Grief, the Uninvited Guest

Quite a few friends and acquaintances recently entered seasons of grief. For them, I repost a piece I wrote the summer after my father died from the ravages of a brain tumor.

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I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

The Mercy of Not Knowing

Occasionally I go through my blog drafts and pull from them. I found this one today and edited a few words. It was originally drafted in late May 2015 after my dad’s funeral, while we were packing to move to Texas, and in the fresh stages of grief.

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Death is the ultimate disruption. A friend warned me early on in this brain tumor journey with my dad that death is evil. It takes away life and it is shocking. It is disruptive.

The three month marker came and went 2 days ago. Three months since doctors diagnosed my father with an aggressive brain tumor. Three months they gave him to live. He enjoyed 2 months and a half. My father passed away, went to be with Jesus, breathed his last, died, May 9th.

It was the longest two and a half months of my life. Every day a constant checking, wondering, anxious watching for signs of the end, wanting to know the times. When? How long?

But, I didn’t really want to know. I know now and I can tilt my head in acknowledgement that God was…is…merciful. When I count what I saw as merciful, I ache for all the seemingly merciless deaths. It is not fair the father who loses his whole family. The parents that discover their teenage son without a breath left in him. The long, slow decline of Alzheimers or old age.

What do you do with all the grief?

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I chose this picture, taken in an urgent care office while waiting for a doctor, because it captures the soul of this post–relating to loss.

Mourning, for me, increases the emotional nerve endings to all the losses of life, all the griefs not ending with death alone. The marriages that struggle, the kids that hurt, the strife in relationships are all brought right up to the surface.

When will the suffering end?

Yet, when I think about my father and what knowing would bring to my life, I realize it was merciful to not know.

Now I’m left taking the next step, eating the next bite sized portion of life, packing just the next box for our move and it is right.

Grief, the Uninvited Guest

For those who are mourning, here is a repost from a while back…

I have a guest these days. Grief is his name. I did not invite him, but he came and at the worst of times, too.

Grief is a strange beast.  Sometimes I don’t mind him very much and we sit with each other awhile. Other times, I mind him very much, especially when he surprises me in public. I’d prefer he just stay at my home. DSC_0150

I always hope he’ll follow the rules I lined out, but he doesn’t which annoys me. He rarely takes up the guest room but stays in odd places like the shelves of a cabinet, between the pages of a beloved book, or in the smells of familiar food. He’s often in my way when I’m trying to get things done.

He has some shockingly bad habits. He’s a nocturnal sort and has the gall to shake me awake in the night and, then, not let me go back to sleep! He stares me in the face upon waking some days which is a horrendous way to meet the day.

Kind friends come over expecting to meet him, and he is out for the moment. Things are like before, and it’s strange. Then, Grief barges in without knocking. We quickly lay a place setting for him. Then, he doesn’t use the proper utensils if he uses them at all!

If you caught a look at him, you’d know why. Grief is a foreigner. His customs are strange. Though I’ve befriended those with this same house guest, I learned little about how to host him myself. I’m not sure anything can acquaint one so well with grief except a house visit, which no one really wants. But, we all seem to get at some point in our lives.

I get the feeling grief means to stay for a long, long time-maybe forever. I don’t know how I feel about that. Some expect grief to behave, stay for a respectable amount of time, and then depart.  But, as I said, he hasn’t yet followed any rules, even the rules of hospitality.

I’m learning an odd comfort in grief’s companionship. It’d be nice if he paid some rent, though, or helped out a little with the chores. I’d prefer a kickback to the pain in the arse he is from time to time.

My close friends expect grief to stay far longer than I hope he does and seem to welcome him with much more grace than I can afford. I’m afraid grief means to put his name on the deed, and I’ll never be rid of him. I get the feeling that once he comes, he never completely leaves. I also see that others who host grief graciously are ones I respect. I long to learn how to host as they do.

There is one Friend who is with me every moment. He is well acquainted with my house guest having hosted grief himself for a long, long time. He is such a comfort and an excellent help with this added load.

I’m beginning to recognize when other people are hosting grief like I am. So many are these days. Sometimes they don’t want others to know, and hide their guest which I think is a shame. He is a tough one to manage, and I can’t imagine trying to do it alone. I guess I understand. Grief is not the most attractive.

Others host a grief that is so painful and soul crushing, I can only shed tears for how violently he invaded their home. I, too, am at a loss to know what to do with such shocking behavior.

I hope I will not run from my guest or scorn him or shut the door on him. He’s not the type that tolerates that well. In fact, I know he chases those down that try to escape him. He always catches up. It’s better, I hear, to just let him in.

