this heavy load

Sometimes, it’s just one thing after another.

I recall a time, now many years ago, that I thought of as “a season of pain.”  Loss after loss, troubles upon troubles, too much at once.

It felt more painful, I’m sure, because it followed a period where everything seemed to go right — one of those interludes when it’s easy to deceive ourselves about the path that life can take.  But it was also a foreshadowing of more loss to come, of the goodbyes that become more frequent as one ages.

Inevitably, by random fate, traumatic experiences can cluster together.  It’s been that way of late.

Last week, I went to three funerals in eight days.  Those who had passed away were born in 1928, 1930, and 1931.  I knew each of them in different ways.  One was a family friend when I was growing up, one a current neighbor, and one an uncle (beloved despite bringing his everlasting devotion for the Yankees into the clan when he married my mom’s sister).

They all lived good, long lives, so the sadness that comes to those who mourn was easily coupled with admiration and celebration.  For some reason, “solid” is the word that comes to mind to describe each of them.  You couldn’t ask for better role models.  As something I read last week said, “Great souls . . . absorb everything — pain, injustice, insult, folly — and give back decency and kindness.”

At the services, I thought about whether I measured up personally to their examples (bottom line, there’s a long way to go) and whether my generation will live up to theirs.

There have been others close to us who have passed away in the last few months who never got to experience that fullness of life, at least in terms of years.  It has been a time of grieving for so many that we know.  I, maybe like some of you, struggle to provide comfort.  Many who are mourning need companionship and someone to listen (see the short film, We, The Bereaved); not my strong suit, but maybe I could get better at being there for others.  After the funerals and the food and the fellowship, it can get lonely for those who grieve.

Many people are facing health challenges as well.  Yesterday, I picked up the paper to see the headline, “What to Say to Someone With Cancer.”  I have been on that side of the fence, and I still don’t feel like I know what to say or what to do.

My most profound lesson from going through treatment came from being around others who were dealing with more challenging circumstances than I was — physically in worse shape and, in some cases, always alone whenever we saw them.  With the passage of some years, the sensitivity to others that I developed at that time feels like it has worn away somewhat, which is troubling, but I’ve found a simple prescription to recharge it.  I watch the Cleveland Clinic video about empathy.  It works every time.

We also need to remember those dealing with mental health issues.  As Kevin Love wrote when he publicly shared his struggles, “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see.”  It may be a physical problem or a mental one or financial troubles or something else.  A Behavior Gap drawing illustrates the tendency — when considering “other people’s burdens” — for there to be a big difference between “our perception” and “their reality.”  That’s a gap that we should make an effort to close, even when it’s hard to do so.

We share a universal experience.  Suffering comes to all of us.  We can quote scripture that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope,” but the linkages aren’t frictionless, and sometimes they break.

I’m reminded of a lyric in the George Harrison song, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”:  “Give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load.”

Even though it’s been a heavy load of late for those that we know and love, there have been rays of joy and many wonderful experiences, even at those funeral celebrations, which included laughter among the tears.

The family friend who died last week had given me a plaque for my confirmation, which has been on the front doorframe of our home for almost thirty years.  The brightly-colored letters carved into the brass proclaim, “Peace to all who enter here.”

Peace to all of us who have entered this life.  There are loads to carry, but it’s easier when we do it together.

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