Monday, February 29, 2016

This isn't easy, ya know....

Seriously. I thought this would be easier than it is. 

When a loved one passes, words cannot adequately express the sense of loss someone may feel. My dad passed away 12 years ago, and even though I was at peace with his passing, and made it through the days and weeks that followed his death with relative ease, I'm finding that I do not have that capacity now. Of course, when he passed, my kids were toddlers and I was so involved with them that, perhaps, I didn't have time to grieve. Over the years I have missed my dad, but not to the point that I have felt down or that part of me had been wrenched from me.

But with my mom's passing, it's very, very different. And yet, I thought I had prepared for this. I'm feeling a very profound sense of loss. Yet, in these last years, I actually felt distanced from her. With dad, he had suffered a stroke, but even with that, he still KNEW me, still knew who his grandkids were. And in a limited way, you could still interact with him.

With mom, it was different. She was taken gradually. Ten years ago it was "oh, I don't remember that, honey", but she knew who I was. Just a few years later, on a visit to the emergency room in November of 2013, she had no clue who I was. Dad retained his dadness. Mom was taken from me slowly, bit by bit. She ceased being "mom" to me, and became the shell of that once loving and often overprotective person. 

I knew that eventually, she'd be gone. And I thought I'd be ready for it. But this past week has proved me wrong.

Of course, it doesn't help that my birthday was yesterday, and it was a day of sadness and a sense of loss, rather than a day of celebration. I've had so many comments from Facebook friends on my mom. And then yesterday, on my birthday, one of my close friends commented that even though this is a shit time for me, look how the community of friends is there for me. And my church family was very loving and caring, expressing their sorrow at my loss. It was genuine. It was warm. But I still felt loss.

And, to be honest, this sense of loss from my mom's passing is compounded by the sense of loss in my marriage ending. Usually, when an adult child loses a parent, a spouse is there to offer support, and even help ease the load. That is not happening for me. I feel the desire to shut down, to run away. But I can't. Even though the kids are teenagers now, they still need me to an extent. And they were not close enough to my mom to feel the same sense of loss that I do.  And I cannot expect them to. Children grieve differently than adults. But moreover, I have no one - no shoulder - to cry on, to lean on. I'm feeling overwhelmed because I'm doing it by myself. I feel utterly alone. I feel the desire to have someone's arms around me in a gentle, loving embrace. But that is being denied me. And it hurts not to have that sense of relief, to not have that assurance that there will be hand to take mine in hers, that there will not be a voice to soothe me, or simply to hold me when I feel lost and alone. 

So, yes, this is MUCH more difficult than I thought it would be.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Been a tough week

As many of you know, my mom passed away this last Tuesday morning. My Facebook page has been flooded with condolence notices. Tuesday was a busy day, with having to finish up some of the arrangements my brother had already made at the funeral home, then to the church to start planning mom's Celebration of Life service, then lunch with my brother and my niece (who was very close to mom), then an appointment in the afternoon that I didn't wish to postpone, then the kids and I had our usual Tuesday dinner followed by their choir rehearsal. On Wednesday, as I got on the freeway, I realized I could not go into work and turned around and went home. I spent the day writing drafts of my mom's biography, writing her obituary, scanning pages out of the hymnal that she used to sing to me from, and finally, just writing about how I was feeling.

But never, in these last few days, have I allowed music to be part of this grieving process. 

Music, to me, is not just something I enjoy: it is part OF me. And mostly because of my mother. After all, it was her love of sacred choral music that started me on the path that I continue to be on. If it hadn't been for her influence (which was never intentional on her part), I would not have sung in the Pacific Chorale. I would not be on the Board of Directors for Choral Arts Initiative. I would not have even met and married my wife. 

So, why have I not allowed myself to bring music into my grieving process?

I don't know. But, this morning, I decided to listen to the lush and haunting "Lux Aeterna", composed by Morten Lauridsen and sung so beautifully by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under the inspired direction of the late Paul Salamunovich. Lauridsen himself composed this in response to his own mother's passing.

As soon as the music started this morning, I began to feel the need to weep. 

