Good Zeal

Easter Grief

White azalea bush beginning to bloom for EasterAs I sit down to write, we are well into Holy Week. By the time you read it, we will have celebrated the joy of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday.

This year, the 19th anniversary of my dad’s death falls on Easter. When I hear his name read in the prayers for the deceased at Mass, I anticipate a wave of emotions. Dad became a single parent after mom died of cancer when my younger sister and I were in high school. All these decades later, I still miss my mom, her kindness, humor, love of gardening, travel and adventure. I wonder what our lives might have been like if she had lived. I still miss dad, his uncomplaining bearing of all our burdens, his untiring listening ear, his spiritual strength, and wisdom. Looking back now, I see that how I chose to interpret certain memories of them has shaped my life.

I journeyed through most of Lent accompanied by five women and men participating in my grief support group. We will continue as traveling companions for another five weeks into the Easter season. Lent/Easter is a helpful season for mourners because it mirrors the pain of relinquishment and emptiness that can eventually receive the gift of newness.

Every week, we share our stories with one another – memories of our deceased loved ones, how we are coping and adjusting (or not) to the losses. I know that for them, given enough time, the pain will soften, and new life will bud and flower. That new life will help reframe the old memories. The season of Lent will eventually give way to the season of Easter.

The role memory plays brings to mind a quote by W. Somerset Maughm: “What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of ones faculties, mental and physical, as the burden of ones memories.” Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister counters this view in her marvelous book, The Gift Years: Growing Older Gracefully, explaining that our “task is to refuse to make our memories a burden. Instead, the goal is to give them the kind of meaning that makes them precious rather than painful. Memory is a mental function, but it is also a choice.” We can decide how to interpret our memories, to learn and grow from them, and which ones will shape our daily life.

The communion liturgy proclaims, “Do this in memory of me.” We remember Jesus’ terrible suffering and death, not as his disciples’ initial dashed hopes. We remember it as his saving mercy and forgiveness for us all. We remember the empty tomb not with his disciples’ initial fear and confusion, but as Jesus’ victory over sin and death that promise us resurrection and eternal life with him.

Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen beautifully wrote: “O God who swathed all things in deepest dark before that first bright blossoming of light, grant us remembrance of the day when first the yellow-hearted crocus burst upon last winter’s cold to kindle hope that darkness will not win at story’s end.” May this season of Easter rekindle trust and hope for newness of life, even as we grieve.

By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB

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