Goodbye, My Brother Noel

Backtrack to the year 1997, and I was still soaked in deep sadness over the passing of my brother. From my lean archive, I found this book review-cum-reflection, partly a class requirement while a CPE student at Makati Med, and partly griefwork. Reading this over and over, I have noticed the change – from crying to simply being on the verge of tears to the inner assurance that all is well. Somewhere in the blogosphere, I read an anecdote about two friends meeting casually on the road. One came asking where all the human grief could have dissolved into; where could have it gone. One answered that God simply does it, that it’s God’s work to take in all of life’s ambiguities. I thought this is more than reassuring to know that we have a God who patiently absorbs like a sponge, all of life’s sorrows. Happy All Souls’ Day to you!

Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp

We all experience the pain of goodbye (which is not a God-sent thing) and out of it, we grow as human beings by letting go and moving on in freedom to higher truth in life. One way of letting go is by praying our goodbyes, that is, we recognize our pain, reflect over them, bring them into a ritual, and reorient our lives afterwards.

Rupp’s love for poetry and her familiarity with poets like Frost and Tagore attracts me to her work. The titles of the book chapters are short lines from their poems. There is melody in her words. Her paragraphs are not simply aggregates of words; they are words that are penetrating the spirit, urging me to explore my inner world, my feelings and my deepest longing. Beyond the dry and arcane theological formulations on goodbye and suffering, the book reveals not only the poet in Rupp but more importantly, her human side – her struggles and transcendence over the pain of goodbyes, her love of Scripture, and her witty use of insights on human personality from psychology.

How do you journey with someone who is in pain out of goodbye? The first part of the book deals with understanding our experience and this can be of pastoral help to someone with a number of mind-boggling questions about suffering and God. The second part of the book offers some sample prayers, symbols, and actions a minister can use. This book was very much attuned to my personal situation – the death of my brother who passed away at 18 years of age.

My brother was too young to die. Had he not died, an open-ended future, I believe, still awaits him. I could have shown him how much I care along the string of my physical distance and absence. I admire him for his practicality everytime he goes home with a meager amount of money he earned from fetching water for the vendors in the city market. He used to cut firewood for sale. He would carry sacks of rice for a meager pay. He never aspires to finish college because all he wanted was to instantly earn. Perhaps, the burden was too heavy for his pliant back and shoulders. The world was too heavy for him, heavier than the void and loneliness in my heart. I felt so down for his premature departure but I felt more self-remorse for not reaching out enough, for not listening even to his last excruciating cry of distress. He had gone, yes, he is gone. He will be out of my sight not only momentarily but forever. Forever I could neither touch him nor buy him even with a pair of shirts from Baclaran or Bench. Forever, I will not see the glow in his eyes once he feels how much I care for him. I still grieve for him (addendum: though in less intense degree this time).

How can I treasure that “pearl wrapped in the seeming absence”? My faith encourages and assures me that with your innocence, God has rightly embraced you on your day of departure. You died a painful death but you will be blessed with a peaceful repose. At the bosom of God you can pray for us, guide us with your peaceful spirit. You are an inspiration to me. I love, you brother!

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Photo credit: Jakob E

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