The sighing breeze in the wake of a howling wind. Such is grief in the wake of death that is unexpected, in the wake of any death. A sigh that settles in upon one’s life; a grief that does not have words. No matter how much people want you to talk and unburden, you can't. You grow weary of its effects on the everyday things, weary of its exposure to the gaze of others who in turn must have grown tired of seeing how you are and are not. Do they want to say, “get over it and get on with life”, as is often said, or at least thought? It’s what you want to say to yourself. But it doesn’t work because you are flattened and disabled. Disabled. Mentally, emotionally and, as a result, physically.
Winds that go howling, breezes that sigh. A line from “All Kinds of Everything”, the song that won the Eurovision for Derry Lindsay, Dana and Ireland way back in 1970. The excitement and innocence of it all. An innocent song that I have always thought of as harmless, associating it with buttercups and butterflies fluttering. A lovely song, a fine song, though without weight or edge or depth. So I thought.
But the howling winds push one to the edge with force and weight. Elemental. Like the violent wind of Pentecost, the breath of God around whom tempest rages; the four winds of the Apocalypse. And that’s what I wake up with one morning. Struggling to face the day, knowing that sorrow and the isolation of lockdown have made me somewhat odd, unable to face people, not knowing what to say or how. Unable and able at the same time. Able, because you have to do it. But it is at times a monumental climb. Pushing an elephant up the stairs. A touch of depression.
Princess Anne says that grief is the price of love. Her love for her father Prince Philip. And I think of the Queen sitting alone, a covid-19 safe distance from her family and going home alone after the funeral. Sad. Sadness imbued with great strength. The strength of love. She is the symbol and embodiment of her nation – all who faced sickness and the death of a loved one in isolation.
There is a beauty that walks amid sorrow, a reminder from God that He is with us. Like the beauty that surrounded the funeral of Prince Philip – the weather, bright colourful pageantry, music and prayer. The Dean of Windsor reading Ecclesiasticus 43 so beautifully:
“He sprinkles snow like birds alighting, it comes down like locusts settling. The eye marvels at the beauty of its whiteness, and the mind is amazed at its falling.
The cold wind blows from the north, and ice forms on the water; it forms on every piece of standing water, covering it like a breastplate. The wind swallows up the mountains and scorches the desert, like a fire it consumes the vegetation. But cloud brings swift healing, and dew brings joy after the heat.”
I’m surprised by the depth of my own grief following John’s death. Not at all surprised that I grieve but it is unexpectedly intense which means that I must have loved him much more than I realised. I feel rudderless, homeless, uprooted in this world. And into all this, Derry sends me a poem by Jessica Powers (Sister Miriam):
A lovely young couple came to visit me last year just before lockdown. He was terminally ill and wanted to receive the Sacraments. I remember his silence and his tears. It was the only time he cried during his illness, the effects of which he kept mostly to himself. It seemed he wouldn’t last very long. Desperately sad. But he went on for another year during which his wife became pregnant with their son. And he danced for joy at Christmas like God in Zephaniah, joy in the son to be born, whom he will not see in this world, the son who will bear his father’s name. When I responded sympathetically to the widow in her pregnancy, she was utterly serene in the knowledge that she has more than she dared hope for.
Another new life has arrived into my own family in the person of Isaac Henry who was born to Sinead and Peter on Monday, a beautiful little child whose name speaks of laughter. In Genesis 18 Sarah, who was hidden inside the tent, laughed at the promise of God that Isaac would be born to her and Abraham. “Why did Sarah laugh?” asked God of Abraham. “I did not laugh” she replied. “Oh yes you did!” said God. “Nothing is impossible for God.”
The breath of God in the clay of earth, the nostrils of humanity, and after wind and storm the gentle breeze of Horeb, sheer silence of God's voice, Jesus breathing the breath of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in the Upper Room, the same Holy Spirit praying in us when we do not have words of our own, praying with sighs too deep for words.
“…cloud brings swift healing, and dew brings joy after the heat.”