Category Archives: faith

The Variety of Grief

I once heard a very kind priest friend say of a well-known priest author, “That man has never had a thought he didn’t feel he had to express.” I was a momentarily taken aback, because my friend was a very kind man who never said anything negative about anyone. I realized then that he was expressing the same mystification most introverts must feel about extroverts. Of course, extroverts frequently misinterpret introverts’ silence and need for privacy as dislike or disinterest or even distrust.
After years of studying and working with the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, I have admitted that I don’t really know what I think about something until I manage to express it in words. And verbal dialogue is also intrinsic to my sense of relationship. I’ve learned that this is not only problematic for introverts that live or work with me, but often downright irritating.
Luckily, I have lived long enough to experience the wonderful outlet of the internet. I can express and hear myself in print at any hour of the day or night. And no one has to listen unless they want to and only when it’s convenient for them and only as long as they wish. And the introverts don ‘t have to say anything unless they feel like it and even then, all they have to do is hit one key to make a response.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing life changing challenges and I really do need to explore my feelings and insights by expressing them. Also, I think it’s possible that my describing what I’m feeling and learning may be some help to someone else out there. And happily, if not, they don’t need to waste their time reading what I write.
One of the challenges I am still facing is that we really do differ in our ways of dealing with grief. No matter how many stages are described as general, we don’t experience or work through them all the same. Partly because of differences in personality, but also because of many different factors about the way a loved one died, the timing for them and us, and past experiences with our own grief and others’ ways of grieving.
My husband was like a cat with nine lives. When I read back over his medical history, he came through so many close calls with death, I lose count. And in the last few years he fought valiantly with cardiac issues with stents and a pacemaker, AFIB, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, successful surgery for a malignant tumor in his lung, a return of lung cancer that was inoperable and that spread beyond the lungs as stage 4 cancer, stage 3 Kidney disease…..all of which weakened him too much to risk chemo therapy. He was in and out of ER’s, hospitalizations of various lengths up to two weeks several times, and finally five months in a nursing home, first attempting through therapy to get strong enough for chemo, then failing that, for nursing care and hospice.
We have five grown children who have been simply awesome in their active care giving and support through all of this. And each of them is grieving in their own way now. And I have realized that not all of them are finding my way easy to understand.
To begin with, I generally live in the future of possibilities, both negative and positive ones. In other words, I worry way ahead of things, but I also like to explore new ways of being happy or productive or creative or loving.
When my husband was diagnosed with IPF over two years ago and I learned it was incurable, fatal, and a horrible way to die, I began to worry and pray that he would be spared that death. Of course, heart failure seemed a much better way to die, but with a pacemaker, less likely. My husband’s strongest trait was perseverance. When he grew weaker and no longer able to work effectively at what he loved, he became stressed and began to have some memory issues.
Finally he had to admit that he could no longer continue working. Now he was suffering anxiety attacks, frequent pneumonia and bronchial infections, then surgery to remove a tumor in his right lung, and then cellulitis contracted during a hospitalization, and finally kidney issues and depression. The physical and emotional stress affected him in many ways and by the time he entered the nursing home with stage 4 cancer, he simply wasn’t the strong silent gentle man that I had lived with for almost sixty years.
I did not love him less. I loved him more. And I gladly learned how to take care of many of his medical needs. But long before he could accept that he was dying, I began to work through my fears, experience loneliness, take over unfamiliar tasks, and try in many ways to prepare for having to survive on my own.
The wonderful physical, financial, and emotional support our five children gave us helped me to do this. And my faith and the amazing love and faith of caregivers at the nursing home lifted me out of my darkest moments. And the nurses and support staff of Hospice were able to help me anticipate and understand the rapid changes that were happening toward the end. The dying need very different things than those who are able to try to get well.
Some of the influences on my way of dealing with the loss of my husband were my tendency to anticipate and plan ahead, my deepest fear of his having to suffer terribly fighting to breathe, my having seen my very strong mother simply close down when my father died totally unexpectedly at fifty-two, watching her die by inches with Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, but particularly my many experiences of grace and glimpses of meaning in my own and sometimes others’ suffering over my eighty-one years.
I have usually dealt with short crises fairly well. It’s been the long haul attrition kind of things that could defeat me. So, over the two and a half years of constant crises, I have learned to watch for beauty, kindness, love, tiny joys like sunshine and flowers and birds and small kindnesses and laughter. I see these as grace, as the gentle touches of God. They are all around us every day if we watch for them. They seem small in the face of death of one we love, but they are myriad.
I am a weak person, easily overwhelmed by too many practical details and emotionally vulnerable to the unexpected blow. Having a large caring family help me deal with details has been an incredible blessing. Having time and medical personnel who have been down this road before me to help me understand each phase softened each blow. The blessing of the final gentle pain free death from his heart stopping before his having to fight to breathe has kept me from despair.
At times the reality that he will never be with me again in this life feels heart breaking and overwhelms me. But so far, at least, it has not robbed me of gratitude for my caring family, of healing laughter, hope for creativity in my life, the energy to try to keep reasonably functional, or my many memories of the love and joy my husband gave me.

