It's December 16, 2008 - almost five months since my mother died - and I'm getting ready to go on visitation to our community in Michigan. Grief inhabits me and I inhabit grief to such an extent that I'm simply not up to the demands of my job, the office of Provincial and I wonder if I can keep going. Is it fair on the Province community for me to continue holding a position of responsibility when I cannot fulfil its demands?
I'm plodding around all of this mire inside myself when I get a call from a member of the community who, in the course of our conversation, informs me that the "lads" are unhappy with the way I'm doing the job.
But the "lads" have forgotten that my mother is dead and I'm facing my first Christmas without her - the first in 53 years. I'm sure I've also forgotten other people's grief and need to learn from this.
The complaint hurls me nosediving to a decision that was waiting to be made. I will resign. I will give up so that they can get on with their life and I can get on with grieving in private rather than under the public gaze of my community.
I told my colleague that I would step down after I returned from the Michigan trip. He was shocked and told me not to do anything rash! He regrets saying anything but I sense that all of this is necessary and tell him not to worry.
The bus for the airport was leaving at 2.00 am and I waited in the icy cold of that night - shivering in the deepest recesses of my soul. Physically I feel sick and profoundly alone.
Wandering around the airport in a daze I want a word, a sign from the Lord, and I'm telling him I cannot go on. I would rather suffer infinite physical pain than go on in this job. Let me be a monk or a missionary! But not this!
A good deal of the hurt is that I am "told" that some of my strongest critics are those who would be considered my friends. I have sensed this but having it said to me was hard.
Asking God for a word, a sign as to what I should do. Would stepping down be flight? But it's what I badly needed to do and tell God I would do it unless He made it clear that I shouldn't.
In the airport bookshop my eye falls on a book called "John" by Niall Williams. It's about the Beloved Disciple in exile in Patmos. Because I love John and the writings of Niall Williams, I decide to buy it. It helps to ease my pain as I fly.
And I come on a decisive moment in the story - a young disciple of John is at the end of his tether and as he is climbing up a cliff-face, "...there crosses his mind the thought of letting go...falling head first...the perfect calm of a mind cleansed of all concern. Then he returned to the faith that there is something for him, that there is a destiny yet unknown that is his and that it has been scripted by the Lord himself." ("John" pp67-68)
This is exactly where I am - hanging on for dear life and the awful attraction of letting go, falling into nothingness. Not physically but emotionally, mentally.
And then the dawning realization that letting go, giving up is not an option because there is something, a destiny yet unknown that has been scripted by the Lord. And I'm a sucker for the Lord! He knows it.
Later I feel like the old John when he like me says, "I fail you, Lord. I am weak. I fail you. If the servant fail his Master, ought not that Master to find a better servant?" (p69)
Of course our Master doesn't give in to such thoughts, not wanting another servant - even a better one. He usually hangs on to the one who knows his own failure.
That was the word, the sign I sought. Not the answer I wanted but there it was.
There's a stop-over and a delay in Chicago, O'Hare Airport. It's snowing and minus 11c. On a day when the darkness within is at its fiercest and earth in the grip of bitterness, I see a Boeing 737 churning up the snow in a magnificent white cloud, losing itself in it while I lose sight of myself a while. I feel less sore and better able to continue.
These words arise in prayer:
"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you." (Isaiah)
"I will hear...a voice that speaks of peace." (Ps 85)
I will fix my mind, the eye of my soul, on the Lord and I will pay heed to His voice. There is no other way of being able to continue.
We each live in our own place of loss and desolation; we have to be faithful to the truth of who and how we are at a given moment; faithful to the truth of what God is doing to us in this present reality. Trust is not cheaply gained and there is much pain even in the moment of greatest trust or surrender.
But I'm in a nervous state and expect that every phone call will be negative, the bearer of bad news and above all a reminder of how useless I am at my job. I sleep very badly feeling that I am reliving the agony Mam went through in her final illness.
I'm in a deep sleep at 6.15am when my mobile phone vibrates on the desk before hopping into the dustbin with a clatter. Too late. After much frustration the caller and I connect and it doesn't bring as much bad news as I fear and so I breathe again. But how long?
December 24, 2008 Dundrum
All my days in Wyandotte I felt sick with the restlessness of Job - at night I couldn't wait for morning and when morning came I wanted to hide in bed. This feeling continues.
It was an OK kind of day. The obvious pain of grief, absence of Mam who is hugely entwined in every Christmas that has ever been, giving it a particular flavour.
We have held life this year, we have held it intimately in its ending with Mam and its beginning with the birth of Katie - not to speak of its middle. I don't know what more to say of this middle that we are living.
Anyway I have chosen to attend tonight to life in its infancy - that of Jesus and that of Katie, the parallels, the mystery in both. The undeniable love of parents - Harry, Elaine, God. Mam! And it is powerful. And I feel OK for now.
As I have been reflecting on Katie Harry phones and speaks of his difficulty with this day. That unsettled feeling. Not knowing what to do, where to be. None of us know.
"when I was cut to the quick,
I was stupid and did not understand,
no better than a beast in your sight.
yet I was always in your presence;
you were holding me..."
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