Sometimes It Hurts Always!

The following post may not be the most popular one ever written. It may even be distasteful to some readers. Some of you may not read it to the end. Please understand ScarredJoy is not all about things that are warm and fuzzy. There are other people’s Blogs to turn to for this. ScarredJoy’s whole purpose for being is to be honest about the experiences and emotions people may be touched by in their grief. Not everything in life can be tied up in a nice bow as a final touch of beauty. Grief is sad, heart crushing and often just plain nasty and ugly. At times, even God may seem silent. Add the dying of a person into the mix and you have a perfect storm of pain!

Are you still with me? Here we go!

“Sometimes it hurts always” may seem like an odd thing to say but I am still saying it. When I’m listening to people talking about their grief as the response to a  recent heartache the pain can be absolutely overwhelming. At this juncture in their lives the grief hurts always. The days may seem long and the evenings even longer. Evenings hurt more because the darkenss of the night creeps in with its own silent embrace. As some people have told me, it is here, in the embrace of silent darkness that they scream. Sometimes it hurts always.

This drives home the sadness of grief. It can be relentless. It can be seemingly never ending. Sometimes it hurts always. It hurts so much. In the prospect of one dying from a terminal illness grief may be one’s only constant companion. This blows apart the romanticized view some people have of the work I am involved in. Even some colleagues may shy away from this emotionally dark component of death and dying. Although the following may not be common, it does happen. I wish it didn’t.

I remember a number of years ago when I was involved in work as a pastor of the “evangelical” persuasion. Part of my work included coming alongside people who were hurting emotionally and spiritually. It was not uncommon for me to visit with people who were dying. Believe it or not, many of my pastor colleagues shy away from such rich opportunities. Yeah, go figure! Anyway, I digress.

I was asked to go to the local hospital and visit with an older woman from the congregation who was dying. I had sat with her a number of times when she was still living in her own home. She was lonely and received few visits even from her church. When I saw her in her hospital bed she was nearing the end.  I will never forget her fear and her crying. She kept saying how afraid she was to die. As she gripped my hand she told me she didn’t want to die. She was afraid God had forgotten her. I held her hand. I hoped by listening to her words and fear as well as sensing the stress in her body she might begin to calm herself. I assured her God does not forget or leave His children.

Something this lady said as she tried to hang on to life has stayed with me. I cannot shake it out of my head. She informed me that she was afraid God did not hear her prayers. It terrified her. It caused her to cry and her body to shake. Her experience caused me to reflect on when we might think God is silent giving the impression that heaven too is silent. This in turn had me reflect on a statement by the writer C.S. lewis.

“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”*

Perhaps you have experienced what C.S. Lewis states above. It is a time when sometimes it hurts always. Some people might be eager to judge the thoughts and words of the woman I refer to. It is certainly not an experience pleasing to our minds. Some may not believe what I related to you. The fact is this lady died in fear. There is more to the story of the lady I mention in this post. Suffice it to say, for all intents and purposes, loneliness like she experienced makes one’s process of dying all the more miserable.

“Sometimes it hurts always” may not draw scores of people to the bedsides of those who are dying. Whether people agree with what I write here does not change the reality of sometimes it hurts always. Perhaps it speaks to the fact of how much we need each other. This is a reason I suggest to people to nurture relationships you may have with others. Nurture and cherish them to the end of your days.

 

*C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (Harper One, 2008), p. 658.

Oh My Love, My Darling

 

ScarredJoy is all about taking a realistic view of life including the experiences that turn our world upside down. Admittedly and without apology, ScarredJoy at times enters into the raw and hellish pain some people encounter in life. Some things are beyond comprehension to us. I question, therefore, the validity of such cliches that may be blindly accept, such as, there is a reason for everything that happens to us. There is?

ScarredJoy does not shy away from being controversial at times. This post is not meant to be controversial.

With this post I would like to highlight more of the “joy” than the “scarred” part of life. A few years ago a song hit the charts on radio that people still sing today. The song is, Unchained Melody and became a hit due to the singing duo The Righteous Brothers. The song begins, “Oh my love, my darling. I’ve hungered for your love, a long lonely time.”

