Posted tagged ‘loss’

The Pain in Laughter

August 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

Answering the Why

August 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 4, 2019

                                       

A friend of mine lost her husband two days ago in a traffic accident. He was 45 and they are the parents of five children, the youngest two adopted as a result of their mission experiences in Africa.

They were in the midst of a move from Colorado Springs to another community about 30 minutes away when the accident happened. In other words, they had just uprooted from where they had lived for a long time to relocate to a place that is strange and new.

And I keep asking the question that has no suitable answer: Why would God allow someone so vital to so many other lives to be taken? 

It’s a question that gets rephrased and asked in numerous ways. We don’t understand tragedies. We cringe at the appearance of heartache, not just in our lives but also the lives of others. 

It’s convenient to theologize the pain with the unhelpful statement, “Who can understand the ways of God?” That’s about as useful as burlap toilet paper! (Sorry for the visual!)

There’s also a tendency to philosophize the wounds by talking about the side effects of a world that is highly developed and complex. Once again, that does not help. 

But we’re a society of answers, people that believe any question has a valid solution. We struggle with the idea that some questions don’t have agreeable answers.

My life is littered with unanswerable “whys”. Why did my mom have to suffer with Parkinson’s in the last few years of her life, a form of the disease that caused her to lose the functioning of her arms and legs, and effected her ability to speak?

Why did my friend and mentor, Ben Dickerson, have a heart attack and pass away at the age of 65 when he had no apparent signs of heart problems? That question still haunts me 11 years later.

Why did a gunman open fire in an El Paso shopping mall yesterday, killing 20 people? 

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

There is an unsettledness in my spirit this morning as I consider the numbing grief that my friend is experiencing. Two days ago the family of seven moved boxes into their new home, and now life has become uncertain and grey.

The lack of answers means I can’t let it go. It tumbles over and over again in my thoughts. Perhaps that’s part of the unsatisfying answer. My sense of caring about the pain in another is an indication of the sacredness of relationships, the importance of coming alongside those who are wounded.

It’s not THE answer, but at least it begins to lead me down the path to a hope-filled understanding.

Friend Listening

May 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  May 19, 2019

                              

Carol and I are returning from a European river cruise that was awesome and memorable. Being in the youngest 20% on the boat made us feel like 65 year old teenagers! Suddenly, as we travel home, we’re feeling a bit weathered!

Our friends, Dave and Robyn Hughes, joined us on the cruise. They now live in Bradenton, Florida, but a long, long…very long time ago Dave and I went to high school together, he performed the function of being my Best Man, and I performed his wedding ceremony.

It was good! It was needed! It was heart aching!

You see, Dave and Robyn’s oldest son, Brad, passed away two years ago this month. His death was the result of an unfortunate accident. Brad was in his mid-thirties at the time of his passing. When I received word of his death I called Dave and we talked for a few minutes, but being together on the cruise was a chance for us to talk face-to-face, laugh and cry, journey through the dark lonely walk, and renew our deep friendship.

He talked, I listened, asking a few clarifying questions as he retold the story, but mostly just listened. A friend is someone you can laugh with, but, more importantly, a friend is someone who stays on the path with you. The path is adorned with bright flowers at certain times, but also potholes of misery at other times. 

Dave needed to talk. Grief causes some people to clench their jaw muscles tight in firm anger and anguish, while other people need to talk through it. It is the honesty of grief that  reveals the loss, deep loss, and its effects on different people in different ways. Americans still live in the land of denial when a significant loss occurs. We so often are in fear of looking weak, but grief is not about who is strong and who is weak. Grief is about healing the wounds of loss.

All of us have, or soon will, experience loss in some way. For Carol and I, all of our parents are now deceased. It’s a tug on our hearts at any moment. A conversation from long ago breaks to the surface and Mom or Dad seems to be right there…but they aren’t. 

So Dave and I talked, and sometimes rested in the silence of our conversation. We told each other old stories that we’ve shared umpteen times already and pondered the questions that have no answers. 

