June 2012


Why is a word God gave us by mistake,” wrote the poet Piotr Rawicz. But when death cleaves, we stand together stunned and someone will surely ask, “Why?” writes Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey.

BY Pam Grey SGS

Why is a word God gave us by mistake,” wrote the poet Piotr Rawicz. But when death cleaves, we stand together stunned and someone will surely ask, “Why?”

Why did she die so young, with so much to give, so many to love?

Why did she die while caring for her friend who is lost in dementia?

Why did cancer invade his body so quickly? Why?

My mother died on a blue moon, so for a few months I asked, at full moon, not “why?”, but “where?” “Where are you?”

What can a grieving person do but wait in silence for an answer that never seems to come. Yet in the waiting we may discover that “on this lowly ground is God to be met, whether for joy or terror”, says Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. We just have to hold still before the question and wait.

When his beloved wife was near death, C.S. Lewis asked her: “If you can – if it is allowed – come to me when I too am on my death bed”. “Allowed!” she said. “Heaven would have a job to hold me; and as for Hell, I’d break it into bits.” “…There was a twinkle as well as a tear in her eye… and a will, deeper than any feeling, that flashed through her.” (From A Grief Observed)

I take heart from Lewis’ impression that life after death is “like the sound of a chuckle in the darkness. The sense that some shattering and disarming simplicity is the real answer”. I also take to heart the words of Christ: “You will see me there” (Matthew 28:10).

The first and maybe deepest shock of death is that we can no longer look into our beloved’s eyes, those eyes that truly loved us and helped us become what we saw reflected there. Memory both breaks our heart and yet holds us fast. That look of love remembered casts us into a dark night, a valley of tears. That look of love is also the one that sustains us.

The act of grieving is unique for each person. Here we enter a room called mystery. We dwell in this sacred space feeling the artefacts of the loved one’s life, bringing to mind the special occasions shared, allowing our sense of touch and smell to revive treasured memories. Writing the last conversation or words shared may bring comfort as time goes by.

Some grieving people feel as though they are unravelling like a pulled strand of wool. Others speak of the experience as one of melting into a pool. One person expressed her grief as being set in a frozen block. By listening to the images of grief the consoling friend is offered a powerful insight – no not “to fix” the person, but to be present to her or him, to bear witness to their experience.

The act of consoling is also unique, but what is universal is the support given by loving care and affection from fellow human beings. The human voice heard in song can touch a grieving heart as well. Preisner’s Requiem For a Friend, Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass, U2’s Everybody Hurts and Dvorak’s Song to the Moon have brought me consolation.

When very old people talk about the meaning of being consoled, they say they feel whole again. They feel a return of energy as they are reconnected to fellow human beings. Some have an experience of being carried and embraced by God and so feel connected to God once more. Other very old people describe the effects of consolation as being relaxed, peaceful and full of joy and experiencing hope. They have been connected to their very self, their soul.

In our Good Samaritan Congregation we are presently experiencing clusters of death among our relatives and our sisters. A myth exists among some of our very elderly sisters that deaths come in threes. They wait for the third. It is as though our own mortality comes peeking through the window. However, we can prepare for these moments by standing daily in Christ’s presence, to learn who we truly are. Archbishop Rowan Williams writes: “I live in the hope that Christ’s knowing me will give me whatever wholeness I am capable of receiving”.

With this wholeness there will be no need for “why” or “where”. We will be waiting for “that chuckle in the dark” that comes from Christ, who knows each of us by name.

Pam Grey

Melbourne-based Good Samaritan Sister Pam Grey is a writer and poet. She also volunteers as a home tutor for newcomers to Australia who need language and resettlement support.

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