observing grief

One of these days, someone will tell me I need to take better care of my eyes. And I will listen because that person will be right.

It is probably irresponsible to wear my brother’s old contacts – the ones that arrived in the mail on Friday, hours before the accident. But I love that he sent them, because “our prescriptions are close enough” and he didn’t need them after lasik surgery. The conversation went something like this…

WN: Care! What’s your prescription?

CN: Uh, I don’t know… why?

WN: You can have my contacts!!

When we found out both Christina and I had equally similar prescriptions (and equally hazy memories about what those prescriptions were), he intended to divide the spoils fairly between his two sisters who do not have vision insurance. We love him for this… this being so typically “Will.”

I don’t know why I tossed that brown mailer package out, with his efficient and upside down scrawl on the label. He used to start his letters from the bottom because he didn’t like to waste pen strokes and now the last ones he wrote to me are on their way to a landfill in New Jersey. I don’t know if he was still starting all his l’s and i’s from the bottom… I’ll have to ask Grace, she would know.

I paid full price for a copy of “A Grief Observed” at a snobby bookstore in Grand Central Station after taking the train over my lunch hour to find out the largest used bookstore in the city didn’t have it. But my eyeballs were burning from these free contacts and I am observing grief. It felt urgent; I knew C.S. Lewis’s hazy combination of intellectual and emotional fog would make me more normal.

Pancake Mondays only gets better and the joy is almost painful. We moved around in that sliver of a kitchen, chef and sous chef-ing that packed out Monday night like the apartment restaurant owners we aren’t. Our MacGyvered cold brew coffee sat in the freezer and six batches of batter rested in the fridge while our test pancakes were devoured with plenty of time to cook the (coconut) bacon to perfection. The neighbors came and the friends came and the strangers came and they all came through that open door and my face got confused.

This is still joy and it feels both welcome and wrong. I push against it and every emotion that distracts from this new, awful reality. But I am drawn to it, because joy is the only emotion with any strength in it anymore. There are a lot of emotions, but just joy has strength in it. It is made of the same stuff that allowed Jesus to endure the terrible tragedy of the cross, scorning the shame that would be our salvation.

“For the joy set before him…” There is something very “set before us” about joy. It is something far off as much as it is something near, like muscles making our bones dance toward a sunset.

One night last week, Tam moved the furniture around my glazed-over figure in the dusk light of our common space. Chairs got pushed to the walls, the rug got adjusted to make more space, and the clutter got cleared enough away for our legs and arms to be free. And we danced in that summer dusk light. Each separately working out whatever it was we needed to work out on the poorly refinished wood floor – separately stretching misery and mercy with untrained movements and with (for me) little grace.

The “joy set before me…” had settled in to all my knotted muscle groups, its presence pushing like thunder against my ribs but escaping like mist with my breath. Joy.

I am pushing against it. How is there still joy and why is it the thing that is strong and brings strength? It seems best and most appropriate to step into sadness and lock the door. But even then it seems joy pursues me and lives inside locked rooms, too.

I got a card from my grandparents, with one of my Gram’s flowers printed on the front. A lily, I think. Will’s fingerprints are all over their house – the shingles, the support beams on the addition, the wood shop, the storage shed. There’s the smallest knick in their living room where he missed a beam with the nail gun. They are remembering.

For the joy set before us, camped around us, living in us… this, we endure. There is no sense-making of it. We are on this side and he is over there. And the joy set before us is the same.

All I know is, a small package arrived on Friday, August 2nd and now my eyes burn like the fireballs Dad used to hide under the seat of his Chevy pickup. And I’ll let them burn until someone tells me I need to take better care of my eyes. Meanwhile, I’ll be hitting the Visine good and hard.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

when you meet people like us | guest post from Christina

This is a guest post from my sister, Christina. She has good things to say and I’m glad to have her say them here. Read this if you don’t know what to say to someone who is hurting or read this because you want to understand our hurt a little better. 


Caroline, as I’ve said, is the wordsmith.  So much so, that while greeting people at the visitation, I accidentally received many compliments for her beautiful writing, by people who hugged me while saying some version of , “Oh Caroline, I’m so sorry!  And you’re such a beautiful writer!” and I hugged them back, “Oh, you are sweet! But I’m Christina!”

But grief is this weird thing, this weird thing that completely takes over your personality and your world, and you start thinking, “Hey, whatever works.”  Maybe this whole “writing out your thoughts thing and publishing them to the world” helps.  Too many quotes? That’s just the kind of classiness that you get with this brown haired sister.  My beloved sister-in-law and I were talking the other day and I mentioned that I was going to write a blog entitled ‘World’s Least Spiritual Griever.’  This is that blog.

