Posts Tagged ‘death’

Lamentations

It’s funny how sometimes God knows exactly what you need.

Turns out what I needed was the last thing I wanted to do. As I had mentioned, I spent the weekend in Anaheim at the Religious Education Congress. I had two big events on the schedule: I was coordinator for the Lamentations Liturgy on Friday night (a role which entailed a lot of planning, some same-day meetings, organization of all materials, and finally participating in a small choir) as well as a hired choir member for the Celtic Liturgy on Saturday evening. Even though the two events were on Friday at 9:30pm and Saturday at 5:15pm, respectively, there were plenty of meetings and rehearsals to attend in the hours leading up to each event. I knew it would be exhausting.

Usually when I arrive at Congress, the opening ceremony is one of my favorite events. It’s always filled with good friends, amazing music, fantastic preaching, and a lot of joy. This year I couldn’t shake the heavy darkness. I felt terribly sad on Friday morning. I didn’t want to be at Congress. I just wanted to be at home, in bed.

But as the day wore on, I had to step into the leadership role that I had come to fill. Which was a bit of a distraction. We heard a good talk by Ron Rolheiser, and we met up with some friends. By the time the Evening Liturgy of the Hours came around 5pm, I was feeling a little more at ease. I heard my friend Theresa preach, which was absolutely amazing, and we were able to catch up a bit afterward. My soul was nourished, and I was ready to coordinate the Lamentations service that night.

Something happened at the service. I started out worried that I wouldn’t be able to get everything done–after all, the service really was the brainchild of Bob Hurd, an icon in Catholic church music. I didn’t want to let him down, especially after planning together so carefully for the last few months. I had friends coming to sing with us, and I wanted to make sure they had everything they needed. I needed to set up the environment. The moments leading up to the service were hurried. And then it started.

As I started out saying–the last thing I wanted to do was the thing I needed most. The last thing I wanted to do was spend an hour lamenting. I didn’t want to think about sadness anymore. Yet the more I had pushed the sadness away, the more it had begun to eat away at my joy. Avoiding it wasn’t working. I suppose sometimes you just have to face the darkness head-on.

So, for an hour, I mourned. I mourned surrounded by good friends on each side of me. I mourned with the assistance of the same liturgical dancer who had danced at our wedding, only this time she was dancing the grief of Mary of Bethany after her brother Lazarus’ death. I mourned as we sang Taize songs, the same songs I had sung many times while leading Taize at LMU. I mourned, deeply and sorrowfully.

And when it was over, I realized that I didn’t need to cry anymore.

The next morning, it was as if everything had changed. The sun suddenly seemed bright and inviting again. I wanted to enjoy Congress. I wanted to spend time with friends. I wanted to dance. I wanted to laugh with my husband and do silly things. I didn’t want to be alone in bed anymore. I wanted to grab life again.

The wisdom of God is absolutely perfect. And God knew exactly what I needed to heal.  And life goes on.

These Are Some of the Ways I Heal

Unloading and stacking 8′ beams of wood…

Planting apple and cherry trees…

 Putting the final touches on our fence and getting it ready to paint…

Getting our raised beds ready for planting…

Watching the land anxiously as it foretells of Spring…

Spending quiet moments with my husband.

Miscarriage

I thought a lot about whether or not to post about such a sensitive and personal topic. But in the end, I decided that this is a blog about seeking the sacred–in the joyful and terribly painful moments of life. I’ve written a lot about joyful things–although every once in a while I have shared my grief with you. This, I think, is one of the most important moments to do so. I need to remember that the most sacred thing–the love of God–is present through all the happenings of our lives. I need to remember that here, in this moment of grief, the sacred need not be sought. It is here.

Rob and I have been trying to get pregnant for many months now. I was told that it might be a little more difficult for me to conceive because of some hormonal imbalances, but so far we have not taken any extra measures. We’ve been relying on love and prayer, hoping it would be enough to happily surprise us with a child.

Last Saturday I was wondering if something was up. I was four days late and my temperature had stayed elevated–pretty big signs that I might be pregnant. We took a test, and much to our surprise and delight, it was positive! So we went out and bought another one, just to be sure….also positive. We were ecstatic.

