Grief as a life-giving creative process

This is my latest column from The Catholic Free Press.

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November can be a difficult month for many. The clocks roll back and the sun sets at 4:30. The temperatures cool and the last of the leaves fall to the ground. There are many cloudy, gray days.

Rosa Dik 009 --- November Golden Reflection ---, Flickr Creative Commons
Rosa Dik 009 — November Golden Reflection —, Flickr Creative Commons

November reminds us that we cannot escape our fate–we all die at some point. Our physical deaths can happen suddenly. Or our health may deteriorate over time, bit by agonizing bit. Dying may be the daily giving up of some part of ourselves that we cherish. Memories fade. Legs weaken and fail. We can barely check our email or turn on the TV because the technology overwhelms us.

November is the month we remember all those who have died and as a community, we lift them in prayer. It reminds us of the grief that never ends, perhaps bringing it forward just when we thought we had sent it to the back of our minds and hearts.

Grief is mysterious and capricious. It creeps up on us, explodes inside of us, in the most inopportune times and places. I can’t tell you how many times tears have suddenly sprung to my eyes in the middle of a crowded room. There is never a day that we forget our loved ones. Happy occasions make us long for them so that we can share our joy. Hard times see us reaching out in vain for those loving arms that would assure us that “everything will okay.”

Grief is a journey that demands our compliance. Resist, and we will pay the price of remaining stuck in that place of sorrow, bitterness and anger; we will die in our grief. Comply, and grief will recreate us; we will live again.

At the age of fifty-nine I have become the published author of not one, but two books, both of which are the products of my grief. When the journey began in 2010 after I lost my mother, I was too numb and worn out to resist– God’s grace beckoned me to go on grief’s journey. In the process, I discovered the life-giving creativity inherent in that journey, taking that which already existed and shaping it into something new and wonderful.

Any artist, writer, musician or dancer will tell you that excellence in the creative life requires a letting go of control–you must give yourself over to something bigger than yourself, and collaborate with that force which compels you to create. That force will demand that you dig deep for answers and that you be open to any possibility. Your heart must remain soft, supple, and vulnerable.

Beverly & Pack Aurora Borealis
Beverly & Pack Aurora Borealis, Flickr Creative Commons

Grief is that kind of creative force, demanding much the same.

I have no idea why I allowed myself to go with the flow of my grief journey. For some reason I was able to trust in God’s care and float down his river of grace. It was often a very confusing journey as I was given just enough knowledge to motivate me to continue, but no more; I was clueless as to where it would all lead. Sometimes the waters were rough. What I do know is that in the midst of my deep sorrow I found a wellspring of joy: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. (Luke 6:38, NIV). As a result, each day became part of an exhilarating adventure.

Death and mourning need not signal the end; our faith teaches us that it is in fact a beginning. During this month of All Souls, may we pray for those who have penetrated the veil, and ask for God’s river of grace to carry us through our grief and recreate us. In the words of Saint Paul from Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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For millennials and boomers alike: Waiting was never this good! “The In-Between” by Jeff Goins

The-In-Between_KDJeff Goins is an old soul in a young body. How else can I explain his wisdom? One would think his latest book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing would be geared towards millennials, people his own age. Yet I found myself relating just as easily to it. And I am old enough to be Jeff Goins’ mother.

The waiting game

Using stories from his own life, Goins tackles an interesting problem that we all face in our daily lives: what do we do with that time of limbo, when we’re suspended in midair either waiting to fly away or waiting to fall? This waiting, as he calls it, requires that we examine the breakneck pace of our lives, filled with to-do lists, running here and there, jammed to the gills but never satisfying our deepest longings.

“Slow down, you move too fast …”

Goins writes, “Waiting is the great grace. It’s a subtle sign for those with eyes to see, reminding us there is work yet to be done—not just around us, but in us.” Waiting requires slowing down and stopping, taking the time to examine our inner selves, and allowing for the development of that third eye, the one that reads between the lines and sees the value in the small stuff.

