My heart has been heavy this week. A friend and colleague of mine suffered a tragedy many of us would find unimaginable, the sudden death of her 20 year old son during a routine, fun-filled Fourth of July weekend at the lake when he fell from a rope swing onto some rocks. The story has been in the news, but my friend has been in my heart and in my thoughts. Constantly.
I have spent my career walking beside grief. I carry stories with me that people have shared in the quiet confines of a counseling office. I carry the range of emotions that flow during loss, from those who are in stunned shock to those who are completely saturated with the intensity of emotions from cumulative losses. I have learned more from these encounters than I have imparted wisdom, of that I am sure. There are no magic words, or simple solutions, or magic tricks. Grief is painful, hard work.
What I do know about loss…and life…is that we don’t have to go through it alone. We don’t have to pretend that we have “risen above” or that somehow we are stronger for not feeling or pretending not to feel. We are born into hands that guide us, and arms that carry us. We learn from the community that raises us, the people who teach us, the friends who support us, and the wise ones who mentor us. We keep learning, and keep leaning, and keep struggling for independence. But, at the end of the day what we need in both life and in loss is each other.
At today’s standing room only service, I stood in the back. I was surrounded by the twenty-something friends and classmates of my friend’s son. An usher asked at one point if some of us wanted to sit in some seats along the side. The younger classmates turned to me (which reminded me of my own age) but I declined. I wanted to be with them, these young and carefree spirits many of whom were for the first time realizing that their generation is not immune to loss. I felt their tears, and gave a few hugs and touched their hands at the passing of the peace. Mostly, I prayed. I prayed for my friend, of course. I prayed for those (like myself) for whom this death resurfaces our own losses and fears. I prayed for those around me for whom life and loss were touching in a way that they had not experienced before. I prayed for the life and loss of this beautiful young adult to have lasting meaning to those of us gathered to be together in person or in thought, saying goodbye.
I know those prayers were heard. Divine Presence is with us in life, and Divine Presence is with us in loss.
Now, I sit at home in my favorite space. I write as I sit with my screen door open to my back yard on a drizzling, rainy summer afternoon. A breeze wafts across my cheek, and I am aware of Spirit. I can hear the coo of my mourning doves. My daughter interrupts my writing to show me a non-sensical YouTube video. Today, I don’t mind at all. I don’t even roll my eyes like I sometimes do. I pause and turn my attention to her. I watch her satirical fake video, “How to Confuse an Idiot” which when I try to push play…predictably…does not. She laughs, and I laugh. I feel Spirit here, too, in the everyday moments of life and parenting that take on renewed meaning. Life is re-prioritized when we confront loss. It reminds us of the importance of fleeting moments of everyday relationship. It compels us to connect and embrace those we love, right here and right now. I realize, as she skips off to pop herself some popcorn, that I have been changed by this loss. I am so grateful for this moment, this daily ordinary small point of light that brightens my life.
Yes, I know my prayers were heard.