I found some old posts of mine elsewhere when I added Katie’s to a discussion of bereavement, and life “going on” on The Strange Planet.
Subject: RE: BS: Bereavement
Allison [posting] said, It’s been a strange new planet for me, with him not here in earthly presence. I have to learn a whole new way of being. This past month has lasted years. I still get vivid flashes of memory, overwhelming waves of grief, wrenching sobs every day. But I also have spells of almost calm. I guess I’m “adjusting”.
In our own way, each of us posting [in the discussion] has become a resident of that planet. My own early loss brought me to it far too soon; I suppose we all feel that way. In our parish life, people leave us all the time; one week there were six funerals, all unrelated. The strange planet grows more and more crowded. Many of us have had frequent opportunities to renew our residency.
At a certain point I realized how many people are living on that planet and yet appearing to live on the Normal Planet too, at the same time. It’s a planet of which we all eventually claim citizenship, and find how crowded it really is.
This discovery is a bit like another shock people have described to me: going to their first AA meeting, and looking around to see all the folks they’ve been hiding their disease from, who they thought had been sitting in judgment of all their little lies and failures…. they felt the same about you! Suddenly you smell a herd of elephants, more than a living room can hold, and you start to see the larger scene, an epic migration pattern.
A turning point came for me one day, looking out at all the empty pews, every one of them holding several prayerbooks with nameplates commemorating some member who had “graduated.” Old parishioners so often fret about the emptiness; “Will the church survive with so few?” But now, I started to see not the loss but the graduations. I started to think of how many in the great Fraternity/Sorority House came to that place via our historic, oldstone highschool of a parish.
I realized I had tended to see parish work as an end in itself. Now I began to see our parish as prep school for that land where the chief business of the inhabitants is praise. “Some of these dour, crabby folks aren’t doing their homework for that job,” I realized.
But over time, I learned that what we’re calling [here] “The Strange Planet” is part of prep school, in a way….. once you “adjust” to the climate, you choose whether to turn outward in praise and joy– or inward in gnarled bitterness. Left in our pews I see heroes, now, not crabby negativizers. Each has survived many trips to the Strange Planet, arriving there anew over and over; the crabbiness I’d chafed over is just a moment in the process of acclimatization– adjustment.
If you ask them about those nameplates in the prayerbooks and hymnals, the joy breaks out like the smell of a baking apple pie, when the heat first gets deep inside and the bubbling begins to break through the crisping crust.
The language we use on the streets of the Strange Planet is replete with layers of meaning and experience; densely packed into our small phrases are mountains of experience, oceans of salt tears; enormous fields of carefully tended gardens; vast storehouses of harvest…. a word from that planet can touch off rich meditations.
What Allison has given me, already, from her Strange Planet, is yet another view of this life, by describing her sudden awareness of Byron’s presence with her, several posts ago. Her phrase resounded with Truth: He still loves me. As I took a fresh look at my own experiences through the clear lens of her words, I thought again of the Graduates. Now I see them as individuals, each one still loving the pewholders left below. Being in a hot tub at the time, I thought about it… there were few distractions to stop the flow of thought. ;~)
That ongoing, personal love is what I thought about. There they are, where praise is the order of business, where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing, but life everlasting…. free of any needs they’d had down below… able now to love with total selflessness. (No wonder Allison felt it so powerfully; Byron seems to have been doing his “love homework” right up till the moment he graduated.)
We refer to the family of the departed as the “Loved Ones.” I’m starting to understand that now, finally. We are still loved, by people now able to love from within All Love, bonded in that love to the love of all time.
Perfect love: love we once knew tangibly, now perfected.
We pray for their Immortal Souls, but I think they’re praying for US, seeing us now, with and through the Father’s eyes, seeing our deepest hearts, everything we were afraid to show, everything we had in us that we didn’t even know was there….. and all they have left is perfect love, as they regard us.
We call that collection of individuals (in our denomination), “The Communion of Saints,” the heavenly congregation of the departed, in the same sense we talk about “The Anglican Communion” as a collection of various countries’ denominations that recognize the same sacraments and authorities and apostolic succession– a Communion being sort of a confederation.
From Allison’s post onwards, I will always think of it also as a communion between saints. The communion of saints with one another. Not ghostly visits, but an ongoing with-one-another-ness…. communion…. as we sometimes see enough light to see through the thin scrim veil separating Heaven from this Strange Planet.
To newly-arriving fellow planet-mates– Welcome to the club you never want to join, from those of us who don’t really want to welcome anyone else to it. I wish you:
- peaceful rest,
- an ever-deeper sense of the good memories,
- a solid connection to all the love you have ever known,
- a circle of close friends who can STILL make you laugh, and
- more love in your life, as you look resolutely forward, than even the best love you have ever known.
One more deep breath– let it go…. let it go… let it all go…
And on to tomorrow, with all of us cheering you on and making soft places for you to land along the way.