Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grief and faith

"Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others."  Pema Chodron 
As most of you probably know, I am spending this season of my life waiting to learn whether or not a bone that was recently found belongs to my daughter, Michaela, who was kidnapped 24 years ago this month, at the age of nine. I write more fully about this in my other blog, dearmichaela.com, but of course this waiting time has brought a lot of things to the surface for me. There may be certain things about the wait itself, certain things about the possibility of getting an answer after all this time, which are specific to what I am experiencing. But I think that more than anything it has just brought to the surface the simple reality of the grief that has been part of my life for almost 24 years now. At any rate, I have found myself making certain preparations, "just in case," although I have no idea "just in case" of what. Many of them have been material, like cleaning off my desk at work. Why this, I don't know. It's as though some part of me is preparing for a long journey to a distant land I have never visited.

Also, the spiritual has been calling to me, and this has been very varied, from the Christian roots of my past, to the eastern spiritual teachings whose seeds have grown in my heart without having been named. I hope that nobody allows the fact that I wander up and down many paths to negate the validity of any of them, or to make you think that my journey isn't worth anything just because I am not following a particular map.

These last couple of weeks, I have been listening to Buddhist teachings during my commute. I must admit I am having a hard time wrapping my head around a lot of this stuff. First, it's pretty new to me, the Buddhist and Hindu religions. I don't know the terminology, I don't have the background. I finally figured out that one of the basic reasons I am having a hard time understanding these things is because they are all teachings about the practice of an essential part of these religions ... meditation. And hey, I don't meditate! It's not even that I don't understand what they are saying, but it's kind of like physics is to me. I hear and even understand the words, but I can't grasp what they mean it because I haven't seen it, it isn't part of my experience, and I haven't felt it, so I can't really believe it. I don't meditate. I can't. I don't have the time, or the inclination to be still or quiet. I live in a really busy household where I am certain to be distracted, if not actually interrupted. If nothing else, I will probably be beset by a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. So I don't, I haven't tried to, meditate. Maybe one day I will.

These teachings have not been fun to listen to. Next week I think I will go back to entertainment and distraction. Either that or I will finally learn Spanish. But this week I have listened to two different teachings. One is Pema Chodron's "Bodhisattva Mind." I don't know how I would expect to understand this teaching if I don't even understand the title, but it said it was about the experience of suffering, and how to use it to help others. So I thought it might be good. Most of it is a bit beyond my grasp, or my will to grasp. There is so much niceness and kindness wound up here, so much quiet and calm, when what I really want to do is yell and scream and carry on! But at one point somebody asked a question about grief, and Pema responded that it is a good thing if you can take time from life to allow yourself to grieve. Well, I have wondered about this. If I find out that my daughter is not alive after all this time, what will I do? What will I need? Will there be an essential difference between that and the grief I have been living with for the last 24 years? The fact of the matter is that I have to work, and have little paid time off. So will I say, okay now I know, and then get up and go back to work in the morning? After all, this would mean less for me to do. If Michaela is not alive, that means she is at rest, at peace, not in pain, not hurting, not crying herself to sleep at night. I will not need to work my heart out incessantly trying to find her or at least to let her know that yes, I am still with her in my heart; she is not alone, she is not forgotten. So logically, it should be easier for me to carry on than it has been these last 24 years. Right?

But will it be? I don't know. I have never been to that place before. But somehow I don't think it is ruled by the laws of logic.

The greater question for me is, what does it mean to grieve? What does grieving look like? If you take time off to grieve, WHAT DO YOU DO? I don't understand!

My mother passed away in 2004. I remember that the day after she died, I woke up in the morning wailing and sobbing. There was no thought to it. One moment I was unconscious in sleep and the next moment I was sobbing loudly, and there was nothing in between. But I remember the sensation, the sensation that I always seem to get, that this isn't helping anything. All this noise and carrying on is just upsetting my husband and kids. The crying just makes my nose stuffy so I can't breathe. So stop it, Sharon.

This is it. This is how I live. This is how I have lived for the last 24 years. Even right now, sitting here writing this, I feel a lump in my throat and tears well up in my eyes, but I know I will not allow them to stay. I will swallow them, sniff them away, because what good does it do?

