Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Magic Dog Press’ Category


This last week we’ve seen two examples of parents facing something that no good parent can even dream of facing. I read about the child falling into the gorilla enclosure, and the toddler being taken by the alligator, and something in me recoils. I’m a fixer–“plan for the ‘what-if’s,” I’ve taught my son. I believe that. I believe in being careful, in planning ahead, and yes, even in padding the corners of the world for our children, at least until they’re steady on their feet and have a decent sense of self-preservation. I believe in that so deeply that many considered me over-careful–and yet never for one second have I regretted the pains I took. Even with all that, though, accidents happened. I felt awful, and worked all the harder to prevent the next one–and that there would be a next one I had little doubt.

The thing about accidents is that they come at us from random directions. By their very nature, they are accidental–things that happen that we never dreamed might. I believe in being careful. I also understand that accidents happen to even the best of us. And that’s why what I’ve seen unfolding in the comments sections of the stories covering these two tragedies has sickened me. Here are these parents who have just experienced something for which even I, with my passion for fixing things, can’t find a next step. What would I have done if my child had slipped away for a moment–only a moment–and devastation occurred? I don’t know. I can’t even imagine my next step. When I contemplate losing my child I realize that when his life stops, mine does, too. There is no next meal, next act, next step. There is only life with him in it, and then nothing.

Two sets of parents are struggling to find their way through something so terrifying in one case, awful in the other, that my mind shuts down at the very idea–and yet what I see in the comments section is all too often not supportive, empathetic comments, or even comments seeking to understand how such events might serve as teachable moments for the rest of us–hold on tighter, stay out of all water except in swimming pools while in alligator habitat–but blaming and shaming.

Why would we do this? Why would we figuratively “hit these parents while they’re down?” I think that some of the virulence can be attributed to  the form of religion many of the “perfect parents” who seem to be most vocal practice.

While there are many wonderful Christians, it’s hard to deny that Christianity has an ugly secret at its heart–it’s a religion custom-made for those who can’t stand the vagaries of life. It offers something it can’t deliver–the guarantee that God will watch over those whose worship habits are up to snuff, that good people will be rewarded with blessings, that tithe-payers will be rewarded with the treasures of heaven to such a degree their bank accounts can’t hold it all. This promise is called the “Wisdom Theory,”because it’s a formula found all through the Psalms and the “Wisdom” books–“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” for example. That Bible writers expected this to be the case is abundantly clear–story after story recounts instances of good people being rewarded and bad people punished. David often expresses anguish at the fact that even though he is a “righteous” man, his life all too often is in danger. “Why do the evil prosper?” he asks. Why indeed. And yet the Wisdom Theory still shapes the beliefs of millions. It’s often brought out at times like this to “explain” that the fact that this awful thing happened is “proof” that the parents failed God in some way.

The Wisdom Theory promises something it has never delivered–assurance that we can, by our own actions, keep ourselves and those we love safe. You hear it all the time: She was raped because she dressed provocatively, or she was in the wrong place at the wrong time; his kids went to jail because he left his wife; single mothers bring their hardships on themselves; poor people lost their homes in the financial crash because they lived beyond their means; the abused wife suffers because she has pushed her husband too far, spoken out of turn, burned the dinner. For those who believe in the Wisdom Theory, there can be no accidents. Every awful experience is earned by some failure in those going through it. They deserved it. Such a thing could never happen to us. We’re good people.

Alternatively, the “comforters” will assure each other (and the parents) that this devastation must be some part of God’s plan–that their child might have turned out to be a monster, so “God took him early.” The Wisdom Theory provides an illusion of control, the false assurance that we actually have control over not just our own behavior but the behavior of every one and every thing around us–that if we just love God well enough, and follow the rules slavishly enough, we can be guaranteed protection against all misfortune.

The thing that makes it so seductive is that to some degree we do shape our fates. We do need to be responsible for our own safety. But no matter how responsible we may be, we are all at the mercy of forces much greater than ourselves. None of us are all-knowing or all-seeing. Accidents happen. Accidents happen because we don’t have total control. They happen because we live in a world of intersecting chains of causes and effects, and sometimes those intersections can be dangerous, terrifying, and terrible places.

Here is the truth. The Wisdom Theory isn’t about life. It’s about power–about using emotional blackmail to coerce people into sometimes self-destructive or other-destructive behavior. It’s about coercing poor people to give money to religious institutions bloated with wealth–institutions who give lip service to “helping the poor” even while they exploit them. It’s about keeping slaves, wives, children, and the poor in their places, supporting the status quo, following the rules, not rocking the boat. The Wisdom Theory keeps the king safe on his throne, and the beggar on the street starving.

