Only two words, really.
The birds and the hikes are still out there. I had breast cancer and that was pretty awful but, in the grand scheme of things, not all that important. I became a spiritual director and I get to hear wonderful stories of longing and prayer and confusion and discernment. Our surviving children are doing well.
A couple of weeks ago I became one of the founding board members of the Northern Ohio Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. During our largely organizational meeting, we talked briefly about the extent to which loss to suicide defines our lives.
I suppose that, at the five year mark, it doesn't really define my life anymore. It night seem that way more than is the case, because I read and write a lot about it, and I do some suicide prevention work and some with survivors. But it's become a reality that I've sort of absorbed into my skin. Enough so that now I need to become more alert to how surprised and shocked others can be when the topic comes up.
No, the thing that defines me is: I have three children and one of them is not here. I miss him so much that I live each day, no matter how satisfying or productive or filled with love, around a crater of loss. His death, the fact of it, the gone-ness of him, the mystery of where he is now, define almost everything I do in ministry, every way I think about theology, every twist and turn in my cycle of despair and hope.
I wish I could say that ordination to ministry defines my life. At one time I thought that it would. But my experience has been so different from others' and so overshadowed by the death of my son that I find myself mostly wondering . . . . It would be preferable, I suppose, for a pastor to say that her Christian experience has overshadowed her experience of death. But I can't make that one up.
Had you asked me, six years ago, as I was preparing to go to seminary, to imagine my life six years hence, I could not possibly have predicted the reality. I'm in a reading group trying to get together to discuss Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss. These words of his apply, I think:
"When I think of the years when I had no faith, what I am struck by, first of all, is how little this lack disrupted my conscious life. I lived not with God, nor with his absence, but in a mild abeyance of belief, drifting through the days on a tide of tiny vanities -- a publication, a flirtation, a strong case made for some weak nihilism -- nights all adagios and alcohol as my mind tore luxuriously into itself. I can see now how deeply God's absence affected my unconscious life, how under me always there was this long fall that pride and fear and self-love at once protected me from and subjected me to. Was the fall into belief or into unbelief? Both. For if grace woke me to God’s presence in the world and in my heart, it also woke me to his absence. I never truly felt the pain of unbelief until I began to believe."
In some way, perhaps, it is a matter of grace that I have known so much of God's absence these past five years. God's presence in the midst of so much suffering ~ my own and, so much more terrible, my child's ~ is, I think, not something I can comprehend. Maybe that is the work of however many years are left to me.