Although Montana has had ups and downs (47 one night and the high 90’s some afternoons), we are definitely in the “dog days” of summer. This period was thought by the Romans to be a poor time in people’s lives – definitely not like the spring, when their troops would “march” off to war in the name of the God of War. The definition characterizes this period as ”a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.”
The definition brings to mind some thought about lethargy, which is often a part of grief and/or depression. Since I experienced a major time of lethargy and know what it can do to people, I wanted to re-share a story which I tell in my book, “Walking at the Speed of Light.”
One winter I found myself being nonproductive in my job as library director. I seemed immobilized – could not complete tasks, would end a day feeling that nothing was accomplished, etc., and also kept forgetting things. Because my parents both suffered from dementia, at 66 years of age I was really frightened that I was beginning that condition.
I took a break to go on a cruise with my daughter, an adventure which turned into a fiasco when our cruise ship was trapped in Houston Harbor by an oil spill. Because we were restricted to on-ship activities, we had extra time to talk. My brilliant bank officer daughter confided that she was unusually nonproductive, forgetting things, getting to the end of the day with nothing accomplished etc.
When she finished, I burst into tears and told her that in suffering the same symptoms, I had been afraid of dementia. Then we both realized that what we were experiencing was lethargy and nonproductivity brought on by our grief over our beloved Josh’s death. And we both began to heal.
This experience has two lessons to it. First, people need to realize that grief and depression can bring on lethargy and useless feelings, forgetfulness and much more and that they shouldn’t “beat themselves up” for those things. Guilt only makes that condition worse. Second, sharing the concerns with others who have or have had grief experiences can help us understand what we are going through and come to a point of coping and healing.
I am dealing with an accusation of being overly optimistic about grief and depression and my view of healing. First, I am enough of a realist to know that when you put your opinions into writing and share them with others, of course everyone is not required to agree or to react in any kind of a positive way. Controversy and varied opinions are not only guaranteed but also a sign of a healthy society which values free speech and thought.
Second, if you have read my book, you know that I included a chapter which dealt with the extreme depression I went through after my son’s death. When I described the feeling of not only dropping into a black hole but also reaching a point where there was little to no desire to continue the struggle to climb out, I definitely was not being overly optimistic. In fact, I understand despair and desperation as well as inertia really well.
However, I have spent many, many hours studying the Bible and in particular the New Testament life and words of Jesus. I have found Him always to be both realistic about the human condition and offering better life, future hope and optimism to everyone around Him. Only when people like the Pharisees and the rich young man cling to wrong thinking and wrong ways does He rebuke them. Otherwise, He offers compassion.
I also have to say that one of the most consistently positive things I have seen in use in education, all the way from tiny tots in library Story Hour to seniors in advanced classes is a good story. Jesus is the master of the good story! He uses parables to make clear His teachings and to convey His optimistic expectations for all mankind.
The story of the Prodigal Son is an excellent example of what I am talking about. Jesus tells a very common, realistic story of what can happen with natural rebellion, succumbing to sinful nature, greed and lawlessness. But He offers the solution of a father’s forgiveness and benevolence, and offers His audience the opportunity of a welcoming future.
Bottom line, I sincerely believe that Jesus’ way offers optimism to everyone, no matter how dark their present. May He bless you richly. Amen.
The news today in Montana included a memorial to a group of firefighters who died in 1949 at the Mann Gulch Fire near our capital of Helena. People all over our state mourned when this tragedy happened, and the history of grief returns with the 50-year tribute to the men and their deaths.
Elsewhere today, people are grieving in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, where mass shootings have left many dead and many worried about public safety in our country where mental problems and use of mind-altering drugs are out of control. We hurt whenever these tragedies happen, both for those who die and for those who are directly dealing with loss of friends and family members.
