Tag Archives: sadness

Making room

My tears flowed freely, and this time

I did not stop them.

Loud wails rose from deep within,

and I did not stop them.

Each sob seemed to come from some deeper place,

breaking apart layers of scar tissue,

unblocking paths I hadn’t known were there.

Could I risk plunging in,

free-falling into the abyss,

letting myself go under, and

be completely submerged?

Could I risk feeling that kind of deep sorrow,

immersing myself in it and

letting it take me down

until I feel like I am drowning,

until I cannot catch my breath.

Is that the way through the pain?

Is that the way to move beyond

the grief I carry inside,

to empty myself and

make room to live and love again?

My mom

“I want to live until I die,” my friend Jim said when he understood that an incurable brain cancer would soon end his life. He did not want to be kept alive by artificial means; he also did not want to live or die in a hospital.

My mother felt the same. When the doctor offered her a pacemaker after her first heart attack three years ago, she said, “No.” He explained that her heart would probably give out while she was sleeping and she would just not wake up one day. “That would be a blessing,” she said.

At the time of that first heart attack, my mom was ninety-two, still driving, going to card parties every week, living in her own home and enjoying life.

After that heart attack, she began to slow down a bit and cut back on some of her activities, but she continued to live on her own and to cook, clean and do her laundry. She was very independent.

Over the past three years, she has had several medical issues that landed her in the hospital for a week at a time, and each time, she returned to her home determined to live as fully as possible.

After an internal bleeding incident in January, her doc took her off heart medicine, and she went on hospice. Then we knew it was only a matter of time until her heart gave out.

When she started falling a few weeks ago, we knew she was getting weaker every day.

Her consistent wish was to live and die in her home.

With some help, my sisters and I were able to make that happen. The past three weeks, someone was with my mom 24/7.

Giving up was not an option for my mom. She had known people who did just that—they stopped doing what they had always done and just waited for death. She would say they stopped living before they died. That was not my mom’s way.

Just last week, she looked at a silk flower arrangement on top of a cabinet and asked me to bring it down. “I want to wash the flowers and rearrange them,” she said. I brought down the basket and helped my mom get to the kitchen sink where she washed the flowers. It was exhausting for her; it was also her way of living her life.

Last Wednesday evening, she ate her last supper. On Thursday, she was too weak to get out of bed and too weak to swallow. We made her as comfortable as possible and kept vigil over the next two days.

Hospice nurses came every day, and each one said some version of, “You girls are doing a great job with your mother.” We are not medical people, and their affirmations were appreciated.

After only two days in bed, my mother died peacefully on Saturday morning, surrounded by family. She truly lived until she died—a role model for living a full life.

Return to calm

The mundane tasks of everyday living

create a sense of tranquility

that stretches out like a

placid lake reaching for the horizon,

each day the same as the one before

and the one to come.

The monotony of routine and habit  

can lull me into believing that the future

will be made up of days like these.

I can sometimes tire of the monotony,

almost wishing for an interruption in the predictable—

until one inevitably comes along,

jolting me out of languid days and tossing me about

like a small boat caught in a storm.

And then I crave the sameness that had been,

the predictability of a daily routine.

I long to return to those times

when I could anticipate how each day would unfold,

when there were no surprises and

I could spend hours daydreaming about future travel or

gathering with friends.

I cannot stop or wish away these unwelcome interruptions.

I can only take comfort in knowing

that the turbulence will end and

calm will return.

In the silence

How do you pray in a time of sorrow?

I am not talking about saying prayers,

but rather that conversation with God,

when you acknowledge your deepest needs,

admitting vulnerability and brokenness,

speaking of your desire to be healed and made whole,

confessing from the depths of your being that you are

lonely or depressed,

crying out,

Oh God

from beneath a sadness that presses down like the weight of a

thunderous waterfall crashing onto the rocks below.

Looking for God,

wanting to share the whole of who you are,

wanting to tell

everything.

How do you pray from that place of loss, sorrow, confusion?

And then I remember,

God is here.

I only need to turn around

and meet myself at the open door,

cross the threshold and

come back to that place within

where the divine dwells,

and there I can

let my tears flow,

flushing out my sadness,

creating space for hope and

finding peace in the silence.

Love and loss

A few weeks ago, I told my dog’s veterinarian that my dog, Detroit, was not eating and she refused to take her medicine.

I had always bragged that Detroit thought her daily pills were crunchy treats, and she usually gobbled them down as she did any other treat. But she had stopped eating most everything except chicken. She would not even eat her favorite treats.

One day, we sat on the back porch and watched a cat walk across our yard. Detroit did not even flinch—she made no move to chase the cat.

Detroit lived to chase squirrels and cats. She loved to let the world know that our yard belonged to her and only she could grant permission for visitors. But twice in one week, I had seen her allow a cat free access.

I knew something was seriously wrong. Not gobbling down her food, no treats and not chasing a cat in her yard!

Blood tests revealed Detroit had liver disease. The vet prescribed some medicine, but after a week, Detroit’s liver levels had gone even higher; the medicine was not working. And then Detroit stopped eating chicken.

I inherited Detroit from my friend Jim who died from brain cancer eight years ago. She was the love of his life, and his one wish for her was that she not have surgery—ever. He hated his time in the hospital for two surgeries connected to the cancer. He did not want to live or die in the hospital, and that is what he wanted for his dog, too.

