Posts Tagged ‘loss’

I love you my readers! I treasure you!

As we all struggle through a difficult season of life, I find myself wanting to be talk about what it means to be connected to each other.

Today a close friend stopped by. He shared about his battle with cancer earlier in life. He reminded me of the time, before a major surgery, when we walked in the park and talked and he disclosed his feelings and I listened.

We talked about my current chronic pain. We talked about his hearing loss. We talked about what it feels like to be dependent. We talked about what it feels like not to be able to do the things we use to do. We have a bond over shared experience — and shared loss.

The question arises, how well can we connect with others during this time of social distancing, during this time of racial and political tension?

In contemporary parlance to be rightly connected to each other is to be “woke.” The word “woke” has now taken on a specific political meaning. It means to be woken to the awareness of social, class and racial inequality and injustice. It means to wake to the institutional nature of racism, of the harm it causes, of the need for change.

Early in my career, when I was teaching a class in Advanced American Literature, I had my gifted students read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. One of my female students, a black Muslim, stayed after class one day, and told me that I was of the white devil race, I was an oppressor and that I would never understand the black experience.

I didn’t argue. I heard her. What she said had truth in it. She was resolute. I tried to receive that, but in a very real sense we cannot fully understand and feel the exact experience of another. She left. I felt pain. I still do over this issue. I felt some of her pain, and I felt my own, and I felt the pain of the history and literature of the people of the United States of America.

I was the white teacher, I was male, I had wealth and with these things came many advantages and many privileges. My goal was to empower my students. Not one my students in that class was white, and so the very dynamic of our relationship argued in favor of my accuser’s position. I had all the power over what they were taught, over how they were allowed to behave, and over the grades that would determine their future.

A question stands before us as a nation, a question for conservatives and liberals alike. How does one wake up to what another person experiences and feels? How do we wake up to truths that we haven’t made our own, truths that we haven’t wanted to hear? How do we awaken to what someone else thinks and feels about us? How do we bring justice to the harmed?

This morning as I spoke with my pain brother, my pain elevated to the point that after a while I wept in front of him —so much so that we couldn’t continue. My sense of loss in the moment of connection actually increased in the very presence of what I need and loved the most — my dearest friends. He sat quietly as tears roll down my face. He knew my heart. He was present. just as I had one known his. I didn’t hide my pain. He didn’t look away from it.

Before he left we prayed for each other and I found myself praying for the whole world, that God would have mercy and bring healing to all of us.

How do we connect? How do we understand? Understanding begins with being present. It proceeds along a path following the awareness of shared pain. Then brokenness begins to connect with brokenness. Loss with loss. Tears with tears.

Our losses may be different, but our tears are the same. How do we become woke? We “weep with those who weep.”

A close friend texted me today. She wrote, “Funny. I am amazed at how much spontaneous crying I do. There is a vulnerable place opening up within me. I’m in a less thinking, more loving place. I hunger and stumble after ‘the love that will not let me go.’Finley said ‘I’m not God, but I’m not other than God. I’m not you but I’m not other than you.’”

We know this. Within us is the capacity for understanding. The secret lies within our tears. We may not merge with another, but we can identify. Inside us there is the possibility of unity. The secret is in the awareness of our shared losses. Inside us there is the possibility of justice and equality. This happens when we realize that the other is none other than us.

Friday night I motored out to sea with about twenty other people to throw ashes and flowers out of boxes onto the smooth water, the setting sun above, the calico bass below, white flower petals floating in a line out behind the boat.

It was a moment. I had trouble knowing what to feel. We rode home through the sloshing sea in the dark. An orange bonfire glowed on the shore. I sat alone for part of the trip.

What remains — a sense of the sea, an image of a pelican floating on the air beside the boat, a swirl of bright color in the water as a bass took a small fish on the surface, a swell picking up the boat and softly letting it down again, the flowers on the surface of the sea.

Monday night I talked to my daughter for a long time. We were both ruffled a bit by the day — picked up, set down, taken on the rise, sloshing in the dark and to each other we were a small bonfire on the shore, a splash of warmth and color on a small phone screen as we video chatted each other back up. We prayed for each other before we hung up.

Sunday after church I hugged some people and made a couple of lunch appointments for next week. Bonfires.

Life is loss and gain, up and down, moving close and then farther off, riding together, riding alone, thinking about it.

We are grass, caper and vapor, flowers on a tree, flowers in a box, flowers in the air, flowers floating in a saline sea.

I don’t like losing people. Nobody does. I don’t much like being close and then not being close anymore.

I think I’ll make more phone calls and lunch appointments, and do what people ask me to do for them, even when it is hard, and pray more, and grow flowers and not pick them, as much as I can.

I remain hopeful.

P1020582“Sometimes I can’t stop crying at night,” she said to me.

I understand; I don’t at all. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a husband after a lifetime of having him.

Someone else, whose mom recently die, (her mom had lived with her and taken care of her for fifty years),  said to me recently, “I just feel so totally al0ne. I miss my mom. We used to sing together. Now she’s gone. I sing alone. I watch TV alone. She isn’t there to laugh with me, to tell her something that I’m thinking. I feel so all alone.”

