Sunday, December 05, 2004

A Hospice Memorial Message

This is the message that I was asked to deliver to about nine hundred attendees at our annual memorial service today.

It’s hard to be still, isn’t it? When we’re quiet, there is a fearsome change within ourselves that clears the way for stuff to come to the surface that we almost cannot bear. Maybe that’s why we are such busybodies in this day and time. We seem to be franticly keeping our minds occupied so that the silence will not draw out our deepest hurt and we’ll have to face our injured souls. That could be what all this running around with cell phones glued to our ears; window rattling music and madness on the highways is about – avoiding our wounded souls.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the holidays are so hard for those of us who have lost loved ones. It is the silent night – holy night of our year. It comes upon the cold clear midnight when sacred time settles on us and we feel the traditional stillness leaking up all around. My Dad died at Christmas a few years ago and since then the holidays are different for me. I kind of avoid them. I drift right up to Thanksgiving, help my wife fix the food and float along until January 2nd. I don’t know what else to do with the ache in my heart but to ride it out. Others seem to scamper around kicking up sparkly tinsel dust, spending themselves into oblivion to keep the hurt deep under the surface. Whatever our strategy is, we want to avoid the pain of our losses and find ways to keep our souls under wraps until it’s safe and, you know – sometimes it never is safe. Our deepest places are locked down and we move further and further from ourselves until we are machine like in the way we live. I once met a young woman in a psych unit here in the city who had cut herself and when I just had to know what made her do that, she said, “Well, Ken the only thing I can tell you is that the pain on the outside is less than the pain on the inside.” I was stunned at the power of her statement. Most of the people in this room can relate to the terrible hurt that lurks in the heart from losing loved ones and the experience of finding it bubbling up at this time of year. But suffering is a part of being human. We all suffer with our losses. We all know the overwhelming ache of our wounded souls.

But what to do with this hurt? Can we live with it day-to-day and year-to-year? I think we can. First we can learn to live with this ache in our hearts. We never “get over it” as some well meaning folk want for us. We just learn to live with it. Grief is like a stream of water. If the loss of our loved one is like a rough, jagged rock that is thrown into the dry bed of our sorrow and the stream of grief is allowed to flow over it, eventually the edges of the loss begin to wear down and round off like stones in a creek. That’s why the hospice professionals that cared for your loved one wanted you to begin the grieving as soon as you were ready. They know that it is truly a healing thing. So one thing that we can do is allow the stream of grief to flow over us.

Another thing we can do is to practice our faith as fully as we know how. There are lots of different religions represented in this room and I know that if you have a good, healthy spiritual life, you can find comfort in your practice. I don’t mean going to a church or synagogue where people will be small minded and cliché, I mean to be with people that will uplift and comfort and practice the rituals, prayers and traditions that will help heal our souls when the holidays open up those still spaces that we seem to dread so much. In doing these two things we can be ready to do the most important piece of living with the sorrow. We can be prepared to never forget the love and the warmth of the one who has left us.

Allowing our grief to flow as it should and learning to be with it when it does permits the sharpness and the pain of the loss to heal. Practicing our faith fully gives us hope and comfort beyond what we can immediately feel and holding our missing loved ones in our hearts gives us the memories we need to carry on with our lives, as we believe they would have us do.

My dad was a high school graduate who was replaced in his job by two college-trained engineers. He was a stalwart Christian and he had a capacity for cruelty. I’ll never forget his untrained intellect and how dedicated he was to his profession; it helps me commit to my calling. I’ll never forget his devotion to his faith; it helps me keep my faith. I’ll never forget his cruel teasing because even that helps me remember to be caring and compassionate with those who are weaker than I.

Do you let the grief flow freely as it should? Do you find ways to practice your faith? Do you remember those that you’ve lost and the gifts they gave you to help you go on? And while the ache of the loss still pulls the strings of your heart tight in this holiday season, are you able to find way to play beautiful music on them to comfort yourself and others?


At Tuesday, 07 December, 2004 , Blogger Marjorie said...

That was beautiful, Ken, thank you for sharing it. I have been very lucky thus far in my life not to have experienced such a loss, I'm glad to know that when I do, there are people like you out there to help me through it. I cannot help but wonder what I could be doing to help others now.

At Friday, 10 December, 2004 , Blogger Larry said...

Thanks for posting that, Ken. I was especially interested in what you said about your father.
I had problems with my father, too. I didn't find him cruel, but thoughtless and negelectful.

It occurs to me that most men probably had problems with their fathers, but generally their lips are sealed. It further occured that it could be helpful and healing to share our experiences on that point in our lives.

In my case. I swore that I would not make the kind of mistakes my father had made with my children. Then I had three sons, and I did-- I shaped up just about like he had. Strange, huh.

Maybe if I had had the freedom to discuss it with someone I trusted, it would have helped.

What do you think?


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