Tag Archives: grief

Grief Resources

5 Aug

Before we can pray or forgive or even listen, we need to be at peace with ourselves. Grief Journal is one woman’s story of coming through the loss of a young husband and miraculously finding herself. “I had a good marriage and a happy life,” Linda Andreozzi writes. “We had fun. I also drank a lot, worked too much, watched TV every day, and had no spiritual life. The loss of everything I knew and held dear gave me two things that can never be taken from me: my sobriety and my companionship with God. I will never be alone in that same black hole where I whispered by first real prayer: ‘Help!'”

You can order your copy of Grief Journal online at goodgroundpress.com or by calling Good Ground Press at 800-232-5533. Only $15.95 per copy!

Snapshots of Grief

9 Oct
Photo via Flickr user D.Reichardt

Photo via Flickr user D.Reichardt

A week ago, the youth team was informed that a tenth grader in our church community took his own life. We immediately started getting calls and texts from high schoolers and parents alike saying, “We have to do something. What are we going to do?” We decided to gather as a community a few days before the funeral.

We moved quickly and with purpose, each using his or her own skill set, being kind to each other, touching shoulders, offering hugs. Some sobbed and moaned with those who were weeping, walking around for days with puffy, glazed over eyes and their hearts exposed. I wrote prayers and searched for appropriate music and readings. Others went shopping. I walked into my office to find two grocery bags full of Kleenex packets for the pews. The pastor handed me his sermon and I cried as I read the end, the good news, the part about how darkness tells lies about us being alone, but God does love us and we love each other and the light will overcome the darkness and life will win. “This is good,” I sniffed. “Really good.”

A mother and daughter stayed up late baking pans and pans of dessert. “This is just what you do,” the mother told her daughter. “When there is nothing else to do, you feed people.” A coworker came into our work space a few hours before the gathering and asked us, “Can I bring you all some dinner?” It was the first moment I realized how hungry I was, and my yes was heartfelt, from my gut. How do people just know what to do? These people who just do exactly what needs to be done without needing to be asked or thanked, they amaze me. A mental health specialist joined us, reminding, “Young people learn how to grieve by watching their elders.”

And then came the stream of young people, one after another. Those in shock held up those who were crying. They showed each other pictures, told stories. “It is good to see you,” I said over and over and meant it. “Thank you for coming.” We lit candles. We prayed. We talked about grief and letting our bodies feel whatever we are feeling.

As I walked up to read the prayers of the people, I didn’t wipe my tears away. My voice shook, my nose ran, my heart stayed in my throat. Some things will never make sense. Like a litany, I repeated, “Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.” Mercy. Lord. Please. Send us your mercy.

Companions in Grief

6 Nov
via Flickr user Howard Ignatius

via Flickr user Howard Ignatius

“Ellie, are we going to pray today?” a tenth grader at church asked me during programming last Wednesday.

“Yes, we are going to close in prayer today. Why?”

Her chin quivered first for a moment before she broke down into tears. She found out at the end of her school day that a classmate of hers had committed suicide. She was confused and hurting. “I don’t understand. He was happy and well liked, involved in school. I don’t get it.”

When young people lose a peer, it is uniquely devastating. They themselves realize they are mortal. And they don’t have much practice, yet, in grieving. I have found, in working with young people, that it can even be a divide. There are some who know death and others who just don’t yet. And it’s not the latter groups’ fault, but it can be isolating for the former.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day is an annual opportunity to remember, to light a candle, to say a prayer, to articulate a memory. It helps teach us how to grieve and continue living. We need these times and spaces created to validate our hurt and loss and offer tangible ways to invite us into active grieving. This liturgical celebration came at just the right time for the grieving tenth grader, but it made me think of other assistance to grief that we lean on throughout the year.

In her touching New York Times article, “Wild Messengers,” Jennifer Holland writes: “Many describe the experience of being ‘visited’ by a wild animal soon after a loved one’s death or on an important anniversary of that death.” She herself had been visited by nine bald eagles on a winter drive on the ninth of the month while her mother was dying from cancer. “I couldn’t help but think that those birds were nature’s messenger, sharing what was coming. Perhaps even telling me that final exhale was a good thing, powerful and beautiful in its lasting quiet.”

