Death, Faith, Grace, Life, Suffering, suicide

Falling

Falling

Did you ever have one of those days in which the sum of your deficiencies adds into one huge indictment against your worth?  Or perhaps even a whole phase in which the negative side of your personal ledger seemed so disproportionately stacked against the positive that ruin/shame/disgrace must be the logical conclusion?

I’ve definitely had those days – and even longer phases – but I have always survived them.  I know a girl who had one of those days – maybe even weeks, months, or years – and she did not.

Anna* was a lovely, quirky, wry girl.  She had grown up in our church and remained connected for most of her twenty-seven years.  Sometime after high school, she took on the job of managing our church nursery – I’m told that she was giddy with excitement every time she heard of a pregnancy, and she’d begin the countdown until the next baby was due to arrive into her care.  She was a beloved part of our church family.  She was our kids’ first real babysitter, too, and the boys would look forward to her visits and the fun books she’d select from her Mum’s daycare to bring and share with them.  Although ‘quiet’, Anna was not devoid of character; in fact, she had a large group of friends, plenty of flair, and an awesome secret identity as a roller-derby queen.

April 12th, 2013 was a cold, dark day.  The wind howled and the rain lashed the streets.  I was in a melancholy mood, because that day one of my dearest friends was leaving Vancouver and moving all the way across to the East Coast.

But nothing – not the foul weather, not my own sadness, not the malaise we sometimes feel on those somber, wet days in early spring – could have measured the depth of Anna’s grief; because that day she took her own life.

I have had few real shocks in my existence.  But that night, as we got ready for bed, West’s iPad indicated an incoming email and out of habit he flicked it on and had a look.  When he gently guided me to the living room to sit down, I knew that the news couldn’t be good.  My thoughts flitted between friends and family members here and there, wondering what had happened, and then I read…

The words I saw were beyond my comprehension. I struggled to make meaning of the news, begging West for answers he didn’t have, asking with broken sentences about how, why, and were they SURE…  I wondered, pleaded, prayed that it might be possible for her to have survived the fall…

I tossed and turned that night, praying endlessly for her, for her family, for meaning…  I felt trapped in a living nightmare, and I could only imagine what those nearer to her must have been going through.  And of course I wondered:

Did I miss the signs?

Was there any small way in which I made her feel unloved, unlovely, unimportant?

What could I have done that might have prevented her from such a drastic and final step?

I was haunted by the thought of her falling, her long dark hair trailing behind her, feeling the vast and frightening emptiness surrounding her…

The next morning, the sun rose – how strange it felt to me that this should be the case, that something was still normal.  And we had to sit our kids down and tell them that we’d lost her.

West and I had discussed the daunting task of informing our kids and concluded that we would tell them only that our sweet Anna had fallen.  They were just too young to know more, and we wanted to spare them some pain and confusion – it was enough that everyone around them was reeling with the news.

Two days later it was Sunday, and we entered a church that was – appropriately – utterly unlike the sanctuary we’d entered just a week before.  The atmosphere was hushed, funereal; our collective grief was palpable.

I don’t remember the first part of the service; all I remember was feeling numb.  That surreal sense of being stuck in a bad dream made it difficult to focus, and around me I could hear that others were struggling.  I kept praying for her closest ones, who were in our midst that morning as they were every Sunday – praying that they were feeling buoyed by God’s love and comfort during this darkest time.

And then the sermon began.

Our pastor spoke of this loss and our grief, and gave voice to the anxieties we were feeling. And something amazing happened.  His words, undoubtedly chosen carefully and prayed over, transcended the bitterness of our anguish – and those words poured a healing salve over our raw and broken hearts.  All those thoughts and worries and sorrows that had been reeling in my head were quelled and soothed and comforted. The oppressive atmosphere lifted and Truth breathed hope into a room that had, just moments before, been filled with despair.

We were reminded of the girl we knew and loved, and we were counselled to remember her as such.

We were assured of God’s presence in her life even in her darkest hour when she must have felt far from the truth of it.

