The Weight of Tears

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My Spiritual Director recently asked me how I was doing. And I started to cry.

Not because I was sad. Or even depressed. It had been a difficult couple of months, personally and professionally, and I felt the weight of others’ tears added to my own. I have never doubted the cumulative effect of loss, but on that particular evening, things were very heavy indeed.

Later in the week, we had an ice storm. I sat mesmerized, watching the freezing rain collect on every bare branch and twig. They looked like those hard-to-cry tears that we all have from time to time. The ice dripped longer and thicker, and then would break off onto the grass below. Eventually, the storm passed, and the temperature rose.

That’s when it hit me – grief, like many other emotions, is framed in seasons. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and you can see the physical frame of a mourner bend over in sorrow. Sometimes the sadness breaks and scatters all around in a fragile mess. Sometimes the sunshine casts a brilliant prism of hope. Grief is expressed differently by each soul who bears it, I think. And it does pass. It truly does.

These same branches that were caked in ice will bud and green up in about 3 months. I hope that, when I see the leaves unfurl, I will remember to go back and take another photo. Because every one of us needs a picture of growth and joy in the back of our minds when the icy heart of grief holds us.

Growth, light, life: all of these are places where the love breaks in. Or perhaps, as Leonard Cohen said in his song, Anthem, 

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

So here’s to tears. And promises of a spring thaw. And the light getting in through the tiniest, smallest cracks of hope you can imagine. And tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.

When Nature Grieves With You

I walked past the grand ornamental cherry and thought, “It looks like it’s weeping flowers…” Since I had just left a family grieving over the death of their matriarch, it seemed appropriate.

Sometimes Nature does the best job of explaining our feelings and fears, so I’ll shut up now…

I have no words…

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I have
no words
to share
what’s on my heart.
I have only
tears
and prayers,
and the promise
that You, O Lord,
will walk through this valley
with me.

I have
no wisdom
to give
in this place of grief.
I have only
hugs
and tissues,
and the blessing
of knowing Your peace,
as our hearts
are in pieces.

I have
no tears
to cry
because (quite honestly) my well is dry.
I have only
the promise
of the resurrection
and that You, O Lord,
watch our laboring steps
and shower us
with Love.

Rev. Deb Vaughn
June 26, 2016

Grief and God

In late June, I had the opportunity to present a workshop on Grief and Loss. It was good for me to think about and put into words some of the things that I know to be very important. It was also a cool event – meeting up with other Christian Feminists at the EEWC Gathering!

Among the topics I touched on were some of the new paradigms for viewing grief and the mourning process. The most important point to me (aside from the obvious one that all of us will experience grief at some point in our lives) was the emphasis on learning from grief, not thinking it is something we have to get past. It’s a touchy point, because so many of us get stuck on the platitudes of well-meaning people.

Our grief stories are important.

In the process of reflecting, writing and talking about them, we discover where the pain has continued to nestle, and where we still “love with a limp.” It’s not that we have to act like everything is OK. Instead, remembering that we have been broken, we invite God into the process of reclaiming some of our former selves, even if the shape has knicks and dents and cracks.

kintsukuroiI used the example of the Japanese art of kintsukuroi. Instead of hiding the broken places, the artist uses a resin that has gold dust in it (or sometimes silver or platinum). The philosophy of this process suggests that the breakage and repair become a part of the object; transformation rather than perfection is the goal.

There are stories in the scars; beauty in the broken and repaired. We are still useable and needed, even if our brokenness shows. We do not have to be pre-grief-perfect!

Our culture struggles with this idea that grief can be good, that the pain of loss can be transformative. In the Christian subculture, there is a pervasive need to chirp happy little phrases like, “He’s not in pain now.” or “God must have needed another angel.”

Not only are these phrases unhelpful (we know that death means an end to suffering), but at times they are theologically wrong!

  • God does NOT need another angel! (Angels are created beings, like humans, and I think that God knew how many were needed.)
  • “You can have another baby…” (Ahem. “Can” is a medical opinion and I don’t think you’ve done the exam to make that judgement.)
  • He/She is in a better place. (Soteriology and eschatology aside, the person grieving is missing the PRESENCE of the person who died.)

So WHY do sincere, loving, well-meaning people say these things??

I suggested to my workshop participants that there are several reasons:

  • To “fix” things – They see that someone is hurting and they genuinely want to help
  • Personal distress – It brings up old wounds and they don’t want to go there
  • Misunderstand “grief” – Many, MANY people think grief has a timeline. It does not. (Simplistic answer for simplistic people.)
  • Pressure – They want things to get back to normal. In reality, what we are learning through grief is how to get to a “new normal.”
  • Foot-in-mouth disease –  We’ve all done it. Said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. We grow from it, forgive, and move on.

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I ended my workshop with a short service of remembrance.

It began with a video I created with an original reading set to music by Yiruma.

On the front table were candles and a set of river stones wrapped in cotton fabrics and tied with a jute twine. Inside each package was a small heart with this instruction:

Keep me as your remembrance stone.
When you are ready to let me go,
give me back to Creation.

Participants were invited to select a wrapped stone and share with us the life event or person that was still a source of grief. The stories which came up surprised the participants, some of whom were friends and never knew the depths of grief that others were experiencing.

