Sometimes for days there is a stream of thought that runs through my mind and it takes time for me to realize where that stream is taking me. Like a meandering stream of water, it makes its way in and around other thoughts in my mind until I finally begin to see more clearly.
Last week on June 30th. a trickle of thoughts began as I sat next to my daddy at the cancer center. I'd remembered earlier in the week and even that morning the significance of this date in our family. The memory floated in and out of my consciousness for several days and found its way to the forefront of my mind when daddy opened up and made me aware of his own thoughts about this day. The nurse practicioner had just finished examining daddy's arm and exited the room. We were waiting to find out when he would be able to return for an ultrasound.
When we were told he would need to return that same afternoon, he quietly stated his intentions had been to visit his granddaughter, to deliver a birthday blessing in person. At this point the significance of this day, June 30th, came crashing into my mind and prompted these words from me. That day was my niece's birthday and also would have been my parents' 60th wedding anniversary.
"It's your anniversary daddy.... Happy Anniversary," I said. His reply was short and fitting his personality, quiet and without fanfare. Following this were moments of uneasiness as I observed him looking across the room as if he were staring at the bulletin board filled with information for waiting patients. There was a distant look in his eyes and I thought for a moment I saw the beginnings of an emotional response as his lips seemed to quiver slightly at the corners. Later I wondered why I didn't pursue a conversation with him and draw out what may have been right below the surface. Certainly, for my daddy this day holds significance. Sixty years ago, he and my mom had been married and spent over fifty years raising a family together. What fear holds my tongue in check and keeps me from going to that place of understanding what my father may be feeling?
And what is it that keeps us from being real and authentic with those around us when another is struggling with the death of a loved one, an addiction in the family,or a disease like cancer shows up as an unwelcome visitor? Even before this day God seemed to be preparing my heart to think about this question.
A couple of days before, a friend posted on Facebook his own thoughts about a wife who's gone on to be with the Lord, after their personal battle with Alzheimers. As I sat in church on Sunday morning, the day before the fourth of July, I got a glimpse of a young mother who recently lost her husband to an untimely death.Beside her on the pew were her small children. At that very moment, the screen above her head was showing pictures of soldiers as the narrator reminded us of the wives and children whose hearts are bleeding from the loss of a husband and dad who gave his all for our freedom. What must she be thinking? Is she fighting the same battle I fought while hearing sermons about marriage when I was in the midst of the painful heartache of divorce? Does her throat throb with the pain like mine did as she tries to swallow all the painful emotions?
In less than one week's time, I've observed or communicated with someone about very real losses every day. Over the last several years, I've developed a couple of friendships in which real communication about the very real pain we all experience in life has become possible. However, I still find myself thinking about how little we minister personally to one another in seasons of great pain. Death, divorce, depression, disease and drugs are wreaking havoc on our families and we can't seem to find a place for true expression of the pain in many of our churches and even groups designed by the church to promote relationship today. But God won't allow me to settle into that place of blaming the problem on an institution or the culture in which I live. He has been unrelenting in His pursuit of me with this subject for the last several weeks.
Let's go back to the cancer center and these meandering thoughts of the last week. In my own family, the tendency is to talk around subjects and contain our emotions even in the face of real loss.Perhaps your family or life group or circle of friends also has this tendency to overlook the obvious. A good example is how very few conversations we've had about my mother and brother who have passed away in the years since their deaths. My father's loss of his spouse is certain to have been incredibly painful. I've marveled at his ability to go on without the benefit of counselor or friends to talk to about his loss. But for six years, I've wondered about his private pain and just how much he suffers silently. Perhaps my family members have wondered the same about how I've survived the losses that go along with divorce. We just don't talk about it and we certainly don't seem to want to risk coming in contact with the vulnerability of another that might open us up to dealing with someone's PAIN.
