Feb. 26, 2017

The Bad News is the Good News

I was teaching Chemical Dependency Studies at night at a small technical school not far from home. Butch asked me what time I would have my twenty-minute dinner break, saying that he might drop by. A few minutes before break time, the students in the class at the front of the building interrupted my class at the back of the building demanding that I come and see what was happening in the parking lot. There was no dissuading them, so I let my class go early and followed them to see what had them so excited.

I found my darling husband with his pickup parked across several spaces outside the school. He had come to serve a "seven course dinner" as a surprise. I climbed the step stool he placed near the tailgate and we sat on the walls of the truck at the table he had prepared with candles and a table cloth.  He served sparkling cider, squeeze cheese and crackers, canned soup from a thermos, packaged salad, a main course from a frozen dinner heated and insulated for the journey, jello pudding cups for desert, and gourmet coffee in a portable mug to take back to class with me. He whisked me off to class after precisely eighteen minutes, stating that I needed to be on time so I could continue to support him in the manner to which he had become accustomed. The students were busily uploading photos to their social media sites. This is such a lovely example of who he was and what it was like to be loved by him.

What makes memories like this one bitter sweet is that they remind us of what we loved most about them. At the same time, they remind us of how terrible it is that they are gone.

There is an expectation that healing from a loss will be like healing a physical wound. It begins with the initial trauma and is followed by the pain and potential infection, the gradual healing, and then scar tissue that makes the wound site stronger than the skin that was there before the physical trauma. In reality, it is more like a toggle switch between two distinct ways of being. Over time, the switch is flipped more often and for longer periods of time toward the present joy, and the hope for a new life that has meaning. However, when the switch flips toward the pain, it seems just as intense as it did initially. It is like being thrown into a time machine to the moment that the life we knew and enjoyed was torn from our hands. During the first year of mourning the loss we came to understand that the switch will inevitably flip back out of the pain. This makes the agony more and more tolerable, but not less painful. It also accounts for what CS Lewis says makes grief feel so much like fear. Knowing that there is no way to predict when the switch be flipped and what will trigger it creates a vague sense of dread, wondering when the next blow will come.

The movie Shadowlands, tells the story of CS Lewis and the death of his wife, who he attributed with teaching him how to live out of his heart instead of his head.  There is a scene in which, he tells her that he cannot tolerate the pain of knowing that he is going to lose her.  She tells him that the pain now is part of the joy later.  He is not convinced. The last scene of the movie takes place after she is dead and he is raising the children without her.  We watch Lewis warmly embrace her son as he rides off for school.  The voice over says, “In this life, we can choose either suffering or safety.  When my mother died when I was a boy, I chose safety. Now I choose suffering.”

That is the choice for us as well. To become the best version of us without them we must walk through the suffering involved in deeply mourning our loss as the surest way of experiencing deep joy again. The good news is that we will find both them and God waiting for us.  The bad news is, we will find them only in the depths of the very suffering we would like most to avoid.

­­­­­And worse, the fast forward function is completely disabled…………….