Our pandemic? You might be asking. Yes, because truly we are all in this together; especially those who grieve.
Many of us are grieving right now. We are grieving people we have lost, in many instances not having had the opportunity to say goodbye or to be with them in their final moments. We are grieving not being able to have our in-person presence to support one another right now. We are grieving our rituals, our routines, and the familiarity of our day-to-day assumptions. For those of us who have a history with grief (especially the unexpected kind), we may be having grief of those former losses stirred and awakened. This week alone, I had two separate dreams connected to previous losses (my mom and my brother). I had to remind myself when I woke that it was not those events reoccurring, but another, entirely distinct set of losses that I was currently experiencing.
Grief can be messy. It is not linear, as in, “when I get through this particular feeling, I’m done with that.” It is cyclical and lingers around important events, words not said, certain songs, and moments captured like photographs in our minds. It is a place we can choose to visit or ignore, though it resides in the background as if waiting for us to notice.
In a worldly sense, nothing about grief is graceful. It is messy, and convoluted, and sometimes terribly ugly. It is hard for other people to be around. It is not a steadily upward climb, and it is not brave. Grief is raw. It is suffering complicated by deep longing and deeper love.
Grief is also strangely isolating, especially now and the two all familiar words of “social-distancing.” We think no one else, even a husband or wife, could possibly understand the sorrow that tears at us. How could anyone be inside our minds, our hearts, and know this pain? How could anyone possibly understand how lost we feel, how incomplete we are now?
Grief counseling, grief groups, and books on grief are sources of support. Truly, though, another human being, even a boundlessly compassionate human, cannot fill the void that now exists. That endless abyss can only be filled with His endless grace.
With faith, grief is not graceful, but it can be grace-filled.
We know our God suffers with us. The first time I received the Eucharist after my mom’s funeral, I fell to my knees. For the first time, I truly grasped that I was receiving not just the body and blood of Jesus, but that I was receiving God’s Son, His only Son. God understands grief because He has experienced it. He sent his Son into this world knowing He would suffer and die. God knows the pain of separation and of loss. He knows deep longing and deeper love. He knows.
We know our suffering has meaning. In Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explained, “If we suffer with Him … we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17) One of the most beautiful teachings of The Church is that we can unite our suffering with Christ. His sacrifice is enough to save us, will always be enough to save us, but our pain is Christ’s pain. While He hung on the cross, He took on all of human sin and suffering, past, present and future. Christ’s suffering was the once-and-for-all sacrifice that redeemed the world. He took our pain to the cross with Him.
We know He allows our grief. In the Gospel story about Lazarus, Jesus wept with His friends. He understood their sorrow, and He didn’t try to minimize it. On the way to Golgotha, Jesus told the women of Jerusalem to weep for themselves and their children. In our modern thinking, we want to take away people’s suffering and pain. Jesus allowed their grief, encouraged it, and joined with it. He knew it was necessary.
We know this is not The End. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the congregation may respond, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life.” The grave was not the end of Christ’s story. His resurrection was His victory, our victory. Our bodies, our time on earth, is finite. Heaven is eternal. We have the hope of meeting our loved ones again because Christ opened the gates of heaven for us.
Although I long for my mom, my brothers, my dad, our nephew (our “son”), especially during the month of July (my mom’s birthday — July 12, my dad’s death on her birthday, his burial on my birthday, my brother’s birthday the day after mine, my nephew’s birthday the day after my mom’s), and although I wish desperately they were all still here with me, I also know with full assurance that I will see them all again. I know they are a little closer to Christ’s ear, and I ask each of them to intercede with all my private intentions. My family spends every day in the Lord’s presence. How awesome is that! When I pray, when I ask for God’s grace, I have a momentary example of the joy my future reunion will bring. My walk right now might not be so graceful, but I choose to walk grace-filled.
In what ways does your faith give you hope when you feel hopeless, alone, or desperate? Think about this question. I’d love to hear your replies!
JoMarie Grinkiewicz is coordinator of Rainbows for All God’s Children, a children’s grief support group, and GriefShare, an adult grief support group at St. Catherine Catholic Church. For more information or to register for either group email JoMarie at firstname.lastname@example.org.