Death

Shoulder To Stand On

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          Almost 2 weeks back, I felt a vague unease pass by my heart. There was so much to do then that I could not pay it much attention. Nevertheless, it hovered close by, biding its time to come forward. Later, in town, waiting in the car for one my children to run an errand, I sensed a quietening within me. Then, I felt a distinct press on my heart: someone was in need.

          Last week, there was another unexpected sign – someone in need – in New Zealand. My godparents and their families reside there. So did the family of another aunt who had passed away recently. Was it any of my loved ones? Or New Zealand in general, I wondered. I prayed. But again, work interfered.

          Still, even as I worked, one quote kept coming up,

Standing on the shoulders of giants

          Although I knew what the quote meant, I was certain that it was pointing to something else.

The giant souls we depend on to get us through our trials.

Something to do with those we rely on so much, the strong ones among us. Those who hold us up when we would fall, those who will us on when we lose hope. Who wipe our tears when the pain scales the highest walls, holding us close to their own worn and broken hearts, holding us tighter through prayers.

It is the caregiver, whispered my heart. The soul in need was a caregiver.

          On Friday, I received some good news concerning work that brought immense relief –  something big that had taken up quite a chunk of my time and attention had been cancelled. I had been locked too much within myself over that. Freed now, I flew to open my heart more to others.

          Then, a text came in and it became clear who needed me. My uncle in New Zealand. The family has faced so much over the past decades. My uncle patiently, with great love and faith, has led the way forward each time. But the recent trials they have endured have been one too many. Serious illnesses, an ill grandbaby, a business all but wiped out by Covid.

The heart of a caregiver is the biggest heart of all.

          Yet, it is that heart we often forget and that which we take for granted. Who holds a caregiver’s hand when life is hard for him, the difficult journey far from its end? Who loves her back to strength when her heart is broken and her vigour gone? To our eyes, the caregivers among us are the epitome of joy and endless grace in suffering, a tower of strength. Yet, we see only what we want to see. Hidden from ready sight is the price of a caregiver’s love. What is the hidden cost of loving and giving so much? What pains do they bear in silence so that they can be there for us? What do they keep away from us so that we can heal, so that we find our footing once again after a fall?

          The answers to each one of those questions will be varied, I know. I know something about my Uncle’s walk of fire, but every caregiver’s story, if he cares to share it, will speak to a common refrain of sacrifice, suffering and loss, endured in sweetness and silence, so that others may live on in hope and dignity.

          The caregiver cares for someone. But someone else must look out for the caregiver too. So, I go knocking on doors, to all the saints I’ve called upon, learned to trust and come to love over the years.

Help him

help him

help him

I call at each stop.

          When generous souls spare little thought for themselves, we must, for their sakes, for even a giant needs a shoulder to stand on.

In Every Season, Love

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          The world is in seasons, it seems, in more ways than one. If it’s summer for some, winter is hovering close for others.

          In the midst of our own peace and happiness, on a golden Friday, my Muslim next door neighbour informed me that his young son-in-law, a father to two young children, had contracted Covid and had been placed under induced coma. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for the families involved. The fear of losing a boy they had come to love as their own was compounded by not being able to reach out and offer physical help to their daughter and their two grandbabies living so far away, due to the nationwide lockdown still in effect here. The morning after the most bitter of nights for them, my husband caught a glimpse of our neighbour’s wife. A soul with the most golden of hearts, her face was now shadowed with grief.

Life changed from one moment to the next

          I heard that comment made on tv by a loved one to one of those missing in the Florida condo collapse and I realised how often I had thought the same thing these past days. Sudden changes. Surprises. Shocks. In Florida, in the deepest golden blue of summer, bitter winter came. No comfort of months or weeks to prepare for the change. No gentle leading to the hard of cold and pain.

          Visiting my garden the day after the news, I worked at the beds away from our fence to assure my neighbours that I wasn’t looking for conversation. They already knew our family’s prayers were joined to their anguished pleas to God. Even in our own summer, we must do all we can for hearts wintered in.

          Today, unexpectedly, my neighbour sent us dinner over our fence. It was a heartwarming dish expertly made by his wife, one we have enjoyed multiple times over the years. It is also a time-consuming and painstaking dish to prepare, effort nearly impossible under the shadows of fear and sorrow. We immediately knew then that joy had come to them. I flew to my phone and heard their hope for myself. They were still not out of the woods yet, but hope had come.

From one moment to the next

          Steeping back and looking over all that has happened recently, I learn again that the seasons of life come to all, rich or poor, what marks us to receive more or less from each season not easily understood. How long the seasons stay is beyond anything we can determine, for they lodge at will, the summons to come and leave answered in obedience only to the Almighty.

