Grief

I just finished an 11 part blog series, sharing the music and cancer journey of my brother, Doug Friesen.  He died 20 years ago at age 34 from the affects of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma..

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Doug with his family, Spring of 1998

I have been listening to Doug’s music and reflecting on his life for a good portion of the last year, and I have been surprised that, even though it’s been 20 years, the grief that has welled up from time to time was quite strong.  Hearing Doug’s voice singing praises to God for the first time in years was powerful.  And then hearing the CD after the music had been re-recorded and remixed digitally – it was like Doug was in the room, singing. I couldn’t stop the tears.

Doug's cd

The original cassette tape Doug recorded and produced.

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The cd re-recorded and remixed in 2018.

All the memories that came back while listening to the songs were sweet to recount.  The loss stung once again, and at times, I wondered how we got through the past 20 years without him.

Doug & Monica Friesen, Jenny & Rob Wall going out to eat, June 1998.

Doug on the left, his wife Monica, sister Jenny, and brother-in-law Robert early July, 1998.

I’ve learned a lot about grief over the years as we suffered through the illness and loss of Doug, and several other family members.

  • there is no right or wrong way to grieve;
  • everyone grieves differently;
  • there are times you feel very alone in your grief;
  • there are stages of grief (shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) but just because you go through one or two stages doesn’t mean you won’t go back through them again from time to time;
  • time does heal the pain but the loss leaves a scar;
  • no one can replace the person who is gone;
  • normal is not recovered, but a new normal can be found;
  • grief can come in waves you can’t stop, so don’t fight it – just go with the tears;
  • grief can come softly with a memory you can smile at;
  • it is important to give yourself time to grieve;
  • holidays and significant family celebrations often are times the loss is felt strongly once again;
  • it is healthy to talk about the person who is no longer there; to do things to remember that person by;
  • it is sometimes necessary and always good to seek out a counselor, pastor or caring trusted friend to talk to about your grief;
  • I’m sure you can add your own ideas here.

Today I ran across this quote by Elisabeth Elliott,

Grief never ends, but it changes.

It’s a passage, not a place to stay.

Grief is not a sign of weakness, not a lack of faith…

It is the price of LOVE.

We grieve much become we love much. During Doug’s illness and passing, and after his death, I experienced the comfort of God as I went to scriptures, particularly the Psalms, with my grief.

After Doug’s passing, and some time had gone by, I found myself drawn to reaching out to others when they experienced the death of a family member.  I learned what they needed by going through it myself.  My presence, a listening ear, a baked item offered; all expressing to them God’s love, as it had for me and my family while we were grieving.

After listening to Doug’s musc for some time this past year, I was able to sing along, kind of like how we used to sing together.  I was able to chuckle at memories and enjoy thinking about him.  Our family celebrated Doug’s life this summer by gathering to view a slide show of pictures from his life, share our memories of Doug, and plant a tree in his memory in a local park near where my parents live.

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June 2018 Our immediate family planted tree in Doug’s memory

It has not been easy to go on without Doug.  In fact, it has been very hard.  I cling to God’s promises and to His comfort…

 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)

 

 

 

 

Part 9: Hear My Cry. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Eight: Hear My Cry (by Doug)

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Hear my cry, oh God.

Listen to my prayer, from the depths of my soul.

From the end of the earth,

My soul cries out when my heart is faint. When my heart is faint.

 

Chorus: Lord, lead me to a rock that is higher than I.

For you are my refuge.

Oh a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in thy tent forever.

 

For God, my soul waits.

I wait alone, in the silence of the morning.

My spirit is, whisper of my Lord,

as in the sunny of the morning breeze.  Of the morning wind.

  

From the ends of the earth, I call to you, and you answer my prayer.

You answer my prayer. You answer my prayer.

 

Listen to Doug’s recording of this Hear My Cry by clicking on the arrow below.  Allow some time for it to load.

 

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Doug with his accompanist at his Master’s Vocal Recital, Vermillion, SD

In mid-June of 1998 we learned that there was nothing medically that could be done for Doug.  Such horribly hard news to recieve.  Some weeks later, when his body went into a coma, I read the prayer Jesus prayed in the garden on the night he was betrayed. Jesus demonstrated great trust in the plan of His Heavenly Father, but it wasn’t without struggle.

Doug, his family, as well as his church family, prayed all during Doug’s illness, imploring God to heal him.  We did not want to give up hope for physical healing.

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Doug worked with his dad, Peter Friesen, at Winkler Bible Institute.

