Category Archives: grief

On Another’s Sorrow Revealed

unothersoroCan an individual see pain in another and not somehow feel sorrow? Can a father see his child cry out and not feel bad, too? Can a mother hear her baby groan in pain and not hurt?

No, no! never can it be!

We become numb to pain and suffering, don’t we? After all, we see so much of it around us. Most of us turn our gaze from TV, newspaper, and Internet pictures of war, genocide, and poverty. It’s probably not because we have cold hearts as much as it is because we see hurt all around us and we feel helpless to do anything about all of it. After all, there is pain right here in my family. How can I worry about the people in faraway places when I can’t even handle what is going on in my own house?

But even more personal, what about my own pain? How can I possibly deal with the pain of others when I can’t even get a handle on the pain in my own life?

But is this what the writer is talking about? Is he asking whether we have the capacity to bear everyone’s pain? Or is he asking whether we, as human beings, have the innate ability to feel pain when others feel pain? I believe the latter. I think that as these words flow on the author is wanting to make the point that within the hearts and souls of each and every one of us there is an ability to see pain and then sense the same pain in ourselves. Where does this ability come from?

And can he who smiles on all…

Here we are obviously talking about God. The poem talked about the pity shown by a person, a father, a mother, and now God. The God who sees all and smiles on all. He not only notices birds and people but he, too, feels pity and sadness when he sees hurt, pain, and suffering in them. When God feels hurt in others, he will be by the nest or the cradle day and night with tears in his eyes.

But along with sitting and waiting and being patient, he is also wiping tears away from our eyes. He wipes our tears away when we are hurting.

And how does he do this so well?

He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.

God sent Jesus as a babe and the babe grew into a man. A man of sorrows and a man of empathy. He hurts for others and he feels hurt within himself. Jesus feels sorrow, grief, pain, and suffering. God, through his son Jesus, feels every pain and hurt that we feel.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.

Every sigh and every tear is known to God. And he is always near.

Like a nurturing father or a loving mother who willingly sits all day and all night with their sick young one, God will likewise sit with us until our tears are dry. He will replace our tears with his joy. And he will sit with us for as long as he has to sit.

O! he gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

I think the clear message in these words is that while there is plenty of pain to go around, God will always be where there is suffering. And because God is so empathetic – he himself saw and felt pain as Jesus here on earth – he knowingly works to remove pain from anyone and everyone that has, does, and will feel pain. Also and because we are created in the image of God, we, too, can feel and empathize with those who are feeling pain. And perhaps there will be times when we are called on to nurse the pain of someone else. Well, can we do it? Of course we can! We can do it because God does it for us. And with God in each of us, we, too, can sit out the pain with others just as many will sit with us in our pain.

What a blessing!

· Leave a comment. Posted in grief, to live by.

On Another’s Sorrow

unothersoroI continue to read and enjoy William Blake. Knowing about Blake and his opinions and then reading his poems helps me greatly understand why he wrote what he wrote. I won’t give away some of his hot button topics but he wrote about issues 250 years ago that are as relevant and stirring today in 2013 as they seemingly were when they were written years ago.

I’m not sure but I don’t think I have ever read anything quite as eloquently written as what Blake has written. I admit right up front that I am a novice in classical poetry so some of you may have some suggestions that you may think are better in terms of style or prose. That’s alright, of course. Blake seems to write to me and for me so I enjoy his poems. Maybe you can tell me about some other poets.

A good friend of mine has a birthday tomorrow. I’m hoping that she isn’t reading this because if she is then the whole jig is up. Anyway, I found a very nice compendium of Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” and “The Book of Thel” that I plan to give to her for her birthday. The writings come from a small book called The Poems of William Blake by Dodo Press. The book is perfectly sized to hold and to be read and there is lots of space to make notes and doodles. I yellow highlighted some of my own favorite passages in her book. Maybe we will think the same thing on some of the words and phrases and ideas. I hope Lola will like her book.

There aren’t any pictures and images – Blake is known for his image plates – in the book but that is alright. It keeps the book small. And besides, the images can be obtained in many other places like in the book I have that’s entitled William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books. This book has color reproductions of all of Blake’s images. It’s beautiful but bulky.

I’d like to share this poem and then we can talk about it.