Friendship is about listening. It’s about taking the hand of the other and leading him into the unrest, and it’s about helping him look ahead in the looming shadow of the past. It’s allowing the other to ask the questions of spiritual doubt and confusion without rushing to the shallowness of snappy conclusions. 

I miss my old friend! I’ll miss the opportunity to stand on the deck of the boat and listen to his sadness, and to retell the stories of the pranks we pulled on each other and others. We long for our next gathering, wherever that might be…God willing!

The End Of A Season

February 24, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 24, 2019

                                  

Our hope was to make it into March, but the final scoreboard tally cut those aspirations down. Tears exploded from the eyes of a few of the young men and others stood silently, unsure of the moment and what was to happen next.

Our high school team, The Classical Academy Titans, better known as TCA, had just lost our second round game to Greeley Central, 54-49. It was a battle, filled with moments of patient offense, great shooting, and clutch free throws. 

And then it was over! The excitement and adrenalin rush nosedived into a sudden landing. Monday’s practice plan was no longer relevant. The team’s one senior had just barely missed his last three point attempt that could have taken the game down to a one possession difference. He didn’t want to close the book on his high school basketball days, but an appointment to the Air Force Academy is in front of him.

In sports everyone loses…at one time or another! It’s harsh, and yet part of the maturing process. This team did it’s share of winning, 17 wins and 7 defeats for a team that only had two players returning with varsity experience. And yet, the last game, played before a great home crowd, will stand out in the minds of these boys.

The head coach- a man who was my son’s high school JV coach twenty years ago- broke down in tears in the locker room as he talked to his players. He had loved them, yelled at them, applauded them, gotten right in their faces, and embraced them at the end of each practice. 

The first games of the high school basketball season usually happen around December 1, with the last games in late February or early March, but high school basketball is really almost year-round. TCA will take the next six weeks off and then begin open gyms again in April. Then we usually take August off and get back into it once September rolls around. Our off-season will include strength and conditioning, summer camps and tournaments, and more individualized training from the coaches. In other words, it’s very demanding of time and energy. 

That makes the final defeat of the season that much more emotional. It signals the end of a journey whose goal has always been to end the season with a victory. Of course, only one team out of 68 in our 4A Class can accomplish that goal!

Today 12 boys and 4 coaches are grieving a little bit, and yet the coaches are proud of what those 12 boys became. The players replayed missed shots and lost opportunities in their minds as they tossed and turned in their beds last night. The coaches thought about all the games during the season that the team went in as the underdogs and came out as the winners.

Two weeks from today we’ll gather for our team banquet. The wounds from the last defeat will have scabbed over some and we’ll celebrate. There will be laughter and applause, hugs and hand shakes. And these boys will remember that they were a part of the best basketball team in the school’s 25 year history…until next year’s team breaks that record!

Dad’s Day Without Dad

June 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                June 17, 2018

                                 

It’s a weird feeling this morning! Today is the first Father’s Day I’ve experienced without Dad! He passed away four months ago at the wise old age of 89. Tomorrow would have been his 90th birthday. there’s

Dad has always been there. Though we were separated by five states his presence never seemed to be far away. Our Sunday night phone chats became our routine. When he didn’t answer his phone I worried…so I’d call my sister to see if he was okay. More times than I can remember he’d call me back as I’d be talking to her. I’d switch calls over to him and after answering he’d give his customary reply: “Well, hi son!”

“Did I get you at a bad time, Pops?”

“Well, I was on the pot!” He would say it like it was an unusual occurrence. 

Today, however, things have changed. It’s Father’s Day without Dad. It has the feel of eating fried chicken without also having mashed potatoes and gravy. Kind of strange and empty. 

