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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Grieving: The Other Side of Loving

(I am posting this early, hoping you might receive it by Valentine’s Day…)

This is my Valentine’s Day reflection. I had to make that clear, because when you saw the word “grieving” in the title and when you are actually reading this reflection, you might question: “What does this have to do with Valentine’s Day?” But, by the time you’ve finished reading this, I hope you will know the answer to that question.

Major Steven Beck, U.S. Marine Corps, was a CACO, a casualty assistance call officer. His duty was to inform a spouse or parents that their Marine had been killed. (I found this information from a Washington Post column [July 6, 2008] in George F. Will’s new book, American Happiness and Discontents. In this column, Will quotes from Jim Sheeler’s book, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives.)

(Photo by sharefaith – Pexels)

The manual for CACOs says, “It is helpful if the (next of kin) is seated prior to delivering the news…. Speak naturally and at a normal pace.” Writes Will, “Sometimes, however, things do not go by the book.” Doyla Lundstrom, a Lakota Sioux, was away from her house when the two men in uniform appeared at her door. She had two sons serving in Iraq. One was a Marine, one a soldier. When she heard they had come, she quickly called her husband and screamed into her cellphone, “Which one was it?” It was the Marine.

Military personnel deployed in war zones, often leave behind “just in case” letters. Army private First Class Jesse Givens of Fountain, CO, wrote: “My angel, my wife, my love, my friend. If you’re reading this, I won’t be coming home… Please find it in you heart to forgive me for leaving you alone.” To his son Dakota: “I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play together… I’ll be there in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life.” To his unborn son: “You were conceived in love and I came to this terrible place for love.”

According to the Watson Institute at Brown University, the U. S. Military lost 7,057 men and women “in post-9/11 war operations.” That figure was from 2021. Another ominous statistic is this one: There have been 30,177 suicides among U.S. service members and veterans of the post-9/11 war operations. As terrible as those figures are, the fact remains that in the waning years of the “war operations,” in the words of one Marine, “the nation has changed the channel.” Many of us almost forgot that a war was going on and that thousands of individuals and their families were paying the ultimate price. Only occasionally did the nation get a glimpse of that price: every time they saw on the news or witnessed in person a flag draped coffin being escorted home.

In his book, Sheeler vividly describes one incident. A Marine CACO was on a passenger plane escorting a fallen warrior home. Another passenger, noting the uniform, asked if he were coming home from the war or was he going to the war. The CACO, a sergeant answered with the words he was taught to say: “I’m escorting a fallen Marine home to his family from the situation in Iraq.” Yes, the “situation”…

Sheeler writes:

“When the plane landed in Nevada, the sergeant was allowed to disembark alone. Outside a procession walked toward the cargo hold. The airline passengers pressed their faces against the windows.

From their seats in the plane they saw a hearse and a Marine extending a white-gloved hand into a limousine. In the plane’s cargo hold, Marines readied the flag-draped casket and placed it on the luggage conveyor belt.

Inside the plane, the passengers couldn’t hear the screams.”

(Photo by cottonbro – Pexels)

George Will concludes his column with the story of Sarah Walton, his assistant. When the army CACO came to her Arlington home, Sarah was not there. She had rarely forgotten the rule that a spouse of a soldier in a combat zone is supposed to tell the army when he or she is away from home. It took a while for the Army to find Sarah in her parents’ home in Richmond. Her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Walton, West Point Class of 1989, was killed in Afghanistan. Writes Will: “This week he will be back in Arlington, among the remains of more than 300,000 men and women who rest in more than 600 acres where it is always Memorial Day. This is written in homage to him, and to Sarah, full sharer of his sacrifices.”

Why am I posting a reflection like this on Valentine’s Day? Shouldn’t I be writing about red roses, heart-shaped candy boxes, or God’s great love for us? I chose this topic of grieving because grieving is the other side of loving. Paradoxically, it is often the depth of our grieving that gives us a hint of the depth of our loving. When we grieve the loss of a loved one, regardless of the circumstances or even when the actual loss occurred—yesterday…last month… a year ago… 20 years ago—we’re witnessing to the mystery, power, and beauty of human loving. More specifically, through our grieving, we are saying:

Loving is the greatest power we possess…

Loving is the most important thing we do in our life…

Loving is the most challenging thing we do in our life…

Loving bestows upon us our greatest joys….

