Response to Grief

It intrigues me why some people grow bitter and some grow sweeter while facing a personal tragedy. What makes the difference?

rachel (white) berry

I Samuel 29 records the story of when David and his men return to their city of Ziglag and discover it has been destroyed and all their women and children taken into captivity.

Understandably, David was greatly distressed, and he wept “till there was no more strength in him.” BUT “David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord His God.” And then he sought the Lord through Abiathar the priest and asked the Lord for direction.

The response of David’s men is in stark contrast. They experienced the same bitter grief, but they turned on David and wanted to stone him.

It reminds of when the children of Israel blamed Moses for their plight in the wilderness.

It reminds me of Americans who blame their President when they lose a son in war.

It reminds me of MKs (missionary kids) who blame their Mission for their boarding school experience.

In our grief, we tend to make illogical accusations and decisions. It’s much easier to blame others instead of taking responsibility for our own emotions and choices. Blame is a way to discharge pain. It wasn’t David’s fault for what happened to his followers’ wives. It wasn’t the President who shot the bullet. It wasn’t the Mission that cruelly punished the child.

Grief brings out what’s already in our hearts. Who are you blaming for your pain?

 

I hugged an angel today

From my 2009 Journal, February 16. The floodgates of grief for my mom burst open today. I cried all day at work and then headed for Wal-Mart to pick up some groceries. I was at the checkout line when I met an angel.

Angel girl

Found on Pinterest

In front of me stood a harried mom with her two kids—a boy seated in the cart and a girl (perhaps 3) walking beside him, holding a Barbie doll. I knew the doll wasn’t hers because there was plastic wrap still on the hair—which she proceeded to pull off—and she began walking the doll across the floor. I wondered as I watched her if her mom knew it was in her possession. But what struck me the most—it actually took my breath away—was her stunning beauty. Her facial features were soft, round, angelic; her hair perfectly shaped and combed; and she was dressed in a pure white knit coat.

Meanwhile, her little brother was playing with a toy camera. I wondered if that was his or if it belonged to the store. Twice he dropped it from the cart.

My attention was suddenly drawn to the mom and her words:

   To the cashier:  a comment on how expensive diapers are and that she’d bought the cheaper brand.

   To her daughter: “Don’t sweep the floor with your coat; it’ll get dirty, and pick up the camera for your brother.”

The mom finished paying for her groceries and then turned to her daughter. “I’m not buying that for you; give it to the lady. It doesn’t belong to you,” she demanded. I must confess I felt perturbed at her for allowing the child to carry it with her throughout the store if she had no intention of purchasing it.

At those words, that sweet angelic face shattered into a wail of grief. It was not out of rebellion—I think I can tell the difference. If there had been rebellion in the tears, I would not have responded as I did.

The little family headed for the door and I asked the cashier, “How much is the doll?” Quickly she scanned it. A mere $4—a small amount to me, but perhaps out of reach for a mom buying cheap diapers. “Put it on my bill,” I said and ran after the little girl, leaving behind my cart and my intended purchases. I knelt beside her, put my arms around her and held out the doll. “If it’s okay with your mommy, I’d like to give this to you.”

Mom’s response:  “You don’t need to do that; she has more Barbies at home.” And then, “Thank you.”

Quickly I returned to my cart, aware that I was holding up the line. I was loading the last of my goods onto the conveyor belt when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little angel barreling toward me, arms outstretched. I knelt; we hugged, tears still on her lashes, tears in my own eyes. I don’t know if she said a word, but I whispered, “I love you.” It was sweet comfort to my grieving soul.

It wasn’t until I was at my car, parked a long way from the door, that I realized I’d forgotten to pick up the $5 rotisserie chicken I’d planned for supper. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll stop in at Kroger on the way home, although it’ll be more expensive there ($6 or $7).”

I was still kicking myself over my forgetfulness and the added grocery expense when it occurred to me that if I had made time to go to the chicken aisle at Wal-mart, I would have missed my angel hug. I ran into Kroger, and there on the heating table was one roasted chicken that had been reduced—to $4. I think God was grinning.

Public Tears

From my 2009 Journal. Grief is a very private affair that sometimes turns public. In America we watch mourners at funerals, and if they don’t cry, we say that they are holding up well. I think Middle Easterners and my African friends have a better perspective. They set aside a time to wail and to mourn—publicly. Their cultural norm is to let the emotions out when a loved one passes away. There’s something healthy about this practice. So why do we keep back tears when we are in public? 

Sometimes when you hurt, you want space to cry alone, away from prying eyes. I remember while at boarding school, crying alone or privately was nearly impossible. Someone invariably would insist on asking why you were crying and then try to fix it for you with platitudes: It’ll be all right. God knows best. Romans 8:28, etc. Or worse yet: Don’t cry! Sometimes you just didn’t feel like sharing your hurt with them, but it felt rude to say it was none of their business. All you really needed was for someone to hold you or cry with you.