Who is your love? Is there someone your heart longs for? Is this an easy question for you to answer? I’m sure some people will immediately want to answer with replies like, “I love God and my heart longs for Him!” Okay, I get it and that’s valid. I’ll ask the question again this way. Of all the people you know in your life, who does your heart hunger for more than anyone else? Unchained Melody is a love song. In the context of my question who is your “darling”?

This morning I got up early to do some writing and work on my soon coming website. My “darling,” my wife, surprised me and arose early also. I thought with it being Saturday she would like to sleep in a bit. I often get up early on a Fri. or Sat. morning and head to a local coffee shop to do some writing. Often at 6:00am or so there aren’t too many people in the coffee shop and it is nice and quiet. As I was getting ready to go out and my darling was relaxing on the couch I sang Unchained Melody for her listening pleasure. Well, at least I think she was listening! Maybe she wasn’t even listening too intently. Oh boy, now I’m rethinking whether my darling takes pleasure in my singing. The romantic in me is confident she did.

Now before I go any farther, I have to clarify something. As a more introverted person, I don’t sing to just anyone. My darling and I have been together for years. I feel safe with her and trust her to know more about me than anyone else.  If you, dear reader, ask me to sing for you the answer is, no!

Do you sing to or for your darling? Do you long for your darling? Do you hunger for your darling’s touch?

From the perspective of ScarredJoy my darling is not to be taken for granted. As a selfish creature I may slip from this priority from time to time. I know others have as well. This happens in life. I guess it is human to default toward our selfish nature. If you have a darling he or she becomes your heart’s love.

Many people are amazed when they hear my darling and I have been married to each other for almost forty years. There are more of us in married love for that many years than one may believe. Marriage, the union of a man and woman, is alive and well, in spite of the political correct awkwardness of our day.

Even after almost forty years of marriage to the same woman I still have a long way to go. I still make mistakes. I still have selfish moments. I have insecurities. I beat myself up as a failure. I have times where I think I didn’t provide for my wife and family as best I could. I see in such misgivings my own room for growth. As a Christian, I even wonder if I indeed love my wife as Christ loves His people. It is in light of this standard I pray, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

The melody of my love for my darling goes on. Sometimes I get out of tune. Sometimes I forget all the lines. Sometimes I feel unworthy of her love. Our melody, however, while perhaps still under construction, is sweet! It is music to my ears!

Oh my love, my darling, I hunger for your love!

I Never Knew His Name

I lived the first ten years of my life in Scotland, the country of my birth. When I was a boy one of the daily rituals was to cross the street to buy some fresh baked bread or rolls. The corner bakery did a booming business. In the evening the fish and chip shop, Marino’s, enticed you with the delicious smells teasing one’s nostrils. From about eight in the morning to six at night the corner convenience store was open for business. Each store seemed to do well.

Our neighbourhood was interesting. One street in particular was known to be inhabited by Protestants and the one up the road was the “Catholic street.” It didn’t seem to make a difference at school. We kids all got along except for the frequent fist fights that would break out when one kid insulted or bullied another. So many kids in one school from different backgrounds.

As a boy of about seven or eight it wasn’t unusual for my mother to send me across the street to pick up some fresh rolls or fish and chips. I especially liked going for the fish and chips. After a few times I became pretty skilled at having my nimble fingers find their way through the wrapping to sample a chip or two before taking them home. Ah, what a wonderful memory! I still love fish and chips.

I liked living in our neighbourhood. It was big and it was busy. I knew a lot of people, kids and adults. Usually I met them in one of the stores and listened to them chat to each other while waiting for their purchases.

It was at this time of my young life where something happened that has stayed with me to this day. My thoughts that the people I met would always be there were shattered. There was an old man who frequented the stores I mentioned. He was like anyone else and needed to buy things in his life. I remember seeing him quite often. He was always on his own. I never knew his name. I can even remember my mom saying hello to him now and again. It seemed a lot of the neighbours knew him. They were friendly toward each other. I kind of enjoyed it when the adults doing their shopping would say hi to me. I guess, as a child, it was my introduction of what a caring community could be like.

I remember one morning I went across the street with my mother when the bakery and corner store opened. When we went into the store I sense something wasn’t quite right. People were more hushed than usual. My mother talked to someone about something. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about. My curiosity peaked when one woman exclaimed “that’s awfy”, meaning “that’s awful.” I heard someone else say how sad it was. Although this memory goes back decades ago, I still remember the following words of explanation. “He turned on his gas stove and put his head in the oven.” As the story goes, his daughter went to visit him and found him dead. He had taken his own life.