Loving, sooner or later, calls us to our greatest sacrifices…

Loving is fun… surprising… beyond reason… impossible to put into words…

Loving is the greatest gift we have been given by our Beloved God from whom all blessings flow…

And when the object of our loving is taken away from us through death, we grieve… in our own way… we grieve.

But for those of us who are Christian, we believe that one day our grieving will be turned into rejoicing. We believe that when Jesus danced out of that tomb on Easter morning, he somehow took all of us with him. So even when we are immersed in our grief, we can simultaneously believe we will see our loved ones again. Or, in the words of the poet John Shea, we believe that “the laughter of reunion leaps on the far side of loss.”

(Photo by designecologist – Pexels)

For reflection:

Did anything in this reflection touch your heart? If so, what? Why?

What has your own experience of grief revealed to you about loving?

Do you think we all, regardless of age or health, should write “just in case” letters to our loved ones? Explain your answer.

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year?

PS: (I’m writing this Sunday, Feb. 13): Thank you for your prayers for this past weekend’s zoom retreat sponsored by the Portiuncula Center for Prayer in Frankfurt, IL. I enjoyed meeting some “old” friends (Sisters Elona and Melanie) and meeting new friends–including a number of readers of this blog. I also want to thank the three wonderful women who made this retreat possible: Sr. Mary Lou, director of the Center; Sr. Janice, program coordinator; and Megan, our IT professional who helped make everything run smoothly!

Happy Valentine’s Day to each one of you… and to your loved ones too!

I chose this 2016 video of a song from 1962: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Written by Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson, it is performed here by the Kingston Trio.

I encourage you to consider writing a comment below. I know my readers (and I!) really appreciate this sharing.

36 Responses

  1. Beautiful blog Sr. Melanie as usual. My father and uncle both served in the Army in WW II and fortunately came home. This made me try to imagine what my widowed grandmother would have felt if she received that knock at her door. Both of her sons were shot during the war, but they came home.
    Grief is very difficult, but sometimes your greatest expression of love is allowing your loved one to go to our Father, the source of all love, and know they rest in His loving embrace until we come to join them forever.

  2. Sr. Melanie, this was such a beautiful blog. The video brought chills across my shoulders witnessing the griefs and love that comes from having a loved one in the service. Thank you so much.

  3. Just before I read this reflection, I was thinking about my mother, who died too young, and whose life span I’ve exceeded by twenty years. Whenever I recall the phone call I received while in college, asking me to please hurry home, it seems like only yesterday. Thank you for reminding me that it is precisely my love for her that renews my sorrow. And especially for God’s love for me that will bring rejoicing!

  4. Thank you Sr. Melanie for such a beautiful blog, I say a devotion daily for all service men past and present. For myself the month of February is my least favorite month of the year, as my beloved Grandpa Steven’s passed away on 2.17.95 yes 27 yrs ago soon and it still feels like yesterday. I had a unbreakable bond with my G-pops (what I called him) I always felt he understood me the best. We would have the best time ever just being out in nature walking. He was a pure, gentle, compassionate soul. I have a tattoo in remembrance of him on the back of my left shoulder. Often when I’m traveling or just having a blah day. I squeeze my shoulder and ask him to give me strength. Although he is gone, I know he is still with me in a different light. 💙

  5. You really hit home today. We will be celebrating my daughter’s father-in-law’s memorial on Friday. I will pass along some of your comments to his wife. Thank you!!

  6. A loving tribute to our veterans and their families. If you haven’t seen the movie, Taking Chance, be sure to watch it. It’s based on a true story of a colonel who chose to escort a deceased veteran to Dover and then home. Be ready to cry.

  7. Sister Melannie, Thank you for your reminder of the sacrifices and depths of where love takes us. My brother, a Marine, survived his 13 month tour in Vietnam, but it made ‘ditches’ in his heart and the hearts of my parents. I can only say, thank you again, to remember every day is holy.

  8. Hello Sister Malannie,
    Yes, I agree, loving is the greatest gift we have been given by God, and grieving which can last and last is such an emotional, uncontrolable love that many times pops up at unexpected moments.
    Thank you for your wisdom. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  9. I am reading this at the bedside of my husband’s sister, Rosemary who is in hospice. I can’t tell you the comfort that it brings me. I read it out loud to Rosemary. I know she heard me. This is just what I needed today and I will be sharing with family. Thank you for the beautiful perspective on grieving. It is just what I needed.

