[ thoughts from last Friday ]
It's 4:13 p.m. this Friday afternoon. I just spent a few minutes biting my nails (mainly on my left hand) and I feel guilty and frustrated about that. I have been trying to grow them out but these last few weeks have been really busy and filled with anxious moments. I hate how connected my emotions are to my nails. Sometimes I wonder if people can "read my nails" and see the hidden tension and anxiety I feel deep inside. It's not always like this, though. At times, I can sense God's peace as it sweeps across my heart and taste His goodness, when I stop to breathe deeply and relax throughout my day. But usually those times of deep breathing are sandwiched between bouts of nail-biting and hand-fidgeting. I'm such a fidgeter.
In reviewing this past week, a few tough moments stand out. On Monday night, I broke down and cried hysterically after reading my study module on "Caring for the Dying and Their Families" in my Stephen Ministry Manual. Reading through those pages reminded me of my own grandmother's death and the process she went through physically while my mom, sisters and I were affected mentally and emotionally. When I finished reading, I couldn't help but relive some of those tense, painful memories. I recalled the late nights spent by my grandmother's bed, singing to her, praying with her and recapping work events--just to feel connected, hoping that she could hear me in the midst of her coma. Deep, dark sadness coupled with moments of uncontrollable laughing came to mind, as I remembered how my older sister and I would get up in the middle of the night to eat crackers and cheese and talk about our fears. My mom's declining health and stages of denial and bargaining were topics discussed in my reading. I could the taste warm, liquid drops starting to fall down my cheeks and onto my lips, as if the bitterness of unwanted change and transition still sting all these years later. Three years, to be exact. Recounting the pain, loss, anger and confusion of the dying process is very real to me. The stories in my training module hit home, hard.
On Wednesday, I met a very sweet, 85-year-old French lady. She had come to my office to meet with one of my colleagues who was busy. Since my coworker wasn't free to help her, she and I ended up spending an hour together over coffee, as she shared with me the bitter loss she recently experienced in her daughter's death. This lady is currently looking for a community where she can be around others. The pain is too hard for her to bear alone. During those 60 minutes, I don't think I ever looked at the clock. It was like time and space stood motionless and all I could hear was the cry of this woman's heart for her child. Her pain consumed her. I practiced listening like I never had before--true, uninterrupted, attentive listening. My eyes watered; her eyes poured. Through tears and multiple hugs, she was eventually able to gather her things and head back home--but I refused to let her go without a prayer. It was easy, she wanted God's help so badly.
These moments, coupled with others, bring me to this afternoon. A little after 12:30 p.m., I went to lunch with a friend. The two of us have become friends over the past year. We share a similar sense of humor. I heard a couple weeks ago that my friend's Mom had passed away. My friend had just returned to Seattle after three weeks visiting family. I treated her to Taco Time and we spent the first 45 minutes catching up on trivial matters--how our weeks have been, funny jokes about work, the weather, etc. I felt uncomfortable asking about her Mom. I should say, though, that I felt like God hadn't given me the strength or the grace to ask her right away about how things were going. After we finished eating, we both just sat at our booth for a few moments, gathering our thoughts. I asked her how her Dad was doing. With that small question, she began to express her pain. "I haven't been able to deal with this," she said. "I don't think it's hit me that my Mom is gone yet." As she shared with me about her Dad's situation, in now living life without his wife of 48 years, she started to tear up. My friend then expressed to me how initially she didn't mind almost missing her Mom's death. She was planning on going home later than planned but then her Dad requested that she change her ticket. She did. As I listened, quietly, she opened up about the last moments of her mother's life. My friend's family, her friends, pastor and church had gathered around her Mom all day to sing, pray and spend time with her in the presence of the Lord. Her Mom could've lasted another week or so according to the attending nurse, but that night, after most everyone had left, my friend and her Dad sat with her Mom. My friend shared with me how she saw her Dad walk over to her Mom and whispered a prayer that God would take her home. He then kissed her. At that moment, she passed beyond the edge of this life into Heaven. My friend said that she felt so blessed to be able to experience that moment with her Mom, as God ushered her into eternity. As she shared these experiences, I couldn't help but cry. First two tears, then three. All of a sudden, a sea of unspeakable pain, joy and beauty rushed over me. My friend allowed me to enter into her pain and loss. As we cried together, she brought me into her stories of love for her Mom. I couldn't bear the weight of it all. But then I realized that I'm not meant to--this is where God lives, moves and acts. He was with my friend through these painful years of her Mother's decline. God was next to her Mom and Dad and her in those final moments. He will comfort my friend as she moves through this season of intense grief and unbearable loss. And I will be here with her, too.
As I type these stories, I can see the jagged edges of my nails taunting me--the consequences of coping with increased anxiety. It's a habit I'd like to break. At the same time, I guess I realize the profound impact of these experiences amidst their stress. The "effects" are not all bad--some are good, enriching and life-giving. I feel stronger in my ability to love deeply and carry another's burdens. I'm impressed at how applicable my Stephen Ministry modules are to real life. Then again, the power in truly listening to another person as they share their life with you should come as no surprise. We were created for this. This is true fellowship.