Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gift Exchange

Philippians 4:6-7 (New International Version)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The plaque on the kitchen wall said, Life Is All About How You Handle Plan B. I smiled at first, thinking how true the words were, but they were also poignant, for the one in whose kitchen I sat, was mourning the death of a much loved husband, who died just a few months ago; a sudden separation and all too soon.

Outside a winter storm was gathering strength as the afternoon drew on, but the kitchen was cosy and welcoming, with sunshine yellow walls and white painted cupboards. Interesting nick-nacks stood on window sills and shelves and the air was filled with the aroma of the evening's supper cooking.

We sat across the table from one another and talked the minutes and hours away until the late afternoon was darkening and it was time for me to go. I asked if I could pray before I left, and found myself overwhelmed with emotion as I did, thanking God that he has no "Plan B."

When I finished, she looked up at me and said, "Thank you for that. I was wondering what I would write in my letter this year and now I know. It's only Plan B to me."

Before I left she showed me sea glass; sea softened shards of lavender, green and milky white, gathered from the shores of Prince Edward Island. And a beautiful heart shaped piece that she found on the beach after her beloved husband died and which a friend had framed in silver and made into a lovely piece of jewelery. She told me that on the island they say that if you find a heart shaped piece of sea glass, it is a message from the Creator that you are loved.

She smiled wryly as she talked of her own training in death and grief counseling, and of the phases of grief and how they come randomly and sometimes all in one day. And then she told me how she had learned how important it was to notice and honour the small deaths that people suffer. She said that if we did that, we would stand out as very different to the rest of the world.

It was my turn to reflect deeply on the implications of her words. I thought of the deaths this could apply to: the death of certain expectations, hopes and dreams or the death of a marriage.

These deaths may go without the conscious mourning that is the path to good healing. There is no wake, no gathering of supportive friends and family, and yet it would not be hard to be a better friend when such times come, if only we knew that we could and should.

I was so grateful for the insight she had shared with me, and thanked her as we hugged goodbye and I prepared to step from the front door, out into the storm. "You gave me the line for my letter," she said, "and I gave you this." It was the first gift exchange of the season.

6 comments:

Marilyn said...

Amen. An excellent exchange.

I often feel that if we could get better at recognizing and acknowledging the griefs, big and little, ours and those of others, how different the world would be.

I wrote a piece today (for another site, which is not public, otherwise I'd share the URL) about the importance of ACKNOWLEDGING when something is happening in the life of another.

Often, esp. when it's a sad thing, we are paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do. But acknowledging is enough. Just to convey that we understand something major has happened to the person, even if we can't understand all the ins and outs of it. I think it's something we need training in. Our silence, in the face of someone needing to know that someone out there HEARS their pain, is the cruelest thing.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn." Yes, we need some training in that.

The Plan A/B idea is useful to me today. Thanks for that, and for this marvelous post - it's message and its images.

Joyful Fox said...

Belinda,

Lovely photo of the serenity and beauty of winter. Thanks for the reflective thoughts on grief of the big and little things. There's wisdom in that. I liked your title too! It's a blessing to be thankful and aware of the gifts we receive - such as you did yesterday. Bless you Belinda.

Susan said...

Do you think that some people have more of a need to grieve and more time to process grief than others? Or are the people that take longer, and feel it more deeply more self centred and immature? Do you grieve less the more mature you are, do you think?

Belinda said...

Oh Susan, no, I don't think that the length of time needed to process grief has anything to do with maturity.

Jesus modeled grief for us: for his friend Lazarus and the sorrow of losing him to death even though he must have known that he was to raise him up to life again; for the people of Jerusalem; and I think that if we searched the gospels with grief glasses on we would see him mourning over and over for this poor sin sick world and the people around him.

Grief rushed is only grief delayed. It isn't over till it's over, no matter how long we mourn and weep over loss.

And I think that there may be many ways of expressing grief or grieving, as individual as we are. It is something I want to be so much more aware of in those around me and maybe in my own life. We would be so much more compassionate and loving if we were more sensitized to grief. That is why I was so grateful for the gift, not of sea glass, but of grief glasses.

Susan said...

I thought so too. I think you've really hit on something here.

Wearing your grief on your sleeve is very often not a safe or very wise thing to do.

I wonder if depression is really unresolved grief run rampant... If "grief rushed is only grief delayed", then maybe "grief denied is only grief intensified" - buried alive and scratching at our inner psyche to get out.

I guess we have to be careful not to let others define for us what or how we need to grieve or how long it should take to process.

Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn" (it's not a bad thing to mourn - it's a blessed thing) "for they shall be comforted".

I guess have to be careful to discern self pity from true mourning or grief - both in ourselves and others. It can be so easy to misdiagnose and apply the wrong remedy...

Belinda said...

Mmmm. Wow, thanks for connecting all of this with the Beatitudes. So much to ponder.

And I so agree with the "grief denied," thing. I think that at times we may need to resurrect something we never had permission to mourn at the time, and mourn it.

I am reminded of Psalm 126.6: "He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him."

Perhaps the seed is watered with our tears and produces fruit in our lives in spite of the enemy's original intent to destroy us.