Friday, August 30, 2013

Finding Each Other

"When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." 
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

America doesn't do grief.  
Americans are downright wimpy when it comes to facing loss head on.  
We want the path to be easy, the bumps to be light and we cringe when we have to go to the bad place of real loss.

When my friend lost her mother in her twenties, her young husband asked, 
"Just how long do you think it will be until you are over it?"
She wanted to punch him.  
But instead she looked him straight in the eye and let him know the truth:
"I'm never going to be over it.  I'm forever going to have this hole.  I am going to be different."
I'm pretty sure he didn't want to hear this because that's how Americans are.
We want a fast food method to grieving.
Let's get this over with.
Let's move on.
Let's pretend it never really happened.

This intent to gloss over the pain of loss is so classically American and so unnerving to deal with that rarely do we discuss it.
We shut it out.
We steel ourselves for the sad moment...the funeral, the hug, the up close shot of grief...and think we're done.

Thank God for the Irish.

My friend, Carolyne, lost her mother a month ago.
She travelled alone to Ireland to say good-bye and to grieve with her family and friends.
Out of necessity, she left her children here.
So it only made sense that Carolyne would observe the Irish tradition of the Month's Mind.
I got an invitation to it and thought to myself, "Alleluia!" 
I knew nothing of what a Month's Mind entailed but I did know enough to understand that it would be a way to share in Carolyne's grief, if even for a moment, and I wanted to be there.
I was grateful for the chance.
I had no idea.

The Month's Mind is basically a mass held in your home one month exactly after the person has passed away.  The fog of shock and the harboring clouds of the initial, deep sadness have had thirty days to clear out...some sense of clarity and a willingness to remember and honor and cherish the person are present.  
In essence, the person grieving can finally take a deep breath.
One month into it, the eyes of the heart have adjusted somewhat to the deep darkness of loss and some stars can be seen.
It's a beautiful time and a real gift.

We gathered for the Month's Mind at Carolyne's home.
All of us knew Carolyne from very disparate parts of her life and it was wonderful to see her house filling up with the people who loved her and wanted to remember with her.
Her children were there.
Her children's friends were there.
Their dining room table was made into an altar.
Their living room into a chapel.

It was intimate and close and a chance to see grief head on.
But it was also a chance to laugh and be light hearted and sing songs that wouldn't normally make it into a traditional mass.
There was darling Father Dan teasing about the supremacy of Kerry versus Carolyne's Galway.
There were You Tube videos of a famous Irish folk singer leading us in song.
There was a rendition from U2.
There was time for grandchildren to speak and Carolyne to speak and an opportunity to see pictures and get to know Carolyne's mom in a way I never did.
We said prayers and received blessings but mostly we were together.
We were together for the official Bailey's toast.
We were together as we rocked out to Hail Holy Queen from Sister Act.
And some were together long into the night singing at the piano with dear Father Bong.

We felt the love of family and friendship and together we knew that grief, although overwhelming, terrible and debilitating in its isolation was being shared right here, right now.
It was palpable and powerful.

At the end, Carolyne read a poem from the book Benedictus, a gift her dear brother Bobby had given her years before with the very page marked with this blessing.  


On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
 And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And may a slow
wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
 -- John O'Donohue 

In that moment, cloaked in John O'Donohue's words, our group found each other.
Strangers held hands and prayed.
Tears were shared.
Remembrance was thick.
It was a sacred moment.

A clock stopped.
Later that night, as Carolyne and I and a few others were talking, Carolyne took an astonished breath. 
Her clock on her book shelf had stopped at the exact moment of her mother's passing.
The clock would stay forever at 5:15...reminding and tending and holding us close...time is relational and fleeting...time does stand sacred holy places...where love is a cloak.
Grief can be beautiful...Carolyne taught me that.
Tonight I'm grateful for friends, for the hard times and for the moments that bind us.
Maybe us Americans can be a little more Irish.

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