Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Singing in the midst of Grief

Cemeteries do not ordinarily make me sad.  Each stone holds a name; and the name is a prayer.  It is the prayer of the person who wore that name on earth.  The name is a memory.  The name holds a  story.  The name is a song.  Cemeteries are meadows full of stories, landscapes full of songs once sung.  Cemeteries are fields of memories.  

When I was a little girl I used to go through our parish cemetery laying flowers on  all the unmarked graves.  It is a treasured memory.  I was honoring the memory of some dear unknown name.  I was celebrating a life that would, perhaps, forever remain a mystery.  As a child I would not have used those words to describe what i was doing, but these are the words that come to me now in my wisdom years.

Holy Grief!  Grief has continued to keep me company during the month of  April.  This grief has held many faces: the loss of loved ones in death, unexpected violence throughout our world, loss of jobs and of hope,  broken relationships, trees splintered into pieces because of lightening.

I have made huge efforts to be aware.  I have tried, with some success, not to numb my feelings.  I have kept company with many kinds of grief.  Just at the end of March very shortly after my friend, Dottie, died, three of my Sisters in community died.  Even though two of them were elderly and certainly  ready to take leave of this world~~still, three in  such a short time period is shocking beyond words.

Something I have had to look at in the face of these many deaths is how all too often I put my work schedule before  my presence to others.   One of the Sisters who died was Sister Gabriel.  She and I had been trying to get together for tea, for about three years it seems.  Usually it was my schedule that got in the way.  One day, about a month before she died, she said (concerning our efforts to have tea) "Well, I'll be surprised if this event takes place before we meet in the Kingdom."    Little did I realize that was a fairly accurate prediction.   These deaths have spoken volumes to me about the importance of being present to others while there is yet time.

And so as April wends its way into May I leave this month still thinking about the holiness and necessity of integrating the grief with the blossoms, with the singing and the resurrection stories.   Joy and sorrow are sisters; they live in the same house.   Remember the temple that you are and invite grief and gladness to make their home in you.  As we listen to the poetic words of the poet, Gregory Orr. may we learn how to sing through our grief.

Grief will come to you.
Grip and cling all you want,
It makes no difference.
Catastrophe?  It's just waiting to happen.
Loss? You can be certain of it.
Flow and swirl of the world.
Carried along as if by a dark current.
All you can do is keep swimming;
All you can do is keep singing.
~ Gregory Orr ~


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Grief is Love in Person

It is not easy to get a picture of grief
 even with tears streaming down our cheeks
 because that is not the whole story.   
In some small way, are not those tears, tears of love.  
Perhaps grief is Love in Person!

Grief is a little out of focus in my life at the moment;
for this reason I have chosen an out-of- focus dead leaf to depict grief.
But is the leaf really dead?  Or, is there more to that story also?
As Paul Harvey used to say,
...and that's the rest of the story!
It's your story,  too,  so you can decide.

My word for April is GRIEF.  I thought it was going to be tenderness or maybe gentleness because I see so much of that in Pope Francis.  However as things begin to unfold toward the end of March I knew that grief was trying to get my attention. It is difficult to find a picture of grief because almost every image of grief could also be named, LOVE.  Why do we grieve except because we have loved?

It all began when a dear friend from Chicago, Dottie, had to undergo a 7 hour surgery because of an aorta aneurysm.  Her sister assured me that I could give her a call before the surgery.  I intended to call her but I allowed my work to be my priority.  I decided to call her after her  recovery.  She came through the intense surgery and it seemed that all might be well but there were complications and so there will be no recovery in the sense I was imagining.

Dottie was once a member of my Benedictine community in Fort Smith Arkansas and I have wonderful memories.  How odd that her death should be heart-related when she had such a benevolent heart..  Her heart was present wherever and whenever there was need.  She was a visionary woman and a wonderful teacher.  She taught even when she wasn't officially teaching.  She taught by living well.   She was a cancer survivor.  And now the heart!

I have wonderful memories of being in the novitiate together at St. Scholastica.  On summer evenings before the sun set we used to climb out on the roof of the monastery and read to each other.  Our choice of reading material was stuff like, Winnie the Pooh, Huckleberry Finn, The Wind in the Willows, etc.  Being on the roof was illegal by monastery rules but oh, what fun, especially when the sun set and we had to close our books and just be in all that beauty.  And we would laugh!   I can still hear her laugh--surely one of the best laughs ever created!

Another funny memory is when I was visiting in Chicago and we went to see the movie GROUND HOG DAY.   I can hardly recall the story line if there was one, but there was a lot of repetition:  people doing the same thing over and over until they learned from it I guess.  After the movie she went to the window and asked if maybe we could have our money back because the projector got stuck and the same thing kept playing over and over.  Only Dottie!  We laughed so hard about that and for a few years we sent each other Ground Hog Day cards.  I was reminded of that when shortly after her death I was at a cabin  nearby preparing for an upcoming retreat and Lo and Behold I saw a groundhog and wondered if Dorothy was playing a joke on me.

I have decided that grief is like a little person that we need to lovingly invite into our homes.  It seems necessary to welcome grief and have time for it rather than just stay busy to dull the feelings.  One of my problems with grief is that I often live as though I don't have time for it.  I can remain rather numb until eventually I just sort of numb my way back into daily life,  and grief, that child of love, is locked out of my life.  And that's a shame because truly grief is love IN PERSON. -   I have been thinking quite a lot about grief these days.  I need to take a long, slow walk with grief--maybe we even need to start 'dating' ----  We might eventually marry; and that will mean integration is finally taking place.  There are many dwellers in my household and grief has every right to an honored place at the table.  If I allow grief to sit at my table she will discover that she has many sisters and brothers surrounding her.  There is courage and hope, new beginnings, sorrow and joy, delight, forgiveness.  The list is infinite.  But that's all for now!  
To be continued...