Friday, April 17, 2015

The Seventeenth

It's April 17th again. The date that always looms, especially as it draws near. I always wonder what the 17th will hold. Last year, one year out, was sweet, and painful. This year, two years out, could be anything.

So I took the day off, and I planned nothing for today. I readied myself to cry and mourn and pull out my hair. I have chocolate and Gilmore Girls on standby, and good friends and a boyfriend who are ready with their comfort and support.

And you know what? Today, so far, has been a good day.

Maybe I did most of my grieving around Easter. Maybe year two is just different than year one. Maybe its actually getting easier as time passes. Maybe I'll be wracked with grief later this afternoon.

Whatever the reason, today I am thankful for life. For the small things - the apple blossoms on the tree outside, the sunshine, yoga. For the big things - my sister's coming baby, a loving boyfriend, my hopes and dreams for the future. There are so many signs of life all around me. Maybe my experience of loss and grief is giving me the eyes to see them anew today.

Thankfully I know that this is what my mom would have wanted. She would want me to grieve, sure, but also to laugh. She would want me to celebrate the beautiful things that have come my way, even the ones she wasn't around for. And her pleasure at my joy makes today so bittersweet that I'm smiling and crying and laughing all at the same time.

There will always be hard moments (or hours, or days, or weeks). Memories will pop up at unexpected times and bring me to my knees in pain and sadness. But joy, and the assurance of good things, is tipping the scale in the direction of life. And that is a good thing.

I love you, Mom. Thank you for guiding me into sweetness instead of bitterness today.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

These women

I can't get over these women. These women who were there at the crucifixion, there outside the tomb just before the Sabbath began, there when the sun rose on Sunday morning. These women who were obedient to the Sabbath, and waited for 24 hours before lovingly returning to the tomb to preserve Jesus' body with spices and perfumes. These women who didn't know how they would get past the heavy stone blocking the entrance but who went to the tomb anyway. These women who, when they saw the angels and saw the risen Christ, didn't hesitate to tell the other disciples. These women - afraid, yet filled with joy. These women - faithful even in the face of disbelief

My mom was one of these women. Her sister died of cancer just before I was born, and she still believed. She had breast cancer when I was 10, and she still believed. She believed when her mom was killed by a drunk driver, and she believed when my dad became disabled. She kept believing to the end - through the stroke, the cancer diagnosis, the rehab, the radiation & chemo, and even through her last weeks and days, as she slowly deteriorated. Her belief, her faithfulness - it doesn't really make sense. It boggles my mind that she could be so sure for so long in the midst of so much. But she, like these women...

My dad likes to tell this story: One afternoon after an MRI and a doctor's visit she and my dad went to get a milkshake at In-N-Out, and they had the Christian radio station playing. The song "Untitled Hymn" came on, and when it got to the last verse my mom said, "that's what happening to me." The last verse says:
And with your final heartbeat
kiss the world goodbye
then go in peace and laugh on glory's side
And fly to Jesus
fly to Jesus
fly to Jesus and live
She, like these women, believed the risen Christ. She, like these women, like Mary Magdalene, knew her Rabboni's voice. She, like these women, remained faithful to the end. May my faith in the risen Savior be like that of her, and these women.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

{ _____ }

Holy Saturday.

The day with no liturgy. The day with almost no reference in scripture. The day of Sabbath, of waiting.

This day is bookended by the presence of the women. Different tellings give us different women - Mary Magdelene, "the other Mary," Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, Joanna. These women were there for his burial, and they were there early in the morning after the Sabbath, while it was still dark. These faithful women were the last to see him buried and the first to see him risen.

But in between, there was nothing. In between there was only death.

We don't like to sit in death. We're a little better about sitting with the dying. Dying - it's active, and it makes us feel like there's still something we can do. Keep vigil. Watch and pray.

We can even handle death when it comes, the moment that life leaves the body. There's something about a person who has just died, something about how they look and feel that doesn't feel foreign to us - it's still our loved one, it's still the same person we were sitting with just moments ago. It is finished.

But after. After, things change. After, the body gets cold. The person who was just there a few a hours ago is gone. And all that is left is the shell - the lifeless, pale, breath-less, circulation-less body. The person, our loved one who was just there isn't there any longer. Instead, it's just death.

I still don't know how to sit in that death. After the hospice nurse came, I went and sat in the living room with my family. We waited for the people from the funeral home to come and get her. And we didn't see her body again after that. We had her cremated, like she wanted - but also like we wanted. I don't think any of us wanted to see her body again, not even if it had been made up to look alive by the mortician. It still wouldn't have been her, it would have just been her body, her dead body, her lifeless body. It would have been too much death.

It took 3 months, 22 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes for her death to be real for me. For me to know that she was gone and she wasn't coming back. For me to be able to sit in her death.

But on Holy Saturday that's what we're called to. On Holy Saturday we're asked to sit in the death of Jesus. Not his dying, not his rising, not his foot washing, praying, betrayal, arrest, crucifixion. His death. His body, lifeless, pale, breath-less, circulation-less, laying in a tomb.

