Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Grief, Loss, Death and Dying

This is the title of a class offered this fall at Fuller. I find myself inexorably drawn to it. The professor is Francis Bridger, and what an amazing story he has. From Fuller's website:

In March 2003 Francis Bridger lost his wife Renee very suddenly to cancer. During twenty-three days, she went from diagnosis to death. This tragic and untimely ending had a devastating effect on Francis for his years of ministry and teaching had only partly prepared him. This book chronicles the twenty-three days leading up to Renee's death and the fourteen months that followed as Bridger grieves and struggles to come to terms with his loss. This book offers no easy solutions to the problem of pain, rather a frank acknowledgement of how difficult are the questions that arise at times of need and suffering. At the same time, it offers hope to those in grief through its combination of honesty, humanity and faith.

This is like taking a class on grief with CS Lewis after Shadowlands. What a humbling opportunity. I'm going to take it alongside Christian Ethics and Eschatology. Thought that would make for a fascinating term. (plus, Bridger wrote a book on how Harry Potter presents a positive spirituality for Christians, so there's always that to discuss!)

I'm planning to visit the Trappist monastery when I'm in Iowa next month, the one where they make those beautiful caskets. I am really looking forward to meeting these monks, who are committed to dealing with death in such an open and spiritual way.

You know, I've seen maybe more death than my share. I don't know. I just know it's always been a part of my life - I've never really been uncomfortable around it. It's very sad, but it's not scary. I remember J turning white as a sheet when he saw my grandfather's body - he was shaking. It was his first. I can't remember my first.

I grew up going to funerals since my dad's a pastor. They were for the old ladies in the church who'd pass, and I'd cry. In the Midwest we do "visitations" which means everyone lines up to walk by the open casket. So I saw plenty of dead bodies. Never touched one until recently, though. And I was standing there looking at my grandfather (other side) with my cousin's young daughter and she said he wasn't there any more.

My first major death experience was with my cousin, who died suddenly and violently, in a shocking accident that tore all of our hearts to shreds. I was 12 and he was 13. That was the kind of formative experience that ... well, I can still pull up exactly how it felt, all these years later. And none of us has really recovered.

Then a family in our church had a gas stove which was left on or something and the house basically exploded, leaving both parents and 2 of 6 kids dead. That funeral had four caskets at the front of the church. It was another kind of intense.

Then in high school my grandmother died but I was too busy with my own life to go to the funeral. Funny how by that time death wasn't such a big deal to me.

In college, freshman year, one of my classmates died in a car accident. I remember at that point calling my parents and asking them why nobody old ever dies. Most of my death experiences to that point were with young people, and usually in sudden accidental ways. I didn't get it.

After moving to LA I spent a few months with my grandpa before he passed away, and that was J's first funeral. Then all hell broke loose. My uncle was in a near-fatal car accident and during his recovery he overdosed on pain pills, during Holy Week. The following year's Holy Week brought my cousin's overdose on Vicatin and beer (you gotta be careful with that stuff!!). He was one month younger than me, to the day. We were beginning to dread Easter. Then J's cousin was killed in another accident, leaving a son and another grieving family behind.

My mom spent the better part of the last 2 (3?) years caring for her parents, the ones who'd lost their son (my uncle) and adopted grandson (my cousin). They lost touch with reality and lost ability to care for themselves. It was a difficult descent into incompetence. Mom went through hell. They finally passed last spring, about a month apart. It was a relief, but closure still looms because the family has been fighting over the will for over a year.

What a mysterious thing death is, and how strange that for some of us, it pours. Death is painful and sad, but not really frightening (eternity is frightening, but that's another subject). We put a lot of stock in the promises of reunion - it helps us to deal. I put stock in them. I want to see these people again.

So I simply must take this class. It is something I need to process, and I want to know how to help other people with it. My life has prepared me to sympathize with many sorts of loss situations, although I can't ever understand what another person is going through, really. But all this pain can be turned to good. I won't say it happened for a reason, because I honestly don't know if that's true and I don't like what it implies. But I will say that it can be redeemed.

1 comment:

Emilie said...

You're lucky — that sounds like such an interesting class. And Harry Potter, to boot!

I started watching "Six Feet Under" in the past few weeks, and so my mind is wrapped around the whole idea of death and grieving in a new and rather intense way. (My waking dreams lately have combined the classical music on NPR with strange images of body preparation and wakes.)

I will look forward to reading your thoughts once you start the class.