On Another’s Sorrow

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief & care,
Hear the woes that infants bear,

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast;
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear;

And not sit both night & day,
Wiping all our tears away?
O, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give his joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

Isn’t it lovely? It creates images in my mind. I can see a caring mother hunched over her aching little one. I can see a father protecting a hurting young one. And I can see God – he who smiles on all – watching all of his creation and feeling with them their pain.

I’ll leave it here for now. We can talk more tomorrow.

Till our grief is fled & gone…

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DMV Love

grencar1I received this in the mail a few days ago from the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Motor Vehicles:

“Our records reflect that your vehicle registration expires in April, 2013. DMV is unable to renew this registration because our records indicate the owner is deceased.

“Because we too have lost loved ones, DMV wants to provide you with the necessary tools to settle the vehicle record of your family member or friend. Virginia law requires that the vehicle be titled and registered in the name of the person who will now own the vehicle. Enclosed is the ‘DMV Guide to Family Members and Friends of Recently Deceased.’ This informal sheet provides instructions on how to re-title the vehicle in a different name…”

The letter went on and advised how to cancel a driver’s license, disabled placard, or set of license plates, too. I don’t know about you but I appreciated the tone and helpfulness of the letter. I had already taken care of Regina’s driver’s license and disabled placard, but I had not yet worked on the joint ownership title of the green car. I followed directions as best I could and went down to the DMV in Stafford yesterday to take care of, I was hoping, about the last tangible property item that we had jointly owned.

Like any DMV visit, I was probably tenth in a line but the line moved quickly and the information person listened to what I was wanting to get taken care of. She offered condolences and proceeded to highlight several blocks on the car’s title that I needed to fill out. She gave me a number for the next available window.

In not too many minutes and after I had filled out the appropriate boxes on the title, I was called up to Window #6. I showed the lady what I had with me and explained what I believed I needed to do to get this transaction underway. She looked through my paperwork and then asked for Regina’s Death Certificate. I had thought I might need one so I gave the window lady an original. She looked it over and also expressed her condolences. She then asked if I had a Will and if I was the executor. I told her that I did have a Will but that I had not brought it with me. She explained that she really needed to see the Will in order to complete this action. I told her that I would need to go home and get it – she said to do so and then come right back to her window. “Don’t stand in line again.” I thanked her as best I could and went home to get the Will. I wish I had thought that I might need it but had not.

wiltestmentRegina and I had worked up our Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and Last Will and Testaments back in the Spring of 2012. In hindsight, it is good that we had done this and it was and is a blessing that this is all in order and fully functional. We, of course, were not wanting to think about eventualities and tried to take care of the paperwork as a normal order of personal business. But last Spring was unlike any other time in that she had been in and out of hospitals and back and forth with doctors much more than normal. Something serious was going on and we both sensed it and hoped that we would get through it and be prepared for whatever was to come.

All of the paperwork – as I looked at it yesterday – was dated May 5, 2012. We had invited Jamie and Clayton over to the house one afternoon to serve as signature witnesses and had arranged for a Notary Public to be with us at the house – Regina couldn’t get out – and formalize the documents. After about an hour of signatures and uneasy, nervous conversation, we were all done and the documents were in full force. Who would have known what was to come?

Since our signing day, I have used all three documents for various purposes and reasons. I did some banking when Regina was still with us and the Power of Attorney let me make some changes to our joint accounts without her signature. When Regina was admitted to the Stafford Hospital, Potomac Hospital, and the Washington Hospital Center (WHC) last year, the staffs all asked to make copies of her Living Will for their files. And later, several provisions of her Living Will took effect at WHC – I felt very thankful and calm knowing that she and I had already worked out the really hard life and death decisions. We were able to act on her wishes and intents. And yesterday, DMV looked through Regina’s Final Will and Testament and was satisfied that I had full authority to represent Regina in property matters having to do with her green car.

DMV made copies of her Death Certificate and Will and gave me back the originals. With a few more signatures, a new title was issued to me in my name only. I had accomplished what I had set out to do.

I will admit – having to come home and pick up the Will was hard. Looking through the Will was hard, too. All of the things that we had talked about – now in place. But thankfully without any glitches.

It was hard to do this at DMV. Normally a cold and tough place, I have been to the local DMV twice to deal with Regina matters and both times, I don’t think the people could have been much kinder. Thanks to the people and management at the local facility for your patience.

And I’m thankful that God had led Regina and me to do some pre-planning in spite of not wanting to think about what might happen. Today, it brings comfort to me to know that I will not have to deal with property and other issues thanks to the paperwork that we have in force.

