Saturday, August 30, 2014

When Those You Love Grieve

Nine years ago this week, war hit close to home. While stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, my next door neighbor met me in the driveway with news I was unprepared for; her close friend, a young woman I served on the praise team with,  had been notified a few hours before that her husband had been killed in action.

I went numb. It seemed symbolic that the sun began to set as her words tumbled out. I didn't know if I should embrace my neighbor- nor did I have a clue what to say. We stood together in our shared driveway, shocked, sorrowful, and awkward- while I struggled to process this incomprehensible loss.

It got worse. While my family back home was celebrating multiple birthdays, my military community was rocked by multiple KIA notifications (Killed In Action). By the end of the week, our losses numbered in the teens. I knew one of the widows by name only, and had a casual friendship with another.  Yet now, everyone in our military family seemed knit together by enormous loss. 

Our community was reeling. Some were consumed with "secondary grief" (sorrow felt for another), as well as fear. Most wanted to help, but did not know how. Many tried to call and could not get through.

Intimate friends formed a circle around each widow to protect her from the overwhelming outpouring of sentiment. Those of us in leadership roles at the chapel formed a line of support for those shielding the bereaved.  Everyone who knew these precious ladies wanted to reach out and help in some way- but a deluge of well meaning shock and grief would simply be too much. 

I grieved most for the widow I knew- and for a close friend whose husband served alongside those who were killed. It was difficult to talk about, and still today there is a tender place in my prayers for each of these ladies- and for the soldiers who served alongside those who were killed.

That season taught me lessons about grief that equipped me in my own place of sorrow. A different kind of loss, and a very different process, yet there is truth that rings across the boundaries of suffering.

First- not everyone who feels the weight of someone else's loss is meant to be welcomed into the inmost places of that grief. The best way to support the grieving is simply to offer support- and not press if the offer remains unaccepted. Those dealing with grief need a safe place to pour out, and this may not be your calling every time. Put aside your wants and pray over your role- accepting every hemming in.

My role tends to be a call to pray. Prayer is powerful, and a privilege, as I get to see many answered prayers in the lives of those I have supported over the years. In the midst of terrible suffering prayer is not a last ditch effort. Prayer is the best way to approach unspeakable loss. 

Never make light of it.

Second- we are "meaning makers"- we try to explain or make sense of every terrible thing that happens. When confronted with another's loss, people say the most ridiculous things. The desire to comfort coupled with discomforting internal questions can cause platitudes to trip off the tongue:

 "God never gives you more than you can handle"- which, in my own life has proved repeatedly untrue
 "I know how you feel"- as if any loss is ever the same as another
  "It's just God's plan"- it is rare to know God's plan for another

These phrases do not help--in fact they are both hurtful and damaging to someone already in pain.

The most honest offering I have ever heard is:  "I really don't know what to say, but I want you to know I care". 

I love the acknowledgement that sorrow causes awkwardness, even among friends. I admire honesty that goes beyond sympathy, revealing authentic love. Here is the comfort of presence in a time when words will only fall short.

Third, and most important- Tears are a part of healthy grieving. Tears are key in the recovery process, in fact, tears are pivotal in any process towards greater healing. Never tell someone not to cry, and never be ashamed of your own tears, for crying is a biological response, natural and needed.  Tears are not a weakness, they are a gift to help us through. Healing will not, and can not come, without tears.

My friend who lost her husband 9 years ago posted a quote by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler this week. It reminds me that grieving is a journey that lasts a life time. We do not "get over" loss, we simply learn to "rebuild around the loss suffered."

"You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor should you want to." 

Years later, tears are still a gift. They honor our love, and give release to the emotions we were created to express. In sorrow, and times of stress, may we embrace this gift, as well as the loving Comforter who holds us close- if only we will nestle in and release.

