Wondering Wednesdays – living with loss

bench
I love reading all the different inscriptions on memorial benches as we come across them in all sorts of places. We saw this one on a walk this week. It reminded me of something I read in my Lent book….
I have heard it said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was among the last Americans who wore the black armband publicy after his mother died. In many cultures, people who grieve wear black for a period of time, often a yaer. … So many of us at any given time are limping around silently grieving a devastating loss and all the while trying to keep up appearances of normalcy. But what if there were this subtle symbol, cluing us into the painful reality of a fellow human being. We might be a little more patient… it would force us to stop pretending that everything is okay and evoke the compassion that naturally comes when we realize that many of us are dealing with much more than meets the eye.
p154 Broken Hallelujahs Beth Ann Slevcove IVP 2016.

We talk in paediatric chaplaincy of finding a new normal – that often doesn’t come quickly, compassion for ourselves or others is important – perhaps we have lost something in privatising mourning…

Wondering Wednesdays – the long uphill climb

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It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for that long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I am reflecting on loss for Lent. I am not good at loss, I tend to bury it rather than processing it and grieving properly. This quotation is a chapter heading in the book I am reading and resonates with me and reminds me of some of the struggles of friends at the moment too. Emotionally I need to go where I physically go in this picture – I climb the hill to the hermit’s chapel at Rame and I meet God there, it is one of my shelters, my thin places and there are losses that I need to bring to God and acknowledge and grieve.

Friday photos – consider the lilies

lily

When Pau’s Mum Jean moved from her house to a flat she no longer had a garden so we inherited two pots.  They arrived in the winter looking like there was not much in them but this summer have blossomed.  In one was a beautiful, big, bold fuschia and lilies like this were in the other one.  Beautiful reminders of a woman who came through adversity and blossomed.  The end of the passage about lilies (Luke 12.27-29) talks about not worrying and in this post funeral period we are trusting God to hold, sustain and keep us knowing that there will be days of grief but there will also be days of beautiful memories, like this lily evokes.

In a blog called marker posts and shelters it is difficult not to write about what is a significant marker post, the death of a parent.  We pray too for any who have had memories stirred by the posts, that God would comfort you too.

Honest Christianity – Remembrance Day

sky lark

Skylark sings
all day long.
Day not long enough.

On Remembrance Day, it seems appropriate to blog on bereavement. This is a Japanese haiku that has inspired my child bereavement work over the past 10 or so years. I find it respectively holds the tension of grief and celebration. It acknowledges the beauty of the life that has been, with the reality of depth of loss. This feels like a constructive mentality and attitude towards bereavement under whatever circumstances, both statements are as true as each other.

In most circumstances, the day is never long enough, especially when we think of the average age of the young men and women that have been killed in wars.

As we are charged on this day, to never forget, this is not an option for most of those that grieve today the loss of a child or loved one. Let’s be virtuous in our care and have both courage and respect in holding and reflecting these tensions in our standing along aside individuals and our nation.

We sing this song each year at our memorial service, to the tune of Morning has broken – if a sky lark’s song had words then these would be good ones:
Fleetingly known, yet ever remembered
These are our children, now and always,
These whom we see not, we will forget not,
Morning and evening, all of our days.

Lives that touched our lives, tenderly, briefly,
Now in the one light living always,
Named in our hearts now, safe from all harm now,
We will remember all of our days.

As we recall them, silently name them,
Open our hearts, Lord, now and always,
Grant to us, grieving, love for the living,
Strength for each other, all of our days.

Safe in your peace, Lord, hold these our children,
Grace, light and laughter grant them each day,
Cherish and hold them ‘til we may know them,
When in your glory we find our way.
Author unknown.

