In 1996, I became acquainted with L’Arche Daybreak, a group of severely intellectually disabled residents and caregivers who live in community in Toronto. Fr. Henri Nouwen, a beloved, world-renowned theologian and writer, served as their pastor.
A month before I left to visit the community, Henri suddenly died. The world was stunned by his early death at 64, and his community was heartbroken. Their beloved pastor had died, and they were stricken with sadness.
I decided to visit the community anyway and witnessed a remarkable expression of grief. Several times at a meal or during Eucharist, one or more of the residents would call out, “Henri’s dead. Remember to pray for Henri.”
Initially this level of expressed grief unnerved me. Then it occurred to me: I was observing a pure, profound form of mourning. They could not act as if they were not grieving. There was no filter to make sure their guests were comfortable. What a gift to have witnessed this much love and sadness being expressed without restraint.