In the Disney musical, Frozen 2, Anna sings:
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over; the lights are out
Hello darkness: I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, she sings, (I always have)
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
Frozen 2 is a mystical tale woven out of north Scandinavian legends, but you do not need to know the whole plot to appreciate the beauty and the truth of this song. All that you need to know is that Anna has seemingly lost her sister, who has been frozen, after the two sisters had already lost their parents. Anna’s dear friend Olaf, a living snow man, suddenly dissolves into snow flurries and is carried away on the wind. Bereft of her parents and now her two closest companions, Anna is overcome by her grief, which closes in on her like a cold, dark night. She cannot imagine life without them. She feels numb, ready to surrender to her grief and her pain.
Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one can relate to the emotions Anna is feeling. We know what it’s like to feel your world pulled away from you, how hard it is to picture our lives – our world – without our parents, or our spouse, or siblings or God forbid child. Our grief has gravity too. It pulls us down.
But in the midst of Anna’s intense grief, she he hears an inner voice calling to her through her darkness: Take a step, step again; It is all that I can to do. The next right thing; I won’t look too far ahead.
Yes, in our grief the world seems hopeless. It is hard to know how to move forward. And what meaning is there to anything we do when we cannot do it with and for the one that we loved and lost? But the voice in Anna’s head says to her, “You do not have to see hope right now. All you need to do is take one step at a time. One breath at a time. Just get through this next moment. Just think about what is best right now.” Anna’s sister Elsa was also gripped by grief over the loss of their parents. That’s one reason that she went into the river Ahtohallan, the mystical river which holds all the memories of the past. She delved into that river because she was seeking to sort out her memories of their parents who were no longer alive. She thought that the river Ahtohallan would bring her a better understanding of those memories that might bring healing. Instead, in the river of memories, she confronts a truth about her family that she did not expect: that her grandfather had not been the noble king she had thought, but in fact had engaged in treachery in order to dominate a neighboring people. It is this memory that causes Anna to be frozen. Memory is a tricky thing. It can heal but it can heal but it can also wound. It can free us, but it can also enslave us.
Often our memories of our loved ones are just as complicated as Elsa’s. There may be sweet memories of ways in which they showed us their love and support, memories of the ways in which they embodied values that we admire. But we all have our flaws and failings, no one is perfect. And so, we may also remember things about our loved ones that we did not admire, even things that we found hurtful. How do we deal with that? For those of us whose memories are not all perfect, how can we immerse ourselves in the river of those memories without being frozen, like Elsa, from the hurt?
Sometimes the answer is to focus on the good memories. To immerse ourselves in feeling their love, forgiving and passing over hurts that we know were not part of their true essence, and focusing on the comfort and strength and guidance their provided us. Sometimes, though, the pain is too much. There are some memories that cannot be passed over. Often, people will come to me and ask, how can I say Yizkor for my parent when they abused me? Or when they were absent from my life? Or when they hurt me emotionally if not physically? In such cases I always advise that we must engage in memory with honesty. To choose to see good in a person and pass over their faults does not mean to ignore them. And when the hurt is something that cannot be forgiven, cannot be passed over, then you must acknowledge and address that hurt. There is no way to go forward without going through that pain. But even so, do not let those memories freeze you as Elsa does.
As we observe Yizkor this morning, let us join together by asking God to help us find our way to those memories which are happier and to liberate us from the oppression of our hurt and anger. Either way, whether our memories are sweet or painful, in the end the only way for us to heal and not be frozen by our grief is to take the advice in Anna’s song: Take one step at a time, one breath at a time.