Welcome to Grief to Gratitude

Google imageGoogle Images, 2018
We’ve got this.

I write about grief, the ugly, wonderful experience of grief. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but it is navigable, and — joy is waiting on the other side to surprise you delightfully into life again. In between life and seminary, I read, write, and enjoy the hell out of every single second I get to have. I have an amazing husband who supports me and encourages me every step of the way. We have a feral cat whose name is Feral Fawcett. She’s very picky about whom she likes, and I’m not on the list! I hope my words help to comfort and inspire you through your grief.

We have a grandson, my son’s son, who is the joy of our lives. My son left a piece of himself with us. I am grateful for my life, warts and all.

Title Fight

By Sherrie Ann Cassel

(Original Caption) Caught in a rare pose- his mouth shut–Muhammad Ali punches bag here March 31 (Tokyo Time) for his April 1 bout with heavyweight Mac Foster. The ex-champ predicts he’ll K.O. Foster in five. The bout is scheduled for 15 rounds.

There was a time when grief was the singular focus for me. I pored through books about grief and how to survive it. I pored through sacred texts trying to find the answer that would pivot me back into the living. I read about how deep emotional pain can feel physical, and I learned that a broken heart is not just a convenient metaphor because there are truly no words to express the abysmal hole that is wrought in your personal cosmos after the loss of someone significant in your life.

I remember early in the grief process, a woman at a grief site I joined told me that one day it wouldn’t hurt so intensely, and I’d be able to go on with my life and even experience joy. My rage should have been my first clue that I would not be in grief forever. I truly thought I’d never survive. I prayed for relief from the chronic and pounding pain that was systemic. I felt it 24/7, every second, every minute, every hour.

On January 22nd, 2023, it will be seven years since my beautiful son died, leaving a gaping hole in the collective of our family, shattering my life, and breaking my heart. Seven years. I thought I’d never make it out alive. I still don’t know how a person can be in that much pain and still be living. I look back and I cry for that person, including the person I was, and … to be honest, I still get triggers that bring tears to my eyes and put me in a funk for a few hours; I work really hard to not allow my grief to rob me of an entire day, but early in grief, I grieved long, and I grieved hard. My funk lasted for three and a half years. I dropped out of my psych program. I gained 40 lbs. I cried every single day, and I’m talking the sobs that make it difficult to breathe, the kind of sobs that immobilizes you. My world had stopped spinning and I was caught in a grief cycle that seemed infinite.

In retrospect, I did the same thing that all people do when they lose someone who was an integral part of them; we buck and then we break. After the brokenness is felt less profoundly, we spend the rest of our lives healing from our loss(es). The rest of our lives is adjusting to a world without our loved one. The rest of our lives is for creating whatever amount of joy we can by weaving and bobbing in the arena of random chance. Sometimes we take punches – despite our mad skills at navigating life. Sometimes we win the belt.

Sometimes we sink into despair; I believe this is part of the process. We feel intensely. The pain is seemingly insurmountable, endless, hard hitting as a contraction without an epidural. I still have momentary pangs of the deepest sadness because I cannot see or hear or touch my son.

But seven years later, I’m a staunch supporter of staying with the living. If you’re new at grieving, yeah, it hurts in a way for which there is no apt description. Unfortunately, we will experience great emotional and physical pain. Unfortunately, acute grief lasts as long as it lasts. The time in between your initial loss and your first inkling that having a full life is possible takes as long as you need it to. Hindsight is 20/20, and I wish I’d had the self-awareness to have my moment of clarity and allow it to lead me to transcendent healing sooner, but it wasn’t how my emotional constitution was created, so it took me a little longer (or a lot longer) because I needed to weep and to wail until I couldn’t cry anymore. It’s just the way it is — for some of us.

My therapist was the first one who gave me the recipe for a happy life, although I’ve read it other places since he first shared it with me. To have a happy life, one must:

  1. Have something to love;
  2. Have something to do; and
  3. Have something to look forward to.

I didn’t have the second two, but I have family, friends, an amazing husband, and two cats I adore. I cannot emphasize enough how emotionally and so, physically, paralyzed I was. I have always wanted an advanced degree because I love learning and I want it to stand for something, and because I want my knowledge to be purposeful. My husband is a nearly 40-year veteran of teaching. He has made a difference in hundreds of kids lives, many who keep in touch with him, and one of his amazing former students is going to be our adopted adult son. We’re thrilled. So, something or someone to love was not an issue, although I was scarcely present for anyone during the early time of grief.

