October 20, 2017

“All them 1001 deaths have taught me”

Ballfield Sketch

I work with people who are grieving.

Grief is our human response to loss. We normally use the word to speak of someone who’s lost a loved one through death, but grief is bigger than that. Much more fundamental to the experience of daily life than that.

In fact, we might think of life itself as a series of losses that we grieve. Every new step and season in life means not only gaining something new but also losing something we had before. It starts with birth itself, when a baby is summarily expelled from its mother’s womb. This is life anew, but it’s also the loss of the womb, its warmth, comfort, and nourishment. And so it is as we grow up, moving into new stages of development, leaving the former ones behind — bringing everything we’ve gained with us, of course, but also losing something in the process.

In my childhood, through adolescence, and continuing through most of my adult life, I relocated often. Our family moved several times as my father made his way up the corporate ladder of his business, and each time there were exciting new things to which we looked forward: a new place to live and explore, new friends, new school, church, and activities. But a quick glance in the rear view mirror reminded me that this change required leaving our old house and my old friends behind.

I’m pretty sure, though I haven’t thoroughly analyzed it, that this has been one of the most formative patterns in my life. In a way peculiar to my experience, I’ve emerged as someone “acquainted with grief.”

But aren’t we all?

Our stories may be different, but each one of us has suffered loss after loss after loss through the course of life. Some of those losses have been part of the natural course of being human. Some losses have been spectacular and remarkable, surprising, and devastating. But whatever losses we’ve known, we have also learned and practiced our own ways of mourning and grieving.

I’m reading a poignant story of a man who had an accident in the mill where he worked, which left his hand severely injured. This loss was especially hurtful to him because he loved baseball, and found his great joy in being a pitcher in semi-pro ball.

The following passage is a letter from the manager to the boy’s eleven year old son about his father’s accident.

Getting down to this damned thumb business, I’m proud you’d think of me at a time like this, and sorry your daddy’s hurting. You, me & your papa are 3 of the tiny percentage of souls on this miserable earth who’ve figured out that playing ball is the highest purpose God ever invented the human male body for. The rub is, once you’ve known & done it what you go through when you lose it is a death, pure & simple.

I’ve seen it 1000 times & died the death myself, & about all them 1001 deaths have taught me is Dammit! Dying hurts! If I was there to crack a beer with your daddy (or 6 or 12, let’s be honest here) I’d probably wait till he was all lubed up then say, “Listen. Let it hurt when it hurts, damn it Hubert!” You know what I mean. The Papa Chance I remember tended to get a tad heroic at times. Not that I don’t admire a hero. But watching some poor bounder limp around with a smile nailed to his face while his insides bleed from one end clear out the other is a thing I can’t much stand. To that mother of yours I might add something like Dangit, Laura, I know you’re baptized in the name of the This and the That, but when you got the kind of man who holds everything in you got to let it bust out once in awhile. Then of course I’d run like hell. Don’t get me wrong here. I hold nothing but the highest kind of respect against your mother. I just happen to be a man who believes if God wanted us to always keep our upper lip stiff as a dang billy goat’s weener He’d of made us all a bunch of Englishmen for godsake.

From The Brothers K (pp. 10-11)
by David James Duncan

What are you mourning and grieving?

“I’ve seen it 1000 times & died the death myself, & about all them 1001 deaths have taught me is Dammit! Dying hurts! …Listen. Let it hurt when it hurts, damn it!”

And may we all find the comfort we need.

Comments

  1. A marriage that has loyalty, and…… and…… ummmm

    This is a pain that does not go away.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    The most beautiful part to me is nobody tells him to fix his priorities; that it’s “just” baseball. Nobody says he should be storing up treasure in heaven, focusing on eternal things (whatever those are). Nobody says “yeah, but that’s because what you love is unimportant”.

    So much of mercy is learning to appreciate what other people love, even if it is not something you ‘get’.

  3. I’ve seen for myself
    There’s no end to grief
    That’s how I know

    That’s how I know
    And why I need to know
    That there is no
    Yeah, there is no end to love
    All I know and all I need to know
    Is there is no
    Yeah, there is no end to love

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      The loss of my mother’s mobility and my financial security.

      The nation of mostly benevolent strangers I grew up in.

  4. What a beautiful post. I was raised in a family that taught me that it was wrong to show or even feel grief. Finally, at almost 60, I am learning how to deal with loss. Along with a lot of support from friends, over time your blog has also helped me learn to embrace the suffering. It is hard, but healthier that denial. Thank you!

