Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Night

I had a really difficult time sleeping on Saturday night. I tossed and turned and had stabbing pains in my chest and panicky thoughts. The world and my future felt suffocatingly dark. I got up for a while, I prayed, I tried to think happy thoughts, I went on my Facebook page, I watched dvd's. I went through the whole bag of tricks that I've used in the past year to sleep, but they were only minimally effective. I finally fell asleep at about 4 am.

It was an impressively bad night, and I tried to sort it out yesterday, and could only conclude one thing. It was the night of Joe's birthday, and I was having a so-called "grief reaction". I've learned this past year that when I feel miserable to my core-- body, soul and spirit-- and there is no other explanation for it, then it's a grief reaction. I now conclude it was because we had a birthday party (which is necessary for the grandchildren's sake, but always feels not quite right), and Joey wasn't there, and we aren't going to see him again for a very long time, and everyone is sad and subdued, and trying to carry on anyway, and "ohh, this hurts so bad--how long can I do this, God"?

Yesterday, in the comforting light of day, my dark thoughts went into remission. But I read Gannet Girl's blog, Desert Year, and it got me thinking again. She is asking her readers to respond to a poll on the spiritual impact of their loss. She asks, "In the biggest loss of your life, did God feel ____?" Here she provides several options to choose from, basically asking how close does God feel in your loss. Right now, the front runner is: "In the biggest loss of my life, God felt faraway, but still a reality".

This poll intrigues me because one of the worst features of Joey's passing has been a feeling of distance from God, especially in the dark hours of night, but even in daylight, more often than I would like. I have been a solid believer for 40 years, yet this past year has brought more doubts and questions than I ever thought possible. I've had difficulty praying and difficulty reading my Bible. I grab on to helpful Bible verses like a drowning person grabs on to a raft, but I have no strength for anything more than holding on with all my might. My daughter says I write like I'm trying to talk myself into believing what I'm saying. I've thought on more than one occasion, "If He loved me, He would never do this to me". The coziness I felt with God before Joey passed has fled somewhere, and I am trying to piece it all together again.

I know there are others who suffer deep loss without the questions, but I am wondering if this questioning of God's love/presence is an almost universal response to suffering. Even Jesus asked, "My God, why have you forsaken me?".

Our pastor has been teaching on the sufferings of Job. He says everyone has a Job story, and the book of Job was written not because Job was unique, but because his life reflects what we all go through on some level. He also says the voices in our heads-- the doubts, fears, and questions --are like Job's accusing friends. God silenced Job's friends by pointing to His power and beauty in nature. I have to say that I really get that. God's power and creativity in nature is one of the few things that deeply comforts me and has also quieted my chaotic heart this past year.

So I am going to follow in Gannet Girl's steps. I would set up a poll if I knew how, but instead I will ask my readers a version of her question:

In the biggest loss of your life, did God feel close or faraway?

I hope you share your thoughts, and I look forward to reading your answers....

Psalm 42
9 I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?"
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.


Anonymous said...

Dear Karen,
I thought it would help if someone shared first.
It's rather hard for me to answer your question. As you well know I already had established issues with God before my sister's passing. My initial shock and the circumstances from her death developed into resentment and bitterness toward God, none of which He is deserving of. Still, I couldn't help but lay the blame at His feet and wrestle Him constantly with questions.
I think it has to be a natural, universal action for people to question God in their time of loss and grief. I truly believe God is so understanding and patient with us. Even when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead He knew the great miracle He was about to perform but it didn't stop Him from answering Mary's questions and weeping with her and the other grievers. (I really believe Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was to encourage our faith, only for believing in the truth of the resurrection and in so doing, comfort us about our difficult time dealing with death). That's why he had the people unwrap Lazarus’s grave clothes so their faith could become one of reality. They could actually touch the hope and the promise!
Over the years He has patiently loved and comforted me out of the bitterness and resentment although at times I must truly work at not spending too much time in my old stomping grounds.
With every baby born a person dies and yet, we are so much more comfortable with the miracle of birth than death. Death is saying goodbye, death is final and if it's unexpected, even more so shocking to us.
I know you said in your blog that when people say, "at least they’re in Heaven," doesn’t offer you much comfort, I understand where you are coming from because with one sentence people are trying to somehow bring comfort to months and months of unthinkable pain.
I have to say though that I take my greatest comfort in knowing where my sister is (not from someone telling me but me knowing). It’s been too many years. I’ve lost hope of seeing her again here on this earth; I can’t visit her or call her. It puts my heart at rest knowing she is safe in the arms of Jesus. Not only is she in a safe place but I will see her again.
Jesus gives us the promise: "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: John11:25
I'm sorry for your bad nights Karen and I know Joe, although silent is in as much pain as you. We ache for you and are praying for you. Although you have the promise of seeing Joey again, no one in this world can understand the feelings you both have of missing him. Even so, I think Joey was taking great delight watching the ball game at Joe’s party…yes; I believe very much Jesus can do that for Joey! What an incredible family you have for support, love and to be there for one another!
Much love and comfort to you,

