Kindness in Grief

Posted February 9, 2017 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments


Today’s post is going to be a little different, but hopefully it will be a positive thing that people will enjoy reading about. ^_^ I’d like to talk about moments of kindness I’ve encountered. Well, one moment in particular in this post. This first one is one that is… possibly dearer to me than most, for reasons that I’m sure will become clear later on.

I’d like to start off with a bit of a general note on the post. I hope to do more of this kind of post and just, hopefully, spread some cheer and goodness. (Disclaimer: I will be using the abolutely broadest sense of the word ‘kindness’. I just want to spread things that will hopefully spread some positivity.) While I have some personal posts to make, they’ll be either in the public sphere or very general. You see, while I like the idea of spreading a bit of positivity in the world, it also scares me. Not because I’m scared of saying nice things about people, obviously, but because I’m afraid people will feel left out. I have a memory that makes a sieve look watertight and in all likelihood I’ll forget some kindness I would like to talk about. Or it’ll be something where I just don’t have as many words to share as about another. And I’ll worry whether people will be upset that I don’t mention them or have the same amount of words for them. I don’t want to upset people! Especially not with a  project like this.

But some of those people would probably be upset if they were the reason I didn’t do these posts at all (if they knew) and I love them, so… Here I am. I have no idea how regular a feature this will be. Honestly, when I say that they’ll be in the public sphere I’m talking things like “It could be the nice person at the grocery store who decided to let me go first because they had a whole cart full of groceries and I only needed some toothpaste” too. Okay, so maybe that’s not an actually representative example, but it’s small and mundane things like that, just to remind us all that small kindnesses matter too.

So… First up, then, a more personal story. I should note that the story itself comes with warnings for a discussion of the aftermath of losing a loved one.

A few years back, I lost my baby cousin. Actually, I have a lot of cousins and some are younger than he was, but he was one of the youngest. He was a beautiful, sweet and wonderful young man. We weren’t very close, but every time we were at family gatherings of any kind he was always the light of the group, always fun, always kind.

This isn’t a post about how he died. It’s not a post about what his death did to his immediate or his extended family.

This is, after all, a post about kindnesses and not about loss. And you may wonder what kindness could possibly flow from a tragedy like this. Well, first you must understand my cousin a little. He was religious, as far as I know. Choir boy. Catholic. Well beloved in the village he grew up in. So well beloved in fact that my aunt and uncle chose to livestream the funeral because that’s how many people wanted to attend the funeral.

And this post is not about the funeral either. It was a beautiful service, but I’m actually looking to talk about the… remembrance Mass? I think it was a remembrance Mass. It’s the Mass on the anniversary anyway.

Now, I’m not religious myself, but it meant a lot to my family to have, you know, family at this Mass. So when we got an invitation to it, I went along. I wanted to be there for my family. We’re not in frequent contact, so it mattered a lot that I was there. To me and hopefully to them as well.

I’ve been to a remembrance Mass once before for my grandmother. She was… very religious and the Mass was a very typical evening Mass with a shout-out to deceased people at the end. I hated it. It was a very long time of sitting uncomfortably and not having the first clue what was going on. I was expecting the Mass for my cousin to be the same. It wasn’t. It was deeply personal and centred entirely on him.

It was also, you know, a Mass, so eventually there was the communion. You should know that, being kin, I was seated far to the front. Seating actually worked out so that I was sitting in one of first pews at the very edge and I’d somehow wound up on the side that was not my own extended family.

I was also a mess. I was trying so hard not to just break into tears and disrupt the Mass and I had, um, several offers of tissues. I was dizzy. I could barely see through the tears. My head was absolutely pounding and if I’d felt like I could have, I probably would have fled the church and damned the spectacle. I could also barely talk.

And this communion, unlike the few I’d gone to before, had the pastor come to us. I’m used to the communion being this thing where everyone who is baptised and religious gets up, walks to the altar and takes the communion there. Not so here.

And because my parents are non-practicing and not everyone in my family is, I was taught from a young age that, if you’re not a baptised Catholic, you do not take communion. You do not take that wafer under any circumstance. It is bad and terrible and Not Done and you just sit quietly and let it pass you by. This is absolutely crucial behaviour. It is the height of rudeness and inconsideration if you do. And, I did not know this at the time, but apparently there are pastors who will have you removed from the church for it.

