Home

A Funeral

2 Comments

I haven’t had much to say lately, so lucky for you I haven’t been blogging. I thought I might do a glimpse into my journal — those are always popular with the voyeuristic among you. But as I flipped through the pages, I found a lot of body aches and pains, house de-cluttering, financial musings, and angst about my writing pursuits. So I’ll spare you that.

Still, woven throughout the January dross I discovered a golden thread. (It may be just tarnished brass, but it’s all I’ve got, guys.) I wrote about a funeral, the first I’ve ever officiated in my new role as pastor. I hope you can relate to something.

January 8, 2016

I am not sleeping well. It’s not so much the cough now, it’s stress dreams about a funeral I’m doing in a week. My first. Strangers contacted our church: they want “spiritual but not religious.” Our senior pastor said, “You would be perfect for this.” But it turns out I don’t really know what spiritual but not religious is. Can I say God? Can I pray? I wonder if the family even knows what they mean. Wonder why they came to a Christian church for an officiant?

I’ve dreamt about this several nights. Don’t know why it’s so much in my subconscious. I hope I gain more confidence because I’m going to be doing graveside services regularly for {xx} cemetery. Now I’ve got myself all agitated right before bed, researching eulogies, chaplaincy certificates, and hospice programs. It’s midnight.

And a moment of silence for Elvis’s birthday, Jan 8.

Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock3

January 9

Went to sleep with tears on my cheeks last night for the first time in months. I somehow ended up back in that hospital room with Biff (my deceased brother). Still very near the surface. Why? Is it preparing for the funeral? I guess. So many connections beyond our ken.

This funeral will be good practice at emotional boundaries. Caring for and serving this family without entering their pain. This is not my loss, it’s theirs. Is it just human nature to want to connect? Deep calls to deep, as the Bible says? Or is it my dysfunction & codependency?

I need to trust God with all my pain and loss if I’m going to help them. I want peace and serenity and confidence that “all is well and all shall be well,” and I want it to be real, not just the appearance of peace. I feel I have so far to go. I know I over-think, over-fret, but I also do *not* want to be caught off-guard, ambushed by emotions I can’t control.

January 13

I met with the family. Wow. Just wow. {Here for privacy’s sake, I will leave out the incredible struggles this family has been through.} I really am in the right place. Trying to watch my boundaries. I’m feeling privileged to help with the service. What an honor. God, make me an instrument of your peace.

This funeral is a challenge on so many levels. I want to be needed. I want to “do well.” Surprisingly, those unhealthy motivations are way less clamorous than they sometimes are, but I’m afraid they could creep in and knock me off-center.

And there’s this fear that I’ll identify too closely with the family and lose my composure at the service. Yesterday, I felt the opposite, afraid I’d be one of those distant, uninvolved, uncaring pastors: “I didn’t know the dead guy, but I wish I had.” I hate when they say that. So I looked into the son’s eyes and thought, “He just lost his father, I know that place.” But then I realized I do not need to take myself there, to pursue empathy. I err on the side of over-involved; there’s no danger of my being distant.

January 17

Surprised by tears again, bereft. I miss Biff so badly, even after two years. Did the funeral yesterday; today lunch with a new friend who didn’t know Biff’s story and asked a lot of questions that took me back there; Sunday grocery shopping *still* gets me — it’s when I used to shop for him and visit.

Then I was listening to music tonight and had to turn it off. Classical, sitar, and chants seem to be the only music I can safely listen to. And — Christmas, New Year’s, the two-year anniversary. I was braced for all that and felt I’d survived, so I guess my defenses came down. Mom’s birthday yesterday, same day as the funeral. Perfect storm.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss him. I fear I may be entering a time where the reality of the huge hole in me is becoming more clear. I’ll never love anyone that much again, and no one will ever love me like that again. A big chunk of my heart has been ripped out.

Heart wound

Heart wound

January 19

Better today. Maybe those waves of grief just need to happen. Life is not an easy thing.

I’m glad the funeral is over.

Today I read a quote from a guy saying that Martin Luther King was a saint because he was drawn to suffering; King said he was glad to be alive when things were such “a mess.” Well, maybe a saint. Or maybe codependent, like me. Needing to be needed, like me. Maybe a personality-type thing. Maybe all of the above.