Sunday morning came. We took another test just to be sure. But his time the test was negative. I was devastated. How could it be positive and then negative over night? It was 4am and I was crying. Rob got up, held me, made a special breakfast, and then assured me that we were going to buy another test. Which we did. And it came up positive.

At this point I wasn’t sure what to think, but I was certainly feeling pregnancy symptoms. All day Sunday I was feeling mild cramps and nausea. I made a doctor’s appointment for the next morning.

I went in at 9:20am Monday morning for a urine test. It was negative. I burst into tears. The doctor immediately decided to do a blood test, and after 2 more hours I had gotten my blood drawn STAT at the local hospital. She called me with the results around noon, saying that my hCG levels indicated that I was pregnant and that it had been 2-3 weeks since conception (which is considered 4-5 weeks pregnant by the way the doctors date it–I know, it’s weird). I needed to come back on Wednesday to have my blood drawn again. The numbers needed to have at least doubled by then to indicate a viable pregnancy.

So yesterday I went back and had my blood drawn. This time the doctor didn’t call until 6:30pm. I don’t know if it was because she was busy or because she wanted to wait until my husband might be home. Regardless of her reason, in many ways I’m glad she waited, because Rob was indeed home to hear the news with me. My levels had dropped by half. I was going to miscarry at a little over 5 weeks pregnant. 

So now its just the waiting game. We know I’m miscarrying, but nothing has actually happened yet. My pregnancy symptoms have disappeared, but other than that, I’d never know I was going to miscarry. But I do know. It’s just a matter of time.

Where is the sacred in all of this? How do I find God in the grief?

The sacred is in my husband–my wonderful, loving husband who slow dances with me in the kitchen, who draws me baths when I don’t feel well, who reads to me before we go to bed (Scripture, books about chickens, books about bees, gardening books, you name it), who makes me a special breakfast for no reason at all, who holds me at night and says “I love you” even in his sleep. My husband is the biggest, most blessed reminder of the sacred in my life.

The sacred is also in my family–both mine and Rob’s. We told both parents right away, and both mothers brought me indescribable comfort. I supposed I recognize that in trying to become a mom I am signing up for a job that is a lifetime commitment. Thank God for moms and dads.

I’m finding the sacred in my animals and the land that I tend. Midnight, Easter, and Sugar aren’t children, of course. But I have promised to love them and care for them their whole lives, just the same. And right now, caring for them is very, very comforting.

Finally, I’m finding the sacred in hope. I know that we are a people of hope, and I hold that hope even in my broken heart. As Romans 5:3-5 says: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”

So…I’m sorry that I didn’t really write much this week. My heart was too full. But I felt that it was important to share this very personal experience because, well…it’s not just the happy times in which we must seek the sacred. We need to seek it in the sad times, too. 

Or perhaps it’s the sad times when we don’t have to seek it at all. We just need to trust that it’s there.

Never the Same

Photo credit: www.lmu.edu

Photo credit: http://www.lmu.edu

I’m sorry I haven’t been on for a few days. I, along with the community of Loyola Marymount University, am mourning the loss of one of our most beloved family members: Sr. Peg Dolan.

Sr. Peg was one of the best mothers I knew, and she never had any biological children. She remembered the names of students who had graduated thirty years prior–along with the names of their spouses, children, even parents. She was always in high demand on campus, but never was too busy to sit over a cup of steaming tea to talk with me about my latest spiritual dilemma. I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in saying that she epitomized a living saint. Everything she did or discussed was rooted in deep devotion to God. And yet I never knew her to judge or deny anyone based on their personal faith struggles or perceived failures.

One of my favorite sayings of Sr. Peg was, “Pray from where you are at.” She didn’t expect someone to be comfortable with leading spontaneous prayer if they had grown up only saying Hail Marys or Our Fathers. Likewise, if one’s only comfortable way of prayer was casual conversation with God, it was perfectly fine with her. Or if it was song. Or even the unspoken groanings of the heart. It didn’t matter, she said–as long as it’s connecting with God, it’s enough.

