Grieving our losses

November 23, 2021 in Featured News, News

Brendan McManus SJ and Jim Deeds ran a retreat on grief on Saturday 6th November 2021 in Dromantine retreat house, Co Down. A range of people from different backgrounds attended. An experience of grief united them, be it the loss of a loved one or a more generalised sense of loss on account of the pandemic.

Brendan said that after the difficult experience of the pandemic it was useful to come together (with appropriate precautions) and share some of the experience of loss, some of it related directly to Covid.

Jim and Brendan based a lot of the retreat on their book, Finding God in the Mess »,which tackles tough subjects such as depression, pain and grief, as well as joy, peace and happiness. The book is based on the Ignatian insight that God is with us in the mess of our lives, especially in the crucible of grief, and that with God’s help there is a way through.

In the retreat Brendan and Jim used a combination of stories, songs, poetry, meditation and images, but the key dynamic was the small group discussions. As Jim put it, “People just needed to talk more than anything else, it wasn’t that we were offering them solutions, rather the process of prayer, reflection and sharing allowed them to get perspective on their own experience and explore ways of dealing with it.”

Brendan says: “Often people have a tendency to separate things, as if I have God over here, and all the things that are going well, and I have the rest of my life over here.” He continues: “This can be particularly true of grief whereby people often have a sense of being abandoned by God and fear they’ve been left alone. It can be very consoling then to recall Christ’s experience on the cross where in his humanity he feels something of the same (‘Why have you forsaken me?’). This very human connection allows people to move forward, praying with the mess, being faithful to prayer and bringing God’s healing and light to bear on those painful situations.”

Brendan notes that often we want to control and limit God’s action, creating resistance to letting God in and finding God in these darker moments. He shared his own experience of losing his brother with those on retreat, telling them that  “God can transform things for us if we can persevere in faith during our moments of greatest suffering and God’s apparent absence.”

Afterwards, Fr John Gallagher, the Dromantine programme director, agreed that it would be good to expand the retreat next year to two days and an overnight to allow people to enter into the process more. Brendan and Jim are available to do retreats and workshops based on their Finding God in the Mess book, and are currently working on a Covid-19 related book entitled Emerging from the Mess.