My dad was a consistent man of faith, an even-paced Jesus journeyer. Through all his radiation treatments for cancerous growths on his ear, nose, and bladder, he never lost his humor and lightheartedness. The radiation technicians at St. Mary’s Hospital loved on him, enjoyed him, and treated him like their own father. When his name was called to come on back from the waiting area for his radiation “zap moment” of the morning he would always have a word for the attendant that would bring a chuckle and a smile. It’s how he was. His bouts with cancer weren’t seen as being setbacks, but rather moments in his journey.

When I became a father back in 1981, like any first-time dad, I had the deer-in-headlights look. What do I do? What don’t I do? I had taken a class back when I was a student at Judson College, taught by Professor Ted Hsieh, entitled “Marriage and The Family”. I still have the notes from that class, and I was tempted, when Kecia Corin Wolfe arrived, to get the lecture notes on parenthood back out and do a quick review. Instead, however, I looked into the mirror of my memories of Dad. What would Dad do? What did Dad do? How I fathered my own three children had the imprint of his parenting impression of us.

And so today I’m living with his memories, impacted by his personality. I’ll go out for a run this afternoon and wear the University of Kentucky hat that was his. As I’m huffing and puffing it will seem like he is close at hand. As my feet trudge along I’ll recall some of my favorite “Pops Stories” that I listened to numerous times, and yet, never tired of the warmth they would bring to my soul. 

It’s just weird! Dad’s Day without Dad…it sounds like the title of a horror film! In essence, it’s simply where I am on my journey, a place of wonderful memories and an aching grief.

Grace-Filled Winning

January 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        January 15, 2018

                                        

Recently a high school women’s basketball team in our area was beaten by 94 points. They were missing a couple of their players that day, but other defeats this season have been lop-sided as well, just not in the same zip code as 94.

In my years as a coach I’ve been on both sides of the final score…on the left side of the  hyphen with a way larger number than my waist size…and on the right side of the hyphen with a digit that looks as embarrassed as a naked child in a grocery store.

One of the first games I coached was a YMCA Church League game for middle school boys. We lost 75-5 and my only player who could dribble and chew gum at the same time broke his wrist. That team struggled to score more than six points in any game for the rest of the season. One of our last games was against Bethlehem Lutheran, and their associate pastor, Noel Niemann, was also their coach. Noel knew what our team’s skill level was and he purposely had his players play a packed in 2-3 zone defense and allowed our players to shoot from the outside. They beat us 36-12, but my team was elated that the scoreboard had to use two digits to display our team’s score. That was in 1982 and I still remember Noel’s name, the score, and the sportsmanship.

I seldom see grace filter into sports these days. It’s seen as a sign of weakness. “After all,” say too many coaches, “we’ve practiced hard. Winning in a blowout is our just rewards for practicing hard!”

That argument carries only so far! Winning by a ton of points is usually fueled by a coach’s arrogance, blood-thirsty parents in the bleachers, or players who think it says something about how impressive their skill level is.

In most states high school athletes can choice into schools that ordinarily they would not be going to. Certain high schools are accumulating more than their fair share of the better players, while other schools are encountering cupboards that are bare. Mismatches are evident before the season even begins. And it will continue to be!

So whose responsibility is to be win with grace?

The opportunity to show grace begins with the coach. I use the word “opportunity” because it should be seen as such. Not a requirement, but rather a gift wrapped in the lesson of sportsmanship. Any sporting event is a venue for how we wish people would treat each other. Too often it is a place where the participants strut like peacocks and the observers say things they would not want their mothers, some already in the grave, to hear.

Grace in winning is an opportunity for a coach to teach his/her players a different lesson that is unrelated to the score. Not enough coaches seem to understand that so now there is this thing called “The Mercy Rule.” The name should be a stop sign, but, instead, it has just become a point in the game where one team is a certain number of points ahead of the other team…and mercy has gone out for coffee!

High school sports, and maybe even more than that, middle school sports, need more coaches who teach the skills of the game, but also the character that a person can have. It needs more coaches that can model for their players that winning is more than a good-looking number figure on the left side of the hyphen.

It needs more “Noel Niemann’s”!

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017

                                  

Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!