Tears for the fallen
Gather like crystal dew drops
Painful yet precious
Tears for the fallen
Gather like crystal dew drops
Painful yet precious
You know you’re working hard when your kitchen whisk breaks—actually snaps in half like mine and become garbage. This pandemic is pushing us all hard…but instead of scrambled eggs we’ve been dealing with a scrambled world, and for a long, long time. Over a year.
It’s an exhausting long haul, and none of us wants to snap like that whisk and become useless. Surviving covid is like being on a tour of duty that just won’t end, though we can hope it’s coming closer. So in light of all this I’ve been thinking about resilience…and what it really means. My sister’s professor said something really wise about resilience that I’ve been mulling over a lot:
“Our one prof spent the last afternoon talking to us about how most of us equate resilience with a stubborn determination to keep slogging but that rejuvenation should be valued just as much. If not more.”
Rejuvenation—becoming young again, refreshed, restored—not just grimly slogging on without stopping for water breaks. This is a more sustainable vision of resilience…one that doesn’t involve pushing oneself to the breaking point. It means not just having strength but also the humility to know that everyone needs breaks and gentle self-care, especially at times when life feels like a marathon.
This all makes so much sense, but can be hard to put into practice when you’ve been in emergency mode for a long time, as our world has. Despite everything we need to relax, play, enjoy little moments and rest.
Babies are good at this. They nap a lot, cause all their growing is exhausting, and they make sure to eat well and often. They ask for help whenever they need it. Sometimes they cry, and other times they coo, but most importantly, they trust that they are loved unconditionally. This is the part we adults most often forget.
I’m giving myself this lecture as much as you. When my dad got really sick with his cancer last fall, and I had the honour to care for him in his last weeks, I resolved to be strong. To be there for him. To do all that I could, despite wanting to crumble and break. When he died, I had to keep being strong. Plan the funeral. Bury my beloved father, who was my biggest cheerleader and one of my best friends.
After that, as his executor, months of paperwork. Serious responsibilities requiring me to be, you guessed it, strong. But now, almost six months after his death last year on November 9th, I wonder if part of me has become petrified—so strong it has turned to rock—and in that sense not fully alive. Avoiding the grief I couldn’t find time for. Fearing the tears that might cause these walls to crumble.
This is not true resilience. I know this. Having been through deep grief before when I lost my baby Josephine 6 years ago in labour, I know that recovery involves going through grief, not trying to put your emotions on pause. So I’m trying to give myself permission to feel sad sometimes, with the longing that is simply love prolonged. I’m trying to give myself permission seek serenity before productivity…which means taking little breaks to refill my cup, rather than always pushing myself to keep going.
This is hard for me. Do you struggle with this, too? Are you harsher on yourself than you’d ever be with those you love? Can you be brave enough to believe that you deserve rest, joy, and serenity just as much as anyone else? Perhaps if we all support each other, and encourage each other to be kind, even to ourselves, the world will be more filled with resilience and hope.
If you’d like more encouragement on this topic, check out Jenn Dean’s Families Matter Most podcast. It is awesome, and filled with simple, doable ideas: Three Things to Get Through Hard Times. Plus she is funny, warm and honest. Listening to her is like chatting with a great friend who builds you up. Cole’s notes version: every day, connect with your peace, your purpose and your people. The three P’s. Even I can remember that.
When I was in the depths of grief after losing my baby daughter Josephine five years ago, I found it was very hard to go through holidays that focus primarily on being joyful. The pressure to be happy was too much. Christmas is cosy and lovely and normally a huge favourite of mine, but not when the pain is still too raw. In times of struggle, I prefer Easter.
Why? Those of you who know me might be thinking of one thing: chocolate! All the chocolate without all the work of Christmas. I am definitely a believer chocolate’s ability to comfort and to express affection when given. I almost always include some chocolate in the grief baskets my friend Julia and I make for bereaved moms, along with my baby loss poetry book and other encouraging books and self-care items, but no, chocolate isn’t the reason.
Although these days, when things are extra stressful around the world, there are times when I’d like to simply bury my entire face in a Tuxedo chocolate layer cake, there is something chocolate cannot do: accompany me in my suffering. Share my grief. Give dignity to my tears, by saying, “I, too, have suffered. You are not alone.” This is something God can do. This is something Jesus does from the cross.
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.” – St. John Paul II
Despite all the wild and crazy things that happen in a complex world where there is human freedom, and also the realities of pain and death, we can be consoled by knowing that we do not suffer alone, for we have a God who is compassionate. As I would tell my kids in homeschool, compassion comes from the Latin “cum” (with) “passio” (I suffer). But why would God want to enter our mess, instead of remaining “aloof in icy splendour,” as the archbishop of Toronto poetically asked yesterday?
