It has been over three years now since the great tragedy, and I am still astonished by grief. By its weight and power and gravity. Over three years later, I sometimes find myself like a small boat suddenly caught up in a hurricane that’s materialized out of nowhere. I am helpless to ever be prepared for it or to evade it. Then it dissipates just as suddenly to leave me in peace until the next seemingly capricious onslaught.
Years ago, well-meaning people were already telling me, “You’ve grieved long enough. Just let go of the past and you’ll be fine.” Oh, but I am fine. I am fine in the only way one can be fine when dealing with such a monumental and enigmatic force: by living with it, knowing my place and giving it its place, pleased to offer up any pain that may be associated with it.
This past Saturday, my Lay Dominican community had its annual retreat, led by the wonderful Father Philip Powell, OP. Of all the important and enlightening things he said during the day, one thing has played over and over in my mind this week. The subject of suffering had come up, and he told us that suffering is not pain; rather, suffering is what we do with pain. To suffer means “to allow.” We suffer well when we allow pain to be in our lives and when we do all we can to make the best of it. The best thing to do with pain is offer it up, put it to work toward some purpose, give it meaning. Human beings can put up with just about anything as long as there is meaning.
That has proven very true in my life. If I have anything to say for myself, it is that I generally suffer well. That doesn’t get rid of the pain, but it does make it more bearable, and even beneficial.
What do I offer it up for? Honestly, I tend to offer it up for myself. I offer it for my continued growth and maturity and conversion. I offer it for my current relationships, that I will never take for granted the people in my life, and that I will always love them to the best of my ability–and show them as much. I offer it for the growth of my faith and my trust, and for the deepening of my relationship with God. I offer it for my perseverance in pressing on toward my sanctification and ultimately toward my heavenly homeland. Pain has a most important role in this journey. It is like kindling I burn for comfort along the way, or like oil I burn in a lantern to illuminate the way.
I usually have more than enough to offer up for others as well. I offer it up for people who may not be suffering so well. I offer it up for those who are suffering their own great tragedies. I offer it up for those who have not experienced such tragedy but also have not experienced the great joy and love that came before the tragedy. I offer it for all who are complacent and naive and believe that grief is something that can be mastered and manipulated… I offer it for those moments of tragedy and truth when those people will learn just how blissfully ignorant they have been… and for their consolation in those dark moments.
Forgive me if this post is not very coherent. Incoherence is a symptom of the considerable pain I’ve been suffering in the last few days. I think it began with a dream where Patrick was vaguely present… just present enough to make me miss him terribly and to feel my loss most acutely. I suppose this will always happen from time to time… but it will never stop me from living as I must: for the future and for the people here in my life, for God and for heaven. Well-meaning people have mistakenly perceived my willingness to live with grief as a desire to live in the past, yearning too much for one who has died, shutting out future prospects. Nothing can be further from the truth. Part of suffering well is having hope. And hope can only be directed at the future. I do have hope.
(Nevertheless, please do send me your prayers.)