November is National Children’s Grief Awareness Month and tomorrow, November 15th, is Children’s Grief Awareness Day. You can find more information at: www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org
Losing a parent carries with it two huge challenges (among others):
One is the loss of the immediacy of a parent’s companionship. Under the best of circumstances, a supportive relationship with a parent can be a lifelong gift. Nurture, guidance and correction can give way to a relationship that is marked by the free exchange of ideas, reflection on the passing years, and the rich interplay of conversations shaped by experience and fresh encounters, held in tension between two people whose love is one of life’s great blessings.
Admittedly, not all parent-child relationships are that positive. But the loss of a parent’s companionship under those circumstances can be even more challenging. The death of a parent seemingly forecloses on further conversation, and children can often feel that the opportunity for a resolution (real or imagined) has been lost forever.
The other loss comes with a world that is forever changed. Parents inevitably stand between us and the life’s horizons, offering fixed points of reference. Often (for good and for ill) our parents also shape our earliest notions of God.
To lose a parent is to find ourselves standing closer to life’s horizons in that liminal place where we are forced in new ways to confront life on its own terms. Existentially, we also begin to grapple with the sense that we are now a part of the older generation in our families. It is no surprise, then, that at least one grief expert describes the experience of grief as the task of “relearning the world.”
At any age, when one loses one or both parents, it is important not to underestimate the value of spiritual direction. Spiritual direction can give us a safe place to acknowledge our grief, as well as examine it patiently and deliberately. We can invite God — who grieves with us — to share that space. We can learn in that shared space — unwelcome though it will be. We can mourn the losses we have experienced and celebrating the gifts that we have been given by our parents.
And — because none of us is perfect — spiritual direction can also provide a place in which we continue the conversation with our parents. The hope of the Resurrection assures us that while the immediate companionship of our parents might have been lost, they are not lost to us at all in any absolute or final sense. God’s embrace is one that enfolds us across a divide that cannot defy the power of the Resurrection, and the conversation can be continued, albeit in a new fashion.
Those gifts underline the importance of the parental metaphors that we have for God. At its best, mothers and fathers provide a safe place, where we can be vulnerable and honest. Where we can celebrate and grieve, succeed and fail, fun and fall. At such times of loss, spiritual direction provides that space where God as both father and mother can offer hope and healing.