Advertisements

Wrestling with Reality

It’s a monster size time of change and challenge with my husband Julian now in the nursing home on Hospice. Our almost sixty years together have been a normal human mix of happy and sad, easy and hard, comfortable and scary, tender and frustrating, but we have persevered and now it’s like we are both part of one imperfect, but whole person. He panics now, if I leave him alone. But bless our five children and grown granddaughter Carmen, who are so thoughtful and willing to give up their free time so I can have some down time. This weekend, I finally admitted that I need the down time, not just to go home to sort and clean there,. Writing and connecting with friends to sort out my feelings is much needed therapy. I think most extroverts need to express what is going on within to get in touch with it themselves.
Today, I realized that I am reacting emotionally to trying to make The Meadows a home and then coming back to our apartment where much of it is now in the unfinished process of drastic change. The garden outside the window at the Meadows is lovely and is kept up beautifully by a team of people. And yesterday, our family, with Julian making decisions, turned the room into a tiny apartment with everything but a stove. (I have my choice of three microwaves in all directions from our room anyway.) It has a wonderful homelike feeling.
Though it isn’t permanent and isn’t really ours, going there has been the right choice, because most days I am busy helping Julian and couldn’t manage to clean and cook like I would need to at home. Also, as he becomes weaker, I would not be able to take as good care of him alone. In an imperfect world, it is an amazing luxury, one that most people do not have. I am humbled by our good fortune and sad that all cannot share it. Though with our life in such a period of change, I do sometimes feel “homeless.” But at this moment, I am looking out at the pretty flagstones Steve put around our bird feeders, at the now healthy holly tree that I feared was dying, and a familiar bright cardinal in the lush greenery outside our windows. My small comfortable bedroom/office with walls covered with photos of all our family at different ages and stages feels so familiar, safe. and comforting. But even though family offered to take turns to let me stay home several days, after two days, I miss Julian so much, even in his grouchy or fearful moments, that I feel lost. And I realize that home is where he is.
Handling all the maddening business challenges of our situation sometimes gives me an almost overwhelming desire to curl up in a fetal position in my very own bed and suck my thumb and not answer the phone, the door, or open any mail ever again! But like now, a tiny wren sitting outside the window looking at me makes me smile and I rally.
The helpless feeling,when Julian wakes in the night and talks about how lost, confused and frightened he feels, leaves me speechless from feeling unable to console him. But sitting close and holding him until he calms some, I blow lightly in the wispy hair left on the top of his head. It’s something that makes him smile, bringing memories and a tiny moment of joy that heals us for a while.
And after a sleepless night alone in our apartment, when the first colors of the sunrise finally warm the world and my heart, I think of the words of the song, “And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind.” And I remember that both the dark and the light come and go. And thanks to grace all around me, I can let go and start again.

Authority without the Balance of Accountability Becomes Demonic

As an eighty-one year old who was an active Catholic involved in lay leadership roles for sixty years, I see the basis of the problem of abuse of authority as the irresponsibility of the people in the pews.  This is rampant in, but not  limited to, the very authoritarian Catholic Church. The same problems exist in all denominations and organizations where we idealize and thus idolize those in authority. Without accountability, those with all the power begin to value the structure more than the human beings it was created to serve.

