Archives for posts with tag: Lament

Back before I was a mother (my daughter is now 17) I worked at Sanctuary, a place that I often refer to as a sibling of The Dale. Sanctuary was formative for me, its fingerprints all over my life in ministry. It was the place that had me committing to community where people who are typically marginalized are instead placed at the core.

Over this Easter weekend Sanctuary had three of its people die, two of whom I knew. This on the heel of multiple other deaths. Over at The Dale we held five memorials from December until just mid-January, almost all of which were on Wednesdays at 1 pm. Near the end of that stretch I almost couldn’t bear the thought of leading another service. Our friends working in Harm Reduction see an astonishing loss of life all the time. Oh death, where is your sting? Well, one of the places is the street.

The sorrow is heavy. The scary thing is that there is very little room for the processing of grief. There is no space for a breath between bereavements. On top of it all is what I would call anticipatory grief, the kind that exists when we come to expect and brace for the next tragedy. I worry for our communities (and myself) in this. In fact, it’s something I think about a lot.

My most recent work in therapy has been largely related to the death of my mother. Without even realizing it, I was living in quiet protest of her being gone. Her absence felt so unreal that I was allowing myself to be numbed by it. Slowly I have been emerging from that, a process that is enabling me to sit in the sadness AND celebrate what an amazing mom I had. Elaine will never not be my mother. This is true too of my dad. Similarly, the friends that I have lost over the years will never stop being important pieces of my life.

Talking about death can be very uncomfortable. It often brings up the reality of our own mortality. It is confusing and, until it happens to us, impossible to understand. My mother taught me a lot about clinging to hope in both life and death. It wasn’t that she lived without any fear of death, it was that she never let it control her. Instead, she readied herself to be free.

I believe that our friends are now free. Do I wish there were still here? Yes. Can I wait for the day that death is put to death? I will, but it can hurry up already. Somehow, I am not devoid of hope, in fact I remain resolute in my belief that light will overcome the darkness. And, I stand in solidarity with Sanctuary and other front-line communities in collective grief and lament.

From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.

-Mary Oliver

It’s rare for me to feel a sense of hopelessness, which is probably why my experience of it recently was so uncomfortable. A number of things contributed to it: Dion’s ongoing health challenges; an accumulation of grief for the too many friends whose deaths have been untimely, sometimes violent, and often preventable; the lack of space I’ve had to properly mourn my mother; the increasing awareness of how many layers of marginalization people face; my dear friend’s angst that the poverty she lives with will be never-ending; hearing about the many forms of racism that continue to exist.

I was sitting in a chair at ReImagine, a conference in Hamilton that took place last week, when my chest got tight and I began to cry. The group assembled had just listened to a profound and heart wrenching rendition of Ben Harper’s Call it What it Is (“Government ain’t easy, policing ain’t easy, hard times ain’t easy, oppression ain’t easy, racism ain’t easy, fear ain’t easy, suffering ain’t easy. Call it what it is.”)

I felt this overwhelming sense of dread in my heart and weighing on my shoulders. All the things I mention above were in my mind. I contemplated my own mistakes. I wondered if there was any way forward. It was a dark moment. I also began to worry about my impending talk, the one I needed to give in the same room the next morning. Given that we had spent much of the day acknowledging the need for further decolonization and the dynamics of power and privilege, could I dare to talk about practicing presence in Parkdale? What if I stumbled with my words or caused harm rather than good?

As hard as it was, I think I needed to sit in all that discomfort. Too often we do not provide room to lament, both our own wrong actions and the brokenness of the world. Maybe it’s because we want to appear okay, or in order to cope we have to just keep going. All I know is that whenever I think I can put my grief in a box it finds a way out. And usually when it does I have less control of it than if I’d held it in my lap all along.

Each day at ReImagine we sang a beautiful original song of lament written by Chad Cecil, that included the lyrics: we’re not okay/love make a way. Those words have been running through my mind non-stop. Collectively acknowledging that we’re not okay felt important. As we did so, there was a palpable sense of hope that re-emerged for me. I believe that all things are going to one day be made right. In the meantime, we have the incredible opportunity to learn what it means to love one another, to fight injustice, to celebrate acts of neighbourliness, and to be transformed by our Creator.

I did share the story of The Dale. I also shed the shroud of hopelessness. God reminded me in those dark moments that His light is real. I closed my talk with the words of Oscar Romero which I will do here too: “So, it is for us, we may never see end results, and what we do may in the end be very incomplete. Still we minister; still we love, hoping for the kingdom which is beyond our vision. Still we plant and water the seeds which may not be our own, but in truth belong to future generations. Still we find meaning in our lives as incomplete as they may actually be, because we participate in something much larger than ourselves, and in this hope we prophesy of the kingdom of God, we prophesy of a future that is not our own.”

Love make a way.

Yesterday, approximately a week after he entered hospital due to a stroke, our friend Mark Roberts died. This came as a big surprise, for while we expected he had a long road of recovery ahead, we believed he was stable.

Mark was a tall, broad shouldered man which earned him the moniker “Big Mark”. He loved to talk (and talk and talk). We often teased him about how few dishes he actually got done at our Monday Drop-In because he was too busy chatting, pausing only briefly to say, “okay, anyway…” before launching in again. One key topic of conversation for Mark was music. He would often quiz me about the music of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while commenting on current artists being played on the radio. He played the guitar and sang with gusto.

Mark had a spirit of generosity. Though he had very little, Mark was quick to share. He would regularly come to our Thrift Store Drop-In to distribute granola bars and pudding cups and whatever else he had gathered. He once proudly gave me a box of powdered lemon filling to make a lemon meringue pie, requiring only that I tell him about the result and how much Cate enjoyed it- he was a big fan of my daughter.

I’m sad that Mark will not be joining us at The Dale’s annual fall retreat up north. He intended to come last year, but couldn’t bear to leave his beloved cats behind. After hearing about all the fun we had, Mark promised that this time he would find somebody to care for his feline friends. He couldn’t wait to play his guitar around the campfire. I know that to honour him we’ll sing some of his favourites this September.

When Mark arrived at the hospital this past week he didn’t have any ID and couldn’t communicate. Joanna and I were able to see him a couple of times and were working with the hospital to locate family. Just yesterday I followed what felt like a flimsy lead, only to discover how to connect with Mark’s mother. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I’d found her and so relieved that she could speak with Mark’s medical team. It was with shock and dismay that I got a message from her that afternoon: Mark was gone. My heartfelt sympathies go out to her and the rest of Mark’s family. She asked me to share this news.

Mark was very much a part of The Dale community. I can’t imagine not having him in the kitchen on a Monday, or hearing him strum a guitar, or seeing him stroll down Queen Street. I know many, many people will miss him. And I am one of them.

Rest well friend.

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