This morning, I was listening to Christmas music and one of the songs reminded me of the last Christmas my children and I had together. We lived in the mountains of Colorado in a town called Evergreen. Our house overlooked the mountains and on that Christmas, the snow had fallen and a family of elk were quietly resting in the front yard. The presents had been opened and I was preparing our Christmas dinner. My three children were laughing and talking with one another. I remember thinking that this was heaven on earth and how grateful I was for that beautiful day. What I could not have known was that this was the last time we would all be together for the holiday. Soon, our family would be torn apart by a single, brutal act; so violent, that for a while, it eclipsed all the goodness and beauty we shared. But that is not the case today. I have reclaimed the beauty, the goodness and above all the love. This is why I always say nothing, not even the worst act and not even death itself can destroy love. And that is why we must fight a fierce battle in the first few years. We are in danger of losing everything to death and violence. But we fight and continue to survive until we realize that no thing can ever fully take the ones we love from us. They live in the songs of our heart and the memories of our joy. And that dear friends, is what we are about today, loving, living, laughing and remembering the joy we were given, and for that we are grateful.
It’s been several days since I’ve written, taking some time off around the Thanksgiving holiday. It was a hard day–even though I have much to be grateful for, as do we all. No matter what has been taken from us, there are still blessings that come every day and for those we thank the divine source of all goodness and love. Even so, I felt a cloud over the celebrations which made it more difficult for me to be present or to be happy. It was as though I was going through the motions rather than truly enjoying the moments. So many of you tell me the same thing–and I guess that’s just the way it is for us. Some years, the holidays will be better than others. This one was harder than most. I think that because it will be soon be 15 years, that it’s under control and most of the time it is. But grief is surprising–it can sneak up when you least expect it, when you think you have conquered it, when you think it will obey the new life. But then again, that is what makes us human. The surprises of emotion–and the ongoing missing of the ones we love, even when we have learned deep and abiding acceptance. But there is still the missing, the wistfulness of what could have been and will never be and the sweet sadness that comes from accepting what is. And as always, it passes and the day dawns again and we all go on, my dear friends, we all go on.
Today is Thanksgiving in America, a day we give thanks for all we have been given. We think of the early pilgrims who gathered together and celebrated the fact they survived the harsh winter in the new land, so far from their homes. I cannot help but think about our own journey of grief. We left our homes, not because we wanted to, but because something terrible happened. We launched out into the ocean of grief, not knowing what lie ahead or how we would ever make it to the “new land.” We survive, yet we know that our journey of loss is never really finished. We simply learn to live again in the spirit of the ones we still love. It is a hard time of year for us, even though many years may have passed. I am feeling the loss of my son Aaron strongly this year and I wonder whether I will ever truly be free of the grief. But then, why would I? Or why would any of us be? We hold our sorrow in our hearts and we go on and we live good and fruitful lives—of service, joy and love. But still, when all the families gather together, we are reminded of the way our homes used to be and the table of loved ones we used to have. It will never be the same—and that we must endure. Today, I will go to dinner with Aaron’s college friend. We will gather around his table with his wife and children. I will wonder what life would be like if Aaron had never passed, and it was his table I was sitting at. But, dear friends, as we all know, these things are not to be. We must bravely face what it is we are given now and give thanks that there is still a table where the family of humankind gathers together and all of us celebrate our blessings—all of them.
Today begins Thanksgiving week here in America which to me always signals the closing of the year. It’s a time to take stock of our cupboards, so to speak, and see what it is we have stored. We take out the things we don’t need, use the things we do and leave some for the winter ahead. It is a time of sorting, and sometimes we can hardly endure the pain. We hold the cherished life we used to have and wish we still had it, rather than the loss we are faced with. We think of times gone by when we were happier, thinking that what we had would always be ours. And in a sense it is, because it lives on within us. Yet, most of us would agree that the memories, sweet as they are, leave us lonely for more. We look for the peace that comes with acceptance and try to heal our wounds and our sorrows. The world rushes forward with all its preparations for the coming holidays, while we stay behind, with no real place to go. Still, we do not allow our sorrow to overcome us, but open our hearts to love. We pray for joy to enter and peace to follow, we ask for strength and hope for the days ahead to be kind. And we are grateful for all that we were given, all that was taken away and everything we still have.
