Monday, March 3, 2008

breathing is hard

Early Friday morning, my uncle was on his way to work when a drunk driver hit him head-on. Just like that. From one moment to the next, lives skittered across the icy pavement. Not just Keith's life, but everyone who is connected to him. My aunt, her kids, me. We're tethered together in the wreckage. In the ICU, I watched the ventilator push air into his lungs, his chest rising and falling mechanically, and this felt familiar to me. Breathing is hard.

I've been telling you about all the warmth and blessing of my time in Mexico, but I haven't told you about the other side of this coin. I don't know if this is something peculiar about me, but whenever I allow myself to really notice the goodness around me, I immediately notice something else. I notice that these things are temporary. Maybe it's because I have experienced some terrible losses. I know, in a way that is not theoretical, that children die. I know, in deeply experiential ways, that death does not always announce itself so that you have time to prepare a room for it. Sometimes it knocks in the middle of the night and makes you rearrange all your furniture.

As I was drinking in all the beauty, the love of my family and friends, I felt a pain somewhere inside me, like my heart had stopped beating, like it might never beat again. I imagined death like an intruder watching my home, waiting to come in the night when I am dreaming of safety, waiting to steal away things that can never be replaced. My mind searched for a way to push this thought out to sea. I wanted to pitch it over the balcony and watch it break open like ripe fruit on the stone pavement below. But the more I tried to wrestle it over the edge, the larger it loomed above me. So I finally let go.

I opened my arms and released my husband to God. I loosened my grip on Danny and Joey and Janelle. I lifted up all my loves to the Lord and asked for forgiveness for the ways that I had possessed them. I understood that it was possible to invite death to teach me something about life. I don't own anything here...not even my own body. Everything around me is borrowed treasure. I opened my hands, and let it all go. And then I let it go again in the next moment when I noticed a temptation to take it all back. This is my life, this dance between grasping and letting go. I will always be a beginner, tripping over my own feet, learning the steps.

I'm confident that Keith is going to be OK. He's got a long road ahead of him, and I appreciate prayers for him and his family. He's struggling to find his way back to the world, and some day he'll struggle to find his way to the next world, hearing the name that is a secret between him and God. Every single soul who is precious to me will die. I will die. Sometimes it's hard to breathe in those moments of knowing. Sometimes the only thing moving the air in and out of my lungs is the assurance that there is a world where my true name will be spoken and all of my lost love will return to me.


  1. Terri, I'm so sorry to hear about your uncle. I know all too well how suddenly the landscape of your life can change. I pray that the family will be able to find peace as you go through this difficult time.

    You know now that I too struggle with the fear of losing those I love and I honour your courage in letting go. I stand with you in the fire of this anxiety and look forward to the day when all that I left unsaid can be said to those I have loved and lost.

  2. Terri, what you've written here is so emotive . . . sobering . . . and liberating in so many ways. For personal reasons I won't go into here, there is a Scripture that brings a lot of comfort to me because of the vision/HOPE/assurance it depicts.

    "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not GRIEVE as others do who have no HOPE. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore ENCOURAGE one another with these words."

    What struck me about this passage and the reason that these words can encourage and comfort me is that I am allowed to experience genuine grief. We as Christians experience authentic mourning, but ours is different than unbelievers because we have HOPE -- that is, we have an assurance that our GRIEF IS JUST TEMPORARY because we will REALLY be reunited with those we love and will spend an eternity with those that have "fallen asleep." This difference somehow brings a level of comfort to me, although it does not eradicate all trepidation and pain. It does, however, make it just a little bit easier to relinquish control of something (the lives of those we so cherish) we couldn't possible completely protect on our own, not matter how much we love.

    I'm not sure how all of this was triggered by what you wrote and I would never wanna come off as preachy. But I do know that the grasping, the protectiveness and the tension between trusting and being vigilant screams loudly as I read what you've written. That can be so disquieting and just downright scary. It's for this reason that we need a hope.

    Standing here with you . . . much love.

  3. With Dean, I stand with you in the fire of this anxiety (not pretending to know exactly all that you are going through, but understanding this small part--the struggle to open my hands and trust God with the lives and deaths of those I love). I am learning that the intensity of the sadness at loss as well as the anxiety facing its possibility speaks volumes about the beauty of what we share in relationships, in spite of how imperfectly we each live those out.

