Here’s the problem with having had a really easy time of it growing up: when you do finally experience tragedy, as we all inevitably do, you are totally unprepared for it. Amanda Held Opelt in A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing
35 years ago today at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, HH and I got married in a service with four officiants and over 30 clergy present. It was a lot.
Little did we know that in the first five years of marriage we would experience the death of both my parents, two miscarriages, and – thank goodness – the birth of our three healthy children. Again, it was a lot. At the age of 36, I was not the person HH had married at 31.
Amanda Held Opelt has written a raw and real book about grief with twelve chapters of information about spiritual practices that have historically helped. They don’t fix things. But they help.
One of the things they don’t tell seminarians is the fact that there will be deep grief in Church World – in addition to the deep grief of our regular human lives. We will bury children. We will sit with treasured elders as they say goodbye to the person who’s been the infrastructure of their daily lives. We will sit with women praying their fertility treatments will work. We will grieve with parents whose teenagers are lost.
Even as a Mid-Council Denominational Leader (it sounds so boring, doesn’t it?) I am both privileged and burdened with being with people when life as we know it ends. Church staff members lose precious children in accidents. The best of church ladies and church gentlemen bury their spouses. Longtime saints die.
God calls us to love each other and when we do, it’s going to hurt. But it’s still so worth it.
Opelt shares this thought as she holds her small daughter in her arms:
The reality is that if I don’t lose her, then she will lose me. I will die. Either way, this ends in grief. Sometimes the thought of it is just too much to bear.
When HH and I were considering children, I used to say, “Let’s have three because if one dies, we’ll still have two.” And he would say, “What if we have three and two die? Or they all die?” Yes, this is ridiculous thinking, but I’d been a chaplain in a NICU and pediatric oncology ward before we got married and I saw children die every day. There was a month I’d officiated at 23 baby funerals.
Life is crazy and terrifying and nonsensical and unfair. I wouldn’t want to spend it with anyone other than my HH.
Beyond thankful today. Also, read Opelt’s book.
Image of the newly published A Hole in the World by Amanda Held Opelt who will be introduced for a long, long time and perhaps for the rest of her life with these words: she was Rachel Held Evans’ sister. Please pray for all who grieve today.