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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Grief and Half Time.

The following is the meditation I gave at our last Hospice IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) meeting

The past week or so has been like "old home week" at Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

The Hooded Mergansers have left but the Wood Ducks and Mallards have arrived. So have the Turtles. The Canada Geese have been here for a few days. I thought I saw a Copperhead Snake slither past the dock the other morning. Probably looking for a few tiny field mice for breakfast.

Last night, right after dinner, a huge Great Blue Heron appeared on our deck. He seemed to be inspecting the work we've recently had done and, it appears, he approved. 

I thought I had heard his ancient, primordial "Gaaak!"calling over the tops of the marsh grass, but I hadn't actually seen him. I rejoiced to know he had returned.

No, literally, my heart rejoiced at the mere sight of his long, skinny legs, huge beak and piercing eyes.

I've been thinking that I've been hearing the Red-winged Blackbird but I hadn't seen any evidence of their arrival. Yesterday afternoon, I finally saw him. I was instantly overcome with an inexplicable feeling of awe and excitement. There was nothing to be done but to stop in my tracks and gasp quietly like a teenager who just spotted a Rock Star.

This morning I awoke to hear the Canada Geese swimming by my house. It was not their usual sound. Something was wrong. I could sense it immediately. I got up out of bed and went directly to my window. There they were - a pair bond - swimming back and forth and forth and back around the marshes, honking in distress.

I wondered if they had, perhaps, misplaced their eggs. Maybe the tide moved them. Maybe the turtles ate them. Maybe "garbage gulls" plucked them from the safety of their nest.

Those were the questions I heard in the distressing honks from the Canada Geese. Their grief was unmistakable. And, it was inconsolable.

Grief has its own sound. Its language is universal among all God's creatures. When you hear it, you recognize it immediately.

Maybe Hospice makes you more sensitized to the sound of it, but I don't think so.

I heard it again just yesterday when I called to talk with "Mrs. A" whose husband had just passed. As some of you know, she's a pretty emotionally buttoned down lady and his death was certainly not unexpected, but there it was, clear as a bell. Truth be told, I was relieved to hear it.

I heard it in the voice of a woman I listened to on NPR. A single mother of three, she had been working in a Sporting Goods store in Baltimore that had been completely and utterly destroyed by looters and rioters. She said, "I've had this job for five years. The owners invested in this neighborhood. Now, they lost their store. I lost my job. But mostly, I lost hope. I lost hope that I can give my sons the education they need so we can take this city we all love and turn it around."

Her grief was unmistakable. And, it was inconsolable.

I was thinking this morning as I was praying for you all, as I do every morning, that the sound of grief has a way of making its way into our bodies. We bathe in it. We are drenched in it. It gets soaked it into the muscles and sinews and connective tissues of our bodies.

Which is why it's so important for us to also immerse ourselves in the sounds of joy. Yes, Hospice professionals are pretty (in)famous for our laughter, usually prompted by "gallows humor". Some of us counter death and grief with what is sometimes called "raunchy humor". (Yes, I hear you in the kitchen,)

My work in Hospice has led me to believe that the opposite of death is sex.

When I got home from work last night and listened to the news I heard another sound of grief coming from Baltimore, but it was the sound of grief that was literally being beaten down.

A few local high school marching bands combined with a few marching bands from local colleges, and they held a very large impromptu parade in the midst of the very places of destruction and grief.

The drums were drumming and the dancers were dancing and the pom poms were waving and the horns and tubas were playing.

It all sounded like a football team at half time.

And, maybe that's exactly what it was.

It was halftime in a contest between overcoming grief and getting on with getting on with life. It was a statement by these young people that the fight for justice is not over.

Far from it. You could see it in their faces. Determination was written all over them.

The young have not died. They are not dead forever. Neither are their hopes and dreams.

They are just grieving.  It's half time in the game of Good vs. Evil. They will work through their grief - beat it out on the drums, dance it out on the streets, play it out through their horns - and then get up and live to fight another day.

To build on what their parents and grandparents and great grandparents have built.

To restore hope. To create a safe place to dream. To channel anger into action. To change rage into results. To transform grief into justice.

Just like the sound of the Red Winged Blackbird which I heard before I saw that he had returned.

Or, the ancient, primordial "Gaaak!" of the Blue Heron which calls me to consider the deep mystery of God's creation.

Hope returns. If we dance through it. And, beat our drums and blow our horns and shake our pom poms through it.

Or, simply listen for it in the sounds of creation.

Nature teaches us that it has to get dark and night has to fall before you can see the stars.

Grief may well be the body's way of calling Half Time on the playing fields of life. We stop. We mourn. We wail.

We make noise to counter the silence of death. Our bodies dance to defy the stillness of death.

And then, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, blow our noses, wipe the tears from our eyes, pull up our socks and get on with it.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)


JCF said...

"My work in Hospice has led me to believe that the opposite of death is sex."

This line made me think---as many things do!---of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer". Specifically, this scene from S5 Ep17, "Forever". Set-up: Xander and Anya are doin' it. Anya was formerly a demon, and only became human a couple of years ago. She's still figuring things out. One thing she's figuring out, is death. Their friend Buffy's mom, Joyce, just died (nothing supernatural, just an aneurysm. As if that matters. It doesn't. Death still SUCKS.) Anya was especially devastated, but now, shortly after Joyce's funeral, amidst post-orgasmic afterglow, she's had a realization (do watch, the scene is only a couple of minutes long):

"Like I'm more awake somehow"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I will. I'm fascinated by this thought. Not original. The HBO series "Six Feet Under" was all about that. But, I have to tell you that some of the most tender conversations between spouses I've had the privilege of listening in on as a Hospice Chaplain have to do with them talking about how wonderful their sex life was. This, as part of a 'death bed' conversation. It's really quite marvelous. And, spectacularly holy.

Marthe said...

If you substitute creative connection for sex, I would agree wholeheartedly ... creating something or someone beautiful is the opposite of death/destruction ... and what is "good sex" but connection that creates a new definition of relationship? Sadly, too much of what is technically "sex" is something entirely different.

Oh, and yesterday was the first appearance of this year's batch of goslings in my neighborhood ... and a grieving gander attacking passersby - likely his little brood didn't make it ... and this is Spring, both great and grievous.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Marthe - You are absolutely right. Good sex = creative connection. Same thing. Well, in my mind. Probably better described as the Spirit of Eros. But, yes. That's it, exactly.