Monday, July 30, 2012

Zach On My Mind (originally posted July 30, 2012)

I did suit up and do the liturgy on Sunday.  My colleague and friend, honorably retired PCUSA minister, Rev. Don Steele, put the worship service together and preached as he did the week before.  Don also officiated at Zach's two memorial services.  We had a big one for the community on July 15th and a private one at the funeral home with family on July 3rd.   Don was with us as we completed Zach's journey at the crematorium on Independence Day.   I am grateful for Don and grateful that he and his partner, Jeffrey, have moved to Elizabethton.

This week I will put the worship service together and will preach on Sunday.  This Sunday marks my seventh anniversary with this congregation.    This month also marks the sixth anniversary of Shuck and Jive.   Those who have read this blog know that I use to it to process a lot of things.  I started it because of grief.   It was my grief regarding a move and, I know it is hard to write this without it sounding weird, the impending descent of industrial civilization.  

Now I grieve over my dead son, Zachary.

I'll take the collapse of industrial civilization any day.

I am blogging as part of my grief work.   Not everything by any means will be posted here.  I will create a private blog for the private stuff.   I seek to be careful to honor my family's privacy and to honor Zach's memory.    A little public grief will be OK.   You all are welcome to read and comment.   I will try to tell the truth.    For obvious reasons, I will only write about my experience, not my family's.   I don't do it because I think it is going to help anybody.   Maybe it will someday.  I really don't care right now.  I do it for me.

What I write may sound raw.  That is because it is.  I assure you that this is grief.  I don't need anyone to do anything about it.   Don't worry.  It's OK.   Really.   So you know, I am doing some things that I think are healthy and helpful.   I am using my six EAP counseling hours from the Presbyterian Board of Pensions and have scheduled grief counseling with an out of town professional.   I likely will be using more than six.   As suggested, I have been reading Robin's blog.  Thanks, Robin.  : )

I finally got my eyes checked.  Those glasses that I can hardly see out of because the lenses are all scratched up?  Those ones?  I am getting a new pair.   They will be ready in a few days.  I purchased a membership to the Franklin Fitness Center.  I also got one for my daughter so we can play racquetball.    Zach left two full bottles of men's multi-vitamins.   There must be about 400 of these vitamin pills.  I am going to take one each day and pretend I am ingesting a little bit of Zach.

I went to a couple of bookstores and stocked up on some grief books.  We have them lying around the coffee table and check them out to see if we are normal.   I washed my son's car, cleaned and vacuumed it, and had the oil changed.   The car radio was on the classic rock station.   The man liked good tunes.   His car and the truck he used to drive that no longer runs are in the driveway.   I have heard that a charitable organization will take them and transform them into good deeds.   That sounds like a plan when I am ready to let them go. 

We do laugh a lot.  And cry.  And sigh.  A lot of sighing.  I also say "Shit" and "Fuck" more often than your everyday man of the cloth might.   The poor dogs.  They are getting exercise.   I am walking the legs off the little buggers.  I like to walk through the cemetery.   I take longer with them now.   I stop more often for sniffs and rolls.

I wrote my letter for the August newsletter to the congregation.  I wrote that I want to avoid two things.  I want to avoid pretending that I can "do my job" as if nothing happened.   On the other side I want to avoid using the congregation as group therapy.    I hope to be professional and authentic.   And practically perfect in every way.  I doubt that I will be a perfect little griever.   That's OK.  You don't have to be perfect either.  So how about we go with that?

Last time I said I didn't want to talk to anyone and that I wanted to run away.   Well, yeah, but not all the time.  I do like to talk about Zach.   I'll show you pictures.  Here he is rocking out.

I don't want him to fade.  I like to say his name.  I like it when others say it, too.  Everywhere I look are Zachs.   We named him Zachary in the late 80s and it appears his name is coming of age.    It is going to be so hard watching all of these young men do the things we hoped Zach would do.