A portion of you who read this blog don’t know us, or at least don’t know us well. And some of you we consider ‘our people’ and you are struggling to love us through this. This post is for both of those groups.  For those of you who don’t know us, read this and keep it in your back pocket for when you meet people like us, people drowning in a sea of sorrow and grief.  For those of you who know us well, the ones we consider ‘our people,’ this is for you too.

To our people: We’re sorry for being weird.  For not calling or texting you back.  For zoning out when we’re talking with you.  For probably waiting too long to send you a thank you for the home-cooked meal you brought over to our homes.  For ruining our conversation with you with our new-found perspective, trying in the softest of ways to let you know that your problem isn’t a real problem, because in your problem everyone is still alive.  We’re sorry that our emotions, the things that upset us, and our demeanor change a million miles a minute. We’re sorry that we won’t commit to plans. We’re sorry that there are only a few people that we can tell the whole story to (because re-living the worst minute/hour/day of your life is something you just can’t do very often). We’re sorry that it’s hard to engage with us, even though you clearly love us very much.

And the things that are probably just me… I’m sorry I almost passed out on my porch when you brought me a meal last night.  I’m sorry I can’t stop apologizing for this new personality that is so radically different than my old one.

We can’t explain why all these things are true, and it’s hard for us to not know when we’ll feel ‘better.’ But I’m afraid it’s going to be a long time.  And that terrifies me.

If you want to help:  Even making this list makes me feel like such a needy person, such a diva.  “Here are the things I need, please do them!” But I have to believe that there are a few people who truly are ‘in this’ with us, awful as it is here, in this place. Assuming I’m correct, this is a list for these people.

Friends, please let us talk about him, and what happened.  Please don’t avoid us because you aren’t sure what to do.  If you are not sure what to do or what to say, can I make a few (more) suggestions?
“How are you doing/ feeling today?”
“This is terrible. I’m so sorry.”
“Sometime I’d love to hear about William”
“What’s one thing I can do to help you/ love you today?”

Let us feel happy and joyful when we have those moments and act normal around us, but gentle.

Let us tell you stories about him and our life with him and make us feel safe doing this, like it’s not weirding you out to hear about this thing that happened, or about him. He was an incredible man (the best I’ve ever known, honestly,) and one of my favorite people in this whole world. I like talking about him.

Invite us to things but don’t be offended when we don’t come. Text us and don’t be offended when we don’t text back.  Call us but don’t be offended when we let it go to voicemail.

Have I mentioned that (if you are close to us) please please ask how we’re doing, and ask about Will? Of course, don’t ask these questions as you quickly pass by.  That’s the worst.

You know what else you could do?  If you really want to step inside this dark cave of terribleness with us? Read about grief a little.  C.S. Lewis’ book ‘A Grief Observed” is incredible.  Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff‎ is also a perfect depiction of grief.

Crazy, unhelpful things sometimes burst out of people’s mouths.  We have tons of grace for this… sometimes.  Flippant comments about different things making it ‘worth it’ or different reasons why we should be thankful, those are tough to hear, because we are living in a nightmare and nothing is a fair exchange. Some things you will try with good intent and those things will go very wrong.  But please still try them?

One thing you can assume…

We are not ‘doing well.’ We are not ‘handling it.’ We are not confident of anything right now.  We’re losing it and at least this grieving sister has spent multiple hours in the last week considering vintage motorcycle and/or treehouse tattoos and searching online for girl baby names that start with the letters ‘Will.’

So, that also happened.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

this is our story

I sat at the front desk with a temp worker named Chelsea two days ago. We exchanged high pitched pleasantries and filler words about college and travels and restaurants in the city. Then the Senior Director waved me into his office and told me with kind eyes that our company is a family. He wanted to know “the story.” I fumbled the details out and my vision blurred. Three sentences felt insufficient, so I added halting additions in an attempt to introduce my boss to Will, “He is…ahem was an engineer… He works, um.. worked for a conveyor company out there.”

And, when I couldn’t keep my face tidy anymore, I just nodded as I walked out with pursed lips and squinty eyes. I dabbed my face back at the front desk while I told Chelsea (the temp worker) the “story” in one sentence. And I hate that story – that final story I keep telling about my brother Will. The final story I’ve smashed irreverently into one memorized, mechanical sentence that sounds more like a news report than anything else… the story I feel obligated to follow with the words, “It’s okay,” and “We are fine…” because no one is comfortable with death or grief or sorrow. Everybody shifts uneasily when absence happens like that.

And everyone wants to know the story.