Friends are going through separation and divorce.Family members are moving from their home and awaiting a new place to begin family life. Prodigals are far from home and parents hearts are cut to ribbons by their choices and we can't find the words to talk about it with one another. Each of these situations involves loss. Every loss involves letting go of something tangible as well as the need for releasing the intangible emotions associated with that loss. Perhaps like talk about packing the boxes and storing the "things" associated with a move, we walk around the emotions involved as easily as we walk around the mounds of boxes stacked in plain sight. We share what's happening at the attorney's office or what the next plan of attack might be for fighting the addictive behavior. But what about the very real fear, anger, loneliness or despair? Has it always been a way of life for families to tiptoe around the emotional pain and refuse to have the difficult discussions, like walking around the "elephant in the room? And in the Christian world it's so much simpler to just throw a scripture someone's way along with an "I'm praying for you."
It all came into focus more for me this morning as I read a blog piece about a mother who made a quilt in memory of her lost son. First, imagine the pain of losing your child. Then imagine the difficulty your friends would have understanding and finding words to speak to you in the excruciating pain you are feeling in your heart. This mother found expression of her pain in making something tangible to remember her child.... something she could wrap around herself in the days, months and years to come. God has given us the gift of memory and we can individually make choices as this mother did to hold onto the memory of the one she lost. We can make new connections and reach out for help if we find the grieving process overwhelming.We can exercise healthy boundaries when necessary.We all have those kinds of choices to make when faced with loss in this life. But we all need someone to come alongside when these times come to our doorstep. We need dialogue and openness. When loss seems overwhelming or we are experiencing multiple losses at once, a single friend who can listen and give perspective can bring renewed hope to our lives.
My friend chose to publish on Facebook his treasured memories of a wife lost much too soon. The young widow I observed at church, fed and dressed her children and found her way to church in spite of the very real possibility that sitting in church would bring painful reminders of days when she once shared the pew with her husband now so obviously missed by she and her children. The parents, who were up all night praying for the wayward child addicted to drugs, pull themselves up by the boot straps one more time. Our individual choices are so important when loss comes into our lives.
Let me make this very personal by using myself as the guinea pig. What might have happened if I'd asked my dad how he was feeling about it being the day of his anniversary? I remember well the thoughts I was having of starting such a conversation only to be interrupted by the nurse returning with our appointment time. And after all, we are in the doctor's office. Is this really a place for intimate conversation or beginning an authentic dialogue with someone about their emotional status? Returning to the car, I felt regret filling my heart. Only days ago a friend had challenged me to have a conversation with my daddy about some of the real things I've had on my heart. He is 85 years old and has cancer. "How do you know he doesn't have some of the same things on his heart?" she asked. I knew she was probably right and yet given the opportunity I had not taken advantage of it.
Blogging my thoughts has been a way of processing those things I question in my mind and heart and hoping in some way to touch another's life in the process. Sometimes it has been a catalyst for me to act on something I've desired to do but hadn't been able to follow through to completion. When I think of all the lonely times I've had as a single mother, divorcee, spouse dealing with another's addiction, deaths of loved ones and the many losses I've experienced in my life, I know I've felt the most encouragement come from those who are able to sit and listen to my pain and offer a tissue or a simple, "I've been there too." I know the answer to why I don't go to that difficult place of drawing my daddy or other family and friends into a conversation that might involve emotions. It might bring my own pain to the forefront so I
JUST DON'T GO THERE.....
Loss, it happens every day of our lives. We hear it on the news when verdicts don't turn out the way we think they should and the economy doesn't continue to work with our budget or children grow up and launch out into the adult world while we begin to ask what's next? First, we must remember we all have choices how to respond to loss in our lives. Our attitude largely determines how we overcome loneliness and the despair and unsettledness of this new territory. But these recent meandering thoughts seem to be more about remembering I am not the only one feeling loss in this world. There is a struggle with uncomfortableness and even fear of being authentic with friends and even family members when loss is a present reality in our lives. Perhaps we haven't been there for others before nor have they been available for us. We can't let the past determine the present or the future. I believe He is telling me...
JUST GO THERE!
I'll be with you.
I'll use you to comfort someone in the way I've provided comfort for you.
And if you go there in your own loneliness and loss, I'll show up and you'll experience healing and relationship with that person and with ME like nothing you've experienced before.
I encourage you to allow God to speak to your heart about being more real and authentically connected in your relationships. I wouldn't issue this challenge without taking it myself. I know God will give me new opportunities. May His perfect love cast all fear out of our hearts as we attempt to minister to those around us.