Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Grief Feels Like: Redeeming Death, part 1

This weekend, I received a text from a beloved student reaching out to me. Her beloved passed away unexpectedly and she didn't know what to do. The next day she asked me if I'd ever wished that I had died with Dan.

I didn't.

Truthfully, I didn't wish for death because I was afraid of it. I have never wanted death - only life.
I started reading my journal from 2016, and in January/February 2016 - there it is. I state very plainly that I am afraid of death. At the point, even 6 months of living with Dan's cancer diagnosis, I was still even afraid of suffering.

And, honestly, I was afraid of love, too - because I was afraid of getting too close to God. I was afraid of letting him into my life more because I thought he might take what I love most.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear - because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Back in January/February 2016, God started to address my fear - first through my understanding...and now, through my heart. What I first understood using logic, my heart eventually has come to embrace as truth.

My journal excerpt from January 16, 2016:

On Sunday, Father Mark said, "When Jesus hit the waters for baptism, they became holy. So, then, when we are baptized, we can enter into this holiness, this transformation." When Jesus takes on a human experience, he transforms it. In this transformation, it becomes holy/sacred, and a path toward our sanctification/becoming holy.
 As I think of Jesus' suffering, I realize now that this act transformed the meaning and purpose of our suffering. Suffering is NOT punishment. For those sufferings of this life that we encounter (not as a consequence of sin), they can be a mode for our transformation. This suffering - it's a way that as we realize our smallness, our inability to save ourselves that we reach toward God - and find that he's been reaching toward us this whole time.
So, if Jesus made the waters holy when he entered them, then he made suffering holy when he endured them. No, suffering is a path for us to walk toward Jesus; it is not a sign of separation. It is a path for us to walk with Jesus, and a path we walk for him, as well - carrying the hope of his presence to those who may be enduring such pain without Him. 
And if Jesus made suffering holy, we need not fear it - for the worst that could come is death. And if Jesus entering into something sanctifies it, then through the cross, Jesus took away the reproach of death. Even death is holy because through it, we enter into Jesus' presence. All the Sacraments and suffering we endure here are designed for one thing: experiencing the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. 
Death is the final door through which we pass to experience His presence in its complete, perpetual fullness. 
So, let us ask ourselves this serious question: Am I encountering the presence of God more in my life - in my joys and sorrows, in practicing the Sacraments?  
This is what God wants for you.

In the first half of 2016, I began to encounter the presence of God more in the reception of and living out of the Sacraments. I practiced the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a more consistent basis as I began to embrace the truth that I am a sinner in need of saving - and my acceptance of my humanity and need for repentance, forgiveness and grace, led me to a closer walk with Jesus.

This was the beginning of reframing the purpose of suffering, and even, death for me. But, until Dan experienced death, this was still just "head knowledge." Most of us don't know what to do with death. We know it exists; we even know it will happen to us...but, we don't live like it. We can assent to the truth of the above statements, but until we experience it - it remains in our heads, our hearts awaiting full conversion.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

What Anniversaries Feel Like: More

Happy Feast of the Trinity!

The mystery of the Trinity: God existing in 3 distinct persons - Father, Son, Holy Spirit: each a manifestation of the essential identity of God: LOVE.

The priest today stated that this feast is the only feast that would have existed had the universe never been created, if man had never sinned - this feast alone would exist. It would exist because it is a celebration of God's eminent nature - not a celebration of action (miracle done for us); it is a celebration of existence. Wow. Since it is a celebration of God's existence, it is a celebration of the love - for God IS love.

Additionally, he explained that the beginning is divine love and the destination is divine love. Along the way, we are invited to experience, to share, to continue in, to progress toward divine love. This is the essence of our human existence. To know love, to be loved, to grow love, to be love. The challenge is to love like God does: loving the mere existence of the person and recognizing that they are good. [not for what they do, how they act, how they will elevate you, or who they can become: who they are in this very moment]

As I've been reflecting on this truth, I've come to this conclusion as well: if sin never entered the world, marriage is the only sacrament that would have existed. We would not have needed the sacraments of initiation (baptism, eucharist, confirmation) or reconciliation for we would always have perfect communion with God. We would not need the priesthood because we would have had full, direct communion with Jesus. I don't think we would have needed the sacrament of healing, for death had not entered the world. But marriage would have still existed...for it was in that Genesis account (prior to the fall) that God declared it was not good that man was alone, and so, a suitable helper was created.

All the Sacraments are expressions of Divine Love, but marriage is the most easily recognized as love. Today's feast of love happens to fall on a day of particular importance in my family: my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary.

On June 11, 1947, Joe and Ellen Kremer united their lives together in the sacrament of marriage. My grandpa passed away nearly 7 years ago. When I realized that today is 70 years, I started to cry.

Why? I asked myself. Rationally, we will say that they had a long and fulfilling marriage; 63 years together, 6 children, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren - there is so much to be thankful for. Indeed there is, and believe that I am quite thankful, but this is the truth that I realized with my own wedding anniversary two weeks ago: love will always want more.

My own experience arriving to this truth (and most likely, a continual progress toward living this and knowing it more and more) came on our anniversary, and I think, as both Dan's, and God's, gift to me.

