Thursday, March 10, 2016

Just When It Seems It Can't Get Any Worse...

My sister, Kathy, died on Thursday, Feb.
25th, after a final six-week ending to her
journey with cancer. She never would
permit anyone to use the language of
"fighting cancer", "battling cancer", or
being "at war with cancer", since all of
these terms connoted a violence to her
which was simply not in keeping with
who she was and what she believed. She
felt that it put one's own body in conflict
with itself, and she needed all of her
body's forces to be aligned and united in this day-to-day journey she
faced and walked with beauty and grace and determination for
nearly four years.
     My other sister, Susan, my daughter, Hope, Kathy's best friend,
Debby, and I had the privilege and joy- oxymoronic as that may
sound- of helping to care for her during those weeks, along with
her wonderful, caring, and dedicated husband, Larry, her precious
son, Wren, and his lovely girlfriend, Carolyn. Together, we formed
a small community of care-givers, accompanied at times by Lucille,
Kathy's amazing massage therapist, Kevin, her acupuncturist, and
several nurses from Hospice. It was the best of times; it was the
worst of times...and I am certain that not one of us would trade
away those days and hours, even as we worked hard and watched
someone we loved gradually fading away.
     My youngest son, Paul, and I headed back to Arlington for the
funeral and memorial services on Sunday morning and, just as we
arrived at the house, just as I was about to enter thru front door,
my cell phone rang and at the other end was the frantic voice of
one of my parishioners, telling me that the daughter- the twenty-
three-year-old daughter- of another member had that afternoon
committed suicide. I am not easily shaken, but I admit that my
knees almost buckled under me as I was hit by this tragic piece of
news. And there I was, three hundred plus miles and nearly six hours
away.
     Breathing a frantic prayer of "Help, God! Help them. Help me.
Help!" I went into the backyard and made a series of phone calls...
to the family, to my own pastor to ask her to be available if this
family needed her, to a long-time, caring, and responsible member
of the parish to alert him to what had happened and to ask him to
let other members know. And promising everyone that I would be
home on Tuesday afternoon. Jennifer, my dear pastor-friend, gave
me both comfort and loving advice: "You are where you need to be
right now, doing what you need to do. Leave the rest in our hands
for now. All will be well... and BREATHE."
     The next hours spent with family were truly Holy Ground, and
over the next twenty-four, I saw loved ones I had not seen in far
too long. Together, we remembered and cried and laughed and
offered our thanks to God for Kathy's presence in our lives for these
sixty-five years, and to Kathy, for being the unique person she was
and for bringing all of us together, even in the midst of loss and
sorrow. And then, all too quickly, it was Tuesday morning and we
were back on the road, hastening home in a bit of an emotional
fog to deal with what still lay ahead...a family in deep grief and
confusion to comfort and uphold, all the while planning a funeral
and writing a sermon, my first for someone who had taken their
own life in my twenty-five years of ministry.
      To say I felt overwhelmed is a vast understatement and my
somewhat frantic prayers never stopped. I needed words and had
none. But once again-as has happened so often in my life- angels
appeared in the form of my pastor and another wonderful pastor-
friend who had been through this in the past six months or so.
"Help!" I cried to these two special women of God and help they
did...with words of guidance and encouragement and wisdom.
And the words came...and I spoke them...feeling a bit like the
blind leading the blind as I shared feelings and questions,
offering the only comfort I knew- that God was grieving along
with us, that he wept over the death of this beloved child of his
as surely as we all did, and that this grace-filled, merciful God
loved her beyond measure.
      In the week since, I have found myself exhausted by seven
or eight each evening, falling into bed to sleep for nine or ten
hours, awaking mostly refreshed but totally worn out by early
evening. And I have to keep reminding myself that this work
of grieving is exhausting, stripping one of every ounce of energy
and strength as the spirit tries to cope with the stripping away
of one much loved from one's life.
      Outside in my yard, daffodils are blooming everywhere, a
riot of cheery yellows to lift my spirits. Temperatures have
risen nicely, to warm my shivering heart. And inside my dear
house, a passel of sympathy cards, each with a lovely note,
graces my sideboard, while a beautiful arrangement of spring
flowers from a precious friend has pride of place on my room
table, each and all reminding me of the loving care of friends
in many places.
      And so, tonight, as I prepare to go to bed a bit later than has
been my recent habit, I find myself breathing more easily, my
heart lighter, and gratitude overflowing...though I do hope and
pray that I won't soon- or perhaps ever- have a week like this
one. From my mouth to God's ear, as they say here in the south.

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