Monday, March 29, 2010

Questions, Folks:

1. I have been asked to make a presentation on surviving a loved one's suicide to a class on pastoral care, loss, and grief. Of course, I have lots to say, but only from my own perspective. Any ideas, those of you who have also suffered the loss of a child via any means or the loss via suicide of anyone you love, or have served those who have experienced such losses as a pastor or spiritual director?

2. I have recently discovered that the next (end of summer) days for the five-day Exegesis exam, which I have already blown once, encompass September 1, my boys' 26th birthday, and September 2, the second anniversary of Josh's death. I am thinking: ask for an early or late alternative test (Do they even offer those? No idea. ) or try to work really fast and finish up by the morning of September 1 so I can hightail it outta here. What would you do?


  1. I was in a vehicle on interstate, when my friend, related the suicide of her brother and two years later her nephew. She told me, did not judge me or my family when so many others did. As you know, her family is forever changed.

    As for the ords, I think your best option may be to contact your CPM and ask about an alternative exam for the exegesis. Most presbyteries allow for alternative exams for extenuating circumstances. I cannot help but see how this would qualify. However, it does depend on each individual presbytery.

  2. Ask for an alternate date. It can't hurt.

  3. absolutely positively ask for an alternative exam/date. you have a totally, absolutely legitimate reason. to make you wait until february would be cruel. to make you take the test that week-inhumane. if i were chair of your cpm (i used to be chair of a cpm) i'd do whatever i could to help.

  4. I could send you a pound of well developed stoicism.

  5. Definitely ask for an alternate date--preferably a few weeks earlier.

  6. I have a zillion things to say about surviving the sudden and violent loss of a very young child, and helping--or at the minimum not hurting--survivors....If you want to hear them all we might want to talk on the phone, which I would be very happy to do. Feel free to FB message or email if interested. I can also snailmail you a copy of my little US Catholic article on What Not to Say to a Grieving Parent, which was excerpted in a MADD training manual, if you would like to duplicate and give it to them.

    Short version: I found it very important to grapple, intellectually and emotionally and spiritually, with the question of God's part in the tragedy. I heard and hear copious versions, explicit and implicit, of God's will/mysterious plan about many evils and premature deaths--in general, the death of Jesus, of my child--from the pulpit, in conversation with church people etc. I consider this, including much Holy Week preaching, theologically bankrupt and spiritually abusive and tremendously hurtful to survivors. (The link was made very clear when I asked my fundamentalist sister-in-law to please stop saying it was God's will that a careless driver killed my toddler...She said "It says right here in the Bible that God wanted Jesus to die, so why not her?") Survivors need to know that deaths from evil, injustice, etc. are against God's will and that God is weeping and raging with them, not inflicting it on them.

    What may seem paradoxical: I also found it tremendously helpful to engage in lament and imprecatory prayer, psalm based and personal, and a huge turning point for me was on my first retreat three months post accident. Because I knew intellectually that God didn't do it but felt in my gut terrible betrayal and hatred at God for letting it happen. I knew theoretically this was okay to bring to prayer but didn't really do it till my director "gave me permission" by remarking that she had the most profound mystical experiences of her life after she began cussing God out. I started doing this with great trepidation in both prayer and journaling and it utterly transformed my life, in many ways beyond dealing with the death. So somehow validating the intellectual clarity that God didn't do it and the emotional permission to bring to prayer the feelings that God did were both key and I think very neglected parts of healing any kind of trauma.

    Oh, and they should also be aware how much previous losses and traumas are retriggered and can complicate grief--in my case a serious abuse history and the ecclesially abusive denial of my vocation to priesthood. The anguish of all three was woven together and so was the healing and liberation.

  7. Request made and rejected, at the highest level.

    I'm not going to write about my feelings in a public place, except to say:

    Guess you can send the pound of stoicism on over, Wayne, and

    I was a lot happier with last week's pound of nard.

  8. well, ya' know, just cause you're going to be a pastor doesn't mean we can trust your confidentiality, and you might tell others the passage and the questions and that would give them an unfair advantage. (removing tongue from cheek) they are SOOOO inflexible on those exams.
    and they're changing the format AGAIN (
    Personally, I'd vote for doing it in 3.5 days if you can. Prayers either way.

  9. Oh my, Robin, that is just too much. I am so sad that you are forced to take a test on the most emotional days of your life. I will be praying for wisdom for you. I need lots of space around those days and know you do too.

  10. Oh, Robin, that is just evil. I am so very sorry to hear this.


    (Imprecatory, perhaps, in regards to the officials involved...Certainly that they will experience much needed conversion of mind and heart).

  11. I am so sorry you have to face an exam at this moment, but even more sorry that you have not received compassion and understanding from your seminary authorities.

    Regarding your first question. It was always easy for me to feel judged and that I was a lousy parent for letting my child die. Looking back to those early years after my darling boy;s death I think I often overreacted and that I may have misjudged some people. The other thing that made me crazy then and now is when someone should infers that this was God's will. I still get very rude to people to say this - usually that they can shove their God ....etc etc. Not pretty - and probably has roots elsewhere in my history.

    Lastly I was in such strange, alien territory and no one around me would acknowledge that. It didn't matter that the people around me hadn't had my experience, but that they recognised I was in an alien lonely place, and help me figure out how to pick my way through it.

