Saturday, February 22, 2014


I wrote in an email to my spiritual director that all I really wanted to do was sit in a dark room.  This is how my profound sadness at the loss of my mother has been playing out.  I have no desire to have contact with people and yet my work as a massage therapist necessitates that I make contact with people.  Not even superficial contact, but true, physical contact of my hands working out the kinks in their muscles.  And so, for those hours in which I must work (because bill collectors don't give a damn about grief), I take moments to pray for the strength and courage to meet my clients wherever they are, and do my best to focus on them.  Weirdly, it is helpful to have those times.  For a short while, I can think about and concentrate on something else.  And it's exhausting because I have to fight to concentrate on something else.  Grief is just that strong an emotion.

As I walked to the 12:10 Eucharist at St. John's, one of the supply priests caught up to me on the sidewalk.  He asked how I was doing and I told him that, at that moment, I was OK.  He called me a liar.  He could see in my eyes, and probably in my countenance, that I was not "OK."  He laid his hand on my back as we walked and offered a prayer for God to be with me.  

I have no doubt that God is with me.  I figure that God's way of manifesting for me is the periodic introduction of "I sing a song of the saints of God" in my head, a tune that we used at my mother's funeral.   It was a moment of recognition that my mom loved that hymn, and it also provided a break with some much-needed levity for me and my siblings, each of us having our own private experience of the appropriateness of having that song juxtaposed with the much heavier "The strife is o'er."  There is no doubt the last eleven months of my mom's life reflected the heftiness of the words, "The strife is o'er, the battle done."   She endured a massive stroke that took out 40-percent of her brain, followed by the multiple failures of our country's version of elder "care" to work with her when she was wanting to work.  Her lack of language and the pathological resistance of all of us to the reality of death were the markers of the strife and the battle that was the end of her life on earth.  At the same time, there is little doubt in my mind that the next leg of her journey of life beyond this realm is more akin to that jaunty tune about the saints.  And on this particular Friday Eucharist, God gifted me with my own favorite tune from All Saints' Day, to play in my head as I processed the short way out of the chapel:

"For all the saints who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.  Alleluia! Alleluia!"

But once the music in my head stops, the grief seeps back in.  There hasn't been a day that I haven't had to cry.  I know this is all part of the process.  I have had friends encourage me to give myself the grace to just break down as I need to and let the grief move through me.  Really, I don't need the grace to do that because it is just happening, and there's not a whole lot I can do to stop it.  Normally at this time of mid-February, I would have birthday cards.  Instead, I have been opening sympathy cards, and the numbing effects of grief overtake me again.  The cards are all lovely and they have beautiful sentiments and wise words.  But Hallmark doesn't make a card that states the truth of my grief: This sucks!

No truer words can be spoken of grief.  It sucks.  It hurts.  It's no fun.  I believe these are the words that Jesus himself understands.  The evangelist John tells us that he wept when he learned of Lazarus' death.  But I believe he didn't just weep; I think, if Jesus loved Lazarus, he wailed.  Deep, physical wailing in which the entire body cries out in the wilderness of feelings at such a loss.  Grief is felt not only in the head and the heart; it permeates the body.  It's the aches in the elbows, the throbbing in the feet, the knot in the stomach.  The heaving sobs of sorrow incorporate so many parts of the body that I think it's the body's way of letting it all hang out, so the grief doesn't get trapped and become a chronic pain.  

Yes, the memories of my mother are a blessing.  Yes, the knowledge that my mom has "gone to a better place" is good.  But those words don't touch the place of my grief.  No words can fully reach me right now.  This is where I turn myself to God the Christ and say, "You get it, don't you?"   If I can call myself fortunate in any way in this time of profound sadness, it is that I know that when the world cannot grasp the idea that "This sucks!" I can always count on the source of Love to not only fully "get it" but to sit with me in the dark room for as long as I need to do that with no demand that I put on a happy face or attempt to engage in any way that violates my own inner sense of when I'm ready to move on.  Jesus knows how to sit shiva with the one who is grieving.  This is my solace in my grief.



Grandmère Mimi said...

Eloquent post, Susan. Grief is a force that strikes and invades and takes over, and there is nothing we can do but endure until the forces lessens, and we get brief, very brief, respites at first, and then longer respites as time passes. Grief takes us to places we'd rather not go, but to places where perhaps we need to go to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I once thought the passage from Psalm 23 was a reminder that God would always be with me, even in death, and it is that, but now I believe the passage works for our times of grief for the death of those we love, for do we not walk in the shadow of death?

Love and blessings.

Julie Ford said...

Susan, my prayers are with you. Having lost my own dear Mother some years ago, I can only tell you that it gets easier with time. It never goes away... but it does get easier.

SCG said...

Thanks, Grandmère Mimi. I think you are definitely onto something with the meaning and purpose of Psalm 23 as being for those grieving.

Julie, thanks. I think those who have lost their moms, particularly if they had a good relationship, probably can identify best with where I'm at in this moment.

Phoebe McFarllin said...

When we lose a mother, it leaves very raw wounds in body, mind and spirit. Tears are the body's way of keeping the wounds clean and able to heal. As the wounds heal, there is less need for tears, and more ability to enjoy the memories.
We Christians who have lost our mothers encircle and support you as you grieve.