A Confusing Feast
On first look, Our Lady of Sorrows is confusing. It’s a whole day, a whole “Feast” Day, devoted to sorrow. How does one celebrate and commemorate sorrow? What’s more, Mary’s the Queen of Heaven, and Heaven’s a place of eternal happiness. How does that fit with this Lady of Sorrows? She’s a woman, draped in dark clothing, a tear falling down her cheek, a sword of sorrow piercing her heart. What do we, on our journey towards Heaven, have to learn from this woman, filled with grief?
Our Lady of Sorrows made no sense to me for a long time. But there was a lot for me to learn from our mother Mary in her time of grief. What’s more, I found that I need her in my own sorrows.
For me, Our Lady of Sorrows was particularly confusing because I’m really bad at experiencing sorrow. Even now I’m trying to find a joke I can attach to that statement. Like, “I know, I know, how can someone be ‘bad,’ at being ‘sad?’” Or, “I’m the life of the party at funerals.” But I’m working to not gloss over this self-realization with humor.
This realization came to me at a very specific moment. A little over a year ago, my grandfather passed away. He was joyful, intelligent, and quick with a sly smile. You never saw him without a book in hand, reading on topics ranging from ancient Greece to films from the jazz age to the intricacies of ocean sailing. As I grew older, I would listen to him explain the books he was reading at great detail, forming my budding ability at critical thought.
On the day of my grandfather’s heart attack, my father called me while I was working, overseeing about a dozen middle school students working on their homework. I ignored the first call, and then he called again, and again. On the forth call I picked up. I remember distinctly not understanding what my father was saying, I knew the words but I couldn’t piece together the meaning.
After a time, his meaning finally clicked. My grandfather, while shoveling the Minnesota snow, collapsed from a heart attack. I acknowledged that I understood what my father was saying, and little tears fell down my cheeks. After hanging up, I wiped those tears away, and got back to work.
It was like nothing had even happened.
No Space for Sorrow
I ignored the event, and went on with my life. So, that on its own would not have been such a big deal. Sometimes it’s important to compartmentalize, to be able to get the job done, to not fall apart.
But I never gave my sorrow any space. At all. I went home. When I told my husband, it was like I was sharing another piece of news. I prayed for my grandpa, but it was mechanical, something I did because I was supposed to. The next day I went to work, never mentioning it to anyone.
I buried it and moved on.
Everyone experiences sorrow in their own way. There’s no right or wrong way for grief to appear. But the way I had buried it inside myself was not healthy for me. I loved my grandpa immensely. I still love him, and at times I miss him with a sharp pain (A sword of sorrow pierced her heart). To go on, pretending nothing had happened, was a lie. It cheated the love I felt and owed my grandfather.
All the Grief Came Gushing Forth
At my grandpa’s wake, I didn’t want to approach the open casket. I had so successfully buried my grief, and I knew, I just knew, that if I saw him it would all fall apart.
But I loved him. Like Mary, longing to be close to her son, I longed to be close to my grandfather. Therefore, just as Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, I approached my grandpa’s casket.
As I did, all the sorrow, all the pain, all the hurt, all the grief, came gushing forth. I wept. After burying everything for so long, I wept in front of everyone.
Shortly thereafter, we prayed a rosary in the funeral home. My attention was caught by a particularly beautiful image of Our Lady of Sorrows on a prayer card. I felt very strongly our Mother’s compassionate presence beside me, praying for my grandpa with me.
Our Lady of Sorrows, who had confused me for so long, started to make a lot more sense.
A Necessary Part of Love
Now when I see Our Lady of Sorrows, I understand. In our fallen world, where death and sin are our realities, grief is a necessary part of love. If we love, we will experience loss and hurt. For our hearts to be pure, sometimes, they will be broken.
Our Lady of Sorrows gives us a place for our sadness, our distress. She sits with us in the moments that can’t be fixed, that can’t be made better by ignoring them. Like a loving friend, she empathizes with our grief. She doesn’t judge or chastise, or tell us to “cheer up” or “get over it.” She listens, all the while pointing back to the hope that only her Son can provide.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
You can also find a beautiful prayer and reflection here.