Being Kind—at a Funeral Home (#BestOf)

(the Best of) A Year of Being Kind, Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year!” Except—when it isn’t. Reading over this post from last December, I am thinking of all of those who are feeling sad. Grieving. Feeling lonely. All the fears and anxieties and depressions and sadnesses, all getting in the way of the holiday holly-jolly. This is for anyone who is feeling that way, today. Or, in case you know someone who is not feeling happy and festive, today.

 

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, December 18, 2014

winter road at night

Being Kind—at a Funeral Home

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—“ except when it’s not.

Yes, it’s just a week before the “big day.” Yes, I drove past a large shopping mall on the way home this afternoon (against my better judgment). I did not see a single empty parking place in the parking lot from my vantage point, driving by. Yes, the children at the preschool were excitedly talking about Christmas coming soon. “Is it tomorrow?” “Is it the next day?” And, I know the teachers patiently go through the calendar, counting the days until Christmas. “Next Thursday. We have a week until then.”

But it isn’t beginning to look much like Christmas for a good friend of mine, and their whole family. They have lost a dear, senior loved one earlier this week. This afternoon, and evening? The viewing. The wake. I went to the funeral home so I could be there for my friend.

So incongruous. Frenetic, anxiety-laden, rush-rush. Mad, frantic preparations for the holidays. (It doesn’t particularly matter whether the holidays people celebrate are Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa.) And then—to have a loved one die in the middle of all of that? As I said, so incongruous. It’s the holidays! There isn’t supposed to be any death, or sickness, or fighting, or negative emotions, or negativity of any kind. Not now.

But, life doesn’t work that way.

So, I took the sad opportunity to be kind to my friend. To offer my condolences on the passing of this sweet senior. To be with my friend for at least a little while.

I reflected, later on, that this is exactly why there is a Christmas. So we could have hope, in something much better and much greater than we could possibly imagine. Yes, it’s very sad to us, here. Yes, people are grieving, right now. And yes, people are rejoicing in new life, the life to come, with God.

I don’t want to say this too loudly, in case I step on the toes of someone who is grieving, sad and even angry right now. But—I look forward to a merry Christmas. Quietly, looking forward. Expectant. Quietly.

@chaplaineliza

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(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers.   @chaplaineliza And read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er – Thanks!)


Being Kind—at a Funeral Home

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, December 18, 2014

winter pathway

Being Kind—at a Funeral Home

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—“ except when it’s not.

Yes, it’s just a week before the “big day.” Yes, I drove past a large shopping mall on the way home this afternoon (against my better judgment). I did not see a single empty parking place in the parking lot from my vantage point, driving by. Yes, the children at the preschool were excitedly talking about Christmas coming soon. “Is it tomorrow?” “Is it the next day?” And, I know the teachers patiently go through the calendar, counting the days until Christmas. “Next Thursday. We have a week until then.”

But it isn’t beginning to look much like Christmas for a good friend of mine, and their whole family. They have lost a dear, senior loved one earlier this week. This afternoon, and evening? The viewing. The wake. I went to the funeral home so I could be there for my friend.

So incongruous. Frenetic, anxiety-laden, rush-rush. Mad, frantic preparations for the holidays. (It doesn’t particularly matter whether the holidays people celebrate are Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa.) And then—to have a loved one die in the middle of all of that? As I said, so incongruous. It’s the holidays! There isn’t supposed to be any death, or sickness, or fighting, or negative emotions, or negativity of any kind. Not now.

But, life doesn’t work that way.

So, I took the sad opportunity to be kind to my friend. To offer my condolences on the passing of this sweet senior. To be with my friend for at least a little while.

I reflected, later on, that this is exactly why there is a Christmas. So we could have hope, in something much better and much greater than we could possibly imagine. Yes, it’s very sad to us, here. Yes, people are grieving, right now. And yes, people are rejoicing in new life, the life to come, with God.

I don’t want to say this too loudly, in case I step on the toes of someone who is grieving, sad and even angry right now. But—I look forward to a merry Christmas. Quietly, looking forward. Expectant. Quietly.

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Holy Saturday, Batman!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, April 19, 2014

Daffodils - photo by Kevin Jones, 4/18/14 Chicago Botanic Gardens

Daffodils – photo by Kevin Jones, 4/18/14
Chicago Botanic Gardens

Holy Saturday, Batman!

Today is Holy Saturday. Or the Great Sabbath. Or the Saturday of Holy Week. Whatever we call it, today is the day after the commemoration of the death of Jesus on the cross. Traditionally, this is a day when Christians wait outside our Lord’s tomb, in quietness, prayer and fasting. The Church is to meditate on Jesus, His Passion and death, and His descent into Hell. (As is spoken of in the Apostle’s Creed, just to serve as a reminder for those of us with non-liturgical backgrounds.)