I will miss Sr. Peg. A lot. I know heaven is throwing a party for her, and she is now face to face with the God she loved so much. But I’m feeling selfish. I feel sad for us. I can’t imagine a world where people can’t talk to Sr. Peg. I can’t imagine that students will no longer be able to hear her wisdom. It just doesn’t make sense to even write that she “was” a breathtakingly beautiful woman. The world truly will never be the same without Sr. Peg in it. And that  makes me sad.

Thank you, Sr. Peg, for enriching my life. I can only pray that someday I will make a fraction of the difference you did in this world. You inspired thousands–literally, thousands–of young men and women to love God more deeply. I am one of those women…and I will be forever grateful for the gift of your love in my life. I can’t wait until we have tea in heaven someday. Keep the water hot until I get there. 🙂

Dream big. Big enough to fulfill God’s dream for you, a perfect human being. Make the gift of your life become a masterpiece each day, that you will help make your life better for you and all you meet in your life journey–no matter where you are, or what you do.  

–Sr. Peg Dolan, RSHM

Death in a Faith of Life

As I finished typing the last few words of an outline for a talk I’ll be giving in a month and a half, I felt a the creaks of a body that had been sitting for far too long today in front of a computer. The weather was beautiful and the sun was calling me outdoors, so I decided to stretch my legs and appreciate my body through a walk outside.

I was enjoying the warm shore breeze when I looked down and saw, in my path, a dead squirrel. It didn’t look like it had died from anything unnatural; in fact, it almost looked like it was sleeping. It lay there, on its side, eyes closed, as the breeze gently blew tiny blossoms across its fur.  It looked strikingly peaceful.

And yet as soon as I saw it my instinct was to speed past and not look down. I’m not sure why…I just wanted to avoid it. I didn’t want to see a “dead thing.” I wanted to enjoy my walk.

Within 3 meters I recognized the hypocrisy of my reaction…after all, I had just finished writing a talk on the beauty of creation, and how we needed to appreciate the way in which all of creation gives glory to God.  And even in this small death was part of that glory–this tiny body, which once housed a living, breathing being. A creature, now lifeless,  in its own way glorified God just be being, well, squirrelly.

I walked back and decided to be present to the death. It’s part of our existence and what we depend on to continue living, and yet so many of us are uncomfortable with death. I’m one of the first in line. I’m so uncomfortable with death that I get tearful even reading about it. Yet walking by that squirrel today made me feel like it was very important that I recognize the dignity of that creature in its death. Its lack of life didn’t suddenly transform its body into somehing disgusting; rather, the body just began to play a new role on the earth. And, at least in my belief, its spirit went on to be with God, because God calls all aspects of creation to Godself.

The body still honors God even when the spirit is no longer present. It decomposes, (ideally) puts life back into the soil through its decay process, and makes way for life to spring anew.  It is not something to balk at or avoid, nor is it something to glorify in and of itself. Rather, it is a process that glorifies God. It is a beautiful recognition of eternal renewal.

Even as I write this I know that death still scares me, because I struggle so much with the necessary change that accompanies it. The soul-filled physical presence of someone is no longer able to be accessed or experienced. Those of us left behind are forced to deal with the transition into a new, less tangible relationshp with our deceased loved ones.  It’s also a relationship that relies more heavily on faith, and if one’s faith life is not strong, that transition can be very, very difficult.

I know that there are so many comforts in Scripture about how to deal with death. But I’m still worried about the day when I will have to face it in the form of the death of someone very close to me.  This is one of the reasons I had to stand in front of the beautiful body of the squirrel this afternoon. I had to honor the process of death, of the necessity and inevitability of it, and honor the body that once mingled with breath to make this world a little more alive.

I prayed over the body of the squirrel. Yes, I did.  I prayed for all deaths in this world, for the dignity of the bodies that previously carried the breath of God, for the process that will carry those bodies back into the dirt and begin the cycle anew. I didn’t pray for the spirits or souls, because I knew those were safe and joyful in the arms of God.

But I did pray for those of us that have to stay behind for awhile.