Sunday, April 10, 2016

Surviving Loss

When I learned Brandon and Jennifer Harris were leaving Avondale UMC, I felt a genuine and profound sorrow deep in my gut. If you know me personally, you know I don't handle goodbyes well at all. I don't even say, "goodbye" on the phone. I've been known to stay at a job I hated for years because I couldn't bring myself to say goodbye to my co-workers. For me, GOODBYE means LOSS.

On some level, I know the intense sorrow I feel now will gradually fade, but I also know that will take time. It's the nature of the "grief process" that I have to endure until time (and some effort on my part) heals the hole left in my heart by the absence of someone I love.

Helen Kubler-Ross spent her whole life studying grief. She interviewed thousands of dying patients and their families. While her research involved death and dying, her findings are applicable to any loss, whether it's the death of a family member or a beloved pet, or loss of a limb or eyesight, or loss of a job or loss of mobility. It also applies to temporary or minor losses, such as children moving away, or going away to college (more commonly referred to as "empty nest syndrome"), divorce, or even losing a pastor you've come to love.

So, in an effort to help myself through this grief process, I'm revisiting Kubler-Ross's "stages of grief". Like back to nursing school.

Stage 1 is DENIAL. It's the stage I was in for several weeks when I learned Brandon might be leaving. I thought, surely not. He has been there only 6 years, and we are in the middle of a Capital Campaign. Surely the bishop will leave him there at least until that's over. Besides, Brandon has been responsible for so much growth and rejuvenation there. We NEED him, so It just can't happen.

Stage 2 is BARGAINING. I went through that too. BIG TIME. I prayed. "Dear Lord, If you let Brandon and Jennifer stay here, I'll never miss church again. I'll give more money to the church. I'll stop making excuses about why I can't sing in the choir. I'll 'greet my neighbor' with joy instead of reluctance. PLEASE let him stay here." I tried bargaining with the District Superintendent. That lasted about 3 seconds. So it was back to, "Dear Lord, please soften the heart of the Superintendent and the bishop. I'll do anything." I'm human, not Jesus. I couldn't bring myself to say, "Not my will, but THINE be done." Well, I might have said it, but I didn't honestly FEEL it.

Stage 3 is ANGER. For me, anger was mixed with the bargaining. I was angry at the District Superintendent, angry at the bishop, but also angry at myself. What did I personally do to cause this event? What could I have done different? Why couldn't I find the words or the actions or the prayer to make a difference? It's not fair! How in the world can this happen? Why NOW? The helplessness I felt in not being able to change the decision made me angry. I HATE feeling powerless!

Stage 4 is DEPRESSION. Depression is something I don't do well either. It's too painful. But it seems like that's the stage I'm moving into now. During the depression stage, I know I will be sad and discouraged. The plea in my prayers was useless. All the emotional investment and all the trust and all the faith and all the expectations I put into the relationship with Brandon and Jennifer is disintegrating. Disappearing before my very eyes. I am heartbroken. Hopeless... well, DEPRESSED.

Stage 5 is ACCEPTANCE, and Kubler-Ross adds INTEGRATION INTO A NEW LIFE STYLE. As I participate in the transition, I know action will help. It's hard for me to be depressed if I am active. Acceptance will happen when I can truthfully say to God, "I'm sorry I didn't trust You to know what is best. I relinquish my stubbornness and put my faith in You. Please continue to bless me and Avondale UMC." I know depression won't change the facts. And it doesn't help me or anyone else. If I'm to help myself, I have to accept the change and move forward. It doesn't mean I won't miss Brandon and Jennifer acutely and deeply, but it does mean a healthy transition.

There is a new pastor on the horizon, and I owe it to her (and frankly, to myself) to offer her my love and support. I'm sure it's difficult for her to leave the congregation she has loved the last 3 years and come into an unknown environment at Avondale UMC. That goodbye is probably just as hard for her as this one is for me. But fortunately for me, I have a loving and supportive church family, and I know God will help us help each other through this goodbye, and move forward with that same love and support for Malinda and Disney Weaver. And most importantly, move forward WITH JOY.

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