I just really literally do not know what to do.

The other book I have been listening to is "A Path With Heart" by Jack Kornfield. This is actually a very good book. I don't recommend the audio version because Kornfield assumes that Buddhist-teacher monotonous intonation which makes me want to throw a brick through the window. But there was enough in here that was valuable enough that I purchased the print version so I could get it in a friendlier and easier to remember version. But here is a little bit that I transcribed from the audiobook:
"Most often opening the heart means opening to a lifetime's accumulation of unacknowledged sorrows, both our personal sorrows and the universal sorrows.... The grief we have carried for so long from the pains and dashed expectations and hope arises. What we find when we listen to the songs of our fear or rage, loneliness or longing, is that they do not stay forever. Rage turns into sorrow. Sorrow turns into tears. Tears may fall for a long time, but then the sun comes out, and the memory of old losses sings to us. Our body shakes and relives the moment of loss, and then the mourning around that loss gradually softens, and in the midst of the sound of tremendous grieving the pain of that loss finally finds release...."
Again I ask, is this true? I have had times like this in my life when grief has surfaced. When I was pregnant with my youngest child, as my heart opened to her I began to experience the grief I had suppressed. But that didn't make it go away. It didn't resolve it. It's still here, 19 years later. I think I may understand it a little better with my mind, but my heart has danced with it, wrestled with it, and it's still there. Every grief I have experienced since then, however small, still recalls the echo of the primary grief. Every sorrow has Michaela's face behind it. Every threat of potential sorrow brings that feeling of sinking, and an "oh no not that" feeling, followed by me telling myself, "no, it's okay, we survived this before, we can survive it again, nothing happens without a reason, and we will be okay."

While I was listening to these teachings from these paths about which I know little, a message from a path I knew well came back to me. I was talking to my friend, Chris (I have a lot of friends named Chris by the way). Her 17-year old daughter was killed in a car accident a few years ago. She is an exceptionally wonderful woman. I keep Michaela alive, at least partly because she is still lost and we need to find her. Chris keeps her daughter Tricia's memory alive in the world, just to do it. But we were talking about grief, and about faith, and somehow a song came up that we both know well. I have wept many tears to this song. The music is completely evocative of the grief in my heart, and the lyrics are, well, an affirmation of the fact that the grief is here, it's staying, it's not going anywhere, but somehow it is ... well, it's just what is, and its inescapable presence does not cause us to lose our faith. "I'd have thought by now, you would have reached down and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day. But once again, I say 'amen,' and it's still raining." Well, you just have to listen to it. "Praise You in the Storm," by Casting Crowns.



10 comments:

  1. I wish I had even just one answer to your questions, Sharon, but I don't. So instead, I'll just continue to send virtual strength your way through this incredibly difficult time.

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  2. Sharon, I too, love that song. It takes a special person to mean it. And you are indeed special. I love your writing, but I especially love the honesty in your writing. You take out your heart and hold it in your hands for the world to see. In doing so, you give solace to so many who don't have your gift for expressing the undefinable. Thank you. And blessings as you continue your journey.

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  3. I used to think that losing one of my children to an accident or illness was the worst thing that could happen. And it would be. But since I have read the cases of missing children and the unknown,the unclosed gaps and lack of closure it causes,I think one of my children being kidnapped would be worse. I can't imagine how I would handle it. Would I just curl up in a ball and cease to function or would I be strong and do everything I could to keep their name and memory out there? No matter what the outcome is,Sharon,I hope you will give yourself the time and allow yourself to do whatever it is that you need to do for closure. Its easy,as women,to think about everyone else,our work,the kids,the family,etc. But you owe it to yourself to work as little or as much as you want to,take days to walk in the park,eat an entire cake,or talk to school children about safety. You owe it to yourself because you have been so strong for so long. Sending many prayers from my heart.

