Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grief and Mourning, a couple of guys who really tried...

Today I am going to go all Biblical on you. Now, if you aren't the kind of person who reacts to that with "Woot! High-5!!", I'm going to ask you to bear with me. There are a few people in the Bible who have something to teach us about reaching out to people who are mourning. The funny thing is, these guys usually don't get good press in the average sermon or devotional.

The Bible is full of people who don't come off very heroic on paper, and it is one of my pet peeves that we tend to like to sit in our comfy little lives and shake our heads at them. Let's be honest. Most of us can barely handle a 20 minute wait at our local fast food joint. But we all think we'd be the epitome of sainted patience and trust while stuck hundreds of miles in the desert like the Israelites were, with no visible source of food or water and a multitude of hungry babies and animals depending on us. Really, now.

But I digress. These three guys are Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Good Biblical names. Given their selfless foray into the annals of Biblical loser history, one would think that they would be better known. But alas, they are not. In fact, they are best known by the company that they keep. That company would be a fellow named Job. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are Job's three friends, the ones that spent the majority of the book of Job trying to comfort him. In the beginning of the book, they rock. Later on, not so much.

Check it out - "When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads." Job 2:11-12

So, what was happening with Job? The book of Job is a book about sorrow, and suffering. And it begins with a challenge. God knows Job well. Job is a faithful man, a committed servant of God, and God has blessed him for his faith. One day, God points Job out to Satan, and praises Job for his faithfulness. Satan makes an observation. He wonders if maybe Job is so faithful because God has been so good to him. After all, who wouldn't love a God who had given him so much? God gives Satan permission to start hacking at some of Job's blessings. God is confident that Job's love is real, and that it is for God Himself, and not for the gifts from His hands. Satan does his best, and before the dust clears, Job has lost his livelihood, his wealth, and most horrifically, his many children. Later, God allows Satan to take another stab at the still faithful Job, with one stipulation - he is not allowed to take Job's life. So, Job loses his health, as well.

It is at this point that Job's friends show up.

They have heard about Job's losses, and immediately come together and commit to going to Job to offer what comfort they can. When they see him, even from far off, their hearts are broken for their friend and they begin to weep. Aloud. Because real men weep out loud.

But they don't stop with the tears. They continue on, tearing at their robes in pain, throwing dust on their heads as a public symbol of their mourning hearts. They are broken, because their friend is broken.

So, what comes next? This is the amazing part. Just listen to verse 13 - "Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was."

They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. They stayed. They took Job seriously. The took as much of his pain as they could, onto themselves. They committed to not leaving him alone. And they took their cue from Job. His pain was too big. There were no words. What do you say, when there's nothing to say? These guys said nothing. They wept and wailed, and probably prayed, but they understood. Job's pain was beyond words, and they loved him enough to be comfortable saying nothing.

Of course, when we read on in the book of Job, we see that when they did begin to speak, they weren't terribly helpful. Yeah, like we haven't all been there. But they stayed. They entered into Job's pain and stayed there, even when they didn't need to. It wasn't their pain. They had livelihoods, healthy families and livestock to go back to. Job couldn't get away from the pain that he was in, but his friends could have. They chose not to.

This impressed me. I have to ask myself, how willing am I to enter into the pain of others? Who cares if I have all the right things to say? There is a lot here about how to comfort and support those among us who mourn.

In fact, I think this may be worth two posts.

Until next time....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Call me crazy, but...

So, I knew that at some point in this series, I would begin to regret having started it. Who knew it would be less than a week into it? On Friday, I had a majorly difficult day, which led to thoughts somewhere along the line of, "What the frik have I done? Why on earth did this blog series ever make sense? Am I crazy? Of course I'm crazy. The real question is, WHY THE HECK DO I WANT TO BROADCAST TO THE ENTIRE WORLD THE EXTENT OF MY CRAZY??!!"

Alas, I have committed to this project, and it's too late to change my mind now. So here we are.

Friday was a rough day. I had an appointment with my cardiologist. I had been having a lot of angina over the summer, and he wanted to see me in November when the stress of starting school had settled down, and we could see if the angina was settling down as well. The question is always whether the angina is being caused by stress induced cardiac artery spasms or a blockage. Unfortunately, life never settled down after school started, and so rather than wait any longer, he is setting me up for a nuclear stress test to see if there are any blockages.

Most of us have experienced the physical consequences of stress and sorrow. Our bodies, spirits and emotions are interconnected, which is where nervous butterflies in our stomachs come from. Also the urge to pee when we are afraid. And stress headaches. And broken hearts that actually feel like broken hearts. People who are chronically ill learn to anticipate the effects of stress on their bodies. Sometimes, I think, when things are really tough, we go to the doctor for help with the physical symptoms when what we really want is just to feel better. We hope that this time, somehow, Dr. Miracle Worker will have the treatment that will make it all better. All of it.