There is the idea of a “Prayer of Indifference” that come from the 2000 plus years of Christian tradition.  It sounds wrong at first, but it means praying to be free from the desires that hold us back from saying yes to God and His will and purposes. Another way to think of this prayer is to pray to relinquish control, leave the results in God’s hands, asking to be “indifferent” to the results.  This is what faith allows us to do, but it can be a struggle to take refuge in God alone. In this song, Doug declares, “you Lord are my refuge.”

That is what Jesus was able to do, but first he wrestled with God in the Garden right before He was arrested, tried, and crucified.  He cried out saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”. Eventually,  Jesus came to the place where He was able to say, “not my will but thine be done.” (Matt. 26:39 NIV) This kind of prayer can only be uttered by those who are fully confident of God’s neverending love for them.

This is where I came to as Doug lay in a semi-coma.  With sorrow…”Lord, your will be done. If healing isn’t going to happen, please let Doug’s suffering end.”

Reflection 

This song reflects the deep longings and feelings that come with these kinds of prayers for help.  Do not hesitate to pray these types of prayers yourself or for someone you know.  Jesus did. Jesus then expressed faith in God with his final prayer of “not my will but yours be done”.

During a time of prayer God gave Doug tremendous peace in the last days of his conscious life. The fear of death was gone. He was trusting in God’s loving care. Consider pouring out your heart to God about your concerns.

If you are able, consider the prayer below by Richard Foster, a “Prayer of Relinquishment” as he calls it.

Prayer of Relinquishment, by Richard Foster

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.
I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.
I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 8: Show Your Power. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Seven: Show Your Power (by Kevin Prosch)

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He is the Lord, and He reigns on high.

He is the Lord.

Spoke into the darkness, created the light.

He is the Lord.

 Who is like unto Him never ending in days,

He is the Lord.

As He comes in power when we call on His name.

He is the Lord.

 Chorus 1:

Show your power, Oh Lord our God.

Show your power, Oh Lord our God.

Our God.

 Your gospel oh Lord is the hope of our nation.

You are the Lord.

It’s the power of God, for our salvation.

You are the Lord.

 We ask not for riches but look to the Cross.

You are the Lord.

Pour out our inheritance 

Give us the lost.

You are the Lord.               

 Chorus (x2):

Send your power, Oh Lord our God.

Send your power, Oh Lord our God. Our God.

Click on the arrow below to listen to Show Your Power. Allow some time for the song to load.

Doug & Monica Friesen, Jenny & Rob Wall going out to eat, June 1998.

Last dinner out with Doug around 6 weeks before he passed away.

We wanted God to show us God’s power by healing Doug. In this song we are calling out to God over and over to first “show your power”, and then “send your power”.

This song also reminds us that “you are the Lord”.  We are not.  We are invited to  “look to the Cross.”

The cross shows us the weakness of God. God allowed God to be wounded, harmed, killed.  We don’t see any show of strength at the cross.  That didn’t come till the resurrection, when God conquered death once and for all, demonstrating God’s great power for the good of all people for all time.  In the end, this was a much greater show of power than ending Christ’s suffering and death before it happened, with a much greater result of salvation for all as well as God’s glory and power revealed.

Reflection

Where are you needing God to “send his power?”  Are you able to tell God what you need, and leave the results in God’s hands?  Talk to God about what rises up in you as you consider these questions.

Part 7: Lament. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Six, Lam. 3:22 & 23

 Chorus:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning.

Great is thy faithfulness.

 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

To the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly.

For the salvation of the Lord.

 Let us test and examine our ways,

And return to the Lord.

For the Lord, He is our mighty fortress.

Let us always praise His name.

You can listen to Lam. 3:22-23 by clicking on the arrow below. Allow some time for the song to load.

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Doug and the author singing at our sister’s wedding.

 This song is based on words from Lamentation 3:22-23:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

One begins to read these verses a little differently when serious health issues stop us in our tracks; particularly when healing is not guaranteed, and death is a very real possibility.

One can feel consumed – consumed with fear, anxiety, anger, depression, helplessness, hopelessness.  Because, let’s face it, even though as Christians we read in scripture that we have the hope of eternal life after death, that Jesus went to “prepare a place for us” in heaven, that when this earthly tent wears out we have a “heavenly” one, we don’t really focus on that much in our lives.  In fact, we don’t really think we will die, particularly when we are in our early 30’s and life is busy with raising small children, working and serving the Lord.

Life-threatening illness tests our faith – do we really believe this stuff?  If so, how do we live in this new reality we are facing?  Time and time again we are told in scripture to look to the Lord, seek His face, take our eyes off of the things of this earth and on to Christ.  Does he not care for us?  Is he not filled with compassion for us?  Does he not know we are weak and helpless?

