On Grieving


I am somehow both pan-religious and nonreligious, both Catholic and pagan. I don’t really know how all of that exists simultaneously in my heart and mind, but somehow it does. For a long time I thought that was an untenable state, and expected that sooner or later I would have to commit to being and believing one thing or another, and not all things and none all at once. But I’ve lived in this state for many years now, and truthfully it shows no sign of coming to some cataclysmic end. Somehow this all-encompassing, tolerant nonbelief system of mine works just fine.

Most of the time.

When terrible things happen, though, there’s no rulebook for me to turn to. All the various religious answers about death and dying, loss, and grief fall flat. The feel-better remarks and there-theres don’t work for me. All I know is that I have to feel my feelings all the way through them, for as long as I need to, until I release them (or until they release me—I’m not sure which it really is). I don’t know if that’s healthy or not healthy. It’s just how I am.

I found this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I understand this.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

We all have to navigate life’s injustices and sorrows in our own way. There is no script that fits all actors in this play. We have our rites and rituals, our traditions of marking difficult passages. They are useful and good for many. But they are not perfect. And no funeral or day of mourning or flag at half-mast brings an end to the grief. Grieving continues and passes through many stages. We are not resigned.

A long time ago I worked at a funeral home. I spent my workdays with grieving people and people whose job was to help grieving people. A co-worker, Barbara, who had lost her husband many years before, once said to me something I’ll never forget. “After the funeral, all the people go home. The funeral was closure for them. But the grieving goes on for the loved ones, the spouse, the parent. For them, the grief stays.”

Just as our happy moments, our loves, and our triumphs build together and become part of who we are, so do our sorrows knit themselves into our bones.

So how do we cope and what is normal? All of it. Normal is preparing for Christmas with tears falling down one’s cheeks. Normal is gathering with friends and loved ones, smiling and laughing even with a broken heart. Normal is putting one weary foot in front of the other, making breakfast, enforcing room-cleaning, and cuddling precious children to sleep even while you hear the imaginary wolves scratching at the door. All of this depth of feeling and contradiction can exist simultaneously, too. Life is mucky and confusing. It is never as neat as a greeting card.

We say our prayers—or not. We light our candles and weep and gather together. We look to our heroes, spiritual leaders, and poets. We make sandwiches and feed chickens and watch movies for relief. Our hearts break, and we gradually put them back together—with wise compassion and great waves of Love.

We are changed. And that is normal.

A Guy Drove His Van into Mom’s Church!

My mother and I just spoke on the phone. She told me that last night, some asshole deliberately drove his van into my mother’s church—the church I was raised in, the church where I had First Communion, where I was confirmed. He smashed through huge outer doors and a set of inner doors, took out an entire bank of pews, drove around the altar and stopped just short of the grand piano. Bastard is lucky that he didn’t drive up onto the altar because it is made of a multiton rock and a huge concrete tabletop combo that could have killed him had he smashed into it. 

Mom says she heard that he was mad at God.


Everybody’s mad at God. That’s a lame excuse for pulling a dumbass stunt like this one.

I am angry about this vandelism. Although I do not consider myself to be Catholic anymore, I have some fond feelings for the parish in which I was raised. No matter how long I’ve been away from it, I will still think of St. John Vianney parish as a religious “home” of sorts. 

I’ve added other religious “homes” into my world since I left the Church—my community, Thiasos, Adelphai, Ta Gynekaia Mysteria and Big Sur, the North Sands beach in St. Andrews Scotland, Burning Man, and more recently, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento. 

Yet I am shocked and offended that this happened.

Here is the Sacramento Bee story:

Deputies say driver targeted Rancho Cordova church

Published 1:50 pm PST Sunday, February 17, 2008

A van plowed through front doors of a Rancho Cordova church late Saturday night, smashing pews, crashing into a wall and coming to rest near the altar.

Saint John Vianney Church at Coloma Road and Chardonay Drive was badly damaged, and services were held Sunday in the church hall.

Father Martin Moroney was asleep in his residence at 10:45 p.m., the time of the crash. He said a witness told him the driver appeared to aim for the building.

“A lady saw man drive through the church lawn,” the priest said. “Next thing, she saw him guiding it for the church doors. He had to accelerate. He just blew up everything before him.”

Sacramento Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran said Harold David Zequeda, 28, was booked on charges of vandalism of a religious property, a felony, and driving with suspended license.

Curran said the man purposefully drove his Ford Windstar van into the church.

“We do believe he did it intentionally,” Curran said. “It wasn’t an accident”

No one was injured in the incident. The church was locked for the night and no one was inside, Moroney said.

Happy Solstice! Advent and Other Spiritual Musings

Last year, I managed to throw together a tiny Solstice celebration. At the last minute, I invited Theresa and Greg and Phoebe over for dinner. I decorated the table with a gold lamé and served only yellow foods (butternut squash soup, oranges, summer squashes cut into disks and sautéed, chicken with a lemon sauce, sparkling cider, and probably other stuff I don’t remember). We had a lovely, silly time, subtly worshipping the sun and its return.

Today I don’t have any such thing planned, but maybe I’ll go to the grocery store for some oranges or something.

Over the course of this month, we’ve been observing Advent, à la Waldorf schools and Anthroposophists rather than Catholics/Christians. The difference is slight, however. We have an Advent Wreath (a real evergreen wreath) and in the center we placed a Celtic-style candleholder that was a gift from Flonkbob (and Chilipantz?) many years ago. Although the candleholder is not a ring, per se, it features three outer candles with a place for one elevated candle in the center. It’s beautiful and works nicely as the symbolic equivalent of the four weeks leading up to Solstice/Christmas, with the fourth being the prominent one signifying the birth of the Sun/Christ. (The Advent wreath we had when I was growing up was a ring, but in the Catholic tradition, we used 3 purple candles and 1 pink candle signifying the climax. Pink/purple are the traditional colors of Advent in the church.) This year, I’ve stuffed it with golden beeswax candles made by lovely dakini_grl.

Each night, we’ve been reciting the following poem, which I believe is traditional for the Anthroposophists:

The first light of Advent,
It is the light of Stones,
Stones that live in crystals, seashells,
And our bones.

The second light of Advent
It is the light of plants,
Plants that reach up to the sun,
And in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent,
It is the light of Beasts,
The light of hope that we may see
In greatest and in least

The fourth light of Advent,
It is the light of man,
The light of love, the light of thought,
To give and understand.

I like this verse because it’s earth- and human-centered. It’s pagan-sounding to me. But that pagan stuff isn’t quite so important to me as it used to be. I’ve become like Joseph Campbell in my old age. I’ve been meditating on the meaning of Christmas to me and how well I see the lines that connect this holiday with other, older holidays. My need to step apart and define myself as a pagan, as something entirely other than a Christian, is much diminished. I’m finding that this is making me really happy, and is allowing me to enjoy all the religiosity of the season more. Somehow there’s less of a reason to be uptight.

At one point last year sometime, Ian’s mother expressed concern that Lucas must be educated about the Christian faith so that he can live in our God-fearing, Christian society.  I hardly fear that Lucas will somehow escape learning a basic knowledge of Christianity, just because we don’t define ourselves as Christians. She worried because we were attending the Unitarian Universalist Society services: “Do they even talk about Christ?!”

Anyway, we have been singing the Advent song that mentions the Christ child along with our candle-lighting ritual. Lucas’s face always lights up when we sing “Then comes the Christ child at the door.” I think that he is really captivated by the image of a child being the inspiration of the season.

The other morning, all by myself, I sat down on the couch in my living room with some Christmas carol sheet music and sang my wondering Christian heart out.

  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2018 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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