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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.

A Place of Peace Where God Abides

For many years I sought
a place of peace where God abides.
Once I found it on a hilltop
under silent star filled skies.
And another time
in earth’s breathless silence
just before the dawn.
I found it sharing bread
with Christian sisters
outside of any church.
I’ve often found it in
the laughter of a child.
But with great chagrin years later
when I finally looked inside
I found my Doubting Thomas Twin.
But then, when I could finally
claim him as truly part of me
he taught me perseverance,
the key to everything.
And though it’s paradoxical,
he freed me from my fears
and became a place within me
where I can go for grace.
A place of peace where God abides.

“Warning! It’s Monday. Pity Party Ahead

And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind? Maybe, maybe not.
I thought my faith would grow stronger and it would be easier in old age with less needs, children grown, more wisdom. Well, it ain’t necessarily so. Many days it’s a struggle to just stay physically functional. Wisdom seems to have only come about seeing how I screwed up in the past. Too soon old, too late smart sums it up. Grown children have troubles I can’t fix and that I worry that I caused somehow. I have more dead friends than alive ones and the ones I still have are also struggling. I find myself facing the probability of living alone for the first time in my seventy-nine years of life. I love my grandchildren more than life itself, but have no say about what happens to them. And physically can’t do things for and with them like I used to enjoy so much. And people, that I have grown to love, leave and don’t look back. And while I know these are necessary losses and part of my journey with God, on the days when I can’t see His footprints, it’s a struggle to stay emotionally functional. I quit crying some seventeen or eighteen years ago, when dealing with heartbreak over grandchildren born facing incredibly hard problems, because I thought if I ever let myself cry, I’d never stop. I was right. I’ve cried so much lately, I should be dehydrated.
I never was very good at persevering through things. I usually was good at finding a way around or out of them. About thirty years ago, I felt that God was challenging me by giving me a new name, “Perseverance.” I did realize even then, that this wasn’t necessarily good news about my future years. But, I have learned with grace, to persevere. I have even learned to laugh while gritting my teeth. (Not easy on any level 🙂 ) But sometimes, I just don’t want to. Today is one of those times
But, I will. I will grit my teeth, hang on with my fingernails, and be thankful for all the beauty, love, and joy God has given me in my life. And with Her grace, I will dig for that damn pony in all this manure. 🙂

 Addendum added four hours later:

OKay, in an attempt to look on the brighter side of things today: Getting into pain from vacuuming means I can only manage one room’s floor before sitting down a while to get out of pain. This is good not only because a rest does get me out of pain, it also gives me a time out to go on-line.

And in my time spent today preparing for my women’s scripture class tomorrow, I read the funny little story about Jesus needing two tries to heal the blind man, because after Jesus tried once by putting saliva on his eyes, the man still couldn’t see other people as being like himself. It helps to know that people who don’t have natural empathy for others, may eventually be healed and acquire it. But, I haven’t figured out the significance  of using saliva yet!  Unless it means that spitting in someone’s eye doesn’t do much good. 🙂

So, this Monday has had goodies to balance the baddies. Thanks be to God!!!

Persevering as an Imperfect Unfinished Person in a Pitifully Flawed Unfinished World