Love. A personal love for each person ever created. A tender love for you and for me individually. A desire to accompany us in our hardest moments, and to help us bear them.
I have experienced this same desire myself. After losing Josephine, I had an intense desire to be with others who were in pain, to accompany them in their mourning, to hold their hands on the long road to recovery. I could not make their pain disappear, but I could feel it with them, and let them know their grief was valid–was in fact a beautiful sign of their immense love for those lost.
So if you are in mourning this Easter, I encourage you to reach out to the source of love through prayer. God truly cares about your struggles, and wants to help you carry your crosses, as once he carried his own: with blood, and sweat and tears, but also with the dignity of one who gave his life for others freely, out of love. By reaching out to console others in pain, you, too, share in the healing power of God’s generous love, a love stronger than death.
Yesterday, my sweet neighbour’s only daughter died of cancer, leaving behind a loving husband and two little boys. I am so crushed by this news, so in her honour, and in honour of all the many precious people who have recently died, I thought I would share this poem from my book unexpected blossoming: a journey of grief and hope.
As some of you already know, I wrote this book of poetry after losing my baby daughter Josephine. Peace be with all of you who are suffering the loss of loved ones in this crazy time.
If it’s true that we are dust
and that from the moment of birth
we are heading towards death,
then are not all our words
like a dying breath—
an exhalation of hope
that our voices will be heard
after we’re gone?
Like the light of stars
shining for years,
sending light across the universe
long after the star has burnt out.
Are we perhaps,
though weak and frail,
yet destined for eternity,
little flurries of stardust?
We feel, in our society, a very strong pressure to prove ourselves. To show we are successful. Worth knowing. Accomplished. We define ourselves by our external achievements, and are in turn crushed by our external failures. Is this necessary?
Does our value indeed come solely from what we do? I don’t think so!
But before I explain, let’s consider what kind of world we create when we do think this way. When we determine human worth based on externals, we claim the right to judge others. What’s in their soul doesn’t matter, because it’s all about results. Did they succeed in this job interview? Did they obtain this degree? How much is their salary? Is it more than mine….because if so they must be better than me.
See the trap we set for ourselves? Not only do we judge others harshly, which is a terrible thing, but we also do the same to ourselves, and risk falling into depression and despair. We feel we are not good enough–that we are failures. Well, you can’t be a failure, you can only be a person, a human being…perhaps one in challenging circumstances, but a human all the same. No one is a failure.
We are not defined by what we do, but who we are.
So who are we anyway? We are children of God, called out of all eternity to love and be loved. Each one of us is precious and utterly irreplaceable. We all have unique talents we are called to generously share with the world…and this despite all our weaknesses and mistakes. God made us as we are, fragile and beautiful, so that when we are humble enough to acknowledge the cracks in our hearts, His light can shine through us.
So when the sirens of the world lure you to the rocky reefs of self-doubt, remember He who made you is perfect, and has a plan for your life more beautiful that you can imagine. It is cooperating with this plan, with all its challenges and opportunities for interior growth, that makes everything worthwhile.
At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love. St. John of the Cross
Let it go, little mamma.
You have deeply entered their pain,
lived it with them,
prayed and suffered.
Their burden is not yours.
You can love
but you cannot hold the whole world
in your heart.
Don’t try to steal God’s job.
Only He, the eternal one,
can bear all the world’s suffering
without breaking to pieces…
Your call now,
is to go dig in your garden
and plant flowers of hope
in the simple brown earth.
Your call is to smile again
and find joy in the little gifts of each day.
Tears have washed you clean.
Now, little mama,
let it go,
be silly and laugh again.
There is the illusion
that ‘the woman next door’ has everything figured out–
that the insides of her underwear drawer
are as neat as her perfect front lawn–
illusion of insecurity.
There is the nagging feeling
that you should be more like her,
so confident and productive…
It eats you up inside
until your walls crumble and collapse
Voices of self-doubt echo
in the hollow chamber of your head:
“Are you sure you’re good enough?
Can you really do this?
What gave you that silly idea?”
You’re tempted to crawl under the covers again
but that’s just where the demons are hiding–
alone in your head.
Instead, throw back those blankets and step into the sun,
don’t give up without a fight,
empty rooms are good for being filled with light.
Empty hands are good for holding little hands.
Empty hearts are good for being filled with love.
Empty heads are good for listening.
