This article originally appeared in the July 2021 Issue of JUST Words.
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if it weights like Mine –
or has an Easier size.[i]
From the beginning of the pandemic, up to the time of this writing, fourteen of our sisters, fourteen associates, and numerous family members and friends have entered eternal life, the full embrace of Trinitarian love. The experience of losing a loved one to death is never easy, yet due to various pandemic restrictions, this time of loss has been especially difficult for many of us. Accompanying the dying has been limited by distancing protocols, constrained visits, and limited communication. Funeral rites, commending the deceased to God’s love, have been broadcast on screens preventing shared sorrow from being expressed through communal tenderness. At Sacred Heart Convent, wakes were suspended and attendance at the Mass of Christian Burial was limited to those sisters living at the motherhouse. Some relatives and friends came to the cemetery, yet needed to participate from afar. As members of a church which values, needs, and is supported by sacred rituals, these limitations made our loss more pronounced. It has been a time of unprecedented trial and yet, one of “Easier size” grace, which I like to think of as a kind of “Easter size” grace—that grace which comes with the triumph of Love Incarnate.
Fearing to grieve gets us nowhere. With grief, the way back is the way through.
Throughout the pandemic sisters, associates, family, and friends have shown me Christ’s presence in this journey as they embraced loss and heartache. One sister, having experienced the loss of another who had been a close friend, was unapologetic for the depth of her sorrow. It became clear to me that the intensity of her grief was significant as she worked toward resolution of her loss. The duration of her grief was less important, for the length of this human process does not measure the strength of our love. The love we have for our deceased ones is steadfast in our hearts regardless of the time spent in the intensity. This sister said to me that the kind of strength that gets us through our grief does not consist of smiling and keeping our chin up. It is instead, the kind of strength that says, among other things, “I will wait this one out. I need to endure and have resurrection faith that there is a direction and meaning to this process. Christ is with me, and together we wait for calm.” Having patience is an Easter-size grace.
There are so many times during the grieving period when we are at a loss for words. Another sister wanted to say something—even needed to say something—yet she found herself unable to do so. She recognized she was at a time when she had very limited energy, willpower, clarity of thought, or even patience with conversation. She was in the midst of deep pain, not walking away from it, nor pretending it did not matter. As time went on, she experienced the depth of her feelings, her words were shaped by memories, and healing gave way to hope.
The lasting gift of our loved one is their presence in our hearts and minds. The memories and the very spirit of the person live on in us, and in the things we cherish and do, long after the person is no longer physically here. This presence can be a source of comfort or sustenance, of strength or beauty. I have witnessed those who dedicate themselves to integrating that loving spirit into their lives. Gradually they find that each day is no longer a test of endurance, but has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And in such a routine, whispers of joy can pierce the silence as the loved one is remembered with gratitude. Such a moment is an Easter-size grace.
I often heard people say that the pandemic gave them an opportunity to re-evaluate their lives, relationships, values, and dreams.
Death is one thing that makes life precious. The grieving period can also be a time of transition for us, allowing us to take stock of what we want the bigger scope of our lives to be in Christ.
We recognize that having loved and been loved is blessing. Yet, we also resign ourselves to being capable of feeling deep hurt at loss. When someone or something we love is gone it may be especially hurtful, but the reality of the love is—and will always be—an Easter-size grace.
Sister Rebecca Ann is the prioress general of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield.
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