    I'm so sorry about what has happened to your uncle and what it means for each one in your family.

  4. terri, i'm so sorry for what you and your family are going through right now. i am familiar with the truth that everything can change in an instant, that we are helpless in the face of it.

    it amazed me to read about the darkness lurking behind the goodness you experienced in mexico. first, it resonated with the reservation i also tend to hold all the time that keeps me from experiencing joy and goodness as fully as i am sure it is available, and doing this as a means of protecting myself from loss. it also amazed me because of what you came home to experience with your uncle's accident, almost like a foreshadowing. is that the way it feels to you?

    i can appreciate the inclination to grasp at those close to me. having attended a funeral last week, kirk and i have been doing a lot of thinking and talking about death. it has been scaring me to even think about ever losing kirk. i've not been ready to release my grasp on him yet, but your post here challenges me to also move in that direction.

    all that to say that i have a lot of respect for what you've written here. thanks for sharing these deeply personal thoughts with us.

  5. Teresa,

    I'm glad we're on the same dance floor.

    I love you!

  6. Terri, I'm so sorry. I'm praying that the breathing becomes easier.

    Your thoughts about the darkness are ones I'm familiar with, too. The hardest part about getting married has been realizing that, the more Dave and I have a life together, the more that life would be disrupted if something happened to him. I've had to let him go time and again.

    I hope you get some time to sit with these things and grieve them, even between trips to the hospital.

    Loving you...

  7. I hate letting go, but when i do i get the weirdest feeling of relief, if relief can fell weird. It's something that i'm not all that familiar with, a very distinct kind of comfort.

    And the death thing is so weird. it's as common and natural as the air we breathe and yet it makes most everyone uncomfortable and uneasy. It has such a dark connotation to it and yet paul says for me to live is Christ and to die is gain . . .

    I don't feel like gaining quite yet

  8. Terri
    It is amazing how death and how life is such a gift and such a mystery. It is not ours it is all God's that is a beautiful and fearful thing. Learning to let go.

    I really don't know the right words here, i am not always so good with words. Words are such a limited form of communication, maybe that sounds foolish. I suppose as humans we hail words as one of the highest forms of communication. I don't believe that to be true at all.

    Emotions of love, fear, or even hate are formed inside a very complex place, our heart. Personally i believe that God alone can know it, and unless He alone reveals it to another our heart will never be known.

    So in my limited form of communication i will say my heart is with you and God alone knows the depths of the words that i just said.

    I am loving you in the midst of it all, and He is nigh you, and understanding you in the midst of your fears.

  9. dean: yes, i know a little of your story now, and it lets me know that you get this. thank you for standing with me in that fire despite the fact that it burns you as well. and thank you for praying.

    nate: wanna know what i just love about that scripture? i love that it refers to the dead as "those who are asleep". i do have hope, but i struggle with the prospect of loss. i've come to think of this work of letting go as an ongoing spiritual discipline. i know i'll never master it, but that's ok. thanks for feeling me here nate. and thanks also for the encouragement and prayers.

    exlexia: there is a kind of beauty in this kind of sadness, when loss comes and a person has loved well. thanks for speaking here and sharing your heart.

    christianne: sometimes i wonder if the sadness isn't a necessary part of the joy? maybe i'm off here, but if i really throw myself into loving and being present with the people in my life, part of that love is an awareness that we are all fragile, temporary, breakable creatures. this is painful, but it helps me to relate more intentionally to these creatures. when i forget this, i am more likely to become though these precious creatures and i will live in this world forever. the sadness is a good trade-off when i think of it this way. i hope you and kirk are recovering from your own brush with this fragility. bless you!

    mia: i love that i belong to a group of people who actually allows these words to be spoken out loud. we've had so many conversations over the years about death and loss and what it would mean for us and how to live in light of it. our tribe takes up a whole dance floor (i'm seeing tay and those amazing moves he has) and we all give each other permission to stumble around and look silly. that's good stuff.

    sarah: i remember you saying something recently about that fear of losing dave. scary. i don't know (can't really know until it materializes) how i would respond to something like that. i can do my best right now to practice that releasing, but little strands of grasping keep latching on when i'm not paying attention. it's just a good thing that God is merciful. thanks for the words sister.

    dave: relief? i think i know what you mean, but i never attached that word to it. it is a kind of relief to lay down all our strategies to wrestle with reality. i still hope i go before you...i'm kind of selfish that way.

    tammy: those were some good words for someone who says she's not good with words. thanks for your heart here. i know you're with me and praying like mad. i feel it sometimes. i think you understand me very well.

