a paradox in grief: reflections on the last few weeks

Single Rose

“The scan indicates that the melanoma has spread to Dad’s brain and lungs. He has been given months to live.” This was the news I received on 24th August.   7 days later Rebecca and I were on a plane to spend Father’s day with Mum and Dad. We arrived at the family home at 6pm for dinner, wide and varied conversation, and beginning to understand what exactly was going on with Dad’s health. Dad was already talking about his funeral.

We were headed for bed around 10pm when Mum collapsed with a heart attack. As hard as we tried, and then the ambulance crews, she could not be revived.

My sister was on a plane from the Netherlands within hours, and our daughters flew from Melbourne the next day. We were, and still are, in shock.

Comfort and support came to us in many ways … family who turned up with food and made coffee while we made phone calls and funeral plans; friends who phoned; many gifts of food; visits to offer comfort; cards, flowers, emails, Facebook messages … and the faithful prayers of God’s people around the world.

On Sunday we attended the Anglican church where Mum and Dad had found a church home for the past few years. Through tears we sang words penned by faithful people – and when we could not sing for the sobs, the voices of God’s people carried faith to our hearts. Church is one of those rare places where the raw emotions of life are (or should be) allowed to be brought with honesty and without judgement. The liturgy reminded us that our faith is wider, bigger, older and deeper than this moment in our lives. In that moment and place, we felt like we were held securely and gently by this congregation, our HUC family, and our praying friends around the world.

A Celebration of God’s Faithfulness in Mum’s life was held on Wednesday 6th September. Dad had estimated 50-60 people, and my sister and I had planned for 150. In the end 240 people were there to celebrate a woman who had touched many lives with her love and faith. Once again “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “When Peace like a River” gave a space to allow our grief and lament, sobs and deep sighs to be expressed in the company of friends, family and faith.

Over the next 7 days we had a whirlwind of dealing with oncologists, hospice, doctors and Dad’s first immunotherapy. Dad still has stage 4 melanoma, and we expect that the treatments and multiple painkillers will only make his last months (how many?) more comfortable.

Back in Melbourne I can catch my breath for a short while. 3 weeks ago we went to NZ to be with Dad for Father’s day and to say goodbye to him. We came back with deeper grief and greater gifts of love and support than I’ve known before.

It’s strange to say that we were in the right place at the right time – but we know we were. It’s odd to express lament and grief while the faith of the church is sung with gusto – but it was. It’s puzzling to experience comfort through “I don’t know what to say …” or “I don’t have the words for this …”, but we did. And I’m coming to realise that Dad’s bold pronouncements of God’s faithfulness and contentedness that Mum is with the Lord and didn’t need to see Dad suffer, … all that can sit in the same lounge as my struggling lament and confusion; that doesn’t make his faith untrue or my expression invalid.

At the moment everything takes longer – getting up in the morning, writing, listening. One moment I’m happy and patient, the next I’m anxious or easily upset – or just plain exhausted. I still sometimes wake in the night in tears or with images in my mind of that night, while at other times I’m deeply caught by the joy of a new baby or running or the love of friends and family.

All this may be a paradox of grief, or it may simply be the diverse and rich reality of human experience.

 

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Welcome! 

Loved, Welcomed, A seat at the table, a place in the lounge

The front door is open.

Drop your shoes at the door – the weariness of the journey;

Drop your bag in the hall – alongside other’s burdens

See the smiles of welcome and acceptance.

For at this table

In this place

With this host

You belong.

Seeking Stillness

Sometimes I seek stillness.
Sometimes it finds me.
(stillness)

And sometimes in the busy-ness of each day
S/stillness is the furthest from
my heart.

Rest
-less.
Restless.

So sometimes I need to take my soul
and put it firmly in its place (!) A
place
moment
room
chair
or a patch of grass
(in the shade of that tree),
… and lose the ‘less’ in my Restless.
(Seeking less ‘-less’ and more R/rest)

In those moments
the door/window/tent-flap of my soul
needs to be opened again. Wide open.
(vulnerable)

In that moment my heart might just open to
honesty
learning or growth.
Open
to the gaze of Love
and Grace
and delicious Peace.

And gaze of One
who loves me more than
I can ever imagine.
(loved)

And I find my self with less -less and more R/rest

Seeking Stillness
(Stillness, Rest, Vulnerable, Loved)

What shall I bring?

What shall I bring?

The Shepherds sought the baby in the manger.
The Wise Men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Over the years …
Artists have contributed paintings, poems, sculptures;
Families have brought their children to hear the story
and Individuals have served food to the hungry.

This year, what will I bring?

++

What shall I bring?

If I bring myself …
to this story,
to this scene,
to these characters,
sitting here quietly for 5 minutes …

How might this change me?
What questions or responses does this story invite in my heart?

++

What shall I bring?

Born in a stable, in a little town that was not his home,
Jesus came into this world homeless, in poverty,
and soon became a refugee because his birth was a threat to a leader.

What does this story, told today,
tell me about what God is prepared to do to love us?

I look at the manger scene;
I look at my hands.

What can I learn about love in this world?
What shall I bring?

Joyful Presence

Today I choose to express
Joy.
In bucketfuls.

In a shot glass or a demitasse
there is but a taste.

Joy served in a teacup is nice
and civilised
and polite.

Joy served in a mug
lasts just long enough for curiosity,
but it will only dampen the grumps
(And to be honest, it’s a bit selfish!)

But in a bucket?
There’s way too much for me to drink alone
– I’d have to share and share.
Pouring it out for others;
Looking out for those frowns and downturned mouths and turned up noses.
For Joyful presence isn’t about
Me.
Nor is it about the division of difference in
us or them.
But
us for them.

THAT’s good news for the poor
the broken-hearted
the oppressed
those who mourn.

An abundant, generous Joyful presence.

I heard it in the shopping center today: “Joy to the world”
And then I looked at the faces.
Some were smiling and content and laughing.
But too many were grumpy. Too much to do, and way too much frustration.

Written for Advent 3, 2016.  Rev Nigel Hanscamp

A Hope-Filled space

When I hope,
I’m not wishing.
For I can live without my wish.
But if I am deprived of hope,
I have nothing to live for.

Hope-full
or hope-empty?
It is not a trivial thing to have hope
or to lose it.

Hope lost or held
lost and found.
They tell us that in
war, or concentration camps
in cancer and in unemployment
hope makes the ultimate difference.
For despair is the ultimate killer.

But a hope-filled space
That is a space for a spark
or a roaring fire
or a single candle flame like this one.

You.
You have something the human race needs.
No, not your money, or your status.
It’s your hope.
Enough. hope.
Just enough.

Is that a wish?

– no. Far from it.

It is space for hope.

Still in One Peace

Some times when I meet you
I find … a peace
A missing peace

A peace of something I would like to have.
Something … still and quiet.
Not rushed.
Something that has time to pause
to observe beyond seeing
and listen beyond hearing
and read between my lines
and feel beyond the hard callouses of my opinions.

I’d love to have a peace of all the time in the world.

A peace of something
soothing like cool water on a hot day;
Or a single-origin coffee that yearns
to be savoured
with …

A peace of something that tastes like
curiosity and possibility
and a peace of contentment.

A peace of something infused with
hope and God
and grace
when all my infusions are bitter and selfish.

So bless me for a peace of that
which leaves me both
satisfied
and hungry for more

For every time I leave you
I am …

Still
in
One Peace

 

“Still in One Peace” is a reflection on a sign-off line in an email;
for a meal with the beautiful women from the Heathmont UC women’s fellowship;
with the words of Jesus who sat with them and said
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”.