May 2005 Newsletter
The Role of Faith in Grief
...and I told the undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
'Cause this lady that you're haulin'
oh I hate to see her go
Will the circle be unbroken
by and by Lord, by and by
There's a better home a'waitin'
In the sky Lord, in the sky
Where does faith enter the puzzle of grief and grieving? It is not uncommon for those suffering from the death of a loved one to report that they've given up on faith, given up on God, given up on whatever higher power they once relied on. In a pastor's family of my acquaintance, when the pastor's wife, the mother of his children, died, their teen-aged son concluded, "Prayer doesn't work, this God stuff just isn't real." When my wife of 27 years, Diane, died, I called my sister with the news. "Well," she responded, "my God is a healing God." I shouted angrily into the phone, "Not in this house, He isn't!"
Where does faith enter the puzzle of grief and grieving? It enters at the same place it has entered any other area of your life. "I don't know what I would have done without my faith!" one widow told me. "The church has been behind me all the way," another widow explained. Clearly, some people can take refuge in their faith, draw strength from it, use it to enable them to go on. Still another woman warned me not to let anyone die during Holy Week. Her church let her know that this was most inconvenient. It's not a perfect world, even from the pulpit.
Well, to get back to my sister, there I was, really angry at her, really angry at her God, really angry at Life for dealing me this lowest of blows. At one point, I wondered if it was my fault. When I quit smoking what if I had been more insistent on urging her to quit? You can fill in your own details. The what if's plague us to no end. But it's a game we can't win and one we should stop playing just as soon as we can. No matter how you turn it around in your mind, the end result will be the same, won't it?
The central problem is that you find yourself suddenly in a world without a Diane or a (fill in your loved one's name). I wasn't certain I wanted to live in that world. I'm guessing you've felt that too. The "missing loved one" problem appears to have no solution. But just as you are healing right now, I was healing then.
Just by framing the question, "how to live in a world without her?" I was working on the answer. You are working on the answer. You are. The operative word is live. In spite of our pain, we eventually recognize that we are choosing to live, choosing life.
One sure sign of this progress is when we begin to take an interest in the pain of others. That is a huge milestone. It means you are really on the way. I think in the beginning this death business narrows our focus until we can only see our own pain. It's all we want to talk about. We want people to know how much this hurts and what chaos it's causing in all areas of our life. I saw one man at a bereavement group meeting and without his saying so, I knew he had been running through every life strategy he'd ever developed for getting him through tough times. Only now nothing was working. Nothing.
He did not appear to be a man of faith but you can't always tell. In any case, he was in for a rough time, a rough time that will only begin to abate near the end of "year two." I know that sounds discouraging but it is simply the truth. "Year two" doesn't hurt as much as "year one," whatever that means, but it hurts in different ways. You've been through all the birthdays and anniversaries and other mileposts in that first year, and here they come again. Only now you will know that your anticipation is almost invariably worse then than the events themselves. Which is not to say that you won't have another round of anxious moments as each date looms on the calendar.
There are other life events: for widows, perhaps choosing and buying a car for the first time, or facing plumbing challenges, furnace filter challenges, and for all of us the awful longing for the touch of another. For parents who have lost a child, there are decisions to make regarding the child's room, their possessions and so much more. I recall a small museum on the campus of Stanford University. In it was preserved the last meal of Leland Stanford Junior. It was his death, at age 15, that moved his parents to found what would become a world-renowned institution. The evidence is overwhelming if we will but look for it. For the survivors, death is a regenerative event.
Is any of this resonating with you? How are you feeling right now? However that is, it will change in the next ten minutes. All right, it could get worse but it could also get better, better meaning even a tiny bit less pain. Baby steps. That's all we're good for in the beginning. But it is enough. It is enough.
Like you, I began to wonder increasingly why I was still here. We, no make that I have two sons, and now I have three splendid grandchildren, and they are reason enough. But the question continued to nag: aside from my largely self-sufficient children, what was I here for?
That's when I encountered The Purpose Driven Life. Its subtitle is, What On Earth Am I Here For? The author, Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest California, has been interviewed on CNN, where we seldom see men of the cloth. The book is non-denominational and is supremely encouraging with chapter titles such as, You Are Not an Accident, What Drives your life? What Matters Most, A Place to Belong, right on through to the final chapter, Living with Purpose. I have tried to follow the books suggestion of reading it each day for forty days but I find the questions it raises so intriguing, and the answers so fascinating, that I'm spending days on each topic. I already know I'll start over when I get to the end. It's that rare kind of book, one worth reading again.
Is Bereaved Families of Ottawa suddenly in the book-selling business? Not at all. In fact, this recommendation is entirely personal and does not necessarily reflect the views of Bereaved Families of Ottawa nor of its parent organization, Bereaved Families of Ontario. In any case, the book isn't lacking for readers. At last report it had sold 22 million copies.
What made me think of recommending it is this: when we lose someone near and dear to us, we lose momentum. It's as if we're running the Race of Life and suddenly, from the crowd, an arm reaches out and hands us a bowling ball. "Run with that for the rest of your life," a stranger tells us. At first we stagger, barely able to stand, our pace is off, our coordination has fled. We can't see for the tears. A dozen times or more, we nearly tumble to the ground. Yet somehow, somehow we keep going, just as you're doing. And I thought, if you could read a book that would open up the idea of a huge, wonderful purpose for your life, that it might help. That is my prayer.
Bill Drake - Editor
The Volunteer's Notebook Spring, 2005
For the first 4 months of the year from January to April, 2005 volunteers have worked 169 hours in the office. Thank you so much to Joyce Jensen, June Wilson, Heather Dale and Sandra Dietrich. There is even wind of an office decorating team forming. That is so exciting. Keep an extra eye out for carpeting and things that would revitalize our office. The office looks so much neater with ideas that have come to fruition.
Thirteen people are trained facilitators for Bereaved Families of ON-Ottawa Region. They are Lynda Anderson. Andrew Biggar, Maria Boodhoo, Ron Cavanaugh, Sandra Dietrich, Judy Fraser, Marjorie Hansen, Margery Houghton, Joyce Jensen, Judy Simper, Jessica Smith, Chantelle Wallace, Sam Zemlak.
Thanks to all Volunteers, Facilitators, Crabtree Foundation, Success by Six and the McEvoy Shields Funeral Home.
Thanks to trainers Martha Attridge Bufton, Joan Auden, Gail Christy, Robert Tucker. Marlene and Ann from Kairos for offering their room free of charge, Wayne McIntyre for the use of equipment for the power point presentations and the Bronson Centre for tables. Beth Hughes, Acting Director Centre for Initiatives in Education at Carleton University partnered with BFO to obtain grant money. They now have 10 trained people in their department who took the Living Works program.. A great big THANK YOU to the CRABTREE FOUNDATION for their financial support, without which none of our learning and caring for others and more importantly ourselves, would have happened.
Next Children and Parents's groups will begin in late September and also a teen group will be happening.
Currently we are running child / parent's groups for ages 4 to 6 and 7 to 9 and a spousal loss group. Thanks to Success by Six funding for the children's and parent's groups. Thanks to facilitators Norita Trottier and her assistant Jessica Smith for leading the 4 to 6 year old group, and Anne Marie Bourgeois from Catholic Family Services and her assistants Andrew Biggar and Kim Callaghan for leading the children's group ages 7 to 9. Parents meet with facilitator Hilda Sabadash. Professional Consultant Jeanette Rooney Ozols oversees the 4 to 6 ages group.