Understanding Our Tears

Tears are used as a way to express our feelings. When we see tears in another’s eyes, we know there are deep feelings at the surface. We share our own feelings through the use of tears sometimes in public and sometimes in private. Sometimes we do not understand why tears are being shed and then there are times when we wonder why there are no tears when they should be flowing like rivers.

Tears can be a mystery at times. For me, it has been interesting to take the time to discover the reasons and purpose of tears. This was not a topic I just decided to investigate and study on my own. It sort of just fell into my lap and I found it interesting. There have been times in my life that people have asked why I was crying, like when I watched the birth of a baby for the first time as a nursing student. The beauty of birth and a new life reminded me of creation, new life, and love; a sight that not only brought tears to me eyes but took my breath away when watching that miracle!

Tears came at other times when I laughed so hard that I started crying! The laughter not only caused tears, but my side hurt so bad that I wanted to stop laughing but found it so difficult. A couple of years ago, I was helping my son, Brian, put a swing-set together for his daughter’s birthday. He went to the shed to get another tool that we needed while I was putting parts of the swing set together. I heard Brian make a strange sound and when I looked up, he was dancing away from the shed. A black snake made it’s appearance when the door was open. It was not the snake I was laughing at, it was Brian’s dance and fast paced movements away from the shed and across the backyard! He stated over and over “I am done! I am done! That’s it for the day!” There had been several challenges to overcome with putting the swing set together and the snake was one more thing to deal with! After a break, we did finish putting the swing set together and I continued trying to hold my laughter and tears.

The topic of tears does not come up to often but they are something we see and experience, sometimes more often than we like. This past week several people have made statements or comments about tears that have caused me to stop, think, and ponder. Maybe we need to investigate and learn more about tears. One of my seminary professors, Daniel G. Bagby, wrote the book, Seeing Through Our Tears: Why We Cry, How We Heal. This book is one of several I use when teaching grief and bereavement classes and has been very helpful in understanding our tears. He has dedicated a chapter to each type of tear with in depth explanations of each. The book is a great resource.

Tears are found in every person, at every age, and every stage of life. There are no boundaries when it comes to tears. You see, tears tell us so much and like a smile, they are a universal language that we can all understand! But, not all tears have the same meaning. Tears can be revealed in anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, joy, relief, and yes, grief. Sometimes tears can speak for us when we have no words. In this article, I will address the purpose and understanding of tears during times of grief because that has been the area of question and concern this past week.  

So what about those wet molecules of water that fall from our eyes from time to time? Tears are one way we have to assist us in the healing process when we grieve the death of a loved one or experience another kind of loss. When we are first told of the death of a loved one, shock and numbness are usually the first defense mechanisms to set in. At some time while shedding tears, depression, anger, guilt, and memory problems may all set in as a result of the loss. These feelings may be experienced off and on and at different times. Please be aware, these feelings are real and are normal for the person experiencing a loss. If the loss was sudden, tragic, or totally unexpected, these feelings may be even stronger. But the tears, what about the tears?

As H. Norman Wright states in Recovering from Losses in Life, “Tears are the vehicle that God has equipped us with to express the deepest feelings words cannot express.” God gave us the tears to help us express the deepest feelings words cannot express! Powerful! Have you ever been to that point? I have and I want to say a lot of times. Two months after my daughter died, my oldest son was airlifted to the hospital as a result of a serious auto accident with multiple injuries. The majority of people with his type of injuries usually did not survive.  He did survive but had a long period of recovery. Just a few weeks after the accident, my niece gave birth to a breech baby girl with complications and the baby died a few days later. From May of 1993 to December, our family had one major crises after another! Tears? you bet! Uncontrollable, frequent with hard sobbing in which no words could possibly express what I was feeling and I could not express!

Another good thing about tears is that they are healing! Tears help us in the healing process by getting those feelings out. The danger comes when we refuse to acknowledge and refuse to let others see us cry. Not only are the tears locked inside, but so are the feelings and emotions. At some point in time, everything will come out and make its presence known! Some of the experienced health problems that arise from keeping everything inside are heart problems which tends to be one of the biggest issues that develop after a loss. Digestive problems, mental and emotional issues,and illnesses of various kinds all because we have kept everything pent up inside. What we do not let go of and allow to come to the outside, can and will destroy us by working its way through the body systems through illness! Tears are healing, allow them to work and help in your healing while working through your loss! Crying is healthy! Tears are healthy!

Another thing about tears is that we never know when they are going to show up! We may be having a great day where everything is going smooth and beautiful one minute and the next minute, we break into tears. A mother shared one of those times. Her teenage son had died as a result of playing football with friends. The ball bounced up from hitting the ground and hit her son in the chest putting his heart in an irregular heartbeat and the heart stopped. CPR did not work. After a little time had passed, the mother believed things were getting back to normal for her and her family of three, where there to be four. The family decided they wanted hot dogs for supper. She told us she was taking the hot dogs out of the package to cook. Then anger hit! “How could you possibly die? When you were here the package of 8 hot dogs was perfect for our family. You died and now there are two left! We are not perfect anymore!” She did not expect her anger and did not expect the tears. She said she cried for a long time! Tears can, do, and will show up when we least expect them. Not only did the mother have the unexpected tears, she was surprised that she was also experiencing anger! Just when you think you are over the feelings of depression, anger, calm, fear, and all those other feelings, hope enters and you can smile again. But then, unexpectedly, tears and depression return. This is normal and necessary. It is important to know that it is healing.