          Someone tried to teach me a long time ago that a strong, unwavering faith and knowledge of sacred scriptures is a surefire way of facing down times of strife and difficulty. True as that may be for some people, it wasn’t for me. The wall of faith and knowledge that took me through early troubles all but crumbled later when God tested us 14 years ago. In standing before my God, all I had was my naked anguish and raw grief. There were days when Scripture shone light through the impenetrable darkness of debilitating grief; but there were many more when even much loved verses did not make sense, when it seemed like they made their way past the door of my waiting heart, pausing not.

          Today, I asked God once more what takes us through the seasons of life, and what helps us to leave our springs and summers to meet others in their own seasons.

          The answer came, as pure and clear as a new sunrise.

It is love.

I am Sending Him

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I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you….Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever… ~ Philemon 1: 12, 15

          There are days that begin and end much the same way, in simple breaths that do not stray too far from the gate. While this past Thursday began in the hope of being a quick and efficiently worked day, by afternoon, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going home early from work.

          Like beads being threaded together to make a necklace, came the tasks, one by one. In a madness that can only come out of my country, without warning, a week back, schools were suddenly shut and most of the country was placed under movement control order again. Overnight, state borders were sealed, and inter district travel curbed in many states except in ours. Those of us in the government service were told to work from home but our state being a green zone, there was some flexibility. So, I opted to go into work on Thursday to take care of some paper work. I figured I’d be done and out by lunch time.

          Instead, it was almost 8 at night when I finally drove home. It wasn’t just the work that forced the late hour. In my tiredness, I made  a few mistakes too. As everyone knows, it’s always easier to prevent mistakes than to mop up the mess. But the only way for me to do that was to have a clear head and I didn’t, not that Thursday. The sudden lockdown announcement the previous Sunday afternoon had dunked me head first into the barrel. I had just one day to sort out the younger kids and make strict study plans for them while rushing to re-start my personal online work platforms. It should have been happy news for me, an inveterate homebody, a respite from the work place I dislike, but after months of political roiling, I didn’t appreciate the short notice and the ambiguity of it all.

I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you

          By early that Thursday afternoon, I was already wondering where was the heart God had promised me. When you hide your old grief inside, and carry on as well as you can, yet all the while searching the skies for signs of a mystical return, when you read of such a promise just that morning, well, you expect the day to go really well and smooth.

          Instead, there I was, working feverishly, unsure if I could meet my own deadlines, deafened to even birdsong.

Where is my Heart, Lord, I asked, where is he?

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep…
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there.

Den no die, Mama

          Where is my Heart, Lord? Where is he?

          A little slowly at first, but surely, the knots untangled. One by resolute one, things got done and buttoned close. As the day blushed into sunset, I began to sense something had changed. The air around me had stilled. Then, I sensed a presence beside me and within me, soft, gentle yet firm and strong.

Den no die, Mama

          There was still much to get through, but I was now miraculously clear-headed. I zipped across town, stop after stop, ticking things off my list. I was calm and collected. Despite the falling shadows and the deserted office, no frisson of alarm creased my spirit.

I am sending him

          When I finally pulled into my home driveway, the sun had gone to his sleep. I was too tired to arch my head towards the skies and search for the faithful diamonds that never fail to burn their gaze from velvet depths. But my little home was ablaze in warm, happy lights and my children had swarmed out to get me out of the car. There were little stories which needed telling and hearing right there on the front lawn. There were little grievances which needed only the balm of an attentive heart. I had received so much and I had even more to give. How much richer I was for that!

          However frayed and difficult that day had been, I had come to its night with a deep peace that left no space unsweetened. As Paul’s words to Philemon about Onesimus tread before me, that night I learned in a deeper way that however tragic our losses, our loving God leaves no gaping hole unfilled. 

          Yet, to get to this point of knowing and acceptance, a road must be travelled, a journey undertaken. There is a time for each step and for each fall. No amount of rushing can get us here. No amount of support can shorten the  distance. Every tear we shed, every question we send to heaven, is another step forward on this journey of seeking the return of what we have lost.

Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,

that you might have him back forever.

Pray for His Soul

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          For some reason, 9/11 wouldn’t leave me this year.

          I’ve had some terribly busy days since last week. When work oversteps my coping boundaries, for some time, it renders me numb and too worn to care.

          But not this year. Not since I matched the image of a grieving Robert Peraza to my post, Every Tear. Several times in a day since the 11th of this year, I’ve returned to that image of a father, kneeling in sorrow, and perhaps relief, at finding that beloved name, etched in bronze, paying homage in a love only a true father can have for his child. Over and over, I have slipped away from busy, noise-filled hours to place my heart beside Mr. Peraza, willing him to at least share his grief with me, that his cross may be lightened.

