I woke up this morning feeling anxious. No, that's a understatement. I felt like someone had plugged an IV with caffeine into my veins while I was sleeping...and then put a black mamba on the pillow next to me. My heart was racing, my breathing was shallow and my mind was swirling. At first I wasn't exactly sure what was going on since there clearly were no IV lines and no snakes on pillows. (At least none that I could see!)
Then I understood. My body, spurred on by my subconscious, was reminding me that today was the one year anniversary of my mother's death. Now it's not actually the date, which is the 26th, but I've never been one to remember dates, but rather days. For instance, my father died sometime in May, but it was the Feast of the Ascension, and so every year when the Ascension comes around, regardless of the calendar date, I remember his death.
So it is with today. My mother died on the fourth Thursday of January and that happens to be today. Even though I was anticipating the anniversary date on Saturday, my inner being had a different idea and concluded that today was the day to be remembered.
Over the past year, I've both experienced and observed my griefwalk. I had never expected, nor had any of the people who know me well, that I would have been so profoundly effected by my mother's death. I had truly believed that I had come to terms with most things and had made peace with the past.
Apparently that was not the case, because I have struggled with depression, anxiety and downright fear every day since her death. Every day has been a battle against the dark, a fight to see the light, a barring of the gate against the onslaught of the negative. Some days I've succeeded; other days it has felt like the war is nearly lost.
The irony is that in this year I completed a book on how the saints dealt with adversity. I wrote encouraging words I frequently didn't feel...or even completely believe. I talked about God's grace and goodness and love, even though I didn't feel that grace or goodness or love. I affirmed faith, when I doubted; trust when I had none; and hope when all felt lost.
If I had been writing honestly, I'd probably have talked about despair, loneliness, fear, emptiness, abandonment and pain . But I know that people don't want to hear about the negative and I know, too, that dwelling on the negative only brings about more negative. Job said that when he cried out, "That which I feared is upon me!"
So I've tried, not always successfully, to keep looking for evidence of God's loving care, even when I didn't feel it all. Deep in the back of my mind, I kept reminding myself that all the grief counselors and grief books say that it often (usually) takes a full year before the griefwalker is able to recover the self. It takes that long to pass through the cycle of seasons with their own poignant remembrances and to commemorate what Longfellow called the "secret anniversaries of the heart."
The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart
When the full river of feeling overflows;
Those are now behind me (almost...there is still the actual date of her death and the date of her funeral in the next few days). With each "secret anniversary" I have mourned, not just the loss of my mother, but all the other losses and yes, sins, of my life. I've asked for forgiveness and while I know I am forgiven, I know, too, that the temporal punishment for sin, as I learned a child isn't erased by forgiveness. That "temporal punishment" is most often the consequences I have to live with, sometimes forever, for having acted out of selfishness and pride; consequences that created pain for others and placed my own life, security and future in jeopardy.
I'm not sure that God removes those punishment this side of Purgatory, but I hope and pray it is possible, for I have worn the sackcloth of pain and I have covered my head with the ashes of despair. I am ready for a new year, a year of the abundant life Jesus said he came to give.
I'm ready for the second half of Longfellow's poem, the part we rarely read or hear:
The happy days unclouded to their close; The sudden joys that out of darkness start As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart Like swallows singing down each wind that blows! White as the gleam of a receding sail, White as a cloud that floats and fades in air, White as the whitest lily on a stream, These tender memories are;--a fairy tale Of some enchanted land we know not where, But lovely as a landscape in a dream.