I can share many stories about tears and how important they are but I think you get the picture of their necessity. I mentioned earlier the book, Recovering from Losses in Life.   In this book Wright includes a story (page 47-49) introducing guests at the cross of Jesus that are present but never mentioned. I love the story and as a result, I have noticed that because of it I become more aware of their presence in different circumstances and situations. I would like to share that story with you and with this I close.

Before we leave and say goodbye to those present at the cross [of Jesus], I have one more introduction to make. This introduction is very special.

   There was one group in attendance that day whose role was critical. They didn’t speak much, but they were there. Few noticed them, but that’s not surprising. Their very nature is so silent they are often overlooked. In fact, the gospel writers scarcely gave them a reference. But we know they were there. They had to be. They had a job to do. 

   Yes, this representation did much more than witness the divine drama; they expressed it. They captured it. They displayed the despair of Peter; they betrayed the guilt of Pilate and unveiled the anguish of Judas. They transmitted John’s confusion and translated Mary’s compassion.

   Their prime role, however, was with that of the Messiah. With utter delicacy and tenderness, they offered relief to his pain and expression of his yearning.

   Who am I describing? You may be surprised.

   Tears. 

   Those tiny drops of humanity. Those round, wet balls of fluid that tumble from our eyes, creep down our cheek, and splash on the floors of our hearts. They were there that day. They are always present at such times. They should be; that’s their job. They are miniature messengers; on call twenty-four hours a day to substitute for crippled words. They drip, drop, and pour from the corner of our souls, carrying with them the deepest emotions we possess. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to darkest despair.

   The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are more apt.

 

   

 

 

 

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How to Help in A Crisis Part 2

Last week I wrote that in order to help someone in a crisis situation, it is important to know the type of crisis being experienced so that we could be the most helpful. Also included in the article was that our presence was of utmost importance.

Sometimes we may not know what to say and sometimes no words are really needed but your presence speaks volumes. Just being with the person tells them you care, you are concerned, and you want to be with them at this difficult moment in time. People in crisis will often withdraw and not make contact. You can take the lead and make the initial contact and be with them showing your genuine concern and compassion.

I know when my daughter died there were many times I wanted to be alone, by myself without any voices, sounds, or disturbances. When I cried hard, I wanted to be alone. There were also times when I just wanted a presence. No words, no songs, no noise or distractions. Sitting on the back step one day I can remember asking God to send someone to sit with me. I could not on my own pick up the phone to call someone. I did not have the energy or strength. No one called of visited that day. God’s was present at that time because the sun shown brighter and I felt the warmth of the rays engulf me and hold me.

There are two things you can offer to make the grieving feel valued and understood is to be a listener. Listen to their story. There is a difference between listening and hearing. Listening involves really listening to not only what is being said but also what they are not saying and their body language. You can pick up on so much just by listening and being in the moment. Hearing is not listening. In hearing, you let them talk but at the same time, you are thinking in your mind what to say and how to respond. You really are not Allow them to share their heart, feelings, fears, and concerns. If they sense they are not being listened to, they may withdraw and not talk…at all.

Listening takes practice and for some, it does not come easy. I was the chaplain on call at a hospital one late afternoon. The operator had paged me to go to the surgical area and see the doctor that would be waiting for me at the door. When I arrived, he shared with me that his patient died during surgery and the family was en-route to the hospital. He wanted me to be present when he spoke to them. The family asked their questions and got all the information they could think they needed. I was watching one of the family members that was speaking through his body language. When I went directly to is family member, he asked how I knew he needed more. I told him I watched his body language, picked up on his being anxious, and heard through all of his movements there was something more he needed. What he needed and wanted so badly, was to see his mother. The doctor had not thought to invite the family to see their family member who was a mother and sister. They family came back to me after and thanked me for picking up on the unspoken words .

Having a calm presence will help the grieved and bereaved to relax, feel less anxious, and lower the stress. Encourage them to talk about their fears, concerns, and hope. They may repeat the story over and over. You may even get to know the story by heart. Allow them to repeat it as many times as it takes. Allowing them to tell the story is not only the beginning of the healing and acceptance process, but it also helps them to know the person they have just lost will not be forgotten, by anyone. The story retelling may last for three to four months, until they are reassured that the loved one will not be forgotten. Can you listen to the same story repeatedly?

The person may have the concern of if only. “If only I had of been there the accident would not have occurred.” We have heard those words before. Ask “What would have happened if you had been there? Let the person answer the question. They will discover being there would not have changed the outcome but the outcome could have been worse had they been present. There will be many questions. Their focus may even change to the future. Get them focused on the now. Work through the present and take care of today. Things have to be done today so work through today only. One step at a time. Things in the future can be addressed and taken care of at a later time when it is needed. Focusing on the now can help reduce and lessen anxiety and empower them to cope better.

