Friday, May 2, 2008

Spiritual Direction

I saw my spiritual director yesterday. For those of you who don't know what a spiritual director is or does, check out:

I first learned about spiritual direction in a book that I read many years ago, written by Susan Howatch. Ms. Howatch is a fabulous writer whose work changed my life. When I was a college student, returning home from a term spent in England, I bought a book at the train station to read on the airplane going home. It was called, "Penmarric," and it was by Susan Howatch. I was riveted by her character portraits, and in love with England at the time, so it was a great book for me. I soon began to look for, and devour, almost everything she had written.

Years later, she began a series of books about priests in the Church of England. I recommend all of them. The first one is called "Glittering Images." In this book (and all of those in the series), at least one major character has spiritual crisis which involves a big breakdown, and there is a spiritual director who helps him (or her) by companioning the person through the "hell" of it, and out to the other side of the darkness. I never knew such help existed. I wanted a spiritual director.

I did a little searching and found that this is an age-old tradition in the Catholic church, and that other churches offer it, too. When I left the Christian Science church, I was looking for a church that offered spiritual direction, and I found it at a Presbyterian Church near my home. I've been working with my director, Bev, for about 8 years. This was one of those things that helped me so much during Katie's illness: I had spent all of that time working through many issues about myself, family of origin and God. Not that I am "done," or will ever be done, but that I had quit my part-time job and devoted intention and time to the process of healing, in part to be able to be a better mother. I do not know what the past year and a half would have been like if I had not had that grace of time spent with God and Bev.

We were talking about grieving yesterday (DUH!) and discussing the way I am doing it. I don't know any other way that I could get up in the morning and function than the way I am doing it. Gregg has his work, David has school, and I have time and space for writing, praying, listening, sewing, exercising and adjusting to this new reality. I need alot of peace and space for this work, and I am SO thankful that I have been given both in which to do it.

After that conversation with Bev, I remembered one of the stickiest disagreements that we had early in our marriage. Gregg and I were working on our wills, and discussing LIFE INSURANCE. People, this can be a minefield. I may have mentioned here before that Gregg and I have very different family backgrounds. One of the differences is what we each grew up with, in terms of money, and what we think we need, as a result of what we were used to having in our family of origin. When the life insurance discussion came up, we had TOTALLY different ideas of what "enough" meant. Maybe this was influenced by the fact that one of my grandfathers was a life insurance salesman, but I suspect it was due more to our different living conditions as kids, and...more importantly, my assumption that if anything happened to Gregg (if he died), I would need at least 6 months to "freak out" (as I thought of it in those days), be useless and non-functioning as I tried to adjust to life without him. It was quite clear to me then that I would simply want to lie down and not get up if he died, and to be left with two small children in the midst of that was impossible to imagine. I never was a big income-earner, and the thought of that responsibility being all mine just filled me with fear. As a result of all of this, I assumed that if he died, I would need alot more money (life insurance) than he assumed I would need to be able to "pick up the pieces" of our life and go on.

Funny thing: this disagreement made me feel as if he didn't care about me, didn't want to take care of me and the kids, at that time. Now, I get that it is about what we were used to, and what each of us would do in the event of such a catastrophe: he went to work nearly every day throughout Katie's illness, and he went back to work about 2 weeks after her passing: I was a stay-at-home mom. I am still here at home, walking my way through it a moment at a time. I was right about my needs; he was right about his. Interesting.

So I suspect that the work of grieving is as individual as the person and the situation. I think it was healthy that, in the old days, people had a period of "official mourning" after a death; it is necessary to slip the ties of normal social behaviour and interaction. You are not the same as you were; you never will be again. It takes time to be able to function again, in even the very simplest ways. Social situations can aggravate the worst feelings. It's better, for me, to have "a free pass," as Angela said to me, and just stay in my appropriate environment until I feel it's time to come out. Not "wallowing," but awaiting the sign that I am well enough to join the flow of life in society again.

Thanks, Bev, for everything.


Smileygirl said...

Karen, If you don't mind I am going to cut and paste your post to share with a friend of mine who is going through such a difficult time. Her first child, a girl was born still born. Since then she's had 2 healthy boys and recently found out she is pregnant again but is in a serious state of depression. She can't fully be present for her boys. She loves them and wants to be excited about the new baby (though she's convinced it's another boy) but feels she has not been able to grieve the loss of her first child because they boys followed shortly there after. I just received an e-mail from her yesterday and she's not in a good place. It's hard as a friend, not having been through something even close to this so often times I don't know how to help. I think she will benefit from your words.
Thank you.

p.s. did you get my email?

karengberger said...

Yes, by all means feel free to give her whatever you think will help her. And no, I didn't get your email. Please send it again; I'm looking forward to it.
Bless you!

karengberger said...

Smileygirl: You are correct about my email. I sent one to you just a few minutes ago. Please let me know if you don't get it.

Patty said...

i have spent a good amount of time catching up on your blog - it's been a few weeks. your writing and thoughts of your heart are wonderful to read.
i will check back later - i'm not supposed to be on the computer - i'm supposed to be fixing supper for four hungry people!
i thought so interesting about leaving Katie's room as is. Kelly had moved to her own little home (we so wanted her to have that experience in case the disease did take her life sooner than later) last summer. So her sister Molly had taken over her room and painted it and made it her own. It was very very difficult to go through Kelly's things at her rental house but it had to be done.
we do so treasure each reminder of her - some clothing still has her smell and we relish that, dreading the day it loses "the smell of Kelly"
may God so richly comfort you today, may you see Him all around you and evidences of His tremendous love for you and your family.