Episode 11 (2/24) “Filling Shoes”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s scripture is John, chapter 15, verses one and six through sixteen:

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

Nobody chooses grief. It chooses us. It insists on changing us. Nothing has shaped me, has shaped my life, like losing my first husband when we were 32. Nothing shaped our child’s life like losing his DaDa when he was barely two.

Grief forced me to think of myself as a snake shedding her skin. The life I knew no longer fit in the wake of Scott’s death. Not the job I had loved. I shed it to enter divinity school. Not even the town we had moved to as newlyweds. I shed it to move a few states away to a city I’d never seen before.

But the word “shed” makes it sound simpler than it was. In truth, it was agonizing. I remember watching people walk down our driveway from the tag sale I held. I felt like I was watching our life walk away.

Only the love of others helped me make endure the agony and make the transition. When it feels like your life is leaving you, it helps to have someone hold your hand. For several months, friends would help with a room at a time, many traveling several miles to do so. We sorted, we cleaned, we packed, we donated, we kept. One even helped with the drive the day we left the only home Teddy had ever known, the house where Scott had died.

We were all young, in our twenties and thirties, and I think we were all unprepared for the power objects hold. 

Grief endues objects with a meaning that cuts to the quick. Like Scott’s Chucks. When he started chemotherapy, Scott bought himself a pair of bright red Converse sneakers. It was 1990, and nobody wore bright red Chucks. But they were on the sale rack, and caught Scott’s eye, that their goofiness served as his personal shield and sword as he battled cancer. Every time Scott had a treatment, a doctor’s appointment, a procedure, he wore his ruby-red Chucks.

I kept the Chucks for Teddy in a chest full of other memories of his dad – baseball hats and videos Scott took incessantly. Fellini couldn’t have been more pleased with himself that Scott the day he got on tape the first time our baby rolled from his back to his stomach. “His first rollover!” Scott proudly shouts from behind the camera.

At the urging of a friend, I kept a couple pairs of Scott’s dress shoes. “Men’s dress shoes never go out of style,” he told me. And someday, Teddy will want to wear them,” he predicted. And someday, Teddy did. It was 8th grade when Ted grew into his dad’s shoes, and when it came time for graduation, the only question was whether he would wear the black pair or the brown pair. He chose black, reasoning that “they look more special occasion.”

By high school, though, Ted had outgrown his dad’s shoes. A couple times, he squeezed into them, but they were just too tight for comfort.

We never got around to donating Scott’s shoes, though. But the friend who encouraged me to keep them for Teddy? He’s Ted’s godfather, the friend who drove us from Ted’s first home to his second. And Scott’s shoes that Ted outgrew fit him perfectly.

Grief is a thin place.

(feb 23) A Thin Place Episode 10 “Fatima and Paradise”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s scripture is Ezekiel, chapter 18, verses 21 through 28.

If the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die.

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.

Fatima is a bus ride away from Lisbon, Portugal, and the shrine to the Virgin Mary and the children who saw her a century ago sits with dignity in green countryside. But is the white I remember most, because everything about the shrine – inside and out -- itself as white. White stretches of plazas between churches, white candles to burn as prayers, white marble where the remains of the children – two girls and a boy -- lay. The candles are the only thing you can buy in Fatima, but step outside the shrine area only a few yards, and you’ll find store after store carrying nothing but rosaries. Wooden, glass, plastic, silver – rosaries so thick they hang like beaded curtains.

         The shrine was crowded the day I visited one day near the first Mothers’ Day without my child. Ted had struggled with addiction. When he was in the talon of its grip, he lost himself and did and said hurtful and irrational things. When he wasn’t in the grip, Ted was ashamed and afraid of falling into the downward spiral again. He spent time in hell on this earthly side of the veil.

         The shrine was hushed but crowded, and I was swept with the crowd toward the marble markers of the children’s graves. I noticed some people placing rosaries on them and praying. I had no rosaries. But, drawn to the boy’s grave, I stopped and let the crowd pass around me. I reached around my neck as if I were dreaming, and unclasped the necklace I always wear. On a thin gold chain hangs a gold imprint of Ted’s thumbprint and an aquamarine, which is our shared birthstone.

         I placed the necklace on the marble marker and wept. As the world stilled around me, I heard a woman’s voice within me. It was not a young woman’s voice, but a voice smoothed and varnished by age. “Your son is in Paradise,” she said with solemn certainty. I stood there a long time as her voice echoed inside me. And as I bent down for the necklace, I knew peace.

         My son is in Paradise.

