Without knowing it, I had a great start to this week’s effort. I had the absolute delight to celebrate Mass last week with the kids. I always give them a chance, or in some cases, take the risk, to ask questions.
One boy asked, “Was it alright to get mad? ", and a girl asked whether it "was alright to cry?”. Two great questions why? Because, they lay the foundation for healthy grieving. Healthy grieving is essential if we are to recover from any loss, whatever that loss may be. When we do not grieve in a healthy manner, or we are not allowed to do so because of unhealthy circumstances, we will suffer big time. Did you see in the paper where there is an effort to describe grieving as a mental disorder? I would like to suggest, that it is ONLY when we do not do the healthy grieving, then we have to face some mental challenges.
I have read that we in America do not grieve enough. We hide the reality of death. The first shock, of the many, was when I was sent to a funeral parlor to say the Rosary for a person who had died. That was a serious cultural shock. I was not able to get around that one and still am not able to become reconciled with the practice. When I was growing up, you went to visit the home where the corpse was laid out. No embalming, as the person died, so they were before you. What is done here? The corpse is all done up as if will cover up the finality of her/his death. You went to the room where the waking was taking place. There you were exposed to the active mourning and crying. You expressed your condolences. You got down on your knees and said your prayers. Then, you kissed the dead person goodbye. Yes, you read correctly. You kissed some part of the face.
That was the practice. It was after that when you had some refreshments. All of this was part and parcel of the reality, of the life of “The Little Church of The Home”. How far removed we are from such a healthy practice in dealing with death. You can understand why I am surprised when asked by people "is it alright to bring children to the mortuary? ". Where else are they going to come across the finality of loss? Where are they going to receive the message that it is not just ok to cry, it is both necessary and essential for healthy growth. We will not be mentally healthy until the tears are shed.
I told the young boy that it is more than ok to get angry, not mad. (Dogs go mad, people get angry). Again, getting angry is both necessary and essential action for each person, so as to recover from a loss. A family that has suffered a loss must also grieve as a family. There are no exceptions. We can minimize the loss, but to our own peril. I have seen so very often the destruction brought about because the grieving process did not take place. How many unnecessary divorces have taken place because one, or both parents do not grieve healthily. Rather than process the anger they transfer to one another. Rather than do the necessary feeling work, the feelings are stuffed and the end is inevitable. That is so sad to see. How many divorces take place years after a family death, but the root cause was, one person failed to do the healthy grieving.
How often do we hear those well-meaning, but very toxic, words; “You can try again”, “You are young enough to get married again", "she/he has gone to a better place". Last, but not least, the really spiritually sick one, "it was God's will". You can add to that list those words that were directed at you, or your loved ones at the time of loss. You did not want this pious jargon, you wanted a healing presence. You desired to be reverenced where you were at, in your place of powerlessness, frustration ,and anger.
You did not want to be spoken to, you wanted to be just held. How blessed are you to have such a presence in your life. That person stands with you and by you. There are no pious words, no can’t phrases, to minimize what you are feeling. How often those phrases are used because those who use them, are so uncomfortable dealing with honest feelings. It is not their fault. That is how they are wired because of the sterile environment they were raised in. There was the unwritten rule, you do not express any honest feeling that may challenge “THE FAMILY SECRET". There was the expectation that they be "perfectly nice", resulting in them being very emotionally sick. What a price some of these “good children" pay. It takes tremendous courage to reject the sick family system, so as to live in the freedom of who one is in the unconditioned, unlimited, unrestricted love of our Gracious God. As one comes to discover they are the beloved of the Living God, everything changes. When we reach that point, and most especially after we desire a Mary, Mother Mary, who was promised so much by God's angel, and where did she end up? We are told in John’s Gospel that she stood silently, by the cross of her Savior Son. Yes, she just stood, as helpless, and as powerless, as each one of us is, in the face of death.
"But there is one who has all power, that one is God." The God of the Psalmist Who is close to,....and is able to heal the brokenhearted." We must make the conscious effort to welcome God into the space that loss has created. If Goodness, God, does not fill up that space, then there is the GUARANTEE that evil will. Both the physical and spiritual life do NOT tolerate a vacuum. It is up to us then to do the feeling work, feel, experience, express and then let go. Those not comfortable with feelings, just want to pray about it, without first doing the three steps. Then there is wonder and concern why there is no let up. We are told now it takes three to five years to recover from a loss. Yes, three to five years is necessary. That is why so many second marriages do not work out. The rate of divorce when it comes to such unions is much higher that those who are married for the first time. How many second marriages are entered into without allowing the necessary healing to take place from the previous lost relationship?
“Pain breaks the shell that limits our understanding." (Gibran ) Our faith and hope allows us to break open the “shell" of pain. Our faith in the Death and Resurrection opens up a whole new life. This new life BEGINS with the ending of the old. The loss IS the beginning of a new way of living. A new life, which is actually the old way being transformed as the result of loss, a real death. Death then, is NOT an end, it is THE BEGINNING of a new and, dare I say, a better way of living. Our anger has been transformed into compassion. Our tears have watered the garden of our souls, in which has blossomed the flowers, of empathy and understanding. These flowers are our gifts. They are to offered to those who are now struggling with that, from which these came. “O death where is thy sting?"