Encourage the person to take action. By this I mean to encourage them and let them do for themselves what they can do. We must do for them what they cannot do, but, as one psychiatrist says, “we must not do for them what they will not do for themselves. Encouraging them into action helps build them emotionally as well as spiritually. We do not want to make them dependent on us or others. of us are helpers by nature and so we want to help every way we can. We must let them do what they are capable of doing.

Give hope! There does not appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel they are walking in. They may feel the darkness and suffering will never end. This person needs hope and you can give them the hope they need. Hope tells us things will get better, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it will become brighter when the tunnel is exited. Do you have a Bible verse, poem, or reading that brought you hope and meaning when you were at a low point? Share it with them! The Bible is full of hope! By all means, do not say you should, you need to, you ought to! They are going through their own grief and you have no idea what their grief is like for them. The worse kind of grief is your grief! We do not know each others grief and how it feels. Let them have their grief, do not take it away from them.

Everyone has experience with crisis! We know it lasts longer than a day or a night. Major crisis can lasts months or more. After the immediate crisis, after the funeral, when everyone has left and gone their separate ways, back to their life, don’t forget to follow up with the person. They still need to know they are not alone, that someone cares for them. They still need a friend. It is your presence and continuing friendship that brings comfort, peace, and the all important, hope! You can give light at the end of their tunnel! After my daughters funeral was over, and everyone had gone their own way, letters and cards were still arriving daily in the mail. Oh how we looked forward to reading and seeing those cards and letters. But then, the first day arrived when there were no cards or letters in the mail! My husband was so devastated and heart broke. He knew the day would come at some point in time, but not today! That was a difficult day for John. Some cards did trickle in and he soon began to realize that the written wishes and thoughts would come to a complete halt for the time being.

Follow up and keep tabs with the friend that has the loss. hey only have the memories f their loved one to carry them through. It is so good to have a faithful friend keeping contact and checking in!

Thank you for being the friend who loves and cares!

 

 

How to Help During a Crisis

Part 1 – Recognizing the types of crisis.

Everyone, at some point in time, will experience a crisis. When we hear that a crisis has occurred, we first think that something terrible has happened. How often do you think of a crisis being something good? Not often I bet. Crises occur in all sizes, shapes, and forms. A commonality in each crises is that it lasts longer than a day, or overnight. A crisis usually lasts an average of six weeks. In this post I will discuss the types of crises that can determine what kind of help to be offered.

Of utmost importance is being there.” Your presence, without saying one word, speaks volumes. Your presence speaks volumes without your having to say a word and it also demonstrates your love for God and your neighbor. You are telling them, “I care!” “I love you!” “You are important to me!” Your presence is telling them the same thing God is saying to them. Many people do not understand that sometimes just our being there, giving our undivided attention may be all that is needed. Sometimes, our words may not be welcome but our presence is treasured and all that is required. Remember the three friends of Job? They were great friends, very supportive and welcome…until they began to speak.

A most often asked question is, “How can I help someone during the time of a crisis? I think in order to help someone during a crisis, there are a few things to know to allow us to help effectively. Helping someone during this time, requires that we know what type of crisis is involved.

An accidental or situational crisis involve things like a sudden threat to our well-being and disruptive events such as the breakup of a family, death, divorce, rape, the loss of a job or security, a change in health status. These are the unexpected losses of life. Reflecting back to Job, remember he wondered why God would allow bad things happen to him?

Developmental crises occur in our every day lives. You will recognize the few that are listed. Most likely, you have experienced these and may not have thought of it as being a crisis. What is a crisis for you, may not be to another person. By the same token, what is a crisis to another person, may not be one to you. Crisis include, moving from one house to a new house and changing locations such as from one neighborhood to another, or even into another state; going away to college, marriage and the adjustments required, a new baby, retirement, aging, loss of health, and the loss of friends. You can list more of this type of crises as most likely, you have personal experience in working though this one. Biblical examples here would include Jacob, Joseph, and his bothers in Egypt; Abraham and Sarah wandering in the Wilderness not knowing where they were being sent and being childless for many years.

Existential crises. You might not recognize the type by name but you will recognize what this type of crisis contains. This is the crisis when we have to face a disturbing fact about ourselves. We see ourselves as a failure, a widow or widower, a divorcee, we learn that our illness is incurable, or we experience rejection because of our race, age, gender, or faith and beliefs. We might be at the age where we realize that we are getting too old to fulfill our life goals. Self esteem has hit rock bottom.

In order to be a true helper during the time of crisis being a presence, being there, is most important. Further, they need our understanding that this is a difficult time for them. Get involved and give the encouragement needed. Keep watch and be quick to give help. We often hear people say, “Call me if I can do anything” or “Call me if you need anything.” Most often, what we don’t realize is that the person experiencing the crisis does not know what they need. This is where we, as helpers, come to their aid.

More to come in the next post.

