John and Lucille Everett [ see: http://blog.catholiclove.com/ ], as is normal so soon after the death of their son Dominic, are still in the fullness of grief.
Love and the deepest regions of the heart IS where we experience the sting of death. [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:55].
So when John writes: “Dominic’s absence this Christmas was very much a parallel to God’s apparent absence of late. It is time for me, it seems, to hang on the Cross with Our Lord and share in His “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!?!”: every one of us who has experienced the sting of grief, death’s sting, gets it!
Those who love anyone who is grieving finds within ourselves an extreme and frustrating powerlessness for no matter how intently we pray, no matter how we offer presence and support to those who grieve we cannot lift an iota of their pain.
Grief is a process which must unfold, it is a dark and painful and ultimately an extremely lonely journey, no matter how real our faith in the resurrection, our trust that our beloved who has died IS in the eternal love-embrace of the Father, the journey must unfold, each person who grieves must, morning after morning, day after day, night after night, put one seemingly leaden foot in front of the other.
My first experience of the power and sudden finality of death was at five years of age when my Grandmother collapsed and died in front of me.
Added to that trauma was the fact minutes before we had argued because I was, frankly, being obnoxious and disobedient.
It would be some forty years later when, in spiritual direction, suddenly a question was asked. A seemingly simple question: Why have you never grieved?
My Spiritual Father was not asking about any specific loss or pain, rather in general why had I never allowed myself to grieve over anything or anyone, never shed a tear?
Suddenly the memory of my Grandmother and this tightly held in guilt that somehow my behaviour had triggered her death literally exploded from within me, first in extremely angry, hateful words about the cruel God who had abandoned a five year old then even more vitriolic words about my own self, finally, exhausted, the anger leached out, the pain, the inevitable ‘sting’ of death pierced my heart and I wept.
HOWEVER, in spite of the compassionate presence, the wisdom of my Spiritual Father, almost immediately I shut down the tears, interiorly fled, and it would be another ten years before I would open my heart, and now while I admit I hate grief, yes as foster-father of John and thus Grandfather of Dominic, I hate the sting, hate the powerlessness, hate the fact I cannot usurp John and Lucille’s grief by laying my own upon them, yes am somewhat, Lord have mercy, rather cranky with God, I do recognize these words from Fr. Henri Nouwen, from his book: The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 53:
“One of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life is to receive God’s forgiveness. There is something in us humans that keeps us clinging to our sins and prevents us from letting God erase our past and offer us a completely new beginning.”
A lesson I have had to, and most likely will have to, learn over and over every time the ‘sting’ of death – the actual death of a loved one, the death of my own will, the prolonged death of the false self – so every time I experience the sting of death what I truly hate is this confrontation with God the Father, this challenge to admit grief is not only a response to immediate loss but also opens old wounds, unresolved stuff, like between me and my Grandmother.
There was no actual sin connection between her death and a five year old.
Satan however, vile hyena that he is, takes advantage of any pain we experience to whisper all kinds of deprecating lies and given the turmoil of emotions one who grieves experiences, we are like a wounded fawn, easy prey.
While essentially the Apostle’s words in 1 Corinthians 15: 54-57 are a proclamation of the triumph of the Cross, of Jesus’ Holy Resurrection, in the full throes of grief they can be difficult to really embrace, in the emotions and the constant thinking which forms part of grief, but by grace, and as John expressed with eloquent confidence, staying close to Our Lady of Sorrows, who is also known as Our Lady JOY of all who Sorrow, for she herself embraced the grief of the death of a son, I find the last line of the passage is the one which gives me hope:
“Never give in then, my dear brothers, never admit defeat; keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain.” [v.58].