Awakening to the Unity of Grief on Easter

 

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“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll” –Psalm 56:8 NIV

By: Autumn Elizabeth

This is the first Easter that I won’t call my grandmother. I won’t update her on the sermon I heard, or tell her about which language I said the Our Father. I won’t describe the city I am in, the old church I found, or the breathtaking celebration of Easter I discovered. After years of celebrating Easter all over the globe, this year I will tell my Easter story to no one.

Except, I am not alone in my loneliness. Holidays after losing a loved one are always the hardest. The pain of their absence is keenly felt when we see their empty chair at the decorated table, their empty pew at high mass, the empty entry in our contact log.  This is the part of humanity that becomes general, global, universal. Whether it is Passover or Easter, Eid al-Fitr or Holi, the missing presence of a lost loved one is palpable.

As some point most spiritual quests must deal with death, with loss, with grief. In this way, we as humans are united. Not one of us can live forever, not one of us can avoid loss. As we grieve we must awaken to new possibilities, new life. As we celebrate holidays, we must awaken to our unity despite our differences.

This year as I awaken to a glorious Easter morning, as I attend a beautiful Easter mass in an ancient church, I will grieve the loss of my grandmother, and that grief will unite me with strangers I haven’t met yet, and I will find me someone new with whom I can share my Easter story.

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The Choice of Leaving Syria

Today’s post comes from Shaza Askar, a young Syrian woman. Shaza’s brave words shed a new light on the theme of choices. Above all, Shaza’s post gives us a glimpse into the reality of war, and we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are exceedingly glad she is able and willing to share her story.  

my room Homs

“A part of me is still there…” says Shaza of her room in Homs, Syria

From the outside, Syria looks like Armageddon. It just looks like full-on combat around every corner, but war-zones are never what they appear from the outside. There are always pockets of calm and neighborhoods where life goes on.

Around the end of the year 2011, I chose to move to the capital city of Damascus to pursue a Master’s degree there. You can never guess that life was almost normal in the neighborhoods inside Damascus. However, in the distance you could always hear artillery rounds landing, but it seemed like there were areas and pockets that were nearly calm except for some mortars and Grad Rockets falling every now and then, in addition to explosions taking place once in two or three weeks.

Despite choosing to move somewhere safer, I almost lost my sister in an explosion in summer 2013. More than twenty people were burned to death while they were riding a bus after it passed over planted explosives. People around the explosion were injured too. My sister was one of those injured by the explosion, of course but thankfully she survived it. The violence continued to escalate. Battles were surrounding the capital city; some of them even took place within the neighborhoods of Damascus. We had to make a choice.

Living in a situation like that, fleeing the country was the only choice for me. After the choice of leaving Syria was made, I, along with my sister, began the long and exhausting process of preparations. After a few months of working on our papers in such a complicated situation, and having to fly to Jordan or Lebanon whenever we had an appointment with the German Embassy, risking our lives with snipers who were readily placed on the way to the airport, my sister and I were finally accepted to study at German universities that were exceptionally supportive to us with regard to our special case.  I can’t be thankful enough for every person that showed real compassion during that time because it meant a lot.

Escaping Syria was my choice, but what of the people who are still there without the option to leave? What is their choice?

Heifer International and My Brother’s Gifts

Today’s post from Jenn Schultz Simmons, who works as a pastor at  a church in Springfield, Mo. Jenn gives us a personal look at Heifer International  and how her family chose to keep their loved one’s spirit of giving alive. Her poignant words remind all of us that our lives create ripples of change, and that our generosity lives on long after we are gone. 

My mother walked up the stairs and said, “Heifer, I want to invite our family and friends to give animals in Sean’s memory.” When my brother died very suddenly at at 27 after suffering a head injury and severe trauma we searched for the best way to invite our family and friends to celebrate his life.  Years ago he put the heart donation sticker on his drivers license.  He wanted to be an organ donor. So, when we had to decide how we wanted to honor and celebrate the life of my brother, giving flocks of chicks, ducks, rabbits, and cows was a perfect fit.

Jenn and her brother Sean

Jenn and her brother Sean

Over the years, I have had the privilege to see the work of Heifer International first hand.  In Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to meet families that received pigs, trees, plants, and chickens from Heifer International.  The pig farmer, a mother of three kids,  was so proud of her pig and the way she had changed the lives of those living in their village.  Her children had the opportunity to go school all because of a pig. After receiving lessons about how to care for their pig, they were asked to teach others in their community.  I met their pig as she was about to give birth to the next generation of pigs and impact a whole new family.

