Category Archives: Grief

Beggars can choose.

Sky

Anguished tears in the car. I am silent in response. I’ve run out of ideas.

“The thing is, son, at some point you’re going to have to choose the life God has brought you.”

Hard truth when you’re eleven and you miss everything you loved so much.

My two children and I have recently moved from California to the UK (a return home for me, a new home for my American kids) and really nothing is similar. The milkshakes don’t taste the same, the language is different, the climate sucks, their own accent is the anomaly.

When I moved to the States 25 years ago, I remember thinking it would have been easier if I’d moved to Asia. Then I’d have expected everything to be different. Obviously I’d have to start over with the banking system, the postal service, the social cues.

But moving to the States I thought both nations were basically the same. So wrong! America and Britain are slightly different in every possible way. Which means one is constantly caught out and exhausted by the difference.

Now moving in reverse, my children are discovering the same. And they hate it. Everything here is not there and vice versa. I know the different-ness is not going to change so our attitude toward it must, but they don’t.

Grief is a process and I must not get in the way of theirs. There is denial, anger, bargaining and depression for all of us before acceptance.

And it’s tougher for my kids. I chose this trans-global move (albeit under duress) because I could see God’s hand in it. My children on the other hand have to take my word for it. I cannot urge acceptance or lose my temper. I have to trust new experiences to speak to them for themselves. I only increase resistance if I “Ooh, look! We couldn’t have done this in California!” about it all myself. Their BS antenna for my “bracing enthusiasm” is forensic anyway.

This season is what it is, and it’s tough.

They’ll get it eventually. They’ll stop not choosing this new life when the weight of good outweighs the weight of loss. In the meantime, without comment, I turn our attention to newness.

We weren’t in California today, but we did go to a lovely local farm for lunch.

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We didn’t go to the beach with our dogs but we did take them to a bluebell wood by a lake (an adventure enhanced enormously by my falling in).

Falling in

We didn’t see sand crabs underwater, but we did see newly hatched toads.

Toads

I remind the kids that we are not victims of this new reality. The externals won’t change, but our response to them will always be our choice. With due process, beggars can absolutely be choosers after all.

And I tell them this.  The guts they both show in the meantime by just showing up,

Guy

continues to take my breath away.

jsg/march 17

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A Severe Mercy.

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We all have our favorites, right?  In the Bible, my two favorite women are Sarah and Ruth.

Sarah, because no matter what Abraham did she remained faithful to God. And God honored her.

Ruth, because she played the hand she was dealt.  

I’m sure Ruth did not want to be widowed and she did not want to be childless. But she was.  However, she didn’t bugger off home like the other widowed sister-in-law. She looked around at what was left and thought, “Right.  I’ve got my mother-in-law, Naomi, and she’s got a God she trusts.  I’ll go with her and her God, and together we’ll find our Kinsman Redeemer and he’ll take care of us.  And then we’ll go from there.”

And of course she did this. She and Naomi found Boaz, he did the honorable thing and he and Ruth got married.  And from their line -from Ruth’s faithfulness and Boaz doing the right thing – eventually came Jesus. Who saved everyone.

All because Ruth played the hand she had been dealt.  She didn’t refuse the cards.

The problem with stories we know well is that we re-read them already knowing the ending:

“And of course Ruth met Boaz and it was all tickety-boo in the end.”

“And of course Noah obeyed God. The rain came down and the flood came up and they were marooned with stinky animals for aaaages. But the dove came back, the waters went down and there was land for them and on they went.”

“Well of course Joseph‘s brothers did try to kill him BUT (after various nasty episodes) it all came right. Because Joseph became ruler of Egypt and his brothers had to come begging, his dad survived to see him and he forgave everyone in the end.”

And we re-read them and praise God’s faithfulness and thank Him for His same faithfulness today.

Yet it’s hard to rejoice when you don’t know the end of your own story, and the people in the Bible didn’t know theirs either. What was it like for them?

No one talks about Ruth’s grief in her story line.  I bet she walked in tears most of the way with Naomi. Questioning God, questioning why her life should have gone that way.  But she kept walking. Ruth persevered which must mean that (unlike Naomi) she had hope that her story wasn’t over. She wouldn’t give up.  She refused to go, “Well stuff this. It’s over for me. What’s the point.” She did the next thing available, and then the next, and then the next.

Which is actually the only way one can walk out one’s story, right?  There is no skipping chapters.  There is no flipping to the back page to check in advance.

So I have had to ask, like Ruth, “What are the cards I’ve been dealt, and what can I do with them now?”

Like Ruth I weep for no marriage and no home, but I have two beautiful children and I have somewhere that we can go. And have now gone.  It’s just on the other side of the world.

The opportunity to be here is a severe mercy because it forces me and the children to leave so much behind. But it is mercy nonetheless. To be allowed to return and be present to people we love. While they are still here to be present to.

So, like Ruth, I shall persevere and do the next thing.

The story isn’t over.

 

 

jsg/aug 16

 

The Hate Monster and the Bitterness Pill.

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Here is how the Hate Monster comes into your life.

