Saturday, December 13, 2008


I would go back, if I could. I would go back to August, when I was worn out from my CPE summer and looking forward to a weeklong silent retreat. I would go back to anticipating my second year of seminary, an exciting internship, and more time at home than I had last year. I would go back to being the mother of three living children ~ irritated at one of them for not making it to his cousin's wedding, sorry that another could not join us in North Carolina, curious about another's new romance. If prayer offered magical solutions, I would pray to go back. That life we had ~ it didn't seem that we were asking so much. No boat, no vacation home, no fancy cars; not even the needed plumbing repairs. Three healthy children and the prospect of their futures to enjoy. That was enough. Everything else could have fallen away and that would still have been way more than enough.

But prayer is not magic. Prayer is God with us, us with God. Prayer is listening and noticing. So we don't get to go back but, maybe, in the light trying to break through in December, I can notice some things.

And here is what I have noticed this week. I have, as a consequence of my son's death, received what I think must be some of the most extraordinary missives ever written. Emails, cards, letters -- the form of transmission doesn't matter. The words do. Some are about my son, some about those of us left behind, some about God. There is apparently something about magnitude of loss that drives ordinary people to eloquence.

I literally carry some of this writing around with me. There are moments, many of them, when I think that I will not make it to the next one, and then I read what people have sent me. I read them as prayers, regardless of how they were intended. I look for what God might be saying, in a phrase or a paragraph, and sometimes I see them, small clues to the mystery that binds us together, whether the people who articulated them knew what they were doing or not.

If you have a friend who is longing for someone else this Advent, especially someone who died in the last year or two, sit down this week-end and write a note, or send an email. It might be the most important thing you do this month.

(Cross-posted from Advent blog.)


bean said...

""it didn't seem that we were asking so much.""
i loved the rest of the writing but this sentence resonates with me.

Purple said...

Your image of prayer speaks to me. I think that "just words" are that "just words"...but when read and held in the heart as prayer...they become so much more.

mompriest said...

for different reason, all with some tragedy involved, I have yearned to go back to "before", what if or if all we can do is continue to put one foot in front of the other. thank goodness for prayer, in all its forms...

the reverend mommy said...

I am writing cards like this today.
Just a -- thinking of you.

And that I have been -- thinking of you.

Rev SS said...

sending a note to a friend or loved one who is grieving " ... might be the most important thing you do this month." ... Amen!

Sending another prayer for you and yours.

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking of sharing this story with you for a little while. What you said in your latest post about how the writings people have sent you have helped got me thinking that the time to share is now. I apologize for the length.

In the fall of 1983, I briefly lived in a different city with the hopes of establishing myself there. During that time, I had a dream from which I woke up sobbing. As I pondered the dream, I wondered why I was so upset as it seemed kind of silly in retrospect.

In the dream, I was at some kind of dinner/stage show where The Beatles were to perform. It seemed that everybody that I knew was there, even both my parents who'd separated years before. As we waited for the show to start, I sat consoling my dad who was sobbing because he'd received some bad news. Apparently, there had been a flood and apartment buildings that he owned had been completely ruined. But I discovered that he wasn't upset about that. What upset him was that his truck had been submerged and in the truck, was his beloved pet pig.

Now, in real life, my father didn't own any real estate other than our home and he certainly didn't have a pet pig though he was indeed a truck driver. None the less, the dream left me with a heavy heart. The image of my dad crying stuck with me. I had never in my life seen him cry. As was my habit then, I wrote down the dream.

In July of 1984, we were told that Pa did not have long to live. He was staying at my oldest sister's house and I went over to see him. He'd been dozing on the couch and, though awake, he was still between wake and sleep state. He was upset so I sat beside him and rubbed his back as he cried. I tried to be strong but my heart was breaking as I'd never seen him cry.

Within 2 weeks, he was gone. After the prayers, the night before his funeral, everybody came back to the house for coffee, etc. There were people everywhere, cousins and aunts I hadn't seen in years. Some were in the livingroom watching the tube. When I asked what they were watching, someone answered that it was a documentary on The Beatles.

Later that evening, when a dear trucker friend of my dad's came to say his good-byes, he told us that he was very sorry that he would not be able to attend the funeral as he had a load that had to be delivered. He knew that the trip would take longer than normal because of all the flooding down south. We chatted a bit about the devastation that we'd seen on the news coverage of the flooding down south and how even huge apartment complexes had been flooded. Then, he added that the load couldn't wait as it was a load of pigs.

At that very moment, I heard something like the sound of a lock tumbler falling into place as well as the sound of the releasing of a longheld breath. A feeling came over me that I can only describe as complete peace. And, in my mind, I heard "He's alright." At that very moment, I realized that every single thing that had happened in that dream had come to pass in reality. Until that very second, I hadn't even noticed any of them.

Incidentally, at that time, I was not a believer in Christ. It took another 15 years before I had to admit to that though this dream did play a major role all those years later.


Carol said...

I will, indeed, do some reconnecting this holiday season, with some who are grieving. Thank you for this valuable reminder and lesson.

Michelle said...

...just a word to say that I still pray - in words...for you. When I was having surgery this fall, a Jesuit friend I asked to pray for me made sure to tell me he would pray for by name at Mass that day. There was great comfort in the thought that he would speak the words aloud...

LawAndGospel said...

Just words, yet something to hold onto when it seems like getting to the next moment is too much. May all of the words you receive be for you what you need for that moment, and may you know that you and your family continue to be in my prayers, and that when you sigh, the Spirit sighs with you in her sighs too deep for words.

Lovie said...

Stupid. Stupid Stupid flowers. Today, I received the sad news that someone in my extended family had died at a very young age. And the only thing I can do is send some stupid floral arrangment. I cried for him, his very young widow and his children. And the only thing I can do is send some stupid floral arrangement. And then I think about you and I am on my knees in grief. Somehow, I think I might feel just a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what you must feel....But probably not.

Gannet Girl said...

Oh, Lovie, you can do a lot more than you think.

Sit down and write a letter filled with memories of him and send it to his widow, not only for her, but for his chidren to read someday.

I am so sorry for your family's sad loss.