Living with Loss
THE WORD Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 Pastor Susan
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Charles Colson once wrote: “Watergate caused my world to crack around me and sent me to prison. I lost the mainstay of my existence -the awards, the six-figure income and lifestyle to match, a position of power at the right hand of the President of the United States. But only when I lost them did I find a far greater gain: knowing Christ.”
His life story reflects the premise of Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upwards, which I read on sabbatical and intend to read again when I retire. In his book Rohr describes the two halves of life. He writes: “The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way, or we will not move further.... normally a job, a fortune, a reputation has to be lost, a death has to be suffered, a house has to be flooded, or a disease has to be endured.”
It is through these losses we start to let go, peeling off layer upon layer of the superficial parts of our lives to get to the core of our being, where we meet our spirit and deepen our relationship to God. This can happen at any time in our lives, but the first half of life is necessary to reach the second, and if and when we do, our lives become simpler, deeper, richer, growing in wisdom and love.
Around Christmas last year Ann Ellen asked me if I would preach a sermon about loss. The premise of Rohr’s book fits in perfectly with this theme: the challenge of loss and letting go - how to release things, and how energy follows thought and can affect how we deal with the losses in our lives as we age.
So, in order to unpack some wisdom on this subject, I went to some of you who have gone through losses in your lives, presenting you with the following questions: What are the losses you’ve experienced? How have you dealt with them? How has it changed you and your life? What have you learned from it? What role has your faith played when you’ve gone through loses?
You had much to share and teach us. I’ve asked Carol and Robert to help me share your wisdom with us this morning. I hope you learn as much as I did.
Losses begin at a young age, when you start losing those baby teeth. But, as with all losses, they make room for something new to emerge. They come in all shapes and sizes, throughout a lifetime, as you will hear. What are some of those losses?
communities and neighborhoods
My father died when he was 48 of a heart attack. I was 14 going on 15, between junior high and high school. It hit me in a hard way. I wish I had had more talks with him. I wish we had been closer. After he died it affected my health. I had a lot of trouble adjusting to school and I dropped back a year. My mother’s death was, I hate to say, a blessing. I was no longer able to take care of her. She was in a nursing home the last few years and didn’t know where she was.
I miss my car, even though it wasn’t that great a car. I miss the freedom it gave me, but riding around with friends I now get to rubberneck. Riding down streets I know in Boston, I now see more around me than I did when I drove. Then I was busy watching out for pedestrians.
When we lost our 23-year old son, Jason, when he was hit by a taxi while riding his bike with a friend after work near Porter Square in Somerville, we leaned on our friends and our church community for many months and sought help from our pastor.
It was a hole in our hearts for about 15 years. We addressed the loss by setting up a trust fund for culinary arts students at Newton North. We keep Jason’s memory alive with ourselves and adult children and grandchildren with “Uncle Jason stories”. Essentially, Jason is part of our family history and legends and memories for the time he was alive.
After I lost my spouse, I had to get on with what needed to be done: accepting help, thanking and treasuring those who sent notes or flowers or came by. I became extremely busy, but needed to give myself time to remember and be sad and to cry. I read about grief.
I now have to rethink and remake, in a sense, my life — after dealing with the death-related issues, including grief, regaining my health, attending to legal, financial and general living issues — what shall be my focus? Who am I now? Who am I as a widow, as to opposed to who I was as a wife?
I have learned just how extraordinarily important and healing is that wave of love that comes over one in grief. Yes, my belief and dependence on the power of love was strengthened.
When I lost my mother I couldn’t celebrate Christmas for 10 years. I went through the motions but not in the same way. She was Christmas to me. We had a Christmas tree with real candles. She had a tonic bottle nearby if needed. My father was a fire chief. We would invite carolers in to watch her light the candles. They would sit around and we all sang Silent Night. Then we blew them out. That affected me for a long time.
Having to live in a nursing home and not coming to church is the hardest. I just sort of take things in steps, depend on others to help me. My faith allows me to pray for others. I try to read the bible all the time. I try to start early in the morning. I’m very lucky to be in such a good nursing home, but I’ve learned to turn what seems to be a bad situation into a good situation, at lease an acceptable one. My faith has helped me through all of this. When I first get up I say a prayer for my brothers and sisters. It helps me believe in a loving Jesus.
The only people losses are my parents and that was really hard. At first I thought of myself as an orphan. Although I was really sad, I would think back to all that they gave me. When I get together with my brother we reminisce about the way we use to spend Christmas. My faith was really important because my mother was a person of faith. She really believed that Jesus really watched over us and I thought the same way. I’ve always felt that and it gives me great comfort.
