I haven't been laughing much lately, and I miss that part of my soul. The part that laughs with all I am, that sees humor in the most mundane, stupid, and even holy moments of life. Her partner is the one that sings, but when laughter becomes too difficult, singing from the soul exits the building, too. She got tired and weary a few months ago, after that year. And she said, "Enough."
That year, that began with the arrival of a new priest in the parish, one that brought his own joy and laughter and energy to Holy Mother Church and the people that gather. John came to St. James with joy and life and beauty. I would sit in his office for hours discussing the wonder of life. I told him he was the priest I wanted to be when I grew up. He told me to never grow up. Then he got a cold that never went away, and the cold wasn't a cold; it was cancer. And then he began to go away. While John took his last, grand journey, the parish life went along, short one priest. While we tried to love our friend and colleague to the last seconds of his life here, the parish life went along. And while we stood at his funeral, life went on.
I went on vacation to get away, from the grief, if I were honest, only to have to end the escape a few days early because my grandmother died. John and Granny began their journeys to death within a month of each other and went to rest in the arms of God seven months later, within a month of each other. I officiated at her graveside. From the waist up, I was steady and the priest I had been formed to be. From the waist down, hidden by my vestments, I could barely stand.
I cried that night, in my niece’s bed, when no one could hear me, for her. Who would I tell about my travels, I asked, because she loved to travel. A gift she gave me was a love for the world that lay beyond the horizon. When her health prevented her from traveling the world, she would listen for hours to my stories of places I’d been. I showed her pictures of the stained glass windows of St. Paul’s in London still left unrepaired from the bombs of World War II. She would tell me of her life during that era. I told her how cold the Atlantic ocean was, but I waded in it anyway, so I could say I had walked in the water of both oceans. She would share about her childhood trip to California with an aunt who could only drive a car in forward.
I breathed deeply and went forward, only to be met with the unexpected death of my other grandmother. Four months. Three funerals. And a dear friend’s divorce to add to the mix.
I breathed deeply and went forward as the fall church year began, working, staying busy, and living. I was a priest. I had work to do. I was fine. I even got distracted by a really nice guy for a few weeks, before my grieving soul demanded more of me.
I breathed deeply and stopped moving because the broken, grieving part of my soul said, “No more.”
"No more laughing or singing until you give grief space to be."
Grief, that part of love we would all rather ignore, medicate, and distract ourselves through. When we sign onto this great power called love with our friends and family, we skim the fine print and would rather ignore that aspect that says, "Parts of love will hurt." Grief exacts a price. Love exacts a price. We love people, and then they may leave. Our arms can’t hold them anymore. We can’t hear their voices. I dream about people who have died, still feel their love, but it is different.
At the year anniversary of all this loss, I finally had the courage to pay attention to my grief. A retreat at a monastery in the middle of nowhere seemed like a good idea, until I got there, and realized I was the youngest person there by a few decades. I wanted to stay in my cell, call it a day, and just try something else, something easier, until the Abbot walked over to me at dinner, introduced himself, and asked to show me the church. We walked and he talked until I started to speak and cry and breathe and cry and tell the stories and ask the unanswerable questions and get really, really angry and cry.
The Abbot told his stories, too, about his grief, to share those he was privileged to love and miss, as well. He reminded me that priests are human who are often called to be more than human, but we need to grieve and feel sad. He assured me that one needs courage to grieve, because all too often, we avoid it by all sorts of unhealthy means. And on my last night of retreat, he offered the church to me and God for me to say goodbye to those I love.
Late that evening, in front of the Marian altar, I talked to John and told him I missed him and love him. I talked to my grandmothers and said the same. My friend Mary called me on my phone, and together we prayed the Burial Office. She prayed when my tears were too great. And then I prayed the final prayer and offered the Easter blessing. I realized in my soul that my loved ones were home, and the amazing love I shared with them still filled me. I recognized the great irony that John would love my prayers in front of the Marian altar, and my grandmothers would be appalled at such a "Romish" thing.
Then I sang.