Tag Archives: grief

Music Monday: A Time to Feel

Current Track: Underoath Album Cover

It’s been a week, no?

I just learned that a friend of a friend has passed away, a man with a brilliant mind in a broken body. I’d met him only a few times, but my friend could barely speak of the disease that had chewed through his friend’s life before the man had even reached 35.

There are no glib comments that can counteract the pain of death, of losing someone in their prime of life.

This is tender ground for many people, and well-meaning folks rush to make themselves feel better about grief and sorrow by pasting a platitude atop the pain:  “At least he didn’t suffer.” “Well, maybe he’s in a better place now.”

At these moments, in the silence, we must stare into this void and face the deepest questions of our existence. Religious or agnostic, brave or terrified, we humans cannot escape the truth that our lives are short and uncertain.

A time to die – and a time to feel

I love the “time” poem in Ecclesiastes 3, made so famous by the Byrds in one of the most earworm tunes of the 20th century.  There’s a time for everything under the sun. Figuring out what’s appropriate to when is an outgrowth of wisdom.  The Preacher goes on to say that God makes everything beautiful (or fitting, appropriate) in its time.

I appreciate Ecclesiastes more in middle age for its brutal honesty. The speaker brings up problem after problem of life: it’s unfair; rich people get all the perks by stomping on poor people; rich people still die and someone else gets all their hard-earned wealth (which bugged him, since he was pretty rich).  He wonders about the point of life, since we’re all just dead at the end. If this is how the whole thing turns out, what makes life better for me than for a baby who died stillborn? At least the baby didn’t have to deal with all the shit of this life.

Ecclesiastes is so bleak at times that most Christians are highly uncomfortable with the book. They act like God must’ve made an oversight by letting it into the canon. Surely it’s here just to show us how “worldly” people think, right?

Faith is no excuse for thoughtlessness or cowardice. This life throws questions at us that we cannot hope to answer. Why do good people die young? Why do evil men prosper? Why don’t some people give a shit that life is so bad for other people?

Music as a channel for what we cannot say

Look, I know this isn’t rocket surgery insight here: when I can’t put words to the badness or to the beauty or to the sadness or to the fear, I can feel it through music.  I can play it out with my fingers on the keys of a piano. I can click Play on the tracks below, close my eyes, and let the sounds wash over me.

There have often been times I could not even understand the emotions or name them. I just knew that I felt, and it was a place to begin.

I composed about 6 different posts for this blog over the course of last week’s media circus around the Kavanaugh hearings. I’m angry. I’m tired.

I need a place where my soul can rest and find respite before heading back into the mess.

After a while, it’s tempting to shut off the spigot. I mean, I’m writing this right now instead of doing the project I really need to work on, because I decided it was more important to mourn the loss of a person than to plow through my day as if nothing had happened. I made a conscious choice to feel instead of turning off that sense of loss for my friend who grieves.

There is a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to be born, and a time to die.  A time to feel.

Feel with me today

If you’d like to channel a few feelings with me today, whatever you’re feeling, here are a few of my favorites:

Chanticleer sings Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” with the US Naval Academy men’s glee chorus. You’ll have to crank the sound, but it’s worth it. I cried from the sheer beauty of this when I first heard it sung live by Chanticleer in performance at Clemson University:

Another from Chanticleer, but it’s easier to find this one on Apple Music or Spotify.  I adore about half of the tracks on Chanticleer’s album Wondrous Love (listen on Apple Music, Amazon). Put everything aside, find a pair of headphones, and listen to them sing the old Scots tune “Loch Lomond.”  Don’t miss the last 6 chords–I don’t care if the building is burning down around you.

The Fire Tonight album coverNext up is a track you’ll have to find on one of the streaming services – I’ll provide links below – because it’s not on YouTube. The band is composed of friends of mine, and I think this is possibly the best song they wrote. The entire album is fantastic (IMO) but this song in particular.

