Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Talk on Grief

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There is one experience that most of us are not spared from,
it often starts as a child when our innocence is shattered
when the reality of how something that we love can be taken away,
for most it can begin with the death of a beloved pet,
or perhaps we hear of the death of a school mate,
someone we perhaps did not know,
yet were affected by it in any case.

We saw the sorrow of those who did know the student,
the teachers would be more subdued perhaps,
some even shedding tears,
in any case the presence of grief could be felt
even if the experience was not intense,
its conations could not be ignored,
after that life changed,
a naiveté was taken away
it was then that we started to perhaps grow up.

We learned that everything was temporary,
a truth accepted,
then forgotten,
for the weight of it can be very heavy indeed,
who can blame anyone for wanting to forget it,
perhaps it is something needful,
good.

Until the day comes were each of us has to step up,
take the number
and experience what it means to lose something dear,
precious,
to face life without that someone for whom we loved deeply,
intensely,
without reserve.

It is then when the rubber hits the road where faith is concerned,
stripped of all comfort
is when our faith is brought to the fore
the struggle with God and ourselves,
often asking “why” when we know the answer,
for we all die,
just at different times.

Perhaps we also have to deal with anger at our loved ones,
now gone,
something perhaps hard to face,
for at times death can be hastened,
drinking,
smoking,
over eating can shorten the life of a loved one,
so the feelings of being abandoned can be strong.

The greater the love
the deeper and darker the void within,
in which even the strongest faith cannot cover over,
nor should it.
A wound such as that needs to be addressed,
yet each does it in their own way.

Some express grief with loud cries and lamentations,
ripping their garments,
letting the universe know of their deep pain and loss,
the emptiness experienced,
from which there seems to be no end;
where healing seems impossible,
the words of comfort of others though well meaning
is often of little comfort.

The story told over and over again on how they died,
the last days retold if death was not sudden,
often funny stories shared,
a needed ritual to be able to simply express, or vent,
about what was lost.

Others express grief much differently,
there is no right or wrong way to grieve,
comparisons simply do not work
for each is unique in how the deep pain of grief is dealt with.

If the death sudden the shock is greater,
for many only numb silence possible,
emotions subdued,
yet the presence of friends and love ones
a deep consolation.

Some suffer quietly,
allowing the grief and pain to arise slowly,
perhaps forgetting for awhile,
then,
a song,
a verse from a book,
a simple memory
can bring to mind the one lost,
the pain felt undiminished yet again.

This can be a slow drawn out process
perhaps causing concern to family and friends,
who though misguided,
with good intention tell them they must move on,
when in fact the are not ready,
or simply can’t.

Grief is a private journey
that really must be experienced alone
though loved ones and friends are needed for support;
we all know this
since if one lives long enough,
gut wrenching grief will enter our lives.

The death of parents,
or siblings,
worst of all the death of a spouse or children,
also the loss of a dear friend
often perhaps closer than family,
even that of a beloved pet,
can plunge one into the crucible of suffering
from which there is no escape,
the only way out is to go through it,
again there is no time frame for this
but healing should always be hoped for
and the love of life must be renewed.

I remember the day my mother died,
it was in May of 83,
I was in town doing shopping
when I got the call,
“your mother passed away this morning at 5 AM”,
I just stood there holding the phone,
experiencing the texture of reality changing around me,
it was like a psychic earthquake
or a shock wave upsetting my comfortable understanding of the world.

To this day I cannot go into the business where I received the call,
when I drive by I go cold inside
fighting the bodily memory that wants to express itself,
the simple cold numbness that came over me
at the time,
my doing things somewhat robotically,
just trying to get home,
calling my brothers and sisters,
getting a plane ticket,
rushing to get some clothes for the trip,
mundane things that kept me occupied from thinking,
until I could better deal with it alone.

I am one of those who mourn quietly,
slowly,
nothing loud
just a slow burning inner pain
that still wells up from time to time
as if I had forgotten that my mother is gone.

My dad died 18 years later,
my relationship with him was good
for after my mother death I did not take him for granted,
I called him often
when on vacation I spent a large amount of time with him,
we talked,
watch movies together,
and often were just quiet.

We talked of his death
he told me that he was not afraid,
he was in his 80’s and he said,
“you can’t fool yourself anymore when you are my age”,
after the talk I felt better about him going
though I did not want it.

One Saturday I called him on the phone,
we talked for a few minutes
like we did every Saturday,
as I hung up I also said as always,
“dad I love you”
he replied in kind,
hung up.

Two hours later my brother Craig called,
“Mark pop is dying”,
he told me that dad came down with a sudden headache,
became dizzy,
went in to lie down,
cerebral hemorrhage they called it,
it was fast.

So it goes,
I have 9 brothers and sisters,
how many more times will I go through this,
I don’t know,
I may be the next,
or I may be the last,
in any case grief is part of life,
to love is to open oneself to grief,
and I for one think that it is worth it,
for grief means that the heart is alive,
that one does love,
and that each of us has our own way to grieve.

Sometimes grief can lead to serious problems
where the griever will not return to the world of the living
shutting themselves off from others,
for these preaching or prodding will not help,
actually it is never helpful
professionals might be of use for some,
but sad to say some never recover enough to face life again.

For these sensitive ones only compassion is called for
and support as one can best offer it,
but boundaries are needed
for again to prod could make things worse
for these may one day also heal
and if not
they still deserve our support and love.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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