We all have different ways of grieving. Partly, I keep the grief at bay by keeping busy, and then finding quiet times, here and there, when I can deal with a little bit of the grief. Other people I know immerse themselves in their grief, letting it pour out everywhere. Some people prefer to grieve privately, others find comfort in the support of those around them.
For much of my life, I've been more of the solitary griever, an introvert on the Myers-Briggs tests. Yet I went through a time of grief a decade ago when a friend offered me some sage advice.
Another part of my personality is that I like to help people. At the same time, I've always been reluctant to accept help from others. My friend pointed out that if everyone didn't accept help, there would be no one for those of us who like to help others to help. It made sense, and I've gotten better at accepting help.
I've also recently been hearing many people talk about the value of gratitude. By being grateful, our experiences of events and people around us changes.
With all this in mind, I've been balancing my grief with gratitude to all the people who have come to comfort and console me. It has made those awkward moments when people come to offer condolences much more comfortable.
This fits nicely with All Saints Day, which was last Thursday, and many Christians observed in one way or another this Sunday. We sang hymns about all the saints who from their labors rest. The priest at our church gave a great sermon about how the saints around us, through their support and encouragement can help us through the most difficult trials.
I thought about Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
I have managed to persevere through my grief, thanks, in large part, to the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me. Some of these witnesses may have very different understandings of who God is. They might talk about Allah, some higher power, or simply love, but they have been witnesses of this higher power to me.
With this focus of thankfulness, together with thinking about my mother, another hymn comes to mind. I always associate heading back to Williamstown for Thanksgiving, with the hymn "Now Thank We All Our God".
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Who from our mothers' arms… What do we associate with motherhood? Compassion? Caring? Comfort? I was a reckless daredevil as a kid, ending up with a long list of injuries, but always, my mother was there to take me in her arms and provide comfort. Now, she has passed away. I will not feel her arms around me again, as I did when I was a young boy.
Yet there are many around me who have offered their comfort at the passing of my mother. Some have been bold and given me hugs without asking. Others have been more circumspect and have asked if they can give me a hug.
The answer is yes. Thank you. God continues to bless me on my way, providing those blessings, no longer from my mother's arms, but from the arms of friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
I know that there will be moments of great sadness, together with moments of wonderful memories. But most importantly I know, we are all in this together; both when we help one another and when we allow others to help us. Then, we are blessed and at our best.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit… for all the saints… Because we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… These are all phrases that come to mind on this first day of November, All Saints Day, as I mourn the death of my mother. Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit is that childhood invocation of luck for the coming month. As I think about my mother, I think of the charmed idyllic childhood I had. Life has been very good to me, and even in my grief, there is joy, hope and gratitude.
All Saints Day, the day that Christians celebrate the lives of their loved ones has always been an important holiday for me. The hymn, “For All the Saints”, has always been one of my favorites. This morning, I’m watching videos of this and other great hymns.
As a final note for this morning, the outpouring of condolences and support has been amazing. I cannot tell everyone, how greatly they are appreciated.
Last Friday, I attended the funeral for Lillian Reba Moses. I believe I had only met her once, at the Community Health Center’s 40th anniversary earlier this year. She was one of the founders of CHC, and if it weren’t for her work, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I listened to stories of her dedication and commitment to the community, and I couldn’t help but think of a world where there were people like “Mother Moses” looking after the people of the community with a stern but compassionate watchful eye.
The loss of these archetypal maternal figures has almost become a cliché about what is wrong with society today. Too often we fail to look out for one another the way Reba did during her life.
Amidst all of the strife, Reba clung to her beliefs, and the hymn that echoed through the service was “It Is Well with My Soul”.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
On Saturday evening, I attended a music event at my local high school. Tying together the great performance was creativity and compassion, the twenty-first century skills that are also as ageless as caring for the community. I had thought of writing a blog post about Mother Moses, Music in Motion and the coming of Hurricane Sandy. We are at our best when we come together as a community, either the way Mother Moses brought people together, or the way music teachers at Amity High School brought people together.
Today, that community is gathering around my family and me. Last night, my mother died in a Hurricane Sandy related automobile accident. She was a few years younger than Mother Moses, but they share a birthday.
My sorrows are rolling like sea billows, and the sea has been particularly roiled these past few days. Yet at the same time, peace like a river is attending my way and I can say that it is well with my soul, having known people like Mother Moses and my own mother who have cared so much for their communities.
Back in 1999, I took a wonderful online class on grief counseling. I learned about different ways different cultures deal with grief and about complications surrounding grief. The thing I remember most is the importance of being with people who are grieving so they can work through their grief in ways that fit their situation. One line sticks with me, many years afterwards, “Bring donuts”. It is a simple way of saying, I care, I’m here to help in whatever way you need.
Today, the Dunkin Donuts in Middletown does not have any donuts. Staff didn’t make it in on time to make donuts, so my co-workers brought me muffins instead.
I arrived at work early today, so I could help with the emergency communications following Hurricane Sandy. The power was out at our house and many of the roads in Woodbridge were blocked by downed trees so I took a circuitous route.
At work, I spoke with other members of the technology and communications teams about which sites would be opening when and how best to get the message out. Then, I got a message from my sister via Facebook. She knows that Facebook is normally one of the quickest and easiest ways to get in touch with me. She asked me to call immediately.
From her, I learned that my mother died last night in a car accident. My sister was very shaken. For me, the initial shock moved to numbness. I told my coworkers and started contacting friends and family.
Perhaps some of the way I process grief is by staying calm and doing the tasks at hand. I’ve stayed at work, hoping that power will get restored soon, and doing what I can from here. I’ve spoken with many friends who are being very supportive, and I greatly appreciate it. We all have different ways of dealing with grief and my calm quietness is part of how I am dealing with grief right now.
Another part of how I deal with grief is to write. I love to write and it helps me deal with these deep feelings. Do not be surprised if I write several blog posts along these lines. Later, when I’m ready, I hope to write memories of my mother.
Over the coming days, I will do what I can for my job, for my campaign, for my family, and for myself. Thank you to everyone who has expressed condolences.
It is a beautiful autumnal evening and a great night to watch for shooting stars. The annual Orionid meteor show peaks this evening. I love meteor showers and often stay up to watch them. I've thought about what to wish on a shooting star this evening, perhaps something about the election, but then, I thought back to the story of the Orionid meteor showers.
They are formed from the dust that Halley's Comet left in its wake the last time it passed by in 1986. This summer, at Falcon Ridge, I heard a great band called Gathering time. Their song, Halley's Comet, was one of my favorites.
It was 1985, when Halley's comet came in view
and if I didn't see it then, it'd be a long, long wait I knew,
I lived in a college town where street lights made stars hard to see
To see it well, I'd have to walk
Unto the school observatory
Though it was often on my mind,
I somehow never found the time
and it had all but vanished when
I knew I'd missed my chances then…
The song goes on to talk about living in Brooklyn, and missing chances to visit the World Trade Center or reconnect with a friend who died on 9/11.
It is a beautiful song about missed opportunities, and a reminder to seize the day.
Halley's comet won't be back until I am over 100, but every year, we get the opportunity to catch glimpses of its remnant streaking across the sky in the Orionid Meteor Showers.
Will I see shooting stars tonight? if so, will my wishes on shooting stars come to pass? I'll need to seize the day, and try to make my dreams come true.