I lost a good friend to cancer when she was too young. On her first missed birthday, when she was supposed to be with us turning twenty-five, I was in Iguazu National Park in South America surrounded by the beauty of waterfalls. For two days, butterflies accompanied me, ticking my face. My friend loved butterflies and had one tattooed on her foot, so I chose to feel her presence in those butterflies, experiencing beauty with me and continuing our relationship. The gorgeous wild creatures offered me comfort and helped me grieve. In my mind and heart, they were wild messengers. As Holland says:

When we mourn, isn’t it not just for our relationship with a person, but also for the physical presence of her, her aliveness? The voice, smell, textures and warmth, the gestures we know intimately, all of these are replaced with their opposites in death. We are left with a hole that the energy that powered the person through life once filled. And so I think many of us seek signs of that energy at work somewhere else. A butterfly keeps circling you and perching on your arm. A deer raises its head from grazing, landing its gaze on you. A dog you’ve never seen before makes a beeline to you from nowhere, demands a little love, then moves on. I admit to taking an extra look at a particularly tame squirrel or a bird chirping right outside my back door, thinking, Mom, is that you? I feel a little silly, yes, but even a quick connection with that warm, energetic thing soothes me in that moment.

God offers us spaces of comfort in and outside of the church building and liturgical calendar, in All Saints’ Day and in the wild, to name two. We miss the energy of the ones we lost. We want to believe that some of the energy of our loved ones is conserved in the living around us. While we grieve, we are vulnerable and open. We are looking outside of ourselves for meaning. We live in this space between worlds. We are open and hungry to see things we do not normally see. In this way, the grieving are living in a state of holiness.

 

 

Marry Amazement, Take the World Into Your Arms

5 Aug

I was sitting at my writing desk when I received a dreadful text from a student, “Have you heard?” I have a few students who somehow know and remember and care that I am not on Facebook. When important news travels through this medium, they take a moment to reach out to me and make sure I am welcomed into the circle of knowing. It’s rarely good news, and this time was no exception. One of my beloved former students died accidentally and unexpectedly at age twenty-one. A second student emailed, a third called, “Have you heard?”

A parent losing a child is a great tragedy. It does not match the order of things. As a teacher, I have lost too many students. It is shocking beyond words. I struggle with how to properly grieve such a loss. I do not see her regularly anymore, but I spent four years watching her grow. I advised her and we learned together. She was lovely, a fierce change agent with progressive environmental views and a huge brain. My thoughts wander from memories of her to her parents and siblings.

A few days after receiving the news, a woman leading devotions at a separate community gave me the gift of reading Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes.” After describing death a “hungry bear in autumn” and “an ice burg between the shoulder blades” she says that when death comes:

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

I imagine this young woman walking through the door of death with curiosity. I remember how she looked at the Earth and her friends as a sisterhood. I see her as a singular flower in a wild field. She did live her life. I watched her. As a student, a musician, an environmentalist– I saw her married to amazement all the time. She died too soon. She did. The poem does not take away the pain and the loss we feel. Nothing will. As the years pass, we will never get over the fact that she should still be here with us, pushing us to take the world into our arms, too. But her life was real and particular. She was far from a visitor. So I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Oliver lately, committed to amazement and courage and preciousness.

Fierce Advocacy in Community

25 Jun

This evening a former student came by my place to watch World Cup Soccer with my spouse and I and catch up on life a bit. He brought delectable cannoli from a deli by his house. We talked about his music and his new job. He told me the story of breaking up with his girlfriend and then, months later, the new woman he is interested in. I caught him up on my life as well. We had a lot of ground to cover. We both admitted to going underground a bit during the long, cold winter.

Eventually, I asked him about his grieving. His dad committed suicide a year and a half ago. Losing that man in that way was unthinkably painful for him. “I gave up on God immediately,” he admitted. “So in a way it felt like I lost two dads. I thought it was cool to be an angry atheist, the thing to do. I thought I was smarter than the people who believed in God. I needed to be in that dark place.”

I remember him talking to me about this decision. I remember thinking that considering the circumstances, it made sense as a reaction. I did a lot of listening and nodding in that first year.

“But now I think I’m ready for something,” he continued. “Maybe not religion just yet, but I’m ready to believe in something bigger than myself again.”

He explained how isolating it was to lose his father to suicide. It made him feel so alone, like no one understood what he was going through.He was in shock during the funeral, and then people stopped asking him how he was doing. He didn’t realize how much he needed to talk about his loss and his fears. He didn’t know where to start. Then one day at work, a woman asked him about his life, asked him about his parents, pushed about his dad, and he decided to tell his co-worker the truth.

After expressing her condolences, she asked, “And what are you doing about it?”grief_journal_cover2

“What do you mean?”

“What are you doing to tend to your grief? If you don’t work on your grief, it will come out eventually in unexpected ways, decades from now. It can affect your marriage and your children without you even realizing it. Can I help?”

Because he was open and curious, she did some research and found some support groups for him to go to. He went. He realized he wasn’t alone. After a few weeks of meetings, he broke down and sobbed telling his story. Instead of pity, when he looked up, his peers nodded and just said, “Yeah, yeah.” It was comforting. The floodgates opened.

