Tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of my mother (it is also the second anniversary – to the day – of the death of Marsha’s father). Mom had a severe heart attack three years ago in July, spent almost a month in ICU, and then recovered enough to have two “bonus years” of life – including seeing a great-grandson born, attending my younger sister’s wedding, attending my daughter’s wedding, and knowing that another great-grandchild was on the way. During her two bonus years, we all had plenty of time to express to her our love and to hear from her those words of encouragement and wisdom that we have valued since her passing.
I have found that this past year has been a year of grief for me. And the grief continues. It catches me at expected moments, like when I am doing a funeral for one of our pastors – and sadly there have been several of those this past year. It also catches me at unexpected moments, sometimes in the midst of a sermon or listening to a hymn or praise song. Most recently the Cabinet has changed their devotional song for their meetings to “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place.” That song was very special for my mother, and every time we sing it as a Cabinet, I find myself feeling the grief again, but also the strong faith and witness my Mother lived and shared.
Grief is good. Not easy, not without pain, but good. We need to grieve, and we need to find healing within that grief.
Recently one of our retired bishops called and left a voice message for me, saying, “I was just thinking about you today and hoping that you are giving yourself time to do your grief work.” That is an interesting phrase – ‘grief work’ - isn’t it? He is right. Grief is hard work. It is a natural part of life, but it is tiring and it wears one down – just like strenuous work.
Why is grief good? Because only those who have never loved can avoid grief. Grief is the natural result of loving someone. The only way to avoid grief is to never love, and who wants to live like that? So grief is good, because it is the backside of our love.
Just last week two different clergy (no laity have said this to me) said to me that they and other clergy are still grieving the loss of our old Conferences – North or South. In fact they both told me that we have moved too quickly into the new Indiana Conference, without giving people time to grieve. They could be right. Even though nearly everyone in Indiana told me once I was assigned here in 2004 that they distrusted the old conference structures and wanted them changed, still it is hard to change and lose what had been familiar and comforting. Just going to our Annual Conference Session in a new location has been difficult for many people – after all, we were “used to” either Purdue or IU for our settings. Grieving those old structures, old patterns, and old places of meeting is not a bad thing – it is a natural part of change and loss.
Still others have told me that they think the Indiana Conference will only be a truly “new” conference in 2012 when we meet in a totally new venue, namely the new convention center in downtown Indianapolis. They have said that the Ball State campus was too much like the Purdue and IU campus settings, but now it will good to be in a totally new and different setting. Maybe they are right, but I know that grief is not so easily resolved just by moving and changing. It does help, as one grief-stricken mother told me years ago, for us to “make new memories.” Perhaps 2012 will be the start of making new memories.
Meanwhile, I am sharing about my grief as a way of saying to you that it is OK for you to share about your grief with one another. Many pastors and families this year know the grief of leaving one congregation and community and moving to a new one. Many congregations know the grief of letting go of pastors who are retiring or being appointed elsewhere. Grief is real, it is good in the sense that it is part of love, and it needs to be shared in order to be healed.
I am taking the day off tomorrow to do some more of my grief work. I may drive to the little cemetery outside of Colfax, Indiana, to visit where my mother’s grave is located – even though I fully believe she is not there, but it is a place to honor her memory. I may cry a little, and I know that I will spend time remembering how much Mother meant to me and still means to me.
I will grieve, but grief is good.