The Grief Calendar

December 3, 2016

It has been two years since I published the thoughts that follow. The anniversaries still come, the memories still bring a smile or a tear, the calendar continues to be a reminder of what once was, but it is also a tool to help plan what is to come. There have now been more milestones since Don died than we actually shared together. More birthdays, Thanksgivings, Easters, and soon Christmases will be celebrated since his passing.

As I look forward to more birthdays, weddings, graduations and celebrations of all kinds it is good to also look back and remember what once could have been, and thank God for what there still is. There is still love, kindness, forgiveness, family, friends, and hope! Hope for a future that contains joy, love, happiness, and family.

As we all look towards Christmas this year during Advent let us not forget that for some this will be the first Christmas without someone near and dear. So please pick up the phone, send them a note, or just visit the person who is missing someone for the first time this Christmas.

Christine

 

December 3, 2014

I seem to have a different relationship with the calendar since my world came to an end six months ago. The painful passing of time being marked in increments of greater and greater length. First it was hours, then days, weeks, now months. Each leap meaning I am continuing to live and go forward.

Going forward also means sometimes looking ahead, which is not the same as it used to be. Looking ahead to the next meaningful date on the calendar means mixed emotions at best, or with fear and dread of the survivability of the date most often. First it was the blur of days before his funeral, then his memorial service in our hometown, and now all of the little, but oh so meaningful, anniversaries from our way too short life together. The first time we met, the first e-mail, the first card, the first letter, the first concert together.

That first time we hugged and felt the spark of desire. The first look into his eyes knowing that I would never be the same again after sinking into the deep blue pools of love that they held. The first time my lips accidentally brushed his cheek as we embraced to say goodnight. The first kiss. The first time he said “I love you” and the first time I replied. The first time we danced and the delight in his eyes while we clumsily made our way around the room.DSCN7188 (640x434)

Little anniversaries that we celebrated in small but meaningful ways, flowers, cards, a special dinner at home or a night out to hear some music. We both kept a dated journal to remember special days. There would be notes tucked into books to surprise each other, or sometimes a special sweet treat from the freezer or the oven.

I have also “survived” the big dates on the calendar; Our wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, his birthday and my own. There are special dates in the Church Calendar that have great meaning to us as well. All Saints Day was a date not just to remember that he has gone on to join the Great Communion of Saints but it had special meaning to the two of us before this year as well. We had both suffered losses in our lives and it was through loss and through our faith that part of our connection was built. One of the early things Don did for me in our friendship was to go up in my place and bring home the rose offered in our local church for my Mother when I couldn’t be there that day due to obligations at school.

This week we have had the First Sunday in Advent and World Aids Day. A year ago those two dates coincided with Communion Sunday and I had the privilege of helping to serve communion to  Don for what I thought would be the first time. It was the only time I offered the elements to my husband and I am eternally grateful that I had that chance.

There are more dates to come as I look at the calendar and sometimes I am not sure if I can endure the memories and other times I know that without the memories I could not endure.

In this season of preparing for Christ, in this season of Advent, I will prepare my heart for the pain it must go through and I will prepare my heart for the JOY of Christ, because in  ‘All My Days’  I know that Christ is with me, just as I know Don is with me always.

With a Little Help From My Friends

These are just a handful of the people that make my life worthwhile. There are so many people not pictured that help me find meaning in life that I couldn’t begin to list all of them. It may be Halloween to some, Reformation Day to others, but as I remember the saints that have gone from my life I put together a little tribute to the living saints that I am blessed enough to have in my life. I love you !

Autumn Anniversary

Route 30 Adirondack State Park

Route 30 Adirondack State Park

That first year, less than five months after he died,   I could not even see their beauty. The second year their beauty haunted my dreams and stung like thistles.  This year their beauty brings warm memories and a tear or two. You see we were married In Autumn, October 11th to be exact, right around the date that the trees in Upstate New York reach their full beauty. Their splendor, something that people drive miles to see, was all around us as we celebrated our love.

