Thursday, September 10, 2009

Don't Get Me Wrong ~

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.


Kathryn J said...

I am sure that I have said or done things that have caused you pain. I am sorry.

Presbyterian Gal said...

I believe that your approach is the most difficult. Yet will eventually lead to the most comfort. And is real and true.


Carol said...

I agree with PG that your approach must certainly be the most difficult but, in the long run, the healthiest.

As my family approaches the month during which we reflect on the past year, look to the coming year, and ask for the forgiveness of those whom we've hurt, harmed, offended, or treated poorly, I apologize to you for anything I've said during the past year that, because of my own inability to comprehend your sense of loss, pain, and grief, has hurt or offended you.

May this new year on the hebrew calendar, 5770, be one of hope, grace, and gentle treading forward while remembering what is no longer.

Jennifer said...

My comment was offered in response to this from you: "Run-in over certain administrative rules I have unwittingly broken, the breaking of which produced some of my best educational experiences here. Result: Foul taste in my mouth over issue of rules versus meaningful learning." You pushed a button for me about rules vs. learning and I was sympathizing with that. I hear you clearly that it's a mixed bag-- and I deeply respect the transparancy and authenticity with which you've shared your recent journey. How could all of life not be irrevocably altered? I'm sorry if my focus on one comment in your last post created any misunderstanding. But I'm not sorry if it generated another remarkable reflection from you.

Anonymous said...

Rules have there place... but the real world of ministry... pretty much operates with rules that we as pastors never know... so we break them. Beyond that... the churches we serve... have rules... that need to be broken... because they are the result of turning inward. Seminaries... can do the same thing... because they are institutions.

Lucy said...

It's been almost two years, and that despair is always at my heels. It would be so easy to give in to it and just live there all the time. It's a struggle. I think so often about you and am so grateful for the honesty and courage with which you share your self.

Daisy said...

I, too, agree with Pres Gal and Carol. Excruciating I'm certain but, in the long run, healthier.

"And most certainly altering the experience of a seminary education."

To be sure.


bean said...

one step.
one step.
one step.

just keep taking each step.