Jim and I used to celebrate our “feast days”—mine is July 22, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and his was July 25, the feast of St. James. During my morning prayer on each of those days recently, I recalled how we would mark these occasions—usually with a card and a small gift related to our patron saint.
Although Jim is no longer physically present, I still feel close to him, especially on days that were significant when he was alive.
At lunch with friends the other day, one mentioned that her grandson’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks. This is will be the second birthday “since he is gone,” she said. The expression birthdays in heaven came to mind. Although her grandson is no longer physically present, his presence is still very strong, and she wants to mark his birthday.
A few weeks ago, I facilitated a bereavement group at the cancer support center where I work. A dozen people talked about the pain of loss and the process of grief. They were strangers before coming to this group, and now they are connected by their shared experience of loss.
At the end of the meeting, the conversation took on a different tone as they planned their monthly Saturday dinner together.
Hope and resiliency were the words that came to mind as the air in the room became lighter. In the midst of deep sorrow, these twelve people were excited about their upcoming dinner.
Life is so often that kind of balancing act; sorrow and joy sitting side by side.
We hold all kinds of sorrows—because of death, dashed dreams, family members lost to addictions, betrayals, health issues and so on—and yet we also hold hope that things will get better.
And if we can hold onto that hope, things usually do get better.
We learn to carry our sorrow without letting it overwhelm us. We remember good times and discover deep gratitude for what had once been. We create a niche in our hearts where we store happy memories.
These experiences of loss change our lives and change us. They can increase our capacity for empathy and compassion, and they can teach us what really matters in life.
Moving through loss and grief can take a long time. People can get stuck in grief, fearing that to let go of sorrow would be a betrayal to those who have died or perhaps finding consolation in the identity of someone who is bereft.
That seems to be the exception, though; most people find a way to move through grief to a new normal—not the same as what once was, but good in a different way.
After their dinner, several members of the bereavement group reported that they had fun. One man brought each of them a loaf of bread from his daughter’s bakery. Small acts of generosity can lift spirits and awaken hope.
What can you do today that will generate hope?