The Weight of Tears


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…

et lux perpetua…

Today during our Hospice team meeting, we stopped at the 10 o’clock hour to honor the lives lost in Parkland, Florida just two weeks ago. Just two weeks…

I re-lit our memorial candles to read the 17 names. After two or three names, I could not go on. So I passed the paper to a co-worker… and to another… and then we stood in silence. And tears.

At my regular team meeting, I read the names of recent deaths, and we have a moment to honor them. Sometimes I get a lump in my throat and feel a little sad. The stories and lives of our patients affect us deeply. We know we are in a sacred work.

But this… this was so very difficult. So very, very different.

This was random.
This was evil.
This was violent.
This was full of pain.
This was senseless.

Right before I blew out the candles, I said to my teammates, “May their lights continue to shine.”


…et lux perpetua luceat eis…

And let perpetual Light shine upon them.




Another shooting?

Whatever the reason…
Whoever has done this…
I do not understand.
I feel helpless…
The loss of lives, the stunned survivors…

I cannot make excuses or place blame.
(But, God, how I want to!)
My anger rises at the impotent lawmakers,
The greed of the gun lobbyists…

My heart can only cry out,

How many votives will I light?
How long will it take to light them?
And then… to watch them flicker out,
one by one by one…
life by life by life…

My heart can only cry out,

I have no words…

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I have
no words
to share
what’s on my heart.
I have only
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
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

The floodwaters will not overwhelm you

But now, this is what the Lord says — he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…
Isaiah 43:1-3a The Voice


Lake Needwood. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn
Lake Needwood. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn
Lake Needwood, flooded. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn
Lake Needwood Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn
I make it a habit when I’m on my rounds to stop for a few minutes, here and there, take a break, and do some charting in a beautiful setting. The last time I was here at Lake Needwood, the water levels were much lower!

I was surprised today when I saw how high the floodwaters were. It occurred to me that many times, we don’t realize how circumstances have overwhelmed or challenged us. Certainly with my hospice patients and their families, the overwhelming grief and worry piles up higher and higher, and many times we might not  realize how difficult things have been.

So, I took a little self assessment, just to remind myself where I needed some relief, and where perhaps, the floodwaters or stressors are taxing me more than I realize. 

Flood zone. Lake Needwood. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn
Flood zone. Lake Needwood. Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn

Maybe you’re in a “flood zone” of sorts right now. Take a moment. Breathe deeply. Say a prayer. Find some refreshment for your heart and courage for your soul. 

You are a beloved creation of God. You’re worth it. 



In our chaplain’s office, we have a small corner for reflection and prayer. There’s a hand labyrinth, some prayer stones to hold as you meditate, and a bowl of memorial rocks. There’s also a small electric candle and a book of prayers.

Some weeks, I need to spend more time in reflection and recovery when a patient dies. Yes, I am a hospice chaplain. And yes, this is part of the work that I do. But depending on a number of factors, it can be harder than usual when I see the notification come across on my email. Logistically, sometimes I can’t be present at the time of death because I’m caring for another patient, another family.

This week I said good-bye to two lovely patients. Yes, they were in hospice and it wasn’t unexpected. But it was still a loss for their families. I heard their stories and their dreams. I felt their grief bubble up, and tried to keep my own feelings checked so that I could help them experience and process their own. I focused on their sources of hope and faith, on the places where they see The Eternal One at work.

And then, I needed to sit with my own feelings, and rest in my own faith. I accept that beauty comes with pain, and joy will come in the morning. I pray and breathe. And… Remember.

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Don’t run away from grief, o soul,
Look for the remedy inside the pain,
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.


Blessed be.