Love and kindness in times of grief
Fr Pat Moore, a priest of the Kerry diocese, died on May 1.
I got to know Pat when I was working at The Kerryman newspaper. He was a kind man, who was wise and helpful and had the ability to calm me, to talk sense to me when I needed it. I phoned him on one occasion and we disagreed over something. Some weeks later we were in contact again by phone and we agreed to disagree and got on with our talk and laughs. It was my last time to talk with Pat.
Now that he has died I feel annoyed that I had not gone to see him when he was still healthy and fit.
I recently attended a bereavement day. I came away from it a wiser person. I listened to the stories of people who had lost loved ones and concluded that there are no rules about how to handle death.
One woman spoke about how people, the bereaved and the listener, cannot cope with tears. She pointed out how tears are like putting ointment on a sore. She lost her adult child some years ago and while the grief is now less, she still gets dark days.
A man recalled how praying came naturally to him on the loss of his son. He found comfort in his faith.
During the day it was brought home to me how everyone grieves differently and the only thing for grief is to grieve.
Grief pulls and pushes us in many different directions. A bereavement counsellor related how some people try to keep grief at bay all day, the damn bursts when they go to bed and then they can't sleep. She suggested that it is better to manage grief than for grief to manage us. But that surely sounds easier said than done.
A man who lost his wife some months ago said that he simply could not access his tears. He could not shed a tear but he cried every day inside.
Some people were angry, angry with God too, and there were those who did not believe in God.
What do you say to someone who has lost a loved one? There is no answer. But it's wise to avoid glib phrases. It hardly makes sense to tell someone to get on with it or to mind themselves. It is of paramount importance to listen to people in their grief.
John Bowman last October in the Irish Independent wrote about the death of his son: 'One of the phrases people use about loss that I think is probably wrong is, "You'll get over it". Not only do you not get over it, you don't want to get over it. It becomes part of the furniture, and part of your life story.'
We all fumble with death. Death overwhelms us.
The people who stood out for me when my parents died were those who were kind, those who helped, those whom I knew understood my plight, those who comforted me and were empathetic.
Patrick Kavanagh's poem on remembering his mother catches a tone of that terrible break that comes with death:
I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily
Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday -
You meet me and you say:
'Don't forget to see about the cattle -'
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.
In times of grief it's so important to support one another with our love and genuine kindness.