I finally received my bachelor’s degree in psychology in May of 2019, and I’m currently back in school, in seminary, for my Master of Divinity, an M.Div., to be a chaplain. I’m accomplishing a lot in school, and I’m loving it. I’m having lifelong questions answered for me. I’m co-creating my own theology. I’m honing some skills we all inherently have, but forget because of trauma, and random chance’s assaults on our homeostasis, our equilibrium, our peaceful balance.

So, something to do can be checked off the list. Seminary keeps me hopping.

And finally, something to look forward to, I look forward to each and every day of my life; after losing my son when he was only 32, I hold no illusions about the brevity of life. Grab joy where it can be found, your joy or someone else’s. Get caught up in the wonders of the world and pull people into your life who are as amazing as you are. Tap into grief when you need to or when you have a trigger but pull yourself out of the funk as soon as it is possible for you to do so and celebrate your life and the lives of your living loved ones.

I look forward to going to my new job every day. I’m 60 now, so I’m not interested in climbing any ladders, but I want the last few years of the work I do to be purposeful, hence, becoming an interfaith chaplain, and working with those for whom grief has become too heavy. I love the R.E.M. song, “Everybody hurts.” We all do, and at some point, grief will cross our paths, and after the initial shock of the loss, the cosmic tear in the fabric of your universe, the detonation of your former self, we finally remember that we have choices; it takes time to get there, so be patient with yourself, and if you’re a supporter of a person in grief, thank you.

I thought I’d never move past the chronic pain that grief bequeaths to us, but I have. The pain is still here, but not omnipresent and not omnipotent. Grief no longer fuels my days; it still can claim a portion of my nights, but not for the duration. I bounce back pretty quickly now. Something to look forward to.

Sit down and start writing a list of the things you’ve always wanted to do, no matter how absolutely ridiculous it sounds, and you’ll start to feel better. Here’s a ridiculous experience I always thought I wanted to have: the life of train-hoppin’ hobos. But I guess when one’s childhood is fraught with trauma, freedom, even if it’s just bare bones survival looks pretty good. Other things I’d like to do, I’m already doing.

I promise you the intensity of your pain in your brand-new grief is temporary. We’ll always miss our loved one(s). There will be times when the pain overrides our reason and all we’ve learned by educating ourselves about grief will fly out the window. But a nice breeze can send it back to you and you’ll have the opportunity to repurpose the wisdom and use it to share with others who may need it.

I honestly did not think I’d survive the loss of my son. But here I am seven years later, booking through a really charmed life, and missing my son. Life can really hurt sometimes, but it can also be magnificent. I wish you magnificence in your lives. As the Nike ad says, “Do it.” Think about how your loved one(s) loved you. Why did they love you? Who is the person they loved? Be that person again. It’s possible.

I close with this verse from “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel – because we are:

“In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him, ’til he cried out
In his anger and his shame
‘I am leaving, I am leaving
But the fighter still remains
Mm-mm-mm…still remains.’”

You’ve got this; you really do.

A Stitch in Time

By Sherrie Cassel

Google images, 2022

People tell me I exude joy and contribute to our world’s collective aching heart, a positive worldview (on most days). I used to blurt out to anyone even if he or she were talking about something not even remotely related to the death of one’s child, “I lost my son to heroin and alcohol,” and then for a dramatic effect “He was my only child.” One had a difficult time continuing the conversation without a whammy to those of tender heart, rendering them temporarily mute, then fumbling with the words. What do you say to a newly grieving mother or father? Are there words of comfort that you have anticipated your entire life for such a moment as this? I’ve stopped conversations dead in their tracks, from recipes for green bean casserole to existential meanderings with friends and colleagues. Bam! And the conversation dripped angst and deep, deep pain. I wore my grief like a shroud, a physical expression of grief. One could very well characterize my demeanor nearly four years ago as joyless.

I realize now, my friends and family were inept at comforting me because … how do you comfort a person who has lost a piece of herself, or himself? You can’t. You can ride out the storm with her. You can hold her as she weeps in your arms. You can listen as she pours out her heart in a subconscious desire to heal through purging … to anyone who’ll listen, even to strangers. I’ve learned to maintain. I still blurt on occasion, but now I do it to tell a victory story, the reclamation of myself. The creation of a life I love, in the face of the most supreme pain a person can feel, is a victory story. If I exude joy and positivity, it’s been hard-earned. I did the work through the muck and through the mire, through the pinched face and smeared mascara, through buckets and buckets of tears, and through the nights when I lay curled up in the fetal position during my worst dark night of the soul.