I’ve felt alone —  not that alone. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a mom that took care of me for fifty years because my disability made me dependent on her, then to have her gone, vanished, never coming back, an empty apartment, everyday and every night. The silence. The utter aloneness.

We know; we don’t know. We know loss; we don’t know others loss if we haven’t experienced it. Empathy only goes part way up the steep path.

This week we finished cleaning out the old house that once served as the church office. It was a house, then an office, now it is going to be put on a truck, driven to a new lot, and become a house again. It is being repurposed.

Life is like that, here, gone, then something new.

I told one of my friends whose has experienced a huge loss, “Think of it as like moving to another country. You used to live in the country of  mutual dependence; now you live in the land of independence. In this new land you make your own decisions, and you take responsibility for yourself. It’s very different for you, it’s scary,  but gradually you’ll get more used to  your new country and it feels more familiar to you.”

I know what I’m talking about; I have no idea! Every person has a snowflake experience of life; every relationship is unique, every loss is unique too. And yet I’ve noticed of late that loss has a parallelism in it; my tracks run through territory not unlike that which others travel.

Loss has a tendency to have a kind of gain in it. Gain runs right there along side of loss.

The old house has that in it.  Things that happened in that old house that were vert good; people connected with each other there. Other things  dark, harmful and  wrong happened in that house. Peope were hurt there. I’m glad the house is moving. A bit of the ugly past  moves with it, and gone, the space opens up for something beautiful, and new.

I’m happy. I am happy for what will replace the house. The little piece of earth it has squatted on will now become a beautiful church courtyard, a patio garden, a place where lovers will marry, where children will chase each other, where people will sit and eat and talk and be not so alone anymore at all.

We drew the plans for the new courtyard on paper this week. Very soon it won’t be on paper. I’ll walk on new; I’ll celebrate on it! I’ll walk on an epiphany, a vision, a dream — a sacred space will itself contain new paths that will lead to new relationships.

Loss can be so very painful;  we won’t have what we once had, ever again, and that really sucks.  And yet, when something is gone, then there is new space for something else to begin. Loss creates new open space, to run in and new experience to play with,  and new places to be a different person in. Change offers a different country to find new friends to sit with, to cry with and to talk a little to and maybe sing together with.

I’m looking forward to seeing that old house on a truck, flying down the street to its new home.  I’m looking forward to a new garden to sit in with new friends, especially those friends who have losses and need a new space to recover in, and places, just perhaps, to laugh in, once again.

I don’t like loss, but I like new places.

Let it come.


Posted: June 2, 2010 in difficulty
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We deal with failure differently.

Some failures we laugh off.  An older lady told me yesterday. “I was trying to read in a group recently, and I couldn’t seem to read the page I was on, then I figured out I had my glasses on upside down!”   We both laughed.

Some failures can’t be laughed off.  A person told me with great pain recently, “I never thought I’d be divorced.” No humor in this moment.

It’s interesting how we process failure. There is actually controversy about this. Some people take an aggressive, positive approach. They fight against things; they pray against things; they refuse to accept defeat. They may say things like, “There aren’t any failures; there are only learning experiences.” They give examples of those who have been healed, who have risen above loss, who have made a come back, who have reinvented themselves. They are believers in power. They speak of post-traumatic growth.  

This response has value in that it is positive, it sometimes wins the day, it works well to motivate reform; it preserves self-esteem; it uses failure as nuclear fuel to energize a  new  future. At its best it is a plucky, hopeful, can-do approach to life. At its worst it is an arrogant triumphalism, fostering a sense of superiority and the over-expectation of ultimate triumph.

Some, on the other hand, take a more accepting, honest-about-loss, humanized approach. They say things like, “It’s important to face the reality of loss. To do that we need to grieve. We need to feel.”  This approach embraces loss and failure as deep learning experiences  that help us gentlize, become more human, more relational. The interest isn’t in winning something, defeating something or healing something.  The response isn’t interested in becoming a dynamo of success fueled by a devastated past.

The interest is in becoming an authentic person, an emotionally intelligent person, a more aware person. This person leans into failure, learns to listen to the rumblings within. This perspective is good in that it clearly identifies a legitimate failure. It often leads to appropriate expressions of grief, to deeper empathy, even perhaps to a few much-needed apologies. It is good; it is emotionally healthy, but taken too far it may become defeatist, overly emotional, giving up on reversing declines, not tapping into the power to heal or reform, not pushing ahead and winning victories that could yet be won.

To see these approaches in action, consider how persons with these two perspectives might respond to terminal illness. The upside-of-life, assertive, go-for-it person says, “We can still beat this,” or prays, “God, we ask you to heal this.” But the more emotionally focused, reality-accepting person might say at a death bed, “It is time to let her go. We have to now accept this.” And then this person prays, “God, comfort us as we grieve this.”  It’s problematic spiritually; both responses can be seen as spiritual. To look to God for healing shows great faith, but to accept reality when it isn’t what you want also shows great faith. 

Such responses are a choice in each situation of life, and we many of us probably go back and forth between these. But some of us have one of these two reactions as a default setting. We tend toward either a triumphalist or a more humanize response to failure and loss. Where this is true this may become problematic for us. Being stuck in one kind of response to every situation many keep us from bringing wisdom to the subtlety and complication of life.