January 20

Watched a great movie last night, one of Biff’s videos. “The Way” with Martin Sheen. It’s theme resonated, as he walked “the way” to Saint James’s traditional tomb in Spain to finish a pilgrimage started by his deceased son. Beautifully done. You can feel him walking towards closure and forgiveness for himself and his son.

I would like to out-walk my grief, “get beyond it.” I keep wanting to be free of some burden, some weight. But now it’s more like a shadow, and it will always accompany me, walk alongside. And I suppose from time to time it will overtake me or overshadow me — the rest of me. But I hope that in time the shadow will get lighter, fade somewhat. Or maybe it will integrate into me. My metaphors are confusing me. 🙂

DSCN4764

♥♥♥

A related post: this powerful post from my blogging pastor-friend John Coleman starts out, “I’m used to burying strangers.” It gave me inspiration in the days leading up to officiating my first funeral.

Advertisements

I Have a Dream

8 Comments

I Have a Dream.

Only words, a collection of letters, random markings made divine when early humans first scratched symbols in the dirt, trying to communicate with each other. Trying to connect. The animals are here. The water is here. This is the way. This is what I know.

Only words, but words are all we have, and so we keep scratching.

I picture Martin Luther King, Junior, scratching away, crossing out, circling words, drawing arrows from one paragraph to another, shaking his head, crumpling up his paper, and starting again. Forgetting to pray, getting frustrated, praying, and starting again. And again.

He had a dream, and he needed words. And eventually, God answered his prayers and gave him the words that have been such an unspeakable gift to the world. I have a dream . . .

Today some folks from my church are getting together to watch Dr. King’s historic speech. Afterwards, we’ll talk about racial justice, white privilege, and reconciliation. It will probably be hard to find the right words. We’ll be afraid of using the wrong words. It might be hard to hear some of the words that are spoken; I mean really hear them.

We’ll forget to pray, get frustrated, pray, and start again.

“This is my experience. This is what I know.”

Words of Love

Words are a gift from God. Of course, they can be misused, even turned into weapons. Just tune in to a presidential debate, FOX News, or a so-called “Christian” broadcasting channel and you’ll see how words can be used to drive wedges and stoke the fires of hate and fear.

But love is stronger than hate or fear. Dr. King knew this. Words of love and hope have more power than words of hate and fear could ever dream of having. His words reach across the decades, bridging the great differences that divide us and diving deep into the common spirit that unites every one of us, throughout all time and beyond time.

This week’s photo challenge from WordPress is to share a photo that reflects the word: alphabet. This MLK Day post was inspired by these two photos taken outside a community center in rural New Mexico:

DSCN4759

DSCN4760

How to Forgive

4 Comments

January is a time for new beginnings, and beginnings often entail a few endings as well. Whatever we’re hoping to launch this year, we’d best begin by sussing out detrimental attitudes that could hold us back. Identifying the emotional baggage that drags us down, figuring out why we’ve been hauling it around, and becoming willing to let it go is half the battle of new beginnings.

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Some of the heaviest pieces of baggage come in the form of old grudges. Unforgiveness. Lingering anger. Resentment. I’ve heard it said that resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die, and it’s true. Every bit of brain matter you dedicate to obsessive anger and resentment is a drain on your life, and it doesn’t affect the object of your scorn one iota.

What a waste of energy!

It is Time

Once you’re in the habit of dragging around resentment, it becomes the norm. You hoard old slights and hurts and betrayals in a dark cave inside yourself and fret about them, turning them over and over, musing and muttering over them like a crazy miser with his gold.

And it is kind of crazy — would a mentally healthy person do that? Spend time engaging in activities that make them feel bad? Giving another person or entity control over their emotions — sometimes a dead person or someone they haven’t seen in years? You probably know someone like this (hopefully this is not you): so far inside their dark, angry caves that they’ve become a victim of the whole world. Rage is the symptom.

Case in point: There are currently a handful of right-wing nuts holding an empty visitor’s center hostage in the Oregon desert because they think they are victims of a vast government conspiracy. They are expecting to die over this. (Hopefully this is not you, either.)

OK, extreme case. Back to those of us who live in reality.