Grief is grueling work. Grief is exhausting and just when we think we’ve got it to a manageable level, something will trigger it and we’ll feel slightly out of control as we wrestle with ourselves to be okay and pull through, or to give in to the hopelessness that grief brings. Just like anger, here one minute and then two seconds later, it’s gone, the shock of a great loss floods us to the very core of our being, and then, the waters recede, and we regain our footing, and see the varying hues of healing: comfort, peace, acceptance, transformation and finally, transcendence.

If I exude joy, it’s because I’ve experienced the kind of loss for which there are not adequate words in any language to express the earth-shattering effects the death of my son has had on me, indeed, will always have on me. In comparison to a single day of incomprehensible emotional and physical pain, I’ll take the joy, please. See, those of us who grieve with intention toward healing, know the difference, intimately, between grief and acceptance. The glaring polarity on the emotional spectrum between grief and acceptance is a reality a person in grief will come to face time and time again. Like the REM song heralds, “Everybody hurts … some time.”

In my experience, acceptance of what was, what is forever lost, and what is possible, are the cornerstones of healing. Acceptance is, yes, in my estimation, surrender to a spiritual precept and to the impersonalization of random chance, as the great Rabbi Harold Kushner said in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a book I highly recommend. People who know about my son’s death often ask me how I can be joyful when I’ve incurred such a devastating loss. One of my therapists gave me a recipe for a good life, of course an oversimplification, but he said, to have a happy life one must:

  1. Have something to love;
  2. Have something to do; and
  3. Have something to look forward to.

I miss my son to the furthest reaches of the universe. Nothing will ever change this, but I’m still living, and I grew weary of being in pain all the time. I have many people and things I love. I have a job I adore. I look forward to all the possibilities contained in each day. I look forward to going to a job that is purposeful. I love being in seminary. I finally have answers to questions that have plagued me as I redefine my spiritual identity. Those answers heal me and compel me to share the knowledge that healing is eventual only insofar as one is willing to work toward claiming it for oneself. In no way am I suggesting that healing happens in the blink of an eye; it doesn’t.

The metaphor of the heart breaking is an apt image. I don’t understand the physiology of the physical pain that accompanies a great loss, but I know it’s real. I’ve experienced it. I revisit the different phases of my life, the women I’ve been, who I’ve had to say goodbye to with the passing of time and the acquisition of wisdom through the years. I’m grateful for some of the experiences I’ve had in my life, the loss of my son will never be one of them. We grow and change in our worldviews dependent upon how we respond to the tragedies in our lives. I was tired of being sad all the time. I begged the God of my understanding to take my pain away and to throw it in the deepest ocean, but that didn’t happen. I learned to navigate the dance between joy and visceral pain.

People ask grievers how they get over losing someone with whom they were intimately in love, a child, a spouse, a lover, a friend, a parent, an ideology. How does one move forward carrying a grief that will become merely manageable throughout the lifespan? I believe we take our pain, and we express it through any medium that brings awareness to it, either to ourselves or to those from whom we need a comforting word, a hug, a hand. I also think when we are healing or even, when we are healed, we want to share our emotional well-being with those who also are in grief. No (wo)man is an island … right?

The love of my son from his perfect vantage point fuels my desire to be whole, to grow, to change, to be a benefit, and to make him proud of his momma. Life is beautiful. The world can be ugly, but it is also magnificent. My son loved life. He enjoyed nature. He was filled with wonder about every single thing in the universe. I know I transmitted many of my personality traits to him. We celebrated every little ol’ thing. I couldn’t remain in the angst of grief and still have a wonderful life, a life that honors every good thing about my son. I had to move forward to be a good example to his son. I have purpose. I deserve to have a good life. Every day is a blessing. How could I not be joyful?

If you’re in grief tonight, please take care of yourself. Cry, and if your tears become overwhelming, reach out to someone, and if no one is available, just know that the dark night of the soul also has a sunrise.

