My Child, a means of grace

Last night I could not hold back my tears at bedtime. Sitting down to read a story as bid, the tears just gushed.

It started with just a couple of tears that had climbed over the lip of my eye. B spotted them and reached up to touch, “what’s that? Why you sad?”

At times, her curiosity and her earnest empathic movement towards someone/me just pries open my vulnerability like a hot knife through butter. So last night two tears and a little question became streams of tears, gushing tears.

The corners of her mouth turned down deep, her lip pursed out, tears welled in her eyes and as she asked me about my crying and my feelings.

I tried to explain, “I am sad because my mommy is sick and I love her so much.” She mirrored me, though holding back her own tears. She reflected my words in our little conversation, “you wuv your mommy.” I do. And I love you. And it is such big, big love it spills down my face sometimes.

I tried to be honest, model actually feeling and dealing with my emotions, and still reassure her that she is safe with her own mommy and daddy right here with her.

When we temporarily sated her inquiries, she handed me our Desmond TuTu storybook Bible and asked for the one “with the stone, and the angels, and Mary.”

My God.

For all the thinking and writing I’ve done on the child as sacrament, there are not words for the experience of it.

Searing, maybe.

The words managed to sneak past the emotion caught in my throat as I read my daughter the good news that God raised Jesus from the dead. She asked me to read her Resurrection. And maybe I needed to hear it even more than she did. God has worked this way in my life before. Often the text I’m asked to read or preach turns out to be precisely what I needed to hear. It turns out to be the very reminding I needed.

After that one, she requested the one with baby Jesus and Mary. It’s the one she always wants. That story is one of her Linus-blanket stories.

This morning after she’d crawled into my bed before I was awake, she reached over after a time, letting me doze as she watched Little Bear, and she put her hand to my face gently tracing the edge of my hair line, saying, “you are very my mommy…I wuv you, mom,” reassuring herself and me.

(from Children of God Storybook Bible https://www.amazon.com/Children-Storybook-Bible-Archbishop-Desmond/dp/0310719127)

Love. It never ends.

Dad shared the picture, now let me tell you the story.

I was sitting at the foot of mom’s bed and I put my hand out to hold hers. She was tired and in pain, feeling mostly miserable. So I held her hand. What else can you do?

B had not-so-patiently waited to be on the bed beside her Mama Deb after much attending to needs and rearranging. She watched Little Bear on Dad’s laptop while we visited with Mom’s parents and brother. At some point B glanced over and noticed my hand holding Mom’s. She stuck her hand out sideways, set it on top of ours, and continued watching her show.

It was that simple. She recognized her hand belonged there too. No invitation required. She belonged.

Seeing this little gesture moved me so, I asked Dad to take a quick picture. Mom recognized that we needed to invite Mama Jean over to join the matrilineal group.

Earlier that day, B was watching me dress. She was looking at my belly, and I *almost* said something ugly and uncharitable about my body along the lines of needing to lose weight or tighten my tummy. I do need to shed a few pounds to be healthier, and in this season of life I’ve just gained them. (After all, eating chocolate is the right and proper response to encounters with death eaters.) Fortunately I held those words back, the self/body-hating ones I never want to teach my daughter. Instead, by the grace of God, I said, “this is the tummy that held you while you grew bigger and stronger before you were born.” She lit up with joy, “yeah I was a baby in your belly!” I went on to compare: just like I was in Mama Deb’s belly and she was in Mama Jean’s belly. More joy and recognition, “yeah!”

On Thursday after they said, “hospice” Mom and I had had a very similar conversation about our lineage. We talked about that metaphysical umbilical cord still connecting us though the bodily ones cut.
Mom looked at me and stressed…stressed…it never ends. Nothing, no thing, severs it.

It is big love, bigger than time and space.

Isiah 41:10

Jacob is one of the techs serving mom and other oncology patients. He has helped Mom many times over several trips to the hospital. We have come to love him.

