~~~~Our yearning for God is so great. We’re always pursuing this elusive fragrance.”—Beryl Singleton Bissel
~~Since my sister’s murder in May I’ve received several phone calls, emails, and comforting letters from the most unexpected people. I find it absolutely astounding women I’ve never met face to face, have been consoling me with reflective words, cyber hugs, breathtaking poetry, and surprising phone calls.
One such woman is author, Beryl Singleton Bissell. For one thing, I was stunned that she actually read my blogs to begin with.
Here’s what she wrote to me on June 28th:
I just posted a comment on your blog post. I am writing personally to remind you that I am here for you and not that far away that we couldn’t meet her or in Duluth should you wish. Loss like yours needs a listening, compassionate, understanding heart. I hope you have many such listening, loving hearts to help hold and perhaps ease your sorrow. My phone number is —-.
Love, Beryl Singleton Bissell”
My heart leapt after reading Beryl’s email. I knew immediately that I wanted to meet with her, talk with her, and ask her one question in particular: “When your 24-year old daughter, Francesca, was murdered, how did you survive? How did you go on LIVING?”
Our book club had already read her memoir, “The Scent of God: A Memoir,” which was about her cloistered life as a nun in Italy, her desire to become a Saint, and her passionate love affair with the beloved, beautiful priest, Padre Vittorio.
I knew this woman. And I already loved her.
I arrived at Beryl’s home on the North-Shore about noon on July 23rd. She opened the door with a radiant, angelic smile. We hugged for a long time. She led me into her cozy kitchen where she was preparing our lunch: grilled salmon, string beans, small red tomatoes, warm (was is cardamom bread?) and homemade ice tea.
O’, sometimes the simple things in life are like a kind of healing.
We ate our lunch outside upon her lovely deck overlooking Lake Superior. The soft waves and Beryl’s voice gently massaged my weary soul. We talked about writing, her daughter, Francesca, my sister, Kay, life, God. We discussed “centering prayer,” a practice Beryl studied with the Benedictine nuns.
“I’ve found my home in this kind of prayer,” she said.
We walked around her magnificent grounds and swung on her massive, magical swing. She guided me to Francesca’s grave site, which was blanketed with shells, flowers, love, love, love.
“Will you bring me to your writing studio,” I asked.
And there we sat inside her quaint little studio. Me, asking a million questions about the “writing life.” Me, skimming my fingers over volumes of books, her wooden desk, her computer, her manuscripts. Me, flabbergasted that the great Ann Patchett believed in her book enough that she sent Beryl’s query letter to her own agent.
For a while, life seemed to come back to me in tiny fragments.
My mother baked Beryl a rhubarb cake, so we savored a slice before I left with coffee. We talked more about moving forward, living our lives without our Francesca, our Kay, our soul mates, our loves, our loves.
The loss. The void. The darkness.
When I think of Beryl, I remember her voice: calming, comforting, caring… like warm waves pressing against my ears, like a prayer, like pieces of pleasure slowly, slowly returning.