This morning I went to the gym again. I hadn’t been able to bring myself until Tuesday to go to the gym since Kat passed. There is something really disorienting not just about her death but the trauma I faced. Walking in and seeing her not breathing. Struggling to wake her, knowing I can’t. Having to pull her down, do resuscitations. The sleepless nights.
Not only had my life betrayed me, but so has my body. My therapist suggested I get back to the gym, in part I think because of this. Because of how much even the cells of my body have felt out of sorts.
I wrote before about how I feel I am having to learn to be at home in my world again. In some ways I felt a reverse Dorothy. An unexpected storm blew her and her little dog too out of the life they knew into a frightening and confusing place, but a place full of wonder. I found my dogs with me, waking up in a world that was like a nightmare from which I could not wake up. I felt not only my wife but my life itself had been taken from me.
I am now having more better days than bad, and better moments than sad. I don’t know if this will keep, or is another wave on the ocean of grief, but I embrace this moment. This moment when I can see the sunshine. This moment where I can laugh, without a throb of pain in my heart betraying its sound in my ears as hollow lie.
I feel that I am reaching the place that a part of my work of grief is to reclaim my life, to find again my place in this world.
One way I did this was to decorate my home. My walls were littered with pictures of our life together that, though I still love, hurt my heart to see. When I see her things, when I see her face, I still see her body laying there and feel my heart shatter, my soul sink. So my friend Nola in Charlotte, an artist and photographer, gave me the gift of picking out some brightly colored art that makes my house sing with beauty.
As I write it is still the first week of Advent. And friends have helped me decorate my house, filling it with joy. Knowing Christmas is one of my great joys, knowing I could not bear to celebrate alone, they filled my house to overflowing this past weekend, helping me hang and set up my decorations. Knowing that I could not afford a real tree so soon after burying my late wife, my Sunday school class pitched in and bought me a tree, one member helping me decorate.
And it makes a difference. I see more life, more light, more joy in my world. This week I have talked to friends just to talk, not just to grieve. I have laughed and smiled. I am beginning to finally feel like myself, to be at home in my world.
Thinking about this, I was shocked and filled with wonder while reading the great spiritual teacher Father Richard Rohr. In his book What the Mystics Know, Father Rohr describes this journey toward finding home within oneself, becoming home in our world. It so speaks to this task of grief which I am on, and which my dear friends are helping me to face into with courage and not despair.
“We are who we are in God – no more and no less.
“That’s why I have to go into the wilderness, where I let God call me by name to a deeper place. This is the peace that the world can’t give. But I promise that it’s also the peace that the world can no longer take from you. This peace doesn’t come about because of anything we do right. We have to discover what we have always been in God. When we get to this place, we will know and love ourselves, in spite of all the negative and opposing evidence. It is the spacious place of the soul. To live there is finally to be at home. This first and final home we carry with is all our lives. God is also at home there, and when we return we will have discovered simplicity.”
This experience reminds me of one of my favorite Psalms, a common prayer I invite my patients to join in as a chaplain when I feel they, too, feel at lost in this world and need to become at home in themselves again. I came to know it first in hymns at church, and later in this song:
Here are the words of this beautiful Psalm, from the Message paraphrase of Scripture:
“-2 What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, Always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive!
3-4 Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the place where we worship. God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there!
5-7 And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!
8-9 God-of-the-Angel-Armies, listen: O God of Jacob, open your ears—I’m praying! Look at our shields, glistening in the sun, our faces, shining with your gracious anointing.
10-12 One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin. All sunshine and sovereign is God, generous in gifts and glory. He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions. It’s smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies.”