Detachment and Adjustment

by Sherrie Cassel

Our grandson goes home on Tuesday after being with us for the summer; it’s been a joy to have him with us. He is the son of my son who died six years and eight months ago. There are so many similarities they share, in addition to having the same birthday, which was yesterday, August 6th. Bittersweet is how every single thing, experience, song, every wonder-filled thing in life – is described now. Yesterday was just such a day. I celebrated our grandson’s 13th birthday, the seventh without his dad. There was joy and there was sadness. Our grandson picked up a candle and said, “Hey, it’s also my dad’s birthday. We should light this candle as bright as it can go for my dad.” He’s like his father in so many ways, and yet, he is his own person too. He’s not his father. He won’t make up for the loss of my son. Life will never be the same. The life I shared with everyone and everything previous to my son’s death is over.

I’ve had to build a new life, a life in which all things are new, different, bittersweet. Life is so wonderful and yet there are times when I still feel broken from losing my son. I have heart pangs from time to time when I hear a song or catch a whiff of his favorite cologne and his favorite cigar. I’m grateful for the happy times, more times than the tempestuous, but there certainly were tempests in each of us…and sometimes they collided. I’ve learned to let go of the regret. As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” He lived to be 32 and I was 52 when he died; we learned a lot in those years, and we loved each other fiercely, the way I love his son now.

No, life will never be the same; it hasn’t been, even though I’ve been able to stake a claim for a life of joy and acceptance of how things sometimes turn out. “Into every life a little rain must fall.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~ No one escapes tragedy. Some people suffer their whole lives. Some people suffer for a season. There are reasonable explanations for the many ways there are to suffer in our world. The explanations can provide comfort, but not before they first present raw emotions of angst and physical and phantom pain.

Every single day is an adjustment period. I awaken from my sleep every morning with the knowledge that my son is gone. I go to bed every night with the knowledge that I haven’t heard his voice for six years and eight months. I go through the day with the knowledge that he is not experiencing a life in which he is whole and not self-destructive. There’s no amount of time during which I am not aware that he is gone. This knowledge makes life bittersweet. I relish the life I have, and then I mourn the loss of my beautiful son’s life because he is not here for me to share beautiful moments with.

His son is growing up without a father. My son grew up without a father. I grew up with a father, a broken and abusive father, which is to say, I grew up without a father who could love wholesomely and unconditionally. History repeats itself. My family has hit a few bumps in the road. The first significant loss was my father. The anger his children collectively held toward him was the glue that kept the family codependent and enmeshed. Grief was a daily experience in our lives. One can grieve the losses of time, security, and worth.

Our loss of my son, for the entire family, has been earthshattering, and as the mother, the only/single parent of a child who has died, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one who lost my son. We all did. Some of us haven’t spoken much about our feelings … we’re not that kind of family. I’ve reached out to my husband who has been my rock. I hope you each have someone who has been such a support for you. My younger brother has been here insofar as my existential questions closely following my son’s death. He never said a word; he just listened. I just needed to speak my whys out of my consciousness so I could detach from them and move forward.

I think whys keep us imprisoned to the pain of our losses. There are reasonable explanations for our losses, whether it’s cancer or cocaine, or. . . heroin. I find that those explanations comfort me and place me firmly on solid ground. When I’m tired, my brain reverts to old coping skills, sleeping so I don’t have to feel, shutting down emotionally, and isolation. Pain is an indication that something is wrong, whether it’s perpetrated by ourselves, or another person. When we allow ourselves to mourn our loss, the pain decreases one-hundred-fold the more we release it into the atmosphere, until it flows through us ever more lightly with each acknowledgement and release. I wish I could give you a timeline of how many revolutions of the cycle of pain one has to go through before the pain is trace most of the time, and it only emerges when one is hungry, angry, lonely or tired. I wish I could, but again, every day, and sometimes every second is an adjustment to a world without your loved one.

Yesterday, we had a cake for our grandson. We lit the 13 golden candles and sang to him. He blew them out and we munched on cake and ice cream. We had a pillow fight. We watched a superhero movie, and then I went to bed and missed my son. I’d been saving up the bittersweetness all day. I fell asleep like I have for 39 years, 32 while he was living and 6 and a half years posthumously, thinking about him. I have a difficult time thinking about him when he was a baby. I think of his laughter. His son doesn’t laugh as hard as his dad did. He’s been through some shit. My son had a laugh that shook the foundation of the earth – and that rocked my heart, all of it.

