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Shadows of Loss

One of our favorite things to do as we are on our morning bike ride and walk is to find our shadows and watch how they change as we turn onto new roads and the sun rises higher. As we were walking the other morning, I found our shadows seemed to be everywhere. Their presence was prominent in a way that reminded me of all the things that we are carrying right now as we mark six months of this new life.

Tara Haelle recently wrote about this as we try to find our equilibrium:

The destruction is, for most people, invisible and ongoing. So many systems aren’t working as they normally do right now, which means radical shifts in work, school, and home life that almost none of us have experience with.

A shadow we can’t ignore. A shadow following us as we try to walk paths we thought we knew.

David Kessler, the world’s most renown voice on grief describes it this way:

Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

A shadow of grief. Shadows of grief merging together in long and intertwining ways that make our steps heavier.

Kirsten Weir says this:

As the pandemic has evolved, people have had to confront a series of losses: The loss of a sense of safety, of social connections and personal freedoms, of jobs and financial security. Going forward, people will experience new losses we can’t yet predict.

Robert Neimeyer, PhD, the director for Portland Institute of Loss and Transition says:

We’re talking about grieving a living loss — one that keeps going and going.

A shadow that we can’t escape. A shadow that follows us wherever we go. A shadow that keeps showing up reminding us our lives have changed and our lives are changing.

And so we keep walking on the paths that we thought we knew discovering new revelations and new depths of our strength.

Holding On

Going to the library has always been a part of our weekly routine. It is a place where I always found comfort and a place I knew I wanted our kids to find refuge. One of the last memories of “normal” life was a field trip to the main library branch where not only as there trees growing in the middle of the building, but the lower flower is also all for kids.

I was quick to sign up as a parent chaperone because I knew that I wanted to see our four-year-old as he took it all in. We explored books and then enjoyed a puppet show about the three little pigs while the thirteen-month-old tried to get to the puppets.

I remember sitting next to a fellow teacher who was a doctor and asking her what she thought about COVID-19. I remember being concerned, but none of us knew how much life would change and that in just a few short weeks we wouldn’t sit beside someone in a closed-in space without a mask on. I didn’t know that the idea of field trips would be something that was not a guarantee, but a logistical nightmare because of transporting kids on an enclosed bus and changing locations. I didn’t know that so many of the places that were field trip destinations would be closed to big groups.

At the end of the scheduled activities, the kids were allowed to check out books. Our four-year-old chose a book called My First Book of Girl Power, a book about superheroes and one in series from which we had checked out multiple different books. This book throughout closing school and changing schedules and not seeing our older sister became a companion and comfort. This female pastor and literacy teacher loved that he was clinging to the concept of female superheroes and a book during uncertain and unknown times.

Because libraries closed, we didn’t turn in this book until we got a notice that it was due this week…six months after our field trip and indeed the memory of a life we used to live. We turned it in with masks on at a drive-through window at a distant library branch where we were picking up our hold items, but before we did, we took a picture reminding ourselves of the field trip, this good book, and that we would be able to check it back out soon.

May we pause to remember, even when it’s painful and may we hold onto hope in superheroes and good books.

 

“Did I do it right?”

As we were on our morning bike ride and walk, our four-year-old stopped just up ahead and of me. He waited until I caught him to him and then looked at him with a glint in his eye, “Did I do it right?” he asked me. I waited unsure of what he was talking about until he explained that he kept his eyes on the road, he stayed to the side and when he glanced back and saw that he was getting too far ahead he stopped and waited. I smiled and affirmed, “Yes, yes you did. Good job, buddy!”

These are all the things we have been talking about over the last six weeks as we have transitioned from walking together to walking and bike riding together. These are all things that have caused redirections when he didn’t do one of these things as well.

I can’t help but wonder if his question today, is really a question that most of us parents are asking ourselves: “Did I do it right?” Should I have enrolled my child in school? Should I have homeschooled instead? Should I have provided more space or more boundaries?

The back and forth and constant mitigation of risks is exhausting. The collective grief of hearing story after story of people dying because of the global pandemic is overwhelming. We are all functioning on too little sleep and too much stress.

“Did I do it right?” will be a question that we can continue to ask ourselves as we continue to understand more about this virus and about how living with this virus is changing the way that we parent, work, and educate our children.

As you are trying to balance it all, I wonder if the words that I offer our four-year-old when he doesn’t do it right might provide some peace, “Tomorrow is a new day and we will try again.”

 

Entering Eastertide: Loss

We lose a lot of stuff around the house. There is a basket full of cars, but we can’t find the one car we really really need before we can do anything else. Our sixteen-month-old has figured out how to open the toy drawer and the trash can, so we lose pacis left and right. Although there seems to be an abundance of them, there is only one that will offer comfort she needs to drift off to sleep.