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 9 2/22 “The Power of the Flawed and the Finite”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s scripture is from Matthew chapter seven, verses seven through twelve:

Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”

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When someone I love dies, it’s hard to realize that what I could offer would be as inadequate as a stone is to bread, as a snake is to a fish. But I think that’s what Jesus is saying here. That our love, that our care, is not enough to sustain life.

Jesus, do you really need to throw that in my face? The morning I woke holding Scott’s hand and he did not was a slap of all-my-love –could-not-save-him-from-cancer. The afternoon the neurologist did the tests one more time, opening Ted’s eyes for the last time. The final test was when he ran a tissue over my son’s dark eyes, and there was. No. Response. At All. Those lively eyes were in a long line of Irish hazel eyes. And they were dead. The neurologist looked at me, shook his head, and then disconnected the machine of flat lines. That, Dear Jesus, that was a slap of all-my-mother’s-love-couldn’t-save-my-only-child. That slap shoved me to the ground.

But even in my ditch of grief, I get it. Our love ain’t your love. Our love is finite and flawed. Your love always knows best, always gets the last word, always is for always.

I get it. And I want You to get this: it is the flawed and finite love of others, the unexpected kindness of fellow human beings, the time taken to remember the dead – it may all be earthbound love, but when that flawed and finite love is done unto me, it keeps me breathing. It keeps me hopeful that there is an arc of love bridging this world with the next.

Grief is a thin place.

(feb 21) A Thin Place Episode 8 "Eternal Tears"

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

 

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s scripture is Psalm 51, verses 11 through 18.

 

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

I shall teach your ways to the wicked,
and sinners shall return to you.

Deliver me from death, O God,
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,
O God of my salvation.

Open my lips, O Lord,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice,
but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 

So. Much. Advice. When you’re grieving, that’s what you get for Christmas and anniversaries and any time you cry. Advice to exercise. Go back to work. Don’t ever go back to work. There are stages of grief, you know. You need a self-care plan. Smile! You of all people should know he’s in a better place.

 

It’s as if everyone is a GPS system gone wrong, giving we grievers directions that make U-turns away from the place we must enter: the land of the broken hearts. The thin place of grief. We don’t like this place. It hurts. It’s messy. It gets lonely. But sometimes, it’s only the place where we can know for sure that we still exist.

 

Please sit with me. Please listen. But please don’t try to fix me. I already know that my heart is broken, that my life is shattered. The power in your just being company is more than you know. Advice really isn’t required.

 

I have a very fuzzy memory of a hike I took with my son, Ted, during the time he was struggling to become an adult. His on and off drug and alcohol abuse made his journey harder for him, and harder for me to know how to be supportive without enabling. Maybe the hike I’m trying to recall is fuzzy because we took so many hikes over the years. Walking in the woods, with a dog if we could, calmed both of us. Fresh air sort of helped clean anything that was messy in our relationship at that point.

         I can’t recall for sure what season it was when we took the hike I want to remember. Maybe it was turning from winter into spring? It was muddy but sunny. And we were both glad we’d taken the time to tromp around in the woods by the time we got back in the car.

 

I didn’t know why then, and I don’t know why now, but I couldn’t get the key into the ignition. All I could do was sob. I’m not even sure I got any words out, but both Ted and I understood that I wept from worry about him. And he reached across seatbelts to give me a hug and say, “It’s alright to cry, Mom. It’s alright. You’ll feel better. And I want you to feel better. So it’s alright to cry. There’s no hurry. Just cry as long as you need to.”

 

Now that Ted has passed, there doesn’t seem to be an end to my tears. There doesn’t seem to be an end to advice, either. And there doesn’t seem to be an end to kindness. Eternal kindness of Ted on the other side of the veil, the endless kindness on this side of those who love me on this side of the veil.

 

I think the lament of grief is this: Help me hold the pieces of my broken heart, but please do not deny me my broken heart. My broken heart is the only heart I have.

 

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 7 2/20 - “Feathers”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s reading is from Isaiah chapter 55, verses six through 11:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;

let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;

let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

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No matter how ill someone is, nobody how deeply we believe in heaven, none of us want to return our beloved to God. The veil between this life and the next may be thin, but it almost taunts us because that veil of separation is so painful. Riffing on today’s scripture, the ways of the dead are not the ways of the living. Their ways are higher than our ways, and their thoughts are not their thoughts, nor are our ways their ways. I don’t know what that separation feels like on their side of the veil, but I know that on ours, it hurts.

