Loss and grief are everywhere in the landscape of our lives. There is nothing in human life to which we are attached that is permanent and unchanging. There is no deep or lasting bond which is not subject to the uncertainties of this world’s terrain. Six years ago, at age forty-eight, just when I thought that I had found a sense of permanence, my whole life was thrown into disequilibrium with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. I was shaken to the core, left numb and full of fear……
Two things were especially helpful to me in my time of initial shock and outrage with a Parkinson’s diagnosis. My pastor invited me to pray with her in our meditation chapel. She took my arm and gently held it in her hands and prayed for my healing. I found it very hard at that time to pray. I had felt God’s absence for some weeks, but somehow she connected me with God’s presence. I remember her face and touch, a sign of God’s comforting presence. I do not remember her words.
A second initiative came as the awareness of loss broke through into my consciousness and the pain sank deeply into the depths of my body and spirit. People in their grief often feel their pain in some other part of their stomach or chest. Anger erupts, explodes, or is repressed. Guilt and shame may follow. Self-recrimination comes. We bargain with ourselves and with God. The tears may flow or dry up at unpredictable moments. The circumstances of the loss are repeated again and again as one tries to discover some way of seeing it differently, rehearsing the “if onlys” of life.
Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish biblical scholar, reminds us of the noble vocation of confronting God as we face the losses and injustices that would overpower us. God honors it when we take our call and promise that seriously. God comes close to us in our struggle.
In my case, this confrontation came one morning as I was preparing a sermon on the experience of Jacob at the Jabbok River (Genesis 32) where he wrestled all night with that dark river spirit whom he discovered to be the angel of God. As I sat in my study, wrestling with the text and reality of Jacob’s boldness in confronting God, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me,” I held up my shaking hand and shouted in the darkness of the early morning those words. A peace entered my spirit as the light shone in the window. I knew that I had a sign of God’s yes in the midst of my many no’s. Better to go away from the encounter limping, having risked meeting God in some new way, than to wander in the cold recesses of our own loneliness. Could it be that the heart of God is much more accessible in the midst of our losses, more palpable than we ever dared to believe-in the griefs we bear?…
My experience is that even when we do not believe it, or deeply doubt it, that especially then, in the darkest moment of our loss and despair, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39). That is the clear witness of God’s people in every generation. So to know that each person must die is to begin to learn to live and to care.
-Stan Rock, “Coming to Terms with Life’s Losses,” reprinted from the Church Herald (Feb. 1992). Copyright 1992 by the Church Herald, Inc. Used with permission.
Wisdom for the Caregiver (from Stan)
- Listen! Help the partner or family member talk about his or her experiences, thoughts, feelings. It’s helpful to have careful periodic reviews or “check-in times” of your progress because everything keeps changing with a chronic illness.
- Right now it is particularly difficult for me to deal with the fact that my energy level is significantly reduced. I still work out three or four times a week, but I just can’t live at the pace that I used to live at. To slow down is extremely difficult for anyone who has had a busy life.
- Allow the person with the disease/disability to take charge of his or her own illness. Don’t be over-solicitous.
- I like friends to ask how I am doing. My situation changes from day to day and week to week, just like anyone else’s. There are things that I get anxious about, there are uncertainties about the future, and I appreciate it when people take an interest.
- What I don’t like is when people, in their desire for me to do well and be well, say, “You’re looking awfully good.” On that day I may not be feeling very well at all, and it’s almost like they are trying to make me feel well when I’m not.
- The family members certainly care about what’s happening to you, but primarily they want you to be their father or husband.
- The church can help by not seeing the disabled as objects, by not denying the reality of the pain, and fostering a pastoral care ministry.
For additional wisdom : Wisdom – Illness (Chronic)
For additional caregiving advice, refer to the following categories on this website: “Caregiving Basics.”
The above advice is from The Compassionate Congregation, pages 146-149.