Gannet Girl said...

Far far far far far.

karen gerstenberger said...

Dear Karen,

How I wish we could sit together on my couch, with a mug of something warm in our hands, and discuss this slowly and at whatever length it takes. It is a very important posting, and you raise huge issues with it.

God felt present during the crisis, but not always "palpable," not always comfortingly close. Sometimes there was just an echo in the darkness. Those times were probably the hardest.

I feel, at times, nowadays that I'm the one who has turned my face away, not God. Perhaps it's because this experience has caused so many crises of "WHO ARE YOU?" within me, about God (and sometimes, about me).
God is apparently not who I thought God was, not who I was taught God was. And when I read the Gospels, it's all in there; I just chose to take it in a different way, before I knew what I know now - when THIS life was unimaginable to me. But Jesus' mother lived this life; it's right there in the Gospels! So who was God then, at the annunciation, for her who was "Blessed among women," and who was He when she was standing at the foot of the cross? Those are the questions that I wrestle with, when I have the energy to do so. Some days, I just turn my head and look the other way. Those are not necessarily good days, but we need to rest sometimes!

There are some books that I've read that have helped me to accept God as unconditionally loving (yet mysterious) through this.
The Kingdom of God is Like..." by Thomas Keating, and "Things Hidden" by Richard Rohr, have been particularly helpful.

It's the question of "omnipotence" that often poses a problem for me, if I am going to be logical. What would that mean now? That God had the power to stop this, but didn't? That God had the power to stop this, but gave up His power to show us that He understands us? That God DIDN'T have the power to stop this? Why create such a broken world in the first place?
I don't know.
Looking at Jesus' crucifixion - and his resurrection - I know that there are some things that I just don't get right now. It's a mystery.

I hope this helps to answer your question.

My chest hurt a lot during the first year. It's more my neck and back now, and massage therapy with a great therapist has made a HUGE difference to my survival. Perhaps that will be a comfort to you, as well. Sending deep compassion and understanding, as well as love, to you.

Anonymous said...

I don't even have to stop and think for a moment about this. I have not yet backed away from God. I just know I can't. It scares me because I know that I need Him and since Angie is there with Him I need to stay close. If anything I feel unworthy of Him.
I am always thinking who do I think I am. Why shouldn't I have to suffer like so many others. I
know there is so much more suffering and loss in many familys. Why do I think God should treat me any different? I always remember when a pastor once said if you think things are bad now try being a Christian. Now I understand just what that means.
Angie was so sick and I prayed for so long for a miracle or for God to bring her home. I knew that in heaven she would be happy and no more sorrow no more pain. I also believe she is not knowing of what I do or think here as she would be sad. I just talk to God and He is the one that touches my sholder and dries my tears. The reasons why is indeed a mystery and I find myself wishing I could know. Would it bring me comfort...I will not know while here on this earth. I instead am always thinking of what I didn't do for our daughter before she left. We had time so those days were spent trying to do what was right and now I just scream at myself for the things I did not do. I know she is better in heaven, she suffered so much. I guess that is where the difference is. With Joey one day he was fine and then.... I struggle with knowing that and think it has to be hard. The other day I sent my niece a note and said I do not know what happiness is any longer. I look at old pictures and miss what that is like. I just can't get myself in the same thought of knowing it is okay. I ask myself all the time if all I feel is what everyone else feels. How can there be so much pain in my body. I look at smiling people and wonder if they are real. I am the same with reading the bible. I can't seem to grasp it all and my energy levil is at low most of the time. I do soak up the sermons and find comfort in listening to others tell me about our wonderful God and what he does for us.
Karen I sometimes think with our loss we bring something of ourselves to each other. I woke up Sunday morning with a huge pain in my back. Nick rubbed some stuff on my back before going to church. It lasted most of the day. This morning it is in the upper part. I didn't think about the pain part untill I read it from the other Karen, just wondered what I had done. I also had a long dark night on Sunday with feelings of dispare and pain in my chest. I layed there and wondered if I was having heart problems. I am curious how many go through the same procedure during the days and months following a loss. I wish I had written a truthful journal so I could compare. I didn't think I was okay to share the pain I was having and still am.
I am sorry for getting off the path of your question but know you understand, you both do.
Love Sharon

flowergardengirl said...

