Battling the post-Easter blahs
Gary Caruso | Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Our Christian joie de vivre revolves around rising above the power of death. Surely if anyone yearns to personally be lifted from a seemingly inner bottomless sorrow to boundless joy, the Easter season should be that catalyst to shepherd along such solace. Yet the ravage of witnessing firsthand a family member’s long-term cancer struggle oftentimes irreparably scars one’s soul. For many who presently languish through the gnawing grief that lingers after a loved one’s passing — particularly several branches of my family tree this year — Easter week conveyed a mere contrived comfort.
Just as each of us portrays our own unique personality, all of us grieve in an inimitable manner. My sister still mourns the husband she lost last October just as intensely as my cousins suffer today through their third week following their family matriarch’s departure. Another relative, who lost her fiancé to cancer two years ago, suffered anew a shocking heartbreak on Good Friday when her 12-year-old Sheltie’s heart gave out without the slightest inkling of illness. Her home became quiet and lonely on the doorstep of what would ordinarily be an enthusiastic holiday weekend.
Each of our “Family Trinity” endured a year of frantically praying for healing grace. To a person, they each abandoned a routine life to loyally serve while observing the gradual decay of a companion’s body. For each, their spiritual paths toward understanding a guilt-free purpose in life may have intersected this Easter season, but by all accounts none has mastered how to merge the sorrow of the crucifixion with the joy of resurrection.
It is not difficult to harken to a joyous Easter when our families were whole. However, the healing path that melds intense sorrow with profound joy is not solely gained by memorializing our fond times together — so frequently characterized as celebrating another’s life. Certainly, we yearn to continue our long-held rituals, once shared with our loved ones, in hopes of conjuring back a glimmer within the darkened corners of our beings. This year we may laugh and recall the time a baby splashed a bowl of egg coloring dye on everyone, but the slightest stark present-day anomaly drags us from that bygone comfortable moment. None our dearly departed who just a year ago sat with us to color eggs but passed prior to the Paris terror attack could recognize the desolate significance of a red, white and blue Eiffel Tower egg.
What Gospel passage should we rely upon to seek our way through such sorrows? My initial reaction is to ignore scripture but escape through my reminiscence of our family vacations in Italy when we visited the so-called “Bone Church,” Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchins or the tomb of Saint Ignatius Loyola at Chiesa del Gesu. How ghastly it seemed for me to not feel the slightest grief while gazing at someone’s remains — a person others loved just as dearly, if not more during centuries ago, as my family loved our recently departed. It was a macabre setting where human bones were affixed to the ceiling to form images of roses. How strange to stare at the marble cherubs adorning the background walls that abut the tomb or at more cheery cherubs on the iron gate that guards the crypt. Is this the mix of feelings we should balance when our loved ones pass on?
Our human frailty limits our easy pathway forward if we only carry the memories of our departed within our personal sorrows. Forging through sorrow like Jesus passed through death clears the trail to joy and a new life. Matthew 6:33 sums up that general catchall advice, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
While it may appear effortless to proclaim the way forward from atop a pulpit, our modern worldliness most often barricades our labors. Those lofty pronouncements require us to relinquish selfish pursuits to achieve a higher spirituality. For many who are skeptical about life in general, asking us to fully embrace that counsel is almost an impossible road to trek.
Throughout the years, I developed my personal two-pronged coping mechanism to survive my family sorrows. The first pillar is my faith in another life to come where I will be reunited with my departed loved ones — not necessarily as the Catholic heaven and hell alternative, or a Buddhist transmigration, but with some new enlightenment on another level where we all repeatedly traverse. Secondly, I drift into a numb and mesmerized trance-like state of mind where I can absorb my shocked sensibilities and attempt to burn away its sting.
Usually I further select a song our family requests at a funeral mass, “Shepherd me Oh Lord,” and repetitively hum it in my mind as it carries my thoughts to a calming place. This past weekend, I achieved inner peace by selecting an uplifting and traditional Easter mass recessional hymn. It is the perfectly inspiring song to hum, “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia.”
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.