Grief is a “Cannonball moment”
By Ann Mulgrew, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry
Tis the season to honor and remember those who have passed away. Our earth is changing from vibrant summer foliage to fall colors and dying hues of browns and grays. Cultural celebrations of Halloween, Día de Los Muertos, All Saints and All Souls bring us to prayer, remembering those who have died. On Marquette’s campus, and I’m certain on any sidewalk you may venture on, there is a phenomenon that also happens this time of year, that I look forward to. As you look at the photos in this article, you see a leaf… and yet, do you? I’ve witnessed that once a leaf falls on the cement and begins to decay, the “process” leaves an imprint on the sidewalk that lasts for months.
I first saw these unique leaf imprints the first year I arrived at Marquette. I came from living/walking with my mom in Iowa, after we lost dad to Cancer. For five years, I was her support, and she was mine. My life was changing, and I needed to find the next step after this loss and Marquette University welcomed me in. I took a leap and moved to Milwaukee, away from my home, my mom, and my memories of the space where Dad was. I was overwhelmed, thrilled, and quite frankly, a grieving woman.
In this 500th anniversary year of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s transformative injury from a life changing cannonball, the thought of how tough situations can become grace has been shared numerous times on campus and in this “Ignatian Moment.” There are many ways in which we all have experienced a transformative “cannonball.” This move to Marquette was one of many “cannonball moments” that was directly tied to grief.
In my relationship with grief, I learned that I must move forward and find the graces within the loss. Easy to say, hard to walk with. Grief and loss are painful, much like a cannonball injury. With time, faith, and trust in God’s presence in my journey, the pain is lessening, and the grace is growing. My grief has finally become a grace, not overnight and not without resistance.
For me, the message of grace is sometimes found in scripture. As Jesus says in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman at the well, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11: 25–26 and add to this, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what I seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17–18. I find great consolation with these readings. In fact, the first passage is directly from my father’s funeral, a Gospel reading he chose and I’m constantly trying to understand its meaning in my life. The blunt “cannonball” of being told, “the one who believes in me will live…”
These passages and my faith tell me that my dad is in the loving arms of God, experiencing everlasting life, despite his physical death. I know this. I’m trying to pray with this, despite my grief, and in comes the leaf on the sidewalk of Marquette. They were probably created each fall for many years. I was walking, who knows where and who knows what my mental distraction was, and I finally noticed. Each step I took, a leaf image was there, and another, and another. The leaves were there, but not there. Almost like a memory or maybe like my dad. Not there, but there. From a phenomenon of a leaf on the sidewalk came an understanding that I was going to be ok. This grief is real. But, within this struggle, there was grace given to me by one almost leaf. I was going to be ok. I was in a place where my grief was allowed and could become more the background instead of the foreground, like it was in Iowa. Boom. A “cannonball moment.”
This leaf phenomenon is the best visual for me, to describe grief and its movement from struggle to grace. I have shared this with the students I have walked for many years as I organize a student grief group. Some of our students carry so much pain and grief and they need to come to their own realization that there is some grace within their very own “cannonball moment” of life changing loss. Grief really is present in many people, known or unknown. We all need to be reminded, maybe a visual of a leaf/not leaf, that God does love and care for us within grief. Just like God inspired St. Ignatius of Loyola to move beyond the injury to a deep and profoundly valuable relationship, we too are inspired to move beyond the grief to a place of peace in grief.
Every October and November, as you remember those who we’ve lost, may you find an image that will remind you that you are loved, by those who have died, and by our loving God who promises life everlasting. Please pray for those experiencing grief and loss within our Marquette University campus community and family. May light, perpetually, shine upon them in the ways that are most needed.