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    Still mourning the loss last year of a good friend at church due to pancreatic cancer.

    Also mourning the loss of a good pastor who moved away at about the same time.

    Men’s group and prayer times haven’t been the same since.

  6. Ronald Avra says:

    Very insightful and helpful post. I is a fundamentally healthy thing to allow yourself to be fully human.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      “It is a fundamentally healthy thing” I’m going to have to fire my proofreader. It is also a fundamentally healthy thing to allow others to be fully human as well.

  7. I was part of a fundamentalist group that, while acknowledging that we should grieve with those who grieve, put such an emphasis on “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS” that it was difficult to define what was legitimate cause for grief and if one moved too readily in the direction of sorrow it tended to be seen as a lack of vision for how the Lord was working all things together for good. One had to show the smile to confirm to all around that the vision was intact and the faith unwavering. The worst situation could be seen as an opportunity to grow one’s faith so the only reason to express a down emotion, without being questioned, might be to walk into Sunday service with a severed and still bleeding limb. That’s just not healthy. I run for the hills when I meet that too happy imbalance. It’s an easy tell that something is amiss. Life is hard so don’t do me a disservice by pretending it isn’t. That is not to say that faith is lost when we grieve or that our vision cannot be maintained through tears. In fact it is more often enhanced.

    • StuartB says:
    • As a young evangelical in a discipleship role with an older leader, I was dumbfounded one night when he called to tell me that he, his wife and two (teenage) daughters were in a spirit of rejoicing because God had answered their prayers. They were praying that God would “bring their son (16 years old) safely home” and He did just that. Their son was decapitated in a horrible road accident three hours previously. So, they reasoned, that God had gone beyond their wildest dreams and brought him home to Heaven. They pretended to be very happy for many weeks after that. Others in our group considered it an act and attitude of incredible “godliness.” I now realize that it was the worst type of mental/emotional gymnastics and dysfunction. God must have been scratching His head saying, “My dear God, how did they get loss and grief so wrong?”

      • Yup. That sort of gymnastics expresses itself later in negative fashion, usually neurotic and sometimes psychotic. It was too much to admit that “safely home” was not answered in the way they had genuinely meant the prayer so decspitation was accepted in its place. Not very kind behavior from a loving savior.

  8. Crazy Chester says:

    Thanks for the post. How’s the rest of the book?

  9. Robert F says:

    Another year gone,
    but the rose bush has become
    still more beautiful.

  10. Robert F says:

    The older I get, the more I grieve over lost and squandered opportunities that are gone forever. I could say, “If only I’d known then what I know now,” but I’m not sure I’ve acquired the wisdom needed to make anything different or better if I could do it all again, and therein is the deepest grief: All the losses and pain haven’t made me appreciably wiser, and it’s getting very late in the day for that to happen.

  11. >> Let it hurt when it hurts . . .

    It seems to me that we are just now starting to get a handle on this. It’s at the core of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I don’t know enough about contemporary conventional therapy to say whether or not they are keeping up. Both stuffing things down and continually replaying old mental tapes only make things worse. It is necessary to welcome the pain and enter into it before releasing it or letting it go, and this as often as it returns. Resisting or denying the pain only makes it stronger. This seems counter intuitive on the surface. In my experience this is difficult to understand and even more difficult to do, but seems to be the only thing that actually works, The old way of gritting your teeth and toughing it out worked well enough for past generations, but maybe we have grown enough to find a better way. This isn’t a magic pill but the point to using these techniques is that it actually lessens the pain.

    David R. Hawkins has a whole book on this entitled Letting Go. Cynthia Bourgeault has a whole chapter on Welcoming Prayer in her Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Richard Rohr teaches on this but I don’t know of a specific place to send you. There may be emotional reward in carrying life long grief for some, but mostly it seems counter productive and unnecessary. There is a way out if you want out.

  12. I’ve only recently begun to know how to weep. Growing up fundy/evan where the happy face was a requirement at church and home (don’t rock the boat), it feels good to sob sometimes, to let it out. Might as well, it’s going to leak out at some point, might as well be in a healthy way.
    There is much to mourn as we wander thru this life, and I think how much God must mourn…not just when He was here on earth, but from His throne, now, too. This isn’t the way it was intended/created, but It’s broken.
    What am I grieving? The loss family relationships. As I step in to being emotionally healthy…I step away from their chaos…and its soooo freeing….and yet, it’s still a loss.