Sunday, April 28, 2013

The gift of life.

The first time I watched the Passion of the Christ, I remember exiting the theatre with Lynn and... maybe Adam Durkee?? I remember saying something like, How dare I not be free.  How dare I let Jesus' pain and suffering go to waste by not being free.

The gift of life...

Many widows stay in the same place.  Many grievers grieve in the context of their memories.  Many, also, feel the need to make a change.  

In 5 days, I will be leaving this house, never returning to live in it again... (I will not technically be moved out in 5 days, but that's another story for another day!)  Here in this place, in the context of my memories, I am both comforted by the nearness of him, and suffocated by the entrapment of the past.  Here in these walls, on the expanse of each space, in every room, I am trapped in what was. What was wonderful, but what was...  With this move, I feel as though I am strapping myself to a large catapult, and pulling the lever to thrust myself up and over the large, gaping expanse that lies between past and present, on into the future.  I have struggled to get here.  I miss him so much.  I hate the thought of being further from him, from what we shared, from who we were...  But I have decided to value life, to keep the faith, and to dare to imagine a new season, a new life, a new me... I have to remind myself that I am not leaving Lynn behind.  I am daring to discover who Lynn will be to my future, who he is in my present...

I lay limp at Jesus' feet while He stares death in the face and challenges it with the gift of life.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Gal 5:1)

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.  You died to set me free.  Your blood declares my freedom, claims my victory, ensures my healing...

I want to honor you, Father.  I want to love you with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind... I want to worship you by living... By receiving this gift of life.

I always pray this over my daughters, but sometimes, I secretly pray it over myself, too:
May God bless me and keep me, make His face to shine on me, be gracious to me, turn His face toward me, and give me peace... (Numbers 6:24-26)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Guilt, the unloveliest of places.

Why is this so hard to write about?  I have five saved drafts in my blog archive, none of which I will post... This topic is complicated, vulnerable, and a little... volcanic.

Guilt.  Guilt is a complicated emotion in grief, apparently acutely present in all grief cases... It is so intricately woven in the brokenness of our human relationships, between both rational failures and irrational failures, true expectations and false expectations, honest reflections and erroneous fabrications of the mind...

There is a crushing weight of guilt accompanied with the death of a loved one.

This is something I haven't dealt with well...  I remember so many people saying, You're doing so well!!  I thought to myself... Well? What am I missing? There is no way to do this "well"...

If I was missing something, guilt would be it.  And I very honestly think it has done some damage.  Things have been pretty dark and pretty low, and guilt is an overwhelming and crushing force against life moving forward... It has affected me and assaulted me from many different angles, different sources, different venues.  It has many layers, and there is without a doubt only one source of hope and freedom from this guilt...

Why does guilt always drive us away from the One who can heal it?  I've experienced this.  In all of my comings and goings, looking for a house, putting mine up for sale, making decisions, greatly tiring of people's opinions... Guilt was sneaking up on me, calling in the ranks to keep me surrounded, strategically planning a great attack... Trauma, grief, sorrow and anguish, anger and confusion, apathy and depression... All accumulated into one big massive mess of guilt.  I felt so down I wondered if I had truly lost my faith and had been cut off from the Source of life and hope altogether... Where was He?  But I didn't blame Him.  I was wretched and weak.  I had failed miserably.  I was hopeless.

This was a very dark place.  It was a bottom I wish I had never known.  It was a place where I could imagine why people plotted to end their own life, became alcoholics, desperate to drown out the pain... It certainly wasn't livable, though life remained unchanged on the outside.  It made me think of all the people who've committed suicide, with others saying, I saw them just this morning and they seemed fine!  (I promise I'm not suicidal so please don't freak out.) This was a short period of time for me, but a very profound one I have to write about, and it felt like forever.  I loathed every minute of being in that complicated pit of accumulated guilt (I'm not sure I'm really out of it, yet...) involving everything from not being there with Lynn when he breathed his last, everything I said or didn't say when he was alive, did or didn't do, all the ways I failed him in our ministry life together, and all the ways I feel I am failing him now, walking away from our life together, trying to move forward into something new, trying to let go...

