, we saw the rest of our lives unfolding there. We were set to close on the property on a Monday… The Friday before, Joe was diagnosed with cancer. Facing the unknown, we backed out of purchasing the property. Joe did not survive the cancer. 

That has been almost 20 years ago and today I look around at the magnificent life I have created. I have a home in a beautiful old Portland neighborhood and home in the lusciousness of Kaua’i. I feel deeply Blessed and dearly Grateful.

A couple weeks ago I was at the farm of beloved friends that I've been going to for most of my adult life. It is where Joe and I were married. He was a contractor and Master Carpenter and did much work on the farm. His presence through his work is a lovely and familiar comfort to me when I am there. It was a great day spent with many long-time friends who I do not see as often anymore and they all knew Joe, so the cherished memories of that time in my life, filled my Heart.

At one point I walked alone into the barn. I have spent a lot of time there as I used to tend horses on the farm and going up into the hay loft to drag down feed is muscle memory. As I walked up the old steps into the hay loft with the light shining through… Even though I have been in the barn countless times since Joe’s death, on this day… What flooded my Heart and flowed through my Spirit… Was the memory of standing in another barn… A barn on 40 acres.

Generally speaking, ‘The Haunted House’ is a place within our own Heart & within our own mind, yet here I was… Standing in my own Haunted House.

And… I was walking within my Haunted House, with grief as a respectful roommate. I consciously invited her to walk with me… In the barn with memory and smells and echos and views of the forest. I allowed the sadness… I looked at the life I am not living and that was lost.

And… I allowed the joy. I felt the delight of being with the smell of newly cut hay and the sight of sunlight streaming in and the feel of the over 100 year old boards under my feet… I embraced the experience of being very much alive in this exquisite barn cathedral.

And… I had a chat with Joe as I do from time to time. He-is-me-now. We did not live on that 40 acres together… And now he wanders this life with me, held always in my Heart. I still have a couple owl feathers he found in the barn and gave to me.

And… When I walked back out of the barn… I closed the door with the handle Joe crafted and applied. Let my fingers linger there… With Love. That evening I drove back to Portland… Heart-Open-Wide…

What resides in The Haunted House… The unrealized dreams and unfinished paths, seek to be recognized and acknowledged. If the dream persists… If the vision continues to desire expression… Lean into it and find how that desire can be realized!

I had the opportunity to purchase the 40 acres and continue the dream past Joe. Yet it made no sense as my dream… It was our dream. Today I can look around me and know the threads that remain from our shared vision. The expression of those threads are realized through my own creation. Knowing what they are, have been my guide. 

The Haunted House is not a place to be afraid of. While it can contain some scary things like regret, hesitation, inertia and fear… They grow unless we face them. The value in walking through the Haunted House is first in recognizing what is there. Acknowledged grief invites the necessary mourning of unrealized dreams and unfinished paths. Finally the exquisite gift that can arise, is the inherent insight that will be found by leaning into the yearning and allowing it to be a guide.  


‘Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.

The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.

The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.’

From: ‘Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion’ Material selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon. 




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