I read this reflection by Barbara Brown Taylor on Holy Saturday of 2014:
I had been to Jerusalem, so I knew how tombs looked in those days: low holes in rock walls, with narrow bunks inside to hold the dead bodies until the flesh on them was gone and the bones could be gathered up for safe-keeping. 
That was where Jesus spent Holy Saturday: in a dark hole in the ground, doing absolutely nothing. It was the Sabbath, after all. His friends had worked hard to make sure he was laid to rest before the sun went down. Then they went home to rest too, because that was what they did on Saturdays. Once it was clear that there was nothing they could do to secure their own lives or the lives of those they loved, they rested in the presence of the Maker of All Life and waited to see what would happen next. 
Though Christians speak of "witnesses to the resurrection," there were no witnesses. Everyone who saw Jesus alive again saw him after. As many years as I have been listening to Easter sermons, I have never heard anyone talk about that part. Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. Whatever happened to Jesus between Saturday and Sunday, it happened in the dark, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. It happened where no one but him could talk about it later, and he did not talk about it -- at least not so anyone could explain it to anyone else.
On Holy Saturday we sit in Jesus' death, as his body lies in a dark hole in the ground, doing nothing. It's dank, it's dark, it's morbid and it's not where we like to be. But in that darkness, in that the hole in the ground, in the smell of damp stone and dug earth, life came. We have to sit in the death so we can know the life.

And so I sit and wait this Holy Saturday. I sit in my mom's death, and I sit in the death of Jesus. I look down into the dark hole and hope that I witness that small, still moment, shrouded in darkness, where death is swallowed up by life.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Good Friday.

The Friday that is only good because of what follows on Sunday. The Friday filled with the pain and agony of Jesus' public and humiliating death.

It's also my mom's birthday.

But this year, this arrangement of dates feels appropriate. I started my journey through her last days yesterday, when I sat in her cry that was Jesus' too. Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray. 

Today I remember the pain. No, there was no public humiliation, no torturous instrument of death, no bearing all the sins of the world at once, no torn temple curtain. But the pain, the physical pain - that she and Jesus had in common.

Her breaths that became shallower and shallower, more and more labored. Her mouth that couldn't stay moist, no matter how much water or ice we gave her. Her cries each time we tried to move her, each time we adjusted her position in the bed or changed her diaper. That pain was the worst - there was no way to avoid it, and no medicine that could stop it.

She wasn't in constant agony - we had the morphine, and we used it. We kept her pain at bay as best we could while still keeping her breathing. But she still felt it, she still hurt.

I wish... I wish she hadn't had to feel any pain. I wish we could have given her just the right amount of medicine to keep her breathing and pain free. I wish she didn't have any cause to say "my God, my God..." but I think, in her moments of pain, her spirit cried out like that of her Lord. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

As I sit in and remember her pain, and my pain too, I can't quite look forward yet. I know that Sunday is coming, that Easter is near, that the resurrection of Jesus makes all the difference. But right now I need to sit in the pain, the disappointment, the despair of Friday before I can get to the hope of Sunday. I need to sit in the terrible Friday that the disciples experienced two thousand years ago - the hopeless Friday, the embarrassing Friday, the Friday that was the end. The Friday they experienced without the promise of new life two days later.

Sunday will come. But today, on this terrible/Good Friday, I just feel the pain.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stay with me, remain here with me

Maundy Thursday.

Most years I've spent this Thursday of Holy Week remembering Jesus' last meal with his disciples. We'll have a modified Passover meal, a seder dinner, and maybe have some foot or hand washing in there to remember Jesus' service to his disciples.

In years past, most of my Maundy Thursday reflections have been confined to the Upper Room. This year they've branched out, and ended up in the Garden of Gethsemane. All because of this Taizé chant:

Stay with me
Remain here with me
Watch and pray
Watch and pray

Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, and he brings his disciples with him. He calls on three of his closest disciples - Peter, James and John - to stay and keep watch. Stay with me. Watch and pray. 

And then he prays. He prays out his pain and agony to his Father. He prays in such anguish. He even sweats blood. But all the while he knows - he knows he is going to die.

He didn't bring the disciples so they could convince God to spare his life. He didn't bring the disciples so they could protect him from Judas and the soldiers who were going to arrest him. No, it was simpler, more heartwrenching, more human than that. Jesus has asked his disciples to keep vigil for him. To sit vigil as he prepares to die. Stay with me. Watch and pray.

Tonight, when I heard this hymn, this song from the TaizĂ© community, I realized that I know this song - not just the lyrics, not just the melody. I know this song in my bones.

Because this is the song my mom sang as she was dying. Not literally - when she was near the end she couldn't speak at all. This is the song her spirit sang as she lay there in her bed, her breathing slowing, unable to eat or speak anymore. This is what she called us to do. Stay with her. Remain with her. Watch and pray.

I know this song. I know this vigil. I know how to sit with someone who is dying. And today, on Maundy Thursday, it both hurts like hell and brings me closer to Jesus.