The waiting hot button

jeff goinsGoins admits that he is terrible at waiting (but who actually is good at it?). I had to smile at his multi-tasking example: opening his laptop to check his email, surfing the web while waiting for messages to load, checking Twitter because heaven forbid a single second should be wasted! The computer is the hot button when it comes to waiting: when that little circle goes round and round indicating a delay, I feel my impatience rising quickly. The technology we have today is so instant that waiting has become a lost art. I imagine many brains are scrambled like Goins’ thanks to TV and the internet.

Waiting hurts

Waiting requires suffering and we don’t like to suffer. Goins maintains that it is in the waiting that the “good stuff” is revealed, the dreams, desires, lessons and revelations. If our lives are filled with noise and busyness in an attempt to avoid waiting, we’re going to miss the results.

“Light out wanderlust, head us out to sea …”

Goins had wanderlust and opted to satisfy it through travel. During his trip to Europe he felt a frantic need to fill every moment with sightseeing. It didn’t feel right to stand still for an instant and the result was exhaustion. One day while standing in line at the Accademia Gallery to see David, the masterpiece sculpture by Michelangelo, he and his two friends stepped out of line and stood against the wall, eventually sliding down to sit. Too tired to move, they stayed for hours in that position looking at the statue. It was then that Goins had an epiphany about the value of slowing down, of waiting. He was able to study the statue and recognize its beauty. His companions did the same. The statue spoke to them in ways it never could have had they remained in the line and rushed through.

It’s true!

Goins and his companions had made the mistake we all make—obsessing over more when actually less is better.

Two sides of emptying the nest

As a mother of a son and daughter around the same age as Goins, I very much appreciated chapter two when the author writes about going home to visit his parents. On winter break from college, he chafes at the idea of spending time at home now that he has lived away on his own. Mothers especially tend to mourn their children leaving the nest, often for many years until finally, an acceptance settles in and the peace and quiet that ensues is welcomed. Visits home are a big deal and can be disappointing, even hurtful, if the child doesn’t want to be there. Goins helped this empty nester understand better what goes through the mind of that child, reminding me of how I felt in my twenties visiting my parents. It had never occurred to me that my son, visiting from another state, would be going through the same kinds of adjustments that his father and I were going through. Rather than moving on together, we remained stuck in time: he was the little kid and we were the parents. We weren’t allowing the relationship to evolve to the next level. Home is now a place he visits and that’s the way it should be. In reading chapter two, I felt like I was reading the minds of my children.

Creative journeys

I especially appreciated the chapters where Goins talks about his creative experiences, first as a musician, and then as a writer. He was telling my story. His evolution was mine. Goins’ blog, Jeff Goins, Writer, has been instrumental in helping me to embrace my vocation as a writer. He did in a few years what I did over a lifetime and he did that by recognizing early on the value of waiting, the value of reflection. He has allowed that third eye to develop and has encouraged that development and as a result, is able to dream and realize those dreams. This is a man who does not waste time and it’s not because he is filling every second with activity. It’s the recognition that life must have a chance to breathe.

Fear of marriage

Chapter five on his courtship with his wife was very enlightening as to how twentysomethings feel about marriage. Goins is a solid man with a deep faith in God and yet he was terrified of committing to marriage. There is no doubt that today’s world does not support commitment. There are too many choices and too many easy ways out. His experiences helped me as a mother better understand why my children feel the way they do about marriage despite the fact that my husband and I have been happily married for thirty-five years.

Sacred times

The final chapters about his grandfather and death proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy is indeed an old soul in a young body. Death is foreign and terrifying today thanks to today’s medical advances. It was not that long ago that death was non-discriminating, hitting any age group. Today, young people have little experience with it, making it all the more frightening. Goins’ acceptance of the sacredness of dying and death demonstrates why he is a man of wisdom. His stories of his grandfather’s deathbed conversion and the two pillars of his church community, Lois and Al demonstrated a man who has learned to live in the present moment, appreciating what happens when it happens.

Heartily recommend

Waiting has taught Jeff Goins a great deal. The In-Between is a remarkable book written by a man wise beyond his years. It transcends generations and would make wonderful reading for millennials and their parents.

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