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Reform Magazine | September 23, 2020

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On the pilgrim way: ‘I have been struggling with sadness’

Sheila Maxey wrestles with sadness

Death and dying seem to be all around me, echoed in the falling leaves and morning mists. I have been struggling with sadness and loss, and trying – perhaps foolishly – to make some kind of sense of it.

First there was B, a fellow Labour Party member for the past 30 or 40 years. Alzheimer’s took its toll, and he had been in care for the past year, so his death was a release. During his funeral Mass, his wife, their children and their host of grandchildren remembered him with such warmth and affection – even telling how, having lost his memory, he proposed to his wife again and again whenever she visited. I found myself smiling through my tears.

Then there was P, a dear friend and church member for the past 35 years. It only took two months for ovarian cancer to kill her but she was quite content to die. Her only son was killed in a car crash 25 years previously, and her husband died some time ago. Her faith had been honed in the fires of suffering. Now, she just wanted to join her loved ones. As I sat by her during the last slow week of her dying, I seemed to share some of her peace and shed very few tears.

J was my oldest, dearest friend in our town. We had been friends for well over 50 years. It was an unlikely friendship – we did not have politics in common, or books. She was a devout but highly critical Roman Catholic – often very angry with her Church. She was frightened of illness and in all the months of her dying never allowed me to visit her.

She was a woman of faith. She was 79 and she died at home with all her family around her. Her death was, in Christian terms, perfectly in order – one might call it a ‘good death’. Yet, I feel her loss so deeply and continue to weep for her.

However, ongoing life is also all around me and grabbing my attention. A student granddaughter moved with her boyfriend into her very first flat and was excited to show it to me. Another granddaughter worked away at a difficult piece on our (normally silent) piano – and I heard the progress. A niece is coming to help me plant my spring bulbs; I want a good show next year when Kees and I celebrate being 80 with all the family.

The poet Mary Oliver can perhaps speak for me:

I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground
I feel my heart
pumping hard … (Starlings in Winter)

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the December 2017/January 2018 edition of  Reform

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