It is time: Let. It. Go.

Just how long would you like to hold on to that resentment?

Just how long would you like to hold on to that resentment?

OK, but . . . how?

Getting Ready to Let Go

#1 Notice your burden. Look for resentments in your life and write them down. Write down what happened, what the other person or entity’s role was, what your role was. Be as honest as you can. If there was a third party involved, talk to them to get their honest assessment, or talk to a friend familiar with the situation. Ask them to tell you if you’ve been over-reacting — and do not add them to your resentment pile if they say yes! 

Recognizing that you might have contributed to your own negative experience can be humbling, and it may lead to compassion for yourself and for the other person involved — perhaps forgiveness? In the end, even if it was 100% the other party’s “fault,” you’re still the one being poisoned by the lingering resentment.

#2 Recognize that you are probably getting some benefit from holding on to the resentment. What is it? The armed nut-balls in Oregon seem to have made their resentment a reason for living — a purpose for life, not to mention a way to get on the news.

Most often, though, I think resentments protect us from pain. Or guilt and shame. We get angry because we don’t want to feel the pain and sadness underneath. That works for a time. Or we blame others because we don’t want to feel shame about our own role. Being in a victim role means you get to escape responsibility, but at what cost to you and your new beginnings?

#3 – Become willing to let go of the benefits of resentment and accept your true feelings. The hurt beneath the anger, the fear beneath the scorn. You have to feel and name those feelings before you can let them go. This takes work, but it’s worth it. Those feelings are your teachers, and they can help you take care of yourself and lead a life free from fear and bitterness and anger . . . but only if you accept and process them. So I’ll devote the rest of this post to a method I use that has been downright miraculous for me. It’s called Welcoming Prayer, but if you’re not a prayer-person, you can call it whatever you like.

It goes like this:

Letting Go

Go someplace where you can be alone in silence. Gaze out a window or at a candle or a piece of artwork. Relax. Allow yourself to focus on the “bad” feeling. Name it. Anger? Hurt? Rage? Desperation? Sadness? Notice where in your body you experience the feeling. Your chest? Your head? Your stomach? Your throat? Put your hand there and sit with the feeling. Then say: “Welcome, {feeling}. I know you are here to teach me. I welcome you.”

Solitude and silence: Step One to Serenity

Solitude and Silence: Step One to Serenity

Some background: This method is based on the work of Father Thomas Keating and his belief — backed up by many psychologists — that humans have core “emotional programming for happiness” that gets us through life. From a very young age, we learn to seek and cling to safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Memorize these. I can guarantee you that at some level, no matter what gets you stirred up or upset, one or more of these “needs” is at the bottom of it. When one of them is threatened, we often react from deep childhood survival programming and lose perspective. We act like angry children instead of adults.

So, after you have named and welcomed your feeling and identified where it’s centered in your body, you may sit with the feeling as long as feels right. Because you are going to let it go, so you want to be completely ready. If you give it some thought, you will likely be able to tell exactly which of childhood emotional needs has been threatened by the situation/person that was the catalyst for your pain and resentment or anger. Sometimes all of them are involved — these are the toughest to release.

When you are ready, say “I accept the lessons I’m learning from this {feeling} and I release my need for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control.” Then you may release your feeling. Or you may keep it around a while to pray about, think about, write about, and learn from. Think of it as a visitor, no longer a permanent resident.

The God Question

I’m a God-person, so when I release my emotional needs and pain, I do it by turning them over to God. God’s got my back; I don’t need to protect my safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Using this method over time, I get stirred up less and less often, being assured that I belong, I’m safe, and I’m loved beyond imagining. My clinging, fearful child has quieted down. I forgive “trespasses” soooo much more easily than I used to. 

At Peace with the Past

Learning to Be at Peace

If you’re not a God-person, I suppose you could release those needs to the universe or the cosmos or some “higher power that is greater than yourself,” as the twelve-step recovery folks say. Perhaps you could imagine putting your unwanted emotions on a train and then watching it disappear down the track. Or imagine dropping them in a river and watching them float out of sight. However you envision releasing your negativity, the point is to send it packing.

So there — there’s my new year’s gift to you. I wish you a 2016 full of healthy new beginnings!

%d bloggers like this: