Sunday, April 12, 2009

Where O Death is Now Thy Sting?

I'll start by saying this is not a post about the glory of the resurrection. Therefore, if you are not interested in my honest reflections on Easter Sunday, you may excuse yourself now.

Easter Sunday started out emotional for me. I was sitting here preparing the pork tenderloin for our Easter lunch. Tim was holding me as I was stuffing garlic into little slats of the meat as tears came pouring down my face. It continued as I went upstairs to iron our table cloth and as I headed toward the shower, but I pulled it together. I was excited to go to church. Ready to embrace our church family and celebrate with them.

We sat with two couples and their three little girls who I adore. They were so eager to show off their beautiful Easter dresses and I told them I would take a picture of them all together later (sadly, this isn't going to happen.)

As the gathering space filled, we stood and sang those age old words. "Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia." Tim and I love this song. I even asked him before it started, "Are you ready for it?" I was loving it, getting well into my Al - le -lu - ia!!

And then I saw this line, "Where, O death, is now thy sting?" Tears once again coated my face. That's it? Death is no longer painful? I stopped singing. Quite honestly I stopped functioning. I sat through the New Testament reading, the Gospel reading, and then beelined for the door. When I get to that point of uncontrollable tears, there is really no point in me being there anymore, because I can't hold it together.

I made my way outside to a courtyard, found a bench, and continued to pour my heart into my tissues. I have to be honest, I wasn't entirely interested in celebrating the resurrection this year, because the resurrection doesn't bring Cara back to me now.

I was still on the bench 20 minutes later when Tim found me. I told him my reflections from above. And his response was that the disciples probably felt that way too. They were probably bewildered and unable to understand death and then resurrection. It prompted me to think that they still had to say good-bye to him physically.

I'm just imagining if one of my dearest friends died and then rose from the dead, then I had a small sum of days and I had say good-bye again. I'm sorry, but that would be devastating for me on so many levels. To have lost and grieved, to have found again, and spent time affirming our love, and then to once again say good-bye. I know I'm trying to put in my earthly understanding the experience of the disciples with the divine, but frankly the disciples were just people also.

Last year I clung to the resurrection. Having just buried Cara the day before, it was the only possible response. Church was actually a place of solace from the tears. I was comforted. This year could not have been further from that experience. The "Happy Easter" when said to me felt foreign. I could echo the words back but not with the same gusto.

So perhaps I will spend the next several days focusing on the disciples and trying to understand their reactions, their confusion, and their grief.

Easter without Cara

I resigned to myself today that this is never going to get easier. I should have known this. I've heard other parents at Compassionate Friends share how the second year is harder than the first. But for whatever reason, it was just in my head that the second year would be easier. I guess society feeds us this lie. That "one year" is a magical date that erases all grief. This could be no further from the truth. Sure, the raw grief of a life without your child subsides after a year. But the reality of a life without your child is a constant grief, one that never goes away. And why should it? Grief is an expression of love, and Cynthia and I will always love Cara so our grief will never go away.

At different points throughout the day today, Cynthia and I both found ourselves angry that Cara's gone. Angry at the circumstances. Angry that her death still doesn't make any sense. Angry that we can't experience getting ready for Easter as a family this year.

We spent some time at the grave this afternoon, reflecting on Holy Saturday. Last year, on Holy Saturday we were saying our final goodbyes to Cara with family and friends at her funeral.

From Pastor G's Homily at Cara's funeral...

Two words keep reverberating through the events of this week. Two emotions, two feelings, two states of being that are polar opposites in the experiences of life, and yet have been crammed together in our guts since Monday. Two words, two feelings, two states of being. Empty and full. Empty and full. These two oxy-moronic emotions have come clashing together this week, and in wake of the wreckage that their coming together brings, everything seems misplaced. Places, emotions, things that are supposed to be full are left simply empty. Emotions, and actions, and corners of our hearts that are supposed to be empty and carefree this week are now full and heavy. Since Monday, when our worlds started spinning and everything began to come undone, the earth shook beneath our feet and the two feelings switched places. The empty places became full, and the full places became empty...

And here we stand today, on Holy Saturday. Our earth shaken, the empty places full and the full places empty. Here we are, next to a grave, with Cara, our child, and Jesus, God’s child, filling spaces that they were not supposed to fill.

A year later, we sat there trying to make some sense of it all. Trying to get our heads around the fact that Cara's body is resting in this grave, but that her spirit is fully alive in the Resurrection.

Cynthia and I talked about how sometimes it's hard to feel like Cara's spirit is alive. I told Cynthia that I think that's OK and that it might be hard to sense that all the time. Moments like that are special and intended to be treasured. I wish they could happen all the time, but I don't think this broken world lends itself to that. But, I can say that over this past year we have had certain "divine moments" which are indescribable gifts. We've also felt that Cara was close to us when working in her memorial garden, lighting a candle for her at the dinner table, or hearing someone tell us how much Cara has meant to them.

