This week, we continue with our special edition of TOB Tuesdays with Part 2 of Katrina’s experience of the death of her father. We’ve included the ending paragraph from last week so as to pick up where she left off.
But there was another mysterious element that didn’t yet make sense to me. After my father’s death, I felt more anchored, more emotionally intact and integrated. This was the polar opposite of what I had anticipated. I’d expected to feel emotionally fragmented, as if I’d lost a gaping piece of myself. A dozen times a day I was hearing, “I’m sorry for your loss,” but I wasn’t feeling loss. Could it be that I was in denial, that I was refusing to feel loss?
On October 2, Feast of the Guardian Angels, God’s timing lifted my own interior veil and allowed me to see what was occurring within me: my deep, healthy attachment bond with my father hadn’t ended at death, but only changed. In fact, it had deepened. I wasn’t feeling loss because I was still bonded deeply, irrevocably, to my father. I felt his presence more consistently, not less. Sure, I couldn’t call or text him, but I could converse with him any time or in any place. He was more accessible to me in eternity not less.
Then, it dawned on me – this was the same experienced I’d had with the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and my mother in 2013. Again, I had expected both of these events to cause devastation and deep grief in my interior. Instead, after only a few days of grieving, I experienced a new spring in my step, a new quality of relatedness to John Paul II and to my Mom. Their legacy lived within me and continued through me. And now, with my father’s death, the third time was the charm: I understood that my deep attachment bonds with both Pope John Paul II and my mother also didn’t end at death, but were strengthened. I was experiencing in a profound way what up to that point had only been words on a page – I was experiencing a love stronger than death.
In his Theology of the Body, to which my life is dedicated, St. John Paul II devotes a short section to the book of Tobit and particularly to this concept of a love stronger than death. I’d studied it. I’d even taught on it. Now I understood it from the inside out. A love stronger than death conquers death not because somehow we willfully decide to keep the memory of our loved ones alive, but because the bond of eros, the bond of deep attachment love, is not extinguished by death.
For the ancient Greeks, eros moved the stars and the universe, and it was eternal. This same powerful movement of love has the capacity to bond parent and child, husband and wife, friend and friend, God and each believer in a way that is permanent and irrevocable. This is the kind of bonded love I shared with Pope John Paul II, who placed his hand on my forehead and personally blessed me in 1992. In that blessing, he imparted a portion of his spirit to me and placed the seed of my future TOB mission within me.
It was also the kind of bonded love I shared individually with my mother and my father – and the initial attachment bond I was granted by holding my newborn granddaughter. No wonder I had so strongly desired to be at Sutton’s birth and at my father’s bedside for his death. I somehow instinctively knew that these would be bonding moment.
What an incredible relief these insights provided! I could stop cross-examining myself for a lack of feeling loss and drink deeply of this new sense of security in being loved and still known by the three most significant adults in my life. What a joy to know that passing through the veil into eternity didn’t end my healthy attachment bonds but liberated and consolidated them within me. I now have my own special human “trinity” in eternity of St. John Paul II, my Mom, and my Dad interceding on my behalf for the legacy and mission each of them has formed in me. Moreover, I have taken one giant step forward in being able to say, “Lord, I trust your timing!” and maybe, some day, I’ll be able to say with full conviction, “Lord, I love your timing!”
But, there was more! I also realized that my experience of minor amounts of grief at the passing of my parents is not the norm. I am certainly not implying that my experience of death is the paradigm for how every person should experience the death of a loved one. Many unusual factors were involved in each of these deaths: they all involved an attachment bond that had matured over the course of years so as to be solid and secure, and they each had a significant period of grieving before the person’s death.
Most especially, though, each situation involved a specific experience of new life paired with death. Upon the announcement of Pope John Paul II’s death, I immediately sensed in my spirit, “Now my life begins!” His death infused my life with new significance and my TOB mission with new power. My mother’s death occurred just five days before Michael and Morgan’s wedding. Her death is thus inextricably linked with the beginning of their new life together. And, of course, my father’s death occurred a mere 12 days after the birth of Michael and Morgan’s first child, again uniting the gift of new life with the gift of death. As a result, death as loss doesn’t dominate these memories in my mind but is balanced by the sweetness of new life.
Additionally, as mentioned above, the death of my Mom, Dad, and Pope John Paul II had been anticipated in its own way. None of their deaths were a surprise nor were they premature. Each had lived a long, full, and very meaningful life that had been a source of life for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We were deeply bonded, and I harbored no regrets. I share my experience of these three significant deaths with the hope that it can illuminate the possibility of experiencing death as the joyful culmination of a long and fruitful life, and even, as a gift.
©by Katrina J. Zeno, MTS