My best Friend says there will be a day when grief will leave. When there are no houses with tears, sorrow, and pain. Everything my Friend says seems to come true, and I believe that day will come.

It’s a great comfort to anticipate such a world, a world without grief.  It helps me deal with today and Grief’s demands with a little more energy.

But, just a little.

Embracing Another New Year

One minute it was 2016, then it was 2017 sometime in the middle of 10 Things I Hate About You, probably when Heath Ledger sings in the bleachers. Or maybe when Julia Stiles reads her poem to Heath in class. Great moments.

Anyway, 2016 passed to 2017 and I’m still surprised, trying to find my footing in a new year.

Last New Year’s surprised me too. It was the first of many markers that came and went without my dad. Christmas came and went rather uneventfully, but the new year brought more sadness than anticipated. Another year different from the one he died. Another year more of him not here with us. Something about that number change drove reality in deeper.

This year seems to be similar. Christmas came and went and I missed my dad in so many ways. But a new year put another year in between then and now and it just feels like a really, really long time. Too long without his presence in my life and the lives of all who loved him.

It’s a dissonant note in a season of  resolutions, moving on, organizing, cleaning, looking forward, gaining control. It’s weird to feel a stuck in the past. If I could just make a resolution, a plan, or buy a container for the mess, I’d be moving forward and that would feel good.

There are some things in our lives, though, that can’t be contained neatly. Like grief. And, there is so, so much I cannot control. Like my dad not being here with us. So much I must respond to when I wish I could just change it.

It reminds me of the woman in the wonderful book The Help who slip covered everything in her house in a desperate effort to be more than she was in reality, to cover the pain of what she felt was less than. Instead of face herself, she controlled everything and everyone around her to conform to her desired image. It cost her so much.

The dangers of slip-covering the reality of life are real. Even the sadness of something like losing a father.

So, today, with children back in school and the house quiet, I am endeavoring to respond to the life God has graciously given me before moving on. It means counting the joy and also counting the grief, resisting the urge to slipcover things that need stripping, and loving what needs to be embraced in its current state.

The really ugly chair that inspires parts of this post, a craigslist find that must be loved a while longer in its current state.

There are things I want from this year for sure, but to rush into those feels like building on sand. For today, I survey the terrain…and write because that’s how I do this reflection business.

 

 

Being a Friend to the Mourning

Most people don’t know what to say to the grieving. Most grieving don’t know how to talk about their grief. Mourning that comes out of time, during college-the days supposed to be the best of your life, can lead to profound loneliness.

And, I’m not just talking about the death of a family member or friend, maybe its the family relationship that was unspeakable, or the experience that stole what can never be physically restored, or a home lost due to an international move.

Not many know how to mourn among the old, so where does that leave the college student? Usually speechless. And angry. And searching for something to dull the pain. Surrounded by friends who do care, but may not have logged enough life to know quite how to come alongside their friend. It can be hard to know how to be a friend when you’re needed most. DSC_0062

I’m no grief expert, but I can share what I’ve learned along the road from a college student with few recognized losses in life to now, mid way through life having logged a few. I’ve experienced losses related to life lived overseas. A year and a half ago, my dad passed away of a brain tumor.

Entering back into U.S. college ministry, my heart weighs heavy for the many, many students I meet who are grieving and struggling to find a way through the grief.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind when walking alongside a friend through loss…

  • Begin understanding your own losses. Maybe you haven’t lost someone to death, but have you lost a friend or family member to a severed relationship? to a different direction in life? to addiction? Those are losses to grieve and mourning brings compassion for other losses.
  • Log time with your friend. Call them. Text them. Even when you don’t know what to say. Just say “I don’t know what to say”. It’s honest and it may be enough for the moment. Keep calling and texting even when it seems they don’t want to be your friend because they don’t call back. They’re grieving and it can be hard to take simple steps to maintain friendships during grief. Don’t take it personally and keep offering your friendship.
  • Allow space for a range of emotions. Grieving isn’t just crying. It can be laughing over a memory or just doing something normal to remind yourself that life isn’t all about your loss. It’s not all sad. It feels like a roller coaster sometimes. Being a friend who is there means you are along for the ride, with all its ups and downs.
  • Avoid explanations. Most of the time, we really don’t know what God’s purposes are in the timing of loss. When a friend of mine died right after graduation, a nurse rattled off a long list of false statements as we sat stunned out of words from the shocking news. The dead do not become angels. God probably did not take them because they were the prettiest. He does not need more angels in heaven because God does not need. As we sat bereaved in the hospital, my anger grew to overflowing. The best thing she could have given was silence. Statements and explanations make the speaker feel better, they have something to say. If you don’t know what to say, say that, and sit. You may feel inept and weak but that is ok. It’s a demonstration of selfless love. Presence is a profoundly comforting comfort.
  • Educate yourself. Watch movies like P.S. I Love You, Steel Magnolias, Stepmom, or Band of Brothers. Read memoirs written by the grieving. Do a word study in your Bible on mourning. Read slowly and repeatedly through Jesus’ interaction with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died but before he was raised. Listen to Mary and Martha’s responses as though you were there. Notice Jesus’ responses.
  • Pray for your friend and yourself. Most of the time when I pray for my grieving friends now, I pray that they will experience comfort from the Lord.
  • Get help when its needed. If your friend is coping with grief in self-destructive ways, don’t just stand by. If they’re binge drinking, coping oddly well but not willing to talk much with anyone, displaying poor hygiene that is beyond normal, taking drugs, hooking up with others to avoid pain, missing an abnormal number of classes, or unable to sleep well consistently, they need more help walking through their grief. Approach them about talking with a counselor and help them set up and keep the appointment.

