meaningful mondays: following the heart home

[The following column was printed in The Forum, North Dakota’s largest daily newspaper, on September 28, 2013. Reprinted with permission. Photos by author added for Peace Garden Mama entry only.]

Living Faith: When stopping the world is the right thing to do

By Roxane B. Salonen


“I just think you’ll regret it if you don’t do it, Mom.”

The words of my oldest daughter hit me like an ice-cube-cold glass of water.

I’d been living for days with the heavy reality that my childhood friend had died unexpectedly and I wouldn’t be able to be in Montana for the in-person goodbye.

“It’s impossible,” my head kept saying, while my heart tugged, “Are you sure?”

I’d even challenged God, demanding one night the answer be abundantly clear – the divine will obvious – by morning.

Problem was, I’d insisted on my timeline, giving God only a few hours to strike me down with the answer. Four days later, despite thinking I’d gotten the right signal, I did not feel at peace.

As it turns out, instead of coming from within, God’s answer had come through the voice of my teen daughter. But there was little time now to pull it off.

Quickly, I made a phone call. “Mom is there any chance …?” And then another to my husband, who would need to agree to take on the extras at home.

Within the hour, it was settled. Mom and I would leave in the morning for the place of my rearing and where she’d lived the majority of her life with my father.

Sometimes, you have to stop the world to live without regrets.

So last Thursday morning, after dropping the kids off at school, I grabbed a quick oil change and headed west. And for the first time in days, peace began to come.

From Bismarck, Mom and I continued on together, winding through sagging sunflower fields that turned to golden, just-harvested wheat fields as the sun closed in and we neared our destination.

Despite the weight of the reason for our journey, it all felt right.

We arrived just as the wake was about to begin, and as we walked into the sanctuary of the rural church in our reservation town, its walls bedecked in colorful star quilts, I felt a whisper, “Welcome home.”

At the base of the altar, I caught sight of the coffin, so hard to look upon but flanked by a plethora of floral bouquets and wreaths – including one a fellow classmate had ordered on behalf of our entire class in our school colors.

The faces, worn with grief, were not easy to take in and yet I knew seeing this in the flesh would become part of my healing.

I only had to think back a few months to my father’s funeral and how it seemed, with each person who showed up to pay respects, my grief-load lightened. Now, it was my turn to be part of that giving.

“I’m so glad you came,” one friend said, more than once. “Me too,” I said, no longer able to see how it had ever been a difficult decision.’

If I’d stayed behind, I would have missed so much – the tight, meaningful hugs; the spirit-filled funeral service at the church and deep resonance of the Native drums and song at the burial; and the warm deliciousness of the traditional dried-deer-meat and chokecherry soups and fry bread.

To think I almost relinquished an opportunity to travel with my mother, who helped hold me up emotionally, and inhale the familiar sights of the blessed route home – shadowed hills against blue, the spectacular Badlands, even the scattered, beaten-down buildings and rusted out junk yards.

I would have denied myself the chance to cry with my friends, say, “I love you” and mean it, and laugh until it hurt when the one adept at story-telling started in.

Each of these things started a process of a returning to whole that could not have happened if I’d stayed back, my heart split and aching to be somewhere else.

This is why we have these rites of passage – not for those who have left, but for us, so that we can better live through it and get to the other side of our sad.

It isn’t always possible to stop the world in this way, but as one friend said, “It’s just the right thing to do.” And I’ve been reminded that when we choose right, God affirms our choice at every turn along the road.