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

IMG_20160815_180953.jpg

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.

Wondering Wednesday – painful gaps

Scotland 3 - April '13 215

Valentine’s day, like many days which can be celebratory, are days which can be painful too depending on what memories emerge.  There are all sorts of perspectives on loss and grief but I regularly revisit Bonhoeffer’s words from prison written on Christmas Eve 1943:

“It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; he doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, he keeps it empty and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain”.

This may not be the experience of everyone but perhaps helps to reassure us that others too find a void that God does not fill as we reflect on losses.

Reference
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Letters and Papers from Prison. (London: SCM Press, 1971), p. 176

Wondering Wednesdays: ritual needed?

paul's car goodbye

Last week we said goodbye to Paul’s car, it had been part of our lives since 2001 and we have lots of fond memories of using it during his Curacy in Aston.  I was a tiny bit tearful as it was towed away.  Last week I got a new phone and while it  may seem slightly crazy to mourn the loss of my blackberry there is a small sense of loss as I give up a phone I had come to know well for one that I am finding a little baffling!  I am just reflecting if a little ritual would have been helpful, at least with the car – perhaps not with the phone!  As I was processing that thought I came across this quotation from John O’Donohue in the middle of some notes:

With the demise of religion, many people are left stranded in a chasm of emptiness and doubt: without rituals to recognize, celebrate or negotiate the vital thresholds of their lives, the key crossings pass by, undistinguished from the mundane, everyday rituals of life.  This is where we need to retrieve and reawaken our capacity for blessing.

This to me suggests there is much opportunity for what Ann Morisy calls apt liturgy, churches facilitating blessing and other marker posts for significant times in people’s lives that don’t happen in the church building.  She talks about creating memories of the heart – ideas and images that can be pondered; enabling people to cope, especially when they are close to being overwhelmed by emotion; providing symbols or codes that ‘waft us heavenward’.  This is something that Paul spends a lot of time reflecting on in his job and if I see a gold padded heart it brings a tear to my eye!  This is perhaps another area I need to reflect on further and ask God to show me where I need to be bolder in offering apt liturgy.

Reference:

John O’Donohue.  Benedictus a Book of Blessings London:  Bantam Press, 2007, p206.

Ann Morisy. Journeying Out. London: Continuum, 2004, p158.

Wondering Wednesdays – Jesus still loves Joe

4 page 16&17 artwork LOW - Copy

I love this picture, it is so evocative. In some ways I like this time of year as we experience All Souls then Remembrance Sunday as that seems to give permission for people to not be okay, to vocalize their pain, to be real about their losses and for it to be accepted and understood.

This picture is from a book Paul helped to develop called Jesus still loves Joe. Joe’s sister has died and the book shows him going through a range of emotions. For me it is really helpful as it says God understands how I feel and is happy for me to express that. I know the Psalms offer us a wide range of emotions but there have been times in my Christian life where I have felt that it is not okay to be not okay. My research suggests that others feel the same.

There is also a film of the book narrated by Bear Grylls – you can find it here.  There is also a version where you get to chat with whoever is watching it, helping them to explore the issues the book raises.  I get so much out of watching the film, sometimes material for children gets to the essence of an issue and hits our heart not our head – always a helpful thing for me!

It is sometimes risky to say how we are actually feeling but it is risky too bottling up how we feel.  As Galatians 6.2 says “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.  Jesus still loves Joe and Jesus still loves me!

Wondering Wednesdays – thirty years ago today…

Birmingham-20130916-00024

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.

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

DSCF1822

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.