Grief

If you read this blog regularly, or you’re a friend in real life, you know that my primary job is at my church. I have a new role there, one that has me finding my footing from a bird’s-eye view of the weekend experiences at all three physical campuses. It’s Big Picture stuff, and it’s vision and long-range thinking as well as environments and all sorts of stuff I can’t even remember right now.

Plus, I still get to play music. Which I did today, at the Powhatan Campus, as Elijah led the band. It’s a funny thing, this leading / managing / mentoring.  Eight years ago, Elijah was a kid with obvious talent, running around in ketchup t-shirts, honing his musical chops in the percussion section of the band. He went off, grew up, got an education and further developed those skills, and then came home. We promptly hired him, and he effectively has taken on the mantle of worship and musical leadership at this campus.

I’ve let it go.

So today, I played in the band behind Elijah as we kicked off our Christmas season with worship music and a few fun songs. During planning we decided we should start the series with a silly medley of common Christmas songs, and Elijah took that idea and ran hard with it. We all donned goofy hats and sang our silly hearts out, in the midst of several more meaningful songs. He did very well, and I am extremely proud of him.

It was a beautiful thing, both in the sense of the musical expression and for me personally, as well. I spent the morning playing music, watching this organization unfold and execute a plan designed for those who would be walking through the doors in search of a wide variety of things; comfort, hope, assurance, friendships, community.

Jesus.

We plan and we communicate and we fuss at ourselves for all the ways in which we fall short. We evaluate each day’s work and determine how we can do better. We celebrate the wins and are thrilled when people draw closer to God because they’ve found space to do so through our work.

It’s a beautiful thing.

And yet, sometimes, it’s a hard thing, too.

And I’m not sure this post is really about my job.

/ / /

I was grumpy, all morning. I didn’t feel prepared, and a last minute change left me with a bigger role than I envisioned, and I was a little bit stressed. I wasn’t feeling completely well, either. And it showed. I wrote it off to stress, but when the morning was over, I didn’t feel any better. We shared lunch with two of my daughters and headed back for the evening service; we arrive at church at 6:30AM, so by the 4PM call to set up chairs, it’s already been a long day. I was tired.

Someone said, “How do you feel?” and I said, “Better…” They replied, “It’s a good thing you don’t play poker.”

I agreed. I was still grumpy.

I chewed on it, after the singing ended and we settled down to hear an excellent message. I worried it, this discontent, this heavy feeling.

This grief.

There is a hole in me, a jagged, broken piece.

My nephew died.

And it begins there, the torn edges of confusion.  Do I say, “former” nephew, since he is my ex-husband’s brother’s son, part of an extended family that no longer claims me? He was a Brawley, and my kids are Brawleys, and I was a Brawley until I traded that name for another, but he’s part of the tattered fabric of those early years; also a son of divorce, a brilliant life of promise that rose up out of the ashes of abuse and denial and dysfunction and the curse of general human brokenness that besets us all. He is in our photos and wrapped within our memories, and so I claim him, still; I have refused to jettison any of those family members up to this point, so I will not start now. My nephew died in a tragic car accident that was just that – an accident – and it cracked open vulnerable places in my heart in unexpected ways.

My nephew died, and there is grief for the road his father must walk now; always my favorite, the softest spot in my heart tender for the wildest child of the bunch, and now he owns that awful thing that no parent ever wants to claim for his own. His boy died.

There is grief for my nephew’s mom, divorced from the family but clear and crisp in my memory, because she became my sister-in-law for a time but she was first my student at the local high school, and she was a young mom blessed with strong sons and a good life.

There is such deep sorrow for so many, for the parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and friends and those who knew much more of Michael than I ever did.

And I think the grief settled in me in a deep, dark place, winnowing down below the awful awareness that I cannot protect my children from the fear that grips us when we lose one of our own. Their cousin is gone, and they will not know him any better than they did but by the stories they hear and the history they read and see in snapshots and Facebook statuses. The grief rests in a place that reminds me, again, of the awful trauma of divorce, because where family would draw in close to mourn this loss, we are separated and struggle to find footing, and I am in a place once removed, where I must find a place to weep for the death of a young man I hardly knew, who belonged to a family I left behind. A funeral I did not attend, surrounded by strangers I would hardly know.

And yet I feel so connected.

I am not sure what to make of this, except to acknowledge, again, that divorce rips and tears and wounds, and while all things are made new again and mercies renew what our sin and stubbornness destroys, we are not so easily torn apart.

/ / /

I am making way, in my job, for Elijah to move ahead; he will find his own voice and his calling and his leadership. My job is to guide him; to coach and encourage, steer and direct.

And to get out of the way. And in this movement, there is something I leave behind when I move aside; the slight yearning to wear the banner of ‘leader’, the privilege of making the decisions. Sometimes just the simple thing of playing the music, singing the songs. I leave all these things behind, and press on, knowing that no new life can come while the old refuses to make room for growth. We change and move and adjust. The light is different on this side of the room.

But the grief is real, whether for small matters we leave behind, or for a death that still seems like a certain mistake, a bad dream, a Thing That Cannot Be.

And when we must, we grieve, no matter where we stand.

Sarah and Michael, circa 1994

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