A few weeks ago, partway through the Easter Octave, my stepfather unexpectedly passed away. The news of his passing initially felt like an impossible interruption of joy, contrary to everything that I had been experiencing at Easter.
My stepdad married my mom when I was only five, and so essentially raised my younger brother and me. I am no expert on how to mourn a parent. I have never done it before, nor have I accompanied any friends through their own grief over losing a parent. I imagine that even if I had, it would not make much difference, because for each one of us, the death of a parent is the first time for us, and everyone grieves differently. But here are some early thoughts on living with grief in the Easter season.
For me, grief has been a lot like being on a raft in rushing waters, where there are many ups and downs, twists and turns. One moment I’m weeping, and the next I’m laughing with my brother about a funny story about my stepfather. Then I feel anger at no one in particular or miss my brother, who lives far away. It is time to get back to “normal” life, but nothing feels normal at all. I have found it best just to follow the grief where it goes, holding onto the raft. Rather than resisting any aspect of the grief, it helps to trust that the process will get me to where I need to go. God is the raft to which I am clinging, my steadiness in the midst of the turmoil of emotions.
St. Ignatius advises that we return to consolation in times of desolation. This Easter, particularly the Vigil Mass, had been exceptionally joyful. I remember awakening the next morning feeling a deep sense of wholeness, a sense of relaxing deeply into God in a way where I felt I could be wholly myself again. I felt loved and accepted by God all the way down to my core. Going back to remember those first few days of Easter strengthens me, reminding me that God’s joy is real and that joy can and will return again. Although I don’t feel it right now, I can trust that God’s desire for joy and new life is more fundamental than loss and death. This act of faith is a faith in God who is “God not of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32).
The support of my family and closest friends has been wonderful. God’s love works through those who reach out and enact God’s compassion. My stepfather’s funeral was also an occasion for the renewal and healing of some other family bonds. Even in the midst of grief we can be forces of healing or reconciliation. This, too, is a gift of the Easter season.
God has also provided in unexpected ways. Like all people, my stepdad had both strengths and weaknesses. But so far, my memories are overwhelmingly about the gifts and graces. I think about the time he took me to see Luciano Pavarotti in concert and my stepdad encouraged me, at age seven, to ask the great operatic tenor for a kiss, and Pavarotti gladly obliged, kissing me on the forehead and cheek. I think about my stepdad making up goofy lyrics to opera songs, singing them in the kitchen as he made breakfast.
Most of all, I have been flooded with a memory from when I was very young. One of the baby finches that had recently hatched from our pair of adopted finches died, and it was my first experience with death. I was trying to hold in my emotions. My stepdad wrapped me up in his big, comforting arms as I sobbed, and encouraged me to let it all out. These past days, in grieving his death, I have felt again that sense of being held in love in his arms. All the rest really doesn’t matter. Love triumphs over death, even on this side of heaven.
Your thoughts and feelings about your grief have touched me deeply! At 81 I am dealing with incredibly painful loss of my closest friend,like a sister,of 35 years. I can identify with the feeling of being “on a raft in rushing waters”. The feeling that “when one beloved person is absent the whole world seems empty” is still deeply ingrained in my heart. But,following your thought about God being the “raft” I will more consciously cling to Him.
I am sorry about your loss and I thank you for helping others to live through our own. God bless you!
Thank you all for your kind words and prayers. The words of thoughtful and caring persons at this time mean a lot. Those of you also experiencing loss will also be in my prayers. Peace, Marina
Marina, thank you.
Your metaphor about being in a raft is exactly the metaphor/story/image that I used to describe my own similar experience some years ago at the time of my mother’s ‘transformation.’ To continue the metaphor – as “the waters” grew calmer beneath my raft, I came to ‘see’ the essence of my parent much more clearly, especially in those around me-my sisters and brothers BUT mainly in myself. I hope you are blessed similarly by the gifts of your step-father. These transformative moments remind so vividly that we are essentially spiritual beings having a human experience.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Rob. I love the continued extension of the metaphor that you offer and will look forward to paying attention to the presence in the stiller waters. Teillhard de Chardin seems right to me on the spiritual beings having a human experience, too. I deeply appreciate your comment.
Sending you a hug. I’m the last surviving member on both sides ofmy family.. so, hugs, prayers & love.
Your posts always touch me ❤️?
Thank you, Renee! Blessings to you.
Thank you for posting this. When my dad died I felt I was catapulted onto an unknown planet. But God moves the spheres and a much greater love replaced the fear.
May the good memories multiply as time goes on. They brought back to mind similar kindnesses extended to me as a child by those long gone. I smiled to hear about the Pavorotti concert. I too was pushed by a friend to go backstage and get a kiss from the tenor.
Your stepdad is up in heaven listening to Luciano right now…
Lovely to think of him enjoying what he so loved on earth also in heaven. Thank you.
Marina, this was a lovely reflection. How you must miss your stepdad! The stories you tell are so heartwarming and show the love of God. Thank you for sharing so beautifully.
With gratitude, Suzanne
Thank you, Suzanne.
I can relate to what you feel. I have buried both parents and the pain is still there, mixed in with immense gratitude to God for all that they were and did for me.
Thanks for sharing. The gratitude and pain do seem to go together for me, as well. Peace be with you.
Thank you for this lovely meditation and words of comfort to ponder. I too lost a loved one during the Easter season. My brother died in March and I have been feeling all the emotions that you mentioned. I too have been holding onto God as my raft, and have gained peace. I will pray for you in your loss.
Sandra, thanks for your prayers, and I will pray for you as well. I am sorry to hear of the loss of your brother.
This was just what I needed this morning. I lost my mom last August, lost my dad 18 years ago. I have been having a very hard time lately and keep thinking I should be moving on in my grief but it is a bit like a roller coaster ride. I appreciate your thoughts, I will continue to take things one day at a time.
Thanks for sharing your experience. You will be in my prayers.
What a lovely article! I can say I experienced similar things when each of my parents passed away – both the moments of sudden grief and anger, but especially the memories and the closeness and consolations from other relatives and friends. Today, years later, it is the consolations that I remember. Grief finally has become mostly gratitude for all the gifts my parents brought to my life.
Thanks for sharing your experience about the movement from grief to gratitude. Well said.
We do not know each other but I do know grief having lost both parents. I will pray for you.
Thank you, Peter.
Thanks for sharing what is clearly a blessed relationship. Praying for you, knowing you’ll remain close to your stepdad forever. The strengths don’t eradicate the weaknesses, they simply remind you that there were many more of them! Thanks again.
Thank you for your prayers. I appreciate them.
Beautifully expressed. A very insightful article.
Thank you, Terry.