Sunday, November 17, 2013

Things Fall Apart

I've started attending church again. I haven't regularly attended church since Katie was admitted to the hospital in October of 2006...not because I was mad at God, but because I couldn't stand the crowds of people, nor contain my emotions during worship. I've been known to cry uncontrollably in church, which is distracting and distressing to me (and perhaps to others). But I've found a church that doesn't evoke floods of tears, and am enjoying it.
It's possible that I "should" go back to my old church, and simply surrender to my grief; let the tears come as I re-enter that place where we were once so happy, so much a part of things, held in great love. However, I haven't felt drawn to do so, and I'm going to honor that.
The homily in today's service touched on Jesus' prophecy that things were going to get very hot, very bad for his disciples. He spoke of catastrophe, betrayals, destruction, trials and the coming need to verbally give account, or defend the faith. He told his disciples that some of them would be killed, but then said "not a hair of your head will be harmed." What? How can both of those truths coexist? Apparently, he was speaking poetically about those precious hairs.

Every time I hear such words nowadays, I hear them through the filter of what happened to Katie and to our family. It's not an intellectual exercise; it just happens - I can't not go there. All stories that involve things falling apart, ground breaking up underfoot, loss, disaster - anything that brings to mind the end of the world as we know it - reminds me of the year of Katie's illness and death. I always ask myself if these things are true, in light of my own experience. It makes church very interesting.

The privilege of sharing the Eucharist on a quiet Sunday morning is important to me. I love that ritual, and its deep symbolic and literal meaning. It is a tiny feast, a weekly "Thanksgiving" meal, where all are welcome; it is purifying, nourishing and comforting.

In his homily, the pastor also asked us where we go - to whom do we turn - when things fall apart. He gave us his own answer, which was a bit surprising - and it made me think.
To whom do I turn? 
The "right" answer would be "to God," but I'm not sure that's completely true - at least, it's not that simple or direct. I turn inward, at first, when the ground is pulled out from under my feet. I take stock - do a quick assessment - of what has happened, what I have and what I have lost.

I turn to God, yes, but I also turn to those closest to me - my family. That's where we turned when Katie got sick - to the solidarity of one another's love and care - as well as to our home community, the larger community of Seattle Children's Hospital, our church and Ronald McDonald House. God was (is) present in all of those people and entities. He showed His love and presence through their love and caring.
After sitting in church with two of my friends (both of them bereaved parents), I drove home and felt grateful and privileged to be able to worship, as well as to have been able to go on a date on Saturday with my husband. We hiked for a few miles on a trail that is new to us, looked at beautiful wooden boats in a marina, boats on the ways (in all states of repair/disrepair), and then we moseyed through the Victorian town, admiring the architecture. Finally, we stopped at a pub for a light meal and a beer, and then finished our date at the local ice cream/candy shop. It was lovely.
We have lost a great deal, but we have not lost everything (as some of the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines have). But our loss touches everything; everything was (and is) affected by it. Nothing - not one thing - is as it was before Katie got sick and died, leaving our family to go on with three of us here, and one there.

There is a part of me that will always see my life through the lens of "things falling apart." In the six years since Katie's passing, I have adjusted to seeing life through the eyes of a woman who lives with three people in one room at Ronald McDonald House.

I am still that woman: the one who takes a walk each day to let off steam; who runs to the 5th floor of the hospital in her pajamas to shower before her daughter wakes up; who steals a couple of hours a week to spend alone with her husband, trying to preserve her marriage under intense stress; one who shares one bathroom with a minimum of three other people; one who has become a nurse, juggling medical supplies, helping her sick child to walk where she doesn't want to go, pushing a wheelchair, knowing her healthy child is not getting the attention he deserves, but unable to be in two places at once.

Though the conditions of my life have changed, I still see the world through that woman's eyes.
I continue to be amazed that we can go anywhere we'd like on a date, taking as much time as we wish, ordering whatever sounds good. It is such a privilege. While I might have previously thought (in my ignorance) that I "deserved" such abundance, now I know that it is all gift, and that it can come - and go - at any time. Jesus predicted it in his day, and it is still obviously true - friends will betray, disasters will happen, what we thought we could control slips through our hands. Though I have been given much, much has been required of me. Any time at all, anything can happen...and it's interesting that, rather than frightening me, this knowledge makes me grateful for everything I have, and for everything I have had to let go.

What an appropriate message for the week of Thanksgiving, and of David's 21st birthday.


Elizabeth said...

And you, of course, bless us with your incredible generosity of spirit -- your words are so raw and authentic and loving, Karen.

And how, how, how, is that beautiful boy soon to be a 21 year old man?

Karen said...

This is the core truth, isn't it. It can (and will) fall apart, and God is still there, and we can be grateful somehow, eventually, for grace in the worst life can bring. You are such a beautiful writer. Thanks for sharing the truth in your own personal story.

Robin said...

Happy Birthday to David and to you, beautiful mom.

Robin Gaphni said...

A beautiful post, Karen. The loss of a child does shape how we view our future and colors the lens through which we view everything. Thank you for this poignant reminder.

ChiTown Girl said...

Happy Birthday, David!!

To you, my sweet friend, I'm sending lots of love.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing it publicly.
Happy Birthday to David and much love...

AnnDeO said...

I have had a few experiences where the world changed. And your writing has been an important guidepost when I feel lost. Thanks for giving.

christine said...

Happy birthday to dear David and hugs from across the you. said...

Thank you Karen for your authenticity. I am moved tonight, remembering with you. Love you said...

Thank you Karen for sharing this post - I am deeply touched by your words. Love you

Busy Bee Suz said...

You always have a way of shining a light on an area of life that I can learn from. YOU are a gift.
Happy birthday to David and to you… never cease to amaze me.