Not enough tears
In memory of my first bunkmate at camp, Chapman Quantz McMeekin
Over the last month my family has admired a mother Robin preparing for the arrival of new life. The nest was a work of art, even including a piece of mint floss, a shred of a left-over yogurt pop, and twigs from our grape vines. The five sky-blue eggs were a sight to behold. The day they began to hatch you would have thought it was Princess Kate and Prince William’s brood we were heralding! But then, in a flash they were gone. A lizard’s feast. All that remained were the high-pitch shrills of the Mother Robin’s mourning song from high above in the tree.
Grief is the shared experience of every living creature born on this planet. In many ways, just like love, grief is the thread that binds us whether a bird, a whale, a mother, father, sister, spouse, child, community, or even a stranger. The whole vignette of loss upsets the equilibrium of the soul. It’s a frightening place standing at the edge between the material world and the heavens; life as we know it, and life after.
In my experience, a mystical peace, the definition of grace, tenderly enfolds the departing spirit. Sometimes, there are even angels waiting in the eaves to show the way. It’s those of us left behind, the mourner’s and the grief-stricken, that suffer the greatest heart-break. Not only does loss make us fear our own end, but it’s a “sucker-punch” to the spirit that hurts like nothing else we experience here on earth.
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of my favorite spiritual authors, says that suffering makes theologians of us all. When you lose someone or something that you have invested your heart, you begin an exegesis of your entire belief system. Suddenly, your faith must fight tooth and nail to retain its position and help you make it to the other side. There is just no graceful way to mourn whether it’s a lost dream, a miscarriage, one’s health or mental acuity, or the too-soon departure of someone for whom we have given wholly-over our heart. It makes perfect sense to me why for centuries mourners wore black for months, some even years. It was an outward sign of the scary darkness that eclipsed their hearts on the inside.
A mother who had to bury her adult child included this insight in a note to me after the funeral:
Grief never ends.
But it changes.
It’s a passage, not a place to stay.
Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith.
It’s the price of love.
Lord Alfred Tennyson once said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
The poet must have surely written this line months or even years after the rawness of grief had time to heal. Time proves a merciful friend in the experience of grief. It’s only by putting one foot in front of the other, watching the sun rise and fall day after day, that we eventually make it to the other side. The loss never leaves us, but it softens enough to where we can locate the coordinates of joy again. Recently, a new friend shared the story of her mother’s death. She remembered the day with tears as if it was only yesterday, not ten years past. Grief is like a broken bone that although healed, surprises with twitches of pain when it rains. The heart is resilient but it never forgets.
In some ways, it is in grief that we see the magnitude, the honor really, to love and to be loved, no matter the cost.
A couple years ago I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by the well-known theologian, Marcus Borg. Famous for his work on the historical Jesus, he was not a man of overt sentimentality. Afterwards I asked him what he thought Jesus would have said about the deep suffering and grief inherent to the human condition. He reminded me that Jesus wept. Then he recited a poem by heart.
The Avowel by Denise Levertov
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
We must court hope in our suffering, weep and collect other’s tears when they weep, stop and listen to the bird’s soliloquy of grief and bow to the mourner dressed in black, lean into God and not away, and have the courage to free fall trusting that God’s grace will see us through.
The end is never the end in the Divine imagination, love always prevails, and God promises that we will never have to face anything in life or death alone.
Live in Hope,