September 12, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

When we can turn grief into affirmation of life

Cynthia DewesWe know that each of us grieves in a different way. Grief can be community-wide, as in mourning the death of JFK as a nation, but most grief is a uniquely personal emotion.

Some of us show grief over tragic events by screaming, sobbing, fainting or displaying some other physical response. Others are stoic, appearing to seize up and even be unmoved by the situation.

Sometimes, folks are critical of the way another grieves. They may think that it’s about time the mourner got on with his or her life. Perhaps because they felt able to do so after a similar event, they have no patience with the person who can’t stop grieving. They think, “Get over it.”

People may also be criticized because they don’t grieve enough to suit the sensibilities of the observer. Why don’t they cry? How can they go to the movies or back to work so soon? Surely they’re either callous or else they really didn’t care much about the terrible thing that happened.

Motives come into play. The ostensible griever may be an insecure person seeking attention. Or they may be a weaker person who’s lost a stronger partner or a more secure situation. So, they “carry on” so they’ll gain sympathy, and they usually succeed … up to a point.

Other mourners may be trying to deny that the bad thing happened. They ignore the situation and try to go on as though nothing had occurred, least of all to them. Sadly, in either case, the healing which grief can accomplish will not be gained.

My friend Norb is grieving the death of his longtime friend and companion, Marian. He is a faithful person, as was she, and the hope of their eternal life in Christ together is his major consolation. With that in mind, as he reflected on Marian’s life, he realized that hope was an essential part of her being.

Norb wrote a memorial tribute to Marian which he called “Bouncing Back” [a type of “Resurrection”]. In it, he described her often traumatic life, and the resilience which she showed in dealing with it. He saw her struggles as a kind of metaphor for our human journey through life, with the need to “bounce back” in order to reach the ultimate goal of Resurrection with Christ.

Although she took comfort in her pets, Marian did not have a very happy childhood. Her father said “No” to almost all requests, and since he worked nights she was responsible for keeping her brothers quiet while he slept during the day. One of the boys had Down syndrome, so she also needed to keep an eye on him most of the time.

Marian was rebellious in her teens and experienced disappointments in high school. She spent hours in doctors’ offices because of her allergies and her disabled brother’s needs. But she bounced back and became interested in a career as a nurse.

In later years, Marian suffered a heart attack, the death of a son and breast cancer, but she bounced back yet again. She planned her own funeral, wrote her own obituary and cheerfully prepared for what would come next.

Norb says, “I think she knew all her life that these ‘bouncing backs’ were a type of preparation for meeting Jesus. How else could she have found her remarkable gift to keep going and show us the way?” He finished his tribute with, “Thank you Marian for bouncing back. Now I know I can, too.”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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