  10. bless you, terri. bless you.

    breathing is hard. living a difficulty. loss ... unspeakable. real, dirty, messy & shredded ... not theoretical.

    and somehow in the midst of our mess, beyond our mess, he holds everything together, sees it from a vantage point we are unable to comprehend.

    i'm so sorry for this [that life hurts sometimes, & that this is happening in your family]

    prayers & love & peace your way,
    * kirsten

  11. I do hope your uncle is doing better, Terri.

    I am notorious for never enjoying any moment without thinking, "This too shall pass." Some people call me Eeyore because of it. But that's me.

    I have a pang of that pre-loss every morning when I am greeted by one of our cats. She's gentle and sweet and it's delightful to see her expectant face (expecting food, of course) but she's getting older now and starting to have health problems. A part of me is already missing her even when she's standing right in front of me. I pick her up and hold her tight (she's not enthusiastic about that since it doesn't involve food) and I whisper in her ear, "Don't leave me yet." But she will.

  12. Terri, when I started reading blogs in this community I heard people commenting on the amazing love and support they've received here. I've seen it happen for you today as I've often seen you extend it to others. And that thrills me.

    I've also seen that as you share your vulnerability, others are able to admit and feel less threatened by those same vulnerabilities. And that inspires me.

    What an awesome space I have stumbled into.

  13. sharp: i don't know you, but i just have to comment that this story of you and your cat is so precious. i relate to it a lot because i have two cats i adore, and i am sometimes seized with sadness at the thought that they, too, will not be here forever. i loved that image of you sweeping her up close to you and whispering in her ear. so precious.

    and dean: i am SO GLAD you stumbled into this community. you belong here, brother, just like every other beautiful person here.

  14. instant welling tears with
    *don't leave me yet*

    almost forgot what came before...
    but now i remember

    *we will share the dance floor together*

  15. everyone: i think things are going in a better direction with keith. he had another surgery today, but it went quicker than they anticipated and they didn't have to do as many procedures as they thought they were going to have to do. they were hoping to get him off the ventilator, but i haven't heard whether that happened. thanks for your prayers.

    kirsten: thanks is messy, and i'd love to get back to "theoretical" but i don't think this escalator goes in reverse. then again, i never really was crazy about theoretical. i guess i'm in for the whole ride, even if i'm screaming at the top of my lungs half the time.

    sharp: oh that story made me love you, truly. i lost my old friend this past summer and i know what that means. so sad.

    dean: you should're a member. it's a pretty amazing little blog church/hospital. i think we're all pretty lucky.

    christianne: you're so sweet. love you.

    di: your tears made me cry as i read your words. love you sister. *crazy stumbling dance steps*

  16. I left a comment yesterday, but now it’s not here. Terri- I’m sorry for what you and your family are going through. That’s good news about Keith’s surgery today though, and I hope he continues to improve quickly.

    When you wrote about releasing Dave and the others I was really struck by how much courage and trust you have. It is so difficult. You described it as a dance between releasing and taking back. I like that way of looking at it. I smiled in recognition when I read Sharp’s comment too because I have the same conversation with my dog all the time.

    Breathing with you.

  17. I want to write words...

    A response befitting the deep wisdom which you have just spoken...

    But my mind is lost somewhere in a prayer... for your uncle, for you and your family, and for us all...

    I have just this little tear welling in my eyes to offer from half a world away.

    May they speak what my heart wants to say,

    Love and peace to you beautiful friend,


  18. wow momma... i feel a bit uninformed... this is the first i've heard about keith.
    this blog was one of your best momma. you painted a picture for my mind about the struggle between you and death and then the release of love to God.
    thank you momma.

  19. Thank you for sharing what's going on in your life right now - real time. I understand the letting go. Seeing some of the funerals we have together at WHC it's so apparent that death sneaks up when we least expect it. I think maybe the repetition of letting go never ends - I'm so far from figuring it all out....
    Love you - Becky

  20. We are not created for loss. We are created for eternity. That is why, I believe, we never really adjust to death or have much luck truly 'letting go'. I for one, will not let go easily or with anything other than a rage against the enemy that tears us apart, even if it is only temporarily.
    I will pray that that Keith has much, much more time here with his loved ones.

