It was the summer of 1992.  A profound ominous darkness that had hovered for months settled in, took residence and rooted deep in every cell. He had completed suicide six months earlier leaving our five children ages 3, 5, 7, 9 and 13 without a father and me adrift — not knowing if I had anything to hold on to anymore or if anyone was holding on to me.


My parents had recently moved next door with intentions gone awry. Their intended caregiving was reversed to caretaking as my father’s cancer daily shortened his final journey.  My  twin sister, wanting to savor the final days of our father’s presence in this world, had come from Texas with her four children for the summer. The mixture of love and nine children was an acrobatic challenge.


The phone call began with MaryKate saying, “How would you like to go to the Trappist Monastery for the weekend?  I had reserved the weekend but can’t go.” The thought of solitude and quiet was so unimaginable I managed a forced laugh, convinced she was  attempting to humor me with a joke. “No, I’m serious”….


I can still call up the drive through the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley out the back roads of Newberg, turning off of Abbey road up that long narrow driveway between plowed fields to the top of the hill where the old farm house and barn now served as chapel and guest house. There was nothing outstanding as I look back at those first impressions. I was shown to a sparse room overlooking the pond and given a schedule of the day. The numbness of those months served me well….


There was a deep comfort in sinking in to the ancient monastic rhythm of that place.  It was the not knowing or understanding of it that somehow reached me in contrast to the now collapsed certitude and emptiness of all those familiar “Christian” answers to the questions that had no answers. I sat in the last row of that chapel/barn not knowing how to “do Catholic” and wept through every office, welcoming the anonymity of being an outsider. That not knowing and the absence of words trying to fix or advise was a welcome and soothing relief. But it was the early morning and evening silent sits with the monks in Bethany House that began to break through the numbness of those months and more than anything else provided a safe place to just be with all that was a part of that time. There was something about the silence — the emptiness of no words — that was what called so deeply to me.


It was the first of what became monthly visits for me for the next 20 years. I have often said and still say today that I think that place saved my life. I really don’t know if I would be alive today if it weren’t for those monthly treks to take a day or two, walk the trails, journal, visit with Mark the monk, go to mass, and most of all the silent sits with the monks. The silence that simply held me and all of the chaos and darkness of those days until that slow work of healing found its way. It was that place in particular, the Trappist Abbey of our Lady of Guadalupe, that midwifed my healing and accompanied me in that journey.


—Caryl Menkhus Creswell