|photo by Fr Lawrence O.P. / flickr|
In the middle of all their lives there is this enormous chasm. A loss--that right now they wonder if they can ever recover or feel different. Grieving is a personal thing--and a solitary journey. You find yourself having blinders on. You can't go about your ordinary tasks like you have always done. Not now. It is a hard place to be and if we live long enough we will all find ourselves at this place.
Because Grief is so isolating and forces us to turn inward or try to run away distractedly--we often find those who have lost someone--stuck. Immobilized. Fearful. Depressed. And there are no instructions when you lose someone you love.
So, as the leader it is my task to try to help. One week I asked each one to write three thank-you notes before our next meeting. Keep the notes simple, I instructed. Pick out people you are grateful for--but not just the people you usually remember. Not those that sent flowers and cards. Not those that brought casseroles or hugged you and were so kind. But think of folk that have helped you on your journey and send your thank-you's to them. The next week some came with notes but all with stories that went behind the words they had written.
As they told us about friends that had not heard from in forty years, neighbors that had no idea how much those tiny kindnesses meant. Some mentioned little children that graced them in this hard time. Some were relatives and some folk would never have guessed what they did was a matter of life or death to these that limped along in pain. Some even mentioned a dog or a cat and the comfort they brought.
After those in my Grief Group had named the people or even animals that kept them going, I remembered a book that helped frame what I wanted to say about all the people they wrote those words that kept them going. The book was by William Armstrong, a very fine writer. He called his book Through Troubled Waters. He wrote that one day his wife had some pain and went to the doctor while he took their kids to school. Hours later a call came: Your wife is dead. Out of the blue or the dark, maybe--a tsunami struck his little family and he was destitute. He was left, I think with three little children to raise by himself. He'd wondered, again and again how in the world he could get through that ordeal. He likened it to the flood that old Noah and his family faced on the ark. It rained and rained. Finally the rain stopped and Noah just floated along. Bored and desperate one day the family sent out a dove to see if somewhere there might be dry land. The bird never came back. Days later--Noah sent a second dove and the bird came back with an olive leaf in its beak. For Noah and his family it was a sign that the water had gone down and they could return to land and life. The writer Armstrong, likened the death of his wife to the flood that came and swept so much away.
He thought he could not go on. But weeks, months later--he said little Mary, his four year old daughter came bearing an olive leaf. She, he said, would be the dove for him. Saying in her own little way the message he needed more than anything: the water was going down and life could begin again.
I told my Grief group after they had shared their thank-you notes about the little girl who became a dove of promise for her father. I said the people they had mentioned have been a dove to them. These enablers had come in their own way bearing an olive leaf. By their words, cards, actions and prayers they reminded their loved one that the water really was really going down and life could begin again.
As we celebrate All Saints Day--it isn't just about the saints in stained glass and men and women that laid down their lives for the faith. All Saints Day is much larger. Whoever it is, along the way that has come as your personal dove surely is a saint. None of us could have made it or make it without this great cloud of witnesses who have stood on our balconies at different times in our lives and cheered us on.
You may not write a thank-you note this week-end. But you can stop and whisper a prayer for whoever it was that saved your life and kept you going even until this very day.
"For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.