Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Grief “rules”

May has often been a difficult month for me - despite the arrival of spring after a northeast winter.  There is this lingering melancholy that floats in the air around me.

My father - Charles J. Manske - died at the end of May.  He was listed as “missing in action”for barely 24 hours on May24, 1969 before declared dead after his plane went down in the South China Sea during ther Vietnam war.  The date of his death “fittingly” often falls on Memorial Day weekend.  I was just a month short of turning four years old and regretfully have no memories of my own, only those that I have borrowed from family.  Yet, there is that part of myself that is “missing in action” becasue of his premature death.

For the past ten years and until this past year, I had the celebration of my husband Michael’s birthday on May 11th (he was actually born on Mothers’ day) to bring some joy into an otherwise sad month.  That all changed on July 31, 2017 when after years of health problems, he died.  A deeper shadow now falls across this month that is otherwise marked with the new life of spring.

Though I have dealt with death both in my personal life and as a pastor, it is different when your spouse dies.  Even though I knew when we got married that death was a very real presence in our lives, you still don’t fully understand its depth until you face the days and months (and later years) after the death of your spouse.

I have read a few different books about grieving and widowhood - many of them about each person’s own experience with death.  What I have really learned from them - as well as from my own experience - is that for each of us death and grieving is different.  Not just because of who I am or what I have experienced, but because of the very nature of each life that was intertwined with my own - be it Michael, my dad, stepdad (Lee), grandparents, parishioners, etc. or those deaths that have touched your own life as well.

(Grief also takes on different forms and ways of being experienced as we face other “deaths” or changes in our lives - such as the loss of a job, changing health, other family and relationship situations)

The only real “rule” for grief that I have determined is that there are no set rules and that we each need to let our grief evolve and flow as we each need and experience it.  There is no set timeline for our grief nor an “ending date”.  It doesn’t expire, but rather it adjusts and morphs as we experience and live in and through it.

I am by no means an “expert” in grief - not even my own.  Yet, I remind myself that there are no “shoulds” to grief or proper or right ways to grieve.  Some will openly grieve; others will do so in private; still others will try to hold it at bay for as long as they can (yet grief buried will reveal itself at some point and in a variety of ways).  There have been days when I’ve felt as if “I’ve moved on” until it catches me off guard with a seemingly insignificant trigger.

No one can tell you how or when to grieve.  I believe that there is not a wrong way to grieve.  There is only my way or your way to grieve in our own time, through all the ebbs and flows of it.

There are certainly books that can flesh out the different stages of grief (though there is nothing chronological about them, but rather they spiral and circle around us).  And there are books that do share the experiences of others that can be helpful to just hear another voice that understands some of what each of us is living - though it is not as an exact replica.

A number of years ago, I titled my blog as “On the Way” which is apt for my life now as a widow.  Destination is unknown, but that is true for whatever any of our lives look like.  It is the path that we trod - sometimes wandering off to sit on the side of the road, contemplating where we have been.  Other times, we struggle across treacherous terrain and wonder if we will be wounded and then healed in the process.

There are times that others accompany us - in companionable silence as they reflect on their own journey; or who want to help us along the rough road.  Still others might try to rush us faster than we are ready to go or tell us where where we need to go

Still it is our feet that we need to put one in front of the other as we make our way.

I don’t know always know where I am going nor what is around the next curve.  What I do know , as a person of faith, is that Christ walks with me.  Assuring me that I am not alone and that when I’m undersure or weak or not sure about what I am doing on, that Christ is walking with me, offering me strength, hope and guidance.

I may from time to time continue to share this journey with you as I make my way.  Know that my prayers are often with all those who grieve as I am experiencing and living into this grief that is part of my life and that leads me towards hope as well as new life.

Blessings always!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Flexible struggles

A few days ago, I got a paper cut on the inner part of my right index finger, right behind the knuckle.  Thankfully, it has already begun to heal, but for that first day, it seemed that every time I bent my finger, I was reminded that it was there.   I have had numerous paper cuts over the years and this surely won’t be the last one (I am a bit clumsy after all).

Yet, as I reflected upon it - I realized that if I somehow avoided bending my finger, I didn’t have to deal with the pain.

About 20 plus years ago, I broke my pinkie on my right hand (which warrants its own blog post somewhere down the line).  I had to have a temporary pin put in as it was also right at the knuckle.  This was followed by weeks of hand therapy.  Yet, despite that, I cannot fully straighten or fully bend that finger.  It is still a bit crooked.

With the supposition that everything can be a sermon illustration, I got thinking about this small slice into my index finger in relationship to my crooked finger.  In not bending either finger, I was able to avoid pain and discomfort but I also was limiting its usefulness and my ability to do a variety of things.

Could we not say that about the way that we live our lives as well?

In our reluctance or inability to be flexible, do we not also limit our lives, our perspectives, our abilities to grow, stunt the growth of our faith?

We might think that it would be too painful to change, to be open to new things.  Or that it will be too  difficult to try.  That we aren’t somehow up to the challenge.

Yet, if we remain immobile, the muscles of our faith can atrophy.  And like my crooked pinkie, we limit what could be possible, what we might yet experience.

Change requires movement, flexibility and even discomfort and pain at times.  In changing, we find new things are possible - new ways of viewing our lives, our relationships, our perspectives.  In doing so, we open ourselves more fully up to God, remembering that with God all things are possible!