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I lost another friend this week. Her name was Banshee, and she earned the name from birth: Her mother was a stray cat we’d taken in, heavily pregnant, and when her kittens were born (Caesarean, on Mother’s Day), one of them yowled loudly into the face of our vet. With that, Banshee announced herself to the world. And she never stopped. She was a princess from the get-go, demanding attention, treats, toys. But she was also my companion. Most cats have their own agendas; Banshee’s agenda was mine. Wherever I was, she was. Whatever I was doing could only be enhanced (in her mind) by her presence.

All of my cats have been companions to one degree or another. Bella and Gwen liked to sit on my lap while I wrote. My gal pal Smudge always felt the need to use her box (located in the bathroom) whenever I needed to use the facilities. Mr. Beaumont would come running whenever I sang, no matter how off-key. Honkee (who we joked was part velociraptor, due to his scimitar-like claws) would have defended me to the death, had the need ever arisen. I miss them all acutely.

What are we to learn from grief? Maybe that life — all life — is worth something and capable of being mourned. Maybe that God reaches out to us constantly, sometimes in unlikely and furry ways. Or maybe it’s a chance to remind us that, even as we long for the world beyond this one, the physicality of our world, the warmth of a purring body, the texture of fur, are things to savor.

As I walk through this very vibrant — and sometimes dark — Lenten season, I am aware of the shadow of death and the stark contrast it provides to life.

Stand in sunlight,
but do not fear the dark.
There are nameless things there, sure,
but also the shades of things corporeal
and loved: a coat on a hook, a shoe,
a book. Nothing turns to dust. It only
transmutes: evaporation, rainfall, cycle
after cycle washing pure the air.
Holes in hearts are not mended.
Rather, the heart remolds itself,
taking in matter from daffodils, perhaps,
or the smell of a wet dog. It ceases beating,
then resumes. There is no death.

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More and more often lately, I find that I just don’t want to participate in many of the conversations going on around me.

Sometimes it’s because a group of people just want to gripe.  Yes, your kid lost the race.  Someone will.  And your mad because that particular water feature in the pool wasn’t working correctly.  It probably has something to do with the storm we just had and the repairmen.  Yep, those guys right there.

But more often than not its just because there is nothing I can add.  When someone posts something on Facebook, I’ll click “like” or “frown” but it seem ridiculous to me to be one of 45 people saying “me, too!”

Other times its just because things are too overwhelming.  A friend just lost her husband and son.  In one weekend they went from being a family of four to a family of two.  I’m all the way across the country so it isn’t like I can take her food.  Besides, the fridge is full and so is the freezer.  And someone is with her pretty much constantly.  I’m very grateful for those friends who are near at hand.

Yet, I’ve signed up to be one of the herd of friends afar who make sure that she always has a positive message to greet her online.  This is going to be tough because really there is no upside to what happened.  And fool that I am, I volunteered for tomorrow.  I’m not good at idle chatter.  That should be pretty obvious.  After all, I call it idle chatter.

Fortunately, there is a message that I can send her.  God is there for you.  So are we, your friends.  Even when we don’t have something amazing to say.  We are here.  You are not alone.

–SueBE

 

God said itToday, this nation experienced the worst mass shooting in our history, and the whole world is in mourning. A man with an assault rifle entered a gay bar in Florida and began shooting. According to the FBI, he may have had leanings toward extreme Islamic ideologies.

There’s so much to say about this event. I started this post, hoping to remain calm and keep a reverential tone in order to pay my respects those souls lost, but as I listen to details on the news, I feel myself simmering.

There are so many reasons to be outraged.

I’d say, “don’t get me started,” but don’t look now. It’s too late!

A semi-automatic rifle? Why in the world are such weapons available commercially in the state of Florida?

Attacking people because they’re gay? What does that have to do with anyone else’s life? How does one lose anything because someone else found love?

Doing this in the name of religion? There’s no way in the world that God would sanction this crime against humanity.

Trying to instill fear in the name of a terrorist group? I hate to break this newsflash, but it’s actually having the opposite effect all across the country.

At the Tony Awards ceremony tonight, actor Frank Langella said this in his acceptance speech: “When something bad happens, we can use that moment to define us, to destroy us, or to strengthen us.”

We join hands with the world in prayer today, for the souls to rest, for the families to heal, and for those seeking peace to find consolation.

No matter how great your sadness or how deep your sorrow, there’s one person to whom you can always turn: Mary. Oh, I know. I can hear you: “You Catholics and your Mary…it’s Mary this and Mary that! Why, it’s practically heretical.” Marian devotion may be peculiarly Catholic, but there’s nothing peculiar in recognizing Mary as a particularly appealing and deeply understanding role model.

First of all, she knows heartbreak better than a country music ballad. The terror of losing a child in a big city? Been there. The profound grief of watching your own flesh and blood, your beloved son, be tortured and murdered? Done that. I don’t mean to sound blasé. Mary knows the darkest and most painful parts of motherhood like no one else. I can’t think of a better resource for parents or those who mourn. However heavy your heart, her heart knows your sorrow. No one who ever lived has experienced more vividly than Mary the destruction of innocent life.