I once was a nauseatingly bubbly, outgoing, optimistic, like and help everyone type of person. I thought I was beautiful, generous, kind, humorous, honest and intelligent. It turned out that I was delusional about myself and criminally naive about other people and the world.
Somewhere in my fifties, I flipped.
I began to realize: that I was often a difficult person for those closest to me, that I was intelligent about theories, but had zero common sense, and that no one is so intelligent that they are right all the time. I found that rescuing people often reinforced their lifelong behavior of making poor choices. I began to notice that my humor usually had a victim. I sadly faced that I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants in my relationship with my husband and that my neediness stunted my ability to love. And I finally admitted that our American ideal of beauty has an expiration date and I was past it.
But other than these, I was an Okay person, because I wasn’t finished yet. 🙂
In the ensuing twenty plus years I have moved toward the middle by accepting being a reasonably tidy looking person, having a sense of humor about getting old and being human, being not only a person who has some valuable flashes of insight, but one who can be practical (at least when it’s absolutely necessary), someone capable of understanding, loving and actually making sacrifices for the people that I find myself unable to like because of totally disagreeing with them. I’m still into helping others – but I have admitted that I can’t save them and that helping others has the perk of making me feel better about myself. I am finally accepting the reality that though most people need a helping hand sometimes, it’s often important to allow others the chance to learn from suffering the consequences of their chronic bad choices. I have quit emotional garbage dumping on my husband and love him enough to now test the dubious leftovers in the fridge on myself, instead of him. And an almost fair amount of the time I do the necessary boring stuff I hate, though sometimes I just say “to hell with it” and stay up all night reading a spy novel and sleep all morning. While, I don’t idealize myself anymore, I both accept and value myself as the imperfect, sometimes downright weird, unfinished human being that I am, while still working to stay open to the challenge of changing when the need becomes obvious.
When my husband and I are watching the news together and it triggers one of those downward spirals of starting to focus on all the terrible people and things in the world, now one or the other of us will bring it to a halt by saying loudly and very irately, “It’s a terrible world, filled with terrible people!” and then we will laugh at ourselves and even at our pitifully flawed unfinished world.
Life is not about perfection. It’s about the life long challenge to develop paradoxical, but reasonable and practical balances between polarities.
But most of all, life is about persevering.

The Heart of Spirituality is Forgiveness

Laws, whether civil or religious, are designed to keep us safe while living in groups, so that we can persevere as imperfect human beings to develop into creatures capable of life-long commitment to another imperfect creature and thus become capable of concern and kindness toward all other creatures.
No person is perfect, no relationship is perfect. But if we resolve to make a relationship work, we can develop peace treaties of love and tolerance to transform a difficult situation into something beautiful. (One may start this, but ultimately it will take two.)
The key to living is not perfection, but perseverance in becoming ever more capable of loving other imperfect beings.
And the most vital part of learning to love ourselves and other imperfect human beings is forgiveness.
And the purpose of forgiveness is grace for personal growth and the ongoing evolution of humanity from survival of the fittest to creatures capable of love for all others.

Ode to Those that Climb the Mountains of Disabilities

A granddaughter and a great-grandson graduated from different high schools this weekend.  They each beamed with pride as did I.  It has been a long and arduous journey for both of them.  One suffered the confusion of spoken language that Autism brings and the other the confusion of written language that Dyslexia causes.

They were blessed because they each had caring parents and grand-parents, special teachers and even therapists. But ultimately the challenge was theirs and no one else could do it for them.  They made it because they persevered.

I never was sure that the hours I spent trying to help them made anything easier for them, but it formed a bond for me with them that will always keep them in my heart in a deep tender spot soft from tears unshed and I pray that I will always be in theirs, even when I’m no longer here.

Their journey isn’t over and neither are the challenges they face, but their graduation days mark an accomplishment that few can understand.  Often it has meant struggling with things that seemed simple to others, so their amazing achievements went unnoticed and unsung.  And because their differences set them apart, they often walked alone, unnoticed and unaffirmed.

But those of us that have shared their journey know that while others jumped small hurdles, they climbed mountains to get to the same goals.

We saw and heard the fears, discouragement and frustration they overcame, so we celebrate their achievement as unsung Olympian Medalists in courage, determination and perseverance.

Creativity, Talent, Perseverance: The Most Important of These is Perseverance

Creative people see the world differently than most people do. Finding at least a few like minded people to keep loneliness at bay helps motivate those that are extraverts.

Creativity is seeing new and better ways to accomplish a goal. Just doing something differently is not necessarily creative, though in our day many mistake difference for creativity. Creativity is the way some minds perceive new positive possibilities.

Creativity and any particular talent are not the same thing. Creativity is in a class by itself. You can be very talented in singing or painting or writing lucidly, but not be creative at all.

And even having both a creative mind and talent does not guarantee success, because the most important trait needed to succeed is perseverance. A not particularly creative person with a small talent, but strong natural ability to persevere, will out perform someone with creativity and greater talent, who is distracted easily or who gives up when they experience failure.

The good news is that once this truth is recognized, perseverance can be developed. It will come more easily in doing something you both value and enjoy. So, if you have several talents, but lack perseverance, choose the one you value most and focus your time, energy, and other resources on it.