Wondering Wednesdays – thirty years ago today…

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For those of you who are thinking this is a bad photograph, I took it like that purposefully = reflecting the light and shadows and dark places of my memories. This is an ashtray, over forty years old, one of the few physical reminders I have of my Dad who died thirty years ago today. I can still recall the phone call telling me the news, I was living away at that time and Dad hadn’t even been ill. I can still recall my very pregnant friend, Elaine, driving me home. I can still recall slipping into what was my old bedroom and seeing my Dad’s dead body before the funeral director took it away. I can still recall the funeral visit where all I really heard was the Vicar wondering why I didn’t worship at an Anglican church anymore! I still have the grey suit I wore to the funeral – not that it would fit me anymore!

I have now lived longer than my Dad lived – by 2 days. His birthday was two days after mine. Positively, if I look back over my life I am very blessed by what I see, I have accomplished much I never would have expected and some things didn’t happen the way I thought they would. I have very, very few regrets. Dad’s death taught me that we have no idea how long our life may be, I have hopes and dreams, I don’t have a bucket list. But as I write this the tears are streaming down my face for the years I didn’t have with Dad, for the things he missed, that I missed. With a difficult teenage relationship largely behind us I was slowly getting to understand how he became who he was and although I don’t really remember it I have heard stories of how he would endlessly read Rupert the Bear stories to me and I think that must have been one of the roots of my love of reading. He built a Wendy House for me in the garden and I remember all the happy hours I spent in that with my tea sets and dolls! He never met Paul although spoke once on the telephone to him…

This was not written today – I have a wise friend who never posts things on the day she writes them if they are about difficult things and today I am teaching for six hours and need to have largely processed the grief which hits at different levels each year. I think this year is perhaps harder because the number ends in a zero and my lifespan now eclipses his. I also recall the picture I took of the beautiful flowers my friend Sheena gave me on the day of the funeral, I took them back to Sutton with me and have a picture of them with a rainbow behind them which was a sign for me that although it felt a little like my world had ended I could trust in my God who was my Father too.

Lingering legacy of Eve

bin

I need somebody

to touch me

in a healing way

Somebody

Somebody

to touch me

with love

somebody

who can hold

this depth of pain

hold me

crying tears

for every woman

whose

being a woman

has ever

made her cry

Unshed grief

running out slowly

in a river of cleansing silk

Akasha Hull

I facilitated my first focus group for my shame in the church research today.  One theme which came out more than once was the shame felt by women sometimes just for being a woman.  Although we didn’t shed tears today I heard stories of women who would have shed tears as they were blamed, diminished, scapegoated, all in the name of Eve the woman who seems to be blamed by some for everything wrong in the world!  Almost every day there is at least one news item which saddens me and I am reminded that for so many women in the world it is a risky business to be female.  We also discussed how there are still lingering stereotypes in some churches as to how women should dress, serve, care etc and how they can feel shamed when they don’t conform to whatever the image of a “good woman” is in a particular place.  I grieve for the times we seem to have made such little progress but rejoice that there are women who are breaking the mold in the church and showing that there is liberation to be found in Jesus.

Note:  Akasha Hull is an African American feminist author.

Honest Christianity – a memorial service sermon for those who have lost a child

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Many people would say what has happened to you is one of the worst, if not the worst thing that can happen in life.  For some of you today, it has happened more than once.  It is important for you to realise that those around you never cease to be amazed at your resilience. The things you have come though, the things you now do. Many of you have surprised even yourself.

How do you do it?
Supported each other…
Asked God to help…
Sometimes you have stumbled, but you have got up and got on with living as best you can.
Let’s think about for a moment how you have travelled with your grief. Some understand coping with bereavement as a journey of stages.  We mourn, we might have been in denial, wept, in despair, do not know what to do with ourselves, get angry at and with those around us, get depressed. Then hopefully, we start to come to terms with our loss, make adjustments, try and get on with our lives without them, and find a new way of living, a new normal if you like.  The potential trouble with this way is that is says our grief is this big, but as you move on your grief and loss becomes smaller. And some of you tell us that the debilitating pain does ease, and you have found a way of getting on with your lives.  This can be a very helpful way of dealing with grief. But perhaps there is slightly different way you may have noticed but not known what to call it.  I wonder if this is what you have done perhaps not realising it. Your loss has not decreased; your capacity to cope with it has increased.

