Archives for posts with tag: grief
Memorial flowers 8-14

Memorial flowers for my uncle, d. 8/3/14.

The wife of my mentor passed away last week. She battled a rare form of pancreatic cancer that spread to her lungs and elsewhere. At one point, the treatment seemed worse than the ailment, as reported by my mentor on Facebook. She’s the second death this year of someone very close to a dear friend. It’s a strange thing to experience grief from the sidelines when those close to us lose a loved one. I cannot say my life is changed, other than when I make an attempt to support my friend. Even those moments feel insignificant in the aftershocks of their loss. Yet, what is the strength of a support network if not in each point of connection; every card, phone call and empathetic comment posted online?

Witnessing another’s grief brought out something in how we make attempts to comfort and console. The words we use to express tempered anguish just don’t address the pain, and often fall short of either comfort or consolation. I’m sorry for your loss tends to be the most genuine statement. Any more words than that can sometimes even be harmful. To say their soul is with Jesus may be a true statement, but then what do we say about the body? To say they were a saint passes over trials and shortfalls that got them there. Really, though, who are we to sum up a person’s life at the end?

As Christians, especially, we need a new liturgy for remembering people who pass from this life to the next. We need language that addresses the grief, rather than deflecting and focusing on just the positive points of a person’s life. We need to be able to mourn the hole left by this particular person, here. And if there is only a small tear, let’s mourn that. We need to acknowledge our own mortality, and to reflect on our own lives to ask if we are connecting with those around us in meaningful ways…today, while it is still today. After all, the next bouquet could be your own.

It began one dark and stormy night. We had just left a friend’s house, and it was raining as only November can in Seattle. We missed a tricky turn in the road and our hearts froze as the right front hubcap slammed into the curb. The side road makes a sharp curve to the left as it meets the main drag, and with no markings, and very little visibility, we fell right onto the curb. There was enough damage to make us cringe, but at least we could carefully limp the car home.

That was the first holiday season of waiting. Sure, it was great to enjoy wine with friends and, especially, with family, but we had hoped to be in an Advent season of our own. Instead, I learned to expect nothing more than another cycle of bad news. Weeks went by, the car needed even more attention, and the storms shifted inward. When it wasn’t the car, something else would come up. We got quiet, and it was difficult to celebrate other people’s joys.

2013 was a difficult year for a great many folks, so we knew we weren’t alone in that regard. But we didn’t know anyone else who was facing this. Shit, we didn’t even know what this was. We told a few people about our struggle. They listened, and I know they’ve been praying for us. It seems everyone knows someone who has had a difficult time. But, as the story goes, after x years of waiting, they started to adopt, or maybe it was after the third IUI that did it; after they had completely given up, then it happened. And they all live happily ever after. I know these stories are meant to encourage, but when going through the black hole of infertility, they may as well be set somewhere over the milky way. Any glimmer of hope flickers and dies each month. Meanwhile, every time I walk outside, inevitably I pass at least one pregnant lady, two strollers, and a guy with the baby front-pack. My husband didn’t believe me when I swore there was a higher number of baby/pregnant lady sightings than previous years. Maybe he’s right, perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to the whole thing.


When I first started to learn about infertility, the stats said 1 in 8 couples; the other day I saw 1 in 7. Maybe more of us are dragging our sad feet into fertility clinics to be counted. After two years we finally went to one. Four months later, I started acupuncture. Numb desperation continues to propel me towards…God knows what.

We decided early on not to go through major treatments like IVF. Even after learning that my insurance would cover one round of IUI or IVF, the most we’ve done is diagnostic work with a few rounds of Letrozole (an alternative to Chlomid). When my husband went to the clinic for his part he was acutely aware of how distressed the women seemed, particularly as they came out of the treatments, and he couldn’t bear the thought of putting me through such an ordeal. Infertility is becoming as much a part of the medical industrial complex as, say, cosmetic surgery it seems. (Not that those two are on par.) Medical science knows next to nothing about unexplained infertility, but once you enter the clinic doors they will loop you in further and further—one more round of x, another shot of hormones—until your body obeys, or caves. When that doesn’t work, we end up at the Asian medical clinics. Thousands of years can’t be wrong, right?