Tricks like working at it for a reasonable time, then following that by a small reward, then continuing to stretch the work time before the reward, can keep you motivated. You can persevere in something by planning breaks, as long as the breaks are short. In fact, doing something rote or repetitive during a break, can often free new insights and energize you.

A mentor can be a big help for those who discourage easily. A little encouragement in the difficult times can get you through them.

The challenge is to decide what is your talent (however slight) that you value and enjoy most and what are the personal pitfalls that prevent you from steadily developing it. Then, figure out ways to minimize the fallout from those weak areas more and more.

Perseverance is the most important talent. Once you realize that, finding ways to develop perseverance needs to become your priority.

Fifteen Things Mentally Strong People Do

1. They know when to move on.
2. They use their fear to motivate action.
3. They know failure is part of success.
4. They train their brains to see the good in everything.
5. They’re tenacious with their goals.
6. They start before they’re ready or confident.
7. They don’t take anything personally.
8. They believe in themselves.
9. They don’t try to fit in.
10. They allow themselves to be a beginner.
11. They don’t do things they don’t want to do.
12. They celebrate the success and happiness of others.
13. They don’t need a reason to help people.
14. They are unapologetic about their unique selves.
15. They accept what they can’t change.
…..Shannon Kaiser
from the Blog: Make Believe Boutique

I’m Somebody

When my youngest son was about two, I tried to get him to talk into a tape recorder for a family message to my mother, who lived in another state. When I held the microphone up for him, he froze. I tried to help him by saying, “Tell her who you are.” He remained mute with a tortured look on his face. As I prompted him again, he blurted out desperately,
“I’M SOMEBODY! I’M SOMEBODY!”

I think that is the cry of all hearts, “I’m somebody.”

Unfortunately, even as Christians, we think that means being somehow special from being better than others. Sibling rivalry carries over even into being the children of God. I bought a Tee shirt once, that said,
“JESUS LOVES YOU, BUT I’M HIS FAVORITE.”

I thought it was funny, but more and more I see that as the root of so much of the conflict in families, churches, countries, the world.

It’s not enough to be loved and loving. We want to be smarter, better looking, richer. We want to be a STAR. Our whole culture is built on this.

Being the least of God’s children is anathema to us in any setting.

And in every conflict, we need to feel we are right, PARTICULARLY when we lose.

To feel mistreated, wronged, unappreciated allows us to be self-righteous, to cling to our sense of being SOMEBODY.

We are of eternal value because we are loved as the unique creation we are. It is not relative to anything or anyone. We are called to be the best “us” we can be.  We are not called to be better than anyone.

The only place I have seen this grasped and celebrated is in the Special Olympics. There, when a child falls down, the other children in the race will go back and help them up. Every child gets a ribbon for not giving up, for finishing the race, for doing the best they can. Every parent claps and shouts for every child, not just their own.

This must be how it is in the kingdom of God.

Being the Persons God Loved Into Existence

God made us precisely to be imperfect, incomplete and insufficient human beings. It is our neediness and feelings of helplessness that keep us depending on God’s grace and mercy….To be a saint means to be myself…..the problem of sanctity is in fact the problem of finding out who I am…my true self….God leaves us free to be real or unreal.” Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation.
“In no way does God expect us to act perfectly. We are challenged instead to accept ourselves with all our assets and liabilities; to be perfectly the imperfect people we are. God never seemed to want another perfect being. Prayer gives us the courage to confront our illusions……to embrace our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Without condoning our destructive behaviors, we can recognize them as opportunities for humility, forgiveness, and mercy…..To be who we are, the persons God loved into existence, implies the acceptance of grace, self-honesty, healthy self love, and a keen sense of humor.” Sister Maria Edwards, Spiritual Director and Author
1 Corinthians 1:18 —“The message of the Cross is foolishness to the world, but to those being saved, it is the power of God. God chose what is weak and rejected, so no one might boast. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”.
Romans 5:3-5 “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
“Hope is a series of small actions that transform the darkness into light…..Despair is an affliction of the memory. Hope depends on remembering what we have survived. Hope is the gift that rises from the grave of despair…..We can choose to persevere in hope through darkness.” Sister Joan Chisttister in Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.
“Faith is: a conviction that God can and hope that He will.” From Thomas(?) Greene in Bread for the Journey.
“But trusting and listening for what He is teaching, when he doesn’t.” Eileen Norman