I had the distinct pleasure of being interviewed for CatholicTV’s flagship program, “This is the Day” this past Friday regarding River of Grace. The lovely Kate Andrews conducted the interview and we had a wonderful conversation about losses and the grief journey, and how every person is blessed with creativity through the Holy Spirit.
The show will air for the first time on Friday, May 27th at 10:30 and rebroadcasts Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 4:30am and 5:30pm and the following Monday at 12am. It will be available online anytime during that period at http://www.catholictv.com/shows/this-is-the-day.
I was privileged to appear this morning on “Jon and Jeanne in the Morning” on Iowa Catholic Radio to talk about River of Grace:
We talked about the creative ways that God’s grace works through our grief when we lose someone we love. Turns out I’m far from alone in thinking my grief journey after my mom died was strange! Jon shares a similar story during the interview about losing his beloved grandmother.
All of you who have “been-there-done-that” will nod your heads in agreement when I say there are no rules when it comes to grief except that it is yours. It is a unique experience, one that if embraced, will bring us to new and wonderful things after the sorrow begins to pull back.
We know how grief can reappear in unexpected ways during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Coining a phrase often used by author Joyce Rupp, “leaning” into our grief releases us into God’s hands where his river of grace can carry us to eventual healing.
Here is this morning’s interview. Maybe this little snippet can help nudge you in the right direction.
During the fifteen years that I was a professional musician I went out on gigs, holding concerts and sometimes doing some public speaking. When my mother died in 2010, I stopped doing that sort of thing. Now, five years later, I’ve decided to dive back in.
It is not without fear and trepidation for I am rusty! While I had my years of experience to fall back on, I wasn’t sure I would remember how to do it. Something once familiar to me had become unknown territory.
Was it worth trying? Yes!
I was recently invited to speak to a group of women from the nearby parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough, MA. They were having their annual communion breakfast at the Juniper Hill Country Club. Ensconced in a lovely upper room with skylights and French doors, we feasted on a sumptuous brunch prepared by the staff which included thick French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham with pineapple, fresh fruit and other delicacies. The women were very welcoming and I felt right at home with them. The staff was just as friendly and helpful as could be.
I spoke on a subject near and dear to me: that of stepping out in faith and taking on the risk to live more deeply (see previous post).
Let’s go swimming!
Using the water analogy of which I am fond, I gently challenged the women to “go swimming,” both in their faith lives and their daily lives (for it is after all, the same life). I talked of how sometimes we find ourselves on the surface of our lives, rather like sitting in a boat on the river. We observe life passing by us; we may even get a lot done while in our boats. But we never go into the water; we never actually get wet.
What would it be like if we got out of our boats and dove below the surface, into a deeper part of ourselves?
How would our lives change?
What would we see and what would we learn about the Spirit of God dwelling within us?
How could that deep dive teach us more about who we are and what we have to offer?
Are there risks involved?
Is it worth those risks?
Leaping into the unknown
I asked the women to recall a time when they were coerced by friends to go on the scariest ride in the amusement park. We all murmured and smiled as I described such a ride (in this case, on a water slide). I asked them to imagine how they felt:
Were they out of breath by the time they splashed safely into the pool at the end?
Were they mad at their friends for making them go?
Would they ever try it again?
And, what about that strange tingling feeling suggesting that the ride might have been worth it after all?
The wild rides in our lives
I then shared about my wild ride (and that of our family) in caring for and then losing our parents, and dealing with the aftermath of grief. While much of what I held most dear was lost along the way, a new life opened up as well–a life of adventure.
Come on the journey
I think of Gandalf convincing a timid and skeptical Bilbo to come along on an unexpected journey, with the result being that Bilbo would be transformed. (This wasn’t part of last Sunday’s presentation but I think Bilbo will figure in future presentations; he’s such a great example).
God extended similar invitations to me and like Bilbo I hesitated, but then accepted. Along the way I experienced love, consolation and healing. I discovering courage I didn’t think I had. In the process, my creativity, long dormant, was brought to life again.
This lead to an unexpected confidence which empowered me to take chances, step deeper into the water of my life, and go swimming. All along the way I was held, cared for, comforted and led by a God who loved me beyond reason.
Is it worth it to go swimming?
I believe so. Conditions can be turbulent at times. But in the end, we will grow and be changed.