A lament is a prayer of complaint – letting God know what is going on and how we feel about it.  We see many in the Psalms and of course in the book of Lamentations. In fact this passage from Lamentations chapter 3 comes after several chapters of lamenting the difficult and painful conditions of life the Israelites were enduring in captivity. I learned during Doug’s illness that God is not afraid of our questions or our overwhelming emotions.  He invites us to bring them to Him.

There are several movements in prayers of lament:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection is at the heart of Lament.  When we experience loss and hard times, it can feel like God is absent. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. We feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”  We become consumed by our emotions and wonder if God is really who we thought He was.

These verses in Lamentations that Doug chose to focus on in this song are a good representation of the last movement in the prayer of lament; the Vow of Praise.  I am wondering if at this point, Doug had worked through the other movements of lament, and landed at praise.

Reflection

 Are you facing the biggest test of faith you’ve ever faced?  Are you concerned for someone else? Consider writing your own prayer of lament.  Don’t give up on God.  Seek His face each morning – great is His faithfulness.

Spiritual Practice: Lament

“Truly this is my hope and my only comfort – to fly to you in any trouble, to trust steadfastly in you, to call inwardly upon you, to abide patiently your coming and your heavenly consolations.” — From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas á Kempis

Lament is a spiritual practice of prayer for when our spiritual journey with God is at a wall. The Wall is a stage in the life of faith described in the book The Critical Journey, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich

The Wall is often precipitated by a life or faith crisis that turns our world upside down and for the first time, our faith doesn’t seem to work. Our experience of life and our beliefs aren’t matching up. We have more questions than answers. However, sometimes this stage is entered into gradually. Being at The Wall can lead to uncertainty about God, everything we thought we knew about the life of faith, shame, fear, and an urge to give up. It can be a dark and lonely time, and God seems absent.

Historical Christian writer St. John of the Cross (1542-1592), a Catholic monk who spent his life in the service of Catholic Reform, described this experience of God’s absence as The Dark Night of the Soul.

Contemporary writer Lee Beach, in his article “A Spirituality of Exile: Responding to God’s Absence”, describes the sense of God’s absence as feeling like being in a spiritual exile.

A few Biblical individuals who experienced a deep sense of loss and absence of God’s presence are Job, Naomi, and the Israelites when in Babylonian exile.

What we see in the life of the Biblical examples mentioned, as well as from St. John of the Cross, is that these individuals responded to God in a variety of ways.

Job grieved and lamented to his friends, who provided poor counsel. Eventually he approached God with his questions.  God responded. (Book of Job)

Naomi and her family moved away from the land of Israel to care for their own needs rather than rely on God when famine struck the promised land. After some years went by, which included many severe losses, Naomi’s return to the land of Israel represents her return to God, even as she recognizes her bitterness. Eventually she sees God’s care for her and her joy is restored. (Book of Ruth)

The Israelites when in exile, cry out to God in lament, mourning their losses, asking for God’s help. At times they even blame God for turning against them and allowing them to be overcome and taken into captivity. Yet they keep calling out to God to save them, and eventually recognize their sin. 70 years later, God restores their land to them. Examples of lamentes can be found in Lamentations, Psalms 44, 74, 89, 89, 102, 106, 137.

Through his own experience, St. John of the Cross invites us to consider that God is doing something new, inviting us to go deeper and to not turn away when His presence seems gone.  God is transforming us in a way we would not step into on our own.

Most of these individuals moved towards God in a new way, bringing their questions, confusion and pain to God. While they felt abandoned by God, they didn’t give up on God. In fact, their lament shows their determination to speak with God about their situation and question God about his action or lack thereof in regards to their plight.

When at Wall, the language of lament as found in scripture offers a paradigm for engaging with God in the midst of our experience of His seeming absence. This language of lament is one of struggle, doubt, frustration with God, and wrestling with where God is in the midst of painful experiences.

There are a couple of movements in the lament prayers of the Israelites as described by Beach that can help us as we approach God in our times of spiritual exile, Dark Night of the Soul, or Wall experience:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection, or meditating on who God is and what He has done, is at the heart of Lament.  When we sense God’s absence it can seem like an exilic experience. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. Rather, we feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”

If this is where you are, let this experience be an impetus for prayer. Prayer and worship is how we make sense of our life. I invite you to write your own laments as described above, and follow the example of Job, Naomi, the Israelites in exile, and St. John of the Cross, by continuing to call out to God. He is a God who is far away and also very near. Some examples to work from are Psalm 13, 86, 142, Lamentations 3.