Yes, I grew up with a liturgical tradition, but I have never observed a Holy Saturday service, with the altar stripped bare. Or, an Easter Vigil on Saturday night. So, these practices are very interesting to me—and somewhat odd. Different.

How do I see Holy Saturday? I look on today as a waiting-time. Waiting for the celebration of Easter, waiting in the quiet of that garden long ago, waiting beside the tomb—with the stone still standing in place. I do not necessarily think of going into a church for a service on Saturday; but that does not mean I am not thinking of Jesus, His Passion and death, and His presence in that tomb.

My husband, daughter and I took today to go to the Chicago Botanic Garden, to see the lovely growing things. As I reflect on this now, after the fact, going to the Botanic Garden reminds me of the coming of Easter, for the most part. Sure, there are a few blooming spring flowers (You should see the daffodils and crocuses!). For the great part, the garden itself is waiting. The buds and leaves of spring are almost ready to unfurl and push their way out into the sunlight. For example, the vivid, bright green of the weeping willows—about to pop open! But, not yet.

Sure. The Botanic Garden on Holy Saturday is not the first thing that jumped to my mind this morning. However, this choice of ours (in response to my husband) to go up to the Garden and to enjoy the relative warmth of the day? Certainly a welcome opportunity after the long, harsh, cold winter.

My intentional act of service today came later in the afternoon, when I brought over some things to my sister’s house. And I did enjoy myself as I spent some time with my sister, family and friends (Yes, the food was definitely a high point!).

I hope the time of quiet I had this morning helped me to concentrate on the death of Christ. I know this afternoon in the gentle beauty at the Garden caused me to think of the beauty and infinite creativity of God, even while waiting for the resurrection on Easter morning. Lord Jesus, I’m waiting! Waiting for You, the Light and Life of the world.

@chaplaineliza

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Helpful Conversation—on Such a Topic! (Feature Friday!)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Friday, April 4, 2014

Helpful Conversation—on Such a Topic! (Feature Friday!)

Life - limited warrantee
Conversation starters. We all know them. “Hello!” “Pleased to meet you.”“How’s the weather today?” “How ‘bout those Bears/Hawks/Cubs?”

But what about topics that bring conversation to an absolute standstill? How about—death?

Small groups, medium-sized groups of people gather to talk about death at what is known as a Death Café. Some talk candidly, openly. Some with wistful sadness or still-palpable grief. Others with realism, tinged with fear or anxiety, seasoned with love for those who have passed on. Death, that final parting.

These Death Cafés can be made easier by adding tea (or coffee) and sweets. Here in the Chicago area, Death Cafés have been facilitated since October 2012 by Victoria Noe and Dan Bulf. A Café is not a therapy session, not a support group. But it’s a safe place, a space to be freely open about death and dying. Dan especially has taken the idea of Death Cafés and run with it. Dan Bulf is a trained group facilitator. He has hosted and facilitated Cafés at such diverse places as senior citizen residences and coffee shops, and—in ten days, at the Whole Foods in Northbrook.

But where did the idea for a Death Café come from? For that, we need to look to Switzerland, at the “café mortels” of the early 2000’s, organized by the Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. Inspired by this whole topic, a British man called Jon Underwood held the first Death Café in his home in England, in 2011. From there, the concept has taken off and become modestly successful. Modestly, because of the leery feeling that mainstream American culture maintains concerning death.

Dan recently reflected on one of several reasons behind these gatherings. “One of my personal challenges doing cause-based workshops like the Death Cafe is the accepting money in exchange for growth experiences. These experiences are offered to provide growth, connection and some fun. They come from my heart, so I make up that it should be a gift freely given. But there’s the reality that my time and efforts have value at a monetary level as well and intra-personal.”

One of Dan’s friends, whom he was trying to get to donate his time and expertise as a regular contributor, told him that money is like energy. It needs to flow, it isn’t natural to be contained or directed in a straight line. His philosophy made sense: a circle needs to be created and sustained for this energy. Dan figured that his efforts will dead end without participants completing the circle.

Dan has asked me to help him facilitate several of these Death Cafés around Chicago in the past year, because I have training as a chaplain, and with grief and end of life concerns. All kinds of thoughts of God—or a Higher Power—or a Life Force—are discussed. These conversations affect many, if not all, of those listening to a deep extent. I find them to be revealing, sensitive, even humorous at times. And many of those who attend have a Christian outline or understanding to life and death. Yes, sometimes certain people who come to a Café might still be dealing with some painful, raw issues. But Dan also wants those who attend to celebrate their finite lives, and not just get caught up in dark or sad thoughts.

He also needs to balance. To pick and choose where he might use his knowledge, understanding of group behavior, and ability to lead a conversation—and where the energy needs to flow. As Dan says, “It’s not easy.”

Thanks, Dan, for leading the way in this important conversation. (For more information see the website http://deathcafechicago.com/ )
@chaplaineliza
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