Dear Family and Friends,
Stu O'Brien, a member of CORPUS who's in charge of "Member Services" (He himself lost his wife not many years ago) sent me a helpful little book -- Healing After Loss, Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore Hickman. I also finished reading a small book Living When A Loved One Has Died by Rabbi Earl Grollman. It was recommended by Linda Hopkins, VNA's Home Health and HOSPICE "Bereavement Coordinator" who came to our home for an hour this week just to talk but also to invite me to the weekly Grief Support Group she's organizing, beginning next Tuesday. I'll go see if it's a good fit.
I also ordered a few other books suggested in Linda's Grief Notes monthly newsletter. It's good to have these resources. I don't need a book to tell me that the loss of a spouse is an "intense anguish." But it is helpful to learn that grief can leave one feeling confused, fragile, unproductive and even with a kind of "cognitive dissonance."
It's also good to be reassured that "Grief takes its time, and for a while it occupies all our time, ...The process will not be cheated. It will take as much time as it needs...Grief will tell me what it needs from me at each step along the way."
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' and coauthor David Kessler' On Grief and Grieving even speak of "The Gift of Grief:" "Most important, grief is an emotional, spiritual and psychological journey to healing." Yet, -- "You will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will 'learn to live with it.'"
There's been a lot to do since Francis' funeral, -- making changes in legal documents, giving away Francis' clothing, (I'm wearing around the house what loosely fits me of his clothes,) and now taxes are coming up, plus thank you cards I still want and plan to write, etc. etc.
Though I find myself unable to take in much world news except for Haiti, I've begun connecting with some friends. Last Sunday I went to a Portland Symphony Concert (benefit for Haiti,) and plan to go to other PSO Concerts (Webber's and Mozart's Requiem.) I remember how helpful music was for me after my father died. And I also plan to go to a reading performance next Saturday at Woodfords' Congregational Church on Etty Hillesun's An Interrupted Life, written during the Holocaust. Organized by the Portland Conservatory of Music, the performance will be accompanied by a cello.
After tending to necessities, my attention has been drawn, however, to reading what Francis and I wrote to each other over the years: His love letters written in the summer of 1970 when we were physically separated during my summer studies at Providence College after I had left the convent that January of the same 1970; our Marriage Encounter notebooks, http://www.marriage-encounter.org/; and now I want to read Francis' journal written before I met him and my own journals. So I've postponed teaching my Wednesday AM yoga class until April when the spring session begins.
Yes, I'm finding nourishment in our own words. Francis' last words spoken approx 26 hours before he died, are imprinted on my heart: " I feel so good! So good! I don't know which step this is along the way. But whatever step it is, I embrace it. I don't know if it's the earliest step or not, -- no, I don't know, but I embrace it. I do embrace it! Now let me rest."
My consolation lies in Francis' total readiness, even his blissful readiness to pass. He's pain free now, and won't have to experience being a widower!
Although memories give me a stab of pain because they underline our physical absence now, they're also and even more, such rich treasures to cherish! I give thanks to have memories like these.
I'm also consoled realizing the love we shared in this life lives on in both of us, -- and beyond. When Rowan told me spontaneously, and sadly, that she wished pepere hadn't died, I told her that yes, people die, but love never dies. In repeating it more than once -- "Love never dies," adding "Even if all the people die, love never dies,"-- she said it with spirit, as a kind of declaration.
So journeying along with the Caravan of Creation, looking ahead to where my close loved ones have passed, -- my father, my mother, and now my beloved husband Francis, -- I'm aware of the younger generation coming behind me and mine.
I'm told (in one of the Meditations:) "In the process of grief, our task is to be attentive when the messages of mind and memory come." Some of those messages seem to be coming for me through Francis' letters. His words about our physical separation in the past apply to me now, in his physical absence of another kind. Even more, I sense, his reflections and my own journals may be giving me understanding and context for the life I will go on living.
I have so much gratitude for your loving support, dear family members and friends. I thank you from my heart for your prayers/good vibes which I need and on which I very much depend.
PS -- I learned that the national CORPUS http://www.corpus.org/ Conference will be dedicated to Francis this year. This is an annual Conference that Francis and I have planned never to miss. It's at several of these that Francis and I have prayed/chanted during the liturgy the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes -- in Aramaic. It'll be held in Fort Worth Texas, near Dallas, in June, and of course I plan to attend.
Affirmation from a life well lived
January 30, 2010
REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.