I feel slightly jaded after this plunge into hell, a dark place where God cannot exist.  In essence, guilt is something in which we remove ourselves from His saving grace.  I didn't mean to do it, of course I wasn't removed completely, I was really still right in the palm of His hand... Is it all psychological? Anyway, it happened.  And I am oddly thankful.

I am tremendously thankful for a few reasons... One being, I am not afraid of something I know.  I did not know this place before.  I didn't know what to do with a person suffering there...?  Now, I can sit with them, enter into it with them, without fear, without doubt, and love, and hopefully watch Perfect Love absolve guilt and separation, touching the unloveliest of places...

And, as my friend Chris commented, the anger, guilt, and intensified grief I've been experiencing in the last few weeks (months?) is evidence of my position.  It always gets worse before it gets better, right?  Somehow, I know that I have been plunging East*, and the sun is brimming just beyond the horizon, and soon it will break forth like the noonday sun in glory, and splendor, and beautiful sunshine!!  And I will rest in its warmth, bask in its glow, and heal under its heavenly whispers...

*Plunging East
...Later someone else said to him, the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise. (A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser, p. 42)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Warning: Electricity is ON. Please keep your distance.

What would it be like to plug electric voltage into one's stomach, and then turn it on, letting the ripples of electrifying current course through the body, one after the other, up and down, screaming through your nerves and veins...?

Anger.  I have not been brave enough to write about anger until now.  Actually, I haven't understood anger in grief until now.  I have felt angry, but at what?  why?  how?  And what is there to do with such illusive anger, so intangible, unable to be pinned down, figured out, unravelled...

Lately, anger (maybe rage would be more accurate) courses through my system with intense electric voltage, leaving me on the brink of vomiting almost every second of the day.  To make it even worse, though, it has a companion, two actually.  As a current of anger ripples up and down my insides, a wave of sickening guilt follows right behind, prickled with terrifying fear, panic, or anxiety.

I am so incredibly relieved to know that this is "normal".  Therese A. Rando* writes,  Grief is not just sadness or depression.  It is a whole host of emotions ranging from anxiety to anger to guilt to confusion to relief and more.  More specifically about anger, she writes, Anger is a natural consequence of being deprived of something valued.  If you try to take a bone away form a dog, he will growl and bite in an angry attempt to stop you from taking it away.  She later asks, How would you feel if your car was stolen while you were inside a therapy appointment? (as a hypothetical situation).  We feel angry when something we value is "stolen" from us.  Such is the reason for anger in death... One of them anyway :)

What is insanely difficult is knowing what to do with this anger that society doesn't understand.  Hence, the guilt.  Well, why should I feel angry? I should be so grateful! That person didn't deserve to be snapped at!  I shouldn't have gotten upset over that little thing!  But inside, the electrifying currents are almost uncontrollable and, speaking for myself, I really just want to scream at most everyone I see in sheer rage for the horrible unfairness of my husband being "taken from me", being forced into single parenthood and widowhood, for being forced out of one life and into another...

This is why, I am quite certain, widows often flee to foreign countries, pick up and take off, travel the globe, sometimes even leaving children behind.  They need to escape friends and family, any kind of close members of society... Because the electric currents are flowing and there is no release.  If we try to have a casual conversation, we'll hurt the ones we love.  We feel angry at others for both real and non-real reasons, and no one understands.  But the intensity builds, rage is uncontrollable, and the guilt is devastating.  So often, we end up doing something extreme.

Be warned, dear friends and family.  The electric currents are flowing.  Please keep you distance. :)

*How to go on living when someone you love dies, by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D.