  10. My father passed away Feb 16th. One day after my mothers birthday & two days after Valentines Day. He was only 63, years later my mother passed away & a couple years after that my only sister passed away at 63 under dire circumstances. Now an orphan & no nuclear family connection, I feel their loss every day but your comments helped me put that void into perspective.

    Loss is also not just death, but estrangement, addiction, mental illness, alienation, etc….anything that interrupts our ability to connect & love someone fully. My heart aches for these people as well. It is better to have loved & be loved.

    I thank God for the time I had with them & work to remember on a daily basis, to love fiends, family, & anyone else who I encounter on this journey of life. People matter more than things; time is a precious commodity of our earthly life making it important to get our priorities straight; and to cultivate our relationship with God who is the epitome of real love.

  11. What a beautiful, telling tribute. Over 50 years ago and still true. A dear friend Pam sent me a link to Sunflower Seeds and this post “Grieving: The Other Side of Loving.” The song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” bring necessary remembrances. It has been sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, beautifully, as well. I am sending care to all who are grieving and loving! Thank You and Happy Valentine’s Day!

  12. God has spoken to me today through your blog and a photo of my deceased father sent to me by a cousin. Today is the 5th anniversary of his unexpected death. I have taken over as “agent” of extended family business after his death and I doubt myself and abilities often. His photo popping up and then your early posting have sent a flood of heavenly light. Although my dad didn’t serve in the military, your post hit home in ways you cannot imagine. Thank you for using your talents to bring God’s loving hand into my life and all those who read your blog.

  13. Your blog always brightens my Mondays. I’ve grieved the loss of my mom since 1984. She was 53 at that time. I’m now 56 and feel like she left me yesterday. Grief comes in waves and I will carry my love for her until my last breath however the greatest gift she ever gave me was the teaching of the Catholic Church! Allowing me to know Jesus as my friend when I was so young has strengthened me in ways I can’t describe. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and all your followers!

    1. Well, now that I’ve stopped crying I want to thank you for today’s blog. Like many of us I’ve lost many loved ones in my life…parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. But the hardest were 2 of my 4 very loved brothers. Eddie died of AIDS in the early days of the epidemic long before we had any understanding or treatment for it. Jimmy died of suicide almost 13 years ago. I still remember both so clearly & sometimes the grief is overwhelming. I never thought of grief being the other side of love, so thank you for that. It helps a lot. I firmly believe that when God calls me home that I will see all of them again. Thank you for Sunflower Seeds…I rarely reply but I never miss reading it every week. God bless you Sr. Melannie…you help so many people every single week.

      1. Dear Melannie,
        The combination of the haunting words of the song and the emotions of joy and sorrow expressed in the photos were so powerful. What a special bravery it must take for the CACO personnel to repeat their daunting task day after day.
        I have prided myself for having had my “affairs” in order for quite some time, but I do think a final piece is needed, the “just in case” letter.
        Thanks again.

    2. Such a moving reflection Sr Melannie.
      We can never totally repay the debt of gratitude to our service men and women.
      My husband did two tours in Vietnam and retired from the military after 28 yrs.
      Today the Holy Spirit whispered for me to take flowers to a widow of a military man. She had just returned from spending the day with him at Arlington cemetery . She said after 18 yrs it’s still so hard.
      This Valentine’s Day blog should be on the front page of every newspaper. Beautiful reminder !
      Thank you once again for opening our eyes and hearts .

  14. Thank you for your blog today. It brought several memories which I wanted to share.By chance many years ago, I happened to be with a friend who received the knock on the door. I will never forget the compassion of the officer who delivered the news to her and the overwhelming grief that followed. In August of 2021, I was on a Southwest flight and pilot announced that the plane had a special passenger on board. We were bringing a soldier home. When the plane landed the Escort officer deplaned and we were asked to remain on board until the casket was removed. I will never forget the sound of the silence and the tears running down faces. Then several passengers stood and saluted until the casket was placed in the hearse. I was so touched by both experiences and thank say a prayer for our military and first responders everyday.

  15. My sister-in-law just passed on Feb. 2 after four weeks on a ventilator. She was only 70 and leaves 6 kids, 12 grands and 7 great-grands. This post was perfect for me to forward to my brother– he’s a veteran so that part will be touching for him along with the other wonderful words. Thank you for this timely post.

