A Passing

But grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.

There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows that for better or worse our lives are woven together here, one with one another and with the place and all the living things. 

Wendell Berry

 

paternoster april 2011 224

 

My father-in-law died on Saturday. He became suddenly ill just days before Christmas and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, only two months and a little more than a week ago. In that short time, he celebrated his birthday, my mother-in-law’s birthday and their fifty-fourth wedding anniversary. We watched him grow frail even as we continued to chat about politics or sport. My brother-in-law brought him books about Georgia O ‘Keeffe (an artist my father-in-law loved) and he shared them with us, his delight in art and beauty evident. We talked about ballet and the performances he and my mother-in-law had seen on their travels abroad.

He loved to play poker with his family (he and the grandchildren often had mini tournaments during school holidays). We laughed a lot in those games, and I will miss them; I will miss hearing his laughter mingled together with the laughter of my husband and my sons.

My husband’s entire family live in Cape Town. There have been numerous birthdays and Christmastimes when everyone was there. I remember what a treasure that was for me when my parents and brothers were living far away and my children were small. Those big family gatherings were a wonderful gift. I’ve watched as the number of grandchildren grew from two to three and eventually to eleven. The babies and toddlers who sat around plastic tables and who scattered lego and train sets over the floor have grown to teenagers and young adults. And still we’ve continued to gather together. One of my father-in-law’s favourite sayings was: ‘If I’d known how much fun grandchildren would be, I’d have had them first.’

On Sunday we were all together again. We had planned a birthday celebration for my mother-in-law and one of my nephews.When the candles were blown out and the grandchildren had drifted off to chat amongst themselves, we sat talking about dates for the funeral and a gathering to celebrate his life. I watched as my husband and his siblings sat with their mother and talked things over. I was filled with a sense of the love that is there between them all, in the way they are coming together to walk through this season of grief. That love really does seem ‘like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.’

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Together

Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.

Wendell Berry

 

Generally speaking, the threads that bind us to each other are no less real for being mostly invisible, no less important and precious. In the long run, each of our stories turns out to be the story of us all.

Frederick Buechner

 

carri's 40th party 002

 

This picture was taken at Kirstenbosch, the day of my fortieth birthday picnic. Dad and I were putting paper bunting in the trees at one of my favourite spots in the garden. There were so many people there that day. Friends, family, acquaintances. It was a beautiful afternoon. I may have mentioned it here before, but I often struggle with community, with my need for and discomfort with being part of the various tribes that surround me and call me one of their own. In my profound introversion and high sensitivity, I sometimes find gatherings of people (big and small) challenging and frequently exhausting.

That said, I find myself coming more and more to a deep appreciation for these connections. It’s not that I am shedding all the struggle or awkwardness. On some days I still want to burrow into myself and hide. And I sometimes do (I have learnt that I need that). But I am learning to be present to others and to the gifts of community in the midst of feeling out of place or unequal to company and conversation. I am discovering that people will love and care for me nonetheless.

Last weekend I gathered with a few others at a friend’s home for a celebration of her fiftieth birthday. It was her third party; she is warm and gregarious and has many friends. She is also very gifted in the kitchen and had prepared a delicious feast for us to enjoy. Before we sat down to our meal, she told us that she wanted to share what she loved and appreciated about each one. We sat and listened as she spoke words of kindness and blessing over us, and I felt such a sense of thankfulness for the opportunity to be part of this circle of grace. It was a powerful reminder that we are all of us important to someone, and that because of it, our lives matter. I was aware again that when anyone leaves this earth, there is a space left behind in the lives of those they knew and loved, and who loved them. A space that can never be filled.

I feel this way not only about the people in my life, but also about the animals that have come and gone, and those who walk with me still. Wendell berry speaks of us being healed as we ‘come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.’ I love that. Animals have been profound healers for me; they still are. There is no need (or possibility) of pretense with an animal, and that kind of pure presence is surely one of life’s most precious gifts.

So today I am dwelling on the privilege of being part of these circles. I am conscious that in friendship and love ‘my cup runneth over’.