Life is Hard: On the Sting of Loss and the Gift of Resurrection

RECENTLY, I’VE GONE through a breakup. It was a rather amicable parting of ways. Yet, with any breakup, however amicable, there underlies a sadness in the act of splitting with someone you’ve spent a chunk of time beside. This is because of the evaporation of the shared intimacy. Where once you turned to that person to share with them anything of significance and most anything of insignificance, no longer can you. This, of course, takes some getting used to.     

This recent breakup has caused me to reevaluate my smartphone time, chiefly the time I spend scrolling through social media. Because of a fear of seeing something that could hurt me, I practice avoidance. This means my social media viewing, at least that which doesn’t involve actual news is sparse. I log on to that blue icon with a white “f”, ensure I don’t have any red notifications, and I try and quickly log off. It’s a similar practice with Instagram. Snapchat. Don’t get me started on Snapchat.

Twitter is not much of a problem. Actual news (of the breaking at 10pm, good-looking, foundation-applying anchors with well-gelled hair and precise enunciation) is okay. It’s the personal stuff that causes anxiety when you’re feeling less than adequate as a human being. Therefore, avoidance may not be the best practice, but it’s my practice.

For all deserved criticism, for which I too have vocalized, Facebook does do a pretty impressive job of curating personal news. It (or it’s often rightly disparaged algorithm) has a remarkable ability to understand what is most important. Therefore, at the top of the news feed often stands content that I care very deeply about. Usually it’s photos of my godchildren or important updates from close friends and family. It’s these updates I sneak a glance at before logging off.  It’s in these updates, of course, where we all often share those moments that bring us great joy as well as the moments that break us.

LAST WEEKEND A friend and his wife canceled dinner with me. The reason: my friend’s mother had suddenly passed away. I learned this news from a text message he sent me to announce their withdrawal from our dinner plans while apologizing for canceling because of the perfectly legitimate reason that his mother had just died.

I saw the message and read it dumbstruck. Then the memories came flooding back: the sterile hospital room, the florescent lights, the white sheets, mom’s gaunt face, a kiss on the forehead, time of death, a composed doctor, my stepfather’s sunken eyes, my uncle’s broken-hearted hug, arrangements, flowers, eulogy, condolences, a gray suit and a black tie. The memories came not like a movie reel found buried inside a dusty box in the corner of a dank attic, but like a DVD hidden from view but never far out of reach.

I started composing a reply to my friend, one that, due to the situation, would wholly be inadequate. I found myself typing those words: Do you need anything? Those words, seriously: Do you need anything? Can I help? What can I do? They were words I absolutely hated. No, there is nothing you can do. She’s f—king gone.

That was a surprisingly hard part of dealing with my mother’s sudden passing. How do you inform the world, your close friends and casual acquaintances of your news? Of course, today, you use social media. But how do you do it tactfully? It looks like your family had a nice trip to Mexico. BTW, my mother just died.

How do you notify your network without making it seems like you’re just trying to garner sympathy, to hear those words: Do you need anything? What can I do? No. For the love of God, not those words. Anything but that.

It’s amazing when you consider how Facebook, in little more than a decade, has changed every aspect of how we interact. That is certainly true of how we interact with grief.

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 10.19.37 PM

I AM FACEBOOK friends with a former colleague named Brian Scott. Brian was a well-regarded radio personality in Casper, Wyoming where I once worked as a television sports anchor. Brian was one of those larger than life guys, the type you elbow people out of the way to be near. He was killed in a motorcycle accident a few years ago. His Facebook account is still active, and every now and then someone will write a post to this account, or in absentia, him. These posts include messages such as:

She’s outgrown this onesie now, but it’s still tucked away somewhere safe. One day I’m going to get to tell her about the man who bought it for her, and she will have a sweet memento of you too. Missing you always. Wish you could send a bear hug from heaven. Love you

Hey there… watch over Kevin & Erin extra hard today ok? 

The New Year Is Here, The world still turns. The hustle and bustle of day-to-day continues. We go on with our lives as best we can. It’s been that way since the beginning of humanity, suppose it will conclude that way ( some day ). But the universe is lopsided without you here to hold our hand. Literally or figuratively over the airwaves. You Touched So Many SO DEEPLY. You’re in a better place. Thank You for making this a better place to wait until we can meet you there. Your Friend Forever.

I DON’T THINK we can talk about grief today, on this day in June in the year of our lord 2018 without mentioning Anthony Bourdain and, for that matter, Kate Spade. There deaths were sudden and shocking and should remind us of the frailty of this existence.

Suicide is a selfish act. If it is not, then it is the belief that no one will care that you are gone, no one will grieve your loss. Suicide is the act of saying my pain now is greater than the grief you will feel later. Therefore, it is an inherently selfish act.

Yet suicide is also an act of mercy. Each and every one of us live inside a prison that we cannot escape. For some, this prison is ornate, a luxurious palace. For others, it is suffocating. It is a cell we in part build and decorate and in part the world and our experience decorate for us. In any case, we reside in this cell alone. We may allow visitors to gaze past curtains and through a small window into this cell. However, it is alone our dwelling. For most, this incarceration is a tolerable experience. For some, it is not.

Suicide stands somewhere in the chasm between selfishness and mercy. Yet, make no mistake, in no case ever, has someone left this world without leaving someone behind in grief.