I buried my first husband and our son 25 years apart. As I stood at Scott’s grave, Toddler Teddy’s hand left mine for a moment. Teddy reached down and handed me a feather. I’ve no idea what kind of bird it came from, but I can understand why it caught a 26-month-old’s eye. Half the feather is a soft grey and the upper part is a reddish-blond, similar to the color Teddy’s was as a baby, with grey and white tips. It is as soft as his hand was in mine. I’ve kept the feather all this time in the Book of Common Prayer Scott gave me our last Christmas together – the prayerbook I used at both their graves.

         I had intended to take the feather from my prayerbook and bury it atop Ted’s wooden urn, but I forgot – and I’m glad I did. As it turns out, the feather from the day Teddy comforted me we stood at his DaDa’s grave was only the first. At uncanny times, I am comforted with a feather. One time, I was out walking Zelda, the standard poodle puppy I got to cheer me a few months after Ted’s death and ruminating to dog-whispering Ted that I wish I knew that he knew about her. Several steps later, Zelda tugged on her leash, I looked down to find a purely black feather, as inky as she is.

Even as I write this, I notice a small feather on my sleeve.

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 6 2/19 - “Birthdays”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s reading is from Leviticus chapter 19, verses one through two and 11 through 18:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

                  What do you do about a birthday comes round of someone who is dead, who has no more birthdays? What’s a birthday in heaven, anyway? Growing old for all eternity doesn’t make sense. 

When I dream about the dead, they are never a particular age. They’re sort of at the peak of their health, at the peak of themselves. Unmistakably themselves, of an indeterminate age. This is how the dead seem to be.

         All we can know for sure on this side of the veil between this life and the next is that birthdays of those who’ve gone before us are usually very hard. Birthdays without someone to celebrate stir up memories and regrets and sharpen the empty ache of death.

         Four and a half months after my son died, his birthday came. I mentioned it to a neighbor, and she asked me if I wanted company that day. Yes, I thought company could help. Would I like to go out for dinner? Again, yes. Would I like it to be just the two of us or would I like her to ask neighbors to join us? I liked the idea of neighbors joining us.

         And so half a dozen or so neighbor women took me to dinner that aching night when Ted would have turned 28. We talked so much of those we love that see no longer, that by dessert, it felt that the company I was given had company. In telling the stories of our dead, we knew each other lives so much better. Lost mothers, grandparents, sisters, friends. Ted was not the only child mourned at that dinner, just the only one we toasted. It was his birthday, after all.

         I was not the only neighbor loved at that table that night. Ted was not the only one gone who joined us through love at that table that night. And all of us loved ourselves as we loved each other, brought together by births, by deaths, by loss. In the dim light of that restaurant, in our dim understanding of the love that bridges this world and the next, neighbors were loved. Not only by ourselves, but those who joined us through our memories.

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 5 2/18/18 “Snorkeling”

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s reading is Mark, chapter one, verses nine through 15.

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts, and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The other day I found the masks and snorkels Ted and I had used the last time we snorkeled together. The first time, he was a little boy and our favorite part of visiting Hawaii was finding places to don our masks, flip our fins on, dive in, and point at the amazing things we were seeing together. In 8th grade, he wrote about the day we snorkeled with sea turtles. He wrote that he loved the peace of being underwater. Already, he was dog-earing and highlighting every book on ocean life he could own.

By the last time we snorkeled together, Ted had struggled with years of addictions but had also found peace and pride developing a small business maintaining home and office aquariums. By then, he was living near his Midwestern college, and I was living in Florida, where Ted visited often. One of our favorite things to do when he did was snorkel at a local beach. I was always amazed at what Ted could tell me about the fish and corals we saw on our forays.

That day, as we sat on the beach drying off, Ted told me that he’d read about a new process in which people’s remains were being used to grow reefs in the ocean and that he intended to be part of that once he died. Neither of us knew Ted would leave this earth in only two months. But when he did, I looked into the process. Unfortunately, it was way too expensive for me to honor Ted’s wish, but I do have some ashes I intend to distribute near our favorite reefs someday when I can snorkel without my mask filling with tears.

So the other day, when I found our snorkeling gear, I found myself trying to grasp the sand in Ted’s mask as it slipped through my fingers. I want to grasp the memory of my dying son and shake him back to this life. I want the heavens to tear apart like they did when Jesus was baptized, and I want my son – healthy and happy at last – to shake forth from the veil torn between this life and the next to swim with me. At least long enough for me to tell him how pleased I am that his favorite memory included me, snorkeling among him and the turtles in paradise.

