Saturday, June 29, 2013


Zach's Aunt Michelle, more like a sister as she lived with us from seventh grade through college, wrote this for his memorial service.  She wasn't able to be present at the service as she had just given birth to Cooper, Zach's new cousin who he never would meet.   On this year anniversary, Yahrzeit, I post it here:

For those of you who do not know me, I am Zachary’s Aunt Michelle whom he called Mouse or Mish.  I called him Zach, Zachary, Zachy and often, I just called him Meat.   Zachary was the first little boy I ever fell in love with.  He was sweet, sensitive, funny as hell, full of love, incredibly stubborn, protective of his family and we all loved him deeply.

To you Zachary,

I will remain forever grateful for the childhood I was able to experience because of you and Katy.

I will miss our days of watching X-Men together after school.

I will always remember singing you and Katy lullabies and tickling your leg (and back and arm and leg again).

(Okay, the leg tickling never stopped.)

 I will never forget you and your mom cuddling and telling jokes in our living room in Lowville.  Your bond was always so dear to behold.

I will never forget you and your dad playing video games and how excited you would get when you met the next challenge together.

I will never forget the silly games and chants you and Katy made up.  Cockle doodle fun day long, Sweaty Pa, Awuga…just to name a few.

 I will never forget the long car rides of being forced to sit between you two and how, after a good fight, you would both end up falling asleep on me.

I will never forget your chubby baby faces and your high school graduations. 

I will always remember your trip to see me in Syracuse and in New York City when I first moved.  It was such an achievement to treat you as I started to grow up.

I will miss the months of thinking about what to do for you for Christmas.  You always gave me such unique challenges – probably better if we keep those an inside family joke.

I will forever be honored by the sweet poem you wrote for my wedding.

I will forever cherish the thought of your smile, the sound of your laugh,

And how it felt to be loved by you.

When I used to leave our home in Lowville to head back to college Zachary would stand at the door and make a sad face just so I would cry.  And I always did.  I hated leaving my Shuck family and Zachy always made it harder on me.  I know, real sweet kid.  ;  )

Today, I see that I am the one standing at the door making a sad face.  And I fear that I will be crying for you, Zachary, for the rest of my life.

I know that I will be looking to find you in this world.  I am not sure how we will understand life without you.  I all ready see you in the dimple in my son’s right check.  I think of you when I tickle his little 6 day-old leg and he stops crying.  If he offers me his arm or back I think I ‘ll freak out.  I see you in the pictures in my home and think of you every time I want to tell a dirty joke  - which we all know is quite often.  You were my buddy, my brother, my friend, and most simply my beautiful nephew.  Thank you Beverly and John for giving this world Zach.  My heart will always be suffering the loss of his light in this world and will forever be filled with the love and laughter of his memory.

A Year and A Day

In the Jewish tradition remembering the year anniversary of a death is yahrzeit. 
The yahrzeit is a time of remembering the dead by reciting the Kaddish, lighting a 24-hour candle, and remembering the person who has died.
Thanks to GrahamForeverinMyHeart for introducing me to that.  I found this interesting at My Jewish Learning:
When the year of mourning is over, mourners are expected to return to a fully normal life. "One should not grieve too much for the dead," the Shulhan Arukh, the 16th-century code of Jewish law, notes, "and whoever grieves excessively is really grieving for someone else."
I understand that and the importance of making a conscious decision to end the official period of griefdom even as I am not sure if every death is quite the same.   The one year rule does seem a bit wooden.   I will grieve differently over parents than I will my son, won't I?   At one level it seems that grief is really beginning for me now.   Yet there is a sense of needing not to "get over" or "get through" but to move consciously to a new level of relationship with Zach and with my grief.   Then again, I am not sure I have any idea what I am talking about!  

The yahrzeit for me is taking six weeks, the six week leave my congregation has given me through the end of August.  Nothing is planned really.  Just taking time. 

One of our favorite family vacations was to Maine in 1994.  Here are the two who would conquer the world.  Team Shuck.

 At his memorial service Katy wrote and read this:
Team Shuck by Katy Shuck

We battled monsters on the Montana farm
We conquered in volleyball matches against giants
We created plays, songs, and dances to entertain the masses
We devoured the communion bread after church to rejuvenate
We took our wake boards to the Atlantic to overcome sea creatures and live on the edge of danger.
We sled down steep NY mountains in the dead of winter to overcome fears
We created games to cease boredom
We joined forces with others to rake mountains of leaves
We made pizza and delivered to the Gods with a smile
We slept in the same bed for years to ward off the boogeyman
We invited others to join our force
We became flounder and little mermaid as soon as we hit the water to battle Ursula
We shared our deepest secrets
We performed the raptor for tips to supply us for our next adventure
We escaped evil doers and used our strengths to battle ignorance
We lived in six different states to create new memories and experience new tribes
We teased the parentals to show them we care
We drank potent drinks and got lost in laughter
We gravitated toward each other because we could only fight evil as one.
We were a team that could never be severed.

