We are coming in close to November. All Saints. All Souls. My birthday. My mom’s birthday. Her death day. Thanksgiving. Likely snow upon snow. Memory and hope and gratitude and continued sadness that my mom is not over there in Chicopee, our home town, waiting for me to come take her shopping. I have no clear picture of where she is but here is a sweet picture of who she was. It must suffice.
On the day that my mom died, Dorrie’s elder sister Diane died as well. We went, in a flash, from one grief to another, and by the end of that day we were awash in tears of gratitude and longing. A profound sense of sudden incompleteness that over the years has continued to accompany both of us. Maybe this is what is behind our religious vision of being reunited some day; putting together what has come asunder.
A few days later, maybe even just one day later, we were talking with a dear clergy colleague, telling him about our double loss of mom and sister. I think in fact this conversation happened at a community Thanksgiving dinner at my church. How odd it is that in grief and age we forget some details. My friend heard our words and saw our faces and received our loss with grace. And then he said something that I will never forget. He said “This is not the end. More loss will come.”
The educator Parker Palmer has recently written a book called “On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old.” From the ripe and worn age of 80, Palmer writes about the losses and the grace of living long enough to be considered old. In one essay he talked about contemplation as a life long spiritual practice of seeing and letting go. “If contemplation is about penetrating illusion and touching reality, why do we commiserate with others when they tell us about an experience that’s “disillusioned” them? “Oh, I’m so sorry,” we’ll say. “Please let me comfort you.” Surely it would be better to say “Congratulations! You’ve lost another illusion, which takes you a step closer to the solid ground of reality. Please let me help disillusion you even further.”
I think that is what my friend was doing. Bringing us a step further into the ground of reality which is the truth that this was not our final chapter in love and loss.
Here is the thing. Even in the moment of hearing him utter those hard words we both felt seen and heard. He embraced us and our condition without a soft and cozy blanket of comfort but with something, as Palmer says, that was more solid and, well, eternal.
On some days I am all good with soft blankets and the hush-hush of consolation. But mostly I am grateful for how gravity and gravitas is paving a way forward as I too am getting old. Not as old as Parker Palmer when he wrote his essay. Not as old as my mom was on the day that she died. Not even as old as Dorrie’s sister when she took her last breath. But older. Congratulations are not in order. But maybe, just maybe, my eyes are opened a bit wider and my heart is softened enough to absorb the losses that come with a life lived in love. Maybe Mom, and Diana, wherever they are now, understand.