Friday, July 30, 2010

Social Challenges

I would very much like to hear how others of you manage these things.

Example: My daughter and I attended a baby shower ~ which for me was pure agony, for a number of reasons beyond the usual. It seems to have meant a lot to the young mothers-to-be that we went, and I survived, but not without some damage.

Example: My husband and I are skipping a wedding this week-end. To do the whole thing would entail 24-plus hours away from home engaged in nonstop celebration. We have attended two weddings since Josh died, and I think we have sworn them off for awhile. But people are Not Happy with us.

Example: A conflict has emerged over a moms' week-end away and an 8-day retreat I have planned. I do need to spend time with my friends, but I also need this time away with a spiritual director who has particular gifts and training applicable to the situation in which I find myself. I think I am at a pretty critical turning point, and I would like to navigate something well rather than badly for a change.

How I see it: People have, of course, gone on with their own lives. I WANT my friends to enjoy each other and their children and grandchildren. I cannot expect them to know that, much as I want to see and talk with them, the usual, run-of-the-mill social events are painful for me and I do much better with one-on-one conversations over coffee. I have tried to hint at that, but apparently I need to wear a sign. Interestingly, I am doing much better these days at keeping up with friends who are not part of my usual "group," precisely because we do get together only occasionally and usually only in pairs.

More challenge: My husband, who was already an Introvert of the Highest Order, lost his son and father in one 18-month period. I am trying to be supportive of his needs as well as my own and our children's, and often we don't mesh. I read somewhere that a family in grief is a like a family in a pool or lake ~ when one person comes up for air, she looks around and see no one, because everyone is popping up on different timetables. It requires a whole new level of resiliency and commitment to stay in the water.

The kicker: I am no different from anyone else. I, too, find it difficult to remain attentive to and considerate of friends who have suffered big losses.

I wish that I were a brilliant conversationalist and moved with ease in the world, someone of whom people could say, "She's so strong and courageous!"

I wish that I lived all by myself in a cottage on the edge of the sea, someone whom only migrating birds would see, and of whom people could say, "Well, she just vanished."

Real life is a good deal more ~ um ~ mushy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blogging Survivors of Suicide II

Connections are good.

Of course, it's mostly confidential.

But as one woman, four months in, raised that issue with which we all struggle, that someone we loved could have suffered so much in the last moments of life, another woman, four years in, said that she has read that people who survive suicide attempts often say that they have no memory at all of the minutes just before. Complete dissociation.

As with most things related to this subject, I think that we all wondered whether that is or is not comforting news.

As with most things, we have no way of knowing.

And I said, in connection with a wedding we are not attending this month, that I live at a generally high level of psychic pain and that, when I anticipate it spiking toward 90-100%, I feel no obligation to inflict that degree of injury upon myself.

And everyone nodded in complete agreement and understanding.

Blogging Survivors of Suicide I

I'm going to a meeting tonight. I haven't been in over a year: I've mostly been out of town on Thursdays. I tried to go two weeks ago, but it was canceled, so . . . maybe tonight.

I'm in a very different place than I was a year ago. It's been about a year since the Hebrew verb "to kill" became a central feature of one of our three-hour classes (to kill, to be killed, to have killed, to kill oneself), at the end of which I dissolved into very public tears. A few nights ago I was at a meeting at which someone eagerly shared with us the "dry bones" verses from Ezekiel, telling us that it's one of the most important passages with which she prays on her annual retreat, a time each summer during which she seeks re-creation. That's one of the passages of which I now steer clear, being as how dead bones and sinews are not, in fact, ever put back together, but I found that I had no need to say anything. I just let her have the pleasure of sharing a piece of Scripture that has life-giving meaning for her. No commentary from me required or desired.