You are in terrible pain and you hear a knock on your front door.

“What?” you growl, swinging it violently open.

“Hi there!” the beguiling hulk says cheerfully. “I understand you have some pain you’d like removed? I’m just the guy for the job. You give me the pain and I… take it away!”

“What’s the catch?” you ask, irritated that he’s even caught your attention.

“No catch! Give me your pain and I take it away and recycle it. Only one stipulation – I can only take away particular kinds of pain. I don’t do knees, gastrointestinal tract, cancer, that sort of thing.”

“Well, what do you take then?”

“I take any pain that is taking up space in your heart? That’s my specialty.”

As it turns out you have quite a lot of that, or at least some.

“How much do you take?” you ask in a suspicious tone.

“Only the bit that hurts! Everything else, I promise, will be left untouched.”

“OK,” you say. And the deal is done.

Only after he’s taken that part of your heart and recycled it into hate, do you recognize the catch. You’ve got less heart to use.

You’ve got less capacity.

For compassion.

For empathy.

For patience.

For trust.

For generosity.

For forgiveness.

For Love.

For Hope.

Every time the Hate Monster has persuaded you (often with little persuasion) to part with those pieces which hurt so badly, he leaves you with less and less storage for the qualities only your heart can produce which bring you life.

It is so tempting to answer his knock. “Anything but this pain,” you groan. “Hate will lighten my load, it will incinerate my roadblocks, it will give me energy and invigorate me out of this torpor.”

And it will. It will do all these things. Except what you will be left with is not life, but nothing. And nowhere to go. There aren’t any roadblocks because there’s so much less available road.

You got rid of the pain, but it was not redeemed. Instead, you let the pain take you, overcome you, destroy you.

Leaving you with less heart to move forward. To move beyond. To try again. To stay open to life in all its unimaginable possibilities.

Your lesser heart wants to make you stay indoors. Not try. Not help. Not hope. It’s too exhausting to hope when you have so little heart left to do all the jobs intended to be done by a whole one.

So if not to the Hate Monster, where will you go with your hurt?

And then there’s the Bitterness Pill. Most often provided by the Hate Monster to deaden the pain of getting parts of your heart removed. “This will help,” he assures you. “Nearly all my clients take this as a 2 for 1 deal. It makes a lot of sense really.”

So you’re persuaded to take the Bitterness Pill. But it doesn’t deaden the pain. It turns whatever is left of your heart sour. A sourness that leaves a nasty taste in your mouth that no amount of water, wine or wisdom can wash away.  It’s corrosive.

The sourness is so distracting that when people ask you a question, you can’t even hear them properly. “What are you asking of me now? Can’t you see I have this horrible taste in my mouth? It takes all my energy to just get through my day! Shut up and go away. Find someone who cares, because it won’t be me.

And they do. The people go away. And so the Hate Monster comes again and finds even more treasure waiting for him to consume. To “take away”. And you wash another Bitterness Pill down with the contaminated water he just happens to carry with him.

He says it’s water. It has the quality of water. It’s a liquid. But that’s where all similarity ends. Because it’s a toxic formula intended to slowly poison whatever pockets of your heart still hold life. To poison you slowly so you won’t even notice and stop it in time.

And so the cycle continues. Until you have no one who is willing to stay around you. No one who is willing to keep calling out the living heart that still beats within you, because you are actually still alive…

The Hate Monster and the Bitterness Pill are not our friends. Tempting as they both appear to be in the short-term/quick fix category.

They are merely deceivers. Out to kill, steal and destroy. Have nothing to do with them. And alert your neighbors to what they look like, how they appear.

If you do refuse to do business with either of them, what can you do with your pain? Where can you go?

I know of only One who has the mojo to heal and redeem what hurts so badly in the human heart.

And He’s already in the house.

 

 

Jsg/March 16

Truth is a Rock.

‘Look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn.’

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My kids went back to school this week. This is actually more momentous than it sounds since for the last three years we have been homeschooling.

I loved homeschooling, as much as it challenged and exhausted me, and the kids loved it too. Spontaneous field trips, creative projects, learning history through different disciplines, math drills on the trampoline! You get the idea. However, our family is in the midst of a divorce.  The children’s father didn’t want me to continue schooling them at home, and I can no longer afford to.

So as my two walked off down the path last Wednesday, they were as much filled with anticipation and excitement as sadness and anxiety. The first few days have gone relatively well considering all change is hard. However, the grief at changing their style of schooling is going to take a little longer to overcome.

On the first two evenings, my daughter just plain refused to go back. Not because she hated the school, but because she rejects the change. It’s very painful. I’m the safest repository (aka mum) so I got all the heat. At the end of the second evening of exhausting emotion, I said to my sweet, weeping daughter, “You can call me whatever you like. But the truth is I cannot homeschool you any more. I CAN NOT. So, my love, you can either break yourself against this rock, or stand upon it. Either way, it is not going to change.”

Sometimes it sucks to be Mum.  I can’t change their new reality, but I can brace them for it. I can stand with them in it and encourage them that – as He always does and though we cannot see it yet – God will turn all of this change around for our good.