For example, being overly optimistic in some situations can stifle legitimate grief. It can also sabotage a needed apology. It can also run over the top of other people involved in the same incident who need time to process and recover. A downright Pollyannaish outlook can even deny reality.

But being overly “in touch” with emotions, and the past and human frailty also has a downside. Self-confidence can be destroyed if in a time of failure as a person turns upon themselves too much, wallowing in feelings, perhaps over-analyzing themselves for what they think they did wrong.  Too much introspection can stifle action, prevent us from going on, keep us from believing that with God’s help situations can be reversed, dramatically changed, people healed.

What to do?

Do both. Engage in both the “I’m looking forward” and the “I’m looking inward” approaches. Reality is complex; so must our responses be, nuanced, intricate, bi-functional.

True, we must move beyond failure, but we while doing so we must not deny the losses in the past. It is good to see the best in things, but not to deny the worst. Praying for healing is good. And when it doesn’t happen it is also good to accept that God had something else in mind.

In short, to be wise we must be human, and more than that.

In failure, we must  grieve and then move on and finally know when to do one and then the other.

Remember To Forget

Posted: October 5, 2009 in thriving
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Press on!Press On!

In the Disney movie Hercules, Hades hair busts into flames when he gets angry. But it isn’t just the god of the underworld who spontaneously combusts.

We all have fire in us. We all house residual emotional embers. We all carry incendiary memories. All heads occasionally flame.

Friends turned out not to be friends. Financial losses beyond our control occur. People close to us die. We fail to parent or spouse as we should. Embers smolder in the rubble.

But there is an extinguisher for this. We can still thrive.  To do this, we must learn to forget some things. The remedy for a firey past is to let some fires go out, to put them behind us.

Forget it. Forget it? That’s problematic. What does forget mean? It can’t mean erase completely or permanently from memory. Short of brain damage, and we don’t want that, we can’t and won’t forget loved ones lost. We can’t and won’t forget former friends who stabbed us in the back.

Traumatic, difficult things are not forgotten, and really shouldn’t be forgotten, a lost son, a betrayal, a mistake. The Apostle Paul never forgot that he persecuted Christians, referring to it in writing. The fire in his past was often on his mind. But he also spoke of “forgetting what lies behind.”

I remember driving to work one day when I was in high school. It was a two lane road. I came up behind a slow car. I accelerated to pass. Then I saw, another car coming straight at me.  I couldn’t make it around the car I was passing. I braked, hard. My car went into a slide. Off the road, spinning around — I came to a stop in a cloud of dust. I was shaking. I drove to work, very carefully. I continued to drive carefully — for about two weeks.  But I haven’t forgotten. I am informed by my driving memories.

Recently, a friend came to dinner in her sports car. She offered to let me take it for a spin. I did. I felt a calling to explore the potential of the turbo-charged engine. It was a caged beast. It needed to be let out. I went fast but not too fast. My right foot, it knows.

Fortunately, there is no wipe for driving memories. If there were, we wouldn’t learn from our mistakes. We couldn’t identify with others pain.

Then what does it mean to forget what lies behind?

To forget means not call to mind in a way that will hold us back  “Forget” means to not let the past drag us down, burn us down, keep us from the future God has for us. It means to not fall into a disabling grief. This is a choice we can and should make.

There is a need to say, “I am getting on with my life. I am living post-crash, post-fire!”

Clara Barton, founder of Red Cross, was once hurt by a friend. When she seemed unaffected, later, someone asked her, “Don’t you remember that?” She replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

How does one do that? To forget, first remember. This may seem counter intuitive. It is not. To forget a hurt, take it out and feel it, for a time. Say out loud what you feel. Write it out in a journal.  Find a safe person to tell.

It is okay to remember losses, to cry, to feel sad for a time, to grieve. But then, to be healthy, we must put them away. We call this the compartmentalization of grief. Hold it, then put it away in a mental drawer.

In other words, remember to forget.

There are 2.5 million annual deaths in the United States. Each directly affects four other people, on an average. For most of these people, the suffering is finite — painful and lasting, of course, but not  disabling

Skip to next paragraphSome people, however — an estimated 15 percent of the bereaved population, or more than a million people a year — fall into  “a loop of suffering.”  They go back, around and around. They can barely function.

This extreme form of grieving is called “complicated grief disorder.”  It has no redeeming value. It steals the present and the future.

Perhaps, we all get stuck at times in a loop of remembering, suffering our loses and mistakes over and over again. Then our heads are on fire, with the past.  We are suffering from a complicated grief disorder. To break out, we must put a psychological foot down. We must choose to set aside what we remember and press on.

Say we have a lost relationship. It is wise to look forward to the new relationships ahead for us. Say we have made a mistake. We can look forward to choosing not to do that again. Say we have been sick. This can purge us of our focus on things and center us on the core of life, relationships, God.

Want to thrive? Press on. Press forward. Keep driving. Occupy yourself with new plans, school, work, church. Don’t loop back very much. Loop forward. Remember to forget.