Today’s guest post is written by my dad, Stephen. He’s an entrepreneur in central Pennsylvania who does web site design and marketing, among other things like running a “social media bootcamp.” He wrote this essay a few weeks ago, and I hesitated posting it here because, well, because it’s personal. That is, it’s about me. And he made me promise not to edit myself out of it. (Thanks, Dad.) But it’s a message about mourning, about being with people as they mourn, and I think it’s an important one, especially as we learn what it means to be called to be community.
It was Sunday morning. Our door was open a crack as it usually is. She stuck her head in the door and, sure that we were awake, she jumped onto the bed, right on top of us. And we all laughed and hugged.
It wasn’t a new story–this had happened many times when she and her brother lived at home. But it had been over ten years since she left home for college, got married, and moved away to Texas, and then to Kentucky.
It was special because it was so needed.
Liz had been calling all week to check up on my wife Gail’s mother, Jean, who had lived with us for the last five years. Two weeks before, Jean had collapsed in our hallway with what we found out later was her second major aneurism. Her first was ten years ago and she had miraculously survived to come home again.
Liz must have heard the anguish in my voice as I told her that we were bringing Jean home on Thursday with the help of Hospice. Jean was almost unresponsive by this time, and we knew she would rather be at home for her last days. Liz called me the next day, Friday, and said, “Dad, I’m coming home tomorrow.” This was not a discussion.
Jean died that Saturday morning while she looked into our eyes. It was Christmas morning.
Liz arrived not too long after the hearse left, after we had put the hospice bed in the garage and reset the dining room table. We hugged and cried and then we talked. We talked and waited and talked some more. It was always good to be with Liz.
We went to church that morning that Liz had jumped into bed with us. Not sure our hearts were in the service as everything still reminded us of Jean, but it was good to introduce Liz to the pastor and other friends.
Over the next couple of days, Liz sat in Jean’s old chair most of the time and read unless we were around and then she put the book down and we talked. In the evenings we would watch TV together and the room didn’t feel so empty with her there. We did a lot of talking.
She helped Gail and her sisters put together the poster board of Jean’s pictures which we would display at the memorial services. She went to a networking breakfast with me and I was so proud to tell these businesspeople all about her.
But most of all, Liz was just here. And it was good. If being a distraction can be a good thing, Liz was a distraction. Just being here filled a void–an empty space that Gail and I would have filled with self-pity and grief. Now grief is good and necessary and must be allowed to play itself out. But Liz put it into perspective in some manner that I still don’t understand.
Probably the ninth time I thanked Liz for coming, she said “Dad, you read Mudhouse Sabbath, didn’t you? Remember the chapter on mourning? This is what you do. You be with people. You just sit.”
Yes, I had read about it. But reading about it and putting it into action are two different things.
So is talking about something and doing something.
Liz did it for us. She came, and she sat. She was here. And that is what we needed.
Sidenote: Lauren Winner, the author of Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline (Paraclete, 2003), has been on an interesting spiritual journey from Judaism to Orthodox Judaism to Anglicanism. (Her memoir Girl Meets God tells of this journey.) Mudhouse Sabbath is about a handful of practices gleaned from Orthodox Judaism that Winner says she really misses as a Protestant. I (Elizabeth) recommend this book, especially the chapter on mourning, though my dad would add the caveat that it’s “a little too ritualistic.” I guess I like ritual. You can read the introduction and a few other pages of the book here, at Google books.