          In almost every media article that accompanied that portrait of abject grief, I read Mr. Peraza’s words upon finding his son’s name at the North pool.

“I was just honoring Rob. … I was saying a prayer for his soul.”

I couldn’t stop going back to that moment of 9 years ago, so public, yet so private. A father praying for the soul of his son.

          Yet only today, did a question tug at my heart.

          Why did I keep coming back to that photo? Why that one – out of all the others? Why this anguished yearning to reach out and absorb all this man’s pain?

          On a whim, I decided to scour through the internet to see if there was something about Robert Peraza that I needed to know.

          It was as if someone had been waiting for just that. Almost immediately, I learned that Mr. Peraza had passed away in 2016. New thoughts then stole softly into my heart. To have worked so hard all those years, in the hopes of a happy retirement and maybe for a few more pearls on that necklace – a bit of travelling, more family time, quiet days to savour what work holds out of reach. Then, 9/11. Your loved one snatched away because the right to life means nothing to some.

          Still, even as I thought them, those thoughts slipped through and away, unwilling to stay. Even of the sadness I had felt from last week, barely a mist remained now.

          What had suddenly closed that door to that hidden world of grief?

          Slowly, quietly, someone pushed these words, like tiny vessels across my spirit.

I was saying a prayer for his soul.

          And then I understood.

Lent 34 ~ Blow the Spirit of My Mother

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When the virus reaches the lungs, their mucous membranes become inflamed. That can damage the alveoli or lung sacs and they have to work harder to carry out their function of supplying oxygen to the blood…   ~  The New York Times

And about I guess it was about 3 o’clock in the morning I got to the point where I couldn’t even breathe, and I tell you I felt like I had a man laying on my chest and the weight of this man was so heavy that he was taking my breath. I mean, it was like I couldn’t even breathe. And then all of a sudden I felt this — I felt air blown into my lungs and I know as a believer that God was there with me, and He began to blow air in my lungs and I took a deep breath…the doctor came in the next morning and informed him that he had hardly any fluid left in his lungs… ~  Clay Bentley, Covid-19 survivor

 

I felt air blown into my lungs

 

          5 years ago, on the 2nd day of my Passion of Christ novena, I felt a voice say,

Blow the spirit of My Mother into the realms.

I didn’t understand what ‘realms’ referred to; I didn’t know how to blow either.

          But yesterday, reading that account of Clay Bentley, seeing the words, I felt air blown into my lungs, I suddenly remembered the Voice that told me to blow the spirit of Mary into the realms.

          Like everyone else, I had learned that the Sars-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19 can severely damage the lungs, impairing its ability to supply oxygen to the blood.

Step into the breach

          What if there was something I could do to help stricken lungs to heal and function well again?

Step into the breach

Blow the spirit of My Mother into the realms

          And so I’ve begun. I’m praying Hail Marys, offering each one for a Covid victim in need of the Holy Mother’s spirit. I don’t know if it’s what I’m meant to do, but ailing lungs need help.

The Hail Mary prayer is that help. It is the heavenly ventilator needed by so many.

 

Hail Mary, full of grace,

The Lord is with you

Blessed are you among all women

And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 29 ~ He is Going Home

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          In the darkness of Thursday morn, the day following the Feast of the Annunciation, I was roused from sleep. In the silence that followed, someone sat by my heart and lifted the veils a little.

          One of it concerned someone I love with all my heart. I learned that this old man would die.

          The whole of that Thursday, all through its hours, my heart remained calm and steady, accepting of that death if it were to truly happen. For ever so long, I’ve fought heaven, demanded that I be allowed to return home, to love and care as I’ve always done.

          But one day, years ago, in the midst of my anguished cry to heaven, I felt and heard the breath of Jesus upon my ear, saying,

There will be different ways to love

          In the years that followed, I began to understand that I would never return to my old home. Because to do so would only bring death upon my own family here now.

          It took a few more years before I could quieten the rebellion in my heart against that knowledge, but when I did, I slowly learned that God wanted me to now love through prayers, sacrifice and consecration.

          Only when I had fully accepted that did Jesus gently lead me towards yet another revelation. That this man will return to me with his old arms raised in the joy of absolute freedom and forgiveness – but only through the gates of death. Because only death could free this beloved man from the fetters that have imprisoned him from birth, right up to the present hour.

          And so, that is why, even when I was told on Thursday that he would die soon, even through my tears, my heart is ready for it.