Anyway, so there I was in a pew right at the front, desperately trying not to bawl aloud and disrupt anything, and the pastor came up to us to give us the communion wafer and bless us. And I didn’t know what to do when he came to me.

I was so messed up that I could barely get any coherent thoughts together, never mind get any intelligible words out. I didn’t know how to respectfully say that I wasn’t baptised and wanted to decline the communion because accepting it is Not Done and I was alone and surrounded by people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. They might have had a voice (and more knowledge of church doctrine) to inform the pastor, but they didn’t know I needed that kind of help.

And did I mention that I was already a mess? So I was desperately trying to get the pastor to understand that I didn’t want to be disrespectful as well as trying to keep from having a complete and utter meltdown and from causing a scene because how dare this not-religious person attend this Mass and accept communion. I wasn’t expecting the pastor to throw me out. I wasn’t expecting much of anything except distantly and dimly expecting him to be incredibly upset and angry, and I didn’t want that to mar my baby cousin’s Mass or hurt my family.

Because I was such a mess, I think it took the pastor a couple of seconds to understand what the problem was and why this person was trying to not accept the communion wafer. And he kind of just… smiled and said it was okay, that it was a gift, and he understood. Possibly not in that order.

So I took one of the tissues people had given me because I was crying so badly and I wrapped up that communion wafer and tucked it safely in a pocket because I didn’t want anything to happen to it. If it was a gift, the least I could do was keep it safe and accept it with the grace with which it was given.

But I am deeply grateful to that pastor for that kindness and understanding. I was always taught that it was the greatest faux pas you could possibly commit if attending a Catholic Mass or event because you were related to religious Catholics. But that pastor…

Listen, I had misgivings over attending precisely because I’m not religious or baptised. I know I wanted to be there for my family and I know my cousin would have appreciated it because family. But I’m not comfortable in religious buildings precisely because I’m not religious. It feels disrespectful to enter them when you don’t belief in that religion’s tenets. That’s probably just me, but when it’s a Mass like this and the people you love are religious it’s an uncomfortable combination. You want to be there for them because love and family. But you also want to stay away because love and family.

Being offered the communion with no clear way to explain “I am not Catholic. You should not be offering me this” was, for me, the worst case scenario of what could have happened. And that pastor just smiled and… understood. Perhaps. At least enough to soften that worst case scenario into something that let me attend the rest of the Mass until the end without breaking down into tiny pieces.

And then after the Mass, when I told some of my family, I was told that some pastors and priests they’d known would actually throw you out of the church for what I did because it is that Not Done.

And so… That is the kindness that I wanted to start off with. Just a simple smile and a few words for a grieving and upset young woman because that kindness meant so much to me. I’m not sure I can really put into words why. It’s just… he didn’t make a fuss. He didn’t ask me to explain anything clearly. He didn’t ask me to leave. He just… soothed. Made that unbearable situation just a smidge more bearable.

I still feel bad because, seriously, what I did is Not Done, but in that moment? I think the pastor did the kindest thing he could have done for me and I just… think of it a lot. I wasn’t expecting anything bad to happen at the time, mind you. My brain was too scrambled to expect anything, really. It just… I didn’t know what to do or how to handle anything. I was far more affected than I thought I’d be and I was far more of a mess than I’d expected. I think I started crying around the beginning of the Mass and I didn’t stop until I was back out of the church and it was so hard not to bawl and disrupt everything with noise. Adding what I’d been taught was the greatest taboo and faux pas to the mix… I would’ve snapped and broken.

But I didn’t because the pastor said it was okay, that the communion wafer was a gift and he understood. I think maybe that’s the thing that makes me think of it so often. That understanding that I loved my cousin and love my family and that’s what saw me sitting at the very edge of the first pew where I didn’t have any good way to avoid being offered communion or knew how to discretely signal to be passed by. That it was okay for me to attend the Mass at all and be there for my family, even though I’m not Catholic (or otherwise religious).

Maybe. I don’t know. I just know that if you asked me to mention the kindest things anyone has ever done for me, that’s about the first thing I’ll talk about. Even if I don’t think I have the words to express why, or how, adequately.

I did try to thank him, so I hope he picked up on that too.

(Lastly, I apologise if I got any of the terminology mixed up. If I did, please let me know and I can see about fixing it, or at least adding a note of correction.)