And then I walked inside. And poured myself a glass of wine.

All change is a kind of death isn’t it. And Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages of grief apply across the board, no matter the type of death: the loss of a loved one/a friend/a career/a reputation/prosperity/a way of life/an unrealized dream/one’s health. While Kubler Ross avers that no two people grieve in exactly the same way, she pinpointed five emotions that are most commonly experienced in grief:

Denial

Anger

Bargaining

Depression

Acceptance

And we flail against reality in the midst. Like a shipwreck survivor in high seas seeing a rock to climb upon but just wanting to go back to a ship that is no longer there.

One of my true soul mates died last week. And this is exactly how I have been reacting. She lived in Scotland and I am in LA, so I’m finding it hard to even grasp that it’s true. Then I’m angry that such a spectacular human could die so young. Then I’ve been fantasising about how I could have gone to see her if I’d known – and can’t I go now? My sadness has already brought me low and no doubt will last unbearably for a while and then in perpetuity. Even though I will slowly come to accept that she is gone.

Sarah Jane is still in the denial and anger period over school. And so be it. Why should anyone expect her to just snap out of it? There have been some very crappy changes over the past few years and she has every right to respond however vociferously she wishes. I have let her know that I will only be present for the flailing for a certain length of time, but she must make her choice to stand as she is able.

Truth is a rock. It is hard and unyielding. And it does not change.

For example, death happens. This is true. God didn’t intend us to suffer in this way but, here we are, and He’s given us a hand up onto a Rock that no waves can reach.

I have chosen to stand on that Rock. And that Rock is not an inanimate object or set of rules to live by, but a person. A person I know, chat with, question, hangout with, rail against, and listen to.

And while I’m standing on that rock, I remind myself from whence I came. That I was in the sea. I saw truth but I wanted back on the sinking boat. Until, weary and at the end of my own strength, I spotted the hand extended to me, and I met its owner, and I climbed onto a rock.

This was my journey. Not yours. You have all the same choices I have to make, how you make them is nothing to do with me.

Paul exhorts us to speak the truth in love to those in whom we are in relationship. This doesn’t mean just speaking it anytime even if I think my intention is loving. In my experience, silence can actually be more powerful and loving than anything that could be said. Sometimes your kid has to eat the whole bag of candy and throw up to realize he never wants to do that again, himself. He has discovered something to be true, I didn’t tell him the truth.

I didn’t shield my daughter from the truth of her situation, that could not have been loving. I spoke the truth to her in love, and because I am in a relationship with her which gives me the right to do so. I just pray she stops bashing herself against it soon.

Isn’t all truth that is actually heard founded in relationship? Quite beside the fact that speaking the truth without love invokes a nightmare. It’s a rock, it’s hard and it can HURT LIKE HELL. Not only to the one spoken to but to the speaker themselves.

So here is where this is leading. The story this week about Kim Davis has obviously provoked debate. Not to promote further discussion, but here’s my tuppeny worth. If you understand yourself to be standing safely on a rock (and even if you were on your own turf and not in your place of employment), how can it be constructive (aka loving)  to pick up a hard pebble at your feet and hurl it at those whom you consider to be in the sea?

I think I’d prefer to drown or look for a different passing ship, if I were them.

jsg/sept15

“True pain is quiet.”

Quiet

My friend dropped the comment into our conversation almost as an afterthought and I felt the truth of it plop down into my spirit like a small pebble into a deep lake, the ripples going out and out and out.

How perfectly put.  How much we register this truth in ourselves even though little mentioned or turned towards.

I know when my young children aren’t seriously hurt because they make an enormous fuss.  The moment I truly worry is when they are brave, and come to me with solemn faces saying quietly, “Mummy, I hurt myself.”

Our deepest pain is the one we can’t just talk about.  Even to ourselves.  So we pile it all into a trunk, cram it in, close the lid and hope to throw the key away far enough that it will never be found.

We bury it because we can’t kill it.  We can only bury it alive.

With the deepest grief, after cathartic wailing and public lament, we are left simply with grief itself.  Unchangeable immovable grief.  And we are alone.  Like sitting in an empty Norman church in the English countryside on a Sunday afternoon with the sun slanting through stained glass hitting the pew in front of us.

Light is visible, but it’s not on us.

We flee silence, because in the silence we can hear the quiet reality of pain.  Nothing to distract us or smother it with noise.

Or we seek silence.  The relief of being present to it but not having to say or do anything about it to put others at ease.

We know our own true pain.  Is it possible to hear one another’s?

Only if we are quiet too.  Only if we can settle ourselves to say nothing but sit and stay present to the relentlessness of it.

How often am I prepared to let the quiet of true pain present itself to me – either in myself or someone near.  To listen to its quiet, knowing there is nothing I can say to change it.  That there is simply value in keeping company beside it.  To look knowingly into each other’s eyes, stay quiet and stay put.

In my own pain, there is one more thing I know. That even when I am alone, it is never just I who sit in its quiet.

I have the One who is always with me, already listening too.

jsg/oct 14