Blue Mountain Lake October 2016

Blue Mountain Lake October 2016

I have always loved Fall. It is refreshing and inspirational to me; to say goodbye to the long hot days of Summer, to lift the windows and feel the crisp air. To occasionally catch the scent of a neighbors wood stove taking the chill off the night when turning on the furnace just seems too soon. There is nothing better than that first walk in the woods crunching leaves underneath my boots or wrapping up in a sweater for the first time of the season.

 

All funds raised support mission projects and trips supported by the church.

All funds raised support the mission projects and trips of the church.

Pumpkins covered the lawn of the church the day we were married. The church fundraiser seemed so appropriate for the wedding day of this girl with the pumpkin colored hair. My dress was green, his suit was brown, the wedding was a beautiful expression of who we were and who we hoped to become. We made a commitment before all of our loved ones and God that we would be together from that day forward, together in service and together in faith.  It was a musical and love filled ceremony with six songs and vows that we had written together.

The reception was simple and elegant. A musician played the guitar while our guests helped themselves to desserts and sparkling cider. We danced together to the beautiful wedding song we had practiced to during our Fred Astaire dancing lessons, carefully we counted out our first steps as we nervously stepped onto the dance floor.  Soon the rest of the room disappeared and we were alone together for the first time as husband and wife. It was what we thought would be the first of many dances, but in the end it was the only time we “danced” together.

Blue Mountain Lake October 2016

Blue Mountain Lake October 2016

There are other ways of dancing of course and Donald and I lived our lives as a dance every day that we had together. While our time together was cut short unexpectedly we lived each and every day with intention. We did not know that our time together would be so brief but I have very little doubt that we would have changed a thing about the way we spent our time together. We didn’t have a television or a subscription to Netflix or any other streaming service. We choose instead to spend our days learning about each other and deepening our relationships with friends and family.

The trees are beautiful in the Adirondacks this year. My photos do not begin to convey their actual beauty. Take some time to look up and around during this beautiful season, and while you are doing so, remember that you are also a creation of the amazing God that created the beauty you see.

Homeless, Looking for Work

Homelessness is not something I write about often, but  frequently write about issues facing the LGBTQ community. I had decided not to write about Tyler because my motive for helping Tyler was not for recognition or thanks, or for even purely altruistic purposes, because in reality I hired Tyler,  but when I thought about it I realized that people need to know about the Tylers in this world.

Let me begin by saying that Tyler was not his name but that is unimportant. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was leaving the home improvement store to come home to work on an outdoor project. Tyler was standing at the traffic intersection with a cardboard sign that said he was homeless and looking for work. He was younger than my youngest son and maybe that is why I called him over and said “Do you want to work?” He shook his head vigorously and said yes! I told him to hop into my car and I asked him his name. Filling him in on what the job on my front porch entailed I let him know that I would pay him twenty dollars an hour for two hours work. He said he knew how to do the job and thanked me. When we arrived at the house I asked if he wanted to eat before he worked and he said no thank you, the home improvement store had a fast food chain in front of it and he had been given food.

Tyler went straight to work and I explained to my friend that was visiting that there was just something about him that convinced me I need not worry about my safety in any way. I had told him that I was a minister during the car ride and I had also told him that I didn’t intend to preach to him. I knew that simply by letting him know that I was a minister that from that point forward it would be my actions and not my words that would represent the church to this young man.

While Tyler was working I remembered that there was a pair my late husband’s jeans in my closet and I thought about them. I had given away most of Don’s clothing in the two times I had moved since losing him.  Don wasn’t going to need them of course and I knew Don would want me to take care of this young man. While offering him the jeans and a t-shirt, I put his clothing into my washing machine. He asked me what kind of minister I was and I told him that I was a rather progressive, liberal United Methodist and I asked if he had gone to church growing up. He said that it had been a “Born Again” church in a rural area and that it was pretty conservative. He said he didn’t feel comfortable there. I said I was sorry that was the case and tried to tell him that not all churches were the same.

