On Dying and Being Reborn

If love is the emotion which awakens my being, autumn is also the season which stirs my soul.  The mystic in me surfaces during seasonal transition.  One can liken our human spiritual well-being to the seasons…and it is no surprise that in the span of a year, my heart has seen all four seasons.  Gazing upon the seasonal beauty of transition now unfolding in New England has indeed stirred me.  Hence the entry of love…

But when I speak of love and loss, I also speak of birthing and dying.  For, the wonder of golden and red leaves bears news of death and winter’s approach.  As the trees let go of their leaves, I too, have things to let go.  As much as I would like to shield myself from any sort of death, I cannot.  Again, I grieve for the loss of things, for one who has been abused, for one who has lost a loved one, for several who have lost jobs…I grieve for myself.

The spring will come again…but before then, I must let go.  I will let go…

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The only words left to say are the words of a Rabbi:

Life and death,
a twisted vine sharing a single root.

A water bright green
stretching to top a twisted yellow
only to wither itself
as another green unfolds overhead.

One leaf atop another
yet under the next;
a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls
all in the act of becoming.

Death is the passing of life.
And life
is the stringing together of so many little passings.

Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro

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On Grief, Part II: to fly away and rise again

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6And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;

Psalm 55:6-7

Death is frightening to face, and confusing for those still among the living. In mourning we cry out and wonder why…and while death does not make sense, there is meaning in life. Sometimes, however, terror takes over. As I walk through grief for some situations in my life, I remember Psalm 55. In the cold shelter of a somber memorial at the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany, I read this Psalm. Tears streaming down my face, I mourned for the millions, and reflected on an unimaginable terror. Why did such horrible events take place?

My heart grieves tonight for several reasons–remembering and honoring the dead, my own wounded past, and putting to death some plans that are unattainable. But even in grief, I hope. On a walk today I noticed new life in spring, as little baby ducks swam alongside their parents. With a sigh I wondered about the cycle of life and death, both physiologically and spiritually for us as humans. Life and death. So complex, so confounding. Life does spring where once was death…trees grow, our hearts heal, new relationships form…

buds
While this photo is of tulip buds and not wheat, I am reminded of an easter hymn, Now the Green Blade Rises:

When our hearts are wintry,
grieving, or in pain,
Christ’s touch can call us
back to life again,
fields of our hearts
that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Love is come again…that is my prayer tonight, that love may come again.  That I may face that which frightens me with courage, and that all who grieve this night may know the spring love rising from the earth.

On Grief, Part I: Death

Bolton Abbey3So, here’s one of the thoughts I’ve been processing: death. Well, actually the larger reality is processing grief. I’ll break it up into a few posts…

Death. It’s a mystery that I cannot comprehend, as hard as I try. It is a part of this life that we humans share, yet its appearance is often shocking, incomprehensible. Why, one asks…

I hope in the resurrection, but sometimes I want to call it all bullshit. Death comes with deep pain, shocking at times, even when it is expected. Numbness takes over the body and mind, a murky haze through which life seems unreal, or even too real. The death of another calls one to confront mortality, that of the self and those we love. The harsh reality of the living in the shadow of death surfaces a fear of the unknown, a fear of being finite, and the question: Is this all there really is? My answer is no, but I am constantly challenged.

As a chaplain intern two years ago, I heard the death rattle in one of the patients, a haunting gurgle of fluid in the throat of one who is about to die, but I was never in the room at the time of a death. I comforted a mother who lost her severely premature infant mere minutes before my arrival. I cried with her, put my hand on her shoulder and said very little. The tiny body lay limp in her hands, as tears streamed down her cheeks. She washed his body and cradled him while I prayed silently over her shoulder. In the presence of death’s ugly face, what is there to say?

A little over two years ago a cousin of mine died suddenly in a car accident. Gone. He was an aspiring pilot, giving lessons with dreams of flying commercial planes, and in his early 20’s. In a split second a head-on car collision shattered those dreams and left the family in shock and utter disbelief. Death leaves a large void where once was vibrant life. It is still shocking to think about.

These memories began to surface last week with an awareness of the coming anniversary of my paternal grandmother’s death. And they have been heightened since hearing last night about another sudden death, this one of my roommates boss. Oh God, where are you now??

Sixteen years ago on May 3rd, 1992, my grandma died; I was a month shy of my 12th birthday. Although her death was not unexpected, it was nonetheless a shock. She had Alzheimer’s disease and six months prior had burned herself in the bathtub.

On the day she died, there was a big race in there (in Spokane, WA). 50,000 people lined the streets to participate in the annual Bloomsday race, a 12k (7.46 mile) course through the streets of Spokane. On this day I was free to run by myself. Grandma, who had been hospitalized since December, was near the end. The plan was to run, meet with relatives who would take me to see grandma–my parents were already there. I ran strong, finished well…quite proud of the accomplishment for an 11-year-old. But her death came sometime as I was finishing or shortly after. I was not able to say goodbye.

Running became a method to process my grief, and it has been a mainstay in my life ever since. The course passes the the cemetery where she (and eight months later my grandpa, too) would be buried. I have run Bloomsday as I am able, this year to be my 11th year–and each time I run past the graveyard I honor them, and whisper my goodbye. That experience was a formative event in my life. although I am not as close to the memory of my grandparents anymore, the woman I am today is shaped in their deaths. Experiencing grief at an early age shocked my senses and enabled me to tap into a deeper part of my soul. The physicality of running to process grief soon helped me to process built up anger and other emotions; now it calls me to rise above, push myself harder as motivation to cope with life’s many mountainous challenges.

And so here I am. Grieving for these losses and living through. Yet, as I wrote above, I have hope. And my love for God and love of life keeps me going, even in the midst of sorrow.

May God comfort all those who grieve this night…