You see, for me, it's not just that music is a part of me. I have, over the years, found specific pieces of music to resonate with what I may be feeling or thinking of at the time. And as those notes began to play, as the wonderful LAMC began to sing their opening statement, Lauridsen's music resonated with me as well. It reached into that area that I had been closing off, and gently pulled it out. 

Tomorrow is my birthday, and while I don't feel too much like celebrating, I also feel that I need to continue, yet not disregard or diminish my need to mourn. I am not, by nature, a mourner. But it is through music that my soul often finds the wordless expression of what I am feeling at that moment.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Just 'cause it's old, you don't toss it...

It's old. It's torn at the edges. The gold foil lettering on the cover and spine are faded. The Scotch tape used to keep the wrapping on the spine in place is ripped. It's well used, the pages of thin paper are fragile, and have yellowed over time.

And at this moment, it's my most treasured possession. 

This hymnbook, published in 1939, has my grandmother's signature in the front. It had originally belonged to her. But it was from this hymnbook that my mother sang to me the hymns of not only the faith, but of HER faith. 

As a child, my mother would sing from this hymnbook to me every night. Whereas some parents pray with their children, or read them a bedtime story, or tuck them in and kiss them on the cheek, my mother sang to me. I needed no bedtime story, because the hymns themselves told The Story, and it was her way of conveying that Story to me.  Now, it sits on a shelf, part of the decor of the house, amidst books and even other things that my mom passed along to me and my wife as we began our own home.

If I ever find myself giving things away that belonged to my mom, this is one thing I will never give away. And even if I did, it would go to my niece, Sarah, who had a special bond with my mom - her grandmother. For it was from this hymnbook that she sang to Sarah as well. Maybe it wasn't directly out of this hymnbook, but it was from the hymns my mom knew so well and so deep in her soul that she had sung FROM this very hymnbook. She is now singing elsewhere, and those hymns of HER faith are being revealed in all the Glory that is God.

Soli deo Gloria.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

BE the Gospel

I had one of my "sermon drifts" this morning. I do enjoy and get something out of our pastor's sermons, but today, my mind fell on something else. 

As a youth in the 70's and early 80's, and involved in a large church, there seemed to always be this admonition to "share the Gospel". You must realize that those years were the time when it was every Christian's duty to go out and witness about our faith, and ask the question "have you received Jesus Christ as your personal savior?" I was immersed in this culture. The music echoed the times, and encouraged a life of sharing the Gospel. I even had a few friends comment to me that unless I was witnessing, praying daily and reading the Bible daily, I was not a "good" Christian. 

I did try to "share" the Gospel, but found myself totally incapable of being a good witness, and felt therefore that my faith was "less" than the others who could witness like crazy and "convert" souls to Christ. Eventually, I moved away from this place both literally and spiritually, and eventually came into a state of churchlessnes, where I didn't care about attending a church or being a part of something that demanded I perform, or I was not up to a preconceived set of standards.

It really has been only these last few years that I have realized that as much as we are called to "go forth and make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19), that what we are REALLY called to do is BE the Gospel. 

The Gospel Defined

What IS the Gospel, then. Some may say simply that it's the writings of several individuals documenting the words and deeds of Jesus. Some may say it's the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies about a Messiah for the People of God. Some even see it (erroneously so I believe) as subservient to the Pauline Epistles, which get more into the nitty-gritty of living as a Christian.

To me, the Gospel is all of those, but more. It is a revelation of a man who said that HE was God, and who lived a life of transiency, ministering to the poor, the destitute, the prostitutes and many others that our society today would shun, just as they were in 1st century Palestine. Jesus only gives the Great Commission once, but he frequently instructs his followers to care for the poor. Even after he had ascended to heaven, his followers sold all their possessions and divided the income to disperse to the poor. The Gospel is not an account of the things Jesus SAID, but of the things He said and DID. 

The Gospel is a call to action.

Every Sunday we close our services with our pastor saying "Go in Peace. Remember the Poor", and we respond "Thanks Be to God!"  The Gospel is not just about saving ourselves, even to the extent that Jesus himself stated "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25)  As Christians, we are called to BE the Gospel - to be the hands of God in this world. To minister to those who need it. Not to go out and try to "win them to the team", but to BE the team members that reach out and touch lives.

Soli Deo Gloria