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  • Writer's pictureRev. Ani

Holiday Grief & the Advent of Hope

~a spirituality of receiving



Grief is Universal


From February 2022 to January 2023, I encountered significant losses in my life — from the suicide of a dear friend, to the death of my brother (in-law) to cancer within a month of our discovering his illness, to my husband’s tragic death by a negligent motorist, to the long goodbye to my mom whose body finally gave out. Grief is not selective, but part of the human experience. We can take comfort in the solidarity of our humanness knowing that the intense sadness that consumes us is not unique. Nevertheless, when we feel the anguish, it hurts like we are the only one who has ever suffered the pain of losing a beloved.


When my husband died, people ministered to me in so many ways. Sitters covered my caregiving shifts at my mom’s, in addition to their own. People brought meals to me. Neighbors mowed the lawn. Family cleaned the house. Community members took care of other household maintenance. Loved ones offered continuous emotional support. I was literally being carried from one moment to the next.


Yet, people called me, “strong.” Isn’t that ironic? I got out of bed every morning, but I certainly wasn’t taking care of myself. I spent the first half of 2023 depressed and despondent.


The Spirituality of Receiving

God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. ~Colossians 1:27

The Advent season recalls us to the importance of making room and consenting to the action of Spirit in our lives. And in the Christmas story we celebrate how into our human poverty of spirit, the Divine generously and graciously appears. Within each of us, the Spirit of Love abides as a fount of provision. While the consumerist society would sell Christmas as the time of giving, the reality is that this age-old story is about receiving — particularly, Love manifest. 


I marvel over the ways that Love continues to manifest for me without fail. During the Thanksgiving holiday this year, I had the flu. Since I was quarantined, people texted me their encouragement, and family members brought me a plate of food. Two short weeks later, I contracted an upper respiratory infection with fever. During that time, friends and family brought meals and groceries to me, and multiple loved ones texted me to inquire about how I was recovering. All of this brought home to me how vulnerable we are and how love is everywhere. I felt like Mary, when she exclaimed,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. ~Luke 1:46–56

Taking Refuge


Navigating grief can be heart-wrenching, and recovering from illness can feel so lonely. The good news is that we don’t have to suck it up. We don’t have to be strong or try to do anything by ourselves. We can let go of our pride and the need to be “the giver.” We can take refuge in community.


In my lowest moments, my emotions felt like a heavy darkness that was consuming me from the inside out. But feelings are not facts, and they don’t define us. In other words, when we are feeling the devastation of death, the isolation of infirmity, or any manner of grief, it is tempting to start assigning meaning to our situation. For example, we might feed narratives that say things, such as, “This person is gone. My life is over,” or “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired! I guess I’ll just have to accept that this is my life from now on,” or, “I’ll never get past this. Something is really wrong with me.”


The truth is, though, that feelings have come to pass, not to stay. It is important to validate ourselves and offer ourselves compassion when it seems like we are drowning in a sea of agony and despair that will never end. We can acknowledge and honor our feelings and allow ourselves to receive all the love that is so freely given — maybe from unexpected and unlikely sources, such as a sunrise, a flower, a song, a poem, or the smile of a stranger. We can attune to our needs in the moment and do what best awakens us to love. Big emotions offer us the opportunity to put ourselves in context, remind ourselves that our grief story matters, and to show ourselves the simple human kindness that we would offer to others in the same situation. 


Grief hurts, and there is very little that makes it easier when we are caught in a whirlpool of misery. When I couldn’t see any light, well-meaning friends would try to soothe me with, “It will get better with time,” and my anger wanted to punch them (figuratively). I felt that way because I yearned for someone to get in the room of my current reality with me, a companion to hold my hand. Solidarity and affirmation are soothing balms. 


Nevertheless, they were right. Over time, the emotional roller coaster does not reach such dramatic heights, AND this is not something that we can manufacture or force. Into the poverty of our humanness, Love manifests to help us heal, to give us hope. You are not alone. May your heart be open to receive the love you need today. 


 

Dear friend,


May your mind be peaceful and calm,

may your body be relaxed and comfortable,

and may your heart be filled with love.


Thank you for reading.


Blessings and gratitude,

Ani


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