All Souls

Today is All Souls’ Day, the Catholic day to remember those that have passed.

I have had an uneasy relationship with the Catholic faith for years.  Both boys were baptized, but I find that some tenets of the faith are at odds with what I believe that I am reluctant to participate.  We don’t attend church because of this uneasiness, yet when we discuss finding a church that is more in line with what we want to teach our children, we cannot see ourselves elsewhere either.  The Catholic church was such an integral part of my upbringing that even though I don’t practice, it is not something I can discard either; it is part of my identity.  When lying in the hospital at the beginning of September in the most difficult days of my life, and the nurse asked me if I had a particular religious affiliation, there was no hesitation in my response.

I wanted to post something in observation of the day, but held back.  I was, for a brief moment, worried about what other people would think.  “Is she still dwelling on that?  Hasn’t she moved on yet?”  But I shook off those feelings.  My grief, my pain.  I said last week to someone that I will never be whole again, since there is a part of me missing.  I need to be entirely unconcerned with the appearance of being “strong” or “handling it well.”  I have moments of profound, choking sadness and pretending otherwise is unhealthy and a disservice to both grief and the healing process.

So I posted the following:

And you would accept the seasons of your 
heart, even as you have always accepted 
the seasons that pass over your fields.

And you would watch with serenity 
through the winters of your grief
-Kahlil Gibran

The entire day, I had a lump in my throat as I knew an evening in church would be difficult.  Not because my feelings toward my faith have changed since the loss of our baby, but because the day is specifically to recognize the souls that have left this world.  I do not talk or write about my faith much, but it is deep, even if my participation in organized religion is lacking.  I had several people make comments to me such as “Don’t be angry at God.”  I truly never went to that place.  Through all of my questioning of why this happened, I never crossed into anger.  I have never seen God as one that intentionally causes suffering.  Instead, I see our loss as an act of Nature – something was incredibly wrong with my pregnancy, and even though I will never know exactly what, nature had a way of making a decision for us, hard as those words are to say out loud.  I prayed instead for comfort and peace at times when I felt I could not bear the weight any more.

I arrived at church and quickly seated myself at the back where I could let the tears flow, unnoticed.  Then I realized that I was supposed to get a candle, and there was going to be a procession of taking the candles to place on the steps on front of the altar.  I went to retrieve my candle, but as I had to write her name on the front I started crying, hard.  The woman came from behind the table to give me a hug, then quickly arranged for another woman to walk up with me.  Her name was Clouti, and I was instantly struck at how much the pronunciation of her name was similar to my baby girl’s middle name, Claudia.  She held my arm and walked me to the front, then sat with me for the entire mass.  The woman with the candles found me later as well, and brought tissues and sat with me as well.  During the homily, the priest said “Life has not ended, just changed.”  I tried to let those words wash over me.  After mass concluded, several other women, probably noticing my tear-stained face, came up to offer hugs and words of comfort.  The last woman asked whom I had lost, and when I whispered “my baby” she looked at me and said “So did my daughter-in-law.”  She motioned over a woman my age, who said she lost her son a few weeks ago.  We exchanged the most understanding of embraces.  The priest had also talked about community, and how we do not grieve alone.  The community was there for me tonight.

I also tripped across the following today, and find this increasingly to be true:

Everyone else is wandering around as though the universe is the same universe, but you know it’s completely different.

There are so few that can empathize with this stage.  That point when conversation returns to “normal” and outwardly I may appear to be fine.

For All Souls’ Day.  For Nelle.