After a third visit to the vet, it was clear that Detroit was not going to get better. The vet said surgery was a possibility but there was no guarantee it would help. I said “no” to surgery and then took a few days to process the fact that Detroit was dying. Last Saturday I took her to the vet one last time.

I believe that Detroit has been reunited with Jim, and although I miss her terribly, I am happy for them. I imagine Detroit jumping into his arms and licking his face—an image that makes me smile.

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Jim and Detroit, 2010

She was a wonderful companion to me through many changes and losses over the past eight years—and especially during this time of isolation. I feel so blessed to have had her in my life.

Gratitude mixes with grief.

.  

Let the tears flow

Grief comes through the door and invites me to sit with her and

remember what has been.

Honor the gift, she says.

Be grateful, she says, to have known such love.

I am grateful,

and I am also saddened by

what I have lost.

Gratitude and sadness live side by side.

My tears flow freely,

easing my pain and

relieving the ache in my broken heart.

The thin space between earth and heaven

embraces me gently,

giving me room to feel my sadness and

let my tears flow,

knowing that I can also hope,

because I have been so unconditionally loved.

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Detroit, 3/22/2009-5/16/2020
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fear-trust-faith

Trust

I think that my blog post last week sparked my thinking about the ways fear has impacted my life. Since writing about love lost, I have been flooded with memories of other occasions when I made decisions based on fear rather than trust.

How many times have I lost love because I was too scared? How many missed opportunities for love have there been?

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, I tell myself over and over. But living those words continues to challenge me.fear-trust-faithI recently watched Inside Out, an animated film about the emotions that influence our lives—joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Riley, the girl in the movie, grows up in a loving family; when she is eleven, her father’s work takes the family from Minnesota to California. Everything changes, and she goes from primarily being joyful to being terribly angry. In her anger, she loses trust in her parents and makes decisions that are clearly misguided.fear-trust-faithAs I watched the movie, I wondered about my own decision-making history. I wondered how many times my family and friends have watched me make decisions based on fear or anger—and stood by shaking their heads at my misguided choices.

After I had lived in l’Arche for about six months, I came back to Pennsylvania for a two-week holiday. My friends were shocked at my appearance. In those six months, I had lost twenty pounds or so and apparently looked unhealthy. I knew I was fatigued and generally unhappy, but my friends’ reactions were alarming.

“You can’t go back there,” one friend after another told me.

Not go back? I had to go back. I had made a commitment.

But, like Riley in the movie, I was having a really tough time. Change can be so difficult.

How could I admit—after just six months—that I had made a mistake or that I could not do what I had set out to do? Pride and fear paralyzed me.fear-trust-faithGoing back meant my health would continue to suffer. Moving back after six months felt like a failure. Neither option held much hope for me; either way, I felt like I was a disappointment.

Looking back on that time, I can now see options and possibilities that were not clear to me then.

Back then, fear was motivating my decisions. Fear of failure, fear of looking weak, fear of disappointing. My judgment was clouded.

Inside Out shined a light on how memories stack up to create a preference or inclination. If I have lots of joyful memories, I am more likely to expect joy and to look for it. If my memories are sad, fearful or angry, I am more likely to see through that lens.

Moving from fear to trust is a conscious decision, and I have decided to recall two joyful memories every time sad or angry memories surface. Hopefully this small exercise will help tip the scales away from fear and toward trust.fear-trust-faith

 

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Giving voice to grief

Upon hearing that Saul and Jonathan had died, David lamented:

Alas, the glory of Israel, Saul, slain upon your heights; how can the warriors have fallen! Saul and Jonathan, beloved and cherished….how can the warriors have fallen…I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother…. (2 Samuel 1:19-27)

Reading David’s words, hearing the grief pouring out of him, reminds me of the importance of giving voice to our sorrows.

But after my friend Jim died, I could hardly put two words together, let alone compose a lament as David had done. Then, one day a few months after Jim’s death, a voice on my car radio sang the words that released the floodgates of my grief:

Oh I swear to you

I’ll be there for you

This is not a drive by

(Train, “Oh I swear to you”)

A drive by—that is what it felt like. Where I had thought Jim would be around forever (or, at least another twenty years), that was not to be. He was gone—no longer there for me—and all the swearing in the world would not change that. It did not matter what either of us might have wanted, I was left to deal with the reality that he was no longer with me.

I pulled over to the side of the road and sobbed.

Those three little lines tapped into my grief and expressed a sense of betrayal I did not even know I was feeling.hope-grief-cancerEvery time I hear this song, I still sing along on the refrain, my voice loud and full of emotion. It still feels like a drive by and this refrain helps me to give voice to my grief.

In 1984, my friend Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia; without a bone marrow transplant, he knew his death was imminent. He chose two songs to be played at his funeral, and although thirty-one years have passed since his death, I still think of him whenever I hear these songs:

 Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow.
But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow.

Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.
For it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on….

(Bill Withers, “Lean on Me”)

and

What did you think I would do at this moment
when you’re standing before me with tears in your eyes
….
I’d fall down on my knees
Kiss the ground that you walk on
If I could just hold you again….

(Billy Vera & The Beaters, “At This Moment”)hope-grief-cancerDavid’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan seems raw and immediate, but perhaps he took some time to process his grief before he wrote.

Giving expression to our sorrows can open us to a different perspective; sadness can sit side-by-side with gratitude and hope.hope-grief-cancer