~Just Me

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Connectivity Amidst Chaos

Some days I want to run, but need to rest instead. I am in recovery; from a night in the hospital with my son, and from the guttural urge towards striving. I feel overwhelmed by all the needs in my home, yet find myself propelled forward, numb but driven, propped up only by my own strength. Rest is needed, time set apart to refuel and be restored in spirit, soul, and body. I struggle to be still. Anxieties crowd my vision; I know where help is found, yet pull back. Why? Self-reliance? Fear? Or am I simply too exhausted to try?

 As I send updates to friends and family, I am reminded to practice connecting with God in the midst of chaos. It's not always easy.

When I am consumed by the moment, when time is marked by the streaming in and out of medical personnel, it's hard to remain connected. I am distracted, yes, but aware of my need, and so I seek the comfort of social media, soothed by the well wishers and prayer warriors alike. Time passes, my son's condition improves, and all that needed to be reported has been shared. We have reached a plateau, and now I must simply wait, in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep has never come easy in times like these, yet I make a conscious effort to still- in body and mind.

Nurses confer in the hallway and a small child cries. I remember when that was my son, years ago, just after diagnosis, when he resisted treatment. I remember being sent out of the room, standing disconnected in the hallway, breaking apart inside- and I pray for the family. For the child to find healing from medical trauma, for the parents to find comfort in God, and trust in his mercies, alone. Truth sparks inside me- I too, must seek connectivity with my Source. When exhaustion swamps my mind and the only coherent sentence I can wring out is "Jesus help me"-- he does.

Once home, needs swamp me. Monitor Blood glucose levels, dispense meds, schedule appointments, field phone calls, attend appointments, soak the wound, wrap the fracture, throw together dinner- and  wonder when I'll get to the dishes and laundry.  Achieving balance between appointments for one son and the other seems precarious at best. I feel like I am drowning in musts: I must change the dressing on the injured foot, I must cook healthy meals, I must drive all over the metro-plex to medical appointments. I must find time for recreation, and meet sensory needs. Most urgent I MUST keep my son out of the ER so we can meet with the surgeon on on Thursday... I MUST keep my son alive-- and well. My stomach knots; I am afraid I cannot accomplish this feat. It's an old fear, cloaked in  the disguise of false responsibility.  

Self reliance is stealthy temptation, drawing my heart away from the One who saves me every moment.

My youngest chatters about Superman and Wonder Woman in between Brain Balance appointments and I wonder... Where does this drive to know all and do all come from? And how do I escape the trap of self sufficiency? My emotions are frayed and I feel fragile. Trying to control everything only adds layers of exhaustion. Tears are evidence of stress held in too long. I can not be in two places at once.

When stress is high, and I'm coming undone, I want tangible support. I tend to gravitate towards human hands and hearts, and while community is key, anxiety remains undiminished by sympathy. I am discovering that desperation is only soothed by dependance on the One who is my Source.

 I am not at rest until I get still, breathe deeply of the Presence that soothes. So I sit, in the car, between appointments, and Just Breathe. I try to pray, yet lingering resistance dams my emotions. I am afraid to let go, afraid the dam will break and I will fall apart. I shift focus, to answer a message of concern coming in, and I try to sound brave. I am not. I crumble. The dam has broken, and I finally find sweet release. Tears stream down my cheeks, and  I realize I was holding on too hard to too much. I can not be all-sufficient, but I do not have to be- for there is a Sure Strength beyond my own.

I realize: Release is a gift, not a weakness. Prayer is the conduit that connects me to an authentic communion that reaches beyond compassion. Prayer's purpose, in these moments, is not immediate cessation of difficulty, but rather the connection with all consuming peace in heart and mind.

My Prayer:
Father God, open my eyes to self sufficiency and false responsibility- especially in the midst of distractions. In the calm, and in the chaos, still my heart. Train my ears to hear your voice, connecting with you in the moment. Teach me to rely on you alone, for only you can fill me up and make me well.

I now release each and every specific concern to you ___________________



I lay everything on the altar before you, and release. I choose to rest in your sufficiency, to be cradled by your love. I choose to move forward in your strength and seek your presence every step of the way, for you are my Safe Place.

~Just Me