“It stinketh,” say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold “it stinketh”…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and “it stinketh.”
At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus, as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: “and Jesus wept” …We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life.
The power of Resurrection is not a Divine “power in itself,” but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is Life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!…” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.
From where I sit at my computer I can’t see the vast expanse of naked hard dirt that makes up most of my back yard now. All I can see is an unchanged view which includes the manzanita, and the conifer branches hanging above the fence.
The Landscape Ladies said that my manzanita is a nice shrub and worth keeping. That has been a very comforting word for me to play over in my mind, as I wait for something material (I wrote “concrete” first, but I have had quite enough of concrete for a while.) to be created in the yard. It means that I succeeded in pruning it in such a way that it kept its natural twisty shape.
The last few days I have been feeling unsettled more than my usual, excepting the splendid day when Soldier and Joy and the little boys came over and my capable and willing son did so many handyman things. He helped me prune the strawberry bush into a tree shape.
I read stories to Liam, and a visit to the world of Benjamin Bunny with him snuggled against my chest was the most nurturing activity – for the grandma! I actually cooked that day, too; I baked a frittata. Joy brought a peach pie, and I am heating the last slice in the oven as I type, for my dinner. Having friends J&C around for a couple of weeks has been good; C. is a professional nutritionist — how convenient, eh? — who cooks healthy things, and they have been modeling for me the kind of cooking-and-eating behavior I hope to learn again.
For several nights I haven’t been sleeping soundly. Today marks five months of widowhood, and I attended the funeral of a man in my parish, and felt that I was keeping a memorial to my husband at the same time, so that was good, but heavy.
I drove the grandfather of little Mary my god-daughter home after the reception, and that put me in the neighborhood of my favorite thrift store. I went in and tried on a few things, but it was too stressful somehow. I didn’t have the emotional energy. Trader Joe’s is also in that neighborhood so I stopped by there…buying food is more soothing, right? After loading my groceries into the car I sat in it and phoned some friends who want me to come for lunch soon, and I told them I can’t do it this week, because I am “in a slump.” They are people who want to love me, but they are too needy themselves and don’t know how they drain me instead.
On the recommendation of a blogging friend, I am reading Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet M. Kumar, a book that tells me to pay attention to what is going on and not to try to escape it. A quote: “Like suffering and grief, resilience — which means having the elasticity and buoyancy to recover from the experience of enduring suffering and pain — may also be a part of the natural order.”
As long as the speed of resilience we are talking about is along the lines of a memory foam pillow, and not a foursquare ball, I think I can believe in it. And I trust it is a natural thing, or at least a supernatural thing….in any case, I can’t make myself “bounce back,” if I even wanted to, which I don’t. There is no getting back to Before, anyway.
Kumar writes, “Mindfulness can help you get reacquainted with the vast potential of each moment of your life — it is the antidote to the endless waiting for tomorrow.” This attitude is what I learn from Orthodoxy, to be present with God all the time, everywhere. Now that is potential! But for now, being present in the moment means accepting my grief, and accepting that my emotional resources are fairly used up by this kind of activity. As the author says, “…come in full contact with yourself and learn to ride the waves of grief.”
Working in my garden never drains me, even if it makes me physically tired. Last night I sawed and lopped the dead parts of the osmanthus, and trimmed back the Raphiolepis next to it. I’m running a soaker hose on the osmanthus (Sweet Olive) to encourage its recovery from drought, and the faucet is whining from the backed-up pressure. It’s not a nice noise, but most of the time, now that the yappers are gone, I live in a very quiet neighborhood. As I think back over the 25 years I’ve lived here, so many things have evolved and developed on and around the property.
Thirteen years ago we had to replace all the pool decking, and we took out the diving board to give us more room in our patch of ground at the end of the pool. We leveled out the raised bed and went outside our comfort zone to build some brick paths. We found lots of bricks from a previous patio or something, buried under the pool decking, and we added gray concrete bricks to tie into the colors of the patio.
The back yard design I am working on now includes a different sort of path, and we are going to remove this brick walkway so that the whole yard will be of a piece. I think the bricks from the Glad Paths might be used to expand the patio into the area where the plum tree was.
The homemade paths served a good purpose for quite a while, but they were never ideal, and I’m not sentimental about them. The manzanita — I should name that bush, perhaps something rhyming like “Juanita” — surprised us in growing steadily north and away from the midpoint between the paths. We came to understand that it was trying to grow out from under the canopy of conifers to the south.
That path that was slim at the outset soon became impossibly narrow on the side that the shrub — I will call her “Margarita” — was growing toward. The only reason I had ever thought of pruning a wild mountain bush like this was to make the pathway passable, but as Margarita grew and grew, there was no way I could both maintain her nice curves and keep the path open.
When Mr. Glad retired we expanded the path a bit on that side.
The book on mindfulness makes some very good points, but coming from a Buddhist foundation it is lacking an understanding of why we suffer, and of all the riches that are available to us humans. The author says that people “have a tendency to associate suffering and distress with something being wrong,” but that “Grief has always been part of the order of things, and always will be. As part of suffering, grief too is a natural law.”
