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.

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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.