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  4. Sharon,

    Hello. I have read your blog for a while. There are no words to describe how much your blog has inspired my life to put through all the pain I feel after all my experiences i had to face. Your blog has changed my life and helped me see the good in every sadden experiences even when there is no good to be seen at a moment when I feel sad. You are a very strong person to put all the honest of your words from your emotions down on paper for the world to see. I love how your writing is filled with honesty and it makes the world sheds tears for you. I know every time I read your blogs I sheds tears and pray to God that your daughter is found very soon.
    Even though I do not know what is like to wait for a person to come home after being gone for so long I feel as if you made me feel that agony that you feel. You have so much strength and I can see it through all the words you write. I pray to God your daughter is found very soon and god bless you and your family.

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  5. Sharon,

    Hello. I have read your blog for a while. There are no words to describe how much your blog has inspired my life to put through all the pain I feel after all my experiences i had to face. Your blog has changed my life and helped me see the good in my sadden experiences even when there is no good to be seen at a moment when I feel sad. You are a very strong person to put all the honest of your words from your emotions down on paper for the world to see. I love how your writing is filled with honesty and it makes the world sheds tears for you. I know every time I read your blogs I sheds tears and pray to god that your daughter is found very soon. Even though I do not know what is like to wait for a person to come home after being gone for so long I feel as if you made me feel that agony that you feel. You have so much strength and I can see it through all the words you write. I pray to God your daughter is found very soon and god bless you and your family.

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  6. Thank you Sharon for sharing that beautiful song. I also posted it to my FB because I think it will speak to many, just as your words do. I can't imagine the pain that you have felt all these years missing your baby girl, I can only say I am so sorry and will continue praying for you and your family. Grief is different for everyone, and whatever way you need to grieve is what's right for you. Sometimes we need to just not fight the grief, we need to just be in the valley and and accept it for what it is - a very sad sad place that has no logic or reason. What comes to mind is that scripture that says "Be still and know that I am God". God bless you Sharon.

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    1. Sharon, my father who I haven't been in touch with for, coincidentally, 24 years, died two weeks ago. I was very close to him until I was a teenager, and then, well, for a bunch of reasons I won't go into here, we were out of touch until he died. My pain is nowhere near as excruciating as yours, I can assure you. First, my father and I knew where to find each other. No one was removed against their will. Our experiences are not the same. However, what is similar is that I was at a loss for how to grieve my father's passing. I had already lost him 24 years ago, so how was I supposed to feel? What was I supposed to do? I sobbed deeply when I learned that he had died because I knew that there was no longer any possibility of reconciliation and that he was really gone from my life. Although he'd been gone from my life for 24 years, I always had some hope that things would work out. When he died, that hope was gone. I've missed him for 24 years and unlike people who lose someone who is part of their daily lives, I don't miss him more now. However, I've had to accept that he's really gone, although I am somewhat relieved because I no longer ask myself every day whether or not I should try again to reach out to him. Again, our situations are not comparable in many ways and what you're going through is much worse than what I went through. Nevertheless, I needed to cry for a few days (each day less and less) and mourn the loss of my father, and more importantly, what could have been but never was. I hope this is helpful in some way.

      Cindy

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  7. I spent a couple years trying to find a way to get calm inside. Meditation, hypnosis, spirtual quests, etc. and then I started boxing. For me, boxing is my meditation. You have to be so in the moment so it clears you mentally and exhausts you physically. It gave me the ability to cope with my issues without hurting myself or anyone else. I'm an over 50 woman who never watched a fight for more than the time it took to change the channel. I don't know if it would work for you but it sure changed my life for the better. After my boxing got solid I went to kickboxing. It's all good.

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    1. Well, I do have to admit there are times when it might feel good to hit something! Not sure I would feel the same about getting hit back, though!

      But physical exercise is something I really do need to find a way to fit into my life. It helps tremendously, I know.

      Thanks.

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  8. Sharon

    The music is great and for sure has a connection with you. I'm sending you a music too, maybe you know it, but I suggest you to use this time to just listen to it and do your best to forget the world for a while. Just be in God's presence.

    If you feel well to read the bible, read First John 4:7-19. Not thinking about the bible as all that it represents and all the values in this book or maybe in the fact that you're reading a little part of it and it might be confuse. Don't think of anything else but love. And the love He wants to give us.

    A Big Hug,

    Alana

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoC1ec-lYps

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