Circumstances did not allow me to go home with Hans and Mommy for the wake and burial of my father-in-law. I was home alone again, trying to be still with the small and big losses especially of the past year. There’s a sense of torpor that’s been creeping in and I have to decide right from the start not to categorize it as a disease. Perhaps, it’s grief knocking in, wanting to be listened to. It is. The book I finished reading last week by Kathleen Norris – Acedia & Me: Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life couldn’t be more timely. Norris shared about segments of her life when she was in a state of a “loss of taste” for life that could easily slip into depression, or face-off with depression and the kind of silence and solitude that it demands to stay sane. From work, solitude is what I did – coming home around 9 pm after being alone in the silence of a church funeral chapel converted into a solely adoration chapel. In the dimness of the place, often the last person left, thus far, no shadow has passed my face nor some creepy voice I overheard.
I have a handful of good reads at hand on Desert Spirituality, Howard Clinebell, Maggie Ross, Sherman Alexie, Martin Laird, Simone Weil, etc. In between, I flipped through their pages, a little ambivalent between filling-up the vacuum and scurrying for inspiration. Through these years, I realize that reading books no longer is a mere activity of reading. It is forging friendship with authors, getting into their deepest sentiments, the values they center their lives around with, their profound concerns beyond themselves. The challenge for me is to desire what they also desire and to allow this friendship to in-“form” my inner life and personal pilgrimage. Alongside these “friends of God,” I got back to one prayer book I have learned to treasure for the beauty of its “English” language – the Anglican New Zealand Prayer Book. The funeral service of my father-in-law was scheduled at 8am this morning; I synchronized my time by opening the pages of the Prayer Book and prayed a couple of prayers, prayers that are short and simple:
“Go forth N (Christian soul), on your journey from this world,
in the love of God the Father who created you,
in the mercy of Jesus the Redeemer who suffered for you,
in the power of the Holy Spirit who keeps you in life eternal.
May you dwell this day in peace,
and rest in the presence of God. Amen.”
“God of mercy,
as we mourn the death of N
and thank you for her/his life,
we also remember times
when it was hard for us to understand,
to forgive, and to be forgiven.
Heal our memories of hurt and failure,
and bring us to forgiveness and life. Amen.
From the New Zealand Prayer Book, I remember the little prayer book I bought and used after our second miscarriage 7 years ago – For Those We Love But See No Longer by Lisa Belcher Hamilton, an Episcopalian priest. Hamilton wrote this little book of Daily Offices after she lost her young husband to cancer and on then night their 26-month old baby discovered lightning bugs. It is a beautiful prayer book mostly of Psalms that one can use the whole week through. I feel we need to use this again after it gathered dust for years in a corner. Here’s one Collect Rev. Hamilton wrote:
“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother (sister) N. We thank you for giving her/him to us, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate to eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
One more challenge demands my careful attention – our 3-year old had witnessed two departures of his grandpa in a span of 8 months. I have to be aware that first, children naturally also grieve, and second, that they grieve differently from adults. Chaplain Christine Chapman wrote a beautiful reminder on this in her little book In Love Abiding:
“If you go to see a family who are grieving, do remember to notice the children in that family. There is a common tendency to single out the adults, and overlook the feelings of the children – or even persuade ourselves that they are not suffering.”
In God’s time and hearts open to God’s grace, our grief will turn into gifts for others…