Thursday, July 04, 2013

Tragedy, Surprise and Hope

“Everything is interim. Everything is a path or a preparation for the next thing, and we never know what the next thing is. Life is like that, of course, twisty and surprising. But life with God is like that exponentially. We can dig in, make plans, write in stone, pretend we're not listening, but the voice of God has a way of being heard. It seeps in like smoke or vapor even when we've barred the door against any last-minute changes, and it moves us to different countries and different emotional territories and different ways of living. It keeps us moving and dancing and watching, and never lets us drop down into a life set on cruise control or a life ruled by remote control. Life with God is a dancing dream, full of flashes and last-minute exits and generally all the things we've said we'll never do. And with the surprises comes great hope.”  ~ Shauna Niequist, author of Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday 

The past year was more than twisty and surprising. Seven months out, I go to bed thinking about the shift that has come in many relationships since my husband's death. I sense it, even though it is so subtle it's barely perceptible, and I wonder again, “Is it my imagination?”

I look again at reality, and I pick up the book on grieving and read how relationships change after a loss. So it isn’t just me.

Many can't think about what happened without thinking, "What if that happened to me?" This is such a large question; most don't want to think about it. Or about how the bereaved spouse must be feeling. Seven months have passed, shouldn’t he/she be over it already?

We just don't know what to do with tragedy.

The Lord knows those who are his. Knows the end from the beginning. There are no surprises to Him. But this is a pretty epic move for me into different emotional territories and different ways of living. The grief book says, “Let yourself feel the emotion.”

Must I?

Photo: Cory Huchowski

A flood of unparalleled and catastrophic proportions has decimated my beautiful city, the surrounding towns and the glorious Foothills containing some of my favorite hiking trails and campsites. Several dear friends are directly affected; thousands more cannot yet return home, some will have their homes declared uninhabitable; thousands more have begun helping those affected, shoveling tons of sludge and tearing out what has been destroyed.

Photo: First Alliance Church Calgary #FACHELPS

I wake, lie still in my still house, on a record-hot day, still thinking about the growing distance in my personal relationships, the challenge of my work commitments, the needs of aging family members, and all the other emotional, physical and logistical limitations that prevent me from helping my friends as a flood clean-up volunteer. Will this only create more distance between us?

I crawl up in a ball, tight in the fetal position and begin to wail. So many people are grieving; my hurt in my loss - and this twisting spin into a solitary life - seems to pale in comparison. I cry more for my inability to help them.

I feel like those who need to clean their homes after the flood, gutting them right down to the foundation, and piling it high on the sidewalk outside, looking like a war zone.

Photo: Peggy Abbott

Photo: First Alliance Church Calgary #FACHELPS

My life needs a gutting.

But how? I imagine changing my work, but that’s not the answer - at least not right now. I de-clutter, give away ill-fitting clothes, sort through old family slides to try to find me. I hire a Personal Organizer. She gets a day job, gets sick and abandons our partnership. I consider moving, I look at show homes and talk to builders and visualize moving into a fresh clean bright new place to live, free of the memories of the past: A Fresh Start.

And I wake, in the stillness of my still house, lying still, reading about grief and how I need to let myself feel instead of ignoring it or numbing it by avoidance or busyness or fantasy or (fill in the blank).

Let yourself feel.

And so I wail. Not for long. But long enough. I'm not losing it. I'm gutting my emotions.

This is normal. It will subside. No need to pity me or fear me or avoid me. The chance of me bursting into tears in the middle of our conversation is minimal at best. You don't need to do anything. No need to arrange an intervention. No need to be embarrassed. Or feel awkward. Or cross the street to avoid me because you don’t know what to say or you’re just too spent with your own grief to hear someone else’s. I get that. Totally. I promise not to dump my emotional sludge on you.

This is grief. It is tragedy. It is life. It’s not “good.” But it IS normal. It is the human condition in a broken world. Why should I (or you) be exempt from trouble? We groan. We grow. We laugh. We fail. We hope.

I know you pray for me. I know you hurt for me. But there's no need to worry. The Lord knows those that are his. And he knows me. And he holds me. Each of us must bear our own burdens, at times. And we must bear one another's burdens, at times. But ultimately, God is the one who helps me shoulder my emotional backpack and when I can’t go on, he carries me.

Here’s what you can do:

Walk beside me and be my friend. That's gutting life to the true foundation. Hold my heart as we move and dance and watch, and let’s never drop down into a life set on cruise control or a life ruled by remote control. Sometimes I need to talk, but most times I just need to git 'er done. If you really want to do something practical, I have a list. Just ask.

That takes guts. And God. And each other: Open. Vulnerable. Trusting.

The guttural groans subside, I wipe my eyes, comb my hair and step back out into the messy "one beautiful life" I've been given. I can’t do it all, but I can do the next thing. It's gonna be a good day to work and give and rest and cry and laugh and love.

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. – Philippians 1:6

Now that is surprise and hope.