Laughter has returned to my alchemy of joy –.  Bittersweet. I have a memory of my son and I in which we drove all over National City singing the oldie song, “I’m your puppet” – and he was making up lyrics to the song and we laughed so hard I had to pull off the road because I couldn’t breathe. I wish I could  make our grandson laugh that hard, but he is his own person, with his own blend of grief. I remember shortly after his dad died he spent the night at our home in San Diego. I went to check on him and he was crying. He said, “I miss my daddy; he was the only one who could make me laugh.”

Maybe forgetting your loved one’s face or voice is a coping mechanism for some. I knew my son for 32 years. I memorized the contour of his face, his little pudgy fingers, his giant hands when he was a man. His joy. His heartbreak. His successes and when he didn’t do so well. I remember every little thing about him – from infancy to death.


Damming up the overflow

By Sherrie Cassel

Woman embracing herself. Concept of self love and self care. Google images, 2022

Our grandson has been staying with us for the summer. He goes home next Tuesday. He is the son of my son and my only child. As well as being overjoyed to have our grandson with us, as is everything forever more, this side of Heaven, is bittersweetness. Everything, every experience, every song, every beautiful thing in nature, the way the wind blows in the evening after a sweltering desert day, everything is a bittersweet experience. The experiences are bitter because my son is no longer here to share his time on this earth with me; and the moments are sweet because there are amazing memories, good and loving memories. While the addiction years were hell, the good memories carry me through. I love to say his name and talk about him, and share the good years, and there were many of them.

Sometimes a person can be a trigger for the pain we mostly suppress throughout our days, to get through each day. Our grandson is a reminder that life insists on moving forward. He is also a reminder that my son’s memory is fading in the one person he loved most in the universe. The knowledge of this is difficult. I will never forget my son, barring dementia or Alzheimer’s. His face, his voice, his scent, his laughter, oh my God, his laughter is forever imprinted in my head, heart, and soul.

Do you get sad when people you love have a difficult time hearing you say your loved one’s name because they’re afraid you’ll have a meltdown? Have you learned to shelve your meltdowns until they’re convenient for your new life? I’m not saying it’s easy, or even necessary, to hold off on a meltdown. I still have them from time to time, but my life has suddenly gotten really busy, and being busy keeps me from having overwhelming emotions on a regular basis. Oh, my heart hurts all the time. Missing my son is a constant. I wish I could hear him telling me all about his day. I miss him more than there are words to describe the longing, but, again, life insists on being lived.

I will hold on to my son’s memory for the rest of my life, and I will keep my son’s memory alive in his son when he’s ready to remember him. He was six when his daddy died. Their birthday is Saturday, August 6th. They have the same birthday. I will cry and I will celebrate on Saturday; this is how it’s been since my son died, this side of Heaven. On his birthday, I’ll take a few private moments, and I will take out his baby t-shirt and hold it to my chest, and I will weep on the day of his birth. So many memories in our 32 years together. I should be grateful for 32 years because some parents didn’t get to have as long with their children. I’m blessed for the time, even the tough years, because we loved each other desperately during those years too.

Memories can bless us, and they can torture us. My son’s name is Rikki. He was my best friend and the only child I will ever have. I’m blessed with a piece of him through our grandson, and I’m grateful. Our grandson is the light of our lives, certainly because he is my son’s son, but mostly because he is an amazing kid. He’s been through so much, and yet, he’s gentle, kind, loving, funny, and generous, just like his father. Seeing our grandson without a father during some very important events and experiences is difficult to see. I’m sure those experiences are tough for our grandson too.

I sometimes forget that I’m not the only one who is hurting. Other people loved my son too. Others love your loved one too. I’ve mourned with my husband and my younger brother. We need to turn to people who are secure enough to handle our pain because they’re not afraid of theirs. Not everyone is, and I don’t fault them. I’m just careful to not share or to not lose it with them. They love me; they’re just not equipped to handle someone’s darkness, and that’s okay. Each person adds an element of what he or she is capable of in our lives, just as we add an element of what we are capable of in others’ lives.

I’m intellectualizing right now, a well-honed coping mechanism; it’s easier than hurting as the birthday approaches. I know intellectualization is a common coping mechanism, and it’s a good one too. I try to not lapse into the practice when a meltdown is necessary, and sometimes they are. Cry, cry, cry, and then pick ourselves up by the bootstraps; save the overflow of tears for another day. I asked our grandson if he remembered his daddy, and he said he couldn’t remember his face or his voice anymore. I held my shit together when he said this. I smiled and said, “That’s okay, Honey. If you ever want to see videos of your daddy, just let me know. I have a bunch of them.” He’s not ready yet. The absence his daddy left will affect his worldview and his little tender heart for the rest of his life. My son touched so many lives.