As we were crossing the street to go home my mind was reeling. I was full of questions. I was sad. I remember asking my mom, “how can someone kill themselves?” “Did it hurt?” Mom didn’t answer. I asked her another question. Why did the old man kill himself? The answer found its way into my brain at that moment and has never left. My mother answered, “He was lonely, the poor old man.” When we got home life became normal again. We ate our fish and chips and settled in for the night.

I couldn’t get what I had heard and what mom had said out of my head. I had never heard of someone killing himself before. I couldn’t understand that. What caused him to do it. He took his own life. He killed himself. He killed himself! He was lonely. From that time on I have associated being lonely with being sad. It made me sad. I missed seeing the old man. He was now forever missing from our community. If he had a daughter how could he be lonely?  Perhaps there was something else. Maybe he was also suffering from an illness. I will never know.

As the years have gone by I have thought about that old man often. I have met many lonely people since then. The decades have taught me that loneliness is common. The old man taught me that being lonely can kill a person. Perhaps seeing our community once a day wasn’t enough for the old man. Perhaps what he needed was companionship. Perhaps he would have loved a pal to hang out with, a buddy to help make life more enjoyable and fulfilling. Instead, he died on his own with his head in the oven.

I wonder who hears lonely people? I wonder if the old man ever told anyone he was lonely? Did he cry at his dinner table. I wonder if he wailed into the night heard only by God? I wonder if anyone really cared?

He made a lasting impact on my life. I still remember him. I never knew his name!

 

The Crying of Men!

Please know that ScarredJoy posts are not all about having people agreeing with me. At times you may think I missed the mark on something. I do, however, want to have us journey together through things in life that may be uncomfortable, have us think and be real.

Such characteristics as being real with ourselves and others take time. Being real with our emotions, especially our expressions of sadness, is something we may have to learn as life confronts us with pain, brutality and life changing grief. This post encourages especially men to be real with their emotions.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting online with a Facebook “friend.”  As a woman, my friend thought a consideration of how men process or express grief would be interesting to post. I got to thinking about my emotions as a man. A result of the chat led to this post. Specifically I am writing about men and crying.

I will never forget the sound. It has left an indelible picture in my mind. The wailing, the deep crying of a man standing by the headstone of someone he loved. He was on his own. Perhaps grieving the death of this loved one he felt even more alone. Grief can do that to a person. Grief can take the strongest of men and crush his spirit, at least for a while. Crying, unashamedly may help express the depth of emotional pain inside.

When I was a boy the culture of the time frowned upon crying in the case of boys and men. For a boy to cry, at least in front of people, was to act like a “lassie.” If a man cried he was supposed to calm it down as soon as possible.

As a Christian I admit, at least until recent years, much of the church community has contributed to minimizing the need to openly express our emotions and especially sad emotions. Perhaps in expressing the emotion Jesus expressed (John 11: 11:35–“Jesus wept.”) the church would have avoided the “suck it up” attitude of our culture. Weeping is raw emotion. Weeping is honest.

I’m thankful things are changing. Somewhere along the journey of life men began to know it’s okay to cry. We can now shake off the shackles of cultural or religious dictates that hampered emotions and feel free to be real, to cry.

I’m not saying, of course, that if men don’t cry they arent’s manly. I don’t mean that men must cry. I’m simply saying it’s okay to weep, to feel deep sadness, to cry, even in front of other people if need be. We don’t have to hide our tears in a corner!

If I cry I don’t like people drawing attention to me. It makes me feel I’m doing something wrong. The emotional ghosts of my cultural and church past can still haunt me. Perhaps other guys feel the same way.

To my female readers, if we guys cry please allow us to express ourselves in this way. Please don’t see our tears as a sign of weakness. We are feeling something deep that has caused us deep sorrow.

To cry is human.

I’m thinking a lot of this stuff through myself. This post even after I have rewritten it and reviewed it myself is giving me cause to ponder my own reality. There is still more to say on this.

What are your thoughts about men crying?

 

Hello Silence My Old Friend!

This post may be more for myself than anyone else. Readers you may think it is long but please allow me to get this out okay?

