Sometimes there are events that crash into your life that have no apparent reason and which inflict the always unwelcome pangs of pain and grief. Yesterday our sweet little 2 year old cat, named Max, died unexpectedly and with no visible explanation. Crash. I found him. I screamed, horrified at the sight of my sweet lifeless cat, but also with the realization that this would be the first significant grief experience for my children, and my heart felt like it would tear open to think of their reactions. No. No, not this way. I want them to learn all that there is to know about the preciousness of life, about compassion, about how deep joy often is only felt or understood after deep sorrow has left its marks. But not this way. Not through this loss with no reason, no why, no warning, no nothing. Just crash. There are deeper losses, tragedies that rip families apart, parents from children, children from parents, things unspeakable and wounds that run to the core and don’t ever heal completely. I know that. This is not so big it will encompass us. This will heal. We will heal. But right now it hurts. I miss Max, but more than that, I ache for my children as I watch them, individually and collectively, face the cruelness of grief. I want to spare them from this, shield them, take it away. Away. But I can’t. This is part of their story now. This is imprinted in their hearts. My hope is this: that the way we grieve together, the way I allow them to ride the waves and follow all the emotions where they take them, will be just as imprinted. Because loss is part of love. And if they can learn now to love deeply but freely, and to release what is gone while holding the connection that remains, I may one day be able to see this as a time we all grew through our pain. It is not the way I wanted. But isn’t that life? It is not going to fall into the neat pieces we planned. It is messy and cruel and beautiful. It is not ours to control, but it is ours to cherish. I want so much for my children, and I have often bristled at the cliché that we all just want our kids to be happy. Because really I think we all want something bigger than happiness. We want strength, hearts of kindness and mercy, love given and received freely, compassion, wisdom, joy…And the mystery is that all of these seem to emerge in their truest sense through heartache and loss. But we don’t want it that way. It’s too hard. I would take all the pain if I could. Because my children experiencing pain is not the way I want. Ever. But here we are. We are knee deep in this moment of loss. It seems senseless and random. But it need not be wasted. It can still have meaning and import and yes, even push us as a family and individually, to a different, deeper, better place. Not what I wanted, but where we are.
Category Archives: Grief and loss
These words are inspired by a conversation I recently had with a newly widowed woman who, despite her grief and disappointment, felt compelled to, in her words “live forward.” They are also based on a reflection I wrote for a time renewal and rejuvenation I took part in for my hospice colleagues, during which we took time to release the pain we come into contact with and experience, and move toward working, and living, at our best. There are times for all of us when we are weary, worn and heavy. We feel the weight of a million little burdens on us like a hard rain that pelts down without mercy. We have taken on the pain of others and had our hearts broken. We crumble under the stronghold of words that were spoken out of haste or unkindly, sometimes by others, sometimes by ourselves. We sense the constraint of time and the demands of each day. It is daunting. We are alone and suffocating. There are the times we feel stretched, so stretched, thin, weak, unusable, like a threadbare rag. We have a deep seated fear that we are infertile and impotent, that we are incapable of producing anything meaningful or beautiful. We are fruitless and discouraged. There are times we cry alone, within the safety of our walls, because it is too hard to show the vulnerability of our heartache, and we honestly don’t know if we could put words together to make sense of it all even if we were asked. There are moments when the ground underneath us turns to mush, when we have no conscious awareness of an anchor. We are unmoored, knocked about by waves, anticipating the inevitable crash. In these very moments when we fight our secret battles while holding it all together on the outside, we find ourselves perhaps more open to the possibility that we were not meant to manage all of this on our own. Here the words of Madeleine L’Engle, which inspired the name of this blog, find themselves planted firmly in the soil of my mind: “It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.” It is good to be still, to take a deep breath, and to press down and feel the rock, the solid ground underneath. Because there is solid ground, there is an anchor, there is a shore, and there is peace. We are not alone. There is a peace in the knowing that these moments do not define us, and they do not need to isolate and silence us. They are real moments and it is good to acknowledge them. But if we are wise, we will take the next step, the step of knowing “this too will pass.” And then the next step, the step of feeling the solid ground under our feet, the Rock, the One who never leaves us or forsakes us. Then the next step, the step of seeing a hope and future that is held out before us. Step. Step. Step. Step, continuing on in faith, continuing on in a hope that is defiant in the face of all the hurt, sorrow, and disappointment we have encountered. This faith, this hope, these are what define us and propel us to keep steadily moving on. And when we have taken these steps, when we feel the solidness of our faith, we are able to stand a little taller, feel a little bigger, more useful, and more alive. And we are able to reach out to others, speak out kindness and encouragement, and receive it in turn, adding fruit to fruit, light to light. We are able to live forward. Because each day that we choose to take one small step, trusting that each step leads us on, our faith in the solid footing grows. And we can claim and act upon the courage and the strength to continue on, and not just to continue on, but to actively live our lives in forward progression, in hopeful expectation, no longer alone, no longer fruitless, no longer without an anchor, but flourishing with the strength, joy, encouragement, and peace that are rooted deeply within our hearts.