This world is difficult, even with all its beauty and things to be
grateful for. Sometimes, the difficulties will overwhelm the beauty and we
wonder why it is things have to be so very hard. And for those of us who have
lost someone we love, we wonder why death came to our family, in the awful way
that it did. Life here on earth is full of trials and tribulations, from the catastrophic to the simply irritating. There are things that just don’t go well; or that we are disappointed in. Still, we recognize that this is the way it is and until
we reach that place called “heaven” there will be no complete peace. We will
however, have times when we feel peace and can cherish that when we do. But we can never fully experience this state of blissful peace because we are in
the material world and things are what they are. I guess the challenge is to take heart, have courage, no matter what the circumstances are or may bring to us. We can overcome the trials of the world and live through the big and small troubles we have. And through it all we can remember the gifts
we have been given and still remain with us—and be grateful for them all
The last few days have been a series of chaotic happenings, not the least of which was my computer freezing me out!! Technology is great, we depend on it to do some many of our daily tasks, but I wonder sometimes if the dependency is a good one, since it’s so vulnerable to the vagaries of the machine. It’s a good metaphor for life. We assume things will work until they don’t and then we find out how vulnerable and dependent we are on things we assumed would stay the same. But they never do, they change and we have to change with them. There are very few things that we can truly count on–or that last forever. The only thing I can think of that outlasts everything is love. Perhaps that is why St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says: Love Beareth all things, Believeth all things, Hopeth all things, Endureth all things. It is this last one I am thinking about today. Love endures all things, whether they are good or bad, what we want or what we are given. It is the only thing that lasts. It will outlive all the things we build, all the things we spend our money on and all the things we think are real. Think of the smile of the one you love and miss today and how continues to endure through it all; even death. So, when we go about our day, we can remember that the only thing that will last is the love we give away and the love we can never lose.
Where do we get our help from, our help to carry this burden of grief that hangs on our shoulders and never seems to fully lift? The answer to that question will be as varied as we who ask it. Some of us pray to a God, while others see the answers in nature and still others regard our help as human, rather than a theistic belief. We have the freedom to pray, to ask for help in the way that best suits our beliefs. This is the marvelous thing about the world we live in. We choose, rather than have it forced on us. Or, at least that’s the way it should be. It is in the freedom of the search that we find our answers and what works for our particular circumstances. And there is nothing like the suffering brought on by the death of someone we love to engage us in the search. That is because we come right up against death, and that makes us wonder what lies beyond. It makes us examine our beliefs to see if they really work for us. The suffering resulting from our loss makes us search for the means to make our journey. Guidance, help, strength and care are the things we look for and these we must have. The important thing is to begin the search for that which will guide and comfort us. Seek and ye shall find, ask and ye shall be answered. Listen and you will hear the small still voice that will guide you, whatever you believe the source to be.
This morning, the sun pierced through the layers of dark skies, and for a moment, everything was made beautiful by the light. I was thinking about how the darkness of death engulfs us and creates a permanent shadow around us. But what if, despite the darkness, we could be transmitters of the light? What if our task was to allow the spark of light, of love, to come through us and be seen? Surely, all sorrow, all suffering leads us to the light within. Otherwise, we will simply disappear into the darkness and all will be lost. There will be no resurrection, no dawn, no triumph of the spirit. That is why even in the darkest night, there is always the promise of the light, waiting for us to see it. We are all carriers of the light, we reveal it to ourselves and to others in our lives. Yes, we have experienced the depth of darkness in our grief and in our loss, but that is when the light becomes the most clear, the most vital, because it survives and so do we. Today, we can pray for the light within to penetrate our darkness and be seen and known. We can ask to be carriers of the light so that the way is not so dark, for ourselves and those we love.
I woke up early this morning to the sounds of the Philadelphia Marathon which is taking place right outside my building here on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. All the major events take place here, which while wonderful for the city and the people who attend, often mean no parking and lots of noise and traffic for me! Still, I am happy the marathon runners are headed towards their goal and will reach it soon, I see some of the runners already coming away from the race—of course, they may have just quit or run about as far as they can go. I am thinking of the marathon each one of run when we lose someone we love. The gun goes off, literally for some of us, and we are running for our lives—or what’s left of them. We are in a race that has no rules, (at least we weren’t told what they are), no map, no clear direction and no ending. Sure, there are signposts along the way, and places in the future that are filled with comfort and even joy, but the race itself never ends. It just changes. We change. We realize we are in it for the long haul. It is not a sprint, but a long-distance race to the end. We try to run the best we can. We look for help and guidance and above all strength to do it well, to run the race with dignity and we hope that we can be of service to other runners. As the dark time of the year closes in, the race slows us down, we are mindful of how long it’s been and we miss those whose death was the starting point of it all. Yet, we go on, running with everyone else, realizing we are not alone, but have each other to cheer us on with courage, strength and above all love.
It’s been a week since I arrived back in Philadelphia—and Brussels feels like a dream, something in the past that happened, but what’s left are some fleeting memories. The past is like that but some memories are more powerful than others. We see them as if through a veil, dimly lit by the light already gone by. The memories of our loved ones who passed away are like that. Some are so vivid, it is as if the very sun is shining on them, but others are like looking into a room from the darkened street. There is a warmth present in these memories of the past, that even death cannot make cold. They remain with us like ornaments on our tree of life. They adorn each branch and make them more beautiful, more full because of what they mean to us. This tree is eternal to us, like the evergreen that never loses its leaves, but faces the winter with its arms outstretched, bearing the beauty of the past, the life of the present and the hope of the future.