A New Beginning

We have a chance for a new beginning in so many things. A new beginning may come in a new day, relationship, job, career, home, or school. Sometimes we wait for that new beginning or it may just happen without our realizing.  I am so ready and excited for my new beginning.

My last entry on this site was 18 months ago. That seems like a life time ago but we know it really isn’t. I was excited about having completed my Doctor of Ministry at Campbell University, completing requirements for coaching, and beginning to develop my passion in ministry. Little did I know where things were going and how the next 18 months would go.  My husband of 46 years was beginning to have health issues that just spiraled out of control.

In just a matter of 3 months, John went from being 100% capable, able-bodied, always doing and a Pop Pop to our 3 grandchildren to needing complete care. He was constantly in pain in both arms and legs, difficulty swallowing, and great difficulty walking. He needed support walking in the house and anytime he went outdoors, he used a travel chair (smaller, light weight wheelchair). He needed constant care and I turned all of my efforts and attention to him. Hence, my reason for the 18 month leave.

During the 18 months he endured many, many, doctor appointments and testings of various types. After referrals to doctors in the Tidewater, VA area and Duke Hospital in NC, he was referred to the Mayo Clinic.  Mind you there was never any relief of his pain and weakness. After four and a half days at Mayo, he was given a diagnosis with the added words (my translation), “This might be the diagnosis. If this medicine works, that is what you have.”  Well, the medication worked for about three to four weeks.  The doctors that he sees now and the second opinion doctor, all agree that John does not have the diagnosis Mayo had given.  At this time, John is physically on the decline. If things do not change for him, he will be back where he was prior to this past November.

So why the change and return to my writing?  My mind has been running wild with thoughts, ideas, plans, and images!  I get tired of my mind moving, thinking, giving ideas, and thoughts and I can’t stop it. For the past two weeks when I go to bed, I have been mentally exhausted and barely remember falling asleep.  When I wake up in the morning, my mind starts again.  “Nancy, there is work to do and peole need your gift in minstry that you have been called to do. Now is the time.”  How could I possibly do otherwise?

So, here I am returning to doing the blog to increase and better my writing skills. Writing  is important because it is a place where I can share my passion in reaching people that are going through grief, suffering from loss, and have lots of questions about death and dyeing. I want to let them know that I have been and am walking through grief with them. I am available to talk, share, or coach individuals or groups. I walk with people as they are in the active dying process and hold their hands as they leave to go home.  For me, that is Holy Ground!

I am not sure how often I will be writing and posting here. My goal is to write at least once every week. There are so many topics, classes, projects, and devotions to share on this blog.  I will be organizing my thoughts of topics, projects, and devotions and share as events occur or time calls for.  During this time of Lent, I will be sharing and talking about the presence of the “not talked about” visitor at the foot of the Cross at the crucifixion of Jesus.

For the readers that might be looking for a facebook Grief and Bereavment Suport Group, I have just started one Support in Loss. My goal is to walk with you in the grief journey.

Until we meet here again,

Blessings,

Nancy

After All This Time

Tonight I practiced with the choir at church. I had not been in a choir for years. We practiced music for the Christmas cantata, anthems for future Sunday morning services, and the music for this Sunday. It felt so good to be singing in the choir again after several years.

One of the anthems we practiced brought about an emotional response. At my daughter’s memorial service in 1993, the hymn Jesus Loves Me was played with chimes. It was a perfect anthem for Jennifer, because in her developmentally delayed body, Jesus loved her just as much as he has ever loved anyone!

When I read the title of the anthem tonight, Yes, Jesus Loves Me, I had an unexpected pause in my breathing. The next thing I noticed was the beginning of an increased heart rate. I tried to tell myself the words to this anthem would not be the same as those in Jesus Loves Me. I opened the cover page to read the words. There were some different words but, there were the familiar words to the song as I knew by heart. The tune to the anthem was new to me, but that did not seem to relieve the memory.

Again, after 23 years, those feelings returned. I was experiencing grief and mourning as I heard the choir sing the anthem. Tears began to flow, silently. I wondered how my husband was doing as he was sitting a few rows behind me. He was one of the two men singing base. I didn’t know how he reacted until after choir practice and we were walking to the car. John had also had a difficult time with this anthem. We both decided that when the time came that the choir would present this anthem both of us would sit this one out. There remains a tender place in our hearts.

Even after 23 years, there is a time that we both experience and feels the loss of our daughter, the loss of dreams, the loss of what was normal for our family. So loss is not something one gets over. I have learned how to live and adjust to the loss but sometimes, there are those moments that will come out of nowhere! Tonight I experienced one of those unexpected moments. Now 2 hours later, I can see this as a growing step in continuing to move forward. May you see the same in your journey.

C ing Through Loss

Welcome to the C ing Through Loss blog.  This is a new adventure for me but one that I believe will be helpful for several reasons. One reason is that it is a means to answer questions that we find hard to ask because we think we are the only one feeling the way we do and feel guilty because of it.  Another reason for this blog is to share with readers that, we are never taught how to grieve so we grieve how ever we see our parents grieve or react to loss while we were growing up.  My strongest desire is to use this blog as a tool to help people who are dealing with loss, grief, and bereavement know that there is a healthy way and an unhealthy way to grieve. Through this blog, I will share things about grief and grieving, dealing with loss of all types. In another blog, I will share about losses we never considered.