So, instead of dwelling alone
in the harsh prison of your self-judgement,
be open to other people’s stories,
listen to their hopes and cries of pain.
Everyone has their struggle,
and everyone has their blue flame.
Realize you are not alone
in all your broken beauty…
like them you’re just a tiny little human
entrusted by God
with the great task of love.
The other day I was reading a little book of Lenten meditations by Pope emeritus Benedict about the true meaning of fasting. He describes how Jesus spent 40 days in the desert fighting the temptations he was offered…to the world’s power, to enslavement to the physical world (bread), and to spiritual pride. It made me think…what temptations do I need to fight to be more free? And I don’t just mean the temptations to scarf boxes of chocolates…but deeper things.
Are we tempted by discouragement? By anger? By sulking and blame? These are the kinds of demons we can fight off during Lent, so as to become more happy and free. So how about instead of giving up something we like, or maybe as well as that, taking up arms to fight harder against what we don’t like…what drags us down and brings misery and isolation.
It is amazing how these demons of discouragement prey on our weakness. We recently watched the excellent movie “A Man For All Seasons” as a family. What struck me most this time, because I have seen it before, was what great destruction came through a weak man. Richie Rich, poor and soft man, is corrupted by bribery and the lure of wealth and power. He becomes a powerful man externally, but inside is still incredibly weak and can no longer follow his conscience when tempted, and ends up perjuring himself. St. Thomas Moore is killed because of Rich’s lies in court. It is very sad to see how Rich destroys himself and others…perhaps after certain point he no longer believed it would be possible to reform. It is so important to be both humble enough to receive mercy and forgiveness and strong enough to persevere in the truth when times are tough.
So why do we fail, make mistakes, commit sins? Many times out of weakness. Why do we yell when tired? Weakness. Why do we slam drawers when too hungry? Weakness. Why do we fall into discouragement when the house is exploding with mess and the floor seems a distant memory? Weakness. But if there is one thing we must always hang onto despite our weakness, it is hope, and the knowledge that we are loved. Discouragement comes when we look only at ourselves and all our failures, all at once. Then the amount we need to change and then improve becomes utterly overwhelming.
Can you imagine a baby looking ahead and envisioning all the things they would have to do and learn as one giant, looming to do list? Learn to walk, run, jump, speak thousands of words, dress themselves, read, write, learn sports, to cook, get a job, change careers, etc. It’s exhausting to think about all at once. But why aren’t babies stressed like the rest of us? Because they live in the moment and in trust: “Mommy and Daddy are here and they will teach me.”
What we adults have to do is spend less time looking at ourselves and more time looking at God, who is perfect love, who is infinite mercy, who is glorious king and wise and loving Father. It is he who will give us the strength and grace to improve. It is he who will teach us. Of course it won’t be all at once, but a little bit at a time, each day hanging on to hope despite our failures. Babies are so delighted with life…it would serve us well as adults to spend more time marvelling at the beauty of life as well, practising gratitude and making a point of savouring the good little memories each day provides.
Ultimately, Lent is about learning to love better, and we have opportunities to do so every moment of each day. St Josemaria said to be a true friend is to honour the image of God in others…”as you do to the least one of my brothers so you do unto me.” No matter how long our to-do list, we can always afford time for a smile. May God give us all the strength to love well, and the hope to grow each day, seeing self-knowledge as an opportunity to improve, rather than a cause for discouragement.
your brightness bursts
through the dark like lightning.
People are awed by your strength and beauty.
They do not hear the cry of your pain–
your anguish always swallowed up by thunder.
They see only your power,
blinded to the pain that rips
your heart in half with such terrible violence.
They do not realize that you yearn
to be a candle–a warm light
shining in cosy concert with others–
the same simple joys lighting up your face.
Gorgeous, devastating lightning bolt,
strike no more alone,
surrounded by the cold empty air
that crashes through your lungs in suffocating silence
while your tears invisibly drown in the storm.
Reach for me,
let me feel the sting of your pain,
absorb some of the shock,
connect with the current coursing through you.
Illumine my ignorance.
Unblind me so I can see with you
the world from the eye of the storm.
God’s heart broke open
when we chose to leave it,
bursting through walls of warmth
meant to nurture,
but misperceived as barriers to freedom.
Out here in the windswept world
where many wander alone,
each their own god
confusedly crashing into each other,
our hearts are often wounded
—and burst open—
red mouths gaping with sorrow.
Who can understand our pain?
Who can heal our shattered souls?
Is there one who has suffered like us,
and survived? Yet more…has triumphed?
Go to Him.
His heart is open still
yearning with the vulnerable expectation of love…
Will you have the humble courage