The long lent of 2011...that is what my husband and I call it. Caleb died during lent 2011, actually towards the end of it. Little did we know that the "end" of that liturgical season according to the calendar was just the beginning of our "Lenten" season. After our son died the paschal mystery (life,death, and resurrection) of Jesus became our lived experience, particularly the death aspect. And I hated it at first, fought against it, cried my way through it. I can distinctly remember going to mass during the Easter season and feeling more alone than ever-even the Church had moved on. She was happy-we were still hanging on the cross. And boy did it hurt! Pain like I had never experienced before. As Easter turned into ordinary time and then into Advent and Christmas- we remained in lent. All the joyous talk of a newborn baby boy that would redeem the world was salt on my already hurting wound. It stung and I had to really offer up a sacrifice of praise each time I went to mass during those seasons.
But then something beautiful happened-Easter 2012. With our newborn daughter in our arms we attended Easter Sunday Mass. This Easter was not like the others. I wasn't just happy because today I could finally have diet coke again or indulge in sweets. This Easter was crisper, more colorful than it had ever been. The reason was because of our year of lent. Our time suffering and wandering aimlessly in the deserts of our souls longing for Christ made His resurrection all the more profound. And the same thing happened at Advent and Christmas. Since Caleb's death I have been blessed to see the liturgical seasons in a new way because I didn't just try to enter into them, I lived them.
Grief is awful-it is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. Suffering is miserable- I can never deny that. But on the other end is relief and it will taste all the more sweeter because of the suffering. For all those out there going through lent while grieving-this is our season. The Church is bare, the music is bleak and the focus in on death. And to me that is comforting. Even the beginning words of lent "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return"(Genesis 3:19) make everyone confront their own death...
The sad part is that when lent ends in 40 days, most people's lives will still be in lent. Still be living in the horror of the death or suffering they are experiencing and walking through in their own lives. My advice would be to continue on with the lent. Continue on when it doesn't seem to end because eventually it will. Jesus will meet you in your grief and sadness and despair. It will hurt when the Church moves into Easter and you are still in Lent, but Jesus will remain with you. If you don't believe me then go into any Catholic Church on Easter Sunday and look up to the altar- what is still there is the crucifix. We are never far from lent. His death is always present and thank God for that. He loves us, He gets it, and He will remain with us.
Lent is here, or maybe for some of us it has been here for a while and isn't going anywhere any time soon. I am praying, the Church is praying. Invite Jesus into your broken heart this season and give yourself lots of grace. You are not like others- you probably won't feel up to sacrificing much this lent because your whole life has become a sacrifice. You might need that diet coke or cookie you used to give up in order to make it through your work day without breaking down. Grieving during lent is its own sacrifice-believe that and be gentle with yourself. Hold onto the hope that this Lenten season of your life,however long, will always awaken to the Easter resurrection.