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February 15, 2015

Bearing Beauty, Granting Peace

Until today I have not posted an entry on losing a child. The theme deserves much more than a few posts...yet it also deserves not to be omitted. My friend and colleague Roberta Sund has written a brave poem that is as much a testament to indescribable grief as it is to indefinable healing. What depth of soul and hugeness of heart it took for her to respond to the "call." What an extraordinary, forever-gift her courage gave to one young man. Roberta shows us a way of living to aspire to, even as we live with and acknowledge grief. I treasure this jewel of a poem.


by Roberta Faulkner Sund

The call comes at midnight:

Patient actively dying alone
All life support removed.
Can you come to the hospital?

Somehow I know I must.

The young man in the bed
looks eerily like my son,
the son I lost so many years ago.
No chance then for me to
offer comfort or say good-bye

I massage the patient’s hands
and read aloud the 23rd Psalm.
He opens his big brown eyes,
reminiscent of my son’s eyes.
Does he like what I’m reading?  He nods.

This precious gift given to me,
to be with him in his last hours,
fills me with humility and gratitude.

Pleasant journey, young man,
Happy to be here for the send-off


Poem, copyright Roberta Faulkner Sund, all rights reserved.
Image, copyright Ysabel de la Rosa.

Roberta holds a degree from Texas Christian University in chemistry and biology. She was a Fulbright Fellow to Germany in the 1950s and later earned her MS degree in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. An award-winning teacher, Roberta has taught in schools in the US and abroad, including Morocco and the UK. Her poems have been published in the Wichita Falls Literature and Arts Review, and The Texas Poetry Calendar, among other publications. 

Image description: A lone seagull flies through a cloudless blue sky.

February 4, 2015

The Strength to Survive

Las comadres by José Ortiz Echagüe

When we learn that someone has died, we first say that we regret their loss, but what we really want is to first ask how? How did he, she die? Was it an accident? Was it sudden? Were they ill?  Were they ill for long? These are some of the questions that come to mind for a natural death.

But, death doesn't feel natural. That's a large part of why we struggle with grief. Life feels natural, only life. Knowing that death ends the life we know means that death cannot feel natural to us. It can become less of a stranger, more familiar and more manageable. But not natural.

How much more unnatural, how utterly alien, death feels when it comes at the hands of a murderer, attacker, terrorist, or war criminal. I read once that fear is temporary, but horror is lasting. This is what families who lose loved ones in terrible, unjust, and evil ways must endure: horror. 
Parents Sasi and Saafia Al-Kasasbeh, the other family members, friends, and countrymen of Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kasasbeh are left to face not only the unnatural loss of this young man, but also the horror at the knowledge of how his life was ended. As unnatural as death feels to us, we do know it as inevitable. Not so with this kind of--no other word for it--evil way in which his life was ended.

I do not know how human beings survive this penetrating mix of loss and horror. Every time I hear of losses like these--and there are far too many--I feel overwhelmed. And challenged. As I see these good people survive, hear their voices speak to the world through their indescribable grief, I am challenged to believe that the very strength that sustains them may be something akin to having a divine black hole within the soul. It holds you together as it tears you apart. To think that that strength could also be available to me frightens me to my core. I would rather collapse than endure the horror that requires this kind of strength in order for one to survive. Yet, I cannot know of this family, or others who have lost loved ones in ways of unjustifiable horror, and not acknowledge that terrible strength that has helped humans survive, and in acknowledging it, accept the startling, often shocking chiaroscuro that is life and death, life after death, and life beyond death. Acknowledging this, I ask G-d to be present in my life, our lives, the world. Be present and keep us in Thy presence. Be, God, at the center of that black hole of terrible strength. Amen.

Image description: The image at the beginning of this post is a photograph taken by José Oriz Echagüe. Echagüe was a photographer who lived in Spain from 1886 to 1980. The photo is a black and white print, printed on canvas to enhance the painterly qualities of the photo. Two women sit on either side of an arched entryway, facing each other. They wear long black skirts and have black fabric draped over their heads and shoulders. There faces do not appear in the photograph. They are as two dark sentinels. A gate inside the archway opens into a dark passage. The background is a soft grey, and the the women's dark-robed figures stand out starkly against the grey wall.