Sometimes, my urban life plays make believe. New York City dresses up in everyday routine, and it almost almost feels like my life on earth isn’t altered forever, like it is “just another day” where taxis have road rage and college students are hung over and teenagers buy too much at Forever 21.

But then I am walking toward Bryant Park on 42nd Street and there are too many people, all of them strangers and none of them Will. He has never been to Bryant Park, but his absence follows me around like a shadow hovering over all the spaces he is not.

We are a weathered lot. Dad calls often with a shaky voice and as many questions as answers. We talk about “how things are going” and “getting better” and “benchmarks,” but there is no good news, only words to put in quotations because we don’t know what else to do with this grief. We want to honor him with our efforts and to love the God who gave us 27 beautiful years. But we are all hiking fumbles in office buildings and front porch swings and backyards. We are all shrugging shoulders and breathing sighs and letting the pain sink to our depths, because it would be wrong not to.

This is our story, stretching out like a rope between mourning and hope. All the threads intertwine, connecting what feels like opposites on either end.

There is peace, yes. And there is pain.

But our faith is not simply pragmatic. Our minds, knowing Will’s salvation, cannot tell our hearts, knowing Will’s absence, to “move on.” Nothing in quotations works in real life. We can’t “make progress” or “get better” by some mental acrobatics. Our minds and hearts are meshed together in constant, internal marathons – chasing reason and running from emotion or the other way around.

I walked into the copy room today and found five guys hanging out where there is room for two. To their silence I said, “Is this a secret meeting?” They side-glanced with smirks that looked like they were hiding a freshly painted “boys only” sign behind their backs. “Yep, top secret meeting,” one said. I chuckled at their mischief, “I know what’s going on… I have three brothers.” The words stung my eyes.

This is our story of peace and pain.
And there is still much to be written.


Find all the writings on grief at this link and join with us as we mourn in hope.

I wrote this back in October 2010, but I was reminded of these thoughts again tonight.

we have met to worship

This song, written in 1819 by George Atkins and put to music in 1825 by William Moore, could not better capture my hope for the Body of Christ in this age. Are we praying for holy manna? Do we believe God sends holy manna – that He responds to our prayers in miraculous ways?

Read more on the song and its implications today here.

Be encouraged today by these words.
(I’m also a huge fan of this old-school folk harmony, so enjoy that too!)

Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power, while we try to preach the Word?
All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Brethren, see poor sinners round you slumbering on the brink of woe;
Death is coming, hell is moving, can you bear to let them go?
See our fathers and our mothers, and our children sinking down;
Brethren, pray and holy manna will be showered all around.

Sisters, will you join and help us? Moses’ sister aided him;
Will you help the trembling mourners who are struggling hard with sin?
Tell them all about the Savior, tell them that He will be found;
Sisters, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Is there here a trembling jailer, seeking grace, and filled with tears?
Is there here a weeping Mary, pouring forth a flood of tears?
Brethren, join your cries to help them; sisters, let your prayers abound;
Pray, Oh pray that holy manna may be scattered all around.

Let us love our God supremely, let us love each other, too;
Let us love and pray for sinners, till our God makes all things new.
Then He’ll call us home to Heaven, at His table we’ll sit down;
Christ will gird Himself and serve us with sweet manna all around.

uncle

Isn’t that what you say when you give in?

I miss my students and our adventures and conversations in my office. I miss their ridiculous questions and watching them find a solution.

Today, I’m headed out to Colorado (again) to pick up one of those students who will spend thanksgiving with my family. As jump-up-an-down excited as I am, I woke up this morning and gave in: I miss them.

 

let LOVe fly like cRaZy

On Loving God

Honestly, my knees wish I was writing, “On loving icy hot…” but I resist (so if you have any pointers for fooling your body into feeling younger LET ME KNOW! Apparently 20 minutes w/0 heels and a large glass of orange juice is not the cure).

Instead, I’ve got this quote on my brain,

“Why should not the creature love his Creator, who gave him the power to love? Why should he not love Him with all his being, since it is by His gift alone that He can do anything that is good? It was God’s creative grace that out of nothingness raised us to the dignity of manhood; and from this appears our duty to love Him, and the justice of His claim to that love.”
– St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Must we always ask and rebel and shake our fists when we are struck by humanity’s brokenness? I love the words, “Why should not…”

I love that these words invite me to think of all the reasons I shouldn’t … and that I come up with nothing. We must start here, at God’s creative grace that raised us to the dignity of manhood, if we are ever going to end up talking about justice and injustice – if we are going to talk about our delight and duty to love Him. We must begin with the question, “Why should not the creature love his Creator, who gave Him the power to love?”

Well, I may just have to leave it there to rest, before I start making applications about the cookies that just came out of the oven and how they should love me because I created them.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy