Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't Ge Me Wrong ~

Jennifer, who's given me lots of support, left a comment on a previous post on Search the Sea indicating that I'm leaving the impression that my seminary is a place of discouragment.

Not the case ~ except in isolated (and yes, frustrating) circumstances. On the whole it's a gentle and supportive place. Certainly it's a friendly place. But I do experience it differently than most.

One of the struggles in coming to terms with traumatic and severe bereavement lies in the effort to forge a new identity, the old one having been irreparably torn to pieces. The geography and terrain are the same, the circumstances of life seem vaguely familiar, but your own boundaries and priorities are in flux, and there are going to be painful clashes.It seems to me that there are three basic ways of dealing with a loss like ours. We are all of us strung out along the spectrum, but still: three basic approaches.

First, you can dwell entirely in your grief. It may seem to some that I do that and, of course, sometimes I do. But I read a lot about surviving suicide, and I know well that there are many parents who remain almost completely dysfunctional years after the death of their child. It's tempting ~ every move toward life feels like an abandonment of your child, and sometimes in the constant pull between the place of despair and the place of hope, despair wins. And for some, despair wins almost all of the time, a situation about which I can make no judgment whatsoever.

Other extreme ~ you can deny deny deny and proceed with life as usual. I know a lot about this M.O., it being the one my family of origin has always practiced. There seems to be some kind of (entirely erroneous) belief that by not acknowledging horror publicly or out loud, you can alleviate the pain. I suppose such an approach does make it easier for those outside the immediate circle of grief ~ but in my experience it makes it more difficult and longer lasting for those within.

And finally, there is the approach I am trying out, in my own blundering, confused,and erratic way: I really do try to integrate what has happened with the reality that remains. That means that I say words like "suicide" out loud and that I express my anguish ~ more than others would like, no doubt, but far less than I feel it. It means that I recount funny and sweet stories about my son without self-consciousness. It means that I do not pretend that everything I have believed ~ about God, about the universe, about other people and my relationships with them ~ has not been drawn into question. It means that I still try to sort out the completely irrational from what few things still make sense and that I am trying to rebuild from scratch.

And it means that I am incredibly sensitive to what goes on around me, to things that seem ordinary to everyone else involved. It means that the most innocuous remark can feel like a knife scraping my skin off and that a genuine conflict, no matter how minor, feels like the top of a volcano flying off. It means that a sermon intended to be encouraging, and so perceived by everyone else who hears it, sounds like words of eternal damnation and hellfire to me.

It's been a year now. More than a year. It will be always, at least in this life. Life and death completely and always intertwined, altering all pathways of perception.And most certainly altering the experience of a seminary education.



Cross posted from Search the Sea.

8 comments:

altar ego said...

Considering that seminary probes the places of mystery and asks the hardest questions about life and death it makes perfect sense that your experience of it would seem somewhat surreal. To navigate what you have been and continue to go through in that setting could not mirror the pattern of others. Then again, each of us brings our own stories into that environment, so the experiences are all different. Your life has been fractured, and so has your lens. What you see through that lens now cannot look like what others see, even through the distortions of their own lenses. Continued prayers and courage to you.

Karen and Joe said...

yes,yes, yes. thank you.

karengberger said...

I love the way you outlined these three paths, or ways of being, in grief. I see them, too.

One reason I'm so thankful for my blog, and your blog, and Karen's, and Chris's, is that there are so few of us who decide to keen and wail and still move through our days, seeking the truth. Nothing is the same, nothing looks nor feels as it did before the passing of our child...yet we need to feel "at home" SOMEwhere. I find the telling of the truth (on my blog, for example), as I see it in the moment, to be freeing and honoring her life, as well as my own. People wore black and stayed away from others for a reason, in the old days. I see it now.

As you move through your days, discerning what you need to keep, to discard, and what is true, I pray that the love of God will be a constant, reliable embrace & comfort.

Karen and Joe said...

I so agree with Karen and am so thankful for the comfort that comes from shared experience. I appreciate you all so much. You often express what I feel but have no words for--and then I am not alone.

Beach Walkin said...

Just so you will know... seminary can be a discouraging place... even when you go in without a gaping wound. When I attended... there were the golden children... who could do no wrong. There were the invisible people... and there were people like me. People that the institution... thought were making a bad choice in attending seminary.

Seminary... combined with the synodical approval panel... started talking... and then I started getting blow back from both. It wasn't easy... but I knew... God was calling me. There was no denying it.

I don't know if the seminaries feel like this is part of the process that some folks need to go through... or if they are oblivious to the fact that they are discouraging. My gut tells me that it is primarily a problem of living in an ivory tower... which leads to ignorance of the FACT that the world needs people who aren't their normal (like me)... and people who have had experiences in their lives (like you)... to actually do real... authentic ministry. It would have been nice for my family to have someone like you... with your experience... minister to us... several times in the past several years.

So for me... the rule is... say what you need to say... because it's what you feel. And I for one... know what that particular feeling feels like.

I pray that God will lift you up from the pie in the sky... all pastors have to fit a particular mold... and lead you to be who you are... freaking awesome at caring. Amen

Rev SS said...

Amen BW!

Sarah S-D said...

as i take a seminar on teaching for ministry, as i t.a. my first class at a doctoral level and am trying to be present to students in all manner of situations, your words mean so much to me. the path you're choosing may be hard for those around you, but it is also a gift for them- if only they'll receive it. and surely it is the path to healing for you. may it be so.

Jennifer said...

GG and faithful readers,
I responded to GG at Search the Sea. I was responding to a piece of her prior post, but was not trying to alter, diminish or judge her experience. In fact, I was concerned about the seminary failing to nuture and embrace rather than majoring the "the rules. I meant no harm--- really---and feel really bad that I may have contributed to anyone's feelings of isolation or despair, especially Gannett's!