“I miss innocence/ I miss the arms of my mother/ I miss feeling light, like a childhood summer.” -Sara Groves There is a certain ambiguous heaviness I feel every year around this time. I think most anyone who has suffered a significant loss that ties back to a certain time and series of days can relate on some level. There is a deep longing, an ache, a trying to bring back someone, or somewhere, or sometime. There is a sense that you have lost something, or maybe it is you that is lost, a sense of reaching out and grasping, of holding on, and then realizing, what was there, is not, but also that what is there, is not lost. What is left, what is not lost, is the pure sweet memory of what was. It is with these thoughts that I re-post my first blog post, in memory of my mother:
I first wrote this on May 8th, 2010. I have revisited it the last few years, and wondered if I should add to it. But as I reread it today, it strikes me that there is nothing else to say than what I have said. So here it is:
I have been thinking about the hands of a mother. I am thinking about the combination of strength and tenderness in a mother’s hands, the wordless depth of love communicated by a simple touch. I am thinking of the mending, digging, mixing, comforting, holding, fixing, medicating, tickling, baking, praying hands. I think of my mom’s hands, how they told me things when her words did not, how she used them to daily tend to the needs of her family, how when cancer took so much from her, her hands somehow remained familiar and beautiful, and how I miss them. I look down at my own hands and I see hers. At times, my hands seem less skillful than my mother’s. I don’t sew. I haven’t mastered the way she put a band aid on in just the perfect way. I don’t generally have a loaf of bread waiting for my children when they come home from school. But in my own way, I use what I have. And that is what a mother does. And we hope that in the things we do, in the ways we use our hands, we are able to convey the bottomless love we have for our own.
Originally posted December 24, 2012/ edited December 23, 2014:
“O God, let me rise to the edges of time and open my life to your eternity;
Let me run to the edges of space and gaze into your immensity;
Let me climb through the barriers of sound and pass into your silence;
And then, in stillness and in silence let me adore You,
Who art Life-Light-Love
Without beginning and without end
Who has bound heaven to earth in the birth of a Child”
-Sister Ruth “The Oxford Book of Prayer”
It happened 14 years ago, when I experienced the first Christmas without my mother alive. And it has continued every year since. I have grown weary of Christmas songs and have longed for and cherished Christmas hymns. I think I noticed this for the first time when I heard “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and I just felt my stomach churn. Anyone who has experienced the first Christmas after a loss can no doubt relate. I wondered if I would ever get into the “spirit” again. And then I started listening, really listening, to the lyrics in Christmas hymns. I heard the theme that strikes me every year. The theme of a tinge of the mournful, and acknowledgement of the heavy loads we carry as humans, and the breaking through of light into a dark and weary world.
From It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
I am ready to sing back this song. To try in my feeble way to bring some hope to a weary world, perhaps to help a soul feel it’s worth, and in whatever way I can, to take a small light, like the candles we will hold in tomorrow’s Christmas Eve service, and carry it forward during this coming year.