When he had finished working I asked if he wanted to shower before I took him back to where he was staying for the night. He said his brother lived in an apartment, and that the next door neighbor usually let him sleep on his porch. Then he told me that he was bisexual and that his relationship with his mother was rocky. I gave him my phone number and let him know that if he ever wanted to go to a church where he felt comfortable he could call and I would take him.

Would I do the same thing over again? Maybe, maybe not. People come into our lives for a reason and maybe the reason I met Tyler was to give me a home for the memories I have been hanging on to in my closet. Maybe the reason I came into Tyler’s life was to let him know that not all Christians would put him in a closet.

For more information on how to help at risk LGBTQ Youth connect with The Trevor Project here. For more information about homelessness for LGBTQ Youth connect with the True Colors Fund here.

Making Peace With Grief

This article originally appeared in “The Yoke, Quarterly Newsletter” Published online September 1st 2016
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The first time that I knew someone who died was when I was about six years old…

Grief is a fact of life; it is a byproduct of love and mortality. If you are in love with someone and that person is in love with you, one of you is going to be left behind without the other. Those car accidents, you know the ones I am referring to; where two people who are married to each other both die instantly,   that the financial planning experts and insurance salesman talk about, well they just don’t happen that often and thank God for that.

 I tend to be a “prepare for the worst and pray and hope for the best in life” kind of person. Unfortunately when my new husband went from vibrant health to death in less than half of a day, I was not prepared. You aren’t supposed to go from being a newlywed to being a widow before even celebrating your first anniversary. There is supposed to be some kind of warning, anything to give you a heads-up that someone is sick. I had no warning when Don died he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm. His heart stopped beating in the emergency room with my arms around his head. The doctors tried everything they could but they could not save him.

 The first time that I knew someone who died was when I was about six years old and my Grandmother’s Brother died. I was very confused because I wasn’t crying and other people were, I remember feeling guilty. I remember my Great Uncle Paul as this very tall kind man who would play jokes with the kids and who had a miniature poodle. He was married to my great Aunt Helen who had red curly hair and was rather round when standing next to her tall and lanky husband. Children need to be told that whatever they are feeling it is appropriate and they need to feel that they can ask questions and that their question will be answered with respect and truth.

During the time in-between my first experience with death and my most recent loss of my husband I have been the person in my family who speaks at funerals, the one who comforts my family, the only person in my family to pray in public. I have lost four of my first cousins and been there for their parents and then I have been there for the passing on four uncles, my two grandmothers and tragically the burial of my two nephews and one niece under the age of seven. Helping a parent bury their child is something all Pastors dread. It smacks of unfairness in the universe; it isn’t supposed to happen that way. Children bury their parents and grandparents and the generation that has lived longer than them.  We aren’t supposed to say goodbye to our children it is not natural.

The ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono…

So how does someone make peace with grief? I don’t know the answer for everyone; I only know the answer for me. There is only one way to get through grief and that is by grieving. You do not get over grief, you cannot sidestep around it. You must go through grief in order to get through it. I took a year off from school after my husband died. I didn’t consciously intend to take a year off but thankfully I had wise and caring Deans and Professors who looked out for me. To me and many others making peace with grief means making peace with the person who died.

 The ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono: “A Good Goodbye” is something I find resonating with my experience. According to this practice there are four steps that one must take when saying goodbye to someone; 1) I love you, 2) I thank you, 3) I forgive you, 4) please forgive me, and then finally then Goodbye. We may not all consciously realize that we are going through these steps but they are usually there none the less.

When my mother died in December of 2011 she had been sick for fifteen months. As her caregiver I was with her pretty much around the clock for that time. We had opportunities to actually say those things to each other. We loved each other unconditionally and we were at peace when she passed. She was not the perfect mother, I was a far cry from a perfect daughter but none of that mattered. Love wins in the end every day. 

