Today I am digging deep inside myself, because I am on watch. My step father is fighting his last fight and I am deeply saddened. I am looking deeply into my own walk with God and my own zig-zag pathway to eternity. I recall so many of the wonderful chats we have had over the past 30 years; the many, many laughs he has given us. Today, though, I am remembering the more sober, serious conversations we have had and I am praying for his soul; I am praying for a peaceful death and reunion with God. Over the years, we have spoken about his mistakes, the ways in which he wishes he could have behaved differently. The beautiful part of that is that he recognized those mistakes and he acknowledged a life lived apart from his faith. He struggled to get himself right with God, even before there was a diagnosis of cancer. He went to his priest, he made a long confession, and he got himself back into Church. Nearer to the end of his life, he sought comfort in his faith. And he brought my mom with him; that is a gift I will forever be grateful for.
Today, and once again, Abbot Tryphon wrote a post on his Facebook wall about relationship and our fear of them. It was a beautiful piece and I quote some of it here: “Grieving the loss of a relationship, either by death or breakup, is just as important to the maturation of our heart, as having a long term relationship, for in grieving we allow ourselves to stay connected to others, and remain openhearted to what God has for us. If fear of loss disables us, we may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us, for by throwing courage to the side, we deprive ourselves of the touch and the intimacy that helps us open our hearts to all that God has in store for us.
Grieving is the way you can heal from loss, and, in turn, be open to relationships that can make your life more complete, and more fulfilled. Many people do not allow themselves to grieve, so they deprive themselves of relationships that can lead to spiritual growth that only comes through suffering loss. You grow stronger if you allow yourself to grieve when you’ve experienced loss, for grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise. If we refuse to love another, for fear of loss, we remain closed off from not only others, but from God. “He who does not love remains in death (1 John 3:14).”
As the Abbot stated, we cannot close ourselves off from relationship for fear of grieving; “grieving is one of the most fundamental of life skills.” Today I am grieving because while my stepdad is struggling for each and every breath today, I grieve the loss of someone in my life who really affected my entire family. My mom is a better woman because he chose to love her. He loved me and my children as if we were born through him. never differentiating between any of us. And I am forever grateful for that. My brother told him on Saturday that he hopes he can love his wife as my stepdad loved our mother and he thanked him for loving our mom so totally. What a gift he gave us. And I know he would be embarrassed by my saying this in a public forum, and he would joke it away; but I also know he would secretly be very pleased to know he touched us all so deeply. My sons learned a lot from their grandpa and they all love him very much. He used to play with my sons and tell them silly stories. But most of all, he shared himself with them and that is a priceless gift.
Lent is surely trying us this year. I am still clinging to Elder Thaddeus’ book and struggling to make my way through it. The book and his thoughts have truly touched my heart and soul this year, and I hope engendered permanent changes to the woman I am. He stated that, ” Our Lord is pleased with the good deeds we perform. Works of mercy and everything else we do for our salvation and the benefit of our neighbor and the Holy Church, all this is pleasing to God. However, what pleases Him most is simple, innocent and childlike love which cleaves to His heart. This is what is most pleasing to Him and what He wants from us. This is what every person can give Him, rich or poor, young or old.” My stepdad became a changed man once he was welcomed back into the Church. He and my mom began working for a homeless center their parish ran. They sold clothing and household items there, and also provided free weekly meals. They even assist people with paying utility and grocery bills. My mom was in charge of organizing the donated clothing, pricing it, and putting it out for sale. More often than not, when someone in need came for a meal, they would also be walked through the little shop and given whatever it was they needed, no money expected. The local need grew bigger and bigger and my stepdad used to ride in this big semi-truck down to a different county to get food from this central food bank, to resupply their center. He loved doing that. They got involved and made some wonderful friends through volunteering there. It enhanced their lives and brought them great joy and peace. And although they did all these great things, I appreciate more especially how God worked in their lives and allowed them to love more and become more at peace. I was so shocked when my mom volunteered to do this, because it was so out of character for her; but it became her character, as it changed her. And what a blessing that is – and a lesson for me, in my struggles (most especially this Lenten journey). My mom was never an overly demonstrative person, but as she has aged, and gone through her own journey, we have grown much closer. I treasure that relationship now. I also know that my stepdad helped to bring this change about and for that, too, I am forever grateful.
By the end of this Lenten journey, I am hoping for a joyous morning, when we welcome our Risen Lord. The hope I have comes from a mighty struggle; a struggle I have yet to complete. But as the Scripture verse from Romans promises us, we have hope through our struggles. I now pray for strength to endure these coming days and moments when I cannot afford to wallow in my own grief, but must be strong and a comfort to others, mostly to my mom. I know God does not give me more than I can handle (“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” 1 Corinthians 10:13) and I also know that He will lead me in the way I should go (“This is what the LORD says, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you how to succeed, who directs you in the path by which you should go.” Isaiah 48:17) and through His guidance, we will all reach our Resurrection, our Easter.
I pray for God’s blessing on our family through these next days; most especially for my mom. I ask the Lord’s strength rest upon her as she faces these days ahead. God grant us peace and love…and healing from this grief. Amen.