Monday, April 8, 2013


I am sitting here, at the kitchen table of my grandmother's busy farmhouse, the epicentre of my childhood play days... It's quieter now, Grammie's resting.  The girls are off playing with their cousins.  Gracie, the golden retriever, now very far in years, snores loudly sprawled out on the kitchen floor.  This place holds so many memories, both from my childhood and with Lynn.  I used to laugh at him here, so out of place among the farmers :) So unaccustomed to Island leisure. At Christmas gatherings, it was especially funny when Grammie called him John.  Two of my other cousins have married John's, and Grammie would always forget and called Lynn "John", too.  He would always tease her, Now which John do you mean, Grammie?

My cousins and I used to run free, building forts in the hay bales, climbing trees, naming calves, chasing piglets...  I often wonder how we got away with it.  We were left to our own devices for hours upon hours!  We got into all kinds of mischief, were never really checked on, and came home when we were hungry.  Oh what a glorious childhood it was!

Being here has a surreal feel to it.  Back in my roots, in my earliest days, days long before Lynn... I can almost close my eyes, go back in time, and wonder if the last 20 years actually happened?  Is any of it real?  It has moved out of reality and into a snapshot, a framed photo I can hang up on my wall or put up on the mantle, but cannot re-enter...

I have felt very distraught since my last bog post...  I hate the tone of how it sounded, at least to my own inner ears.  I avoided personal details for personal reasons, and the outcome seems cold and judgmental to me.  I hope that's not the impression you got, but if so, please forgive me.  I do think there is validity to discussing how we can progress as a society.. I am still an Erskine after all!  Progress we must!  But I would be hugely missing the point if I were to plant myself in the discussion of social issues.  Society is as broken as people are broken.  People are broken everywhere.  I do not expect society to ever reach a place of perfection.  Yet, I long for perfection in Christ...

What am I doing?  Where am I going?  Nothing feels right.  Nothing tastes right.  Nowhere seems like home.  No path makes sense to me.  I'm back at the beginning.  Everything else is being stripped away... My house is selling.  If all goes well, I will be completely moved out in less than a month.  I left about a month ago, anticipating this sale, staying away for my realtor to access it easily in all the hubbub of selling activity... But I thought when it happened that I'd have some semblance of a plan, some hint of where this path before me leads.  Instead, I feel completely lost, completely lacking, completely empty.

To live again is harder.  To visualize a new life is harder than I thought it would be.  It kills me on the inside.  Every second of every day, I am wondering how I'm going to make it, how I'm going to raise my kids, how I'm going bear another second of this unbearable pain.

But I refuse to stop at questioning society.  I am in the darkest pit of my life and I never could have imagined it real, possible.  It is a nightmare.  It is hell on earth.  It just is.  But I can't allow my eyes to become tainted by the darkness of my grief.  I must maintain my ability to stand in the shadows and project light, the light from within, the light that dispels the darkness, radiating forward in waves of divine power and heavenly glory.

My eyes will not stay on the difficulties of being a widow, a single mom, a grieving minister of the gospel in today's technological, intellectual, knowledge-based, medicated culture (no cynicism, I promise!).  But they will remain fixed on Christ, the author and the finisher of my faith, the one who holds the keys of eternal life and who places them in my very hand, entrusting me with with an inheritance far greater than anything I could ever think of or imagine...

To mourn is necessary.  It is a necessary means toward healing.  It is very hard, brutally painful.  And it is a beautiful form of worship.

I cannot right now go into church, smile and shake hands, chit chat with the masses, stand and sing and raise my hands... I cannot promise that I will rise above this valley of the shadow of death unscathed, perfectly victorious, a glorious overcomer.  I cannot imagine how I will continue to live tomorrow, next month, saying goodbye to my home, packing up, leaving...

All I know is today.  Today, I weep.  Today, I grieve. But in grief, I will worship.  I will lament and I will praise.  The two are not contradictory.

Lead me in the everlasting way, where I praise. 
(Psalm 139, Elizabeth Rhyno)

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Woes of Alexander

Are you familiar with the well known children’s book, Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?  I have always enjoyed it and am feeling very much like Alexander these days, (especially his desperate desire to flee to Australia!). I suppose, though, that my title would have to read more than one day... 7 months and 3 days to be exact.  