As we move throughout the day, I find myself saying when we confront one of these missing items: “It will show up. Things always show up.” This has provided time and space to let us look for things now or later without frustration and tears.

Losing items around the house or forgetting where you put something down is not uncommon, especially in the midst of consistent change.  My congregation jokes with me because during high, holy seasons at church I always lose my keys.  They have learned to laugh and help me look. My mind and my heart are in a different place during these seasons and so the every day remembering gets put on the back burner.

When things that we have been looking for do show up, we all get excited. We share the funny place we found the item and we share in the show of recovering the sought after item.

Collectively, we haven’t lost something that will show up eventually. We have lost over 100,000 people. Human souls connected and invested in families and communities. We can’t forget. We remember every day when we wake up and as we try to get a little bit of sleep at night. As we reached this devastating milestone, we hold onto being the country that has the most deaths and most cases of COVID-19. In seventeen states around the country, those numbers are not decreasing, they are increasing.

Loss surrounds us. Grief engulfs us.

And as we grieve for many of us, we are still alone at home trying to do our part to help those numbers stop increasing so drastically. Loss has always been a part of inhabiting this dusty bodies, but that doesn’t mean that loss doesn’t bring us back to remembering we have but one life to live. One chance to care for others. One chance to offer hope. One chance to offer love.

I know that there are many states that are opening up. I know that there are many states without mask laws. I know that there are other people and other families traveling and getting together. I know that it can all be confusing and overwhelming because there is so much information out there. I know that you are tired and weary and just want a change of pace. I also know that bearing this amount of loss is sometimes just too much to carry.

The loss and grief won’t go away. These will be the things that change us. My hope is that it changes us not to be people who hold onto to our lives and our desires so desperately that more loss comes. My hope is that by remembering this loss, again and again, every day, 100,000 minutes every day, we will transform into more caring and compassionate people.

Eastertide Grief

I can remember when it was finally time to share that our Eastertide secret pregnancy wasn’t going to be one filled with hope and new life, but grief. I can remember the gasp of joy as I shared with my congregation that we were pregnant and the gasps of grief as I shared that we miscarried.

Since that season, Eastertide will always have a tinge of grief in it. It seems strange for this season (the one where we know that death has been overcome) should be clouded by grief. And yet, maybe this year we know this more truly and more deeply than we ever have before.

We hope and then we see the reminder of the number of people who have lost their lives and hear predictions that those numbers will be even higher.

We find courage and then we see the rate of employment reach records we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

We find calling and then we see food banks with lines that are two to three hours long and people waiting only to find out that there is not enough food.

Maybe this Eastertide, we lament and grieve together. Maybe our voices can join in crying out “Why, God, why?”

Life and death side by side all through Eastertide.

Maybe life becomes clearer when death is close by.

Maybe life and death residing together draw us closer to the One who has experienced both.

 

 

 

Saving Celebrations

As the morning dawned, the women who had prepared spices two days earlier, the day that Jesus died hurried to the tomb. They had saved this act of remembering the life of the one they loved to observe the sabbath. In my mind, they spent that day in exhausted rest. The kind that can only come when hope is dashed and miracles don’t prevent death from taking someone we love.

As they near the tomb, they find the stone rolled away, but they don’t understand what has happened until a Divine messenger asked them to remember the words Jesus uttered when he was with them. The words they didn’t understand at the time. The words they didn’t want to hear at the time. The words, “I will die and rise again.”

I keep mulling over this call to remember because it’s the remembering that causes the women to see that resurrection is possible. It’s the remembering that ignites their imaginations to dream of new life.

Last week, I celebrated a birthday. We sang, ate cookies, and enjoyed deliveries from family members while connecting via Facetime or Marco Polo. So many people responded saying, “When you get to really celebrate after this is all over…” or something along those lines.

I’m not saving celebrations for “when this is all over.” The death of our old life has been a tremendous loss and will continue to be. Grief never really leaves us, but without the death of the old life, we can’t remember the words of promise of new life.

I’m not saving celebrations for a different time and a different place because my birthday occurred here in the midst of the chaos. Our daughter took her first steps here in the midst of the turmoil. These are major events, markers in how this pandemic impacts everything.

I’m not saving celebrations because I need to celebrate in the here and now not with disappointment that I can’t celebrate a certain way or in a certain place but instead imagining how we can celebrate in this new life.

Leaning Into Lent: Exhaustion

The first post I wrote called “Leaning Into Lent” wasn’t supposed to start a series of reflections. It was supposed to be an invocation and an invitation to be present in the season of Lent. It was supposed to be a challenge for me, someone who loves Lent, to lean even further into understanding more deeply what it means to lament and confess and run away from the one you have pledged to follow even unto death.

