Let grief refine you into a person of hope

In the five months since the passing of my father, I’ve come to learn that grief is a process of searching. It is searching through photos on my computer for an image of him. It is searching my mind for a delightful memory that I can share with my husband, family and friends. It is searching my soul for what my dad would have said in response to an idea, an event, a piece of news. It is searching for his features in my own reflection. I am constantly searching for my father in the present to reassure myself that he remains with me despite his physical absence.

“Everyone is looking for you” (Mk 1:37).

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Christianity, much like grief, requires recollection and searching in its practice. At the core of the Christian life, we are called to recollect Christ’s light to the world as his body on earth in his absence. We are called to search for Christ in all beings, even the most poor and wretched. We pray that our hearts and minds are open so that the Holy Spirit can use us to evoke him. We hope that our consciences are clear so that we can more easily recall Christ’s will for our lives — what he may say or do in any given situation.

Broken, mended and refined

Grief and the season of Lent are both periods of great solemnity. They are times of refinement. My grief counselor has likened grief to a Japanese art form called kintsugi. Kintsugi is an ancient practice that rejoins broken pieces of an object with gold. The object is brought back together with a stronger substance and, once transformed, is even more beautiful than the original. By highlighting cracks and repairs as events in the life of an object, this ancient artform justifies keeping an object despite its brokenness. A broken bowl is not thrown away simply because it has a crack in it.

In my earliest days of grief, my counselor assured me that though I may be broken by loss, I will become strong again and, hopefully, gain wisdom through this period of immense sorrow. Everyone will experience grief in their lives. I now understand it better. Whenever I drive past a cemetery, I pray for the dead who rest there in hopes that some woman in a hundred year’s time will pray for the repose of my dad’s soul as she drives past his cemetery on her way to the grocery store. Perhaps that is refinement. Perhaps that is wisdom.

Lent similarly brings strength and wisdom as it refines our Christian sensibilities. In denying ourselves, giving more to the poor and praying, we pour Christ — who is much stronger and more beautiful than gold — into our brokenness. We become better, more Christ-like and, hopefully, wiser. Through confession, we reaffirm our knowledge that we are not damned beyond hope. Through the practices of the Lenten season, we can become whole again as we are transformed into a more beautiful version of ourselves.

Holding on to hope

In many ways, the Stations of the Cross evoke the stages of grief as we experience a range of emotions through the process: denial, anger, acceptance and hope, to name a few. We are angry when Jesus is condemned to death because we know that it was unjust. We may be in denial at his passion until we are reminded three times that Jesus fell as he carried his cross. We may begin to hope when Jesus meets his mother, only to fall into despair yet again when Jesus’ clothes are taken away. The stations, like grief, bring us through a range of emotions as we relive the death of Our Lord.

Interestingly, in many of the depictions of the Stations of the Cross, the Holy Mother is depicted as stoic while Mary Magdalene and the other women of Jerusalem weep. It’s believed that Mary is portrayed this way for she knew what was to come: that Christ would conquer death, she would see him again, and the Passion, though heartbreaking, was not the end.

Unlike grief, Lent comes to an end with Easter celebrations. I will carry the loss of my dad for the rest of my life, but thankfully, I can hold onto hope because, like Mary, I know that death is not the end. Rather, I’m reassured that Christ is always present to help me bear this cross. He will come in fulfillment of his promise to conquer death once again. I can hold onto hope that I be reunited with my father at the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. I look forward to that day — the resurrection and life of the world to come. Amen.

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