FireMy Visual: When I am grieving, I have a secret place in my heart where fire is burning and glowing and I need to release that pain. But if someone opens the door of my heart without my permission and snatches that fire, and I don’t know if I can trust him or her or not with my heart,  it feels like a violation.

It is okay to protect your heart. You don’t have to respond rudely if you don’t care to share. Just be honest: I don’t feel like talking about it right now. If they care about you, they’ll respect your space. If they’re pushy, just walk away. But that fire will consume you if you don’t open the door at some point. Grief needs to be released in order to heal a broken heart.

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord . . . (Lamentations 2:19).

How do you handle grief when you are in public and why?

The Journey Not to Home Part I

How should we respond to another person’s struggles? When is it appropriate to confront people? Is it ever right to judge them for their actions? How can I forgive if their actions or attitude affect me? Is it a matter of simply waiting for their heart to change? When do we put up with, when do we confront? How do we love them through it?

Journal from May, 2007. Moving my 88-year-old parents and Betty, a single missionary lady, from California to Florida was traumatic for all of us. It began yesterday at 6 a.m. with a 2-hour drive to the airport, arriving 2 hours and 40 minutes before takeoff. The flight was 4 ½ hours long, and it felt like an eternity. I was in charge of Mom while Paul [my brother] had to assist my incontinent Dad in navigating the tiny lavatory on board.

When we landed in Orlando, between us all we had 2 wheelchairs, 1 dog, and 12 pieces of luggage. In the flurry of getting everyone settled into the rental van, I forgot to pick up Dad’s walker. I hope we can retrieve it later from the airport.

The two-hour drive to Sebring was the hardest part of the journey. We pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot for dinner, and I entered the restaurant to place our order, thinking we’d all remain in the car to eat. But Dad decided at the last minute that he needed to make a pit stop. Without his walker, he had to hold onto Paul to walk to the building. In the process, Dad’s pants fell to his ankles in the parking lot! I was coming out the door at that moment, laden with all the sandwiches and drinks when I noticed the debacle. “Look at Dad’s pants!” I yelled at Paul.

Betty grabbed the food, I grabbed Dad’s left side, and Paul held on tight while bending down to pull up the pants. Somehow we made it through supper inside and got everyone back into the van. By this time, Dad was near exhaustion.

We arrived at their new home, and Mom put Dad to bed immediately. She had to struggle with changing his soiled Depends and finding a plastic sheet for the bed. And then she collapsed, weeping with great heaving sobs of relieve that the ordeal was over. I think we were all awake most of the night, too tense and exhausted to fall asleep.

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Day 5. After unpacking all their worldly goods, hanging photos on the wall, hooking up the TV, etc., I had a little time to explore the retirement complex and greet several missionaries I ran into, including Evie Lohnes.

My dear mother, so strong, so nurturing, so full of life to me growing up, is hurting so much. She carries a lot of anger, disappointment, grief and pain inside, and it continues to leak out in outbursts of irritation and tears over her losses. It was not her choice to make this move across the country, leaving behind her beloved daughter and grandchildren. And I think she feels the weight of caring for Dad as she has done all of her life.

In contrast, I listened to Evie, a recent widow, who spends her days in prayer and praise and a positive spirit with sweetness and encouragement. I asked her how she got to be this way, and she answered in a partial way:  “My husband was the most wounded man I know . . .” and then proceeded to tell me all the good he’d done in his lifetime. I could only read between the lines—that she was driven to her Savior for comfort and help. [I have pondered this statement many times throughout the years as I face whatever trials I go through or meet with difficult people.]

In church today the soloist sang “My Anchor Holds,” and the tears came unbidden. When Evie prayed for me and my parents, I wept openly. And now at 3 a.m. I lie awake and continue crying. For whom do I weep? For myself? For my mother’s sadness?

How much does Daddy feel? Sometimes he’s so out of it; other times he’s quite lucid and worried over details. I think he must feel what Mom is feeling. How can her mood not affect him? But he is totally dependent on her. She has become his mother.

The air in this house is thick, heavy, sad, oppressive. Negativity in the atmosphere can be toxic. At Evie’s, the light is bright and a cool refreshing breeze is blowing.

Lord, I don’t want to become a bitter, cantankerous, angry old woman in my old age. I want to find beauty in ashes, joy in sorry, light in the darkness. Lord, teach me.

