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Courage comes in many forms.  There’s the single mother who has the courage to tell the story of her abuse.  There is the depressed woman who tells of her own thoughts of suicide.  Connecting with other people takes courage even if you aren’t revealing your deepest darkest secret.  After all, what if someone else has just told you something this big?  What do you say?

Recently I saw a video with Nadia Bolz-Weber.  In this particular video she was discussing grief.  In case you’ve never seen her or her videos, I’ll include this one below.  In this particular video she explains that when someone is grieving they don’t need Precious Moment platitudes.  They need you to be present.

And I think that’s the case in a lot of tough situations.  Be there.  Admit that the situation is a true horror.  Don’t discuss the greater good or God’s plan.  You and I have very little idea what that is anyway.

Have the courage to show up, to tell them that this truly stinks, but that you are there.  It takes courage but many things worth doing do.

–SueBE

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No matter how great your sadness or how deep your sorrow, there’s one person to whom you can always turn: Mary. Oh, I know. I can hear you: “You Catholics and your Mary…it’s Mary this and Mary that! Why, it’s practically heretical.” Marian devotion may be peculiarly Catholic, but there’s nothing peculiar in recognizing Mary as a particularly appealing and deeply understanding role model.

First of all, she knows heartbreak better than a country music ballad. The terror of losing a child in a big city? Been there. The profound grief of watching your own flesh and blood, your beloved son, be tortured and murdered? Done that. I don’t mean to sound blasé. Mary knows the darkest and most painful parts of motherhood like no one else. I can’t think of a better resource for parents or those who mourn. However heavy your heart, her heart knows your sorrow. No one who ever lived has experienced more vividly than Mary the destruction of innocent life.

But Mary is more than just a grief counselor. She is a model of acceptance. Some find Mary’s humility and serenity mildly annoying or even mealy-mouthed. (I know; I’ve been guilty of it myself.) “Thy will be done.” Honestly, you have no more passion than that for captaining the ship of your life? But Mary’s “yes” turns out to be stronger than any “no” could ever be. She doesn’t just accept. She puts herself into God’s hands totally. That takes guts. Anyone who’s ever tripped over the words “thy will be done” in The Lord’s Prayer knows what I mean.

What’s more, acceptance can be a powerful thing. Like poor old Hamlet, we can try to bend the world to our own ends, only to find that “the rest is silence.” Only in acceptance can we find peace. Only in acceptance can we find the ability to go on after life’s greatest trials.

Though Mary’s role in the New Testament is underwritten at best, the fact is that she was present. Present for Jesus’ life and ministry, present for his death, present for the Pentecost and subsequent spread of Christianity. She might not have said much (that we know of), but she was there as witness and active participant. She went where the work took her — the work of God, that is — whether that was far from home (Egypt) or in her own neighborhood. We would do well to do as Mary did.

So think of Mary as a resource, in pain as well as in joy. (No one has ever described the keeping of happy memories better than in that little sentence: “She kept all of these things in her heart.”) Whatever you’re going through, Mary understands. Let her stand with you.

Six long weeks: That’s how long I’ve been dealing with a one-two knockout combo of pneumonia and acute bronchitis. I am 90% healed now, by the grace of God, but still dealing with two minor complaints — mild pain in my chest and the loss of my upper register. My voice, my singing voice anyway, is gone.

This (mostly) has not caused me much woe. I do enjoy singing, around the house and in church. It is disconcerting to reach for a note and have nothing come out of one’s mouth. I miss how pretty my voice could sound. But I have faith that it will return eventually.

More disconcerting, by far, was the loss of my other voice — my writing voice. I’ve been absent from this blog for three weeks, mostly out of exhaustion and a need to heal. But those are not the only reasons. My illness made me lose my voice, the one I use to reach out to others, the one I need to delve into my own soul. It is difficult to feel creative when one’s life has been reduced to a preoccupation with drawing breath. Just inflating my lungs without pain was enough of a project to sustain me.

Or was it? Yes, when a person is sick, her world becomes smaller, more focused on her physical being. But it doesn’t mean her inner life stops altogether. It gets put on hold, perhaps. It gets stifled, maybe.

A good friend told me that in Eastern medicine, diseases of the lung are often associated with grief, especially unresolved grief. I have that in spades. And it made me think: Maybe that last 10%, that last push to the finish line of wellness that my body has yet to travel…maybe I need to heal my soul before my body can follow.

So here it is: Please, God, help to express what is unexpressed in me. Bring back my voice, loud and clear, so that my vocal cords might follow.

This may take some time. In the meantime, I’ll practice. I hope you won’t mind — it might not sound so good at first. Please be patient with me.

Depending who you ask, there are either five or seven stages of grief. Having recently become an expert on this topic (unwillingly — my father died exactly three weeks ago), I think I can boil it down to three stages, especially if the grieving person is a spiritual one.

Stage One: Acceptance. You think you can handle it. Sure, you’re sad, but you know your loved one is in heaven. You’re a religious person; you know God has taken your loved one to a better place. You cry, but you expect to. It’s okay.

Stage Two: Complete chaos. You’re angry. But not at God. Your spirituality won’t allow it. But you’re still mad. At whom? Not your loved one. Maybe you’re angry at Death. But Death isn’t a real entity. You’re stuck with feelings that you don’t know what to do with. So you yell at people on television, like those snotty folks on any given HGTV show who MUST have granite in their chef’s kitchen, although neither of them cooks, and a walk-in closet just for shoes, because why not? You’re sad, too, so sad you think you’ll never get past it. Some days, you just want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. But you’re embarrassed to say so because who wants to deal with a depressed person? I know people who went back to work the day after they lost a loved one. Why can’t I pull it together?

Stage Three: Acceptance again. You don’t get past it or over it so much as you get through it. And hopefully you gain a little wisdom in the process. Like this: Everybody grieves differently. Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it. You have to do whatever it is you need to do. But do listen to the advice of others: One friend told me, “Just cry whenever you feel like it. Even if it’s inopportune. Don’t hold it in.” I’m taking that bit of advice, probably to the consternation of others. I saw an older man in a white jacket the other night at a restaurant and nearly sobbed aloud. Because my dad had a white jacket. Stupid? Silly? I don’t much care.

Right now, I’m still firmly mired in Stage Two, with glimpses of Stage Three every once in a while. And I can say with some authority that grieving is hard, even for someone who considers herself a spiritual person. You’d think it’d be easier. You’d be wrong.

One of my friends says she knows her mother better now than when her mom was alive. She gets signs from her, the kind of signs you read about in Guideposts magazine: “My dad loved butterflies, and one day when I was thinking of him, a butterfly landed on my hand!” Maybe those things happen to other people, but they haven’t happened to me. (Unless the guy with the white jacket was really an angel, which I find difficult to believe…unless angels really like salad bars.) As much as I’d like a sign from heaven, I haven’t got one yet. Maybe I never will.

Grief tests you. It tests the things you believe in the most. And though my inner being is rocked by chaos, I haven’t lost sight of the things I believe. I’m holding onto them because I know they will get me through this. Whether there are seven stages or three, I’m going to get through it. Because all those things I said and thought at Stage One? They’re the truth. I’m counting on it.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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