Loss, grief, and bereavement is not new to me. Personal life experience has been a great teacher. Life is not always filled with Hallmark moments and endings.  Losses I have personally experienced include the poisoning of my cat when I was young, the loss of grandparents, several young cousins through illness and tragedy.  My nephew died at the age of 18 while waiting for a heart transplant. Just one year later, my daughter, a special needs child, died at age 13. I do not know of anything worse than the loss of a child.  Her death was surrounded by extreme life changing family events that occurred prior to and after her death. The loss just kept building the entire year of 1993.  One time while I was visiting with my Aunt Nancy, I asked her, ” Aunt, you have lost both a child and a husband. Of the two which would you say is the worse?”  She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ” I loved your uncle more than anything in the world. We were married 60 (?) years. But, the greatest and worse lost was Sandy (her daughter). It’s harder losing a child.”

I know what it is to lose a child and the dreams I had for her. I do not know what it is to lose a spouse, my husband and I just celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary. I know what it is to loose dreams, friends, a job, financial stability. My husband has dealt with the looses that comes with retirement. We recognized that losses come in many forms. There are unrecognized loss that we don’t even think about. You have some of those too! This is a topic I will address in future blogs and discuss in grief and bereavement classes.

Through my life experiences as an individual, daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, aunt, niece, cousin, registered nurse, parish nurse, chaplain, pastor, minister, and life coach, I bring my skills, experience, education, love, and compassion to share and work with you. Help and support is available through classes, coaching, consultation, and collaboration for individuals and groups.  Classes will be announced via Facebook and this blog. If  you are interested in personal contact and coaching, please do not hesitate to contact me via the C ing Through Loss Facebook page or this blog.

Your feedback and response is encouraged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grieving with Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Rev. Dr. Nancy B. Moore

 

As we look at this passage today, I believe it is important to look at the book of Thessalonians. It is believed that Paul wrote this book around 50 AD and most likely his first Epistle. It is also considered to be the first New Testament Book to be written.

Paul rejoiced in the steadfastness of the Thessalonians and encouraged them to continue to witness for Christ by both word and deed. He dealt with their problems concerning the Lord’s return. This letter gives us an inside view of life in the early church.  Even early on, the church faced pressing questions in which they were seeking answers.  They had problems related to the Lord’s return.

When you think about it, how many times had Jesus talked about his returning? How many times do you remember he told his disciples he would be retuning? Jesus often spoke of returning, but you know, nowhere in the Bible can we find when and where he will return. He does tell us, it is not for us to know; That only the Father knows the day and hour and it would be in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52); like a thief in the night.

It had been 50 years since Jesus left and I imagine the people were getting a little antsy in waiting. They must have thought Jesus would return in a week, a month, a year, 10 years?  No… time went on and Jesus had not returned. I believe that it was at this time Paul felt the need to write down all he knew, had ever been told, and wanted the people to know and not forget.

According to our reading today, the people were becoming concerned about their forefathers, their loved ones, that had already died. They were bothered by the thought that the loved ones that died before Christ returned would be forgotten or miss Christ’s return and they questioned Paul.

Paul’s response to them was that they should not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).  In a pagan world death was grim and filled with despair.

As a result, questions flooded their hearts.

Where were their deceased loved ones?

Would they ever see them again?

Is there really a heaven and a hell?

To calm their thinking, Paul described the coming of Christ and the place of both the living and the dead at that time. The basis of our hope is Jesus’ death and resurrection. The God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise his followers from the dead.

There are several truths stated in these verses:

First- the dead in Christ shall rise and join the Lord before the living arise.

Second – The Lord’s descent will be accompanied by a loud command, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God.

Finally, those who were dead and those who are living will be “caught up in the clouds together” and “will be with the Lord forever” (v. 17).

Paul’s purpose in writing was to comfort grieving Christians.

The believer’s eternal state is clear. All I want to know is that when I die, I go to be with the Lord. Jesus’ words form the cross to the repentant thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) and Paul’s words to the Corinthians emphasize this “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8 NIV). I am certain, that all I have to do to be sure about my eternal destiny is to accept Jesus as my personal Savior before I die. Surely, these words ought to bring comfort and encouragement to God’s children.

These will not enable us to get over our grief and sorrow, but it will help us to get through it. The loss is a reality, but it is only temporary.  The psalmist said long ago, “Weeping remains for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (30:5).

Everything that happens to a person after they die, is determined by what happens to that individual before death.

Death is not something we like to talk about. It seems that the only time discussions are held is when a family member or friend has died. I am so thankful Dan is doing this sermon series The Good News about Death. This series contains information we need to have about the gift of life, death, grieving, and hope.  In my ministry, I have an elevator speech. An elevator speech is what a person says what needs to be said in 30 seconds or less, in the time it takes an elevator to get from one floor to the very next, and with as few words as possible. In working with Grief and Loss, my elevator speech for C ing Through Loss is – I work with you to find hope and purpose in your pain.

