Tag Archives: grief

Grace

IMG_0394I usually read three or four books at a time. Right now, my active pile includes 1) Tony Robbins’ Money: Mastering the Game, 2) a Fannie Flagg novel, 3) What’s so Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey, and 4) Ann Lamott’s latest — Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. I read what I’m in the mood for in the moment. I lost Fannie Flagg for awhile, in the middle of a good story; she got tucked into a door pocket of our other car. And I was plowing enthusiastically through Money when Life smacked me upside the head on a Tuesday evening three weeks ago. I haven’t opened the book since. But I am devouring the two books on Grace, my soul hungry for solace, for divine sustenance, tender mercy.

Mostly, my life moves along like a transoceanic flight — tedious, squishy-kneed, but exciting — hope and adventure awaiting. But then the turbulence hits, randomly, unexpectedly, spilling soda and knocking me off my wobbly airborne feet as I waddle back from the toilet box. Then it’s just Hang on! Don’t lose hope! And don’t jab anyone in the head! Continue reading

Lessons from Easter Mourning

Sleepy Hollow CemeteryIt’s hard to mourn on Easter Sunday.

I sat last Sunday listening to General Conference hearing the story of the Greatest Consolation Ever, listening to alleluias, smelling lilies…with red eyes and a broken heart.

The news of my dear friend (I’ll call him “Job”) and his out-of-nowhere tumor/sudden surgery/aggressive cancer/grim prognosis was fresh and raw.

This Easter I was incapable of engaging with the lofty notion of victory over the grave, with death that has “no sting.”

And, as if I weren’t feeling abysmal enough, I almost felt guilty for not being able to engage and rejoice.

Aren’t I a believer?
Don’t I affirm Life with a Capital L?
What happened to the faith I’ve been robustly building for decades now?

I say I almost felt guilty. And then, when I went a few minutes without weeping or being weighed down in loss, I almost felt guilty for not being sad enough. Didn’t I owe Job that much?

This is not the first time I’ve confronted death, grief and loss. I almost feel guilty about having to go through all this sorrow again. One would think my past encounters could have, what?…built up a callous? Enriched me so deeply that I would always and only be infused with faith, hope and celestial perspectives?

I know those tropes, and I see their ruses.

Would we expect someone who has just had a limb savagely ripped off not to scream or cry or react?

Any loss like this – the death of a friend or a failed relationship or a betrayal of some kind – is an emotional injury with its own messy versions of ripping, shredding and bleeding. It has its own ways of sending psychological counterparts of white blood cells to the injury to help, protect and heal it.

It also has its own time frame.

I’m now edging past the emotionally oozing stage, but that could change with any new downturn. This is, I have learned, how grief goes. Each occasion offers us our own convoluted Way of Grief.

Besides this most wrenching news about Job, within the last month I have been inundated with dark news about other friends’ calamities/fragile marriages/lost pregnancies/health crises. Yesterday I witnessed a dog get run over by a car. It’s too much.

We have covenanted to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those who stand in need of comfort.” From my unfortunately fresh perspective, I offer some practical bits that might help develop those skills.

1. Allow grieving people (including yourself) their messy progress. Offer them your love without judging them or hurrying them. This is a real boon in times of sorrow.

2. Sometimes words that you think might provide consolation – like the promise of eternal life – sound too lofty to grasp right then and only emphasize to the mourner the immediate loss of the intimacy, vivacity and presence of the dying loved one. On the other hand, to some grieving people, these can be very soothing words. (so see #1)

3. Small gestures of consolation can mean a lot. Sometimes these mean more than words.

4. Don’t expect the person facing death (or an uncomfortable future) to console you. They have enough to deal with already. Be as loving, supportive and present (even if not physically) to them as you are able and as they allow. Accept (and give) the grace and help of your fellow mourners – but don’t ask it of the mourned.

Because I have traveled this desperate route before, I’m convinced I will not always be on the verge of tears. I will not always carry this current burden. I will not always identify closely with these lyrics:

“Swift to its close, ebbs out life’s little day. Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away.”

I believe I will again want to sing:

“Lives again, our glorious King! Where, oh death, is now thy sting?”

Surprise: Happy, Happy, Happy Anniversary

Engagement photoIn July of 1994, my two sisters and I sifted through the belongings in our widowed mother’s home. She lay in a hospital nearby, unconscious and dying of a massive stroke at the age of 78. She lingered in that condition for nearly three weeks before she finally passed.

During those weeks, we hunted through the disarray of her home for documents, policies, and other papers that might be helpful for the disposition of her estate. It was grim and devastating work.

One trip to the dumpster behind her apartment complex allowed me (at last) to get rid of the embarrassingly poor plaster sculpture I’d made in high school two decades previously. I had never liked it, but my mom kept it in a place of honor. While there was a frisson of relief to see that thing go, my knees buckled with wordless grief when a set of Mom’s dentures tumbled with other “trash” into the dumpster, too. That she would never need them, never speak again, was more than I could fathom. My being the only Mormon in the family didn’t make my grief any easier to bear right in the midst of our loss.

My sisters Susan and Holly meanwhile had discovered Mom’s car insurance policy tucked into the 50th Rockford High School reunion program; stock certificates for companies long since defunct in one stack of papers; and boxes of old family photos – few of them labeled.

Holly pulled a small metal lock box out from one pile. Among the papers inside was one that baffled us all. Continue reading

Eulogy for a Car

View from the unwashed passenger window on the night of our last drive.

Last night realizing time was short we quickly piled the kids and an impromptu picnic into our eighteen year old sun-bleached blue Honda civic.  Never turn in a car with extra fuel in the tank, we thought. So Sunday evening drive we must.  We drive west in near silence, chasing the sunset through miles of fields and orchards. Unidentifiable greens erupt from the soil phasing in, bare walnut tree silhouettes fading out. The end of one era and the necessary beginning of another. Funny, I thought we hoped we could drive the car figuratively into the ground; it will be literal instead.

The car coughs, rattles, clanks and vibrates, straining to go and go and go as it always has. Perhaps this inanimate object of a family member is somehow imbued with the knowledge that this really the end; its replacement has already taken over the garage. It’s just a car, and not even a fancy one, but it’s feels like a loss letting it go.  Continue reading

Passion: Windows of Agates

Cincinnati Death Record

Cincinnati Death Record

Sunday morning

During the passing of the sacrament I decided to prep myself for Sunday School by reading the scriptural passage we’d be studying. Isaiah 54. That first verse caught my attention in a visceral way:

“Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.”

I know many women for whom fertility issues are a great source of anxiety and grief. My own three children were hard to come by, but relative to those who want children but can never have them or lose them early I can only imagine the heartbreak. And, given Isaiah’s setting where being barren (even though it may have been the guy’s problem!) was deemed “shameful”, the problem was exacerbated by that unjust layer of societal disrespect. Continue reading