  12. Robin - the only thing I can come up with regarding the exams is that God is in this. God is in this decision and your experience. You will not be alone or abandoned or even "in the wrong place" when you take those exams. Whatever you say on those days is what needs saying .... and well, I know it may not be comforting, but I mean it to be.

    From my perspective as a person who cares for, listens to, and loves others through their loss is that when someone wants to talk about their child engage in the conversation. Do not shy away as if you could "hurt" them by mentioning their beloved child, and the experience of that life.

    I also gather pictures from my friends and keep those pictures of their loved ones ... I look at them each day, like pictures of my own kids. I remember that they are mothers (most of them are women) even if their child has died. They are sons (now I'm thinking of my daughters beloved who lost his dad to suicide) even if their fathers have died.

    Also, the whole process of judgment just simply has to be addressed. We have got to drop our cultural judgment of suicide as if we "know" what, why, and wherefor. Every individual person who can come two paces off of their own judgment makes a little more space for the reality and feelings and experiences of others. I feel that is something we all can do.

  13. That is outrageous. However, I would submit that the "highest level" is the Presbytery itself. Is your EP at all sympathetic/ available? Or any minister member? I would try to get a vote on it... that may or may not be the way you would choose to go, but. I'm just stunned at the callousness.

  14. You know, it's ok. I'm just going to set myself an artificially early deadline and plow through it and hope for the best.

    The powers-that be at seminary and my friends here and online are being wonderful, so I am going to go with all that support, and hope that I will not turn into a person who turns callously away from individual circumstances with a "that's the rule" response.

  15. Absolutely, Robin. Every step of your journey is filled with choices just like that, that you make, to live into the life you have.

    I think this is what will serve you and your parishioners into the future.

    And, certainly, this is what will best serve God.

    Prayers continue for your walk.

  16. Have been praying for your discernment of how to handle this, Robin, and will pray ongoing for your ability to ace this thing on the short schedule. So glad you are getting love and support to help make that possible.

    Cindy, I don't know how Robin felt about your remark that God is in this hurtful decision...but it ironically relates to her other question. So as a mother who was devastated by many similar comments when her nursing toddler was killed by a careless driver I need to speak up, and would appreciate your considering my perspective.

    Many spiritual folks, both Christian and New Age, assume and assert that anything that happens is somehow God's will, and God will bring something good out of it, and say as much to people who have been deeply harmed by tragedy or people's free choice to do evil. My own belief is that there are evil, hurtful decisions of all sorts that God is not in at all, except to suffer with the victims. God and the victims may be able to bring good out of bad--but that does not make the bad okay, or God's will, or invalidate their feelings of pain and anger--which is what can be unintentionally implied when that is the focus in responding to their expressions of hurt or anger. Besides the death of my daughter I have been deeply hurt by similar comments about the clergy sexual abuse I survived as a young woman--"It will help you help others" etc. So I don't matter? My daughter doesn't? God cheerfully sacrificed us for others? Etc.

    Thanks v. much for listening and considering my point of view, Cindy. Robin, I hope this wasn't a threadjack or disrespectful to your seemed related to your other question and is something I am rather obsessed by.

  17. I am not going to say it is God's will re: test. That is people being rigid dorks.

    As you know, I dove deeper into the bottle when my nephew died. I held onto the anger. It was not until I followed a link you had posted explaining suicide as a disease that I was able to move on. Now, and forever, I will continue to be sad and heart sick.

    The family as a whole, follows my sisters lead in keeping Ricky's memory alive. She sends things every holiday to put on his grave, we have a Mass said on his birthday. We talk about him. He was a part of his older sisters wedding in the form of a poem he wrote. His younger sister plans to use many purple flowers in her wedding to have him there. Katie's children "know" Uncle Ricky and release balloons to him on his anniversary. This is what we do now.

  18. Years ago my spiritual director said that before you can find God in all things, you have to find God in some things. Anyone who has read my blogs over the past year and one-half knows that it has been and continues to be a long journey in which sometimes God is in all things and sometimes in no things and sometimes in some things.

    Y'all can continue to discuss this or I can close the comments if I can figure out how. Just please remember that Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises tells us always to approach one other with generosity and to presume the best of each other (until we can't).

  19. Robin, as a CPM moderator I'm angry and disappointed about this decision. We would definitely have made a special request (which has to be approved by Presbytery, and no doubt would have been!) for an alternative examination format. We've done it before and will do it again, because sometimes the test just isn't the best indicator of readiness and sometimes life is so much more complicated than an exam.

    I and the CPM I chair will be praying for you as you prepare and write.

  20. Thank you so much, Teri. And everyone.

  21. Robin, Sophia and everyone - I didn't say and didn't mean it was God's will about the test.

    I have read every word Robin has written in three blogs.

    I apologize for any misunderstanding.

    Robin - my only intent was that even in something so difficult I could see you finding a way to make it through ... through whatever is put in front of you.

    That is all. That is how I see God in things ... not as a "comfort" or as willing something awful.

    I do know that those two dates will continue to show up on the calendar year after year after year. And God will be present somewhere on those days too.

    Again, I deeply apologize for causing any misunderstanding or suggestion of something hurtful.

  22. I'm truly sorry that they wouldn't change the date. It's grossly unfair. As always, you'll be in my prayers.

  23. Robin, thanks for taking that pound off my back... Margaret always appreciates when I shed some more of it.