And due to God’s wisdom and care of two very tired and confused people a year ago.

· Leave a comment. Posted in grief, regina's rest.

Choose Faith

salsonsThe sun rises earlier in the morning and sets later in the evening. Crocus are coming up and budding in the yard. Robins are beginning to arrive. Heavy jackets aren’t as necessary as they were a few weeks back. Bird songs are starting to punctuate the morning quiet. Baseball and soccer is starting up. Here locally, we are always happy to see Carl’s Ice Cream open and start scooping their four delicious flavors of ice cream. Stafford Meadows Farms opens for business after a winter rest and offers customers all kinds of trees and flowers for planting in their yards. Cafes set up their outdoor dining furniture. Pretty Easter clothes are hanging in shops and stores for buyers to handle, try on, and maybe even purchase. Of course, it still can be cold outside and there is snow forecast for here later in the week, but there are definite signs that a new season – Spring – is on its way.

Seasons come and go like clockwork. Seasons are like a musical score. It plays on and on through the changing scenes of life’s movie. Each season brings mostly the same natural and very common sights, smells, and sounds every time around. The coming and going of seasons is highly predictable and amazingly reliable. We all like the certain rotation of seasons.

What is a bit disconcerting, however, is that each season will always usher in something new and different for each of us. Our kids are one year older and have gone to school one more year. We are one year older and have worked one more year. New friends were found but some old friends may have needed to move on. New babies have been born and loved ones have passed. Hopes and fears have turned into memories. Planning and preparation has turned into management and maintenance.

A season is like the ice in an ice rink and life is like all of the skaters who scoot, shuffle, and zing across the ice. The ice sustains and supports the skaters. The ice is hard, resilient, and reliable whereas the skaters are somewhat fragile and fickle – fast, slow, easy, hard, beginners, and pros. The ice stays put while skaters come and go.

Mixed feelings are had when a new season arrives. It’s nice to enjoy, for example, the arrival of Spring with its warmth, sounds, and newly birthed vegetation. But at the same time, the arrival of a new spiritual season may bring as much trepidation as hope, concern as assurance, and loss as gain.

“Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One. Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:6-8 VOICE)

I was talking with someone yesterday – I was distracted and she was distracted and we both really didn’t have much to say to each other because we were both distracted and the sum of our conversation was nothing. We both know better but we easily let ourselves get tired and frustrated. Too bad for us and we should have done better. But later, I was thinking about her and me and the Bible passage above came to mind – among many.

Faith is a choice and it requires me to choose it if I want to embrace it. Part and parcel with true faith is the ability to not be anxious and worried. I won’t speak for my friend but I am indicted by what I just said. If I claim faith but am anxious, what does that mean? Of course I have faith but I do get distracted, antsy, and concerned. I’m sorry about this. Perhaps my faith is not as strong as it needs to be.

With the changing of seasons – in the world and in my heart – I can easily slip off the bridge and find myself paddling around in the muck of self-pity and hurt. I know me – I can paddle for awhile but if I get tired and stay bobbing about for too long I won’t have the strength to pull myself up and out of the swamp unless I get some help.

But I want to be positive. I am alright as I write because of the strength I receive from finding faith-comfort in the passage above from Philippians. Particularly, “Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything.” And that is what I did and am doing. I prayed yesterday that I might enjoy the good that can come with a season’s change and that I might be protected from the negatives of a season’s change. And I prayed – and am praying – for my friend, too. I hope she is better now.

There is strength in faith. But I must hold tight to it else I will get crushed under the weight of my own thoughts. Faith is a good thing – I choose faith!

· Leave a comment. Posted in daily goings on, grief.

Especially Unique

yuneekLike the billions of stars in the sky, there are just as many stories about grief and loss. The stories should be treated with honor and distinction. After all, they are about a person who is gone.

Regardless of where one places his faith – God or fate – there will be an end. What is life will cease to exist.

My faith says that an ending in death for each of us is a curse that was once brought on by an independently minded and arrogant man and woman who wanted to do things their own way and, in so doing, pretty much soured the whole living thing for the rest of us. See Genesis 3. We now suffer pain and much sadness when losing a loved one. And we ourselves will pass at some point. All because there were two people way back one time who wanted to exercise their will against the will of God. This is pretty much the story and condition of mankind – destined to live hard, work hard, birth hard, and die hard. It’s true – this is the situation we live in.

