Doubting Thomas Feast Day today brings up many questions about poor Thomas who is struggling with his grief. We have so many questions about grief, God, and goodness. When a death occurs that seems unfair, we can doubt what we have believed all our lives. When my 26-year-old sister died suddenly almost 25 years ago, someone from my church said he knew exactly how I felt because his 87-year-old grandmother had died the year before. I looked at him blankly. I doubt he knew how I felt. When my 94-year-old grandmother whom I loved dearly died years later, my reaction to her death was different than my sister’s.
Since my sister died, I have always thought that Thomas is misunderstood. Everyone else had processed Christ’s return together. Thomas had missed it. He longed to see him again just like the others had. Many people want to see or experience their loved one again somehow after death. After my sister died, I would often smell flowers out of nowhere. Once as I sat with her bereaved partner, I was overwhelmed by the strong aroma of the plant that was nearby. When he got up to go to the bathroom, I reached out to touch and smell the flowers on the plant. You can imagine my surprise when there was no scent because they were fake. I was not the only family member that had this experience.
I have longed for such an encounter with Dad since his passing. I have had no dreams the way I did when my sister died. In the hospital, I would ask Dad if he wanted to shave and I would get out his shaver and let him do it for himself. As the weeks went by and he could no longer do this independently, I would shave him and then put after shave on him. When I was a little girl, I loved the smell of it because it reminded me of him. I would ask him to put it on me–it smelled so much better to me than Mom’s Evening in Paris perfume. He obliged sometimes. About a week ago, I was walking to evening mass and as I stood at the traffic light, waiting for it to change, I was startled by an overpowering whiff of aftershave. I looked around–wondering if a young man was nearby but I did not see anyone. I did spot a teenager on a bike a bit later but I had no way of knowing if he had been in the vicinity. The moment I became aware of the smell it vanished. I had enough time to close my eyes and breathe in, whispering the word Dad.
I understand Thomas. I empathize with people who struggle to make sense of a death that does not make sense. I think in some ways Ignatian spirituality has helped me find some peace with the aspect of long life or short. I believe that people can live a complete life in a short time. Their purpose is accomplished without lingering for decades. I also have come to believe that I will not have a whack of questions for God when I get to Heaven’s gates. I think all my earthly, limited knowledge will give way to understanding and I will see with God’s eyes why things happened. God can handle my rage and have learned not to hide it from him. As my sister was dying, I would on occasion pop down to pace the hospital chapel and internally scream at God. Gosh, I held nothing back. Moments before she died though, I released her into God’s good hands, knowing that she would be lovingly received.
Thomas was a good reminder today that grief is an individual experience. Some similarities exist but each person must find a way to peace. Today as I walked along the beach, I came across these purple flowers growing in the sand. I marveled at how God makes all things work together for good. Thomas proclaims Christ as his Lord and God, seemingly without taking up the offer to touch the wounds. I trust that my life is in God’s good hands as I proclaim my Saviour my Lord and God.
Do you remember a time when grief almost crushed you?
What memories of the deceased bring you back to solid ground?
My Lord and my God, I trust in you, even when I do not understand your ways. I sometimes feel like a purple flower planted in shifting sands and yet, I stand upon a solid rock. You are a good God and into your hands I place my life. Amen.