Years ago the singing duo, Simon and Garfunkel came out with a song entited “The Sound of Silence.” I love that song. I especially loved the first line, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again.” I’m not going to go into the context of the day when the song was written or became popular or mention how some have interpreted this song. I do, however, want to highlight how at times there is a need for silence.

There are times I visit an old friend of mine. Silence is the name. Silence isn’t always quiet and sometimes darkness is close by. Let me explain a bit of what I mean. My personality type tends toward a need to analyze thoughts and emotions that come my way. I gravitate toward being more introverted than anything else. I enjoy being around certain people yet I also enjoy silence and solitude. I can be a team player but I love doing things on my own.

Allow me to talk a bit about my past forty years of working or ministering or being with people. These forty years have primarily been in the context of being with people who are hurting in some way. Somehow people gravitate toward me. I don’t know why and I don’t know how this happens, it just does. For instance, I can be sitting in a hospital lobby waiting to go into a meeting and someone will sit by me and start talking to me. Has that kind of thing happened to you?

In the context of my work this somewhat natural ability with people has been a blessing. I have been able to sit patiently with hurting people and given them a safe place to pour out their life stories. It is a privilege to be there for them.

I have to say, on the other hand, there are times I want to be on my own. I sometimes allow the hurts of other people to almost haunt me. It is these times especially when I welcome my old friend silence.

Those involved in people helping professions or careers are advised not to become emotionally attached to those you try to help. I totally get that. I know what it means. I also accept that in order to be useful to others I have to be aware of who I am as a person. I have to be a friend of silence. I need silence.

At times in my work or even in my personal life I resonate with the situation of some people more than others. I find it somewhat easier to be emotionally distant with people in my professional context. Sometimes, however, there are those who stay in your mind.

Here is one instance in particular. I remember a colleague telling me a certain patient had requested to speak with me about some personal matter. It was my first day back after the weekend. I was looking forward to seeing him. I know he had been having spiritual and emotional struggles. I went to his room and he wasn’t there. I finally asked another colleague if she had seen him but she had not. I then asked the person who who had told me of his request to speak with me. She had just received news that, I must say, shocked me. He died during the evening from a fall. I never saw him again.

This news actually stunned me. I remember not knowing what to say. I just walked away from my colleague and sat in my office for a while. I then went for a walk on my own. I wanted to be with my old friend silence. For a while my silence was stalked by darkness. They aren’t a great combination.

Darkness insisted on being given attention. Darkness said that if I had paid more attention to the gentleman who died perhaps his struggles would have been diminished. Darkness goaded me into finding a mirror and looking into the face of a failure who lets people down. Darkness turned from being a friend into a demon! Silence itself isn’t always quiet. My thoughts clamoured for me to listen to them but all I wanted was silent silence. I hear enough noise. I don’t want my silence to be noisy.

Then I heard silence, my old friend! Silence in time, showed it really was my friend. Silence soothed me and encouraged me to ignore the sound of darkness. To survive in a world, a culture that is all too noisy, I need silence. In order to remain in touch with other people I must have the soothing embrace of silence.

“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”–Mother Teresa

Beware of Garbage Language

Hello my friends! I have encountered a lot of memorable experiences in my journey through life. Some like the following stay in my mind and heart.

A few years ago I was asked to conduct the funeral for a pastor colleague’s mother. We had met during the time his mother was declining due to her illness. When she died he didn’t hesitate to ask me to conduct her memorial service. he said he was too emotional to lead it himself. We talked a bit about his love for his mother. Our conversation went on to include his reluctance regarding leading funerals. He told me the following experience he had when he was a younger minister.

He was asked to meet with a young couple whose baby had died. Needless to say, the couple was devastated. The mother especially was overcome with her grief. My friend told me that once the funeral was arranged he was extremely anxious about it. Having done a number of funerals and memorial services I empathized with his anxiety. His story continued and gripped my heart.

The day of the baby’s funeral was a perfect storm for making it a sorrowful event for all involved. The weather was terrible. The minister had very little experience with grieving pople. He had never encountered the death of a child. The baby was the young couple’s first child. My friend would later recall that day was one he wished never happened.