He said, “I thought just getting out of bed every day was dealing with it, but it wasn’t, I wasn’t dealing with it. Now I am dealing with it. I cry more, but I am also writing music again. And I am able to tell stories about my dad that come from happy memories.”

It makes sense to me that it took having the fierce advocacy of his co-worker and the community of his support group first before he considered giving God another shot. For him, right now, that support group is the community of truth he needs. It is a space to be broken and heal. It is the place to ask hard questions and grow. Meanwhile, his co-worker showed him that he matters, and that sometimes, we have to fight for life. The survivors have to work to claim the hurt and keep going. The co-worker and the support group remind him that he is indeed not alone. That is church at its best. He did lose one dad, but maybe he doesn’t have to lose two.

A prayer for those who are grieving

12 Sep

Holy One, we all have experienced times of grief and loss.

We bring those memories to you.

Heal us and teach us compassion for other who also grieve.

We offer our prayers in gratitude for your continuing love for each of us, especially when we feel lost.

Heal us, loving God.

Teach us, loving God,

the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

the courage to change the things we can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

A Time for Lament

11 Sep
Photo:  Flickr user  Howard County Library System

Photo: Flickr user Howard County Library System

Last week, my oldest son started kindergarten. Having heard stories from other parents about sobbing in the car after drop off, and knowing myself to be a crier, I anticipated the worst. But he was so excited and ready to be there that I was able to give him a quick hug and a wave good-bye and to exit the building without any water works starting. Then my younger son and I took a leisurely thirty minutes to walk the five blocks to our house, pausing to wonder at ant hills and fallen acorns and walking any balance beam walls or curbs we could find. At home, we spent some much needed one-on-one time crafting play-doh cakes and playing Candyland, two activities my older son believes he has outgrown.

Having survived the first week of kindergarten relatively unscathed, I foolishly was not anticipating the challenge of today: my younger son’s first morning of preschool and my first morning alone without the kids in five years. All three of us were all excitement as we headed out the door, the boys running down our alley, over-sized backpacks bouncing willy-nilly with each pounding step, and me struggling to keep up without spilling my coffee all over myself. All three of us entered the school doors together, the older one proudly heading toward the kindergarten hallway by himself and the younger one hanging up his belongings in his cubby. I waved good-bye to the kindergartner, walked the preschooler to his room, and after a quick hug in the doorway, made a quick retreat. Half a block from school, I started bawling.

Having been a stay-at-home parent for the past five years, this first morning of “free time” comes with all sorts of emotions. Certainly, I am proud of my sons, who seem ready to spread their wings in their respective big-kid school worlds. I am tickled by the people they are becoming. There is also some relief: relief that I have the next three hours to do with as I choose without the explicit or implicit demands of child-rearing. A weight that I barely noticed hanging around my neck has taken the morning off. And with this relief comes some excitement, too. The world is an oyster, and I may just remember how to have some of my own fun in it.

But along with all of these positive reactions, I feel grief. I am mourning the passing of a particular stage in my life. I think anyone who is honest about the demands of raising children can admit that the hands-on care required in these first five years is exhausting and trying, filled with challenges that leave many of us second guessing ourselves and wondering what in the world we have gotten ourselves into. Yet at the same time, these years are more rewarding that I could ever have anticipated. The joys of loving and being loved by children, the blessing of knowing them and their worlds so intimately, defy exposition. There will be new joys in the future, to be sure; but today, I am lamenting the passing of this particularly lovely stage of life with my children.

In our world, lament is a religious practice not much talked about, but it has a rich heritage in the Judeo-Christian traditions. Lament, in a religious sense, involves passionately expressing grief to God. Approximately one-third of the psalms recorded in the book of Psalms are lament psalms, prayers that describe a situation of distress or anguish. While some of these are private or individual prayers of lament, many of them are communal psalms. They are the words of the Israelite people who came together in worship and who voiced their suffering out loud together and directed their sadness to God. Lament does not take the grief away, but it does remind the grieving that they do not do so alone. In their sadness, God is there.

The famous verses from Ecclesiastes tell us, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3:1, 4). In the past, I had always thought of this as a way of saying that life has its ups and downs, that we need to take the good with the bad. But on this morning of mourning, I am hearing something different in it. What I hear more than anything is the fact that we need to take time for weeping and laughing, for mourning and dancing. It can be so easy in our busy lives to skimp on the time we spend on sorrow by drowning ourselves in television or food or any other thing that takes our mind off of our sadness. Lament is a religious practice that gives a name, a place, and some words to our grief. Lament reminds us that it is part of human life to mourn. If we give grief its due season, it does not have to consume our lives.

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