Our 6th anniversary fell on Memorial Day. I determined that I wanted to spend it with Dan, so I went to the cemetery armed with journals, books, coffee and water - and a triangle donut (one of Dan's favorites, though not filled with maple cream so he would've been disappointed). It was a beautiful sunny day, and I sat on a blanket at Dan's graveside. The day reminded me of the afternoon we spent napping in the parking lot of a Catholic church (Christ the King) in Ann Arbor in the early days of diagnosis and tests.

In reading a year of our Marriage Encounter dialogues, and cards that I had written Dan last year, there is always an element in my writing of moving forward - of reaching higher - of accomplishing the work set out for us. Dan referenced it in some of his dialogues - it's as if I was willing him to get better.

and, I was. At least, I was trying. and, he was willing me to stay grounded; to be focused in this moment; to be right here, right now. I was willing him toward healing, and he was willing me toward hope. We were the embodiment of Winston Churchill's famous saying: "Never, never, never, never give up."

I think that's why this year has been so hard. Dan was everything to me - I gave all my effort to his care, well being, life...and I would gladly do it all again - and SOONER.

and I am convinced he would say the same. In his writing, there was always an element of wanting to be more for me; of not living up to his true potential or calling - of always feeling like he was falling short of the bar.

When I read our dialogues, I came to this realization: I just didn't get it! I knew that Dan loved me. I knew that he loved me very much. But, I didn't know how much Dan loved me, and I didn't REST in that love as a fact. There are times that I do, and you can tell because I write like it. In reading Dan's words, I realized that I needed to take more opportunities to build Dan up. He needed to hear words of encouragement and affirmation from me.

Recognizing this, I took some time to talk to Dan about it - and apologize for not realizing the depth, and not affirming more often how much I respected him. The day before our anniversary, I was sharing this insight/regret with my friend Andrea, and instantly, Bruno Mars' song, "When I Was Your Man" popped into my head.

"I shoulda brought you flowers,
shoulda held your hand,
sat around and talked for hours - when I had the chance,
taken you to every party - because I remember how much you love to dance,
those are the things I shoulda done, when I was your man."


Popping into my head with a song, again. This time, to let me know that it's okay; he had regrets, too. He would go back and do things differently - better - too.

Of course.

Of course, we both wished for more. More of everything.
Of course, he wishes he had shown more romantically.
Of course - because he loved me - and when you love someone, you always want more.

When you are in love, you can simultaneously be beyond thankful for all that you have, and want more. You want the love to never stop, to never end. THIS is our example of God's love: we always want more of love! THIS is the beauty of God's infinite self, and Trinitarian unity: we will always be filled, and there will always be room for more. We will not be bored in heaven. There will always be more to explore in love: the heights, the depths, the width, the breadth of love continues on into everlasting.

Love doesn't end.
Love multiplies.
Love grows.

Love fills.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What Marriage Looks Like: The Importance of a Name

May was a big month. A lot of growth...a lot of pain to get to the breakthrough. But, I am going to write the posts, they are important steps in the journey. For those who are grieving, for those who will, maybe seeing the process will help you. AND, maybe acknowledging them will help me, too. :)

This journal entry is from 5/19.

Today on Facebook memories: "we were enroute to Tucson." 2010. 

That weekend we flew to Arizona to look for a place to live (for his new job as the UA Livestock Judging Coach). We stayed with Barb and Steve (my aunt and uncle) and borrowed their Prius. (which Dan was a little self-conscious about; he didn't want his new co-workers to think he was hippie, you know. But, he soon came to realize that it's Tucson. a) who cares? and b) everybody's a hippie. at least a little bit. :) 

We drove all around Tucson - to Harrison, on Grant, Tanque Verde, River Road. We at lunch at Sauce on Campbell. We learned about the wonder that is Eegee's fries (but I don't think I ever had any - ever). [it's amazing to go back into that memory - these streets that you experienced for the first time that then became so familiar, second-nature...home]

We drove up to the Catalinas to explore (that's one of the four mountain ranges surrounding Tucson for those who haven't been there). Dan kept commenting on how "wild" everything was.

And it was.

And it made me laugh to hear him say it, "wild" - with such...wonder.

I'm sure it was on that trip that it started to hit me that he'd be leaving me in two months. This man who had become such a staple in my life was moving to this wilderness...without me. How could I live without his presence?

It was on this trip that we came up with our nicknames for each other:

My Shining Steed.    
My Wilderness Companion.

It was while driving along the saguaro-studded hills of the road into the Catalinas.
We didn't want cutesy nicknames - we wanted words, names, that held meaning of who we are to the other - names of strength, endurance, respect, and fidelity. None of that "cupcake" and "pumpkin" crap. :)  For the etymology of our names:

Shining Steed: 

Maybe it's weird that it's an animal and not a prince or a knight...but those terms (trust me, I considered them) felt false to me. Referring to Dan as a steed feels right - accurate:
A workhorse,
salt of the earth,
loyal, forever true, faithful - 
but still, wild - worthy of respect.

And Shining: 
because, to me, he is. My love. My light. My hope. Pure...purified by love, light, and the hope of us, wholly mine; shining: what we aspire to be.

Wilderness Companion:
willing to walk beside, no matter the path - 
finding light, strength, beauty, and hope in the journey together.

Everything that I aspire to be...everything that I want people to see in me, captured in one name. Even now - especially now - I draw strength in my name, bestowed in love, by love, for love.

We referred to each other by our names frequently. The picture is of the envelope from my 5th anniversary card. Till the very end. Always.