Entering Advent in a Time of Deep Grief

From a fellow Oblate …

I have been pretty fragile emotionally ever since our daughter-in-law gave birth to a stillborn son recently. Now Advent is upon us and, of course, Advent is all about anticipating the birth of a son! It has triggered a lot of raw emotions and perplexity. How do I welcome Advent when the experience of loss and grief is so cripplingly powerful? How can I share the joy of one mother’s delight in the birth of her Son when another mother who is very dear to me will never hold her son in her arms? The pain has been overwhelming… and yet, here we are in Advent. 

I wish I could stop the Liturgical clock for a while as we process our grief as a family!

But I can’t. 

Paradoxically, that’s a good thing. The pedagogy of the liturgical calendar transforms us in ways we often cannot anticipate. 

As I sat with this before God yesterday… amid tears… I sensed that God tenderly told me that I was looking at this the wrong way around: instead of looking at Advent and the birth of Jesus through the lens of pain, grief and loss I need to look at the pain, grief and loss through the lens of Advent and the birth of the Christ Child. It made all the difference in the world! 

Jesus didn’t parachute into the world at 30 years of age to engage in three years of public ministry and then head for the cross! He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, developed for 9 months within her womb before entering this world just as every other baby. Precisely because Jesus became fully human, experienced the trauma of birth and went on to fulfil his work of redemption, Leo can live in a deep and loving relationship with the cosmic Christ. Advent leads us to the mystery of the Incarnation that continues beyond the manger. God’s Son entered our world not simply to join us in powerful solidarity in our pain, but to ultimately transform it forever. Because of Jesus, ourgrandson is fully and eternally alive.

I also need to see our grandson, Leo, through God’s perspective: God carefully and lovingly knit him together in Jesska’s womb. As God’s creature, God loves him perfectly. Leo is now with the God who loves him so much that he sent his own Son to be born as a baby.

As I shared this experience with my daughter-in-law, she responded affirmatively and then drew from the fact that because of Christ there is an unbreakable Oneness that both parents and Leo are a part of. In a profound way, given that Leo shares DNA from both Justin and Jesska, they, too, share in the Oneness with Christ on a spiritual level. Yet, that very truth is part of the pain too. He is with Christ… and absent from them. It is important to acknowledge the pain of the unfulfilled dreams, expectations and hopes of holding Leo in the arms, seeing him grow up and give space for our grief.

So I continue to sit in silence before the One who loves us and holds the mystery of life and death in his loving hands. I trust that God will provide some great gift through the experience of pain and loss as we learn to integrate the shadows with the Light. This will take some serious ‘interior work.’

Thankfully we are not alone in the process. In the deep, dark silence I discover that Christ shares our wounds and we share his victory over death. It is particularly where the experience of our wounds is the deepest and most painful that Christ is both our Good Shepherd and Crucified Lamb of God who comes to comfort, to bandage up our wounds and to heal. Silence is both the door to the wound and the language of unspeakable, unparalleled love. Flashes of light shatter the darkness. 

Perhaps our part of the Advent journey is precisely this: our deepest longings for healing, wellbeing, love and life will eventually be answered in ways that will surprise my family and I. Learning to wait is an essential part of the journey! Weeping may last the night, but joy comes in the morning. 

So maybe I can lift my head, dry my tears, and celebrate after all! 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus! 

C. Hugo Herfst, OblSB (Br. Luke)

San Jerónimo, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala


3 thoughts on “Entering Advent in a Time of Deep Grief

  1. Thank you for this profound reflection, born out of grief. I’m so thankful we were able to visit in person here in Canada, right after this sorrowful loss.


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