A few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail from the Boston Athletic Association for finishers of the Boston Marathon.
It was exciting to receive the package and yet it was also quite sad.
This was not how I wanted to receive my medal—not nearly the same as running down Boylston Street in the Massachusetts capital, hearing the crowd, stumbling across the finish line, and having a caring volunteer put the medal around my neck.
Earlier this week, my household participated in a virtual Eternity Sunday ritual, lighting a candle for the ‘deaths’ of the past year. Many in the Christian tradition on the last Sunday of the Christian calendar (the Sunday before First Advent) stop and remember the grief of the year that has passed.
Grief is an odd thing. It hurts and we naturally do not want to feel its rawness on us.
At the same time, leaning into our grief as it tears a hole in our heart is the only way through the immense, immobilizing, and disorienting darkness we feel.
Tears, crying out, journaling, going for a late-night run, conversations and prayer rituals such as lighting a candle help me to lean into my grief.
As the years pass, I have begun to realize that as I lean into my grief, the gifts of joy, gratitude and hope begin to re-emerge.
This morning as I journaled, I was struck by how difficult these past months have been for so many people who have experienced job loss, increasing struggles with addiction, and family conflict and struggle. How difficult this time has been for those who have needed to bury a loved one during these times of restricted large community gatherings and isolation.
I became so aware of my privilege and of my current good fortune that no one in my immediate family and friendship circle has died these past 12 months.
Furthermore, during these unprecedented times, no one in my family or close circle of friends has tested positive for COVID-19.
And yet, as the flame of the candle flickered on Sunday morning, I was mindful of the heaviness in my soul and unease in my stomach.
These months have been difficult and brought many moments of loss, ambiguous loss, to many, many people who have been fortunate but yet still feel loss.
As I journaled my mind drifted to events in my own household:
- Grade 8 and Grade 12 graduation ceremonies that did not happen.
- Provincial and national softball tournaments that were cancelled.
- I have not yet held my great-nephew, or been inside the assisted living retirement home my 89-year-old mother moved to a few months ago.
- The trip to Bolivia for my 25th wedding anniversary and celebration of my nephew’s wedding did not happen.
- The small things of giving someone a hug, gathering in a large crowd for a hockey game, worship or a movie, or sitting around the table enjoying good food with 10 or 12 friends or family members.
There have been many losses and there will be more as we enter this holiday season.
Leaning into our grief is not easy, and yet I do trust that it is the way forward to moments of joy and laughter.
As the formal Eternity Sunday ritual ended in my home, I headed out the door for a beautiful snowy 10 km. run which ended with building a snowman—a little bit of play amidst the difficulty of this time.
Take care, be safe and keep moving forward, whether walking, running or rolling along.
Matthew Isert Bender is an ordained Mennonite Church Eastern Canada minister and registered social worker. He currently works as the interim executive director at Interfaith Counselling Centre in New Hamburg, Ont.