Written in April…I was going to share this to Facebook, but chickened out.
It’s the season of Lent, when churchy people often either take on or give up something in order to draw closer to God. I’ve decided I’m going to give up acting Like I’ve Got My Sh*t Together, and just be real about my life right now.
Mark’s death dropped me into a dark place that is often hard to escape. I’ve had weeks and even months here and there where I felt more lifted (sometimes a lot!), and there are also still days and weeks when I just go through the motions (and many, many tissues). I actually hate writing that. This was not what I expected.
As I think I have made overly clear, I am a lifelong church-goer (albeit the doubting Thomas, constantly wrestling/ questioning/arguing/arrogant type)…and my faith, at this Test, turned out to be rather shallow, shaky scaffolding at best. Yet, I have come to realize, perhaps I am being unkind to myself: a storm like this is Utter Destruction. I still resonate with this quote from C.S. Lewis, a pillar of Christian thought, written in his grief, in the early months after his wife died: “….don’t come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”
This is because the death or loss you mourn is just the beginning; then, you go into the valley. What you find there depends a lot on your concept of God. Maybe some people, even in great loss, just feel held by Great Love; they learned before this happened to trust God, to lean in. For me, my life and spiritual path has been different, so I had to do battle: face the sorrow, the deep anger, the guilt/sense of responsibility that EVERY grieving parent feels so deeply, regardless of how their child died. Like Job and countless millions before and with me now, I wanted answers from God and I personally ached for the rarest of consolations (one last conversation with Mark), a desire that was perfectly understandable yet clinging to it clouded me, to some extent, to the love that surrounded us. Further, given my own unique bundle of Capital-I-Issues and neuroses, I was also ill-prepared to receive love in just about any form, as I was both furious and wretched, wondering if I “deserved” any. This is a torment beyond further description.
Nonetheless: I’ve discovered many things in the valley, most particularly, that love and connection are the greatest gifts we have. I treasure many people in my life very deeply (yes, I’m still an introvert who needs space, but love you lots!). Also, chiefly, that anger, self pity and resentment are toxic. It’s hard, but I have to let them go over and over again, or they eat me, my outlook, and other people alive as I become like a volcano of rage. I’ve learned that I do best when exposed to lots of nature, when I get some exercise, when I don’t spend too too much time alone, when I have something to do/focus on (like taxes! yaaaay…?), when I am engaged with small children. And great writing from scarred, thoughtful, not pie-in-the-sky authors, has been hugely helpful.
I don’t know why we have to be scarred. I don’t know why terrible things happen – in my life, in yours, in our world, and we could argue all day about theological and philosophical explanations – I just know they happen and seem to increase (or maybe our awareness increases). Many or most of us, especially in midlife, are wading into the intimate details of our parents’ lives or saying/have said goodbye before we are ready, while also learning to let go and entrust our grown kids to God’s more capable hands. Many of us are dealing with the effects of age creeping in (I found out I have cataracts last week – woohoo!); so many of us have faced or are facing significant loss of some kind or another, and it may be huge — delivering you or a beloved person straight to a confrontation with mortality in a diagnosis, loss of health or mobility. AND in order to survive, we each have to figure out what we will feed ourselves, what nourishment will we consume that will result in the kind of spiritual/mental/ emotional/physical health we desire? How can I learn to fully live again when I have this amputation, this life-changing loss, when I know life is uncertain and more pain is to come? (For me, it all comes to one question: can I trust God Is?)
Our loss of Mark is enormous, and: we are all humans struggling with something. Get past the stuff we argue about on Facebook, all the pictures that depict our best moments, and you’ll find Real People, struggling with life’s burdens as well as with what we do not like about ourselves and others; we all have secrets, doubts, questions and deep fears. I found this list in “Gifts Of The Dark Wood” by Eric Elnes, which captures it pretty well. See if this resonates at all for you:
There it is, the human condition. Further, most of us have reached the point of recognizing there are some problems and hardships that will never be fixed, and we grieve deeply. We need each other, because each of us is a gift — even in, or perhaps because of this thing in your life that you struggle with. Perhaps you can tell me of resilience, of how you moved from “why me?” to “why not me?” Perhaps, if you are a person of faith, you can share how – give examples – God has been present in your own deep suffering, so that we can all see Him better/know better how He moves. Maybe you just need to know that I am/we are sitting with you in your sadness, holding your hand while you cry, scream or groan. Maybe you can share your funniest story from your experience with your person with Alzheimer’s so that we can share a rueful – but needed! – belly laugh. Perhaps a bereaved parent you know (this is not a self serving PSA!) needs to hear your memory today of their child, of the love you shared or the impact of their life; perhaps that often quietly suffering parent needs to get a card in the mail that says “I know this: you were and are a good mom/dad. You loved your child and I know she loved you so much. I don’t know why it happened. Just know I love you too. And I will mow your lawn all summer.” Oops, that was just wishful thinking. But seriously, especially in the early stages of grief, those simple helpful things – like someone simply showing up and mowing your lawn – can be a literal Godsend.
I am sorry if what I write next offends you. I did insert the PG-13 version of the picture! I got a card in the mail on the 3rd anniversary of Mark’s death that said “You are doing a F**ing Great Job” and it’s my absolute favorite ‘condolence card’ of all time (in large part because it caught me by surprise and made me laugh and laugh on a very hard day), but the bigger reason it is my favorite has changed, over time. At one time I wanted that “great job” to be about me getting that A+ in Grief Management, where I rise victorious from the ashes and give a great story/testimony (i.e., “I’m all fixed! Let me share that formula with you!”); now, I am encouraged to believe that doing a great job is me being real enough, revealing enough of the broken human I am, in the process of being re-born, for you to relate to.