Last weekend was the 15th anniversary of my youngest sister’s death. Every year, May 15 is a sad day for me, not because I don’t believe in eternity and the hope of heaven, but because losing someone far too early (she was 22 years old) just doesn’t seem right. Granted, losing anyone, whether they are an infant, or 100 years old, brings grief, but when the seemingly natural order of things is broken—children dying before parents, a widow raising her children without her spouse, children growing up without a parent—there is a lasting grief that can surprisingly spring up on you, even when you have mostly moved on with your life.
I see a lot more smiles these days. Maybe because I see vaccinated people without a mask, living their lives without the fear of hurting another individual. And then maybe it is hope that seemed buried for quite a while this past year as we tried to optimistically look forward, but saw so many roadblocks ahead. I see people at mass I have not seen in over a year, vaccinated and excited to connect with people again. You can kind of feel the hope in the air, as life starts to look more like it used to.
Yet even with this hope, this weekend reminded me that there are still a lot of people hurting. There are people celebrating their first Mother’s Day without their mother. Children dreading a Father’s Day without their father. Grandmothers bringing their grandchildren to mass because their husband no longer stands next to them. Many are hurting over the loss of loved ones, but equally, people are hurting over the loss of relationships and connections with others, the loss of experiences that can’t be replaced- prom or going away for a first year of college, or reunions and celebrations.
COVID took away a lot of things this year, but the opportunity to grieve with people was one of the saddest losses. You might hear of someone dying, but you couldn’t go to the funeral because of limits on attendance. And then you didn’t see their surviving family members because you weren’t fully vaccinated and you were trying to follow the health recommendations as best you could. And now, maybe even a full year after some of these losses, you see someone sitting alone and that part of your heart that never got to grieve finally “gets it.” The grief that that person has been experiencing for over a year, mostly alone, is finally yours and then what do you do with it?
One of my favorite, and incidentally the shortest, verses in the Bible is John 11:35,“Jesus wept.” Jesus came to Mary and Martha after the devastating loss of their brother. He knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and that his family members would be reunited with him again. Yet as they grieved next to him, he wept. Sometimes, in the depths of my sorrow, I have imagined Jesus sitting next to me, crying with me. No words. Just him and our tears. It doesn’t take away the grief, but I don’t feel quite so alone in my grief.
As we join with people who have experienced a loss this year, we can’t bring back loved ones or take away the suffering. But maybe we can just weep with someone. Share in their grief, even when there are no words to say, to show them they are not alone in their sorrow.
We can commit to pray for people going through hard times, believing that God can use us, even when the circumstances make it difficult to be physically with them. Prayer should never be a “cop-out,” or a way to get away with not actually doing something for another person, but when we pray, we can believe that God is moving, and that He will lead us when there is an opportunity to physically do something for others.
Or maybe we can laugh with them. We can reminisce about the wonderful memories that we have and keep loved ones alive with our stories. There is no script for what we should say and only the Holy Spirit can really guide us as we seek to be used by Him to bring comfort and connection.
Connection is really the key. Connecting ourselves with others and ultimately allowing our lives to be a tool to connect others with God. We serve a God who is compassionate and loving and listens. I pray that even in my imperfection, I can get out of the way enough to let God work in me and through me so others can experience the only peace that can meet us in our grief.
Grief is not something that you get over, but when we can sit with the author of peace, grief can become an old friend that reminds us that we have loved and been loved in return. And that is something we can share with others and that can never be taken away.
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary to China and currently serves in youth ministry with her husband Kurt at their Catholic parish. She is also the Executive Director of Camp to Belong-Georgia, a non-profit that serves siblings separated in foster care. She currently resides in Monticello.