The underlying dynamic in structures where authority is not balanced by responsibility and accountability is our human inclination to want father figures who will take on the work and discomfort of seeking truth and finding God for us. This is what creates the vacuum that allows these abuses to continue.

Blind faith is not faith, it is intellectual cowardice and spiritual irresponsibility. The spiritual writers of the Catholic tradition and the lives of persons considered saints, who have risked the insecurity of questioning and seeking and thus finding God, remain a rich spiritual resource for all of us. But blind faith in a structure such as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which declared itself infallible and above human question, is demonic, We who seek such childish comfort and allow it to rule unchallenged are responsible for its abuses.

Jesus is Lord, not the church or it’s hierarchy.  The heart of Christianity is an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus Christ as not only our Savior, but as our Lord. The accepting Jesus as Savior is the easy part. That’s accepting the visible physical expression of the unconditional Love of God.  Learning how to let him be Lord is a life time challenge. It is a relationship that only grows by our constantly seeking grace.  It can be encouraged and helped, but it is not controlled or accomplished by anything or anyone outside of us.

The church and its hierarchy are a human institution and as such are vulnerable to human frailties.  The church can be cleansed and renewed, but not from the top.  It has to start with the people in the pews first taking responsibility for their own relationship with God and then with God’s grace taking responsibility for the church. And just as our own personal spirituality has to be renewed over and over, so does that of the church.

 

Ann Lamott: I Am That Frog

June 24 at 11:04 AM •
The world can feel like an alcoholic father sitting in the living room in his vile underwear, tranced out or abusive; and the world can feel like your favorite auntie who thinks you are just great, still likes to hike, always brings trail mix, and knows her wildflowers.
These are excruciating times, and this is the kingdom. It’s two, two, two mints in one.
So yeah, some of us are a little tense.
But we are not flattened. Nor do we look away from the suffering of others. And no matter how bad things look and how long change is taking, we don’t give up on goodness. Here is proof: we still take care of each other in ways that are profound, loving and sacrificial, by the bedside of our most beloved, and in the streets. We show up: the secret of life.
We gather in cities to rise up, and at local parks for live music in the sun, where we and our cranky neighbor end up doing the old tribal hippie two-step in the same shaft of light.
We are still laughing—some of us perhaps a bit maniacally—and people are creating the greatest, most live-giving routines and cartoons and responses. This is what saved me during the Cheney years. It was chemo.
So, great laughter, community, joyous and/or sacrificial love. We can work with this!
It is more than enough.
Here’s the one fly in the ointment: we have to do this in dim lighting, what with a political fever dream, and our own failing memories and overwhelm. Life is always like E.L. Doctorow’s great line about writing, that it is like driving at night with the headlights on—you can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.
You still have to buckle up, no matter how slowly the car is moving. Put on the radio and sing along, loudly and off key. You just have to trust that, as John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
I heard a story last week from a sober friend that almost completely captures my understand of goodness and life, a story that has been medicine for my worried, worried soul:
Caroline stopped drinking 30 years ago, at the age of 40, with zero interest or belief in any kind of higher power to whom she might be able to turn when cravings overcame her. But after a year of white-knuckle sobriety, contemptuous of a higher power, hanging on through will power, she one day heard and then found a frog in her shower.
She lifted it and gently carried it in her cupped hands through the house. She could feel and, of course, imagine its terror. She took it out to the garden, where there was a moist patch of earth over near the blackberries, and set it down. It sat stock still for a bit, and then hopped away into the bushes.
She said, “My name is Caroline. I’m that frog.”
I am, too, and I am also a big helper. When I have felt most isolated and lost, I have always ended up being carried back to the garden in people’s good hands, to where I need to be, afraid and not breathing. for much of the way. And I have helped carry scared people, the best I could. You have, too.
Isn’t that what grace is, when some force of kindness, against all odds, with unknown hands, brings us from fear and hard tiles to a moist patch earth, and sets us down?
If I were God’s west coast representative, I would speed up the process a bit, and hand out klieg lights but I can’t. All I can do is to try and help you get back to where there is moist soil and fresh air, and let you help me. And those happen to be the two things I most want in life.

