Thursday, August 16, 2012

When Hope Won't Do: Facing the Realities of Complicated Loss

Photo Credit:

Before you dive into today's essay, will you do me and possibly yourself a big favor?  Take a breath and ask yourself if you are ready to deal with difficult feelings.  Painful memories.  The story below is painful and the point I am making in this essay is difficult.  It may be that you are ready to do this now and if so I invite you to read on.  If not, there are any number of incredibly encouraging and inspiring essays to read here, at Faith Village.


I count her as one of my best friends these days, but the day she first appeared in my office I felt utterly undone.

"I cannot pray, can you help me understand why?" she asked.  There was an intensity in her gaze that riveted me.  As I listened to her story of loss and grief the chilling realization overtook me that I did understand why she could not pray.  And I was not sure that I could help her.

She had been driving to work in the darkest hour before sunrise.  She was praying for her son, then six months clean and sober.  As she did on nearly every morning she spent most of her commute time praying for his recovery.  "That day was different," she told me.  "That morning I felt released from the constant worry.  I was completely at ease and at peace, because I had this deep assurance that God was watching over my son."

Not long after she arrived at work she received a phone call.  Her son had been taken to a local emergency room.  He had overdosed.  "It was his first time to use in six months.  His body had lost its tolerance for the dosage he was accustomed to taking so that when he did his usual dose, it was too much for him.  When his friends saw that he was not responding, they were afraid to call an ambulance." 

"He might still be alive if they had called when they first realized something was wrong.  He was dead by the time the ambulance arrived."

After I listened to her story, I found myself saying something to her that surprised even me. "I am not sure you should try to pray right now.  Frankly were I in your circumstances I don't think I could pray either.  Do you mind if I pray for us both?"  She looked directly at me for the first time and nodded her head.

"You have just taken me to a place I have never been before.  I have no answers for you today.  But I know this.  I will be here next week.  I would like you to come back if you are willing and the week after that for as long as you need someone to talk to.  I don't have answers but I do believe that there is strength in making this journey with someone who wants to help you find some answers to this horror."


I can't tell the whole story today.  It is enough right now to say that she did come back and that her willingness to trust me in the midst of the worst kind of pain imaginable will always be a sacred memory. 

Let it be enough for me to write today that there are important reasons why hope is not always the answer to pain.  

Photo Credit: Mark Grace
There are times when the most injurious thing we well-intentioned people of faith can do is to come up with a plan, a formula or resort to reassurances that do not actually reassure anyone.  They may only keep a conversation from happening that must- absolutely must- happen if healing is to take place. 

Don't take my word for it- read Psalm 22, II Corinthians 12:9, or read again the story of Jesus' inexplicable delay in  helping his sick friend Lazarus.  When you read these stories, do not rush to the happy ending. 

Stay with the agonizing moments, hours and days when nothing was answered, when confusion and desperation were at their height and when hope had to die so that something genuinely new could be resurrected.

Here is a poem by the Brazilian poet, Carlos Drummond, de Andrade that says this much better than I can:


by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translation by Mark Strand

A time comes when you no longer can say: my God.
A time of total cleaning up.
A time when you no longer can say: my love.
Because love proved useless.
And the eyes don't cry.
And the hands do only rough work.
And the heart is dry.

Others knock at your door in vain, you won't open.
You remain alone, the lights turned off,
and your enormous eyes shine in the dark.
It is obvious you no longer know how to suffer.
And you want nothing from your friends.

Who cares if old age comes, what is old age?
Your shoulders are holding up the world
and it's lighter than a child's hand.
Wars, famine, family fights inside buildings
prove only that life goes on

and not everybody has freed himself yet.
Some (the delicate ones) judging the spectacle cruel
will prefer to die.
A time comes when death doesn't help.
A time comes when life is an order.
Just life, without any escapes.

Thank you for stopping by.  Because you made it this far, I want to ask you to be kind to yourself today.  Find someone to talk to about what you have read and the feelings it stirs up in you.  As always, I'd love for you to leave a comment- no one can say everything about a subject this complex in 800 words-- but this time talking to an actual human being is much more important.  Next Tuesday I will write about the rest of this story, about rebirth and healing.

Photo Credit:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join the conversation! Leave a comment.