Washing of the Feet
Friday would have been my father’s 83rd birthday.
I wonder when I will stop doing that…counting the years he didn’t live?
He died almost exactly a year after being diagnosed with cancer. His death accurately predicted by doctors who know about this sort of this.
Last summer my mother died in her sleep. Shocking isn’t the exact right word…maybe stunning? I’m still utterly stunned.
And now I am back in their house by the sea.
When I left just over a year ago, it was two days after my mother’s funeral and the PTSD occupation in my brain was just organizing the troops.
Thoughts like, “why didn’t you do more?” And “If you had just” marched without respect to any authority but their own.
My five siblings and I did what we could to secure this house — took in hoses and birdbaths, and re-homed succulents. Grief can be intensely practical at times.
Finally, we piled kids and things and pets, and my husband’s black suit Fed Ex’ed by the friend who’d asked “what can I do to help,” back into the mini-van.
I wasn’t ready to go.
On my deep down cellular level — NOT READY.
We walked to the edge of the sea. My best friend read a stunning poem and took pictures because she knows things before I do most of the time. My husband hugged me. I cried.
Leaving. I still almost can’t write about it.
There was no way forward into a life without my mom.
The car ride home was a horror show of yelling and pulling to the side of the road so I could tumble out in a panic to find my breath and my bearings. Eventually I had to be sedated.
And I assumed we’d sell this house before there was a chance for me to make it back.
Maybe never underestimate the universe?
COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans for everything.
The death toll is staggering. The grief is untenable.
Did you ever watch that show LOST? The one where the plane full of people fall out of the sky to a magical and menacing deserted island? The survivors are terrified and desperate, and eventually pissed when they discover a bunch of people already LIVING there.
In August I fell out of a plane alone. Well, it felt like I was alone.
Since March people keep falling out of the sky and landing next to me. Grief and loss is now the most overpopulated island on the planet.
And at this moment, the world is on fire with centuries-old grief and pain. Rightfully and righteously. Racism is splitting us at the seams, exploding through our cells. There will be no sedating it.
The house where I sit writing is surrounded by silence. No protests, no tear gas, no yellow letters you can read from space. Home is DC. My compass coordinates feel askew.
But I am grateful to be here nonetheless.
My people keep checking in. Texts and calls. “How is it, how are you doing, what’s it like there?” Cellular love bouncing off mechanical towers.
How is it, how am I, what’s it like?
My best friend asked, and my reply instant:
“It’s like washing feet.”
A last loving effort when there is nothing left to do.
When I was early and active in my temporary conversion from Catholicism to Episcopalian (I am currently without a spiritual country, but I don’t mind claiming Bishop Marian Budde as a FB friend — she once slapped my face after all) I attended Holy Week at our church.
Many religious have a Holy Week. In the Christian faith it refers to the week leading up to Easter.
It’s a LONG week emotionally.
I’m sure I’m not supposed to say it, but I’ve always hated Holy Week.
I’m not spoiling the plot when I say they kill Jesus. And they make sure blood is on your hands.
In every other reading (someone is about to correct me, that’s cool, I’m no scholar) some nice lady who remembered to comb her hair comes up to the front of the church reads from the book and sits down. The most the congregation says is something like, “thanks be to God.”
The Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, starts what feels like a bi-polar play. The congregation processes in triumphantly, representing Jesus entering Jerusalem maybe? There are palm fronds for sure.
Soon all churchgoers all have parts to play in Jesus’ death. Becky with the good hair plays Pontius Pilot. The choir plays the soldiers. The congregation (that’s you and me) yells “crucify him.”
Its pretty awful.
We murder Jesus, the choir sings, we shake hands, we take our kids to a soccer game.
During the half time announcements, the church invites you back for Holy Thursday — the washing of the feet.
I never made it to this service as a kid. Likely my mom would have attended, but children went only to mass that required confession if you missed — Sundays and Holy days kept us from the rote recital of multiple “Hail Marys.”
Holy Thurday is not a muderous mob.
I went for the first time three years ago and brought my kids. A clergy member explained the service honored the small moment just after the last supper (which is reenacted every Sunday) when Jesus washed his best friends’ feet.
Well, all his besties except Judas who’d already left to betray him.
He washes their feet, and then he gets arrested.
You can see it can’t you? He’s about to die and he knows it. The world is about to explode — you can’t get more divided than Christ — we literally mark time with HIS birth — AD/BC.
He pauses. He honors his dearests in the most simplistic and equalizing way.
When we washed each other’s feet that Thursday I held my breath to keep from sobbing, but the tears came anyway.
Jesus has never made much sense to me. His story doesn’t sing my song. Even as a kid I focused on the pain of his mother or the women who served him. He seemed remote and removed, inhuman — which maybe is the point.
But washing the feet, I get. Honoring the pain of his friends — the paths they’ve already traveled, preparing the feet they will need to walk from him into their new life.
A tiny, slow, quiet service, on a Thursday night.
Sacred moments of our deepest humanity.
This week, at my parents’ house, grieving our distance from protests and people, with the sea and the sun and the impossible beauty of grief and loss I find myself going back Holy Thursday over and over in my mind.
This is the quiet part of grief. No palm fronds, no accusations. Room by room, closet by closet, paper pile by pile, I am touching their things. Honoring their lives. Sorting through. Letting go. It’s slow and soft and simple.
We save some things, we give lots away. Much ceases to matter when they ceased to be.
And I’m grieving our collective grief.
I’m reading, and donating, and listening, and listening and listening, and saying less on social media (okay, I said less). I’m offering pro bono sessions and taking calls on weekends from folks who’ve been teargassed. I’m learning to amplify other voices. I’m reposting better words than mine could ever be.
Maybe that’s the key.
My loved ones wash my feet. They call, they check-in, they place a chicken salad sandwich next to me as I pour over piles of old medical papers.
In grief, there was really never such a thing as a deserted island. There were always people before us.
To all who grieve, for all you grieve and especially my friend Eileen and her family who are part of the many, many, many who are learning to navigate the loss of their loved ones in the dark…
I wash. I light candles, I continue to love.
Meghan Riordan Jarvis is a psychotherapist, author, wife, and mother of three. After losing both her parents within two years of each other she began Grief Is My Side Hustle. (www.griefismysidehustle.com).