My faith also says, however, that for those who believe in God and act with his purposes, physical death is not the end of all existence. Rather, God has provisioned a means for life beyond the physical. I can’t explain it – no one can – and it remains a mystery. But suffice it to say, it is an existence beyond the death that we will experience in this world. Even as the first man and woman brought us down, another man raised us up by proving that God had sufficient power over death to offer a second existence to anyone who believes and follows God. See Romans 5:12-21.

Through the night last night, the ending to a story’s chapter was being written about a passionate lady and her family. It will stand as a unique and special chapter. It does end sadly, of course. It is going to be hard for a long time now for those left behind. Much will be written about what it takes to recover and get on with living without this special person. All is not lost, however. Being a people of faith, there are many more chapters to go in this family’s story. And in the end of ends, it will conclude with a perfect ending.

I won’t tell this story. It is for someone else to tell. But what I do want to say is that this story is precious and especially unique because it is a story about someone we knew.  It is about someone we will not forget. And it is a story about a person who lived – and passed – with a deep and sincere trust and faith in God.

We rally around this family now in sadness, quiet support, and respect. It is appropriate that we do this. But we also relish the thought that we can find assurance and peace in knowing that God has given safe harbor and calm from the storm to the one who is now gone. We mourn our loss but regale in her gain.

God has turned a curse into a blessing.

· 1 Comment. Posted in daily goings on, grief.

Tear Soup Cooking Tips

friendsAs a follow-on to yesterday’s post, I want to share with you just a few of the cooking tips that come from Tear Soup. There are many more tips and resources about grief at Grief Watch, the purveyors of Tear Soup. The list below comes directly from the Grief Watch website. I encourage you to spend some time on their website and appreciate the good work that these people have done to help us all understand grieving and how to better survive grief – together.

If You Are The Cook

• This is your grief—no one else’s. Your friends can’t feel your loss in the same way. It will not affect their life the way it affects yours. And you may resent them for that.

• At first you may think dying would be preferable to having to go through this pain. Just try to stay alive. Sudden mood swings are normal. You may suddenly be unreasonable and short.

• Try your best to educate your friends about what you need and how they can help. Be as honest as you can be about how you are feeling.

• Don’t give up on your friends if they let you down. But if they continue to be insensitive to your grief you may need to distance yourself for a while until you get stronger.

• At first you will probably want to talk to as many people as possible, but after a month or so, find one or two people whom you can count on for the long haul to just be there and listen when you need to talk.

• Write your thoughts in a journal. It will help you to process and also to remember the new insights you are learning.

• Consider attending a support group. Go at least three times before deciding if it is helpful to you.

• Be open to counseling.

• Exercise, sleep, drink plenty of fluids, and eat a well-balanced diet.

• Pamper yourself. Take bubble baths. Get a massage.

• Try not to compare your grief with another’s. You don’t earn points for having a more painful experience than someone else has. And you won’t feel less grief if someone else’s loss is worse.

• You deserve to feel happy again. Being happy doesn’t mean you forget. Learn to be grateful for the good days.

• Don’t be too hard on yourself.

• Long after everyone else has forgotten your loss, you will continue to remember. Learn to be content with your private memories.

What do you think?

I was unprepared to grieve. After all, who thinks about preparing to grieve? We spend our time planning retirement security, raising kids, going to and from work every day, getting the best deal, and mostly trying not to think about – at all – what life will be like if we lose someone. Well, there are a lot of good reasons to live strong and hearty – we can’t live in fear and shadows, I don’t think. On the other hand, I don’t recall ever anyone saying or talking about grief – either in a secular or religious context. I guess the topic is simply too morose. Yet, we will all experience grief in our lifetimes. Some how or some way, we will all grieve the loss of someone. It is an eventuality for all of us, sadly.

Anyway, the list is a good one, I think. Maybe it has given you something to think about – we aren’t immortal nor are our families and friends, after all. So, how will you and I handle our grief?

· 1 Comment. Posted in grief.

Getting Ready for Valentine’s Day

2013-02-09 16.47.28Each year around Valentine’s Day Feb 14 Mary Washington Hospice organizes and invites community members to their Coping With A Broken Heart afternoon activity.  I registered and went yesterday not knowing what I was getting involved with but anxious to meet some of the people from the local hospice organization who I have been talking with about possibly volunteering some of my time. I also wanted to spend some time doing some more healing and thinking on what has happened and where I am going.