After the funeral service in a local church the minister accompanied the funeral director in a hearse. The young couple and family members were in another hearse. When they arrive at the cemetary it was pouring rain and chilly. As the minister said some words trying to comfort the family as the baby was laid to rest he uttered an unintentioned but inappropriate statement. It is a statement I term “garbage language.”  As the final words by the minister were concluded the young mom fell to her knees in the muddy grass. She was sobbing deep from in her soul. Not knowing what else to do or so say, my friend reached over to the young grieving mother and said, “I understand!” Without missing a beat the mother looked up at hime and said, “How can you understand? Did your child die too?”

As everyone was leaving the cemetary my friend recalls how emotinally empty he felt inside. He could never undo his garbage language statement to the young mom. It seered into his mind and heart, however, that he would be careful of what he said to people in grief. It was a hard and bitter lesson for him.

Garbage language is unfortunately common in western culture. Many people still have not learned the etiquette of grief language. Many still stumble along in a supposedly well-meaning way in their efforts to comfort grieving people. I forget the number of times people have said to me regarding a grieving loved one, “I don’t know what to say.” It seems to be a challenge for many when I simply say something like, “Perhaps, if anything, just listen to the person.” Many of us seem to think that we have to say something to those who grieve. In most situations the non-verbal communication may be the most effective and caring. This includes a hug, an arm across the person’s shoulder or sitting quietly and allowing the person to cry. Perhaps the only talking needed is the sound of the grieving person’s voice.

I hope we can learn to throw off the shackles of garbage language. Please don’t be offended when I give some examples of garbage language now. If you are offended there is still hope for you. In the context of grief how often have you used or heard this statement or something like it? “If you need anything just let me know!” That, my friends, is garbage language. There are other horrific statements that remind us garbage language is unfortunately alive and well. Here are some other common forms of words that miss the mark and therefore are garbage language. “I thought you would be over your grief by now.” “You can always have another baby!” “Well, at least your mother lived a long life.” “He’s at peace now!” “Wow, that’s sad, but your not the only one who has grieved.”

Hopefully you get my point!

My friends, I’ve said it before. Listen! Avoid turning to your own perceived wisdom in thinking you have to say something. Listen! If you love people and want to sincerely be present for those who grieve then listen! Be there for people after the funeral is a memory. Remember special dates the grieving person may spend on her or his own. Cut the lawn for them. Drive them if they need to go out somewhere. Perhaps in their grief they aren’t really fit to drive on their own. Affirm their pain. Recognize your ability to be silent with those who grieve is a gift to them. Just “be.”

Beware of garbage language!

Reclaiming Our Grief from the “Experts”

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This post is a result of something that has been going through my head for a while. In fact, this morning I had insomnia that was driving me crazy until I decided to get up and write. Here goes. Keep in mind this won’t be lengthy. I just want to have you think about something. We can then explore it together later.

I’ve been involved in direct service, work, ministry, etc. with people for forty years. It doesn’t make me an expert. Much of my work has been in the context of grief related situations. Primarily this has been death related grief.

Grief has become a huge marketable part of our culture. There are loads of books written on grief. I have quite a number of them myself. There are all sorts of theories or explanations of “the process of grief” all trying to help people make some sense of grief. You might say they give you an idea of “how to” grieve. Perhaps the one who led the way in this was Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross back in the 1960’s with her “stages of grief.” Others have used such terms as “tasks of mourning,” or “dimensions of grief,” etc.

There are all sorts of people involved in the profession of “therapists” or couselors. Many religious type leaders or professionals may also make efforts at helping people in their grief. Some of them may be effective but many miss the mark.

I think it’s time for the average person to reclaim their grief from the so-called “experts.” This may sound simlistic or perhaps even outrageous. Yeah, I get it! The “experts” have spent years studying grief and how it impacts the lives of people they are trying to help. I get that too.

Listen, you are the expert in your grief. You are the “coach.” You help guide your own process of grief. We may benefit in some way in visits to “therapists” or “counselors” and the like but realize you are the expert of your grief. Everyone else who may want to help you will do well to really listen to you. They can’t say anything worthwhile until they listen to you. Your journey of finding your way through your grief will become more clear as someone walks with you, so to speak on this journey.

I say all this to hopefully stimulate discussion. Try not to hide your grief. Please honour your grief by finding people to walk with you on the journey. You talk about your grief and your companion listens. Don’t leave your grief up to the “experts.”