Bilbo was not shielded from the harshness of life and there were losses along the way. It seemed at times that Gandalf abandoned him. Gandalf, however, never forgot. When most needed, he was there for Bilbo.
We too have our Guide deep within ourselves, bidding us to follow and to be transformed.
You can hear this portion of my presentation here:
I ended my presentation by suggesting that the best way to get started on such a journey was to ask God to teach us how to accept his love. Once we learn to love and be loved, we can do anything.
We all had fun at the end singing this song together:
I enjoy giving talks. It gives me a chance to share the wonderful blessings and lessons I have received through my amazing grief journey.
That’s right, amazing.
New life can emerge even when we are flattened by tough losses and difficult times. We do have some control: we can fight it and say no, or we can say “yes” and go along for the journey. The main thing for me is that I knew I was not alone; I have a Guide who knows me better than I know myself.
So I am glad I decided to go along.
It seems appropriate to be pondering these things as I note the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing today (April 22nd). I know I am thankful to have had such a wonderful mother who taught me about trying new things and living life deeply, with zeal, joy and gratitude. Her life, even at the end, prepared me to dive deeper into my own life.
I love it when people say I look and sound like her. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Looking for a speaker?
If you’re looking for a lively speaker who loves to share and can lead a great sing-a-long, look me up. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk.
Unsaid was recommended to me by a friend whom I know to be thoughtful. We are both animal lovers and she warned me to “have the tissues ready.” While the idea of reading about animals drew me in, I was also curious about the lead character’s grief journey since I have journaled extensively about my own since my mother died four years ago. My reflections have been from the point of view of faith in heaven; Unsaid told the story of grief from a purely human angle. And yet I found the same spiritual truth: if we allow our grief to carry us, it will take our loss and help to shape a new life.
The premise of the book
The story is told from the point of view of the beloved dead wife, Helena, pondering the meaning of her life as she observes her husband David trying to carry on without her. She, a dedicated veterinarian, had died of breast cancer at the age of thirty-seven. Her husband, a high-powered Manhattan lawyer cannot deal with his loss.
Helena and David met attempting to rescue a deer one night that had been struck by a car. In the ensuing years they bought a farm an hour out from the city which housed two horses, a pig and several dogs and cats. Upon reflection the now dead Helena feels she may have imposed too much of her life upon her husband. She sees how he struggles to maintain the routine of caring for the animals each day. It eventually becomes too much and he hires some help: a nurse from a competing vet and her autistic son Clifford who has extraordinary drawing ability and insight into the mind and heart of animals.
Defending the life of a chimpanzee
Coming into contact with a former colleague of Helena’s, Jaycee, David learns of their work with chimpanzees. Jaycee has developed a strong parental relationship with a four-year-old female, Cindy, who can communicate on the level of a four-year-old child. David finds himself going to trial defending Jaycee who tried to take Cindy from the lab when she found out the chimp was scheduled for medical experiments.
Exploration of the characters
Unsaid builds slowly but I didn’t mind; I was interested in David’s grief process. The book probed the mind of a man who had to come to grips with his loss, not only of his wife, but of his very self. At the same time Helena needed to make peace with her own life, seeing that it did, in fact have value. It is how the value of her life and its impact on David unfolded throughout the book.
Grief is a mysterious and creative process whether we believe in an omnipotent God or not. Unsaid does a wonderful job of pointing out the value of grief and its transforming power so long as we are able to go along for the ride. David is eventually able to move on and as a result, discovers a new and deeper way of living.
Two sides to the story
Unsaid is provocative in what it says about the value of animals and animal lovers will rejoice in this. While the arguments during the trial certainly favored the chimpanzee, I felt that Abramson tried to be fair in presenting the other side of medical experimentation: the need to find cures for human diseases.
There are subplots including a sickly dog and his touching relationship with Clifford (and yes, tissues were needed for that subplot) and how his mother, scarred by her own losses, came to embrace the goodness of life again.
The slow boil of this story explodes near the end of the book; one chapter left me positively breathless. The way Abramson resolved the many issues in the story through a series of twists and turns, was very well done. This is not just a feel-good story about animals; it is a gritty and realistic exploration of human love and loss.
Abramson has an interesting background combining his love, respect and knowledge of animals with a thorough knowledge of the law. His understanding of human nature isn’t too shabby either. Unsaid is his first novel; I hope there are many more.
I wrote back to my friend and told her that I loved Unsaid. I hope that you will too.