Freedom Comes from Realizing That We Are Blind

“You can’t fill a cup that is already full. That means you can’t approach a new situation, relationship, or job with what you think you know will happen. When you do that, you’re not leaving room for the unexpected, the delightful, and even the miraculous. Try starting from a place of ‘Maybe I don’t know.’ It allows you to be open to something or someone being different from what you experienced in the past. When you approach life in this open way, you also allow the universe to conspire on your behalf. So be empty of expectations. The universe will always dream bigger than you will. Abundance comes when you realize that you can receive what you need-every day.”  by Eden-Clark and John Germain Leto
This quote so speaks to my condition right now. One of the hardest things for me is to allow those I care about to hurt. I want to help them find joy even in times of suffering, both for themselves and partly for myself. But suffering is part of the fabric of life and brings opportunities for grace and each of us has our own way and timing for experiencing it and learning from it. And part of  loving another person is allowing them to be themselves, even if we are totally convinced we know “better” ways to be. Not being able to help my husband accept the losses that come with his illness or to help him trust that death is only a doorway, not the end, is very painful. And feelings of inadequacy and failure easily become less painful when disguised as frustration and impatience.  The quote at the beginning of this showed up as a memory on my face book page today reminding me that my way may not be the best way for someone else and to trust God who loves my husband more than I ever could.
I do relate this experience to Mary’s vigil at the foot of her son’s cross. She had tried to convince him to come home when she realized he was putting himself in danger. She must have struggled with anger when he wouldn’t listen, also with guilt that she had somehow failed him, and with unimaginable heartbreak as she watched him suffer.
In the quote at the beginning of this, I translate “Universe” as God. And however anyone understands salvation, I truly believe that Jesus showed us that this life is not all there is and that suffering has the potential to be redeeming.
And the most counter-intuitive truth he showed us about life was when he prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” He showed us that forgiveness is the ultimate requirement for love, so that we too can experience forgiveness. Because forgiving others and accepting and experiencing forgiveness are inseparable.
Forgiving others frees us to forgive ourselves, particularly when we have not been able to consciously admit we need forgiveness. We all have the self-righteous belief that our way is the totally right way. And that blinds us to the harm we do. Forgiving others for their blindness both frees and heals us.
Forgiving others is at the core of the command Jesus gave us, “Love one another as I have loved you,”  because forgiveness is the very essence of Good Friday.
My prayer for all of us this Holy Week is that we will find the grace to admit the limits of both our own understanding and of everyone’s human blindness, freeing us to both forgive and accept forgiveness. So then, on Easter, we can celebrate the love of God expressed in Jesus and truly rejoice and be glad in it.

Surrender

I call upon the Source of Life,
the Power within and without,
the Power that makes for
Being and Nothingness,
joy and pain,
suffering and delight.
I call upon You to calm my fearful soul,
to open me to the Wonder of Truth,
the transience of all things.
In Wonder was I conceived
and in Wonder I have found my being.
Thus I call upon You, the Source of Wonder,
to open my heart to healing.
In You I discover the mystery of Life
and the necessity of Death.
In You I see all things and their opposites
not as warring parties
but as partners in a dance
whose rhythm is none other
than the beating of my own soul.
Denial may come, but so too will acceptance.
Anger may come, but so too will calm.
I have bargained with my fears
and found them unwilling to compromise.
So now I turn to You,
to the Wonder that is my True Nature.
I abandon the false notions of separateness
and embrace the Unity that is my True Nature.
I surrender not to the inevitable but to Surprise,
for it is the impossible that is Life’s most precious gift.
My tears will pass
and so will my laughter.
But I will not be silenced,
for I will sing the praises of Wonder
through sickness and health;
knowing that in the end,
this too will pass.

Written by Rami M. Shapiro in his book
Accidental Grace Poetry, Prayers, and Psalms

Raphael, Our Christmas Blessing!

Our Christmas blessing, Raphael now.

Bless all of you for praying for him.

Asking small and large blessings for all of you in these Holy Days.

Raphael Now

At two weeks Raphael is finally off all tubes. He’s breathing on his own and taking a bottle. His bodily functions are all working. He’s focusing his eyes.