It’s time we relegated the Wisdom Theory to the dustbin of history, where it belongs, and follow instead another teaching found in Christianity–“Bear one another’s burdens.” It’s time to recognize that no matter our best efforts, we are all subject to the whims of fortune far more often that we would like to be. It means that rather than seeking to ferret out the grievous sin that made the loss of a child a suitable punishment, and then adding our own punishment to that, we instead recognize our common humanity, accept that those of us who have not faced such a loss are perhaps not so much better parents as just luckier, and then doing whatever we can to not ease the pain we see–perhaps no one can do that–but to not make it worse: to sit with the sufferers, hold them up, bring them food, love them and their children, do their laundry, vacuum and dust their houses, and perhaps, just perhaps, help them survive long enough to find their own way out of a very dark place.

Read Full Post »


Here's part of how I said "good bye" to Leroy.

Here’s part of how I said “good bye” to Leroy.

A friend of mine is losing his mother. They’re to the hospice stage now. Having just lost Leroy a few months ago (3 months ago today, actually) how we say “good bye” has been very much on my mind. Leroy’s passing wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo–I’m at that point in life where the world begins shrinking, a grandfather here, an uncle there, a father here, a Leroy there. I’ve been reflecting on how I did–or didn’t–say good bye in each instance. The most traumatic passing was probably my dad’s, largely because of the family issues that surrounded it. I couldn’t say “good bye.” I didn’t cry for him for a year. The odd thing is that, as awful as that time in my life was, it taught me more about saying “good bye” than any other death I’ve experienced. The lessons from that terrible time were many. Here are a few of them.

1. Nobody really understands what you’re going through. Grief is an intensely personal thing–as unique as the relationship between two people. No one can know what you’re experiencing, the things that cause you pain–or the things that bring you comfort. Each of us walks through grief alone, not because no one wants to be there for us, but because no one really can. Yes, family, friends, and even strangers can throw a lifeline, but in that deep, intimate place where we grieve, we are alone.

2. I relied on the kindness of strangers. When Dad was dying, the people in my parents’ church brought food. I remember one woman in particular. She didn’t come inside, even. She just showed up, handed off a big pot of soup, smiled, and left. That touched me deeply. I learned from that. Now when people I know lose someone I take food, not because I think they’re broke, but because the kindness of strangers is a lifeline.

I also started offering my design services for free to grieving families. It started by accident; my local Kinko’s called me one day and asked if I could help a customer. They knew I did design work because in those days Kinko’s was where I printed out my proofs. I drove down to Kinko’s and met the woman. It wasn’t hard to pick her out; people who have just lost a loved one often look gobsmacked. She couldn’t focus. She had a hard time articulating things. Making decisions was completely beyond her. I found myself thinking like a teacher, rather than a designer. I found us a table in a quiet corner. We sat down. I thought of all the platitudes: “How sad you must feel,” “What a terrible loss,” “He’s in a better place now,” thought of my dad’s incredibly complex death, and realized that I didn’t know if she felt sad, if she felt loss or relief, or even if she thought of him in heaven. I didn’t know her, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have really understood her feelings.  In the end I just said, “Tell me about your husband.”

And she did. She told me that he had been the postmaster for years, that he loved his church, that his family was important to him. She told me stories. She cried. She laughed. And I realized that we would put together a program that captured something of her husband’s essence–it would be a way of not just letting mourners know who was doing what, but of really honoring a person who had been here, and now wasn’t, at least not in the same way. More than that, though, she reminded me that because grief is personal, having someone try to assign you to a category, to tell you what they are sure you must be feeling, is really not helpful. What is helpful is being invited to talk about what you are experiencing, who the person you have lost was to you, who they are to you now, who you were with them, and who you might be without them. Grief is a time for listening.

I’ve done a lot of memorial programs since then, and they all start with the same question: “Tell me about…” And when they have told me, we turn the program into something intensely personal–the lace off a mother’s wedding dress might become the background, an award or medal might become part of the front, a lifelong unrealized dream might become part of the interior. I offer my hands, and my ears. I treasure those times. It’s my way of returning the sense of love I felt from that woman standing on my parents’ porch, holding a soup pot.

3. Start before you need to. Grief is debilitating and overwhelming. The paradox of loss is that when you are experiencing it, it can be very difficult to actually think of a way of expressing it–of saying “good bye” in a way that’s meaningful to you. When Dad was sick my sister and I took the time to sit down with him and watch old slides. It was something he loved to do. In his younger years he loved driving up into the mountains with the camera and taking pictures of wild flowers. He didn’t pick them for pressing–he was a proponent of “leave it as you found it” long before that was popular. Those slides were his flower collection. They were important to him. As we watched them my sister and I listened to his breathy voice talking about the ones he loved the most, and my sister laid those aside, had them drum-scanned, and sent them to me. I used them to build Dad’s memorial bulletin. As I worked I cried–building that became an important part of saying “good bye,” and would probably have remained intensely meaningful had all hell not broken loose between the time I made the bulletin and the time we used it.