The last several weeks have been very hard. They have, in fact, been terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.  Many days I wondered if it was still possible to make it out "un-jaded". At this point in my "journey", I find that the ignorance of society concerning grief and the bereaved seems almost equally as traumatic as standing over my husbands' dead body.  What I mean by that bold statement is this, It is one thing to grieve a loving husband and father and the life we had together, etc.  It is entirely another to cope with a society that tries to show love and care but without the proper knowledge and appropriate expectations concerning grief and the bereaved.  

I have come to believe that society as a whole does not see it necessary to learn about grief or how to care for the bereaved, but rather tends to assume that their good intentions are sufficient.  That at some point, the bereaved will buck up and rejoin society, get back on board, get back to living like everyone else, like nothing ever happened.  But grief changes people.  It changes everything.  

People always worry about what to say and what not to say... Some of you may feel defensive reading this blog post.  There is no shame here!!  You've done nothing wrong!  I have never cared whether someone knew what to say or how to say it, did or didn't do something, called too often or too little... Caring for the bereaved has very little to do with what should or shouldn't be said, etc.  It is much more about how you understand what a person's going through, know how to come alongside, have appropriate understanding and expectations based on accurate knowledge of all that is taking place psychologically, socially, physically, and spiritually... 

Here are some truths or lessons I am learning... (mostly about widowhood)

  • bereaved person leaving her life behind and embarking on finding a new one needs what she needs.  It’s not a matter of preference.  It's not really up for discussion, either.  It’s more like life or death.  Just support her, even if you don't understand. (Obviously, unless it is harmful.)
  • No matter how many other opinions, or strong suggestions, are offered by loving friends and family, The widow(er) is the only one responsible to hear God’s voice and decide on a path for his/her family.  This is a journey of discovery... Trying to discover how life can be lived after death.  It takes great courage and every ounce of strength a human being can muster.  If you love God and are called according to His purposes, than no decision you make will be a mistake.  It will all work together for good.  (Rom 8:28)
  • Not every one is going to understand the choices a bereaved person makes, but the bereaved cannot worry about that.  People pleasing is no longer an option. :) (Not that it's ever a wise choice!)  No one is walking in those shoes but him/her.  Be strong, and take care of yourself, your family.
  • Nothing will ever go back to “normal” in the bereaved's life and it is wrong to assume that some things, or some relationships, no matter how precious they are, will remain unchanged.  

  • I feel very wounded by the "well-meaning" society that has embraced me and cared for me these many months.  It is not and has never been a person or individual, but it is the society as a whole, the culture we've created that contributes to the myths about grief that causes so much grief to the bereaved...  Why does death shock us when everything dies?  Why do we struggle to acknowledge loss, whether tangible or intangible, when it is embedded in the very fabric of our human existence, as pervasive as the rising and setting of the sun...? Everything that lives, dies.  Everything that begins, ends.  To everything there is a season.  A time to laugh and a time to mourn.  This is the human existence.   So why does the white North American eradicate death or loss from its paradigm of life?  Why do we go to our doctors, take pills upon pills, read self-help books, gain, gain, gain... But refuse to acknowledge that in every gain is embedded a loss...  And why is it impossible to grieve in church? Why are pretences still a necessary component to church culture?  Why do people think grief is just being sad about something, completely ignorant to the vast multi-dimensional shifts taking place inside the persons world?  Why do Christians still think that grieving equals loss of faith?  

    Why does death have to be so devastating when it happens every day?  Of course it's devastating when it is someone we love, but there is something more going on.  There is a total inability to cope with death that our brilliant, medicated culture seems to create...

    I am tired.  I am tired of trying to grieve in a non-grief culture.  I don't want to bring back the black anymore.  I just want the freedom to do what I need to do, to grieve how I need to grieve, and to discover in my own time and in my own ways what it means to live again, a new life, a life after death... A life without my husband.  Oh, how I miss him.

    Many thoughts and questions in this post are better unpacked in How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies, by Therese A. Rando, Ph. D, 1988.