But I am terribly, terribly sad. I am sorting and clearing through our house and it's taking a very long time, because I find things, and memories pour through me and I am immobilized for the next few days. I've actually spent most of today doing the denial thing by reading a very good mystery, after a little meltdown last night. But this evening, as I started to get ready to go out, I found myself imagining early summer evenings in this kind of heat 20 years ago: bringing the kids home from the pool, no one changing out of already-dry swim suits, making sandwiches for dinner, my children running around with those from next door in the waning light, popsicles for all, an hour of stories, settling my daughter into her bed with a cat picture book and listening outside the door as the boys chattered to each other in the dark.

Another person's life?

There's no predicting what will happen at this meeting. But I am feeling the need for some connection.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cremation Liturgy

This is my first try at this. I drafted this as a liturgy for a crematorium, with the idea that it is for the family and friends who might gather there for a cremation before or after a full funeral or memorial service.

Obviously it emerges from Christian faith, but it could easily be modified. (OK, maybe not all that easily. But somewhat. ) Also, names and pronouns could easily be inserted where I've used the phrase "our beloved."

What I am trying to do is express some of the realities of cremation, and I have taken much from the wisdom in the comments to the previous post.

All comments welcome. I am going to go ahead and hit "Publish," because I have already done so accidentally several times today as I've worked on this.

May God be with us all.

With us all, both here and there.
May God be with us all.
With us all, those we can see and hear and touch, and those we cannot.
May God be with us all.
With us all, those who live and those who have died

A reading from Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.

A Prayer:

We are not where we want to be.
We are in a strange land.
We are in a foreign land, far from comfort and familiarity.
We are in a land of fire.

A Reading from Psalm 139:

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

A Prayer:

Our hearts are broken.
Our bodies are bent.
We are doing one of the hardest things.
We are giving up the body of our beloved one.
A body formed most wonderfully and intricately.
A body woven in secret.
A body that walked and ran and spoke and cried.
A body that loved and is loved.
A body that will be transformed by fire.
A body whose ashes we will carry to other places.

A Prayer (Based on Exodus 3):

We stand on holy ground.
We know that fire consumes and we know that it does not.
It consumes the precious body of our beloved.
It destroys the harm, the damage, the pain our beloved suffered.
But it does not consume the love we share.
It does not destroy the bonds that link us together.

A Prayer

Holy and Gracious God,
Creator of All,
You created the body for which we care today.
We confess that we do not know what to do,
That we are limited in knowledge and understanding,
And that we can only commit this body to your care and love,
Knowing that our beloved whose absence tears at our hearts
Lives with you forever,
And that the love we share
Cannot be consumed by fire, cannot be buried in the ground,
Cannot float away in the water, cannot vanish into the air,
But can only live into eternity
Because love is stronger than death.

Benediction (Contextualized from The Book of Common Prayer):

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our beloved, and we commit this body to the fire. May God bless and keep our beloved and may the face of God shine upon our beloved. May God be gracious unto us all and give us peace.

Ashes to Ashes

Over at my new place, I described a bit of my experience a couple of weeks ago in scattering some of my son's ashes in places meaningful to us in North Carolina. I left out most of what I was thinking and some of where we went ~ private property where we received permission along with the words, "We are honored" ~ but private property, nevertheless. So you can get a glimmer, but not much beyond that, from those posts.

Meanwhile, this week one of my blogging friends is attending a workshop in Living with Loss/Grieving and I raised the question, as I guess I have before, of cremation liturgies. I am thinking specifically of situations like ours, common in the United States, where there is a funeral or memorial service in a house of worship with the cremation happening at a separate facility before or after. In most cases in this country, family and friends do not go to the crematorium. I did, with a friend, but in the trauma of that week, it did not occur to me that perhaps a short but intentional service there would have been a good thing.

Diana asked me about my thoughts on cremation liturgies. Perhaps I will write one over the next few days. My very beginning thoughts(which I left in comments to one of her posts) go something like this:

"I think that cremation forces us to confront the end of an embodied existence in a way that burial may not. I think that fire is a very different element than earth and its connotations are quite different. And when all is done, you have not a mound of earth but a container of ash -- no place to visit, but material to deal with, and that's something that people handle in a variety of ways."

I would very much appreciate hearing from others about their thoughts, experiences, and ideas.