He called me machine for my speed at completing tasks
He gave me many nicknames to make me laugh
He called me his big sister when he needed me
He mollified my tantrums
He gave hugs that heal
He moved to Idaho for it had been the longest time  team shuck had been separated.
He defeated many bullies in my honor
He had admirable powers
He never judged
He made me laugh
He was genuine
He was kind
He was loved and he loved
He was my confidant, my protector, my buddy, my heart
He was my little brother Zach, who truly was,  too good for this world
He is on a new adventure now and I know he continues to use his powers for good.
On the anniversary, yahrzeit, of Zach's death, Katy rode the waves at Myrtle Beach "for and with Zach" she said.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mourner's Bill of Rights--Tenet Ten

The final tenet of the Mourner's Bill of Rights.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. 

This is it.  Day 365.  One year has passed.  Is this all?  Are we supposed to get a medal?  Am I supposed to have some profound spiritual experience?  Is it a wrap for "Grief Survivor?"

"Still" is the word for today.
  • I still ache, a physical ache where my heart is supposed to be.
  • I still think this is a dream and I will wake up and Zach will be here.
  • I still weep over sentimental songs.  Yesterday, Lovely and I got teary when we heard "I'll Be Seeing You" at the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre's USO Show.
  • I still look at photographs and think I can reach into the picture and touch him and take him.
  • I still feel that unbearable longing.
  • I drove past three of his workplaces today.  Still I look in the windows.  Looking for what?
  • Still his car is in the driveway.  Will I wait to do something with it until every tire goes flat?
  • Still I catch myself staring blankly.
  • Still I want to be alone.
  • Still I ask, "Why?"
  • Still I love him.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Supreme Decision

I am thrilled to hear that the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that California's Proposition 8 is out of the park.
In a pair of major victories for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and, by declining to decide a case from California, effectively allowed same-sex marriages there. 
This is good news for people who are very close to me.  

I am proud of my LGBTQ loved ones and allies who continue to advocate tirelessly for equality.  I am proud of the congregation I serve, a More Light Church.   Not too many churches in these parts will host same-sex weddings.   FPC Elizabethton does.  These are marriages in every sense of the word except for the Tennessee marriage license.   That will come someday.

I am honored to join hundreds of other PCUSA clergy who will marry same-gender couples and thus "stand for love" even as our denomination is yet to get on board.  Soon it will as well.

I was interviewed on WJHL Channel 11.

WJHL-TV: News: Weather, and Sports for Johnson City, TN

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mourner's Bill of Rights--Tenet Nine

Here is tenet 9 from the Mourner's Bill of Rights.  

You have the right to treasure your memories.
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

Normally I would include commentary at this point from Chelsea.   Unfortunately, I tried to change my email address and messed up the subscription.  She cut me off at day 299.   Thus I lost her comments on the last two Mourner's Bill of Rights.   I will have to manage by myself.

If you are worried about my relationship with Chelsea, fear not.  I started the relationship anew and now we are on day 9.  Maybe if I start the grief year over, I'll improve.   Here is what she sent today:
Dear john shuck,

10 Things You Need to Know About Grief

  1. Almost every thought, feeling and behavior is normal.
  2. You will survive.
  3. Healing takes both time and work.
  4. Crying is good.
  5. It's okay to express your emotions.
  6. Lean on others for support.
  7. It's okay to fall apart.
  8. Talk about it.
  9. You are safe.
  10. You are not alone.
Very good.

Now back to tenet 9 of the Mourner's Bill of Rights. 

My congregation has given me six weeks of bereavement leave.   Michelle and Cooper have come to spend a week.   Here is Coop at Bob Evans:

 He is a cutie and nearly a year old.   We have been treasuring him and recalling Zachisms.   Here are Michelle and Zach:

As I mentioned in my most recent sermon, last year on Father's Day was the last day we saw him.   We are approaching the year anniversary of his death, June 28.   I still find myself in moments of denial.   I still think it is temporary and he will come back through the front door.

I know I have "the right" to treasure memories.  I wonder if I will ever get to the point at which I can do so.   Memories feel like torture.  Yes, we remember.  We laugh.  But it rips.  I look at a picture and I want to go in there and grab him.

Like this one.  Lovely found this from our trip to Maine in 1994.  That was a great vacation.  Zach and I climbed "the beeehive."   Here are "my buddies and the sea."

I am going to be spending some of this bereavement leave finding pictures to treasure.  When that gets too painful, I'll just zone out.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I am going to disappear for a few weeks.  My congregation graciously granted me six weeks of leave as I mentioned earlier.   When I return in August I will be preaching from texts that didn't make the Bible but are included in A New New Testament edited by Hal Taussig.  Here is the worship guide.  

You will still hear me on Religion For Life.  I have produced new shows that will air from now through the second week of August.   I may post blog entries here if I get in the mood.   You will have to check in to know if the blog is updated or subscribe as I am taking both a Facebook and an e-mail break.    

I have a new email for Religion For Life business only, religionforlife [at] hotmail [dot] com.  I will post programming updates on the Religion For Life Facebook and Twitter accounts.   Please "like" and "follow" accordingly!