Be Free to Grieve

Be not consoled and feel no need to be consoled.
This quote is from the book, The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was spoken by the Elder Zosima to a woman weeping uncontrollably over the death of her child, who so desperately wishes for her child in her arms again. The woman has previously only received cheap sympathy from those who wish her to stop being so demonstrative in her grief.
I understand that Dostoyevsky grieved over the death of his own son just prior to writing this book, which might explain the potent empathy of such a statement.
We can be hard on our grieving selves. I know I am. I have experienced deep grief, most recently over my mom’s illness (Lewy Body Dementia) and the loss of her vivacious presence in our lives. I’ve been especially inconsolable during COVID as I consider her isolation, an added hardship.
I haven’t had anyone advise me to stop, I’ve done that to myself. I have not wanted to be interrupted by grief. I want my heart to stop raising the issue already. I want to be “normal.” I want to rally my energies to keep going. Instead, I add to my grief a cruel judgment that, because of my inopportune emotions and the way they can level me, I have become ineffective and I’m letting myself and others down.
This statement – be not consoled! – rather gives fresh permission to let grief do its cleansing work, let it run its course without interruption, honour the loss, even make room to do so. It miraculously gives hope and courage while imposing neither.
I plan to self-administer this merciful advice – I did today – and share it with you too, as I suspect we all have our share of grief we’re trying to contend with.
Suppress it no further. Be free to grieve.

High-Rise Life | The Neighbours Above Us

We have a new neighbour above us. He whistles on the balcony.
In the past 5 years, the apartment above us has changed hands numerous times. We know a new set has moved in by the new noises and smells.
At first there were the young men who played video games and watched movies at dangerously high decibel levels. J-M knocked on their door, “Listen guys, I love Star Wars too, but…”
There were the weed smokers, who were like clockwork. At 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., we knew to close the windows.
After that were the ones who partied till the wee hours Thursday, Friday & Saturday and threw up every Friday, Saturday & Sunday morning. That was a regular call to security. “I know,” he’d say, a little defeated, “I’m on my way…” From time to time, I felt bad calling security and would knock on the door myself (sleeplessness makes you ornery) only to hear bottles crashing and stumbling and loud shushing. They never came to the door, but they always stopped the noise.
There was the young family with the crying baby. We didn’t mind, other than to wonder if it would be too intrusive to offer to take the baby for a while and give them a rest?
The saxophonist who played/practiced Careless Whisper daily made all my urban apartment dweller dreams come true.
Then there was the man who was always using his tools and treating the apartment like a workshop. Ceaseless drilling, sawing, and hammering. J-M eventually had to go up when water started coming through our ceiling. Admittedly J-M tried to get a peek at what this man might be making and could see nothing. The man simply said he was fixing a leak.
We got used to the one with the bouncing ball habit, but I had to go Mama Bear on the one who was verbally abusive with his girlfriend.
And now a whistler. I like it. I hope he stays.

23 Years Together

Today J-M and I celebrate 23 years of marriage.
This might be our most significant anniversary yet as it marks the threshold of being married as long as we were unmarried.
J-M were having a conversation about what we might say is “different” about our marriage since those early years because we sometimes carry the delusion that we’re the same two young, naive kids. But then we find ourselves examining each other’s moles – “does this look normal to you?” – or going to bed early to read and are confronted with the reality that we are, indeed, aged and aging.
So it has been a fun exercise to consider how we’re different than when we first began.
There are the obvious things like how we’ve both gained a middle-aged middle and are surprisingly OK with it. We did some quick math to figure out that J-M has gained an average of 3 lbs per married year and my average is 2. (Having said that, we might wish to slow that pace if we project into our 60s, and make our own efforts to flatten the curve, so to speak.) We were both recently greatly amused to discover, while swimming at the public pool in our neighbourhood, that neither of us can possibly sink. Like, if we do nothing at all, no moving of limbs, “standing” stock still in the deep end, we simply bob, nose and mouth above water. So I’d call that a wonderful, life-saving discovery.
There have been many marital victories to celebrate along the way, like reducing frictions in our everyday life, finding ways to enjoy each other, supporting each other through stress, for example. As each year passes, we “get” each other more. I am particularly tickled when, in a fight, we help each other recall the words we need to argue our point.
One stand-out win for us a few years ago was discovering the answer to J-M’s obnoxious snoring was related to sleep apnea. He now has a CPAP machine and sleeps silently. I feel a little like I saved J-M’s life. And he has saved mine in various countless ways. It turns out some life-saving efforts can take months of sleepless nights and dark days to do so.
Besides milestones like moving, having children, changes in career, etc, there have been two significant points of growth in our marriage. The first was around year 6 or 7. We seemed to be checking off all the “right” boxes: careers, children, home, vacations… but there was a mounting restlessness. Surely, we thought, acquiring possessions and status or relational compatibility cannot be prime objectives of marriage; there had to be more. It was in that season that we challenged ourselves to live out our faith in Jesus, to listen in and hear what God was saying to us about why he’d brought us together and how to live out his purposes in our lives. I credit our beautiful community of friends who inspired us in this way. Such “living out of faith” took our family to live in Ghana for a time and for J-M to move from teaching to pastoring and for me to be open to lead alongside J-M in various ways. Our life became a life-giving spiritual adventure.
The second point of growth was a about a decade later, 18 years into marriage, we were going through many stressful things in life and ministry, changing jobs, moving, difficult things happening in friends and family’s lives that were taking their toll on our marriage. I have said that this is the year my marriage vows had to kick in (for J-M it was Year One). For the first time, I understood the temptation of wanting to leave. We seemed to perpetually be at odds with each other. I learned what it meant to love even when you can’t feel it and not let feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness take root and split up our oneness. Again, it took sleepless nights and dark days.
We said hard things to each other, we got counselling, we learned to pray for each other and we made it out the other side. I might even say, we were better for it (though I would have slapped you had you told me that in the moment). As I write, I’ve never been more (giddily so!) in love with J-M. Which is to say that a hard season can be the seedbed of beautiful growth.
I know that our marriage doesn’t look like everyone’s and I also know, having worked in family law and in ministry, that marriage can be a place of great and unresolved pain. I believe it is one way, but not the only way, that God works his life-saving activity in and through us. It will certainly uncover your “stuff” built out of survival or selfishness. It will not fix you. It will change you.
I just asked J-M if he’d recommend marriage and I’m thrilled to report that he didn’t hesitate to say yes. I asked him why and he said “because you learn about yourself, you learn about grace, you learn about faithfulness and you get to have fun.”
And there you have it, he’s always been more succinct than me.
Happy anniversary, J-M. You are the love of my life. Let the adventure continue!