I can relate to the after affects of dramatic moments. They hit me hard too. I can imagine the birthdays were painful. I actually thought about that for you and wondered how you responded to the chemicals that are produced in the body during times of stress. For me and my MrD, it causes debilitating migraines.

MrD goes through high stress weeks every week and then on the weekends those chemicals release and poisons his brain causing him to be super sick. That's how his neurologist explains it. Tells him to get more exercise and that does help. Drinking lots of water helps too. But it's so bad he has to take maintenance drugs through the week or he'd be in bed all weekend.

So I do know it's a physical response to stress that causes you not to sleep and makes excessive thinking even worse. So that answers the physical response huh?

And so then you ask....Did God feel close or far far away during the biggest loss of our lives---well....I went numb. I fear God too much to think he didn't care. I did cry out to God to just take me home. I told him I didn't want to live here either.

Beckypdj said...

Did God feel close or far away? Both. Those first few days after Peyton went to Heaven (Jan 12, 2008), the thing I knew, the thing I held onto was the fact that God loved me. However, I could not pray for months. What could I say?

I do not know the whys or hows, I just know what is. My son is in Heaven and I am here. His 18th birthday is one week away. I miss him.

Even 21 months into this grief journey, part of me still thinks I am going to see him again, here on earth. I know this is not true. I will see him in Heaven. If I didn't know that, I believe I would have lost my mind. I am so much better than I was, but it was a battle and still is on some days.

So sorry for your loss and the fact you are having bad nights.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen;
I'm glad you posted this and it got me to thinking, which I have been doing a lot of lately after Toni died. I know it's not the same as losing a child, but I feel like I've lost a part of who I am, she was my best friend, she was my go to person. I have felt so empty, kind of lost. I felt that God was far away not near. I know HE is near, but I just don't feel it.

josh said...

You've probably heard my story before, but I definitely felt God's presence at the very moment of my loss. After getting hit by the car, lying on the hot pavement staring up at a blue sky, hearing myself scream as if in the distance, a portion of a verse that I had memorized a year earlier for no reason popped into my head and began to recite itself over and over and over: "Shall I accept good from the Lord and not trouble?" - Job 2:10. The full verse is in response to his wife who tells him to curse God, but he says "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

I knew in that moment that God had me in the palm of his hand. It was a fearful place to be, but joyful as well. That brief moment was the only memory I retained from my entire injury and the three days after.

Even before my loss, my understanding of God and life included affliction in his plan, as his means for making us holy and like his son. There's no other way. Material blessing and prosperity can come from the Lord, but they don't make us look beyond this life to eternity. We have to experience the pain, the lack, the crushing of us as creations before we truly understand our place in his story, before we can receive his greater blessings.

However, just because I felt and rejoiced over God's hand in my moment of loss doesn't mean I wasn't human. I feared the holiness he was foisting on me. I fought against him. I prayed for him to ignore me from then on, that I couldn't bear any more of his "favor." Through it all, I believed in God's goodness but I believed that goodness to be painful for me, so I didn't want any more of it. I wanted my lower body back more than I wanted God to share his sense of loss with me.

For ten years at least, I went through all the reactions to loss: anger, grief, acceptance, fear, apathy, depression. And not really in the right order, just back and forth and all over the place. Finally, it just sort of wore off. Time eroded the emotions, and now all I experience is a wistful longing for a few of the things I used to be able to do, or never got to do.

I think I got a little sidetracked from answering your question, but I hope that was in the ballpark.

JIM said...

Hi Beloved Sister,
I type this with tears in my eyes, for it is not comforting to know that there is still such grief in your heart. Still, a small amount of comfort may be realized by noting a subtle distinction, there is a huge difference between belief and knowing. Belief comes from the mind, knowing is from the soul. I know God is my savior, my Father, the holy one. God does not make mistakes, know this. As always, I love you. Jim