We were woken from the nightmare and encouraged to take shelter in the wings of our Lord.

The truth is this:  there’s no such thing as an ‘unforgiveable sin’.  If there were, grace would be a lie.  Even when we would forsake the world and the pain therein, God never forsakes us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house there is more than enough room.”

-John 14:1-2a

Anna had made, our pastor told us, one terrible, fatal mistake.  She had been blind to the love and care that surrounded her, or so overwhelmed by her internal suffering that she lost sight of the Truth.  But God never lost sight of her.  She let go – but God never let go of her.

Were all our questions answered?  No.  How could anyone measure the depth and breadth of the suffering that would drive a beloved friend, daughter, and sister to take her own life, or give full meaning to it?

Were we immediately free of the pain and grief that had so ensnared us since hearing the terrible news?  No.  We have all been indelibly changed by it.  Four years on, the scars remain. The scars will always remain.

But the Truth remains, too.  Grace saves us.  Grace saved Anna; death does not hold the victory in her story.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

-John 3:16

We all have times in our lives when our sadness, guilt, or shame consumes our thoughts – and sometimes threatens to consume our souls – but God has the final word.  And that word is grace.

God said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

-from 2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s grace is sufficient for us.  God’s grace is sufficient for me – and it is sufficient for you.  God’s grace was sufficient for Anna.

When we fall, we are not lost forever.  God catches us.

 

 

 

*Not her real name

 

Please know – if you are in the trenches, He may feel far, but God is there.  He loves you, cares for you, and he wants LIFE for you.  Find someone to talk to – call your local Crisis centre, a friend, even your doctor, and tell them how you’re feeling.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

With Love (Truly),

-Trix x

 

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Faith, Life, Philosophy

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep…

grave by Oliver Quinlan on flickr

 

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there.  I do not sleep.

 

I think about death a lot.  Not in a morbid, ghoulish way – I know that some are fascinated by dark images or haunted by the unknowable elements of ‘the beyond’, but these things hold no sway for me.  I’m not a big fan of our modern-day culture’s obsession with vampires and zombies, either – I’ll admit to having had a passing interest in the Twilight movies, and I can appreciate the ‘noir’ humour of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ – but I find the current fetish with death macabre and gratuitous.  And don’t even get me started on the topic of people dressing their kids up as decaying corpses…).

No, when I think about death it’s more in terms of questions about life – particularly my own life.  I wonder, What kind of legacy am I leaving? and What memories are we making for our kids? and Am I fulfilling my life’s purpose; am I living out God’s desires for my life?  I think about whether or not those I love and care about would know that I love and care about them if I didn’t have any more chances to tell them that I do.

There are times, of course, when questions about death itself come more to the fore – like when loved ones pass away, or when something happens to make me more keenly aware of my own mortality.

Earlier this week I lost a precious aunt.  It is a great comfort to me that hers was truly ‘a life well-lived’; the legacy she leaves is in the love and care she bestowed on our family (and her own).  She was a uniting force and a faithful Christian; she was a do-er and a pray-er and always full of motivating advice…  I will miss her dearly, but I trust that I shall see her again in heaven.  Her death brings us to a celebration of her life on earth, and a peace that comes with our faith in the life to come.

Around this time last year I had shoulder surgery, and as I anticipated the operation and its inherent risks (admittedly small – but I was feeling fragile), my thoughts turned as they so often do to life and death.  I scribbled a few notes about funeral arrangements, just to spare West the difficulty in the event of my sudden demise.  And I wrote down a few other miscellaneous thoughts as I pondered the subject:

What I don’t want is for people to feel embattled or embittered by my passing, whether it be prolonged or quick. 

‘Naked I came into this world and naked I shall return’.  I was once weak and needy – perhaps I shall end my life in the same manner.  But this is no more beneath my dignity than it is for me to have been helpless as an infant at the beginning of my life. 