When Leroy had his second heart attack and he told me he just wanted to enjoy the time he had left, I remembered Dad’s bulletin. I came home, and I started going through pictures. Before he came home from the hospital I took the time to write down what he meant to me. I talked to The Boy, and suggested that he consider how he might want to say “good bye,” precisely because when the time came, thought–particularly coherent thought–might be difficult. On Leroy’s last birthday, we took him to the casino. While Leroy played “21” and the slot machines, The Boy wrote him a song.

And then we came home. I took the song, typed it into the computer, and then we were done. Three and a half months later Leroy left us. I was figuring out death certificates, supporting The Boy, working with the mortician in organizing the cremation, planning a quiet afternoon for the people who loved Leroy best. Had I waited to gather all the pieces something would surely have been left out. But I had planned ahead. I had pictures. I had words. I built a powerpoint and added music. And then I looked at it and realized what I really had was a book–so I made one, and because we had delayed the memorial service, I was able to get the books printed in time to give them to the people closest to him. Planning ahead was necessary, since I didn’t have anyone to take me aside and say, “Tell me about Leroy.” But it also became an important part of understanding who Leroy had been to us–and who he still was. We spent our last months wrapping him in love, honoring who he was. An important part of that was possible because in preparing to say “good bye” in a meaningful way I had reminded myself of the things I wanted to tell him while I could still do so.

4. Make private space for mourning. The day after we hosted Leroy’s farewell gathering, The Boy said to me, “It was nice, but there wasn’t really time for us to say “good bye.” And he was right. That gathering was wonderful–it offered people who loved Leroy a time and space to grieve, to comfort each other, and to begin the hard process of moving on. It was good and right that we honor Leroy that way. But because we were hosting it, we were necessarily taken up with things like food, making sure everyone had what they needed, offering comfort where we could. And that was right–but it meant that we needed to make a private time when we could say our own “good bye’s.” And we did. We planned an evening out on the patio, with a fire burning in the fireplace, and a dinner made up of Leroy’s favorite foods. The Boy wrote a letter. I took a copy of the book I had made.We read them, and looked at them, and then we sent them off to Leroy in the smoke of our fire. It was private, and it helped.

5. Don’t be afraid to laugh. Grief is intense. For some of us, laughter helps. When my grandfather died, I found laughter a great way of releasing some of the intense emotions. I won’t tell the whole story here, because it really deserves its own blog post, but to summarize my uncle, who was videotaping the memorial service, had a heart attack and died. And the camera was rolling. It was terrible. And laughter helped, not because it was funny–it wasn’t–but because…well, because it helped me. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Anything that helps us not mask the pain, but experience it, make it a part of ourselves, and then move on is a good thing.

By the same token, treasure the periods of “okayness” that seem to be a part of the grieving process, at least for me. It’s like a roller coaster, and thank goodness it is, because we need those comparatively tranquil periods between the periods of intense grief to give us respite. Enjoy them. Understand that this doesn’t make you a bad person. Feeling okay doesn’t mean you didn’t love the person, and that you’re not grieving. It just means that for right now, you feel okay. Be grateful.

So there it is–all I got about losing someone. As I said at the beginning, grief is intensely personal. Maybe nothing here means anything to you. That’s okay. We each have to find our own way. This was mine.

6. And finally–grief doesn’t have a time clock. It takes as long as it takes. There is no schedule, no set time beyond which grief is inappropriate. Yes, grief evolves over time–I no longer grief my dad and my grandpa in the way I did, but I still have moments. There are a lot of cheerleaders who will advise you to “move on,” to “let it go,” to “get on with your life.” Grief makes people uncomfortable. It reminds us that none of us are immortal. But your experience and mine will not be the same, and you will experience grief in different ways for different people. And that’s okay. It’s more than okay. Feel it until you don’t need to feel it anymore. Talk about it until you realize you want to talk about other things. There is no schedule.

 

Read Full Post »

the BrainChancery

Or, "I Flew to Hong Kong And All I Got Was This Lousy Brain Tumor"

The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

The Bipolar Bum

Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.

WalkedThru

For You.

ascetic

Sergey Reta | Blog

Red Tash

Teller of Tales

immikecohen.wordpress.com/

"Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me" - Mike Cohen

maggiemaeijustsaythis

through the darkness there is light

Sunny Sleevez

Sun Protection & Green Info

Holly Jahangiri

Notes Scribbled on an Old Planner

Fabulous Realms

Worlds of Fantasy, Folklore, Myth and Legend

Someone To Talk To

Just another WordPress.com site

Heidi M. Thomas

Author, Editor, Writing Teacher

Marian Allen's WEBLAHG

This, that, and a whole lot of the other

Beneath your Covers

Paranormal books & media review blog

Pat Bean's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

This Kid Reviews Books

A Place for Kids and Grown-Ups to Discover Books

%d bloggers like this: