“The deeper the grief, the closer is God.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

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My dear friend Fr. Dustin Feddon, founder of Joseph House, recently recorded a brief reflection on grieving. Over the years, he and I have often spoken about the importance and sacredness of grief, and how the general loss of a cultural script — a shared ritual — for how we are to grieve has left us without a clear way to cope with failure, injury, loss, death. To not allow oneself to grieve such things, whether through repentance or mourning, is to refuse the act of surrender that alone can set us free.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus says at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. Penthos, the Greek word used in this beatitude, is a rich word referring to sorrow, grief, weeping, lamentation and contrition that opens out into joy and hope. Which means without mourning over evils committed or suffered, no comfort can come.

Fr. Dustin once shared with me a compelling image of grief as an act of “burying our dead.” We discussed the many ways to let go of the evils that cling to us in life, and bury them deep in Christ’s reconciling and restorative tomb. We also discussed the great need for human accompaniment, companions willing to walk with us along the way of life helping us to grieve, to repent, surrender and bury our dead, while pressing on in hope.

I’ve shared this story once before. As my mother was dying in 2019, and in the days following, the complexity of decisions that had to be made surrounding her funeral and burial, making arrangements for family, etc., prevented me from attending to the deep pain of losing her. I had to keep my focus. It was not the right time for that. Two days before my mom died, I met with a friend to talk about how he might help me to carry out some practical matters. As we sat down in my office, he asked, “How are you?” I was ready to give him the answer I had learned to give — “It’s hard, but I’m managing, with lots of help.” But a long silence followed his question, extending for thirty or forty seconds. It signaled powerfully he was listening for me. I broke the silence and started to speak, and then dissolved into tears. After I collected myself, he simply said, “I’m sorry.”

Those five words framed a sanctuary of listening silence, and gave me the strength I needed to carry on those next days and weeks ahead. He turned a corporal work of mercy into a spiritual one, as he helped me begin to bury my dead. To return my mom to God.

Our noisy, angry, pain-filled world needs bearers of the Listening Christ, whose compassion attends to the cries of the poor, the brokenhearted, the abandoned, the lonely, the lost. Our world needs sanctuaries of silence where — alone — we can grieve and God can speak to us a word of comfort, and heal our land.

12 comments on ““The deeper the grief, the closer is God.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

  1. Commentor says:

    My nephew Connor Hawver died last Friday. He was 29 years old.

    Connor spent most of his life confined to a wheelchair. He was a quadriplegic. Many people felt sorry for him, but he never felt sorry for himself. Once an insensitive visitor asked Connor if he ever wished that had never been born. Connor answered, ‘No, I have a wonderful life.’

    When visitors would leave Connor would say to them, ‘May God go with you on your journeys.’

    Last Friday, he was taken to hospital. He had a twisted bowel. The doctors decided he would not survive surgery, and consequently focused instead on pain management. His mother (my sister) was unable to be with him on Friday, she is fighting stage 4 stomach cancer, but a home healthcare nurse, on her own time, went in my sister’s stead. This nurse held Connor’s hand through the night, and as Connor slipped away, said to him, ‘May God be with you on your journey.’

    I want to thank this nurse for her selfless service, and Connor for his demonstration of courage and integrity in the face of adversity.

    Connor was no snowflake. He never gave into despair. May his life, as he lived it, inspire us all to face life cheerfully, and without whining.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this, and

    May God go with you on your journey,

    Tom

    On Thu, 12 Nov 2020 at 06:12, Neal Obstat Theological Opining wrote:

    > Thomas J. Neal, Ph.D. posted: ” My dear friend Fr. Dustin Feddon, founder > of Joseph House, recently recorded a brief reflection on grieving. Over the > years, he and I have often spoken about the importance and sacredness of > grief, and how the general loss of a cultural script –” >

    • Jennifer says:

      So sorry for your loss! May God go with you and your sister during this difficult time.

      Eternal rest grant unto Connor, O Lord,
      and let light perpetual shine upon him.
      May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

    • Dear Tom,
      Connor sounds like a remarkable human being and man of courage. And how precious to have a nurse who knows how to be present to the dying with such dignity and faith. That is a desperately needed profession. May God console your sister in her grief and bless the family. And grant Connor memory eternal. Thanks for writing, Tom.
      Godspeed,
      Tom Neal

  2. Lois Phillips says:

    Father Tom, I was delighted when your posts starting arriving in my inbox. Perhaps it is these troubling times, but the posts feel deeper, stronger, filled with passion and love…

    The video clip brought to mind the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, especially the words:

    Make me a channel of Your peace
    Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope
    Where there is darkness, only light
    And where there’s sadness, ever joy
    Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
    So much to be consoled as to console…

    Thank you for sharing. You make our lives richer. with kindest regards,

  3. Jennifer says:

    Oh, friend, thank you for this! As I prepare for my new position, this post reads like a commission, instruction manual, and blessing all rolled into one. I won’t say much more except that I am profoundly grateful to be Catholic: to be part of the tradition that recognizes and extols the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. That’s such an incredible, incredible gift isn’t it? Thank you for sharing from your vulnera here and revealing how God’s mercy worked through your listening friend in your time of need <3+

  4. Emily Froeba says:

    Beautiful. Amen. We need friends like Job had.

  5. Evie Day says:

    So true. Space for grief and making space for the grieving to just —be wherever they are…is important work. I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful testimony of living and of joy in suffering. Your nephew’s story is lovely and truly we who hear it are blessed. Peace Tom.

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