So, when he instead focuses on the physical and sets up tests that just seem to add to the stress, we leave his office feeling discouraged. Or in my case, teetering on the edge of weeping and wailing. Stupid doctor. Stupid tests. A stress test? Does that really sound like something I need right now? Seriously?

Long story short, after the appointment, I went out for lunch and shopping with friends. The weeping and wailing started in the restaurant. Then I felt better. Then there was a little bit of weeping in the grocery store. Stupid poinsettias. Then I felt better. Got a 16 pound turkey for eight dollars. Yay for me.

A few years ago, my New Year's resolution was to be more honest and authentic in my writing, especially on my blog. The only censor that I want to allow is the censorship of love, respect and honor with respect to the people in my life. It's a fine line. I've tripped over it a few times. Of course, when I am talking about myself and my own feelings, I have much more freedom. The point behind this blog series on mourning is that people don't talk about their experiences with mourning, and many feel alone. We wonder if we are normal. We wonder what normal is. We are filled with things to say, and are often afraid of saying them. Or maybe it's just me.

In any case, the truth is that as scary as it is to live out loud these days, it's much scarier not to.

Call me crazy....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Grief & Mourning - Feeling Better

This morning, I woke up to the sound of a large vehicle outside my bedroom window. My first thought was, "Man alive, I hope that's a confused garbage truck." Turns out, it was a snowplow. Yeah, that was behind door #2.

So the world is covered with snow. And today, or more specifically, this morning, I am feeling better. Actually, after my post last night, I felt better. Then Madison, who is sporting a broken jaw and 3 broken ribs from an accident a week and a half ago, came down from her room and asked for custard. The last of which I had just eaten. So I made some more while she sat at the table and chatted with me. And I felt better. Then I asked Grace about a paper due in Strategies class today, and she told me about what she had written. And I felt better. Then I took the rat cage to the couch, with momma Feivel and her 9 six week old babies in it. I sat with the bottom of the cage on my lap while the ratties ran all over the cage bottom, munching on popcorn I had made for them and fighting for space in my hands. And you guessed it. I felt better.

Right after Mum died, I remember being disturbed by how easily the world just kept moving on without her. I had this odd sense, as I lived my life each day, that everything seemed so oddly normal. I probably even seemed normal. But I was walking around with a huge, gaping hole in my heart. Not knowing how to be, I just tried to be normal. It was confusing and hard. As time goes by, though, the world's determination to keep moving forward has become a kindness. Activities remind me that I am and always will be more than a broken heart. Relationships offer support and care, and opportunities to support and care for others. The ratties and Jean-Luc provide humor and "awwwww...'moments.

And the snow? The snow means it's now officially time to start playing Christmas music. And that's a very good thing.

I know that there are no guarantees for tomorrow, or even this afternoon. But for now, I'm feeling better.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Grief and Mourning

Well, I have to admit, I am not doing well. Yeah, I don't know what "doing well" would be at this point, but whatever it is, I'm pretty sure I'm not doing it.

I am overwhelmed. And exhausted. And in too much pain to even try to distract myself from it. I just want to sit and cry. And then lie down and cry.

There are a lot of things going on in my life, and I am glad for it all. I love the people in my life who live with me and need me. I love being in school, learning and being challenged. I am enjoying writing the papers and doing the work, although I have to admit sometimes the pressure of getting them done makes me want to crawl under my bed, as I recently expressed in a note to my history teacher, pleading for an extension on a paper due date. I know that if it wasn't for my people and school, I probably would be spending my life in bed. So it's all good.

But I'm not. I feel a constant sense of pressure in my chest. Sometimes my heart begins to race for no reason, often at night. I have times where no matter how hard I try, I cannot concentrate on what I am doing. I can't handle anyone else's anger. I am anxious all the time. It's a nameless anxiety, just a feeling really, but it is wildly uncomfortable.

I feel really, really alone, too. The one person who should be at my side has called me twice since my Mum died to "confront me about my issues" and tell me what a screw-up I am. One phone call was just days after Mum's death. So I know that I am better off dealing with this alone. But that just makes me feel sadder.

I think the hardest part of this is that even just saying all of this, I feel like I am whining. Knowing what I know about mourning, knowing that I would be honored to be available to listen to someone else's pain, knowing even that this is what this project is all about, and if I don't do this honestly and bravely, I shouldn't be doing it at all, still I feel like I shouldn't be doing it.

I'm doing it anyway because I am going by what I know, not only by what I feel.

On Friday I am going to see my cardiologist. We made the appointment in August. He wanted to see, once the stress of starting school passed, if the angina would settle down. Now September feels like ages ago. In any case, the appointment is coming at a good time.

I miss my mom. I don't know what Christmas will be like without her. A huge part of the Christmas traditions that I have upheld in my home, with my family, come from her. No matter how rough things were financially, she always managed somehow to keep Christmas. I have ornaments from my childhood trees that she gave me when I left home.