I believe that is what Paul did when he was addressing this very issue with the Thessalonians- working with them to give them hope in their pain. To remind them of what Christ had done on the cross and his resurrection. We too, will be resurrected in a glorified body, to be with him and our loved ones. We grieve in the irony between human loss and eternal life. We are sad at the loss but joyful with eternal life.

Humans have a very high mortality rate of 100%. We are not going to get out of this life alive. Death is no respecter of persons, vocation, wealth, social status, class, or creed. Death comes for all of us. As a result, it makes sense that the Thessalonians and us, their theological descendants, have some concerns about death. In addition to the questions mentioned earlier, there is an additional question,

Why does death still have such a sting, if Christ has won the victory?

Paul spent a lot of time in his correspondence calling the believers to test what they hear, before they receive it as truth. Much like we are to do. Paul has made it very clear that there are good things in the world and in the church that is good to the ear, but not necessarily good news.

This may be particularly true when it comes to death. We shudder when we hear the words that someone we know or our loved one has died. We freeze. We are numb. But at the core of our Christian faith is a word about death, broken wide open on Easter Sunday, but there is likewise no other Christian doctrine that has been so changed by the surrounding culture.

The Jewish people of the Bible did not believe total annihilation or that we completely vanish at the moment of death. The Hebrews believed it was the actual death of self, that the body and soul remained in unity after death. This was the basis for the care provided to the corpse and for the importance of an honorable burial. The Greeks and Egyptians believed the soul went to some sort of afterlife, and some Jews believed in a resurrection at the end of time.

So, simply to say that Christians believe there is something on the other side of death is not really to express the Christian hope. There is more to it.

My Aunt Nancy was taken to the hospital for a fractured arm she had gotten as a result of a fall at home. Aunt Nancy was 93 and lived alone. She had been a devout Christian for as long as I can remember. Her daughter, Susan, and I were very close growing up. While in the hospital Aunt Nancy developed heart and lung problems. Fluid had been removed from her lungs. The doctor met with Aunt, Susan, and I at which time Aunt had to decide the plan of treatment from 3 options.  One option was quickly ruled out due to her age was to replace a heart valve. The other two options remaining were, a very difficult and painful procedure of draining fluid from her lungs that could only be performed a few times and the other option was to do nothing and let nature take its course knowing that fluid would build and eventually be the cause of her death.

With the doctor in the room, Aunt asked me to explain everything to her in words that she could understand. Her hearing was not the best so we had to face her and speak slowly for her to hear and to allow her time to grasp what was being explained. After a few silent moments, Aunt told the doctor, “I have lived a long life. The Lord has been good to me and blessed me in so many ways. If the time has come for me to decide, and make the choice of treatment, then I choose to not want to have any more procedures or tests. I don’t want anymore physical therapy, no more blood drawn, none of that stuff. Just let me be comfortable. I am okay because I am going to be with God.” Aunt, Susan, and I looked at each other eye to eye. We saw and felt the tears coming to our eyes. Susan and I told the doctor, we will honor Aunts decision. After all, Aunt was alert, coherent, and still able to make decisions. Aunt knew what she wanted.

Susan and I stayed with Aunt even when she was transferred back to the rehab facility. We talked about many things, life, friends, church, the pastor, favorites, happy times and sad times. We laughed and we cried. Aunt made sure Susan knew her plans and how she wanted to be remembered. She planned her “Going Home” service. For her service, different people were asked to share specifically, what it meant to have a Christian friend, What it meant to have a Christian mother. I was asked to share what it was like to have a Christian Aunt. I had many memories about Aunt Nancy to share at the service from my first memory of her until the last day when I still saw Christ in her.

I remembered the songs and Bible stories she taught me in Vacation Bible School (one of my favorite songs was shared in an earlier post on this website). So many memories of her sharing God’s love. There are so many memories I would love to share with you that I experienced because of her love and watching and listening to her as she mentored young mothers, and helped the aged.   gave help and encouragement to the many people in her church, neighborhood, at the grocery store, and flower shop.

The day before Aunt died, she told Susan she wanted to call her best friend of 33 years. Susan dialed the phone number and said she would relay the message. Aunt took the phone from Susan because she wanted to talk to r friend herself and had an important message.  When her friend answered the phone, Aunt said, “Pat! Pat! They say I am going to die but you and I know different! I am not going to die! Oh, I am going to leave this body, but I am going to be with My Lord! Pat! He has a place for me! And Pat, I will be there forever and see my Sandy, my honey, my sister. And Pat, I will see you when you get to heaven! I love you Pat!”

Aunt was very coherent and talkative until her last few moments of life. Her final request to be honored was that Susan and I be the only ones with her when she went to be with the Lord.  She insisted she was not dying, but that she was going home to be with the Lord. At the very moment we kissed her good bye, she was already present with the Lord! In the twinkling of an eye….

“Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps its eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom. To remember the past is to see that we are here today by grace, that we have survived as a gift…And what does that mean about the future? What do we have to hope for? Humanly speaking, we have only the human best to hope for: that we will live out our days in something like peace and the ones we love with us; that if our best dreams are never to come true, neither at least will our worst fears; that something we find to do with our lives will make some little difference for good somewhere; and that when our lives end we will be remembered a little while for the little good we did. That is our human hope.” Frederick Buechner.

We grieve, but not as others do, for we are a people of hope!

Therefore, encourage each other with these words! (v. 18).

Amen.

Aunt Nancy

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints.” Psalm 116:15

For several weeks my cousin Susan and I sat with Aunt Nancy (my name sake) while she was in the hospital and in the nursing care facility. During her last hospital stay, Aunt had made the decision for her end-of-life- care. This was very difficult to swallow but both Susan and I had promised Aunt that no matter what, we would honor her request and decision. Aunt Nancy was 93 years old and a very committed and dedicated Christian. She studied her daily Bible devotions and had a strong prayer life.

At 93 years old, as long as she had access to her computer, she was on Facebook to her many friends of over 1,900!  Her friends were childhood, pastors, and missionaries both active and retired. Her friends were of all generations. Aunt loved life to the fullest.

One day as Susan and I were headed to Aunt Nancy’s house Susan shared a conversation between her and her mom. Aunt was planning here final celebration of life memorial. She knew what she wanted and shared with Susan in their time together.  I might add that Aunt Nancy was 100% coherent and awake until her last few breaths. Aunt had a final request that when her last few breaths came, that Susan and I be the only ones present with her at the bedside.  With her last few days, Aunt had called her closest friends on the phone and shared with each of them, “I am not going to say good bye. I am just going to tell you that they say I am dying. You and I both know I am not dying. I am just going to close my eyes and then I won’t see you again until we meet in heaven with our Jesus!” Tears flowed from both Susan and my eyes, but not Aunt Nancys’! Aunt was ready to meet Jesus!

Aunt Nancy had Susan ask if I would, at her Celebration of Life Service, give a reflection about how she has influenced my life as a Christian Aunt. I had the task of reflecting over my childhood years and memories and trying to cram so many years into a few moments would be difficult. There was so much to say about her influence in my life.

Sitting in the room at Aunt Nancy’s bedside while she and Susan were asleep, I began wondering what I would say about my memories and thoughts. For a couple of weeks now, Aunt had begun telling us, her friends, and pastor good bye. I knew we would not have Aunt with us many more days.  She reminded us there is still work to be done even though she would no longer be in our midst.

Susan was asleep at the end of the bed resting her head at Aunt Nancy’s feet.  Even though her eyesight was minimal, it seemed Aunt Nancy could see Susan very clearly.  When Susan awoke, Aunt was rubbing her feet through Susan’s hair. Aunt was smiling and enjoying the feel of Susan’s hair on her feet.

This moment reminded of the story of Mary wiping the feet of Jesus with her hair.  Remember the story? Judas fussed because Mary was using expensive perfume. Jesus rebuked him saying, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:8).

As a child, I remember spending many week-ends and summer days with Susan and the family.  Susan and I were very close, almost inseparable.  When I stayed the week-ends, Sunday was the most important day.  We got up Sunday morning and went to Sunday school and church.  Susan and I got to go to big church when we were too old for children’s church.  Most of the time, Susan and I ended up being separated because the giggles seemed to always get us into trouble.

After church, Aunt would take Susan and me visiting with her. That was when I learned about visiting church members, especially the sick and homebound.  I do not know how it was decided who Aunt would visit, but she sure picked some interesting people, the bedridden, the mentally delayed, those recovering from surgery, and especially the members who had missed church and Sunday school three weeks in a row!

It seems Aunt Nancy has not been to church now since May  (and it is now August) and she was told her pew has been removed.  Aunt laughed when she heard that!

Aunt was a good leader and teacher.  At one of our most precious bedside talks, we talked about the first Vacation Bible School that I remembered having her as my teacher. I asked her if she remembered the first song she taught me in VBS.  I thought how appropriate that song was for her because through the years and especially during her last month of life she often said, “Only God knows the time. God is in control.”  Those words reminded me of the song :

I set my life by God’s great clock He knows whats best for me

He times the wind, the rain, the snow.

He times the day and night.

God’s clock, tick- tock is right, tick tock,

There’s none so wise as He.

His hands uphold the whole wide world,

He knows what’s best for me.”

Aunt knew without a doubt, that God was in control.  She said her job was to remain faithful.  And faithful she was, not perfect, but faithful.

Several times when sitting at her bedside, Aunt Nancy asked for a drink of water.  While giving her a drink of water, I thought of Mark 9:41, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”

I thought about the times I needed an encouraging word, a shoulder to cry on, or words of wisdom. Aunt Nancy gave me the cup of water I needed to help me during some of the different times of my life like, when I wondered if I was ready to get married, how to communicate with my mom, our discussion about answering the call to ministry, and when we shared with each other our pain of having lost a child. Oh, how she was an inspiration, a comfort, and full of wisdom. She memorized more Bible verses than anyone I know.  She recited the right verse at the right time.

