30 years ago, nine days before Christmas 1986, my sister Susan was born. We had learned two days earlier that she was going to be stillborn. I was 13 at the time. It was my first real experience with death and in the days that followed I learned certain things. That life has a startling way of moving forward even when it feels like it should … Continue reading Santa and Grief
My early twenties weren’t exactly a stellar time. Within a short period of time I was raped twice. I found out I was pregnant shortly after I decided to take Jesus’ words that it’s better to enter the kingdom maimed and had broken up with then boyfriend. The people around me didn’t exactly rise to the occasion. One woman I told about one of the sexual assaults told every-freaking-body. A man she told became so belligerent towards me that I had to interrupt his screaming rant to let him know that if he laid a hand on me, I would call the police and have him hauled away. One of my dearest friends died after a life-long struggle with a rare blood disorder.
I had been studying to become a high school English teacher, but would now need help so I could complete my student teaching in order for that to happen. Instead, I was sent out into the world without so much as a chair to sit in or a bed to sleep on. I became homeless and wound up in a homeless shelter/half-way house for single mothers. My roommate was an orphan who stole a ridiculous amount of money from me. The other women there were children of drug addicts, forced out by violent step-fathers, recovering from addictions themselves, etc.
Some of the people around me felt free to demand that I go into hiding and then place my child for adoption so my siblings, relatives and community wouldn’t know of my shame. (The idea that perhaps a person who has already had their right to self-direction grossly violated shouldn’t be told what to do with her own baby didn’t register, of course. And no, this wasn’t the ’50s. It was the mid-90s)
After I had my son and decided to follow God’s leading and raise him myself, family and friends refused to have anything to do with me. Some went so far as to tell me directly that I wasn’t welcome to come around anymore – particularly if my son was with me. I did manage to eventually finish my degree, but what sort of work to pursue with a degree in Literature and Communications still eludes me. I was poor, alone and directionless beyond knowing that I needed to care for my son.
There were a few brighter spots. My then 16 year old sister was supportive and actually happy about her new nephew. A local church held the only baby shower I had until a couple of my husband’s friends’ wives threw a spectacularly under-attended shower for me when I was pregnant with my 5th child. So, at least I had a stroller when my son was born. Continue reading “The Gift of Delayed Grief”
I had every intention of posting some interesting theological ideas I have with y’all today, but I’m just not feeling it. So instead, I’d like to share a story about grief and Santa Claus. 26 years ago yesterday, my sister Susan was born. We had learned two days earlier that she was going to be stillborn. I was 13 at the time. It was my first real experience with death and in the days that followed I learned certain things. That life has a startling way of moving forward even when it feels like it should have stopped, for instance. That it’s possible to momentarily forget grief and be sideswiped by its return. That my grandmother could cook a meal and clean a kitchen like a normal person. That my grandfather could be funny. That people feel the same but often behave differently when they hurt.
A mere week after we held a small burial for Susan, it was Christmas. We attended Christmas Eve children’s mass as usual. After service, several people came to offer condolences to my mother. I was sticking pretty close to her side those days and although I don’t remember anything that was said, I do remember my mom shedding tears while talking with people. We went home in a pretty somber mood.
Later that evening my mother and a couple of us sibling were in the kitchen preparing a beef tenderloin and mashed potatoes for our traditional fancy Christmas Eve dinner when the door bell rang. When we got to the door, there was a large sack of presents on the front steps but no one in sight. The presents were simply labeled to our family, from Santa. My brother went out to check around the bushes or look for a trail in the snow, but found nothing. Whoever had left it had made a clean escape. Continue reading “Santa and Grief”
As a child, my mother taught me that when someone dies, we should never feel badly for them. The deceased is fine. Rather, we grieve for ourselves and our loss. But never for those who are gone. This is, in fact, a proper understanding of death, loss and grieving for a Christian to have, but one which I fear has been all but lost for many people.
I want to be clear, that this is not the trite “they’re in a better place now” which often rubs people the wrong way. Nor is it an attempt to claim that the death is part of God’s will or in any way a good thing. It may well be that the death was well outside of anything God would will and a terrible tragedy which ought never have occurred. Rather, what my mother taught me was that death is a tragedy for us who are left behind, but is not a tragedy for the loving person who has died.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13
We grieve, yes. As deeply and as long as we need to. But our grief is for our loss – not those who have died. We miss those who go before us in death and that can bring wrenching sorrow. But it is also the sorrow which fades and heals in time. When we grieve and have sorrow over what the dead may be missing – it complicates our grief. But if we know that no matter how untimely or tragic there death was that God himself is providing for their every need, then we are able to grieve and heal for ourselves and not for ourselves and for someone whose problem (having died) cannot be fixed.
This isn’t just some nice idea meant to either comfort or minimize the enormous loss caused by the death of a loved one. This truth is one of the central works of Christ himself: Continue reading “A Christian Understanding of Death”
We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. ~Kenji Miyazawa In the spring of 2000, I received a phone call informing me that my husband had collapsed at work and been taken to a nearby hospital. By the time I got there, he was being released. They had decided that he was having an asthma attack, so despite the fact that … Continue reading What to do if someone starts crying in front of you
Because I am a self-confessed former political junkie in recovery, I sometimes miss stories when they first happen (which, trust me, isn’t really a problem). Which is why I’m just now hearing about this Santorum, dead-baby deal. For those of you who like me were fortunate to miss this story as it developed, here’s the brief version:
In 1996, Rick and Karen Santorum lost a child just past 20 weeks gestation. The baby died 2 hours after birth. The Santorums held and spent time with their deceased infant. They took the baby home for their other children to be able to do the same. They also had a funeral service and burial. We know all of this because Karen Santorum wrote about it in her book Letters to Gabriel which came out in 1998.
The reason it is in the news is because two commentators – one real liberal and one token “liberal” hired by Fox News to lose arguments – both made reference to this event on TV recently. Both spoke of this story as being so strange, distasteful and crazy that voters who heard about it would reject Santorum as a disturbed wack-job. Controversy ensued. The Fox news talking head claimed in a tweet to have apologized directly to Rick and Karen Santorum who were brought to tears when asked to comment on these fools’ words. (They don’t deserve to be named. Fools is name enough.) Continue reading “Gabriel Santorum and our Rituals of Grief”