The cool thing about living my life following God is that I don't need to know how I am going to make it through something. I just need to keep moving forward. God will lead me through.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blog series - Grief & Mourning

And it begins.

There are a few things that I am hoping will happen with this series. I hope that others will share their experiences with grief and mourning, either in comments on this blog or as guest bloggers. I do not want my voice to be the only one ringing in this space. I have already asked one person to do a guest post. Be warned, you may be next. Don't want to suffer the anxieties of waiting to be asked? I'm accepting offers.

Out of respect for the subject and how vulnerable we are when we are mourning, I am changing my comment setting for the blog so that comments will have to be approved by me before they are posted. I know how fragile I feel about all this, and I want to create an environment of safety and respect for everyone. I can't control how others react to what we write, and I'm pretty sure I am over-reacting on this point, but I still think it's a good idea. Censorship? Maybe. Just think of me as the benevolent dictator of my own little blog-world. And pray the power doesn't go to my head. :)

So, what am I hoping to hear from you? Your experiences, good and bad. What kinds of things did people say or do that helped you to cope? What kind of things did people say or do that made you want to crumple into a wailing ball? When did you feel most sorrowful? How long did it take before you started to feel better? What were some of the other emotions that you may have felt, other than sadness? For example, guilt, anger, fear, frustration, relief, shock. You could share stories and memories of your loved ones, or tell us about possessions that you have that remind you of the person that you lost. How has going through a time of grief changed you? How are you still the same? Is there anything you would like to say to your loved one that you didn't get a chance to?

Please understand, this blog series is about support, healing, and encouraging one another in one of the most difficult circumstances that we as human beings will ever go through. My ultimate hope is that by sharing our experiences and feelings and by being heard and supported, we would find this path of mourning a little less bumpy, and a little easier to travel.

For the next three weeks, I will be posting four to six posts a week. Some will be from me. Others will hopefully be from you. If you have any questions, private comments or suggestions, please email me at

Before I sign I was in the IGA and I saw that they were selling those Christmas book packs of LifeSaver candies, the ones that hit the shelves every year at this time. My Mum used to get those for us and put them into our stockings. I barely made it out of the store before I started crying. It made me miss my mother so much, I could barely stand it. It also made me realize that this Christmas is going to be harder than I thought it would be. I cried all the way home.

And it begins.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Grief and Mourning, A Blog Series

Hello, everyone. It has already been three weeks since Mum's passing, and still it all feels a bit surreal. One thing that continually surprises me is the frequent questions I have about whether or not I am "normal". Am I doing it right? Should I be reacting like this, in this way, at this time? I have to admit, the questions irritate me, mostly because they are all in relation to what other people will think of the way I am grieving the loss of my mom. And I hate, hate, hate feeling controlled by what other people think.

For me, grieving as a natural, individual process. I know that there are countless self-help books available, the "How to grieve successful in 3 easy steps" kind of books, but somehow, they feel efforts like to harness a tornado. We have a tendency to want to rein in and control experiences, feelings and thoughts that frighten us and cause us pain. Of course, this makes sense. If we could stop our loved ones from dying, we would. But we can't. It happens. Do we then settle for the next best thing? If we can't control the experiences, do we work on controlling our reactions to the experiences? Do we then extend those expectations to others when they have cause to mourn? And if we do, is that truly the healthiest way to deal with things?

One of my Cegep classes is called Strategies for Successful College Studies. Our teacher has given us a final assignment that involves using some gift or ability that we have to improve the life of at least one person. Initially my plan to was to do a blog series on the topic of suicide prevention. A dear friend of my husband's had tragically committed suicide in September, and I wanted to create an place, within the walls of this blog, where others could share their experiences and thoughts about suicide. I may still do this at some point.

Then Mum got sick. And passed away. My strong desire to create something that might possible help those who have been touched by suicide is still alive. The thing is, at this point in my life, I don't have the emotional strength to go there. At least not until I go somewhere else first. And that somewhere else is the valley of the shadow of death. I want to do my assignment on grief and mourning.

In the coming days, I will write about the shape that this assignment will take, what I am hoping for and what I need from you. Yes, you. Because this is not just my thing. Even today, I have a beautiful young friend who is mourning the loss of her father, who passed away seven years ago. I will be asking for your help. Your voice. Your thoughts.

The plan for the coming blog series on grief and mourning is a bit foggy right now, but that's okay. The idea is to begin talking about it. To get used to talking about it. To learn to listen, really listen, to others who are talking about it.

My next post will talk in more detail about what I need from you. In the meantime, please be thinking and praying about what you might be able to share with us. Be assured, this blog is a safe place, and I plan to keep it that way. Anything you share can easily be anonymous if you like.

Until next time, much love to you all.
My Zimbio