But Mary is more than just a grief counselor. She is a model of acceptance. Some find Mary’s humility and serenity mildly annoying or even mealy-mouthed. (I know; I’ve been guilty of it myself.) “Thy will be done.” Honestly, you have no more passion than that for captaining the ship of your life? But Mary’s “yes” turns out to be stronger than any “no” could ever be. She doesn’t just accept. She puts herself into God’s hands totally. That takes guts. Anyone who’s ever tripped over the words “thy will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer knows what I mean.

What’s more, acceptance can be a powerful thing. Like poor old Hamlet, we can try to bend the world to our own ends, only to find that “the rest is silence.” Only in acceptance can we find peace. Only in acceptance can we find the ability to go on after life’s greatest trials.

Though Mary’s role in the New Testament is underwritten at best, the fact is that she was present. Present for Jesus’ life and ministry, present for his death, present for the Pentecost and subsequent spread of Christianity. She might not have said much (that we know of), but she was there as witness and active participant. She went where the work took her — the work of God, that is — whether that was far from home (Egypt) or in her own neighborhood. We would do well to do as Mary did.

So think of Mary as a resource, in pain as well as in joy. (No one has ever described the keeping of happy memories better than in that little sentence: “She kept all of these things in her heart.”) Whatever you’re going through, Mary understands. Let her stand with you.

It is hard to believe. It has been one year since my father died, a whole year he hasn’t been a part of. He was not there to worry about me when I had pneumonia, as he was the first time it happened, when I was 17. He brought chocolates and books to the hospital, put a warm washcloth on my arm when I complained about the coldness of the IV. He is not here now to joke that my new singing voice (I lost my upper register, it appears, permanently) sounds suspiciously like Ethel Merman’s, who he pretended to love but really loathed, setting up a premise the whole family continues to trade on. (Just ask my brother what his “favorite” movies are and be prepared to cringe.)

I often dream about the dead. These dreams are comforting and cathartic; a colleague who works in hospice thinks I have a gift. Just the other night I dreamed about my friend Tim, who lost his fight with cancer last year, aboard a sailing ship, a spyglass to his eye. He sighted me and waved, yelling out cheerfully, “I’ve got your cat!” (Our Lula Mae, who recently passed, would make a fine ship’s cat; she was clever, agile and always up for adventure.) But I’ve never dreamed about my dad, never got a feeling or message or reassuring “nudge” from the great beyond.

Perhaps we never get over the loss of a parent. My friend Kathleen lost her father during the Vietnam War. She still struggles with it. How much simpler it would be if our loved ones really could communicate with us from heaven! When greedy old Mr. Dives begs God to send a warning to his living relatives so that they will not end up in hell as he has (in the New Testament story of Lazarus the beggar), I feel a trickle of sympathy for him. The living need to know what the dead know. I think, in most cases, it would bring us great joy.

Ah, but that’s where faith comes in, right? Bridging the gap between comfort and discomfort, mourning and solace. Faith may come on instantaneously, but it is slow in its work. Perhaps this is for the best. Like a super-strong glue that does not set quickly, but can be repositioned, faith allows us wiggle room in our healing. It keeps up with us as we pass through the stages of grief, setting up only when we have reached acceptance.

I am not there quite yet. I have accepted my father’s loss, but I am not comfortable with it. Maybe I never will be. But to all of us who are mourning, I say, keep at it. We learn about those we love not just in their presence, but also in their absence.

 

 

It’s been a tough Lent: full of loss and anguish. Today, I lost the uncle I adored; later, I had to put my sweet cat Smudge to sleep. I am aware that I am walking the way of the cross. Every loss I feel, every sadness each of us experiences, is a mere drop in the pond compared to the sacrifice of our savior. Jesus walks before us, always, and carries the brunt of the load. Here’s a poem to help us remember.

INRI

At first, it is a relief;
you are off your feet.
The first nail is bloodless,
threaded between the bones
of your hand and the blue veins.
Painful, yes. A shock.
The second should be easier,
a known hurt.
It is not.
The pain bangs in your ears
so that you hardly notice the feet.

It is worse when they stand you up.
The flesh tears, the bones snap
like twigs, like a bush ablaze,
crackling, roaring,
the blood now throbbing I AM, I AM.
You shift your feet, standing as best you can
on a nub of wood. Otherwise, your hands
would tear like tissue.
Body exposed, arms spread — how you long
to pull them in, to cover yourself.
Below, they see only a parody of welcome, an invitation
to poke and prod you, like devils
in this burning place of judgment.

They roll dice for your clothes,
made by your mother probably,
the thread spun from wool lovingly,
the last things you own.

She is there, too, her round face
flushed with heat. She wants to wail,
to rend the skies with her wailing.
Your eyes warn her: She is of no consequence
to them now, a woman, a beast,
but if she disturbs their games
they will beat her.
They long to beat her.
It is tiresome to wait for you to die.

In the end, they must break your legs.
In the end, they must pierce you with a lance,
offer your parched lips vinegar,
one last practical joke.
You cry for what seems furthest,
most distant,
and then you die.

They will be startled
by the sudden darkness.
They will be afraid of the answering call
from the sky. But they will not understand.
No. Not yet.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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