Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If Only in my dreams

I had a dream about my friend Paula the other night…or, rather, I dreamed about my grief over Paula’s death. In the dream I was with a person I know, though not well, in Eureka. He invited me to his house, along with a number of other people. It was a complex and bizarre, but not intense or scary, dream. I talked to him about Paula and my loss and felt comforted.

It’s been three months now, and I still feel so raw…so alone…just hollow. Not all the time, just when I think to myself, “Paula would think that’s funny,” or “I should ask Paula about that.” That’s often enough.

I still get racked with sobs when she comes wandering through my mind, agonizing over her children’s lives or fretting over her mother’s poor health, distressing over her family’s complications.

I remember how she always liked to be in control of any situation, and I laugh just a little. Then I think about how she would feel when she realized she’s not in control over anything, and I tear up again.

I’m not in control, either. For instance, I’d have taken Paula’s place if I could—traded my life for hers. It wasn’t up to me, though. I’m still ticked off at God about that.

I don’t know why I lived and she died. We both had such similar health issues—a bacterial infection that attacked the heart. But while I made it through the months-long struggle to survive two years ago, she died within two weeks of collapsing at her daughter’s Girl Scout Christmas party when her heart
 stopped.

The thing is—and I don’t say this lightly nor to elicit pity—I’ve been thinking her life was worth more than mine is. I know she had more at stake when she died—a husband, kids, a career, an elderly mother who had already lost two sons, a large extended family whose lives were intricately interwoven with hers.

I know we both have made a difference in the lives of others through our work—Paula as a funeral director then pharmacist, as well as a mom; I as a writer and minister. Like her, I have friends and colleagues who would miss me just as much as we miss her.

And I, too, have a large extended family, but we’ve lived independently from one another for a long time. I’m not saying they wouldn’t grieve for me, but I don’t think their grief would co
mpare to the pain Paula’s children are feeling right now.

That statement is not meant to be cruel, just matter-of-fact. It doesn’t diminish the deep love we have for one another. Nor does it mean we don’t feel loss. It’s just that we lead separate daily lives.


In talking about this with my friend, Julie, a minister in California, I was reminded of something I always have believed—one life isn’t worth more than another. We can’t quantify life by listing the types of relationships we have, what we do for a living or the number of things we accumulate. Each life carries its own intrinsic worth.

So, ultimately, I know this is grief mixed with my own life-long struggle to find meaning. Asking why she died and I lived is not the question. I don’t get it, and it frustrates me, but it’s futile to obsess over a question for which there is no easily discernable answer.

Why do good people suffer? Why do bad people prosper? Why are we here in the first place? Philosophers and theologians, as well as learned people in all areas of study have made it their life’s work to find answers to these questions. I’ve spent a bit of time on such cosmic questions, myself.

To quote the great philosophers, The Indigo Girls, “There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line, and the less I seek my source for some definitive the closer I am to fine.”

Instead of agonizing over Paula’s death and asking for an explanation, I need to ask myself (and God) “what now? Where do we go from here?”

I wasn’t ready to ask that question when I was deep in my pain. But now it feels right to move on. As one of my seminary pastoral counseling professors often said, “A crisis from which we don’t learn and grow is a crisis wasted.”

I can’t fill the holes Paula left in the lives of others when she died. We all lead different lives, after all, so we can’t take the place of another. However, I can make sure she is not forgotten.

I can participate in the memorial garden being planned for her by her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop. I can write to her kids about what a great person she was and tell them how she would regale us with stories of their recent adventures and discoveries in the world around them. Those stories were always told with humor, fascination and love.

I can also put renewed energy into some of the work I’m already doing. Paula’s love for her children and people of all ages inspires me to rededicate myself to my advocacy work for children and abuse survivors. In Paula’s name, I will do whatever I can to ensure all children have what they need to grow into productive, wonder filled, hope-full adults.

Through such work, I might, with God’s help, finally “turn my mourning into dancing.” (Psalm 30)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Amazing Grace

This is a Word Cloud of Amazing Grace using Wordle dot net:

Wordle: Amazing Grace