When I lost my husband in the May of 2014 we had no warning. We had no goodbye. Making peace with someone who has gone on before you is one of the hardest things to do in life. I easily told my husband that I loved him, I always will. I had to say I am sorry for my shortcomings in our relationship, and to do that without being overcome with guilt takes a long time. I had to forgive him for anytime he had come short of what I needed him to be. That was a simpler process. Thanking my husband for all that he brought into my life was also relatively easy. He taught me what love was; he stood behind me and always had my back. I did not know what real love was until I fell in love with him, but now that I know how wonderful love can be I also know he would want me to continue living my life to the fullest and he would be happy and proud of my accomplishments.

 We are never alone in this process.

You might say that if all there is to making peace with grief are those simple steps then why is it so hard to deal with the loss of someone we hold so dear? There are no two people who are alike in this world; therefore there are no two deaths in the world that we will have to deal with that will be the same. That is what makes us human, what enables to fall in love with someone and not someone else, and this humanity  makes us vulnerable to pain and grief and loneliness.

 It is the hardest thing in the world to keep on living when someone you love so dear has been taken so suddenly, but that is indeed the thing we must do; live! We must make a conscious decision every day, to get out of bed, to go to school or work, to care for ourselves.

 We are never alone in this process. When we weep God weeps and when we are in pain God feels that pain with us. God did not cause our pain. God did not “bring us to it, to bring us through it.” Death is non-discriminating and it is final, we cannot escape it nor can we really prepare for it.

Death is about saying goodbye but many times when someone dies someone comes along and brings joy to our lives after we thought all joy was lost. For me this person has been my granddaughter. Just this last weekend my oldest son married her mother and I am officially her Gigi from now on. Having a seven year old say that she wants to sit with me on a train ride ( completely designed for children to ride, meaning no leg room if you can picture it) is the greatest thing in the world. When this seven year old runs up to me and puts her arms around me, all the cares of the world disappear. I am a much better person with her in my life than before I knew her; and in a way that makes me at peace with the loss of my husband. In the end; even though I still miss my husband every day, I am here alive with my children and granddaughter and that is why Love Wins!

Summertime

Time to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

Time to read a book for pleasure.

Time to catch up with old friends.

Time……..just that…….time.

To heal, to relax, to restore one’s soul.

To visit, to connect, to rekindle, to be restored.

Gerber Daisy

“We Are Singing For Our Lives”

Set to Holly Near’s We Are Singing For Our Lives are the sights of my experience at General Conference.  Holly’s song became a balm for our souls as we marched across the Convention Center floor.

Being the Church

I volunteered to share my impressions and experiences at General Conference because as a volunteer and first time attendee I thought I might be able to offer a perspective other than that of an experienced delegate. I am here as a volunteer for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition which operates under the Methodist Federation for Social Action.  The Love Your Neighbor Coalition has thirteen partner members that have agreed to work together around the intersections of common justice issues and shared values. Please click on the links provided to find more information about the important work being done by all of the volunteers here.

My role as a hospitality volunteer has been to help feed the volunteers and to be a witness in support of full inclusion of all people within the United Methodist Church regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, to bring awareness to issues affecting our climate, to shed a light on the injustices faced by immigrants in this country, and to raise awareness of the complexities that stand in the way of peace in Israel and Palestine. It is a privilege to be here for this time to help with this work, but today I was privileged to witness something all together different than what I thought I was here to do.

I was coming downstairs from my room when I met a daughter in the elevator. She had just left her mother in the lobby and was heading to the parking garage with their bags. She appeared to be concerned and I asked if she was okay and she told me that she and her mother were on their way to the hospital to remove her brother from life support, before I could reply in any way the elevator door closed and she was gone. I turned towards the lobby and saw her mother walking out the door to the parking lot and I turned to go to her. The next thing I knew I was on my way to the hospital with them. What I did know in that moment was that God needed me to be there for this family and that I couldn’t let this woman say goodbye to her son without someone there to pray for him.

I knew that here in this place where we are all working so hard to create a church that loves the world the way we feel God wants us to, here was a family in need of a church to share God’s love. This was not about legislation, or judicial councils, this was about sharing God’s love when it was needed most. This was not about protests or vigils, this was not about who is right or who is wrong, this was about life and love and how we are the beloved children of a forgiving and resurrected God, and as those people we are called to share that good news with the people we come in contact with every day.