  21. everyone: keith continues to improve. they finally got him off the ventilator and he's conscious (i don't know if the conscious part is such good news from his end...he's in a lot of pain.) anyway, thanks again for your prayers.

    chloe: i don't know how brave and trusting i am...but i'm trying. it is hard.

    maithri: what a heart you have my friend. your prayers and tears are a gift to me.

    danny: i told you about this twice, but maybe you were still in your zombie phase. love you honey.

    becky: yeah, we've been through a lot of really hard funerals together, haven't we? none of us has it figured out. thanks for being here.

    marcell: oh believe me, i have no doubt that in the face of actually losing anyone i'll rage with the best of them. this is more about recognizing what i can and can't control. and i know that no matter how loudly or wildly i rage, it won't change a thing. it's also about possession versus holding. i can love my family, nurture them, be present for them, but i can't possess them. the last thing is that when i live with an awareness of death, i love more deeply and passionately. i treasure now, because i don't know if i'll get a later.

  22. You're so right Terri, we cannot possess. Rats! But also, how glorious - because I think that HE now holds those I miss so much, keeping them safe til I can join them.
    And the knowing that comes from losses (the gift that keeps on giving)can create an ironic depth to attachment that I think of as heroic, in the face of the ultimate passage we all make.
    The kindest thing my kind hubbie ever promised me is to take care of himself, so that I could go first, because he knew I had already had too much loss. Someone once said "no love story has a happy ending" True, at least in THIS place. Yet, ultimately.....

  23. Saddened to hear about your uncle Keith, Terri. Hoping for the best in all of this...

    Sometimes when I tuck in my kids I get that ache of the temporary you mentioned. Or when I pick Silvi over my head only to notice that it's getting harder to do... she's getting heavier.

    It can get to me... still learning to enjoy living on borrowed time.

  24. love you, terri & so glad to hear there is improvement. there is a circle of prayer around him, all over the globe. we're forming a circle around you, too.

    it seems there is a lot of loss or fear of loss circulating in our sphere these days. much necessity of release, of trusting God to hold and to care for those we love ... more than we do even. we hold them in our open hands & can't even imagine what it would be like to say what job said and mean it: "the lord gives & the lord takes away. blessed be the name of the lord."


  25. Joining hands with you and everyone here to pray, to listen, and to hope expectantly.

  26. really good thoughts about life and death and time ... i spent so much of my first years of marriage believing it was too amazing and wonderful to last -- and that surely I would lose him because it was too good for me --- sad and tortured and stupid --- I do better now at living in the moment and not fearing death -- but I still can slip back into it and it is not a great place to stay. Fearing loss might keep us from enjoying what we have - too bad it is easier to SAY we won't be fearful than it is to actually DO.

    Keeping your uncle in my thoughts - praying he recovers and enjoys living again.

  27. your sharing here is so honest and vulnerable and I am honored to get to hold the space for you.
    thinking of you, sending you prayers.

  28. marcell: beautifully said. i know that you are speaking from a place of deep knowing...nothing theoretical will ever come from you.

    tom: i have a feeling you and i are cut from the same bolt of cloth. if you can use those moments to help you dive into your life, i think it's worth it.

    kirsten: yeah, that is curious the way things seem to hit whole communities. it helps me to know that i'm not alone when i hear my own thoughts and experiences rise up in several places at once.

    23: thank you for that prayer. i know you're in the middle of your own experience of death...praying for you too brother.

    tara: you're pretty fresh from an experience of near loss, so i imagine this is something that hits for you. it IS so much easier to talk about living and not fearing death than it is to actually do. like i said, i'll always be a beginner.

    bella: thank you friend.

  29. Hi Terri
    hope things are more cheery on your side of town. Been missin ya. These last few days have been so weird. Weird as in my brain has left Earth without me, not on a spiritual cloud either!

    I had some really over the top thoughts but you can see that on my blog, i am toning down what i write here.

  30. hi tammy. glad you're back. hope your brain is back too. we should talk soon. bless you little sister.