I can’t mention this book without saying how sadly wrong he is about that. Death and suffering and grief came into the world through sin, but Christ died to put an end to death. Because it is wrong! It was not in His plan. When He comes again in glory He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor sighing, nor pain. For the former things are passed away.
We will do more than bounce back then; we will be given new bodies for our souls to be reunited with, and we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. Now things are cloudy and blurry, and we walk in faith, with His loving presence and grace always offered to us. He is constant and unchanging, a very present help in trouble.
In this world, on the other hand, we have constant change, often for the worse. Sometimes just the change itself is hard to bear, even if it is objectively an improvement. In the little realm of my garden I have lamented the lack of sunlight, but now that I have taken out one tree and thinned another, the area that was fairly shady will now be able to support more sun-loving plants, and I’m happy about that.
But I’ll be a little sad to see the rhododendron go, thought I didn’t care for its color. And the campanula, and sweet woodruff! They will probably be history. So just for memory’s sake — which of course is the purpose of all these pictures — here is a last view of the Woodland Garden patch of yard.
I’m looking forward to some new garden scenes to take pictures of, but glad to have Margarita Manzanita still in view. And come to think of it, I am waiting for tomorrow, waiting in Hope of the Resurrection. But as Martin Luther said, “If I knew that Christ were going to return tomorrow, I would plant a tree today.”
Soon after my husband’s death I read When Husbands Die by Shirley Reeser McNally. The author who was a widow herself surveyed a group of women who had been widowed within the previous ten or more years, and organized their responses into a book.
It was what I needed to read at the time, a sort of controlled support group, where I didn’t have to interact in real time with anyone, but could glean comfort from hearing from women who were in the same situation and who knew what I was going through. It’s strange, when I think about it, that an experience that is so common to humanity, the death of one’s spouse, can be so outrageous and solitary and impossible to prepare for.
One reason for the solitary aspect is the uniqueness of every relationship, and of each griever. This collection of women’s stories was interesting in that the women were all educated and able to write articulate and thoughtful responses to the questions, whether they were in their first months of grieving or years down the road. Most of them did not have to struggle financially, even if their husbands had died fairly young.
Shortly after reading the book I told people that it was something like reading a sociology textbook, and a little dry, but now I think, wasn’t that what I needed? I certainly didn’t want to read anything dramatic about someone else’s trauma. C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed was not as helpful, partly because it was only one person’s story, and that of a man, one who hadn’t been married very long. I am a woman who had been married a long time.
I especially liked hearing from women who were at a later stage of grief, about how their lives had changed over the years since their husbands had died, and the ways in which they had built new lives that were good. I went back this week and reviewed the passages I’d highlighted on my Kindle. Here are a few of those favorites:
“…the shared stories indicate that women must work through three to five years of grief and change before they feel well on their way to a recovered, reinvented life. The hard work of grieving must be accomplished before healing takes place.”
“…disorientation, fatigue, loss of self-confidence, feelings of abandonment, shock, and bone-deep sadness.”
“…our culture…is not open to the commonality of death, and how important it is that we come to terms with it in our lifetime.”
“I think women are better able to cope. We are greater realists and more skilled at accepting change as part of life because of our biological natures: monthly changes, pregnancy, childbirth, etc. Widowers tend to remarry sooner. They don’t know how to nurture themselves.”
“Is it ever possible to have no regrets; to have accomplished all you wanted to do; to have said everything, done everything? No. Omissions you recall later may bring sadness, sometimes guilt, until you understand that it was important for you and your husband to do things in your own way. That’s the only way you and he had.”
“…dying is something each of us has to do alone, at least in a human sense? The moment must come when, in dying, we move beyond our surroundings into another space.”
“…it is a sudden time, when things must be left unsaid and undone.”
More than one reviewer of Richard Wilbur’s latest collection of poems has noticed that since his wife died, the poet has written more about death, as in this example below. That would be a natural response, of course, for someone 90 years old, even if he weren’t recently widowed.
I’m a lot younger than Wilbur, but I know it’s recommended that people of all ages live with awareness of the shortness of our lives, as in Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Or as another translation goes, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life….”
If our dearest friends and family have departed, it could exacerbate any feeling of weariness we already had with this earthly existence. In the same Psalm the poet mentions the less-than-thrilling aspects of life: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
A MEASURING WORM
This yellow striped green
Caterpillar, climbing up
The steep window screen,
Constantly (for lack
Of a full set of legs) keeps
Humping up his back.
It’s as if he sent
By a sort of semaphore
Dark omegas meant
To warn of Last Things.
Although he doesn’t know it,
He will soon have wings,
And I, too, don’t know
Toward what undreamt condition
Inch by inch I go.
~ Richard Wilbur
Richard Wilbur is a lot smarter than an inchworm, so I like to think he had this verse from I Corinthians in mind when he wrote those last lines: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
Because the Preparer is Love, our Last Things, though unimaginable, will be the best.