The Gifts of Grief…

During the summer of 2011, I participated in a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education).  Each week our small group would gather together to explore different concepts that were a part of our learning.  Grief was one of the topics that we explored, and grief was something that I was also personally struggling with… something I’d been struggling with for many years.  I wrote the following short reflection after watching a video entitled “The Gifts of Grief”… and after I wrote it, I realized that I had found an image I could use that would help me in my struggle with grief… not only past grief, but that which would come in the future.  I share this reflection with you… it is part of the story of my life:

Grief brings gifts?  I am not sure that I have found any specific gifts coming from my grief…as the people in the video have.

At this point I know that my deepest grief comes from Lemmy’s death.  It is a deep, deep well, full of pure sadness and loss.  It cannot be analyzed, evaluated or explained away…it just is.

The grief of other losses add to it…they add to this “well”…they broaden it and deepen it even more…until all losses, all griefs merge together and overflow the boundaries of the “well”.

I find myself approaching the edge slowly, especially as I am now dealing with events happening in my mother’s life.  Where is she on her journey through life?  Is she getting close to final, physical death…or just getting closer to losing one thing at a time…to dying “little by little”?

And I am not really sure if I want to approach this “well”.  I get close to the ever changing edge…I back away…maybe I should want to dive in and swim deep, but all I want to do is to escape…

And I wonder, because I am not sure if I can dive in and swim deep until my mom does finally die…

The Gift of Presence…

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”        ~Mark 14:32-34

Some thoughts:

1. Jesus knew he was about to die…

2. Jesus asked his closest companions to “keep watch with [him]”…

a. Jesus was not asking them to be his bodyguards, to protect him…

b. He did not want them to watch so they could warn him to make an escape…

c. It seems Jesus only wanted his companions to be “present” with him…

What did their “presence” give to Jesus?  Why did he want or need it?  Perhaps an aspect of his humanity is showing itself as he faces the death he knows is coming…

What does our “presence” give to those with whom we wait and watch?

A seventeen year old, wanting his mother’s “presence” as the time of his death approaches says, “Mom, I know I’m dying.  Just wait with me.”   And then over the next few days, he gradually slips into a coma…  but there are family members and friends near… waiting.

How many others want the presence of someone else with them as their time of death draws near?  What does the presence of other people bring or give to those who know they are dying?  And how hard it must be to be that other person, that witness, who can do nothing to stop the inevitable…  Who can only wait and watch, with no power to change the coming events.

Why is this important for the one dying?  Maybe because the one dying knows that he or she does not face death alone if someone else is waiting and watching with them… The dying walk through death’s door, letting go of one hand to reach out and grasp another…  Love takes them to the door, gives them strength as they pass through it, and meets them again on the other side…

The night before he dies, the seventeen year old briefly wakes from his coma…  Family and friends are gathered around.  Perhaps for him it is one last time that he can look on those he loves and see that they love him.  He slips back into his coma, continuing his journey…  knowing he is not alone.

His younger sister is asked if she wants to sleep in his room, with him, that night.  She says yes, and so a cot is set up.  That night, as she sleeps, she is given the privilege of being the one who is “present” with her brother…  But she does not know this…  She only knows that she is receiving the gift of his presence with her, a presence that she knows she is losing to death…

Laundry Time…

They sit in their rooms… or lie in their beds… or sit in a common room… or wander through the halls…

They laugh, they talk, they cry, they babble…

Some are recovering from a hospital stay and will be going back to their homes and families and independence…

Some make perfect sense and know who and where they are…  most of the time…

Some live almost exclusively in their own little worlds…

They are the who-knows-how-many-people who live in elder care facilities… nursing homes… health care centers… assisted living facilities… Altzheimer’s units…  They are there because they have aged and need help in caring for themselves… maybe their memories are bad and they’d forget to take their medicine… or maybe they are too weak to stand or walk or dress themselves or go to the bathroom by themselves or (whatever)…

Maybe their family members need help to care for them… or maybe their family members just don’t want to be bothered…

They are our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends, neighbors…

Many of them have been forgotten by the world and by the very people that, not so long before, they loved and cared for with pride and joy…

My mother is in such a facility.  It’s a very nice place and Mom is cared for very well.  I visit her almost every day.  We were joking the other day about how she wouldn’t be able to pay her “laundry lady” (me) because that day she just happened to be a “little short of cash”…

And as we laughed and I told her that her credit was good enough for me, I was thinking what a privilege it was to be able to do such an easy and mundane thing as laundry for this incredible woman I call “Mom”… and that I was the one who would never be able to repay the debt…