As you mourn the loss of your loved one, reach out to those who loved him or her, and share your memories, when you have time for some raw emotions. I think it’s important to create a life in which you are a healer, a helper, and a person who offers hope to those who are hurting, from the death of a loved one, or some other difficulties someone may have.

Helping someone else is the fast-track to healing yourself. You’ll see. When you’re able to help someone through the death of a loved one because of your personal experience with the temporary phase of mourning and how you’re successfully navigating the grief process, your heart will heal a little at a time too. Who better to help someone through a tragedy than someone who shares a common experience?

The private site I share with a great group of parents has been my saving grace. I was alone when my son died. I needed a peer-to-peer group with people who shared the loss of a child to addiction, and I began to heal because of the complete and utter understanding of others who share a common experience. Find your grief niche. You will heal in great leaps and bounds if you have someone with whom to share your broken heart. Trust me on this.

I learned to not burden my friends, none of whom, gratefully, have lost a child. Social workers and interfaith chaplains are great resources to launch yourself into healing, because they deal with grief routinely. I will need someone to talk with on Saturday, for a bit. My husband is my person of choice. He has been so amazing with me since my son died.

I’m blessed for so many reasons, even with the greatest loss of a parent’s life; life is beautiful. Our world is awesome. People are wonderful. As the meme says, “We’re all just walking each other home.” My light had dimmed to barely perceptible after my son died; it’s taken six and half years to rebuild myself. I can relate if this is where you are right now, and I want to offer you some hope. Work the grief process. Read everything you can on grief and healing. Write your pain, put it out there, speak out of your consciousness what doesn’t aid your healing. Fill your mind with self-love and self-compassion.

I can encourage you to find something you can hold on to as you mourn for your loved one, but I can’t tell you what will be best for you. I know what’s worked for me, and what continues to work for me, except on those days when I know the dam must burst. I just know I can’t stay there. I did collapse for three and a half years. I collapsed unto emotional paralysis. I stopped growing. I wasn’t healing. If this is where you are, please reach out to someone, message me, and see number below if you’re really having a rough time, and nothing you do on a personal level is helping you move forward.

Send me love and light and prayers as my son and grandson’s birthday approaches. I’m feeling strong today. I hope you are too.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline | SAMHSA

Coming out of Retirement

By Sherrie Cassel

Google images, 2022

I’m not retirement age, but I’ve been away from work and people for eleven years. The last nearly three years of pandemic cautionary procedures, I’ve not been in large or small crowds. A new job and seminary can be a huge adjustment period. I’m used to pretty much my own schedule, which is to say, it’s not rigid or uniform. I’m used to a midday nap. I’m used to leisure time whenever I feel like taking it. Being hired at 60 is both amazing and I am so grateful; however, it is also an adjustment. I found myself falling asleep during my regular nap time at work. I left work and told my grandson and husband I was going to take a nap before dinner, and I slept for five hours. I don’t know if I’m getting sick or just exhausted from a new schedule. I’ve tested for COVID twice and I am vaccinated, twice and with the first booster, so I’m hoping I’m not an anomaly by being a breakthrough case.

I can’t really talk about my job other than to say, I love it, and the people are wonderfully loving and supportive with each other. New staff is treated with compassion and kind professionalism. I feel so blessed. I’m hoping I’m better by next week. I don’t want to miss a single day of training.

As you know, I just turned 60 in June. I had many epiphanies, boom, boom, one right after the other. The main thing is, I’ll never be young again this side of Heaven. I will one day be forced to really retire even though I will not want to. As long as I keep moving forward, I won’t settle into grief like I did in those first three and a half years. As long as I continue to create purpose in my life, I will keep on going, and the amazing thing is, as a chaplain, I can work until I drop. Listening to people in their darkest hours is not how I saw my life, especially as my life is winding down. But the God of my understanding has called me out of my grief and out of my idleness to help others.

Am I scared? Nervous? You betcha. I wouldn’t be effective if I didn’t healthfully model the ability to feel an emotion and especially when it’s an overwhelming emotion, that you can ride it out and be okay after reaching critical mass. Trust me, it took me years to learn that, and I will learn it and relearn it for the rest of my life. People are far more fragile than we wish we were. I thought I was strong and could handle anything. When I lost my son, I learned that I was not tough as nails. I found out I was really quite fragile. The loss of my son broke me. Six years and nearly seven months have passed since my son left this world and broke my heart. So, I know what it’s like to be broken, and… I know what it’s like to be healed.

