My dear friends,
As you can imagine, I have been reading the cards, letters, and notes that have been coming since the death of our Brother, David Allen. I have been immensely touched by your thoughtful words, and your care for us in the midst of this particular loss.
Reflecting on this loss, and what David’s death means to the community, especially in light of our Rule of Life which states that the elders of the community are to be honored as the bearers of our corporate memory who link us with our past, I was aware of what we have lost. In David’s death, the corporate memory of the community shifted by nearly 30 years. Now, Brother Jonathan, who arrived in 1984, bears the longest community memory.
As I sat with that, I was aware that this has been a season of loss for so many. Countless numbers among us have lost loved ones, financial security, jobs, ready access to family and friends, to name a few. The toll of these last months is incalculable, and just as our grandparents or great grandparents spent the rest of their lives living with the double grief of World War I and then the Flu Epidemic of 1918 – 1919, we will live with the grief of these months, for the rest of our lives.
As any who have experienced the death of a loved one will know, you never get over it. Instead, all you can do is learn to bear it, usually by leaning on another.
One of my favourite icons is of the Crucifixion. There in the center of the image is Christ, hanging on the cross. On one side is the Beloved Disciple and the soldier traditionally named Longinus. It was he who pierced Christ’s side with his spear. But it is the cluster of women standing on the other side that always moves me. There we see Mary, the Mother of the Lord, literally being held up by four other women as she gazes upward upon her dying son. I cannot imagine her grief and sorrow. What I can imagine is the consolation she experienced surrounded, and upheld, by friends in her time of loss.
Like Mary, for many this has been a time of incalculable loss and grief. Like Mary we too need the support and consolation of others. For the last several days, Mary, the Mother of the Lord – sometimes referred to as Our Lady of Sorrows because of the grief she bore – has been my companion. She knows what it is to be gripped by grief.
If you need the support and consolation of others in your time of grief and loss, in your prayer, you might ask Blessed Mary to stand beside you, and hold you up, for she is also known as Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted. At the same time, you may know someone who needs to be consoled. Now is the time to reach out to them, and hold them up, as those women in the icon held up the Lord’s Mother. It may be that even in your grief and loss, you have the strength and courage to hold and console another.
However you find yourself in these days of grief and loss, know that we Brothers stand beside you, holding you up in our prayers. And may you find that the companionship of Our Lady of Sorrows, who is also Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted, gives you the strength and courage to face whatever the days ahead bring.
Thank you for your prayers for us during these days of our loss. They are a tremendous consolation.
Faithfully in Christ,
James Koester SSJE