Day 14. I just finished up a hard two weeks of listening to my mother struggle with anger, disappointment, grief and feelings of betrayal over their forced move to Florida. If we’re not related to a person or living with them, it’s easy to shrug off their negativity. But living with daily bitterness is wearing on one’s soul. I found myself reacting back in anger and irritation.

Jesus minced no words of condemnation for those whose hearts were blinded by self-importance. But those who had a repentant heart, He freely forgave and comforted. What if a person blatantly holds pride and sin inside? What if he/she is simply protecting pain? I cannot see inside another person’s heart, but I do know that what comes out of the mouth often reveals what’s inside.

I cannot judge my mother’s heart, but I can give God my own self-protection for the sorrow I feel. I choose to release my own anger to Him to carry.

To be continued next week . . .

The Day My Hero Died – On Releasing Grief

Ten years ago, on November 17, 2007, at 8:30 a.m. I got word that my dad was unconscious and at death’s door. By 11:10 a.m. I was on an airplane headed for Sebring, Florida, arriving at the nursing home at 6:30 p.m. Dad was unresponsive but alive. God gave me a special gift that night. I was 53 years old and had never before witnessed the dying process. Kay Breid, an MK friend from boarding school in Africa, was one of my dad’s caretakers and had been sitting by his bedside all afternoon. Kay coached me on what to expect. At 10:30 p.m. my precious daddy slipped quietly, peacefully into Jesus’ arms. I could almost feel the brush of angel wings. A holy moment.

Wednesday, November 21. I’ve shed no tears in the last three days. I don’t know why. Too much activity, too many decisions, visitors, family. Or is it that the suspense and waiting are finally over? I remember talking to a friend one time shortly after her husband died, and she called this initial season of grief “the blessed numbness before the pain.” Or is it God’s peace that’s carrying me?

We buried Dad on the day before Thanksgiving. I made sure there was a hanky in his outer pocket and a toothpick in his inner one (two things Dad always had in his possession). My mother was distraught. My own tears began to flow at last, but my sorrow for Dad was pain-free because of the hope we have of seeing him alive in his heavenly body. He was at peace and so was I.

The next day we flew Mom home to Tennessee with us for a while to rest and recover from the trauma. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese food in the Orlando airport.

That first week, I couldn’t seem to get back into a routine. It was like I was deep in the ocean with choppy seas above me.

November 26. As long as I stay well below the surface of the ocean, things are calm, peaceful, serene, and beautiful. But isn’t that escapism? How would it feel to rise to the top? Overwhelming. Bumpy. Desperate. How long may I stay down here? Emotionally, it feels too hard to surface. I’ll have to struggle and kick and survive and gulp seawater and flounder. Down below I can breathe and enjoy the fish and the coral in the pristine water.

What am I afraid of, Lord? I am willing to go to the top.

Quickly the scene changes. I find myself in shallow water. I can stand up, walk or wade toward shore. The sea is no longer threatening. There’s beauty in the sky and on the beach. I’m on solid ground.

Reality is not so scary after all.

November 28. I’m memorizing my mother’s face. How long does she have on this earth? One year? Ten? How precious this time is with her. Can I sear it into my brain? Is it only a week ago that we buried my father? [Mom died 14 months later.]

November 29. A priceless gift—or is it a gift from a Price?! Jim and Jean (Price) Cail sent Mom and me a breath-taking gift—a framed photo of my dad and mom taken a week and a half before he died. Mom and I cried together.

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“You’re the only girl I’ve ever loved – Lionel

November 30. I took a walk in my neighborhood, trying to release more grief. My Daddy was gone. I was excited for him; not so much for myself. And in my grief, a curtain parted slightly so I could catch a glimpse into “heaven.” There stood Jesus and my daddy (in his vigorous youth) in bright white light. I wanted to run to his big strong frame, to my earthly hero, and throw my arms around him and tell him how much I missed him.

But he looked at me and said, “I’m not your daddy anymore.”

Startled, I turned to Jesus and asked, “Is that true?!”

“Yes,” He responded. “In heaven there is no marriage and giving in marriage. Relationships are not the same up here.”

“But I need my daddy!” I cried.

And my earthly father turned and pointed to Jesus. “He’s your father now. I was given to you only for a short while—your stay on earth.”

“But what about your daily prayers for me?” I protested. “I NEELionel SegerD them.”

“It’s okay,” responded Jesus. “They’re all safely stored up here in boxes. I know where each one is, carefully logged and categorized. And now it’s time for you to become the next generation of prayer warriors.”

Quickly, I deposited prayers of my own into each of my own boxes: for my children and their spouses and their children and my great-grandchildren to come. My prayer for each of them is III John 4 that my daddy used to pray for me: that his children would walk in truth.

On Dec. 9 Mom celebrated their 60th anniversary with a special cake. I think Dad would have liked that. It made me smile.