Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Praise in the Midst of Grief

The feast day of Francis of Assisi is October 4. In this harvest season, as I drive through the countryside past golden fields of soybeans and corn, I think of Francis and Clare and their great love for nature.

I see them running through the fields of the scenic Umbrian countryside, robes flapping as they shout their words of praise — words about glorious flowers, singing birds, and glowing fields of wheat. In what would come to be known as his Canticle of Creation, Francis praises the beauty and presence of the natural world and all its creatures, giving thanks for his companions, brother Sun and sister Moon.
(In the background, I hear Donovan singing during this scene in the 1972 Zeffirelli movie. That’s neither here nor there, but why does life seem richer when there’s a soundtrack?)
Except that Francis actually began this poem not when he was out in the fields being inspired, but  when he was seriously ill and lying in bed. (When I’m sick, praise is the last thing on my mind.)

How was he able to sing praises of joy when he felt so horrible that he couldn't get up? 

Already in exile from his home and family, after days of being cold and shivering, perhaps the words slipped into his consciousness when a single ray of warm sunshine touched his skin, like the comforting touch of a friend. Rather than moan about his suffering, he celebrated this simple pleasure and gave thanks for this.

When someone we love dies, grief constantly reminds us that something has gone terribly wrong. It took half a year after my wife died before I could enjoy the simple, physical pleasures of the world again, like the warmth of the sun and the taste of hot, buttered toast. It was a full year before I felt anything close to joy.

After a tragedy has knocked us over, after the shock of death has left us devastated, after the emotional waves of grief that have battered us for months have receded, we look for bits of light to give us hope. We listen to the silence for whispers of comfort and wait for reassurances to come. We gather the pieces that are left and weave the tattered scraps into a tapestry of life and loss. 

When his family members were murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis, violinist Yitzhak Perlman said, “Our task is to make music with what remains.”

The loss of someone we love is so huge that it seems to negate everything else, and it is hard to give thanks for what seems so insignificant. Then one day, when we forget we are miserable, we notice something we enjoy. As it did for Francis, it dawns on us that what we love about life are the thousands of little things that make up our days.

We don’t have to be limited by the facts of our past or our fears for the future.

We are so much more.

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