Time for a cry...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pain and Love (originally posted July 25, 2012)

It has been nearly four weeks since Zachary left us.   I am back to doing things at church.  I have let go of all my boards, committees, and so forth.  I need to focus on grieving with my wife and my daughter and doing what I need to do at church, to make a living.  I am keeping the radio program.   I was worried that I would not be able to concentrate enough to interview, but I did so successfully yesterday.  I also produced another program.  There may be a few encore presentations as I get caught up.   It was good to be in the studio.

I haven't preached yet.  We attended worship as a family last Sunday.    I suit up this Sunday and will do the liturgy.  On the first Sunday in August, my seventh anniversary Sunday with this congregation, I will make an attempt to give a sermon.    That is the last thing I feel worthy doing.   My congregation has been there for us.  It is home.

I have no passion for anything.  I am going through the motions.   I have the urge to run away and go to a place where no one knows me.   Everywhere I go in Johnson City I see reminders of Zach, the places he worked, the things we did.  His adult life was spent here.   I don't want to run away from that.

I went to a Johnson City Cardinals game the other night by myself.  That isn't unusual.  I often do that.  Even as I saw people I knew, I greeted them but went to sit by myself in the top bleachers.  I like to hear people talk, but not to me.   

We called no one except family.  We put his obituary in the two papers where we used to live where people would have known Zach.   Now we receive calls and cards as people find out.   It feels like work talking to anyone.  I want to answer all the cards as many deserve a response.   But I don't know if I'll ever get to it.

Many offer themselves for conversation and I don't turn anyone down.   It is work but it is work that I need to do.   I think I will set up a formal counseling relationship with someone who I don't know through church or through other contacts.  That isn't easy as I know a lot of people.   I want some stranger who is a professional upon whom I can unload.    That is what I need.  I think.

I don't know what I need.  I don't know what I am supposed to do.    

Someday I will talk about the manner of Zach's death.  It was not violent.  It was painless.   He was loved.  He is loved still.  Fiercely.  He loved us, too.   Sometimes life is just hard.    We have a photo of the four of us in a frame given to us by a dear friend.

The frame includes a quote from the New Testament....
"Nothing shall separate us...."
That is true.  Love is real.  But I miss his flesh.  I miss his body.  I miss hearing him call me "Oldness."   I miss his laugh.   It is so final.   People offer comfort by the hope of some kind of continuation of his spirit and what not.  I appreciate that.   But what I really want is what I can never have.  I want him, here, now.  If I cannot have him, I want the pain of missing him.    That pain is a hole that I physically feel in the middle of my chest.    I don't want any comfort, no dope whether it be alcohol or Jesus that will take that away.  That pain is love.   That's real.

The love of this congregation and of friends and family is real.  I can feel it.  I am grateful to this congregation for being there for us and for walking through this valley with us.  It means more than they know.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Zachary (originally posted July 4, 2012)

My Dear Friends,

Our son, Zachary, died unexpectedly this past Thursday, June 28th.   We are devastated.  We are also held and sustained by the love of family, friends, church members from the congregations with whom we have shared ministry, laughter and tears, and beloved people from all over the country.  

Here is his obituary and his memory page

I haven't had an opportunity to respond or even to read all of the e-mails and facebook comments and messages or even texts and calls.  But I will.  Thank you so much for your kind words and prayers.   We can feel it.   By grace, faith, love, and hope we will survive.

My sister, Molly, my brother, Gordo and his wife Vickey, their daughter Janelle and their grandsons, Brett, and Hunter were with Bev, Katy, and I as we said goodbye at the funeral home.   It was so good to have my family here.    More family will be coming.

We cremated his body today.    We will have a service to celebrate his life on Sunday July 15th at 2:30 at First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, Tennessee.  We are grateful for this congregation. 

Also we are grateful that for our beloved Zach his pain has ended even as ours is just beginning.

In the meantime, please light a candle for Tom and Michelle.  On Thursday Cooper, Zach's newest cousin, will come into the world.