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 4 - Feb 17th - "Around The Table"

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Our scripture for today is Luke chapter 5, verses 27 through 32.

After healing the paralyzed man, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.

Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

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Tables give us places to gather. All kinds of miracles happen around a table. Somebody gains enough trust in somebody else to speak truth to them, and the truth gushes out of mouths and into the world. Or what could be miracles of relationship don’t happen.

 

Levi is so inspired by living in the shadow of Jesus’ love that he throws a big dinner party for outcasts. Seven courses and white tablecloths and finger bowls… for repeat offenders. For junkies and prostitutes and people whose shelter is a cardboard box. The centerpieces and the food smell good, the people not so much. At that banquet, everyone feasts on healing.

 

When my mother died, my older brothers and I met at the funeral home, where the director led us to a round table to discuss Mom’s funeral. It was tense. Old roots had bloomed into anger and resentment among us, particularly since our mother had developed Alzheimer’s and our father had died. When my husband reached out to shake my brothers’ hands, only one of them took it. No healing that day. That brother and his family refused to speak to me or my family throughout the funeral events. I’m still sad for my mother when I think about it.

Especially when I’m in the car by myself, I often talk to my beloved dead. And when I talk with my mom about her shame and sorrow at her place at that table, I also sense her release from it. And sensing her release frees me some from the storm of complex emotions I hold around my brothers.

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 3 - Feb 16th

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

 

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

 

 

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s reading is from Psalm 51, verses one through ten.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight.

And so you are justified when you speak
and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother's womb.

For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquities.

----------------------------------------------------

If I had written this psalm, I don’t think it would have been a plea to God. I think it would be a plea to the dead whom I love to forgive me. A child in Oshkosh overalls reminds me of my son, Teddy, and suddenly I am finding ways in which my inadequate mothering during his toilet training led to his struggles that led to his death. A whiff of Pond’s cold cream and I wish I had visited my mom more often.

The overalls in particular, cause a spiral into the vast coulda-woulda-shoulda abyss that is one of the most painful stops on the labyrinth that is grief. At best, when I ask forgiveness of someone I love but see no longer, it is uncomfortable. Usually, it is wrenching. But it’s also sort of healing cleansing. When I ask for forgiveness, sooner or later, it morphs into telling my beloved how they hurt me, and my forgiving them.

I need to feel what I need to feel. I need to voice what I need to voice. Asking and giving forgiveness is as much a part of my grief as finding feathers that remind me of my son’s love for me.

Grief is a thin place.

Episode 2 - Feb 15th

Grief is a thin place. A place so thin, it’s hard to tell where earth ends and heaven begins.

Grief is a place so thin that it’s where the living and the dead feel one another’s love.

I’m the Rev. Lisa Hamilton, and I grieve. First, I’ll read a scripture appointed for today. Then I’ll struggle with those words through the lens of grief. I’m glad you’ve joined me.

Today’s reading is Psalm One.

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

         My son Ted was a heroin user, probably for two years. A series of horrible incidents led him to seek treatment, and with all kinds of help, including suboxone, he managed to stay away from it. And died two years later.

         Heroin and other opiates cause nerve pain that lingers in some people longer than in others. It’s common among those in recovery to take large doses of Imodium because it can help soothe the nerve pain. But if you take too much Imodium, it slows your heart and kills you. Too much Imodium, not too much heroin, killed my son Ted.

         So I struggle with Psalm One. Like all parents, I wanted my child to be one of whom the psalmist wrote:

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.

And as I think about it, Ted would have wanted that to be said about him too. Nobody wants to be an addict when they grow up. Everybody wants everything we and our loved ones do to prosper.

         And news for the psalmist: you divide people into wicked and righteous. You claim that the wicked suffer and the righteous are happy. Come on! We’re all a mix of wicked and righteous. None of us are “like chaff which the wind blows away.” We can’t help but “linger in the way of sinners,” as you put it. We’re all sinners. We all make mistakes that separate us from God, from one another, even from ourselves. Sometimes we get the chance to grow from those mistakes. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, even in the midst of growing from our mistakes, we run out of time.

         A friend of Ted’s said to me the other day, “If he had died from a heroin overdose, I could say, ‘C’mon, Man! Everybody knows people die from heroin overdoses.’ But Ted died of an Imodium overdose. Everybody takes Imodium sometimes. Imodium saves people in the third world! So I don’t know what to say.” There was silence on the other end of the line. And then Ted’s friend choked out, “But in the end, I wouldn’t miss him any more -- or any less.”

 

Grief is a thin place.