Sometimes I’ve felt there should be a class where I can learn how to be compassionate. Alas, I believe God grows a heart of compassion in us as we experience pain and come close to those in pain.

 

 

 

A Day for Remembering

I lay on the couch in the morning sun flipping through my photo feed. Memories wash through with each swipe. Sunshine to snowfall. Normal to hectic. One life then another. Change after change after change.

Some photos remind me of things forgotten in the crash of my father’s sickness. The dark chocolate bar the writers gave me upon the publication of my first piece. A monumental event, an event eclipsed by news delivered 2 days later.

Two swipes later clouds and snow from the seat of a flight booked last minute. Then, my parents on face time with family figuring out how to process a terminal diagnosis. Hospital photos, prayer meetings, more clouds from more flights all mixed in with children at school events, moving trucks, beach sunrises and meals at favorite restaurants, hospital room views.img_1404-1

All jumbled together in an impossible array of the unbelievable.
I wonder how we made it, and I remember how we made it. It was life in the moment of what had to be done, constantly shoving aside what must wait until later. Daily listening to my gut when it said weird things like go shopping, buy a nice outfit for each kid for the funeral. Or listening to my friends, buy the tickets, don’t worry about the money.

Coming to accept more deeply that life isn’t as neat and clean as we want, and we can’t make things as neat and clean as we want no matter how hard we try.

Somehow we made it. Somehow we cherished the moments given to us and came through. Scarred, yes. Hurting, definitely. Intact, physically, yes.

And missing.

Always missing what was taken from us in this world. Hopeful and waiting for the day of reckoning. The day of returning what we are promised in Jesus Christ. Life, joy, peace, and fellowship with the ones we love.

A day without tears and without missing.

A sunrise from on high.

 

The Stir of Hope

Last year, Dad gave us a Christmas tree. Pre-lit, he assured us. We accepted and they hauled it to Florida where we were living just last year.

After Thanksgiving, we opened the box and encountered a hairball of Christmas lights. My husband and I looked at each other. Dad harrumphed and commented, “post lit, I guess.” We laughed and began the task of unsnarling a few layers of Christmas lights that didn’t all light. After figuring out which lights plugged in where, we still noticed a quadrant of the tree was dark. Our oldest touched a strand and, voila! Lights! A Christmas miracle.

I remember Christmas past and I startle at how much can change in just a year. It takes the breath away and leaves me a bit brokenhearted. This Christmas is not what I expected last Christmas.

So much is new. So much is not with me. I don’t know always know where to hang the old memories. They surround me in the form of ornaments from family and friends, nativities from far off places. All symbols of real events and real people that stir up nostalgia for times past.

Hope is the advent focus this week. It’s stirred around in my soul for a few days now. Hope seemed such an ethereal word in the past.

Hope.

Like a wish upon a star. It just went out into oblivion, or so I understood it.

This year, I think about hope and I see hope begin in the past with the promise of One who would come and crush the head of the snake. It continued with One who fulfilled the promise by substituting His death for mine. And, hope stretches strong into the future attached to the One who entered behind the Veil that separated men from God. Jesus.

DSC_0051One day He will come back and put to rights all that is wrong, and there is so much still wrong.

Hope is surer and stronger than I ever knew.

Hope means I can hold joy and sorrow together, because I know there will be a day when the tears will end. It is not today, but I know there is a day. That is enough.

Hope means the future is bright because God promises to never leave or betray His children. I am not alone.

Hope says there is a purpose in and there will be an end to suffering. God does not waste the hard things in my life.

Hope straightens my spiritual spine and lifts my head. Hope says life will not always be like this. Hope extends the offer of joy in the midst of deep sorrow.

Hope is a strong word. It’s a bold, uplifted smile through tears.