This year, I had the amazing privilege of working with and for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region at Levine-Dickson Hospice House at Southminster as a Chaplain Intern. The experience transformed my life, my ministry and my understanding of pastoral care. I served under the very capable tutelage and direction of ordained minister and chaplain, Jane Mitchell. Although the calendar tenure of my time at LDHH-S looks lengthy (April thru December), the actual experience seemed to have happened in the blink of an eye.
The experience was rich and deep, rewarding and fulfilling because end-of-life care does not let you skim the surface. End-of-life care demands that you look life in the eye; address it, touch it and feel it for what it is. I likened the experience to traveling by train. When you travel by train, you don’t follow the well-landscaped hypnotic manicured interstate system. When you travel by train, you travel the back roads; you see the back yards and back porches. You see the treasures and the junk. It’s raw; it’s real and it’s engaging—it is life in its purest form. Ironic that so much living goes on at Hospice. I will always be indebted to the staff and team at LDHH-S. They are amazingly gifted human beings who showed me what true compassion looks like and they taught me how to trust.
It was gift to be part of the 2014 Light Up A Life ceremony at LDHH-S on Saturday December 6, 2014. I was asked to share my thoughts on grief and the grieving process. What follows are the notes from my reflection for that service. I share them here, now, with you.
In this moment—in this very second as these words leave my lips, there are persons who are feeling the full measure of grief. In this moment, we stand with them, and they stand with us. They are not alone. And we are not alone.
Three years ago on Palm Sunday, our family pet of 15 years took its last breath as I held it. The following Sunday, Easter Sunday, my Mom who had battled Mutiple Myeloma for 11 years, had some sort of mini-stroke, she feel, broke her wrist, was taken to the Emergency Room, and by 10:00am on East Monday, we found ourselves gathered around her bedside in Hospice Care in Greensboro North Carolina. The following Saturday, while my mother still lay in Hospice Care, I walked the aisle and graduated with a Masters of Arts in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary. My parents, who had supported that endeavor, were unable to witness the graduation. The following Friday at 6:04am, My Mom breathed her last breath with me holding her hand. Two days later we celebrated Mother’s Day with my Mother’s body lying in state at the Funeral Home. I wrote in my journal, those three weeks were like the swinging of a pendulum—-I moved from deep sadness to extreme joy, from extreme joy to deep sadness, joy to sadness, sadness to joy.
Last year, a bright young 15 year old artist who attends our church asked me a simple yet poignant question. He asked, “What is your favorite emotion?” It was a question I had never been asked. I engaged the young man in conversation and as we talked, I realized in the depth of my spirit that joy and grief come from the same place inside of us.
I am convinced that without the deepness of our grief, we can never fully understand and appreciate the richness of life. Without tears, our laughter has no value. With no struggle there can be no appreciation for freedom. Without loss there can never truly be any “having.” And, I am convinced without grief, there can never truly be any joy.
I answered Kyle’s question, “Grief is my favorite emotion.”
A few weeks later, Kyle presented me with a mask that he sculpted. He named the mask, Dolum. Dolum comes from the latin word “Dorlore” which means, “deep sadness, grief.” If you look closely at Dolum, you will see the tears of grief on his face—but don’t stop there—keep looking, you’ll see that those tears have dropped on fertile ground and in that place, new life is springing up.
In the chapel at the LDHH-Southminster, there is a journal. People who wander into the chapel are invited to share their thoughts. I found these words written in that journal:
How badly will this hurt?
How deep will the cut be?
How weighty the grief?
How badly it will hurt is dependent solely on how goodly I have loved;
The cut will be only as deep as the measure of joy I experienced.
And the grief? Well, while weighty, I am confident that the grief will be in direct
proportion to the measure of the life I mourn. And I would not trade either.
In closing, I give you the gift of these words from White Elk, a Native American sage:
“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice!”