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9-LOSS

Death is not the only loss in our lives

SALLY FRASER finds that sharing experiences helps deal with suffering — By SALLY FRASER

I think we should do that loss Mass,” I say to Fr Martin. “That idea you had a while ago.” I am aware that we are very busy, but in my role of pestering priests into doing things I have identified this particular service as a priority. “I think we should do it for Sacred Heart.”

“Can you tell me what the Sacred Heart means to you?”, he asks me, and I am surprised to feel hot tears at the back of my eyes.

“No, no I can’t,” I splutter, unused to not being able to articulate myself, but aware that, painful as this feeling is, its probably a sign that this indeed is a good idea. That on some level, I know that I have found healing by offering those things I struggle with to the heart of Jesus, and that the freedom that has brought is something to share.

Because a people who need to grow are a people who need to grieve, as grieving is always a necessary part of change. All growth requires the shedding of outer layers one way or another, of old skins. We all turn to dust every single day after all, not just at that one final death.

I am aware that our Church, all Churches, are facing change, and that as pastoral leaders we are demanding a lot of our parishioners.

We ask them to come to meetings where they have to talk to each other rather than be told what to do.

They have to say nice things about themselves, think about what gifts they might have received from God for the community they love.

They have to listen and be listened to, hear their own voices in a new way in familiar spaces. All this is uncomfortable, challenging.

We need to support them, and help them let go of what they need to let go of in order to be the Church that this community so desperately needs them to be.

There had to be a ritual element too. Ritual is, after all, something we are so good at as a Church. But sometimes we limit our rituals to the black and white, the cut and dried, whereas most of life, and therefore most of our struggles, happens in the grey areas. Pastorally then, being called to accompany, that is where we need to be.

We are incredibly good at dealing with death in the Catholic Church, but what of other losses we live with? Loss of health, identity, homeland, youth.

What about those things that are painful in a messy, undefineable way? Relationships that failed for reasons we don’t understand, people who walked out of our lives deliberately, not taken by death.

Or, people who are still with us bodily, but the persons we loved left some time ago. After all, we are living longer but dying slower, people can leave us in cruel increments rather than all at once.

In our church, we wanted to honour all of these things. A therapist friend of mine agreed it was a good idea, as he said there needed to be an emphasis on being with loss rather than dealing with loss.

We had a beautiful, quiet Mass. We sang Be Still For The Presence Of The Lord and genuinely felt that presence, like balm, and we lit candles and took them to the Sacred Heart altar. Those who were able-bodied helped those who were less so. And perhaps, to my surprise, the feeling was peaceful rather than painful.

Like most good miracles, the miracle that occurred afterwards happened around the table, and came as a real surprise. Seven of us, ages ranging from 35 to 86, shared stories over cups of tea.

As you might expect, the first exchanges were stories of loss, of babies who did not make it alive into this world, of bankruptcies and breakdowns.

“I hadn’t thought about it for so long, it was good to get it out and look at it again,” came one wise response. But then slowly a chance started to occur.

“Tommy Finegan was my first crush,” declared a very cherished octogenarian.

“Oh great!” I chimed in. “Mine was Alan Broadbent!”

“We are not going down this route,” I was told, but it was too late. We were all talking about first crushes, courtships, wedding days. Our feisty parishioners revealed their rebellious desires to wear low-backed dresses, or even ‘off-white,’ and soon marriage stories moved to birthing stories, labours, birth plans, even adoptions, of children and grandchildren and shared experiences of womanhood that spanned generations.

It was only as I walked home I reflected that it was one of the happiest, jolliest conversations I had been part of at our church, where too often we can be stuck in a wounded, slightly angry, nostalgia for a past which seems out of reach to younger people like myself.

We had made space for life, I found myself thinking. Having put aside the time to grieve, having given what we had lost its due, we had made space for life and laughter and hope.

And I do feel hopeful. If we have the courage (and the very word courage means to stay in heart) to face our pain and truly offer it to Him who is so keen to help us hold it, then who knows what we can give new life to together. Who knows what we can birth.

– Sally Fraser is a pastoral associate at St Mary’s Star of the Sea in Leith, Edinburgh. She converted to Catholicism in her 20s and is married with two small children.

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