Gratitude and Grief

The celebration of Thanksgiving each year is a welcome reminder of all of the gifts that we have enjoyed over many years, especially with family and friends. These are the special people who are always with us in mind and heart and their physical presence at the holidays is especially cherished.

Yet this time of year tugs at my heart in other, more serious ways. I was a second year novice when I heard of President Kennedy’s death on November 22nd, 1963. A number of years later, during my fourth year of teaching at Villa Angela Academy, I was stunned by the murder of a young woman whom I had taught for four years and who had played the trumpet for my final vows Mass. Amy Sambula was stabbed to death on her way home from work on November 22nd, 1969. Both of these deaths altered my perceptions of the world that I knew. And I began to learn the grief that lingers year after year. It was also after Thanksgiving had been celebrated and Advent had begun that the Ursuline Community learned of the deaths of the four women in El Salvador on December 2, 1980. Dorothy Kazel, osu, was a first year novice when I entered in 1961 and so we shared the same Formation program for our Novitiate and Juniorate years. Dorothy’s death and that experience of grief was more like a nightmare….not only for me, but for all of my Sisters in Community. Again, our world shifted and we could never again be the same.

This past Sunday, we entered the Season of Advent, a time of waiting, a time of growing awareness of the greatest gift: Emmanuel, God with us. And I don’t want to be caught in the sense of loss that past memories bring. I want to have a grateful heart as this year ends and the New Year begins.

And so I was struck by the reflection of our yoga instructor, Molly Andrews-Hinders who shared these thoughts of Kerri Kelly:

Gratitude is not about pretending. It’s not about positive vibes or “brightsiding.” It’s not even about counting one’s blessings. Gratitude is about embracing the truth of what is so that we can hold the whole of who we are. It is how we build the capacity to not just witness suffering but to invite healing, to not just experience grief but to allow for joy. Gratitude when fully expressed has the power to energize and unleash hope and possibility.

From there, we can source the courage and capacity to keep going. To do what is needed to speak truth to power, stop the violence, resist oppression and care for each other.

May this Advent be a time when the suffering that we witness in the lives of those we love and among our brothers and sisters in a divided nation and a war-torn world can be transformed by our prayers of healing, of love and of peace. May we not just experience the grief we know too well, but may we allow for God’s gift of joy. May our gratitude be fully expressed in order to energize and unleash the hope for which our hearts are waiting and longing. Then the words of Dan Schutte’s song will come true:

A Time Will Come for Singing*

A time will come for singing when all your tears are shed,
when sorrow’ chains are broken, and broken hearts shall mend.
The deaf will hear your singing when silent tongues are freed
The lame will join your dancing when blind eyes learn to see.

A time will come for singing when trees will raise their boughs
when we lay down our armor, and hammer our swords into plows,
when beggars live as princes and orphans find their homes,
when prison cells are emptied and hatred has grown old.

A time will come for singing a hymn by hearts foretold,
that kings have sought for ages, and treasured more than gold.
Its lyrics turn to silver when sung in harmony
The Lord of Love will teach us to sing its melody.

  • This song was sung at the funeral for Sister Dorothy Kazel,osu, at the Cathedral of St. John, Cleveland, Ohio

Sister Anne Marie Diederich