Today has been hard. But I have found hope through words. The poems I have written reflecting on grief can be found at the end of this post.
As the school day drew to a close last night, the last rays of the sun burning a red hue onto a darkening sky, the school body was gathered together. We waited in silence, knowing that whatever was coming, it couldn’t be good. Unfortunately, the sickening foreboding was all too just. One of our young members of staff had suddenly died.
Grief takes many forms.
There’s the initial shock. That it can’t be true. There’s the pain. The tears. The realisation that you will never that face again. Or hear that laugh again. Or watch him gallop down the hallway with a hockey stick doing his best impression of a Jabberwocky. There’s the sharp stab of the understanding of mortality. There’s an appreciation for the frailty and fragility of life. There’s the mask you put on, saying I’m OK, when deep down there’s a storm of hurt brewing. There’s madness. Anger that the world is carrying on when life has been cut short. There’s irrational guilt. There’s silence. Nothingness. Emptiness.
Grief takes many forms.
Over the last 24 hours grief has swept a shroud over the school. It has felt subdued. Like the world is turning in grayscale. There has been a sense of unease to hear laughter, laughter that isn’t his. To see smiles in a sea of sorrow. But there has been a solidarity, compassion and selflessness that has helped to ease the news. I think grieving as community is easier than grieving alone. Everyone is sharing memories, smiling behind tears, and reaching out a hand. Everyone is understanding. Everyone stands together. And if we listen closely, we can just start to hear the soft tones of peace.
It is times like this where a community founded on faith finds its strength. Evensong last night was bittersweet. The music had been chosen a long time ago, but its words, known to all, were comforting, and the introit seemed a plea from the depths of our heart.
When I lie within my bed,
Sick in heart and sick in head…
When the house doth sigh and weep,
And the world is drowned in sleep,
Yet mine eyes the watch do keep.
Sweet spirit, comfort me. Comfort me.
Litany to the Holy Spirit, Herrick (1591-1674)
This morning, we gathered for a difficult service of reflection, exploring Christ’s sacrifice and pain in death. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. We prayed. We sat in silence. We knew that we were not alone. And he was not alone. I have no doubt that, whilst elements of pain will last, over the rest of the week, the community will build itself back up, find peace, reconciliation with anger, stability, and renewed strength, in the knowledge of God’s presence amongst us, lifting the darkness of grief.
There was no better man than he. A friend, a tutor, a pastoral adviser, and an inspiring teacher. His wit, humour, confidence and energy were infectious. He never stopped giving of himself. And there is no greater testimony to that than the grief we are sharing today.
But one day grief will pass. We will find new life.
Yesterday afternoon, before I heard the news, my Director of Music came to me with a box, saying that he needed me, as Librarian to the Choirs, to help him and take care of a project. I was curious, the box stating on the side that it contained 36 x 50g worth of Digestive biscuits. I was all too keen to relieve him of it. Then he disappointed me by saying that it wasn’t biscuits. Perhaps, I thought, it was the Stanford in A I had been looking for earlier. No, it wasn’t that either. Sit down, he told me and open it carefully.
It was a blue tit, lethargically blinking at me, incredibly confused, cushioned in a whole load of clinical roll. What on earth was I meant to do with a half-dead blue tit? Well of course, he said, you have to nurse it back to life. His clearly competent veterinary experience had led him to the conclusion that it was concussed. Or maybe that was because it had just flown straight into his window. And somehow he thought I had the necessary credentials to make it fly.
So 15 minutes later, I was to feed milk to a blue tit with a pipette. I did not see this happening in my day. Nor, was it, to my belief, part of the job description. I spend most of the time photocopying or trolleying 60 choir folders around sight. But here I was, with a bird. And you bet I was going to see it fly again. And sure enough, with some TLC and warmth it flew away, after about half an hour tentatively pecking at the box.
I didn’t know it at that point, but I don’t think that little vulnerable bird came into my life incidentally. That bird was a little spirit that needed to be set free, a reflection of the soul of the departed. The moment he took flight kept coming back to me last night. I can’t help thinking that my little blue tit was God’s way of telling me that his spirit too had flown into a higher place.
We all cope with grief and sorrow in different ways, as an individual, or as a community. In community, I stand with my fellow pupils. As an individual, I channel my pained hope in composing words, like those below.
I am grateful to all who support and uplift me, and help me see the light in darkness. Today I take care to hold those I love a little deeper in my heart, to pray for God’s love to heal and comfort, and to give my prayers with all those who mourn. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and rise in glory.
If you grieve today, let me grieve with you. If you see hope today, may I see it too.
A SONNET FOR HIM
Soft as the wind that dries a dewy grass,
Gentle as the sun that thaws an icy snow,
So shall your soul, smiling, pass,
And our eternal love shall you know.
Grief shall be but a transient state,
For us who know that your spirit is sure,
Safe in a paradise, through a golden gate,
Where your soul eternally shall endure.
So, as the stars shine, you among them bright,
So, as the shadow of choking darkness melts away,
Supplanted by a blinding holy light,
May we feel your present soul each and every day.
You, who shared the burden of our every pain,
May you help us to see there shall be hope again.
OH LITTLE BLUE TIT
He’s dead, they say.
It can’t be true.
But he passed away.
And in you flew.
A fragile thing,
Yellow, green and blue.
Oh little tit,
How feeble your coo.
But oh little tit,
I’m so glad I found you,
Cradling you in my tired palms,
As you survey an unfamiliar view.
Can you fly, little tit?
Can you struggle through?
Are you the spirit
Of the man I knew?
Fly little tit, fly so high,
Fly free, oh spirit, as you used to.
Ah! So you’ve found your wings,
Now settling beneath the crooked yew.
Oh little tit, oh spirit of man,