This morning, Sunday, Pentecost,

Jacob said to Momma, I have something for you.
She said, oh, what is that?
He said, “do not be afraid.”

In scripture, every time a messenger of God appears before someone, they say, fear not…do not be afraid.

They are always saying this.

This exchange deeply impacted Mom and Dad. They each separately made a point to tell me about it. Dad was moved to tears when he told me. Mom was touched, so touched. She told me the story as soon as we were together. I wish I could describe how his message, his gift to her, affected her. I wish I could describe to you what I saw in her as she recounted that little story to me.

Do not be afraid.

Fear not, friends, angels are attending Momma.

The One Where Jesus Hurt

I think it will take a while before I can put words to my experience of last night and the ways I peeped the kingdom of heaven, until then let me tell you more about B and our storybook Bible.

You may have seen the story of her asking me to read her resurrection the night after they said, “hospice” to mom.

Nearly a week later, the night before Mom died, B again shirked her own baby Jesus routine. But this time, she asked me to read her “the one where Jesus hurt.”

My God.

I am always awed by children’s relationship to the Almighty. They need us to teach them the language we use, but they certainly don’t need us to introduce them to their own Creator.

B is a brand new 3, so she characteristically has asked me some of the same questions over and over again, she has whined at the prospect of not getting what she wants, she doesn’t posses the ability to wrap her mind around abstract concepts…but then, how many of us can say we feel confident to explain the mystery of Easter?

So she doesn’t necessarily know what we mean when we say, “dead.”

And, at the same time she seems to have a knowing. It is as though on a gut-level or molecular level or soul-level, she gets it.

The night we lost hope in medical plans, she reminded me of God’s resurrection work…

The night before Mom died, she reminded me of Christ’s passion…

Lord have mercy, I wonder what she’ll teach me next…

Death as alternative

Let us add a prayer to our prayer books and liturgies petitioning God to shield the bereaved from well-meaning, hurtful, vapid platitudes.

No, I don’t want her suffering any more. No one does.

And death is not the preferable alternative to that.

This is precisely why Christ trampled down death by death, rising from the dead.

If death were acceptable,
if death were friend,
if death were “normal,”
Christ need not have entered into death defeating it, culminating with Resurrection.

“My Mother is dead and I want her back.” (O’Rourke, The Long Goodbye)

Tell me nothing or meet me in my misery, but do not tell me any version of ‘this is better.’ It is not better; she does not want to be dead. God does want us dead either, hence the reconciling of all things back to God’s own self.

I believe in the Resurrection and the life everlasting.
And today and in the days to come, I will be keening in the sorrow of Good Friday.

We needn’t try to justify this death business to one another, leave it please to our Triune God who is at work even now.

And remember, when Jesus encountered death at his friend Lazarus’ home, he did not bother with sanctimonious trivialities,

Jesus wept.

Name the Awful

The paradox of comforting the bereaved is speaking the truth of how awful it is. Pretending it’s anything else is not helpful.

To speak the truth of it simply and plainly,
“this is awful” or
“nothing hurts like this” or
“this is unfair” or
“it’s not supposed to be like this,”
is actually the most helpful thing we can do,
if we must speak at all.

You wouldn’t necessarily think that it would be, but to name the awful and speak the truth of it helps the bereaved keep breathing through the vice grip of grief.

I am blogging

I have used my personal facebook page to share my thoughts, experiences, feelings, and meaning making paradigm. After five years of being told to write a blog, here I am.

Bloggers and their opinions are a dime a dozen these days, and that is okay. We connect with one another’s stories in different ways. We find connection and meaning through varied experiences and stories. Here’s mine.

For now, I imagine you will find most of my posts on the subjects of my mother’s recent illness and death, my experience of being a chaplain, my experience of being a mother, and my understanding of current events in light of my theological thinking.

If these stories are helpful and meaningful to you, wonderful! If you dislike or disagree with what you find here, no worries; it’s a wide, wide web. Grace and Peace to you on your journey, where ever you are!