I know, like Mother Teresa intimated, I was broken wide open, and the whole world fell in. I hold no illusions that everyone can be helped this side of Heaven, but anyone can be loved, even those some may think of as irredeemable. I’ve been reading a book about Job from the Hebrew Bible, from an entirely novel perspective. As I read, I found tremendous wisdom about suffering in our world. Some people get mad at the God who, in my theology, gets let off the hook. Humankind has miles, perhaps one-hundred generations to go before we love each other and don’t hurt each other because might will no longer be right. Well, maybe not this side of Heaven, and certainly not in my lifetime.

Again, things break us from time to time – but we also heal, in time – which makes the experience navigable. As you all know, we are at the mercy of random chance when tragedy strikes. No one deserves it, but it happens to the person of great wealth (Richard Cory) and it happens to those of the most humble means. Everything does not happen for a “reason” – things happen, and we are left to repurpose a life that has been seismically shifted.

When your worldview is blasted to smithereens, or your safety and security in this world have been violated, the world can seem unkind, and sometimes it is. Some people suffer their entire lives, and some for a shorter amount of time, but not unscathed. Just as people are fragile, however, sometimes we soar above the chaos and painful experiences. We create, or as I see it, we co-create a life of worth, value, and purpose.

So, no, I’m not ready to retire yet. I may never be. My heart still aches for the loss of my beautiful and tortured son, but the loss no longer immobilizes me into chronic mourning, the kind that will keep me down if I don’t keep going. A lot of time for a lot of rumination is not good for me. I have thirty-two years of memories with my son. The sound of seagulls makes me weep. The song from the Music Man, “Goodnight my Someone” slays me because I sang it to my son when he was an infant. Any song by Bread, even though he wasn’t born yet when Bread was a thing, and he would have hated their music. I smile sometimes when I think of him and other times I cry. It’s a crapshoot. If anything, I’m much more fragile than I was before, softer, less hardass. My heart hurts every time I see a person struggling, and I want to help, and if I can, I will.

Retirement? Not at 60. As long as I’m this side of Heaven, I will always try to accept the purpose for my life thus far, and I will keep moving forward, learning, living, and loving.

The Day the Dishwasher Broke

By Sherrie Cassel

Google Images, The Mighty, 2022

I encourage everyone to find a medium that works for him or her. I’m not feeling all that grand, but not being able to shake this fever, or sleep, I find comfort in my coping mechanism as I pour words out onto a page. If you ever want to share the fruit of your creativity, please, message me and I would love to. We each express grief in various ways. I welcome yours.

Excellent Read

As a veteran griever, I’ve read countless books on grief and even though I’m the griever, I’ve read books about how to help other grievers. David Kessler’s book on The Sixth Stage, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by the Rabbi Harold Kushner, and now Daryl Potter’s book which shows a different side of grief and about the people, well-intentioned, who don’t know how to comfort us, except by using what he calls the Standard Version, a theological ideology that assumes suffering is brought about by our behavior, what some people call “sin”. I don’t aim to proselytize on my page, but this book is just so accessible, even in its academic tone. If you’re not familiar with the story of Job, it is about supreme loss and confusion about why people suffer. Potter’s book has helped me to understand how people have arrived at the misconception that we bring suffering on ourselves. Not so. If you’re fortunate enough to have friends who love you, even in their ignorance of your grief, even if they espouse the Standard Version of why people suffer, I can rest assured that I did nothing to bring the loss of my son to my life. We can have our hearts shattered in any number of ways. Everybody grieves at some point. Find comfort where you can. Find comfort through the God of your understanding. Find comfort with friends who are willing to learn a new theology, or a new philosophy about why suffering occurs in our world. Potter’s book, because Potter knows a thing or two about grief and supreme life challenges, has touched me and empowered me to not be a victim. As they say, “Shit happens” — and we’re left with the fallout, but not without the gift of healing from wherever you gain personal strength. Even if you’re not a “Christian” — the book addresses the kind of grief that no one wants, but the kind of grief that makes us question the chaos in our world and yet, provides a level of comfort that I’ve not found elsewhere. Thank you, Daryl, for your gift of writing, the wisdom that has come from your self-examination, and for the clarity with which you help others, myself included, to remain hopeful and liberated. –SAC–

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