  16. There was a movie (still available) called “Taking Chance” ~ a true story about a Marine who escorts a young man named Chance, killed in battle, back home to one of the western states. I used to show this video to my seniors when I taught a Death & Dying course. It is quite profound in its message. Death is never easy, as we know. Losing my brother has been one of the hardest things I have dealt with in my life. Although its been almost 8 years, not a day goes by that I don’t miss his presence in my life. I am grateful that my faith teaches me that I will see him and my other loved ones again….when we all “dance out of the tomb”!

  17. Thank you Sister Melannie for such a beautiful blog! It definitely has great meaning to me as my husband of 55 years served in Vietnam and was blessed to come home alive.. He had a high school classmate that lost his life. My husband retired from the Air Force after 20 years. Thank you again for your blogs.

  18. I cried the entire time I was reading this blog. It immediately took me back 63 years to 1957. I was standing in my mother-in-law’s kitchen as that car pulled into her driveway. We watched the officers get out of the car and walk slowly to the door. It was so surreal. We knew why they were there and yet pretended that we didn’t. Fortunately, my 19 year old Marine brother-in-law was not dead but he was seriously wounded and eventually recovered.
    My maternal grandmother passed away on February 14, 1957, just 2 months after she held her first great grandchild.
    Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for this blog. I hope you have a lovely day!❤️
    P.S. My husband is home from the hospital and recovering nicely from Covid. Thanks for the prayers.

  19. Oh Sr. Melannie…I have been reading your blog for quite some time now and never once has it brought me to tears, but now it has. Healing tears, to be sure. Tears of past grief. The tears started with Jesse Givens letter. Right now they are just behind every breath. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Yes, as you say, when we grieve we know we have loved.

  20. It brought tears of love for my brother who died two weeks ago today of alcoholism at 61 years old. Our family is so very sad, because we loved him so much.

    1. Jan, Our deepest sympathy to you and your family on the recent death of your dear brother. May your faith and the support of family and friends be your strength during this time of loss. Sr. Melannie and our readers of this blog…

  21. I read this just after it popped into my inbox on Saturdy morning, but I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t put anything into words. My husband had served in the military, so we decided to have a military burial. Hearing the two soldiers playing Taps and watching them fold the flag to give to me was so surreal and emotional….I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to watch a soldier approach your home with that life-shattering news…’s nearly more than I can even bear to think about.

    My heart aches for all the losses and the ones who must go on with that huge hole in their lives.

    May we find a way of living peacefully so we don’t have to lose loved ones so needlessly.

  22. This one came early Saturday and I too was filled with tears– mostly of gratitude for all my relatives who were and are in the armed services.
    From my Dad in W W 1 to my grand nephews presently serving– through uncles in WW2, brother and in-laws in Korean, nephews in mid east conflicts to now. Not one lost life in the service. Two uncles were POW
    but came home. They were twins –one was ok the other with shell shock as they used to call PTSD. This is an excellent reminder of true love
    Thank you. Pray that the Ukraine doesn’t become another battlefield!

  23. Another very moving blog entry. You have such a talent for writing such moving commentaries. On this Valentine’s day its perfect time to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom and for their loved ones who l7ve with the grief if loss. A very moving video as well. Thank you for reminding all of us of people forgotten. Have a wonderful day!

  24. Thanks again for the reminder of what all our Military has done for our Country. What a beautiful…. and sad story about each and every one. Tears flowing.
    Thanks Sister for again, your wonderful words.
    They are the greatest…..

  25. Dear Sr. Melannie

    Thank you for this beautiful blog. We lost our Mom the day after New Year’s.I stayed with her the day before and noticed she kept looking at the corner of her room from her bed. I felt blessed assurance at that time that she would have a safe journey home. The next day I walked into the facility to her room and saw that she had already expired about an hour ago, per the Nurses.
    As my cousin stated to me that God was setting the stage. Deep in my heart, I know I will see her again and my grief will turn back to love again. Life and love is a paradox. Your beautiful words have given us much
    comfort and peacefulness. Thank you dear Sr. Melannie for walking this journey with us every Monday!
    May Our Divine Lord continue to bless you with an abundance of gifts!

  26. I have never been a fan of Valentine’s Day. However, maybe it will be different from now on. Thank you, Sister, for your words of honesty, comfort and hope. I especially appreciated the outpouring of hearts in the Comments section. Many people have experienced consolation and maybe inner peace from your words. I did. God bless you as you continue to be enlightened and enlighten.

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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