By Wednesday of this week, all of the leaning and reflecting caught up to me. After we put the kids to bed, I sat down to listen to make sure they settled and fell asleep. My leaning muscles were exhausted. My heart was heavy for all of the people hurting. My soul missed communion and community.

When I awoke it was already dark out. I ventured to the back deck where my partner and I sat looking at the supermoon finding constellations remembering we are simply stardust in a vast universe.

It is dark on this Good Friday night. I imagine the women and the disciples who were watching and waiting all day as Jesus suffered and then took his last breath fell in the same kind of exhausted sleep. They keep hoping for a miracle and they kept seeing suffering, hour after hour.

Beloved, it is ok if you are exhausted, if your leaning muscles and waiting heart just need to rest. Tomorrow it will be silent. We will wake up with puffy eyes from restless sleep or the number of tears we have shed. Tomorrow we will be silent and still as our bodies and souls recuperate from all of the leaning and waiting and hoping while being in the presence of suffering, hour after hour, day after day.

Give in. Let go. Rest now in the dark night.

Leaning Into Lent: Holy Monday

This week. This is the week we have been waiting for over the long, dark forty days. This is the week.

This week. This is the week that will be the deadliest that we have experienced in the US because of COVID-19. This is the week we have been dreading.

This is our dual reality.

Again and again, we have heard that medical professionals and state officials can’t let up, can’t stop, can’t rest because if they don’t keep working and keeping going then the number of casualties might be even more.

Again and again, we have walked this Holy Week road, remembering Jesus with his face set for Jerusalem and the suffering that is yet to come.

But this week feels different. The dual realities are intertwining and crashing into each other. We are seeking meaning. We are seeking healing. We are seeking hope. We are seeking light.

And so we walk into this week, with hearts breaking and eyes open. Watching and waiting.

Leaning Into Lent: Learning to Wait

This extraordinary time is asking us all to reduce our movement. To be sure our work has not slowed; our stress has not slowed, but our physical movement has changed. In the midst of all these changes, I am learning that I am not good at waiting. Actually, I am reminded that I am not good at waiting.

I move quickly from one thing to another. I move to process ideas and thoughts. I move to reflect and meditate.

So when things aren’t moving, I get frustrated easily. I analyze how things could be more efficient or effective. I simply don’t wait well.

And here we are in the season of Lent being asked to wait. Not wait for a certain period of time, but to wait for an uncertain period of time. We are waiting to go to the grocery store and go less. We are waiting to shop at the grocery store until after the 1st and 2nd days of the month so that those who are on a fixed income will be able to shop. We are waiting to be told how long to shelter-in-place. We are waiting for this all to be over.

This waiting is a spiritual practice. Waiting asks us to consider other people, other avenues, and other ways to help others. Waiting asks us to reflect on why we are moving so much and whether that movement is essential or nonessential. Waiting asks us to examine our desires, our instincts, our hopes, and our fears.

Waiting is not easy.

And so we wait and hope and pray.

Leaning Into Lent: Not Knowing

Last week about this time, I began to understand that our lives were going to be drastically different. Although I had followed the news and the developments in China, it all still felt so far away. Last week about this time, things began to be canceled in large numbers. It wasn’t just the schools that were closing, but everything was beginning to shut down.

Last week about this time, I began to lament how I didn’t know it was the last time we would go to the park. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of parks all across the city being closed. Last week about this time, I began to lament how I didn’t know it was the last time we would go to storytime at the library or browse the shelves or play with the Duplo table. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of library branches across the city being closed. Last week about this time, I began to lament how I didn’t know it was the last time we would gather around the table at a restaurant with our family and friends or gathered outside in the fresh air and sunshine at one of the local breweries. I hadn’t considered the possibility of restaurant dining rooms being closed in order to limit the number of people who were gathered in one place.

Last week about this time, I began to lament again and again, “But I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.”

My heart and mind needed closure and there simply wasn’t any. It all happened so quickly. There’s something about this lament that is in the heartbeat of the Lenten season. If there is ever a season in the church calendar, this is it. We lament that we leave things left undone that could help bring about the kingdom of God here on earth. We lament the ways we contribute to the oppression and injustice that exists in our world. We lament that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

And the lamenting brings us to our knees, prostrate before our Creator asking for help and guidance.

Last week about this time. I didn’t know.

This week, I find myself a bit more comfortable on my knees lamenting and asking God for help for those in our medical profession who are on the frontlines; for those awaiting test results; for those separated and isolated from family; for all of us not knowing if we are carrying a virus that is very powerful.

Lord in your mercies, hear our laments.