The stones were then taken home by each participant, and they were encouraged to leave the stone some place, either mundane or deeply personal and significant, when they had come to the place that they were ready to move on. There was no time line. That was not important. Rather, each person would work to a place of readiness to leave the most intense period of grief behind.

The cloth wrapping around the stone and the jute will decay. The paper will dissolve. But the stone, like the memory of the one we grieve for, will continue.

We concluded the service with a responsive reading written by Jan Aldredge-Clanton and a blessing written by Sally Coleman. 

It was amazing to watch the Holy Spirit do the knitting work of transforming love. I put the pieces out there, but God put them together.

soli deo gloria 

“And When I Die” (Cross-Post)

Today I wrote a piece on RevGalBlogPals about a difficult but important topic. It’s about “aid-in-dying” and it is worthy of your thoughtful reflection and consideration. Here’s an excerpt…

As a chaplain, I have been a part of many conversations with families over end-of-life care. I know from personal and professional experience that they are brutal. While there are great resources and trained professionals to help and support the decision-making process, there is no way to express the heartaches that accompany it.

The scenarios I have witnessed came to mind as I read a recent news story about the recent death of Diane Rehm’s husband. Diane, a public radio personality, shared the details of her husband’s death by dehydration when his doctor could not and would not help him die faster in his end-stage Parkinsons disease. So, despite the best medical support and symptomatic relief possible, for nine days he refused food and drink, enduring discomfort and pain.

The full article is here: “The Pastoral is Political: And When I Die”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to offer my reflections and opinions on the RevGals blog. Please wander over there and check them out!

Sunday Night Meditation: Not Right Now

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As the Queen of “Open-My-Mouth-To-Change-Feet” I was encouraged and challenged by this song. Sung by Jason Gray, it is a simple reminder to “listen twice, talk once.”

You could see the smoke from a mile away
And trouble always draws a crowd
They want to tell me that it’ll be okay
But that’s not what I need right now
Not while my house is burning down

I know someday
I know somehow
I’ll be okay
But not right now

Tell me if the hope that you know is true
Ever feels like a lie even from a friend
When their words are salt in an open wound
And they just can’t seem to understand
That you haven’t even stopped the bleeding yet

I know someday
I know somehow
I’ll be okay
But not right now

Don’t tell me when I’m grieving
That this happened for a reason
Maybe one day we’ll talk about the dreams that had to die
For new ones to come alive
But not right now

I know someday
I know somehow
I’ll be okay
But not right now

While I wait for the smoke to clear
You don’t even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here
And together we can pray for peace
To the one acquainted with our grief

I know someday
I know somehow
I’ll be okay
But not right now

 

Book Review: Grief — A Mama’s Unwanted Journey

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I read many books about how to raise and care for my little boy. I had anticipated his arrival with joy and hope. But I was completely unprepared for his death. There was no book telling me how to take leave of him.

From Chapter Ten: A Bed for My Boy, Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey by  Shelley Ramsey.     WestBowPress.

Shelley Ramsey writes about a mother’s nightmare: the loss of a child. She tells her experiences of her years-long recovery from the traumatic death of her 17-year-old in a car accident. Her words are real, raw, and honest. She expresses the grim reality of coming through grief to a place of wholeness and healing, recognizing that the loss of a close relationship is not something that “goes away” and does not have a timeline.

Those of us on the mourning bench must let ourselves be broken and allow ourselves to hurt…

We cannot walk out of the cemetery and back into life as we knew it. We must take time to grieve.

(from Chapter 24: Grief Doesn’t Come With Instructions)

Ramsey describes her struggle with anger, depression and emotional exhaustion. She doesn’t sugarcoat her own journey back to wellness; she also notes where and how she made progress through her own pain.

The story Shelley shares is at times difficult to read. There are places where the reader will identify with the heart-rending tasks of grief: informing family and friends, picking a casket, composing the gravestone, walking by the empty bedroom. These are raw, painful moments that are common to all who grieve.

The author not only helps to normalize the struggles of grieving individuals (being forgetful, feeling exhausted, stressed by social events) but offers some practical tips. She gives some great examples of what NOT to say in Chapter 28: No Consoling Words. She also shares her personal self-care steps to recovery that she tried to do on a daily basis:

I was in such bad shape that I had to begin with the most basic. I made a short to-do list for myself every day: (1) Get up and dress for work. (2) Make a plan for dinner. (3) Throw in a load of laundry. (4) Touch base with someone today. (5) Jot down one thing I am thankful for.

(from Chapter 31: Trust God in the Dark)

I particularly appreciated the quotes that Ramsey included from authors who understand the pain of the journey through grief. Writers like C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Ann Voscamp, Rick Warren, Teresa of Avila and Anne Lamott augment the personal stories from the author’s grief work. Combined with her thoughtful reflections, they are consoling words indeed.

Ramsey’s book is written from a Christian perspective. She holds firmly to the promises of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Those who are from other faiths may not find the latter chapters in particular as helpful, as they focus more on her own faith. However, it does not diminish the power of her experiences and the gentle, caring way she shares how she personally overcame depression and despair after the death of her son. Those who are newly bereaved may find her book a little too raw to read; I encourage them to set it aside and pick it up in a few months because they will find it a loving companion on the road from grief to life.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”