Cara's spirit is alive. She is fully alive, dwelling in a place of perfect wholeness and peace. I believe this with all my heart. I believe that Cara is alive and in communion with the risen Christ and all the saints...

From Pastor G's Homily at Cara's funeral...

And yet, the week does not end here. Good Friday, or last Monday, is not the final earthquake. The collision between fullness and emptiness does not end in the grave. Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, the earth shook again. The grave was emptied and the dead One was filled with life. Jesus, resurrected, filled to the brim with life, met his disciples and filled them with joy, hope, peace and faith. He met them, this risen one, and in so doing, emptied them of their grief and filled them with an eternal hope that is so strong that even the grave cannot hold it. There is no place, now, not even the depths of the grave, that we can go that God’s presence is not there, filling us with the promise of life.

God refuses to be separated from God’s children, by life or death or anything in between. Since that first Holy Saturday, God has been combing the graves, gathering God’s beloved into God’s very self. And so, on Monday, when Cara’s heart stopped beating, God’s heart was the first one to begin breaking. As soon as Cara slipped away from us, God slipped near to Cara; near enough to catch her, hold her. God refuses to be separated from Cara, or from us, grave and death be damned. So God sent his beloved child, Jesus, to go ahead of Cara, our beloved child, so that where Jesus is, there Cara might be also.

It is into the hands of this One, Jesus Christ, that we commend our beloved Cara. Shaken, emptied, filled, we cry out to God. And as we do, God, divinely shaken, emptied, filled cries out to us. And in that earth shaking, death shaking cry of God, there lies a promise. A promise that neither death nor life, height nor depth, nor anything in this world will ever separate us from his love for us, his beloved children.

We now await that final shaking of the earth, when we, along with Cara and all the saints who have gone on before us will find ourselves emptied of grief and death and filled with joy, peace and life.

Come, Lord Jesus, shake our grief and fill us with your love. Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thin Places & Holy Saturday

The concept of thin places takes root in the ancient tradition of faith. It is the place where heaven and earth draw so near it is as if they are almost one. It is the place where we catch glimpses of the divine in the midst of the broken world.

I'm currently reading a book by a daughter who lost both of her parents in the span of a few months. She writes about the places that were thin in those times. Admittedly I'm not as far as I would like to be in the book to actually be writing about it here, but I can look back over the past year and recognize those thin places in my life.

When your child dies in the midst of Holy Week, it is only natural to find divine moments, at least it was for me. Cara was delivered on Tuesday and buried on Holy Saturday. Tim and I are headed to her grave here shortly to remember the significance of the day that we forever said good-bye to our little girl.

As I sat reflecting on Holy Saturday reading a book called Iona Dawn, today's reflection reached out to me.

Today is a day of death.
Today we are given permission to mourn, to cry, to wonder.
Today we are encouraged to be still.
To let God us in the silence.

So let's do it.
Let's take time out
from anticipating the resurrection,
to be with Jesus,
wherever he is.

The suggestion for prayer included:
Spend time today in a cemetery or graveyard. Tend to the grave of a family member, a friend, or a stranger. Give yourself time and permission to grieve: for someone you love, for lost opportunities, for unfulfilled dreams.

Our plans already included the above. It's just nice to have those feelings affirmed.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

As Cynthia said to me this morning, "Palm Sunday is tough." Cynthia and I enter Holy Week with mixed emotions.  

Last year, Palm Sunday was very different for us. We processed into our church walking together as Cynthia carried Cara in her womb. I sat in the choir dreaming about how next year I'd get to sing the spiritual, "Ride on Jesus, Ride" to Cara. We dreamed of Cara waving palm branches and joining in the procession next year.

Even though we think that Cara was likely already gone on Palm Sunday last year, in many ways it was our last "innocent day" with Cara (I'm not sure if those kinds of days can ever exist anymore). Palm Sunday, and Holy Week for that matter, was marked with a sense of expectation and hope that Easter Sunday would surely bring. Then, Monday of Holy Week came and our world got flipped upside down. Instead of a week full of hopeful expectation, Holy Week was marked by painful, empty grief. Suddenly, Cynthia and I could relate to the pain and grief of Christ's journey towards the cross in ways I never would have imagined.

So we enter Holy Week with a deeper understanding of the emptiness of death and the promise of new life. We will join together with all those around the world that celebrate Holy Week shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" And, we'll also journey together with Christ as he embarks on a Messianic journey that goes through the darkest valley of death to bring us Resurrection.

From Iona Dawn...
In the events which will be unfolded in the coming week, the world and the disciples of Jesus alike will finally have revealed to them the answer to the crucial question of 'who he is'. This is no simple festal procession. The air is heavy with irony, contradiction, questioning.

Mark's gospel frequently summons disciples to attention. We are bid 'look, listen and see.' The Palm Sunday 'play' of profound seriousness calls us to a yet deeper level on attentiveness. In the imminent journey to and through Good Friday we will finally learn 'who he is,' and our understanding of God and ourselves will never be the same again.