While serving at Webster Groves Christian Church, I had the honor of getting to take youth and adults to the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, AR.  Everyday we signed up for new classes and chores.  Some of us learned about bees, others milked goats, while some cut down trees.  One night we stayed in the global village representing many different countries and situations.  There was a refugee camp, an urban setting, and various economic experiences in numerous countries.  Some youth had to sleep on the hard floor while others had a bed.  Each youth was given some resources and then had to decide how to share their resources for the night so that they could eat.  The overall experience at the Ranch gave the youth and adults hands on experience to begin to understand how animals really can change the lives of people and impact communities.

When I first saw the work of Heifer, I asked my family members to buy me chickens for the holidays.  At first my brother thought it was silly to ask for a flock of chicks for people in another country (I mean how do you put that in a Christmas box?), but over time, and with many stories of the difference those chickens made in people’s lives, he began to love it.  Now over the years, we have given flocks of chicks, ducks, and trees as Christmas gifts in our family.

We decided to ask our friends and family to celebrate Sean’s life by giving to Heifer. We realized giving animals through Heifer to families all over the world so that others might have new life was another way to honor my brother’s decision to give new life to others via organ donation.  Now, in celebration of my brother, chickens, pigs,  and heifers will impact new families and communities all over the world.

Unwanted Goodbyes

By: Autumn Elizabeth

Sometimes all of us have to say goodbye to people and things we aren’t ready to lose yet.  If you sit in an airport long enough, you will certainly see at least one tear-filled farewell, at least one hug that looks like a desperate attempt to cling to a love one who will soon be somewhere else.  Sometimes people lose jobs they loved, homes they loved, sometimes even a broken cup can be a goodbye we have to say too soon.

Of course the ultimate unwanted goodbye is often death.  Although this is one that I have trouble understanding.  Sure, I get that death is loss, but mostly it is a loss for those of us who remain.  Although I don’t know exactly what death holds, as someone who believes in the ultimate love of the divine, I see death as a step to gain something rather than a loss.  Perhaps this is why I am utterly shaken by my grandmother’s last days.

At 96, my grandmother has been a pillar of faith since I was born.  She is deeply and beautifully Catholic and her relationship with her faith is part of what draws me back to the Catholic Church every now and then.  Yet, even at 96, even as a person who truly believes in heaven, my grandmother struggles with her impending death.  More than struggles in fact, she refuses her impending death.  A she sits in the hospital, all my attempts to say goodbye to a woman who has loved me, taught me and shaped me in more ways than she knows are totally unwelcome.

So this is my unwelcome goodbye. I am forced to face the fact that no one’s faith is perfect, that everyone questions the big picture sometimes, even 96-year-old french Catholics.  So I say goodbye to my picture perfect ideal of my grandmother’s faith, and instead accept that when it comes to faith, we can all learn from each other. Perhaps it is now my turn to teach my grandmother something about faith.

For you see I truly believe that death is part of life, and I hope that when death finally comes, I can greet it like an old friend. Having been forced to face my own mortality at the ripe old age of 14 when a medical injection stopped my heart, I have developed an understanding of death one might expect from a person with a few more years on them. I don’t pretend to know what heaven is, or what death will be like, but I do know that because of God’s love, death is nothing to fear. My faith and my experiences have helped me see death as one of the many beautiful mysteries of faith.

I do not wish to say goodbye to my grandmother just yet, and I wish we still had many years of church services to attend together. We do not and I have to learn to accept that. But I do have hope that in the few days we have left together I can give her a bit of my hard-won wisdom on death, if only through my willingness to give her unwanted goodbyes.

Sophia Sighting: Loss, Death and Birth

Continuing with our theme of loss, new mother Natalie M. Petty shares a photo that represents her experience with the loss of her Grandfather, a few days after the birth of her first child.

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Location: Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

My grandpa passed away at the end of this past July. I can’t even begin to express how much he meant to me and how much he will be missed. I’ll never forget the trips to the beach, the extreme decibel of his snoring or his infectious laugh. I’m so blessed to have had him in my life.  He got  to see me walk down the aisle and he was able to to see pictures of my newborn son. I didn’t spend as much time with him as I would have liked because he lived far away, but he always made me feel like the luckiest granddaughter in the world when I did see him. This isn’t “goodbye” for me, it’s “until we meet again”.

Daughter Grief

Today’s post is the first from our submission request for posts on loss.  Seanna Tucker, is a freelance writer and blogger living in St. Louis. Here she shares a poem on her personal loss, which was originally posted on her tumblr. Enjoy and don’t forget  to submit your thoughts, words and pictures about loss.

