Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mourner's Bill of Rights, Tenet One

Yesterday, Chelsea pointed me to the Mourner's Bill of Rights.  Today, she comments on the first one.  This was the text of today's email:
"You have the right to experience your own unique grief." ~ 
Alan Wolfelt's first tenet of the Right of Mourners 

Grief is a natural and necessary experience, and each of us grieves differently.

You will not "get over it," as others mistakenly encourage you to do. 

That does not mean you will be stuck in sadness or anger forever; instead, the pain will lessen over time and the memories will bring smiles instead of tears.

Respect your grief as well as the grief of those who are suffering besides you. 

There is no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one. You may have family members that choose not to talk about your loved one - that is okay. Understand this is not because they do not love or miss your loved one. Instead, they may miss the person so much that just thinking about the loss can hurt. You and your family get to choose to walk the path of grief on your own terms and timetable.

It's your life.

One of my friends, Vicki, said it well that her son was not an "it."   She will never "get over" him as if she would want to do so. 

No one has told me to get over it but there is pressure to be my "old self."  This pressure can come even in the form of compliments, particularly with my profession.   I feel my sermons being evaluated week to week as to whether I am back to normal.  I want to say, 
"Please let up.  I am not my old self.  I never will be my old self.  Whatever I become will be different.  I don't know how to do this 'correctly' or how to do it without making you uncomfortable, and if I start worrying over that, I will go crazy.  So just let me do what I do and don't read into it.  Rather than evaluate, treat my grief as an object lesson, if you like."
Everyone responds to a grieving person uniquely as well.  I am sure people will do what they need to do.  I am learning to go with the flow and trying to take nothing personally.  One thing I am learning is that it is not about me.  People react in so many different ways that it cannot possibly be about me.   When the son of a minister suicides how many possible touch points are there?  How many deep-seated psychological and theological issues are provoked?   How and where does that hit home?

Let's just name a few.  Again, no one has said this to me.  This is my stuff.
  1. Bad minister.  If he wasn't such a heretic, God wouldn't have punished him.
  2. Bad parent.  If he wasn't a bad parent, this wouldn't have happened.
  3. If God doesn't protect him, then who is safe?
  4. How can he possibly preach, teach, or pastor?
  5. I am not comfortable with him preaching/teaching/pastoring my kid (or me).
  6. Why doesn't he embrace the traditional faith now?
  7. Why doesn't his faith make him "better" and help him "get over it?"
  8. Don't suicides all go to hell?
  9. Just seeing/hearing him makes me think about things I don't want to think about.

I would imagine that my presence brings up those questions and more inside people even as they would never dare voice them even to themselves.   As I wrote those down I started to think that for many I must be a walking taboo.

But you know what?  I am not.   I am a human being whose beautiful son died of something of which I do not understand.  It was not his fault, or mine, or anyone else's.  It had nothing to do with parenting or with my ministry.   It had nothing to do with the whims of supernatural deities.   I am a good parent.  I am a good minister.  I am a good human being.   No one is exempt from the contingencies of life.  People grieve differently and public figures such as ministers are as different and human as anyone.  In my unique way, and on my timetable, I will survive and thrive, and my family members will in their time and in their way.

Do I reject much of the Christian tradition?  Yes.  Much of it has been superstitious, ignorant, and harmful.   Often I have felt that but I especially feel that now.  You know what the Christian tradition has said (for the most part) about suicides?  Hell.  Don't pass go.  Don't collect $200.  Go directly to the fire with Beelzebub.  Is it really a surprise that I reject notions of afterlife?   

You want to talk about God's will and how everything is part of God's plan?  If so, then I think God should be fired.  It is great to have a God who answers your prayers and sends you to heaven.   You can count the miracles one by one.  So what happens when the tragedy strikes?  What about the suffering of people all over this planet?  Is God taking a nap?  Not in his job description?  Just doesn't like those people?  Or do we say, "God acts in mysterious ways?"    

Call me faithless, but I think it is far more humane to let the idea of a controlling (yet impotent) God and his heaven and hell go rather than try to explain him away when it is inconvenient.   Now that doesn't mean I reject the Sacred or think that I know it all or have no sense for beauty and mystery.   I find the Sacred in the depth of life.   I call that God.

At this point, my depth is a depth of loss.  That loss is too holy to paper over with piety.  I will follow this loss wherever it leads.   It is my loss.  It is my life.  Through it all, the sadness, the anger, the uncertainty, I am walking a sacred path, as do all who grieve.   My ministry through it is to say what I have seen.

Do I embrace much of the Christian tradition?  Yes.  Much of it is profound, true, and life-giving.  Often I have felt that as well, and I especially feel it when I talk with and read the people I can trust to be honest.  I especially trust those Christian thinkers who have blazed trails where others hadn't dared.   My heroes and heroines asked impious questions and like Jacob wrestled with them and wouldn't let them go.   They wouldn't settle for images of God that had become idols.   They risked being wrong and rejected.  They showed that the Christian faith is never static.  The great ones, the honest ones, the skeptics, doubters, and searchers, have always been my mentors.  In this walk of sacred grief, they are my guides more than ever.

All of us who grieve have a right to experience it each in our own unique way.  More even than a right, I think we have a holy obligation to be true to ourselves.  Only then can we be a trustworthy companion for fellow travelers.