Perhaps you know the experience of being part of something grand in spirit that both affirms and challenges your particular faith persuasion. The involvement acquaints you again with the heart of things, stretches your imagination of what is good and possible. I love it when it happens, and it happened to me again this winter.
Francis McGillicuddy was a good friend – not a close friend until his last weeks, but a good friend. His story is bigger than I can tell in these few words. Let it suffice to say that Francis was a lovely man, a gentle man, a strong and compassionate man in heart and spirit, a courageous man who stood quietly but clearly for moral values in the tradition of Jesus.
Francis was a man who loved Jesus and Elaine McGillicuddy. Francis was a practicing priest and Elaine was a nun when they met, when they fell in love, when their integrity and understanding of faithfulness led them out of their respective orders and vows into new ones.
I met them both in a class on poetry of the soul. Later, we met on Wednesdays at Monument Square.
Many of us shared a common need to stand as we could for what we believed in. Francis and Elaine and my wife, Nancy, and I and many others – Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, humanist, gay, straight, homeless, refugee, whatever – those who shared the joy and harassment of demonstrating for justice and peace experienced the spirit I spoke of above. It was a genuine ecumenism, oneness.
Now that is a $64 word, "ecumenism." It comes from the Greek word "oikoumenikos," meaning "of or from the whole world." The emphasis in the word is on wholeness. In Christian circles, it is the name given to a movement to overcome the divisions of denominations.
Experiencing ecumenism is an experience of common calling from a voice that speaks to each of our hearts. It is not an idea as much as an inspiration. It is a sense of being connected to and working together for something greater than the individual parts, for the whole of humanity, for the whole earth. It is an experience of the Spirit.
This Spirit is larger than any of us and all of our churches. When the faithful follow where it leads, they are introduced to a oneness with humanity and a connection of compassion with one another and all beings. It is a oneness inspired and served by love.
Francis and Elaine and those of us gathered with them at Monument Square for a year and a half experienced oikoumenikos, felt something of being a part of one world, one family, justice and kindness for all flowing from the Spirit that had called us there and bonded us. Francis was at home there. Those who knew Francis knew him as the embodiment of a faithful follower of love.
He died from cancer on Jan. 3. From the day he heard the diagnosis to the day he died, he strove to live every moment of his breathing, every experience of his journey.
A vignette here to make the point: Caring for the terminally ill can focus us on the question of when and how death will come. Francis understood this and appreciated his caregiver's attention to it, attention he shared to some degree.
But more than that, he wanted to share and be present for the time he still had. His counsel to our preoccupation with the end came in these words to Elaine, "Let's take it as it comes." He was lovingly alive in this world to his last breath.
His wake and funeral were held at Sacred Heart/St. Dominic Church in Portland. Both overflowed with people touched by his spirit, by the Spirit. Being a Protestant, I felt clumsy in the Roman Catholic liturgy but not out of place in my faith.
But we, Protestant and Catholic, haven't found our way to oikoumenikos yet. The doors were opened to all who wished to attend, but Communion was not. Clearly, the dominant spirit of that place and time was welcoming, yet at the same time, a spirit that felt less welcoming kept some Christians from the table.
I have no doubt that if Francis had been serving the bread and wine, he would have brought them to me.
I and every church I have served and know have clay feet. This was acknowledged in the eulogy. It celebrated Francis' life and spirit but also lamented clergy sexual abuse. As a new priest, Francis had been taken advantage of sexually by an older priest mentor.
Francis, a child of the church, was ahead of his institution at the end of his life. Maybe that is always the way it is. Our organized churches inspire their people with the vision of the justice, the courage and kindness of Jesus – a vision the churches have more difficulty fulfilling than many of the individual people they nurture.
Francis embodied the spirit of grace, of forgiveness, kindness, justice, of deep gratitude, of humility and joy in God's love, which is evidence of the Spirit. It was nurtured in Francis by many, including his church, for which I am grateful. In the spirit of oikoumenikos, I call members of his church my brothers and sisters.
The room set aside for his wake was far from large enough for the numbers who came. The beautiful sanctuary at Sacred Heart/St. Dominic was filled with people, even more with Spirit. It was not because he was a celebrity or a public man. I think it was because our world is hungry for people who believe in and live for love and stand unequivocally for moral values.
What will be said of us when our time comes? May in some degree it be said that in our time, we were faithful to our spiritual roots and that our highest branches reached to the light, the moral values, the hope, the dream empowered by and evidence of the Spirit of love for the whole oikoumenikos.
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