Jennifer, who's given me lots of support, left a comment on my previous post indicating that I'm leaving the impression that my seminary is a place of discouragment.
Not the case ~ except in isolated (and yes, frustrating) circumstances. On the whole it's a gentle and supportive place. Certainly it's a friendly place. But I do experience it differently than most.
One of the struggles in coming to terms with traumatic and severe bereavement lies in the effort to forge a new identity, the old one having been irreparably torn to pieces. The geography and terrain are the same, the circumstances of life seem vaguely familiar, but your own boundaries and priorities are in flux, and there are going to be painful clashes.
It seems to me that there are three basic ways of dealing with a loss like ours. We are all of us strung out along the spectrum, but still: three basic approaches.
First, you can dwell entirely in your grief. It may seem to some that I do that and, of course, sometimes I do. But I read a lot about surviving suicide, and I know well that there are many parents who remain almost completely dysfunctional years after the death of their child. It's tempting ~ every move toward life feels like an abandonment of your child, and sometimes in the constant pull between the place of despair and the place of hope, despair wins. And for some, despair wins almost all of the time, a situation about which I can make no judgment whatsoever.
Other extreme ~ you can deny deny deny and proceed with life as usual. I know a lot about this M.O., it being the one my family of origin has always practiced. There seems to be some kind of (entirely erroneous) belief that by not acknowledging horror publicly or out loud, you can alleviate the pain. I suppose such an approach does make it easier for those outside the immediate circle of grief ~ but in my experience it makes it more difficult and longer lasting for those within.
And finally, there is the approach I am trying out, in my own blundering, confused,and erratic way: I really do try to integrate what has happened with the reality that remains. That means that I say words like "suicide" out loud and that I express my anguish ~ more than others would like, no doubt, but far less than I feel it. It means that I recount funny and sweet stories about my son without self-consciousness. It means that I do not pretend that everything I have believed ~ about God, about the universe, about other people and my relationships with them ~ has not been drawn into question. It means that I still try to sort out the completely irrational from what few things still make sense and that I am trying to rebuild from scratch.
And it means that I am incredibly sensitive to what goes on around me, to things that seem ordinary to everyone else involved. It means that the most innocuous remark can feel like a knife scraping my skin off and that a genuine conflict, no matter how minor, feels like the top of a volcano flying off. It means that a sermon intended to be encouraging, and so perceived by everyone else who hears it, sounds like words of eternal damnation and hellfire to me.
It's been a year now. More than a year. It will be always, at least in this life. Life and death completely and always intertwined, altering all pathways of perception.
And most certainly altering the experience of a seminary education.
Cross-posted at Desert Year.