Fr Daniel O’Leary on November

As Autumn takes hold, the mood, the traditions, even the weather of the month of November often turn our thoughts to those whom we have lost. But death need not mean the loss of meaning – love and loss are forever inextricably linked. It is the month of All Saints and All Souls and when memories that bless and burn come back to haunt us. We sense anew the absence of the loves of our lives. But by now we have learned that love and loss go together. If you love, you are sure to suffer; if you do not love, you will suffer even more. But we cannot live without love and loss. And the more we love people and things, and the more attached we are to our dreams and hopes, the more deeply we will feel their loss. The impact of loss can suddenly ambush you, that aching sense of someone’s absence brought on by a spring morning, a summer pathway, an autumn sky, an empty chair, the first Christmas carol you must listen to alone. Loving someone wraps invisible blankets of blessing around both people.

We can discern no hidden grace in grief and loss. We are like a seed buried in the darkness, alone and waiting. It is only when the time is right, when the heart is ready, that loss, like a midwife, brings something very special and undreamt of into the emptiness of our lives. The moment of a new and slowly emerging reality will only come when we trust the possibility of such a resurrection, and open ourselves to it. Our life, we discover, has not lost its meaning. Something in our soul forever senses possibility. Loss is like a teacher. Its value lies in the space it makes for something new to grow. Where the loss is caused by the death of a dearly loved friend or relation, that sense of loss may now begin to open the slow door to another way of being with that person. Unrestricted by time and place, a new intimacy becomes possible.

There is a nourishing paradox in the way theologian, Karl Rahner, reflects on the unfilled gap. “There is no such thing in either the world or the heart as a vacuum,” he said, “And wherever space is really left by death, by renunciation, by parting, by apparent emptiness, provided that the emptiness is not filled by the world, or activity, or noise, or the deadly grief of the world – there is God.”

Those who have loved and lost, and grown through it all, have already tasted death and resurrection. They have followed their passion, they have risked for love; they have been devastated by loss. And because they loved and trusted life once, the final death will never be a fearful stranger.

Edited from “Learning Heart: Weekly Reflections