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Doug McCleary: Celebrant, Officiant, Musician


2012 Holiday Remembrance Message

Posted by Doug McCleary on December 8, 2012 at 11:00 PM

The Sharpness of Grief, the Certainty of Relief


Before I begin, I'd like to say, one more time, what an honor it is to be here with you all...invited to share a little from my life and experience during this holiday time...a time when the losses we've experienced are felt a little more profoundly... I hope that something I have to say encourages you this season...


As someone who specializes in helping families through the first steps of loss and grieving, I discovered something this past fall: I forgot. What I forgot is--because of the passage of time—just how painful... how “sharp”...grief can be. Every week I am blessed to help families who are experiencing loss...listening to their stories, planning with them a service that will honor their loved one. I've seen families experiencing the depths of grief. And, I do get it... I empathize and—if anything—I can “feel” with you... There's not a family I've met and helped who's struggle I don't “get”...


But on a personal level, I'd forgotten. Of course, It's been 14 years since my father died, and 8 years since my mother's death. And looking back, I do remember the pain I felt...and how that changed the holidays... My father died the day before thanksgiving in 1998 and even though we still had our meal (we felt it was what he would have wanted), it wasn't the same...nor was Christmas that year...nor...well, until it became normal, nothing was the same after that.


But I'd forgotten...I'd forgotten that intense, sharp knife of beginning grief...of the immediate realization that I'd lost someone with finality. I'd forgotten, that is, until mid-October.


That's when I had to have Moe, our beloved (my beloved) surprise of a mutt—he was my stepson's dog, which he brought home unexpectedly one day after visiting his father—put to sleep. Moe was an unusually affectionate, loving dog who quickly stole my heart. When he came to my wife and I, he was already old—a Newfie of 11 years...and showing the signs of cancer. He was with us for just a couple of years, but that's all it took to become very attached. When the time came, and he closed his eyes and breathed his last, I remembered again that sharp knife of grief. I couldn't stop the tears and the sobs...and spent the next few days crying at unexpected moments...


I don't want to trivialize grief by speaking of losing a dog. We all know a pet isn't a parent...or a sibling...or a child...(though anyone who has pets will tell you they do become family). It isn't the same pain...the same loss. But grief is grief, regardless of the cause...and once again, I was put in touch with it's sharpness when it is new.


But, let me step back a moment. Let me say it again: “I forgot”... Until it touched me again in a close, personal way, the sharpness of grief had drawn far from me. But here's the good news—I forgot! We...humans...we forget. For all our fragility, we humans are amazingly resilient...we can endure much and though we may come through it with scars, the wounds themselves heal. Most of us, sitting here now, have experienced loss this past year...(I had the privilege of serving some of you through that time). And now, here you are, gathered with others who feel that loss with you...celebrating the life you remember... Maybe it is very fresh and you're still hurting deeply...maybe you're beginning to heal and move forward... But the truth that, as time goes by, we forget the sharp pain of loss is truly a good thing. It means we do, indeed, heal... We do move forward... We continue with life and love and all that goes with it...


It doesn't mean, though, that we forget the loved one(s) we've lost...that memory goes on. As I've heard said: “when we lose someone it leaves a hole in our hearts...but with time the hole gets smaller while our memories get larger”... There are those times—like holidays...special days—when we feel the hurt a little more...and we struggle through...but generally with each passing day the sharpness of grief subsides, and the warmth of memory grows. The sadness that remains...the grief that won't let us like a scar—it may occasionally hurt, but in reality it is stronger than the surrounding tissue... This remaining grief actually adds to life's sweetness... making it richer...adding to it's preciousness...


We are all at some point in this journey from the knife of grief to the scar of healing. Depending on where you are in your journey, you may resonate with my words more or less. But I promise you this—time is truly a healer...and with time you will experience the certainty of relief...the resilience and passion for life that makes us able to “forget”--not our loved ones, but the pain of their loss... Bottom line—it does get better...and the sadness that remains is...well... maybe this quote from Seth Grahame-Smith's book "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (yesit is an unusual source for words of hope and empathy...  It is the words of a letter written by a friend of Lincoln's after his son's death) says it best:


You cannot now imagine that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now...and you need only believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear loved one, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

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