My existence has meaning and purpose because of how I have lived it; the choices I’ve made when I’ve had a choice…

I hope not to be defined by how I leave the world, but by the good I have done (and experienced) while in it.

As I experienced my initial injury and subsequent convalescence, I also pondered the subject of suffering:

Every experience that allows us to relate more to and better love those around us is a gift.  What a privilege that, through the process of suffering through our own difficulties, we can be awakened to the needs of others!

 

Right now there’s an article making the rounds on social media; the tragic story of a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer who is advocating for people’s right to end their lives ‘on their own terms’.  Not so long ago, there was a story in the news about an older Canadian woman with dementia who took her own life before the disease could rob her of her ability to make that decision for herself.

Both of these cases, like so many others, have been centred around the ability of the victims/patients to prevent themselves from having to experience powerlessness and suffering in their final days.  Both cases have struck a chord with people and garnered support for the ‘right to die’ campaign.

While I feel immense sympathy for these women in facing heartbreaking diagnoses and making difficult decisions, I cannot subscribe to the idea that the only humane option is to allow people access to drugs/technology/legal options that will allow them to exercise a ‘right to die’.

Do I understand the wish to escape the pain and uncertainty and suffering that accompanies such diagnoses as these women were facing?  Yes – of course, yes.

Do I support efforts to mitigate the suffering of people in other phases of life? Yes.  I abhor the fact that slavery still exists; I yearn for the day when the vulnerable are no longer subjugated by the powerful; I pray for the alleviation of suffering experienced by those who are sick, who are hungry, who are lonely

Do I support the use of drugs and technologies in easing the suffering of those in palliative care?  Yes.  I agree with easing people’s pain and affording them the opportunity to say goodbyes and make peace inasmuch as they are able to do so.

Obviously, preventing suffering and powerlessness are universal concerns.  But how far do we take this desire to avoid those difficulties?  Isn’t suffering a part of life – and therefore, necessarily, death?  Isn’t powerlessness also a part of life and death?

I do not stand in judgement of those who make different decisions than I believe I would in their shoes; but I also cannot champion their choices.  I cannot support the claim that the only kindness in this sort of situation is to ‘put people out of their misery’.

Most of us can’t choose the hour or day on which we leave this world.  Whether or not that’s something we consider acceptable or not depends a lot on our core beliefs about life and death.

As for me, I believe fundamentally in the sanctity of life – even when life holds suffering.

…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1(b)-5)

I believe that the grave isn’t the end of the story.

…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4)

I believe that, while death causes us temporary pain and separation from loved ones, it doesn’t get the final say in our lives.

Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

My own experiences with suffering and death (limited though they may be) have led me to believe that they do serve a greater purpose.  When I suffer I am forced to lean closer to those who love me, to hope more fervently in God’s care and mercy, and to anticipate the life to come with a greater sense of peace and joy.  And whenever the day comes that I ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’, I know that this too will bring me closer to God – in dying I will enter into his kingdom forever.

I wish that this wasn’t the way of the world; I wish that nobody had to suffer, ever.  I wish that death didn’t exist.  But suffering and death are inexorable parts of the human experience, and they are not experienced in vain.  We may not always see the bigger picture, or appreciate the purpose, but we may trust that God has riches awaiting us (should we choose to accept them) in eternity and these good things will far outweigh any trials we might face in life.

Maybe, then, these questions of life and death are bigger than all of us.  And we shouldn’t be the ones answering them.

My answer to those who are dismayed by my stance on the ‘right to die’ campaign is the same as the one I would offer to those who would mourn my passing:

There is peace in Jesus.  I have this peace – it shines throughout my life and I pray that it will continue to do so no matter what suffering I endure.  And whenever God calls me from this life on earth (though I love it and shall cling to it as long as I am able) I shall taste life everlasting because of the gift of salvation – which is freely offered to all.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

(Poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye)

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This post and farewell hymn are dedicated to the memory of my beloved Auntie Lavinia.

We shall meet again.

(click on the link to hear the song)

-Trix

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