Quite deliberately, we have not tried everything. Is that evidence that we don’t want a family of our own ‘badly’ enough? So be it. From the beginning, I have prayed for God’s faithful timing. I waited a long time to meet the man I married, so miracles do happen. I have no doubt that God is the ultimate source of life. I have also been plagued with thoughts of ‘am I doing enough?’ But that’s part of the black hole of infertility. I could spend the next three months catching up on all the literature on infertility and be no more enlightened. I have not worked closely with doctors in part because that quickly gets expensive. While Asian medicine addresses aspects of our health that Western medicine doesn’t see, Western medicine can check (albeit somewhat uncomfortably) for more overt blockages and issues. Trying to make a decision about which one to go with, and when, seems to be dictated just as much by finances as anything else.


But here’s where I get hung up: supposedly, I have an ‘in’ of sorts with the God of the universe, the Creator and Source of all Life. So, what does one do with that? Obviously, Christians suffer like anyone else. To think otherwise is to build a set of hubris wings and start flying closer to the sun. But the question I’ve been trying to formulate this whole time has to do with how belief in / a relationship with the Creator and Triune God orients my husband and I in the midst of all this. Will a turning towards faith conversely be a turning away from medical solutions? What does faith in the God who heals look like? Unlike other emotional challenges, infertility isn’t something where we can put together a plan for healing and growth, meet with our counselor or life coach, and measure our progress with SMART goals. Something like that can only happen once the dream for a little person is laid to rest. As we are right now, we encounter grief anew each month.

I share this with you, dear reader, because perhaps you know someone who struggles with infertility, and you are not sure what to say. Or perhaps you are at this moment engulfed in the black hole of infertility yourself. Do not recite platitudes of empty hope. I think, I believe, we must dig deep into the grief, the loss, the desire for new life–that is where our hope lies. Desire for new life, and the accompanying ache when it goes unfulfilled, brings us very near to the heart of God who creates, sustains and restores. The God of the universe longs for the day when all things will be made new. The black hole of infertility allows us to share in that longing. This is a mystery.


Black Hole, part 2
Black Hole, part 3

Everyone remembers my Uncle Ted. Receptionists, baristas, neighbors, dining hall servers—they all know him, and comment on his walking cane, crafted by his own hands. In the garden or down the hall, if they don’t recognize the jangle of the dog collar first, they would quickly recognize him by his hat—a black bowler in recent years, before that an Indiana Jones style fedora. Nurses who came by exhaled a long ‘Oh’ when they saw him lying in the bed with nothing but an oxygen tube as his body quietly shut down. Until the very end, his heart beat fiercely. No surprise, as his pastor said, “He’s all heart.”

P1000136My Uncle Ted has a soul that is always searching, always learning. I say ‘has’ and ‘is’ because I believe that even now he is searching out old friends, meeting long lost relatives, encountering neighbors from the small Montana towns where he and my father grew up. I believe that in the Kingdom of God, my Uncle Ted has more wood carving to learn, more beautiful things to craft, even still. His tools are here, along with the remaining diamond willow branches, and we grieve to see that they will never again feel the touch of his careful hands. Hands that healed patients’ feet. Hands that stiffened at the jerk of a trout. Hands that waved to everyone, accompanied by a smile. He was quick to stop and meet a new neighbor, or ask if he could help a stranger.

Some days I wish I could recall childhood memories in sharper focus, remember words that were said, or conversations we had. Instead, I simply remember the pleasure of holidays at a beachfront home as Aunt Mary and Uncle Ted spread delicious meals. Perhaps there were sports on the old television, perhaps just the radio. It was simply comforting to be there. During the summers, we would overturn rocks at low tide to expose strange creatures to our studious gaze. There was always a dog that needed to be walked. Sunsets and thunderstorms were especially spectacular. Nature was as much inside as it was outside. Collections of plants, rocks and driftwood sat adjacent to finely worked carvings, statuettes, and the Hummel case.

Uncle Ted did not having a booming voice, but it was always a joy to hear his stories of Boy Scout adventures in the wild bush of mid-century Montana. His low chuckle at the end of a tale just hinted at a more mischievous time—not that he would have ever been the instigator. Have you heard the story about his experience at the National Jamboree of 1950,* in Valley Forge, PA? As he grew older, more stories emerged (as they are wont to do), and he filled in some of the gaps from my father’s memories. It is hard work to carry all those memories.

I believe that we have not heard the last of his stories, nor his chuckle, but for now they have been silenced. Now our work of grieving has begun. Yet grief is most fully expressed in the joy of a life lived well. Uncle Ted sought the good in everyone and everything, and taught me how to hold on to the good and the beautiful to the very end.


*Quick simple math correction; Ted went to the 1950 Jamboree as a Scout leader, not the first event in 1937 (he would have been only 5).