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You always told me
It would be your 50’s
And something toxic
Like cancer

You either prepared me
Or jinxed me

Grief comes in spurts
Like geisers
From your home state

Huge shuttering sobs
I seek shelter
Find temporary salvation
In occasional laughter
And old pictures

Then I’m Mt. St. Helens
Bound to burst again
Long overdue

When I find old ticket stubs
Father-Daughter Movie Dates
Things you saved

Things I saved
Old voicemails starting
“Hey Baby Girl” or “Darlin’”
In that southern and yet Californian
Drawl that could only be yours

Things I didn’t know
You saved
old Wedding pictures
From a failed marriage
With your daughter’s Mother

Handwritten notes from a
10-year-old one-time
step-daughter
My sister

I could fill
The Library at Alexandria
with what I didn’t – don’t – know

It’d be filled with
things that are lost
And I would sit on top

Requesting Your Words!

Dear Readers,

Today we are starting our call for submissions on the topic of  loss. We would love for you to tell us about how you have experienced and overcome loss in your life. What have you lost? Who have you lost? How have your experiences with loss affected your spirituality, your life and your ability to love? Send your thoughts to sophiaspockets@gmail.com! We can’t wait to be blessed with the opportunity to read your words and share them with the world!

With wisdom, love …and lint,
Autumn and Jenni

In Defense of Prayer

Today’s guest post comes from Hailey Kaufman. Hailey is a student at Webster University, and her poignant post today is about prayer, grief and confusion and is dedicated to her friends Leo and Morgan.

Even having been non-religious for several years, I still have the impulse to pray on rare occasions. It’s always when I want something deeply, but know I can’t do anything about it, and it usually has to do with other people. The impulse to reach out for something powerful and immortal hits me today, as I learn of the death of two young people in my community. It always throws my identity for a loop, and I search to understand why it happens.

The last time I remember praying was when my grandpa was in the hospital for two months, on and off a ventilator, as he picked up one infection after another. It was extremely hard on my family and me, causing tension, confusion, and a dash of insanity in all of us. I remember busting down into tears upon hearing for the fourth or fifth time that his condition was deteriorating, that he’d be on a ventilator again. I was alone screaming obscenities and fury-crying as I punched whatever cushions I could find. Every day, we all just wanted it to be over. We never expected him to recover fully, which he remarkably did.

At that point in my life, I had decided I no longer subscribed to any faith in God, calling myself an agnostic. I thought it more likely than not that there wasn’t anyone in charge of it all, but when Poppy was lying in that bed every day, growing thinner and less recognizable, while simultaneously untying my whole family from their wits, I didn’t know what else to do but pray. At least then, I would feel like I was doing something.

Recently I was sitting in a car pondering the troubles of someone I know. Despite all my thinking, I know there’s very little, if anything, I can do. It’s a helpless feeling, being aware of a problem that is meaningful to you, and not being able to reach out and fix it with your own hands.

I caught myself in a nanosecond epiphany that faded as quickly as it came: I could pray about it. This is why I have mixed feelings about prayer, even as irrational as it seems to me. If God has a plan for everything, then all the imploring in the world won’t change it; and even if he had no path laid out, what would my opinions and ideas mean compared to his? Besides, if he leaves a person’s fate in the hands of those who may or may not ask for that person’s well-being, I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with such a guy.

But I understand that feeling of helplessness, that itch in the stomach to do something, anything to alter a crappy situation. In that moment when you’re either not coming up with creative solutions or discovering that you’re truly irrelevant to the situation, there’s a panic that arises, a restlessness, and even far-fetched ideas seem worth considering. As Ze Frank said:

…When I get that feeling in my stomach – you know the feeling when all of a sudden you get a
ball of energy and it shoots down into your legs, and up into your arms, and it tells you to get up
and stand up and go to the refrigerator and get a cheese sandwich? That’s my Cheese Monster
talking. And my Cheese Monster will never be satisfied by cheddar…only the cheese of accomplishment.

Sometimes my Cheese Monster tells me to pray. I can’t fault others’ for doing the same. As long as it is recognized that proactive, real-world solutions should always be sought first – rather than having an immediate Jesus-take-the-wheel response to things you can change – my qualms with prayer are few.Whatever sets a troubled mind at ease must be at least somewhat of a positive thing. There’s certainly nothing the living can do about a lost life. What falls to us then is to take care of one another – and ourselves. To those who are mourning a death, I hope you make an extra effort to care for those you love, and I hope you are conscious of keeping yourself safe, healthy and happy.

In the meantime, if it helps rest your pain, this atheist hopes you pray it out.