Monday, May 19, 2014

Lessons in death and its aftermath.

It's been over a month since my last post, the monumental 500th. And it's ironic to me that it ended with "Easter is coming, and not just on the calendar," when it seems like life has demonstrated a lot of the opposite since I last held my fingers to the keyboard. It's been exactly a month, and the kind of month filled with questions like I talked about in my last post:

Where are You, Jesus?

How could You let this happen?

Don't You care about me?

Now I say all that knowing EXACTLY where Jesus has been, knowing He not only cares about me but loves me beyond my finite understanding. I know He's been with me, and with my family and loved ones, and I know that everything happening has been with purpose, because He promises it so. But it does not change the factor of feelings, not one little bit.

Easter Sunday went over pretty well. I served at my post and accomplished my responsibility at the Helicopter Egg Drop for the church's Easter outreach. I sometimes miss participating in Easter a little, but at the end of the day I feel like I have served - God, my church and people in our community, and that outweighs anything else.

Who would have thought that supervising the corralling of hundreds of kids and dozens of volunteers would seem tame compared to the weeks that followed.

The day after Easter while my family was celebrating the ten year anniversary of our "Gotcha Day" my beloved maternal grandmother was admitted to the hospital "for a few tests." I got the phone call later that evening to let me know what was going on and like pulling a rip cord on a top, things just spun a completely different direction and fast right after that. 8 days of hospital vigil led to two days of hospice which led to a week of planning a funeral and then just a few hours to formally say goodbye. It was stunning.

I learned several lessons through that spin of the top, ones I hope I won't soon forget:

Friendliness isn't friendship. People you think might actually be your friends reveal something deeper in times like this. It's hard, but also important to know.

Hospitals are places for quiet voices and gentle spirits. If you can't be a calming influence, don't come - not only for the sick, but for those who surround them full of emotions like anxiety, fear and sadness.

Never say things like "At least she had a long life." FYI when someone is still freshly grieving the loss of somebody they love don't try to find the silver lining, it doesn't exist in that moment - and when they come to the revelation of that, they will do it on their own. And please, please, please, please don't compare their loss to your or someone else's loss in the past. When someone is grieving, do everything in your power not to make that moment about you.

Scripture isn't a cure. Good intentions aside, the classic "All things together for good" or "we grieve with hope" promises do not make everything better for a person overwhelmed in the moment. It cheapens God's Word in all honesty. Reality is it isn't something we are supposed to apply to someone else's hurt or problem. Ever look in a mirror? Ever shine a mirror in the face of someone else? Not the same effect. There will be a time when someone grieving or hurting will reflect on Truth and find comfort and healing in it - they may even receive it from you, but it has to be in relation not simple application. So don't do it - and if you don't heed this warning, don't be all offended when it isn't received well.

People will surprise you. In both bad ways and good. Some of you just really suck at grief and death, for all the reasons above and more. And honestly I can't give you a do and don't list in this respect because it's really based on the needs of the hurting and grieving. Some people need you to come and sit at the hospital with them, for others that's the last thing they want. In this process you need to be a responder, responding with time and patience, not easily offended, filling the needs as they come - driving kids to school, picking up food, texting a simple "I'm praying for you," and then actually doing it.

People will surprise you - in a good way too. Some people are really really good at the whole hospital, illness, death and grief thing. If I had my guess it would most often be people who have been through it, but I have also seen that it can be learned (major props to my 20 year old son who went past his comfort zone to step up and learn to be good at something he'd never really been through.) Cards and test messages, voice mails (don't expect long phone conversations) are like drinks of cool water. Getting cards from people I didn't ever think I would made such an impact. People coming and sitting in a funeral of someone they didn't know out of love and friendship to one who is grieving, ministry beyond words.

Death and the grief process are a filter. It's like when you go and get your physical eyes checked and they have you testing for glasses. You sit looking through this little machine, they flip the lens, "Which is clearer, A or B?" Death is clearer than life. It is like a magnifying glass to delineate: friendliness from friendship - fair weather friends from true friends, ministers from administers, and love. There are three kinds of it that become easily deciphered in times like this: The throw away "word"; the emotion of it (which isn't always reliable) and the action of it. For the record, I will take the action without emotion every day and twice and Sunday, though the emotion at least has a value - but as for the throw away word, I'm really pretty much done with it. "We love you guys," is a load of crap when it's said as you walk away. It's right up there in the silence of those who use the throw away phrase in the every day and disappear in the challenge.

Mmmm... everything in me is more convinced that people suck. But I am also reminded that not all people suck. Most of all I hope I have learned some life lessons that will help me not to be that kind of person.

If people find this post offensive, I will only sort of apologize. I'm still a little raw, so it may be a tad harsh, but if it ruffles your feathers, I challenge you to stop and think if maybe you need to reevaluate how you handle situations like these.

Now I will make one disclaimer, I do know we're not all called to minister to everyone in their pain and struggles (though some of us have to do it at some level in vocational and familial situations.) But I will say this, a kind word, like "I'm sorry for your loss," or a simple (kept) promise like "I'll pray for you," goes a long way. A hug is golden and a listening ear is a treasure. You ought to be able to find that in yourself. It's called LOVE, and if you are a Christian, guess what, you're called to it.