When you leave this world, in whichever way you leave it, you take with you a small piece of every person you’ve ever touched. You also take with you the unfinished manuscript: the memories not made, the laughs not expelled, the kisses not delivered, and the tears not cried. For every person there exists one more breath that could have been taken, one more bond foraged, another amends asked for.

This is especially true of those who have voluntarily chosen to end their own journeys. We are left to grieve and wonder, in a very acute way, what could have been.

Dunk
Courtesy: Mitchell Alcala / NORTH.CHURCH

RECENTLY, IN A BLACK water trough inside a junior high gymnasium in the heart of middle America, I was reborn. My pastor and friend, a hulking and effervescent African-American man named Heady pushed me down into a tub of water and picked me back up to the delight of the audience surrounding me. I was saved (at least in the Christian sense of the word).

This act of baptism is incredibly significant in the Christian faith. It is a public display of a commitment to Jesus Christ. It is also a symbol of a new life. You are born again, and your past life is forgotten.

The story of Jesus in itself is one of resurrection, of rising. He rose from the ashes to become something greater. Whether you find the story of Jesus to be gospel or hooey, one cannot deny its power. Many have died in defense of that story and many have lived their lives devoted to the same.

Jesus’s story is, among other things, a symbol of our ability to overcome. It is a reminder that no matter our condition or position, we can rise anew and find wholeness. There is always a way forward.

mom

ONE HAS TO look no further to understand the power of redemption than my own mother’s story. My mother was an alcoholic. When I was very young, she was offered an ultimatum: quit drinking or lose your children.

For those who don’t understand the pull alcohol has on an alcoholic, it’s probably difficult to imagine this even being a choice. But when you’re an alcoholic, alcohol is more than a beverage; it is a friend that is there to celebrate with you and comfort you, through good times and bad. For an alcoholic, removing alcohol from life is terrifying. It is a constant companion, a member of the family, an intimate acquaintance, a very seductive spouse.

Mom, through sheer strength and courage, sobered up. She dived in Alcoholics Anonymous with passion, worked the steps, and found a new life free from the prison that alcohol had built around her.

Even more, she became a sponsor and addiction counselor. God only knows the amount of people she helped, the number of families she put back together, the number of children that were reunited with their own mother or father because of her work. For over the last 25 years of her life, she was sober. It’s difficult to vocalize the pride I have in this fact.

Mom always had an AA “cliché” loaded and ready. One of her favorites was “this too shall pass.” Through my heartbreaks, bone-headed decisions, and personal struggles, she was always ready with that sage advice: “this too shall pass.”

Late in her life, she worked part time as a server at the Edina Country Club in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis. After she died suddenly a few years ago, we held her wake there. In a display of how much they loved her, her former co-workers donated their time to our family. In a gesture that, to this day, the mere thought of still fills my eyes up with tears, I walked into a frigid Minnesota afternoon to the see the flag outside the country club at half-mast. They had lowered it for her.  IMG_0062

ONE OF THE UNIQUE consequences of social media is our everlasting connections. I have Facebook friends who I went to high school with and can barely remember meeting. Yet with nothing more than a few finger swipes, I can recall the names of their children, where they recently vacationed, and their current occupation.

These everlasting connections become more complicated when you consider your most intimate connections: your past relationships, lovers. When you are with someone for a significant period of time you become interwoven into their network. Their friends become your friends and vice versa. These physical friendships become virtual friendships on social media. This added complexity becomes incredibly stark after a break-up.

The spider web of social networks can make distancing yourself from a former partner incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

Thus, social media becomes, please excuse the hyperbole, a metaphorical minefield littered with opportunities to visually witness the act of a former lover moving on.

Yet, these everlasting connections also provide an interesting contrast: evidence of time’s wound-healing powers.

There are ex-lovers who have become friends (on Facebook and in real life). I now watch these women travel to exotic places with new partners, buy homes with their new beaus, and, marry and have children. These are events that viewing on social media might have, at one point, wrecked me. Now I smile. I delight in witnessing these moments of joy for people I once cared for, and, in some ways, still do. It is cliché’, but time truly does heal all wounds. Social media provides me evidence of this fact.

As I spend time contemplating and overcoming a fresh breakup, I am reminded that in the future there will be joy. I will look back fondly at the memories and be grateful. I will relish seeing her grow, of moving on, and finding new happiness with someone who is not me.

I too am offered an opportunity to dance with another, to gaze deeply into different eyes, to catch my breath at a new smile, to turn a corner and say “hello” to a different person, one who may change my life in unexpected and fulfilling ways.

One must never forget that the moments we get to spend with a beating heart, lungs filled with air, and a curious mind, are precious. They too provide us, with every breath, every heartbeat, and every firing synapsis, an opportunity to find love, to find peace, to find joy, and to find reconciliation with ourselves and with another.

A THING THAT I’m most proud of during my brief career as a working journalist was a story I produced in Casper, Wyoming for the television station in which I was employed. This story chronicled the journey of a young woman named Melissa Berg who was diagnosed with a debilitating disorder and was forced to undergo two liver transplants; this process nearly killed her. Her family and the city of Casper fought for her in ways that are tear-inducing. You can see how by watching the story above.

She, obviously, became a different person because of her journey, a more reflective person.

I want to leave this post with a fitting quote from her, one that I’ve always cherished.

I find it amazing that even though, through the winter we cannot see the flowers, we know every spring they will be there.

– Melissa Berg

If you need help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also provides contact information for crisis centers around the world.

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