Alan encouraged me to preach at the All Soul’s services this year as one who has been bereaved in the last year. It has been a year when I lost my mum. It has certainly taught me more about grief than I learned when I was training for ordination.
I guess the word that sums up grief for me is “loss”. Initially, I was so shocked that I literally kept losing things. I couldn’t remember where they were. And there was the loss of control of my emotions. I descended into tears at the library when I returned mum’s book, at the dump when I took the contents of my dad’s shed there, at the charity shop where I give them both my mum’s and my gran’s clothes. Hundreds of things that I would see no more. But the objects were only symbolic of the people I would see no more.
We lose part of who we are when someone dies – one of our identities dies with them. In the case of my mum she was a touchstone, a voice who reprimanded and praised, a running commentary on my life really.
I did gain things when she died though. I don’t really mean the furniture or the extra glasses in the cupboard; I mean new insights into who she was and who I am. In reflecting on her life and writing her eulogy I recognised similarities between us that I had never spotted before. In ringing up her friends I noticed who she cared about and why. And her friends cried at the other end of the phone line, expressing their sorrow and telling me stories of her kindness that I never knew before. Of course, it would be nice to share these things with her, but it is too late.
Not that my mum was perfect. Amongst her quirks was a life-long struggle with anorexia. As her daughter, on the one hand she panicked dreadfully if I didn’t eat, and on the other hand she perpetually told me I needed to be thinner. This I hated, but now she is gone it seems odd to have no one carping at me about my weight!
Clearing my parent’s house was something sacred. Hundreds of pieces of paper, folded, treasured. The summation of a life, the sorrows and the joys. I felt like I was intruding – I would never presume to go through my parents things ordinarily. But it was my task; the one ordained to me as their child, no other could do it.
I have been surprised how much I have missed my mum. She was the one who I called for from the day of my birth. And there is something rather beautiful about the grief. For it tells me how precious we all are to each other. It gives me hope that my mediocre efforts do affect others for good and when I die I too will be remembered and missed. Each one of us is interconnected and each one of us loves and is loved, probably far more than we know. The corollary of all this interconnectedness and love is grief when a soul dies.
So remembering is good for those who have gone, for it is fitting and comforting to know we will be remembered. But it is also good for those of us who remain, not to idealise or sentimentalise the dead, but to remember truthfully. For we see ourselves more clearly in the light of those who have gone before us. This knowledge of our own mortality is humbling, but reminds us to leave the world a better place than we found it. And most of all to follow the example of those who we miss most in their loving, giving and caring.