Le Cote Sombre, by The Fire Tonight.
Listen on Apple, Amazon, Bandcamp

And finally, a word about the track I led with for this post. For personal reasons, this song is deeply associated with grief over the loss of a young person.  Underoath is a hardcore band (read: yes, there’s some screaming) who used to matter about 15 years ago. (Sorry, Underoath, if you’re still out there.)  Their music isn’t amazing to me, but this song is burned into my emotional circuits for its lyrics and for the way it builds to a MOMENT of intense emotion. The singer continues with lyrics about faith and grace and mercy while the screamer yells JESUS I’M READY TO COME HOME (if this were a dubstep track, it would be the “drop” moment).  Truly, there are days when I’m just ready to come Home.

Oh sweet angel of mercy
With your grace like the morning
Wrap your loving arms around me
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey ungraceful I will teach you To forgive one another
Hey unfaithful I will teach you To be stronger
Hey unloving I will love you
And will love you

Jesus I’m ready to come home …

Unfaithful
Ungraceful
And unloving
I will love you

(Listen: Amazon or Apple Music)

 

An eloquent, gut-wrenching, beautiful exposition of grief

Find a handkerchief and, for the love of all that matters, please read this.

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. A month ago, her husband David, CEO of SurveyMonkey, died in an abrupt accident.

Here she unpacks the past 30 days of mourning and teaches all of us how to grieve and how to love those who hurt:

In Memoriam

Today, my friend Jesse lost his father.

jesse

I have walked this road, though not exactly in this form, and I grieve with Jesse tonight at the loss of his dad, and for all the people who knew Frank.

Frank was retired from the Navy and his passionate hobby was studying railroads. I hadn’t spent much time with him over the years, despite knowing Jesse since he (Jesse) was a high schooler.   He and Jesse’s mom were always very hospitable and friendly, and I have good memories of heading to their house for one of Jesse’s awesome house-recitals. (The boy can play piano, just sayin’.)

Over Christmas this year, Jesse was spending time at our house and Frank stopped by several times just to hang out with “his boy.”  For the first time, I really got a chance to hear Frank tell stories about his Navy days — those were great stories! — and about the history of railroads in South Carolina.  I wish I’d had time to hear more; Frank was faster than Wikipedia will ever be and far more interesting as he unfolded tales of the little Due West to Donalds Railroad with its odd-gauge track (for example). He even had a good country theory for how the little town of Due West got its name, including an old man in Donalds, a faded map of 1700s “indian territory,” and some military-grade compass skills.

Death is not a welcome visitor in this world, and it was never meant to clip human existence. But while we wait for the redemption of the body, at least we can die well.

I’m sorry, Jesse. We love you.

You never stop missing your parents once they’re gone. You just realize how much more you could have learned, and long for the reunion in Aslan’s Country.

Uh, so I’m pretty much bawling over here.

To Feel Like a Kid Again.

^ That.  That post.  Nails it.

Jack has been a dear friend of ours for quite a while now.  I think his post about the death of his father manages to capture the empty feeling that lingers on through your life once a parent is gone.

And it’s also a beautiful and touching description of a holy moment – the separation of the veil between heaven and earth. Aslan’s country. Further up and further in.

I lost my mom 17 years ago, fresh out of college and naive to the world. My dad followed 3 years later. I still feel like a child sometimes.

You can live without your parents. But I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten over losing them.

My mom. I wish I had better photos of my parents.
My mom. I wish I had better photos of my parents.
My dad, circa 1952 or 1953. He was an MP in the Army till 1954.
My dad, circa 1952 or 1953. He was an MP in the Army till 1954.

“Death, thou shalt die.”

When I teach John Donne to my Brit Lit students each year, I take time to show the class the film W;t, written by Margaret Edson and starring Emma Thompson. The tale of a Donne scholar facing terminal ovarian cancer, the movie helps students grasp the depth of Donne’s themes without drowning them in 17th Century metaphysical conceits. It’s an excellent film.

It’s also a very difficult film for me to watch.  I usually detach my emotions when I watch it — after all, I’m in class and it’s not my general M.O. to cry in public (ever) or in front of students (especially). But Vivian’s dilemma is a real one to me — she trudges through the hell we call chemo, and suffers greatly in the name of “treatment.” Cancer is a horrible disease.