Raphael on Monday, November 27th, 2017

He is still on medicine for seizures, but it is controlling them. His heart showed a flutter over the weekend, but I haven’t heard any more about that. But please keep the prayers going. About five days after he was born the neurologist called and told Raphael’s parents that he would not have known the second brain scan was of the same baby as the first, it was so much improved. When we care and pray for one another, miracles can happen. Thank you all for your caring prayers.
.

Fighting Wrongs Does Not Require Hating People

There’s a difference between fighting against things we consider wrong and making blanket judgments about people we don’t know. Perhaps the problem is that we all have different ideas about who are Evangelical. To me Evangelicals are the people in and outside of organized religion who have experienced the unconditional love of God and want to share it. Christian Evangelicals are the people who came to know with heart, mind and spirit that there is no condemnation by God through an encounter with a living Jesus. I am one of those. We finally learned that we were forgiven before we even screwed up. ( I don’t happen to think we are the only ones that come to know that, but it was my way.) We know that ALL of us fall short of perfection. That we are not finished…..and don’t have to be perfect….because to be human is to be in process. But to accept the forgiveness we already have, we have to give up our addiction to the illusion of perfection. Then, we can begin forgiving ourselves and start accepting the flow of grace that will help us grow in loving ourselves and others as God loves us. For me an ongoing very real and very personal relationship with Jesus is what has gotten me through the struggles of life so far. I was born small and fearful, so anger has been my pain reliever. I really need that ongoing relationship with love fleshed out.
I admit I did not grow up with much contact with “2nd generation Evangelicals”…..those who inherited religion as laws interpreted by humans, but haven’t experienced the love of God personally. It’s been more of a problem for me to forgive and love the Catholic hierarchy . Most of the Evangelicals I happen to know are people from all denominations, including the Jewish faith, who know the healing, life changing love of God through Jesus personally. And we, like the Prodigal son, are very, very grateful that we are loved and can come home just as we are. Knowing we are imperfect, but loved and that the more we experience that love, the more healed and free we will be to love others is the core of our spirituality. There are “Super Believers” in all religious groups who inherited the form of the religion, but have not experienced that healing love. You can’t give what you don’t know. I am very sad for those people, I remember how it feels, and how angry I was all the time. So I fight on issues, but pray the people I disagree with will come to experience enough love somehow to be healed and to experience life in a whole new way.
At thirty, I was an active agnostic in the sense of rejecting everything I had been taught about God, but investing time in searching for truth. Then someone not connected to a denomination persuaded me to pray, “Jesus, IF you are who you claim to be, I need you to save me from my blindness and open my heart to God. Take my life and help me become the person God wants me to be.” I think that because I had been truly seeking, my response was almost immediate. Within the hour I was overflowing with joy from knowing with my heart, mind and spirit that there was a God, that Jesus fleshed out his Love, and I was loved just as I am, because of who God is, not who I am. It’s not a magic abracadabra formula. And the journey is different for each of us. But for many of us it is a way to consciously begin a grace filled partnership in the journey.

Giving Thanks for Baby Raphael and the Healing Already in Process

Hello, all my wonderfully supportive friends on line. Here is a Thanksgiving update on our new baby great-grandson, Raphael.

This is what his dad, our grandson, father of eight year old Eisley and six day old Raphael, wrote today:
“I always joke about the one little gray hair on my chin being named Eisley, but this guy may have already earned a whole head full this week. Raphael was born Wednesday November 15th. Despite a perfectly healthy pregnancy he became distressed during delivery and was in arrest and had to be resuscitated upon birth. He has been in NICU ever since, but has made amazing progress. He is currently still having intermittent seizures, but the neurologist called yesterday in almost disbelief that the second EEG (brain scan) could be the same child because it was so good. He is also breathing on his own now without a ventilator. This weekend was full of milestones that otherwise might have been taken for granted: he opened his eyes for the first time, his first dirty diaper, and a little sneeze. We are thankful for each moment. We have been hanging on every bit of good news the last 5 days and have received so much love and support from out family and friends. Paula and I are so thankful for all of you.”

Thank you for all your prayers. Please keep them going. I totally believe they matter not just to me, but to baby Raphael already. I will update as we learn more about our Raphael.  Eileen