The gathering was held at the main library in downtown Fredericksburg.  All told, there were probably seventy of us assembled – fifty participants and twenty facilitators and helpers.  After checking in, we were assigned to one of twelve tables in the large conference room. I was at Table #5 with six others – participants and a facilitator. I had been assigned to a loss-of-spouse table – everyone at my table had recently lost a spouse. Other tables had been prearranged for different kinds of losses – loss of a parent, loss of a child, loss of a sibling, loss of a friend.  I understood why, when registering, we needed to provide the name of the one we had lost and what the relationship was with the one that we had lost.  This was very organized.

I was the only male in my table group.  My observation in the past eight months is that men generally have not seemed to engage in the types of support group programs that I have engaged with.  Either I keep finding the wrong groups, all the grieving men are too busy to attend group sessions, all the sad men are meeting somewhere else, there just aren’t that many grieving men, or men simply don’t generally deal with their grief in a group setting.  I can’t really say though, again, in the three different organized support groups that I have been associated with, men have been very much in the minority. In this large group of about 50 participants, perhaps 5 – 8 were men – all the rest were women.  If men are leery of participating in these kinds of support groups, my opinion is that they are severely hurting themselves and their healing potential by intentionally missing out on the cleansing power of confession and conversation.  Yes, it is painful and emotional but I have found disclosure and discussion to be the absolute best medicine for my grief – when taken with others in my same situation.

First, the kind hosts had prepared a light lunch of finger-foods, drink, dessert, and soup.  The soup – for a special reason.  Anyway, the lunch was meant to be an icebreaker and a way through which we could get to know each other at our respective tables. The soup tasted and smelled very good.

Following lunch and after a welcome and some introductions, we watched a short movie called Tear Soup. The movie comes from the book of the same name.  I had never seen the movie nor read the book.  I highly recommend the book or movie.  It uses simple words and pictures to tell the story of how Grandy, in dealing with her major loss, is able to make a special soup with some very special ingredients. It also depicts how Grandy interacted with others, and they with her. I love her forbearing dog. The short story is loaded with allegory and symbolism – it tells so much with so few words and pictures.  This story is recommended for any person of any age who has experienced any kind of major loss in their life.

We then spent the rest of our time doing table group exercises.  We told each of our spouses names, what had happened, when it happened, what we were doing, how we were coping, and so forth. B____ had been married for seventy years – her spouse died this past Christmas Day after two months of dealing with a brain tumor. K____ was married to a Christian Scientist – when he was likely diagnosed with cancer in his lungs he opted to not have it looked at and taken care of. S____’s husband had been sickly off and on but nothing serious – she opted to take a cruise. He died while she was gone. J____’s husband had been a cop. Fit and trim and healthy – taken down by a quick-moving cancer.  And there was more. We were all in the same boat. One said, “We are in an elite life club.” Yes, good observation.

We then had to dip into a container holding questions that we each had to answer. “What did you do during your last holiday when you were alone?” “What has changed with your family since your loss?” “What is the biggest difference now?” “What have you thrown away? What will you never throw away?” And so on. These were good questions.

We finished up with a ceremony, of sorts. Those who were comfortable could rise and move to the front of the assembly where they would be given a purple heart – for courage and integrity – and a sprig of rosemary – for fidelity and remembrance. The person then had about one minute to talk about their loss and a positive remembrance. It was very moving.

We then joined hands in a large circle – each of us holding our purple hearts in our right hands. With this arrangement, then, I was holding my purple heart in my right hand – hand in hand with the person to the right of me – and I was also holding the purple heart of the person to the left of me. This, too, was very moving. We were all in this together, we all hurt together, we all had our own memories that could now be shared with others, and we were bound together in the circle. No, it wasn’t freaky. These people are special people and, in my opinion and in my personal experience, the demonstrations of bonding and unity are powerful forces when a person has experienced a loss like mine and ours.

The 2 1/2 hours went by like no time had been spent. It was a good and productive afternoon. I have also now made contact with the right people to begin some conversations on how to volunteer with the hospice bereavement people. I’m thankful and excited to follow up on this lead.

I appreciate caregivers like this. They empathize, don’t judge, are very patient, have sense enough to know when to speak or when to listen, and are demonstrably very sincere and concerned with our well-being.

I’m not ready for Valentine’s Day – I will never experience a Feb 14 the same way again. But with an understanding of tear soup and the reminder, again, of the bond that I have with so many others like me, I find some comfort and peace.


· Leave a comment. Posted in daily goings on, grief.