So often when we think about grief, we consider it a solitary, personal thing. But today’s events remind us that grief is also a group emotion, sometimes a nationwide emotion. When we deal with personal grief, we approach it from our own understanding of our faith. Grief shared across boundaries, however, often includes people of many faiths, many levels of belief, and many concepts about eternity.
Where does Jesus enter into this shared grief? Is he there just for those who gather in a Christian church or those who say the right words? The answer is a resounding “No”. He is the Lord who died for us all, who loves us all. We Christians need to see God’s hand in every part of history, despite the fact that we know that He is not the author of our tragedies.
Through all times, He has offered compassion and comfort to all people, if they will only accept it and cling to Him when they are in need. He cannot force their belief but instead offer the rewards for that belief. What that means is that every tragedy deserves our response of grief, empathy and prayers for all suffering people. When we know that all is in His hands, we can depend on our faith for all situations and all times.
Walking with the Light of the World gives us belief in Perpetual Light, in God’s hand in all times, and in the power of belief and prayer in the face of all tragedy. Amen.
When I began this blog, I knew that writing once a week would have to work in with my schedule and my life in general, something that entails ups and downs. I also knew that I would often revive my grief experiences, just as I do when I present programs. All of these things provide opportunity for coming closer to Jesus through pain, exploration of Scripture, and deeper understanding.
What I did not expect was to be writing a blog entry at a time when fresh grief surrounds me. Today I learned that a favorite cousin is suffering from cancer which has spread and is now in hospice care. He is someone I have known and treasured my whole life, and even though I know that his Christian faith is strong and his place in Heaven is assured, I am hurting.
One horrible side effect of grief for some people is guilt, and I really feel for them. In my case, there is no guilt but there is some regret, something that I think most grieving people face at least to some extent. When my cousin’s older brother died, we had some very special time to talk, and I learned more of his belief in Jesus as well as his life in Maine.
I promised to visit him and his wonderful wife and hopefully meet more of their grown family. They had a favorite camping spot in the forest in Maine, and my love of such places drew me even more to the idea of spending time with them there. Unfortunately, my promise to him seemed to have no timeline, and it was easy to think I would make that visit someday, a someday that always seemed possible.
Instead, I must treasure that talk of some time ago and all of the contact we have had by mail, by Facebook, and by other means. Despite my regrets, I know that my cousin knows that I love him and pray for him. I can turn to Jesus’ words and be reassured that He blesses such relationships and comforts us when we grieve. Thank God for faith!
I want to share some new thoughts I have had about grief and depression recently. I think about these things often, searching for truths for myself and for others with similar experiences. Often, these thoughts on grief incorporate encouraging others to stay busy, to reach out to others, to call on the resilience which allows us to continue with life no matter how difficult our experiences.
The focus has been on the dangers of staying in the black hole which feeds inactivity, lack of ambition and coping skills. There is no question that grief and depression can suck us in and rob us of normal life. Often, people dealing with those conditions find themselves unable to do anything or even to want to do anything.
However, I am going through a period right now of the opposite, of over-activity, of frenetic dashing from one thing to another, including lots of travel. Everything I am doing is good, everyone involved is very worth my time, and the activities are worthwhile and fun. Unfortunately, all of that does not change the fact that all of this is too much.
My overly busy life made me aware that encouraging people to stay busy may be appropriate in some cases but is not the whole answer to dealing with grief or with life in general. We need to find a balance. The biggest problem with erring on the excessively busy side is that we too often don’t make time for both talking to and listening to Jesus. Then we can lose our way in all our activities and get out of step with God’s will.
Grief and depression will not be healed by avoidance, by running away in all directions instead of following Jesus’ way. Just as we can be damaged by inactivity and wallowing in grief, we can also be damaged by a lack of real answers and direction by the Savior who loves us so much.
Please join me as I pray for guidance to find that balance that allows each one of us to live a good life with God’s blessings but also to honor the grief and the loved one or loved ones whose loss has an effect on our lives.
I just want to continue to share ideas about grief and life with people who long as I do for comfort and understanding.