Two weeks before Aunt died, the Activies Director of the nursing home came into Aunts room with a gift. Volunteers had made a few blankets to be given to the residents.  Aunt was the first person that came to their mind.  The blanket was bright green with white polka dots.  Aunt thought the blanket was so pretty. Needless to say, her smile was the biggest thing in the room.  She was so pleased and happy. The words, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come unto you” came to my mind along with 2 Corinthians 1:3-4  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Aunt was a comforter when I needed comforting.  She was a comforter to many. She shared her experiences and words of wisdom. She laughed when we laughed and cried when we cried.

Many have been recipients of her teaching, mentoring, nurturing and encouragement. Many have been recipients of her words of wisdom, her love…and even pointing her bony finger when she felt it was needed.  Everyone has been recipients of her endless and eternal smile. They remember and talk about her pointing her bony finger at them when she felt the need for correction!

Aunt Nancy, thank you.  I choose to miss you less, and remember you more. Thank you for giving Susan and me the honor of walking you home!

 

Threads of Life and A New Season

This past week has been filled with mixed emotions for a lot of parents as their children returned to school. Reading posts on Facebook and seeing the many pictures reveal a truth we all know too well and are happy to see that our children have grown.  The children are bigger than they were last school year.  That is the sweet part of the moment. The bitter part is, the same thing, our children have grown. A bittersweet moment.

I kept my 16 month old granddaughter this past Monday.  Just a few months ago I was able to hold and snuggle with her as she slept in my arms. This time, she did not want to be held and snuggled. She wanted to lay in her crib to nap. Have I lost the special time of holding and rocking my granddaughter to sleep as when she was new-born or just a few months old?  Oh I am sure there will be special times she will let me hold and rock her. Like when she is not feeling well or wants me to read a book to her or even play lap games.  The time is coming when she will be more independent and insist things be a little different.  Not being able to hold her and rock her to sleep, or hold her in my lap to read, will be a loss, another bittersweet moment.

Time moves on and seasons change. Fall is in the air and many of my friends are ready for the crisp nights and cool mornings. Already brisk walks in the falling leaves are being planned. I too, am ready for the changing of leaves and the Friday night fires and s’mores in the backyard.  Yes, Fall, I am ready for you to arrive!

Seasons change. There is a new freshness in the air! As  Fall approaches, I have been thinking about the new season soon approaching in my life.  My work experience includes having been a registered nurse, hospital chaplain, and associate pastor. This past year I have been working as an administrator at the Baptist association in Virginia in which I am a member. I have really enjoyed working part-time, getting to know about the 23 churches in the association, pastors, pastoral staff, leaders, and members.  Planning and organizing various meetings has been part of my responsibility.  A large part of my responsibility has been to be open and available to the churches that call seeking information and help. It has been through these contacts, meetings, consultations, collaborations, and one-on-one visitations that has had a part in my deciding to move forward and prepare for a life change.

I want to add that while at this job, I completed my Doctor of Ministry. This job and my doctoral project went hand in hand. I had started work on the ministry project prior to this job.  The experiences in the job just enlarged my field of ministry.  My focus for the doctoral project was in grief, bereavement, and losses of lifeI had developed a grief and bereavement course and was teaching the class at a local funeral home.  As class participants shared their losses in life, I realized that the churches calling for help and information was also talking about their loss. Several churches had lost their pastor either through retirement, being called to another church, or a forced departure.  These churches were hurting and seeking help.  Several churches had experienced a number of deaths in a short amount of time. Churches were feeling the financial burden and loss of attendance.  They were hurting, grieving, and searching for help.

As a result of these contacts, life experiences, calls in wanting someone to listen, give resources, and make references, I felt a strong tug.  Years ago I had prayed, “Lord, where you send me, I will go.”  As I talked with a life coach about my concerns, loss of a life dream, losses in life, we began to talk about the threads in my life. The threads woven through my life revealed continuous and various roles in working with death, dying, grief, and bereavement.  Until this time, I had not realized how many times and ways God had allowed me the honor of walking with people during their last breath of life and walking them home, or of how many times God used me to walk with families, friends, and strangers through the process of death, dying, bereavement, and grief, as well as planning and leading funerals and memorials.  I too, had experienced the death of my parents, a child, and numerous other family members. A few of those deaths were tragic accidents. In 1993, a loss of life or close calls of death was experienced in my immediate family each month from May to December. A terrible year!

The revelation of the threads woven in my fabric of life has brought about a new season. I am no longer grieving the loss of a life dream! I am rejoicing with excitement and enthusiasm in moving forward into a new season of life! My husband is excited and we both are looking forward to what is in store.  There are many individuals hurting because of a loss of a job, home, family, pet, health, financial stability, or a loved one. There are losses we do not recognize as a loss. There are churches, businesses, schools, and organizations that are hurting in some way. Everyone experiences a major loss in life at some point in time and it is not always easy. My loss of a life dream is no longer my focus. My new season of  includes focusing on people through life coaching and helping them see through losses of life.