In the end it was not anything that I was able to do for this family that blessed them but it was the privilege that they gave to me in allowing me to be present for their goodbye that blessed me. The honor of being in the room when someone is born or when someone dies will never become routine to me, for it is in these moments that we are closest to God, and it is in these moments that God touches our hearts.

Why I am Here

Ho’oponopono: A Good Goodbye

Ho’oponopono: An ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness can teach us to have a good goodbye.

What is Ho’oponopono? It is four meditations, processes, or steps on the journey, if you will, of life and of death. Why do I say both life and death? Because death is ultimately about our life. The four steps sound very simple but like anything they are not as straightforward as we might hope.
  1. I’m Sorry
  2. I forgive you
  3. I Thank You
  4. I Love You

When do we have to say these words? Whenever life transitions take place. Young people must go through these steps when they mature into self-actualized adults and leave home and wish to have adult relationships with their parents. Parents must say these things to their children to accept them as fully grown adults with the rights and responsibilities to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of whatever decisions they may make. Adults go through these steps whenever they make major transitions in their lives, new jobs, new relationships, new communities to live in; all involve saying goodbye to what was before. Any time a relationship comes to an end, or changes from what it once was to what it will become we need to work through these things.

If parents are going to continue to be parents in the case of a divorce they need to say these things. They may not need to say them aloud to each other (although that wouldn’t hurt) but they need to process them none the less. 1) I’m sorry and 2) I forgive you  are vital if parents are going to continue being parents after a divorce. There simply comes a time when the adults must act like adults and remember that to put the children first and that means taking ownership that in every divorce there are two imperfect people who tried to make something work that did not work so both people need to say they are sorry and both people need to forgive, even if they never verbalize the words the feelings have to happen. The third and fourth phrases are also just as important 3) I thank you for trying to live the happy ending with me and even though it didn’t work I thank you for who you have been in my life. That might seem like a lofty thing to say to someone who has hurt you or betrayed you but at one point in your life you thought you were going to love this person for the rest of your life, right? 4) I love you, yes speaking about loving someone for the rest of their life, in most divorces that I have been familiar with there is some element to the idea that you will forever love this person in some way. Maybe it only goes as far as you don’t wish them to get hit by a bus but something inside you cares about their well being.

Aside from these times of transitions we need to say these things when someone is dying, when we are dying, or when someone we love has died. A person with a terminal diagnosis is grieving the loss of their own life and if time allows for peacemaking the final months, weeks, days of life can be a time of healing. When you are intentional in your life you say these things to the people you love every day of your life and therefore there is no incompleteness. If a life is cut short unexpectedly the loved ones of that person must work through these phrases. Love, gratitude, forgiveness and for anything we may have done that hurt our loved ones can be everyday practices that we incorporate into our lives so that we can live a life free from regret.

When my Mother was diagnosed with Stage four terminal lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain we were in shock but we had options and we had fifteen months to work through the four sentiments. We had a good goodbye. When my husband went from the picture of health in the morning to coding in the emergency room in my arms that night we had no goodbye, but yet I still had to work my way through each of these four sentiments on my own in varying ways. Almost two years after his death I am still working through these things. Grief knows no timeline and follows no calendar it is simply part of your being and you never return to the person you were before your loved one died, you become a different person every time you say goodbye.

I don’t mean to say that these four things are the only things that need to be expressed when facing the loss of a loved one, there indeed may be other things that we may want to say. What I am saying is that these things are necessary components to all goodbyes in life; growing up, graduating and leaving an academic community, breaking up with a companion or lover, changing jobs or retiring, dying or losing a loved one to death. If we make a practice of living our days as if we have no more days to live then we indeed might forgive and seek forgiveness more often, we might live with more gratitude in our hearts, and we might learn to love our neighbors and we might also learn to love ourselves in the process.

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