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Raking Leaves

I subscribe to an email devotional from the Henri Nouwen Society, receiving quotes and meditations from the Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian.  Some of his writings are a bit perplexing to me.  But for the most part, they speak to my heart and enlighten areas of my life I’ve needed enlightened.

I have been hard at work, trying to learn to deal with life-shattering grief and how to live without one of my children for the past four and a half years.  For the past couple of years, I’ve read this priest’s writings almost daily, sometimes saving and sometimes deleting them.  Today’s devotion struck a chord in my heart and mind that resonated with my thoughts of late.

The soul-crushing event we experienced four and a half years ago shook everything in my life – my faith, my perspective on life and God, my definition of family and friends, my purpose for existing, and so much more.

I have been sorting through the debris left in my life by this tragedy, trying to find some semblance of my previous normality, with little success.  My previous life is gone.  No matter the amount of time I spend trying to put it back together, it is gone; the pieces of what I knew to be my life have seemingly blown away with the wind.  Not all of them, of course.  I still have my best friend, whom I married some 38 years ago, 4 of my 5 children and 4 precious grandbabies.  The loss of one of my children, though, has absolutely thrown me into a tail-spin of confusion, sorrow and lost footing.  And the people I expected would be a part of my support group, so to speak, have turned out to be nothing of the sort.  Conversely, the ones I didn’t expect to be as strong and supportive as they have been, have shown up and stood up for me, keeping me from plunging head-long into an abyss of sorrow I would never be able to pull myself out of.  I’ve read, several times, that this is often the case when one experiences a life-altering tragedy.

Lately, though, my husband and I have noticed a tendency, stronger than our normal anti-social tendencies, to want to stay away from all people.  As we have become more and more aware of this the past few months, we’ve been slightly (very slightly) alarmed by it, and have questioned the wisdom of giving into it.  As I was pondering this a couple of weeks ago, I remembered this graph, which quieted my anxious heart a bit.

stages of grief

“There we are”, I thought, “right down there at the bottom.”


That pretty much describes how we are feeling.  Though “depression” is how we’ve described it between ourselves since a little before the holidays this past year.  This has been a hard season; a very hard season.

As I’ve mused upon the characteristics of this hard season, though, I realized that it hasn’t all been difficult.  In fact, I’ve felt the comfort and presence of my God more so, and in a different way than in previous seasons of walking this road after tragic loss.

I remember thinking, with each passing phase while raising my children, that every time I got a grip on how things were, developmentally speaking, they changed.  Such is the life of a parent, I suppose.

That is how I feel walking this road of grieving the loss of one of my precious children.  Every time I feel I’ve surpassed a previously unknown and difficult obstacle, a new one surfaces.

Like isolation.  (Though, I must admit, I am most comfortable with this one!  I enjoy being alone almost more than anything else.  Alone, that is, with my husband, who also enjoys being alone (with me) more than almost anything else!)

But depression along with isolation is quite painful.


Here is the quote from Henri Nouwen that spoke so eloquently to my heart and reminded me that isolation is not always bad.  Sometimes it is what needs to occur; sometimes it focuses our hearts and minds on the Lord more clearly and moves us through what we are needing to get through.

“To be calm and quiet by yourself is not the same as sleeping.  In fact, it means being fully awake and following with close attention every move going on inside of you.  It requires the discipline to recognize the urge to get up and go as a temptation to look elsewhere for what is really close at hand.  It offers the freedom to stroll through your own inner yard and rake up the leaves and clear the path so you can easily find the way to your heart.  Perhaps there will be fear and uncertainty when you first come upon this “unfamiliar terrain,” but slowly and surely you will discover an order and a familiarity that deepens your longing to stay home with yourself.”  Henri Nouwen

I feel like I’ve done so much “raking” lately that I just need to stay home and rest.

My confidence is this: That God has a new season on the horizon, and He will bring me to it.

“I will life up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”  Psalm 121:1-2

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!  Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He is gracious to us.”  Psalm 123:1-2

“Therefore, since we have so great a could of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

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