Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Worst Thing, Pt. 4

I promised to tie up loose ends, and I want to tell you, first of all, why I wrote the story of my brother's illness: especially since there isn't yet a happy ending.  He's probably wondering himself, somewhere.

I wrote the story because I want nothing more than to record, for my children, stories that reflect our family's heritage of faith.

The story of my brother's illness belongs among those stories, for sure.

Growing in faith...growing in Christ, Himself...sometimes feels like having the flu.  Or worse.  I don't know about you, but, at thirty-seven, I can already look back and see: my worst times have been the ones during which I've grown and learned, most.  My brother's illness--especially the points during which doctors were cutting him open and messing around near his spinal cord--has been my very worst thing.  In comparison, divorcing my son's father was like eating Gummi Bears at the Magic Kingdom.

Even so, I realize my worst thing could've been worse, yet, also that some you have worse, worst things.  To be honest, I sometimes worry that my worst thing is meant to prepare me for a worse, worst thing: a thing like that which some of you have experienced.

I found deciding how to best write the story of my brother's illness very difficult.  In the end, I chose to make it my story: the story of my brother's illness as pertaining to me.  To have any hope of sharing its effect on me, I had to write--to a certain extent--about my brother, and about his illness.  But I tried not to give you my brother's perspective, because--as close as we are (extremely)--I'm not him, and I don't think I could properly convey his perspective.  Also, you'll notice nary a mention of my parents, my sister-in-law Sarah, or my brother's younger son Boone.  (The only mention of my brother's older son CJ revolves around his making a decision for Christ during the time in question.)  Each of these and other people, besides, have been affected by my brother's illness, and I didn't leave them out in order to make it seem as though I'm the only one who's walked with my brother, and suffered.  I left them out because each of them has his or her own story.

I make this point because I've learned that grief brings out something strangely competitive in people, and not just the people who make up the cast of characters in a particular story.  In fact, I doubt that any of the above-mentioned people would be disappointed in my not writing them into my account of my brother's illness.  But I decided to write my story--and not attempt to write their stories--because my blog's one of few places where I can get away with sharing about my brother's illness as pertaining to me.

For years, I was tempted to hijack other people's stories, and I'm ashamed to say that, sometimes, I did.  I would hear about someone else's grief and feel the need to tell him or her: I know exactly how you feel!  Because listen to what happened to me!  And that's what I mean about being competitive.  Maybe it's not so much competition as a desire to share...or even help, but there's an element of taking another storyteller hostage that I don't like.  And, as I've indicated, I know about it best because, sadly, I've been the hijacker.

These days, it's rare that I share the story of my brother's illness with someone who's grief-stricken.  I've learned that "I know exactly how you feel!" is, very often, the wrong thing to say.  Firstly, no experience is identical to any other, and no one grieves (or feels, in general) exactly the same as anyone else.  Secondly, I well remember: those who brought me the most relief while I grieved, hardest, were Sharon (who just listened), and Kevin (who prayed out loud, for and with me, over the phone).  So I've learned that talking about my experience, and my pain, has turned out to be appropriate much less often than I expected, initially, even inside of situations similar to my brother's illness.

Perhaps I was confused because, a long time ago, I bought into the Jim-Wheeler notion that God never wastes a hurt, and I still believe that: I do.  But I've learned that the empathy born of the hurt becomes more useful than the details of the hurt.

I've also learned that not everyone goes through the "Seven Stages of Grief" in a straight line.  For me, there has been much looping back, sometimes all the way to denial.  Just last December, I got all bent out of shape because my brother hadn't visited me in all of 2010.  Then I drove to Tennessee over the holidays and realized, all over again, his discomfort, which isn't something with which anyone would want to jump into a truck and drive eight hours.   

I reckon it's near impossible to anticipate what a grieving person might do.  I heard tell of someone who suggested that God might be punishing my brother, and--at the point in time during which she said it--she was very fortunate that I (being half crazy with grief) was not present.  Because I may well have kicked her.  Or worse.  I still feel a prick of anger, some four years down the road, thinking about it. 

"God is doing this," in general, is a hard pill for this grieving person to swallow.  "God might be punishing" is even worse.  "There is a reason": no good.  Because, look: even in the off chance that one or all of those things are true, those words don't help me.  When I grieve, I need to believe and focus on the benign goodness of God.  And the Bible tells me that, in this life, I'm seeing through a glass darkly, so--even if there is a reason--I'm probably incapable of grasping it. frustrating!

P.S. My friend Terye, whose three-year-old son died suddenly, said the one thing she hopes to never hear, again, is: "He's in a better place."  Because, she said, she can't accept that there is any place better for her child than with his mother.

(To be more time, after all...)   

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