A bereaved parent once said,  “In some ways the pain of grief stayed the same… but as time went on, my World expanded so it felt less suffocating” (cited in Nugus p140). [I took this idea and the concept in the book and expanded upon it].

How many of us feel guilty when we go shopping, not because of all the chocolate, cake or biscuits we put in which are obviously gifts for others!  As an aside, another thing, when I go shopping with my wife and I am at one end and she is at the other end of the conveyor belt, and then assistant asks do I need help with my packing, what is she saying about me?  No, I mean when you get to the check out and they assistant says would you like some bags and if you say yes you get the look that says do you know what you are doing to this planet, you irresponsible excuse for a unethical human being?  No, oh that must just be how it makes me feel!  And you see you can buy these bags that you can reuse.  What do some shops call these? Bags for life. Sadly this works on so many levels for you.

It’s like you can carry around your grief in a give-away plastic bag and it keeps spitting, so you go get another bag. That splits, so you realise, the grief is just too big, I am carrying around all this grief in these bags and they keep breaking, what I can do?  My choices are make the weight of my loss lighter or get a better bag. Bags that you can carry around for the whole of your life. This is what we have seen many of you do, not just a make the grief smaller over time, you found a bigger better stronger bag to carry it in. How do we know this, because you say things like, I don’t know how I will get up in the morning, and you do, I don’t know how I will go back to work, and you do.  You don’t seem to be able to do anything positive, and then you go and fundraise, supporting others, some of you have become children’s nurses, you have gone back to work, looked after your family and yourself.

How have some of you got stronger bags for life? Well let’s see if our Bible reading can help shed some light on this.  Blessed does not just mean happy, fortunate, lucky.  It also means that, all the resources of Heaven on earth are available to us.  It means when horrible and tragic things happen, the opposite can happen.  Many of you have found this strength to go on, comfort in your sadness, hope in your hopelessness.  For the bereaved, God wants you to be comforted, to know your life will not permanently fall apart.   There is a promise of ultimate well being in the future. This is what the Bible reading promises. To be blessed means to have all the support of Heaven is available to us, to the poor, to the meek, to the oppressed and most particularly today to those who mourn.

This is not to say your loss was a good thing.    Would you all say, thanks but no thanks, most definitely.  When others experience what has happened to you and ask “can I go on, can I find the strength, resilience, to go on, will I ever find a way of coping with this?” Your lives say a resounding yes. You are now a witness and an encouragement to those who will sadly experience something similar.  Some will see you carrying your bag, and say, so, perhaps if they can carry it, so can I.

And for you today, have you got to carry this bag for life on your own? The good news is no.
Ask God, your friends and support organisation to help you find a new bag and even sometimes to help you carry it.  You can know unconditional love from God and others.  You are not alone, that is some of the comfort others who have been in previous year have taken from this service. The footprints poem is to carry you and your luggage.

So don’t feel by moving on with your life you are betraying the memory of your child. You have your loss bag for life, you can also get a bag for life to help you carry it with personal resilience and dignity and honour to those you have lost.

Preached on 12th May 2013 at  St Chad’s Cathedral BCH Memorial Service by Revd Paul Nash Senior Chaplain Birmingham Children’s Hospital.  Bible reading Matthew 5.1-12 The Beatitudes.

This may have resonances in other loss contexts too and I have posted it under honest Christianity as I have to do so much of my theology at the bedside of a dying child or with bereaved families and I continue on my journey of finding God in it.

Reference:

Danny Nugus 2011 ‘Seeing beyond the sadness:  hope, resilience, and sustainable practice in childhood bereavement’ in Irene Renzenbrink (ed) Caregiver Stress and Staff Support in Illness, Dying, and Bereavement.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.