The God of all comfort…

Friend and classmate Katie delivered this stunning example of living through the “strange planet” of bereavement, at class yesterday, and kindly gave me permission to post it so others can benefit from her view.

SCS: Exploring Your Ministry
Homily, 12 February 2011
Katie P.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

There are many things I learned when my mother died.  I learned that life is not fair.  I learned that people go away when you are least prepared, because you can never be fully prepared to lose someone you love. I learned that believing you have time to tell your loved ones everything you want to tell them is wrong thinking; never pass up a chance to speak your heart.

I learned that sending flowers isn’t really a great thing to do: they need their water changed and stems snipped to stay fresh; the ones that die first need to be weeded out before they look awful and get smelly; they take up a lot of space (really, whose home has ready-made display space for 15+ arrangements?); and what do you do with all of the vases afterward?  Having all of those flowers that needed care (and ended up dying and being thrown away) was almost too much for me to bear.  Some people may love them and find comfort in the distraction of caring for them, but I found it overwhelming.

I have a policy never to give someone a gift I wouldn’t want to receive… I do not send flowers upon the death of a loved one.

I learned that you should never ask someone who is hurting what you can do for them. They’ll never answer– they can’t.  They have no idea what they need.  I learned that the simplest tasks can seem insurmountable.

The people who eased my pain the greatest were the ones who took over: they dropped by, often unannounced or within a few minutes’ call so that I could not discourage them, and they told me plainly what they were going to do for me:

  • They took my small children to the playground.
  • They checked in my refrigerator to see what we needed and then grocery shopped.
  • They did my laundry.
  • They mowed my grass.
  • They dropped dinner off.
  • They booked my flight to the funeral.
  • They just sat with me and let me talk, cry or be silent.

I did not know I needed all of these things; they are such simple tasks when your heart is intact; they are nearly impossible when your heart has exploded.
I learned that there is a secret club of people who have suffered loss.  I had no idea this club existed; I had, until this point, led a life untouched by excruciating loss.  Suddenly, people came up to me, held my hand and shared with me a loss they, too, had suffered.  They were not ‘toppers’ and they were not trying to downplay my pain, they were saying to me in the most kind and loving way: ‘I know.  I’ve been there.  You are not alone.’  I looked at these people, some I didn’t even know that well, and saw a depth and a level of compassion in them that I had never seen before.

For days after she died, I couldn’t believe the mail still came, people still went to work, or even that traffic lights continued to operate.  But,here were people, coming alongside me and showing me that they had survived.

You can live when you feel like you can barely breathe.  You can go on with life, and even laugh and have joy and fullness of life when you also have pain as part of your experience of being.

I also learned to trust that God is in the middle of everything.  His mercy is great and His comfort even greater.

We moved a month after my mother died, and I lost all of that support.  No one knew me.  Introducing yourself, and in the next breath relating that you’ve just lost a parent, is a bit off-putting.  I had no one. It was the desert.  No one knew me and my pain.

God knew.  He embraced me, rocked me as I sobbed, and whispered to me in my prayers.  She was his.  She was safe.  She was loved and cared for… and so was I.

I learned that God wasn’t just present now when I was alone, he was present in all of those people who knew how to love and comfort me.  They had been comforted through their pain and were well equipped to share what they had learned.

I found an incredible and unexpected gift through the experience of losing my mother; I am able to share with others what was so selflessly shared with me:  comfort, compassion, kindness, patience, and presence.  I learned how to comfort at the feet of Christ and at the feet of Christ-filled and Christ-comforted people.

What does this experience have to do with my discernment [of call to the priesthood]?  It is part of my personal history with God.  I had first-hand experience of seeing and feeling God’s hand in my life guiding me and forming me.  I trusted Him and He taught me.  I listened and He led me out of the desert to a place of peace and comfort.  He restored me to wholeness.

I look for God in places I didn’t, before this experience.  I listen in a way I had not, prior to this.  I trust in a way I never could have, before God so faithfully led me through this pain.  So, now I pay a little more attention when I feel God’s repeated urgings.  I am listening and trusting his leading right now, today, at this time of discernment.

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