My big loss was when I separated from my now x-husband. I was sad that my daughter couldn’t have a father, giving her brothers and sisters. When I got married I was happy because I was anticipating having a family, but I stopped loving him when he treated me badly. Leaving him was the best decision. My faith kept me going while taking care of my daughter.
Then in El Salvador I lost my job. The company closed. I came to this country. I always prayed, and someone in my life came to help me. My faith is about if you pray and are confident that God will help you. You just wait. It’s on His time. You have to be confident that if you lost something, God will fill you with something better. You have to have faith that something is coming, but you can’t just sit and wait for a miracle - not something magic. You need to open your heart. You have to work at it. At the same time, you have to give love. If I give love I will receive love and God will work with me. I try to turn my worries over to God, or I go crazy. I talk to God, “I know you will be with me.” Then I’m not so desperate.
A lot of times we feel miserable with our situation - my back hurts, my knee hurts, pain is hard. But my faith makes me appreciate little things that I have. Thank you for a new day - for being alive.
When I first moved to Boston, I had recently exited a long-term romantic relationship. Our break-up took me by surprise. I was absolutely devastated—I had given all my love to this one person. The grieving process for me was acute, and I did my best to give myself grace to feel all the feelings, even if that meant letting myself cry and rage and negotiate with God.
It has been four years now since our break-up, and I have moved on in life just fine. But I do find myself still sitting with a grief that has not fully healed. My grief has centered on the question of love.
My biggest take-away—probably one of my greatest life lessons— is that feelings of love are not always the same thing as actually loving someone. Love is not just the feeling of swooning or attraction, but a decided path of devotion to another person, which involves patience, compassion, and allowing the other person to be who they are rather than who you need them to be. I’m in a new relationship now, and I choose to love my partner in a different way. I don’t always know if I’m doing it right, but I pray that God helps me be the best and most loving person I can be for him.
I belonged to a church for over a dozen years. It was like my extended family. I made life-long friends there. It had brought me back to my Christian roots and spirituality after an absence. And then one day, after a lot of conflict, the church split and half of us left. It felt like a bad divorce. I was devastated. I remember it affecting me physically and emotionally. I felt as if I had lost one of the most important parts of my life. The Sunday after the mass exodus, over a dozen of us met in someone’s living room and created our own service, giving us time to grieve and support one another. Then I searched for another church, and after many tries found one - my faith intact.
My worse loss was my son Alexander. When the police told me he had passed I just started screaming. Ten years later and it still affects me in the same way. I miss him. He was like nobody else. We had a special service at the church. His band played. He was a drummer. They played Beatles songs and we all sang. I felt as if I was trying to hold on to him, and to Walter after he died.
When Walter died everybody helped me: friends at Eliot, musical friends.
They came by to visit and brought muffins and vegetable casseroles.
I miss my neighbor Randi across the street who died of cancer. She was a nurse and if anything was wrong, she was over. Took me to doctor’s appointments and waited with me. She was always there.
When I go to bed each night, and it’s dark in the room, I put my hand out to feel where the bed is, and I go to the corner - that’s Randi’s corner and I say good night to her and tell her she was the best neighbor we ever had. Then I go to the next corner and that’s Alexander’s corner and I tell him he had the loudest voice I ever heard, and I tell him I’m so sorry it didn’t work out with the women he loved. Then I go to the side of the bed where Water used to sleep and I tell him “you had such a good head, such a good brain.”
I do that every night. Then I turn off the light and go to the window and wish my neighbors well as they sleep, especially the man down the street who just lost his wife.
Susan: We all deal with loss in different ways. Here are a few suggestions:
R: Seek out spiritual communities, churches, 12-step meetings
S: Talk to my pastor
C: Seek mental health support
R: Keep in touch with friends
S: Talk with family members
C: Pray a lot
R: Cry (Tears are liquid prayers.)
S: Read books that lift the spirit
C: When feeling lonely in a new place, I remind myself that this is the natural order of things. In time, friendships will blossom and loneliness will dissipate.
R: Take walks in nature.
S: Do music. Listen, sing, play instruments, dance. If tears come, let them flow.
C: Eat well and get enough sleep.
R: Read something KIND before bed and upon awakening. Makes for fewer bad dreams and a better start to the day.
S: Show up for life.
C: Try new things, and allow for mistakes.
R: Contribute to others in meaningful, but simple ways. Send a card, lend a hand, share food, ask a question, give a hug, say a prayer.
My faith is crucial in times of loss. God is a witness, God is a listener, God is a comforter when I am in anguish. God sometimes speaks through other people. I can hear God if I listen. I can see God if I look.
Thank you all for your honest sharing and your pearls of wisdom.