I was thinking today of the phone call I got in my dorm room my senior year in college … Mum was starting a second round of chemo in her battle against recurring breast cancer.  It’s such an insidious, rude disease. “They” say that if you make it 5 years cancer-free, your survival rate is 80%.  Apparently Mum was one of the unlucky 20%, for despite 8 healthy years after her first onset of cancer, the beast returned with a vengeance to chew up her remaining short life.

My mom. I wish I had better photos of my parents.
My mom. I wish I had better photos of my parents.

The first 6 months of chemo (which fell during my junior year of college) were bad. I’ve always felt a little guilty that I wasn’t home then to help my dad take care of my mom.  I think I might make different choices now, given the chance to redo it … but my parents were insistent that nothing interrupt my education. I think they would have physically thrown me out of the house rather than let me stay home from college so I’m not sure that my regrets have much foundation in reality.  I’ve commented on here before about the incredible sacrifices my parents made on my behalf; this is somehow a capstone.

Mum had a good summer in 1995, when the first round of chemo was over and her hair started coming back — growing in thick ringlets (that was new) and completely gray instead of flaming red (in case you’ve ever wondered where my temper comes from LOL). She was healthy enough to come all the way to SC from PA to see me at Thanksgiving my senior year, and meet Coart’s mom. (Coart & I started dating in ’95.)

I wasn’t stupid; I knew recurring cancer is bad news.  But that didn’t soften the blow much when our conversation in February of ’96 turned to life and death. “I’m not going to take any more chemo,” Mum told me.  The first dose was bad enough of the second round of hell-as-medicine.  After three days lying on the bathroom floor (to be close to the toilet during all the dry heaves), Mom had come to the decision that enough was enough.  This life is not THAT precious.

I can’t really explain how it feels to be 21 years old and have your mother tell you that she’s done.  My mom was 39 when I was born, so I knew she would come to the end of things before my friends’ parents would, but this was too much. I didn’t understand. Why wasn’t she fighting? I would fight, I thought. I wouldn’t just quit.

I understand her a lot better now.  Faced with equally bad choices of dying soon of cancer or dying later of the treatment, she chose to let it end sooner.  It still ended up being a horrible 6 months — the chemo plus the advancing cancer triggered a stroke, and if I could delete my memories of those visits in the hospital and nursing home, I honestly would. Really.  That wasn’t my mother as I want to remember her — a strong, beautiful woman.

Truly, this life is not so dear that I would fight for it at any cost.  If I’m going to die (and I will), I might have no control over the circumstances. But I don’t have to be a slave to them either.  I’m glad that Mum stepped up to say, “I’m done.”  She knew that Glory lay before her; she knew that she had prayed for the years to raise me to adulthood, and God had given her those 8 years.

I’m positive that historians will shudder at our barbaric cancer treatments as they write their new textbooks in 200 or 500 years.

Today would have been my mother’s 74th birthday — March 3rd.  I usually write about my parents on their birth and death days.  Humor me — memories are all I’ve got right now.  I’ve said it many times — the worst part of death is that it literally removes someone from our daily lives. No one talks about them. No one weaves them into the fabric of our lives any longer. It was not meant to be that way . . . .

I look forward to a good reunion in Aslan’s Country.

You never stop missing your mom.

March 3, 1936 — August 25, 1996

mom 1

I wish I had more pictures of my mom — I’ve got precious few in digital form (only the ones my brother has scanned), and not too many actual prints either. Kinda weird considering how many thousands of photos I have from my high school years … but we weren’t really a snap-happy family.

If you look at her senior picture from high school, we bear a striking resemblance. Most folks, though, see a lot more of my dad in me than her features. The photo I have up is near the end of her life…. wish I could post one from her younger days. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about losing my parents so quickly after college. I don’t really have anything to say about it; it’s just been on my mind.  I’m old enough now to realize how much my parents sacrificed on my behalf and how predictably self-absorbed I was during my adolescent years. I miss their presence and their wisdom.  There are a lot of things I needed to say….

The Lord has been good to me — He’s provided a number of caring, prudent people a decade or two further down life’s journey who can fill in the gaps when I need parental advice.  I appreciate those folks very much, though I usually don’t tell them that they are much-loved gap-fillers. 

But I’ll be honest — this blows.
I thought it would get easier as I got older. Turns out I just miss my parents even more….probably because I’m becoming more like them.