Tag Archives: Grieving

In Memory of a Dear Friend

It’s been just over a week since getting the news that a dear friend of mine passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Danielle (Tschirky) Montiel was my age, with kids roughly the same age as ours. Yesterday, those who knew her gathered together to celebrate her life and mourn their loss. Given that I am on the other side of the world right now, I wanted to share a few words both to honor her and to give some kind of expression to my own journey as I grieve the loss of a friend.

It’s tough to lose anyone in your life, to know that they are gone and the opportunity to connect one more time gone with them. It is even tougher to lose someone who holds a special place in your heart and life.

She was a significant person in my life at a significant time. We were both from Long Beach but did not meet until we both arrived at UCLA in fall of ’93. Through her and a special group of friends during those years, I was shaped in immeasurable ways.

Danielle had a unique role in my development during those years. She was a kindred spirit in some memorable ways. She had big dreams and vision, was passionate, loyal, and long-suffering. She also had qualities that weren’t as natural for me at the time – she was gentle, kind, curious, and full of joy. As I explored my identity and emerging calling with intensity, seriousness, and deep inner reflection, she consistently pulled me outward to see, appreciate, and recognize the beauty and wonder that I so often missed. At the time, there were so many things I was trying to get “right,” but she was a key guiding light that pointed to a place of rest and enjoyment of life.

Beyond our four years together at UCLA, we spent every summer of our college years serving together.  After our freshman year we spent the summer in East Asia together with many from our UCLA tribe. The next summer we served together in the inner-city of Los Angeles, where we experienced our first taste of team and ministry leadership while learning about different contexts and cultures.

But the summer I remember most with her was the summer before our senior year of college when we helped re-launch the college ministry of Arbor Road Church together.  It was through the joy of serving and leading together – experiencing the beauty, possibilities, and power of ministry in people’s lives, that I sensed a call to ministry. Ministry as a responsibility, duty, or burden was replaced by something deeper and so much more meaningful. As a person prone to discouragement, disillusionment, and seriousness, I do not believe I would have entered the ministry without that shift. I know for certain that even if I had, I wouldn’t have lasted. She helped me see that ministry was not something to be achieved, but something to live and enjoy.

As life took us on our separate paths I did not see her frequently after college, but we kept in touch. The topic of our interaction in most recent years was what she was doing helping pioneer a charter middle school with a virtue-based curriculum. As my ministry took an unforeseen shift about 5 years ago into an educational context, I wanted to pick her brain when I could. I saw her passion for education in college, but it was amazing to see it materialize into a concrete vision. And I was amazed that as the topic of virtue-based leadership development has come up in the course of my ministry in Manila, I’ve even had someone mention to me that “there’s this school somewhere in Southern California that is doing some cool things that you should check out.”

It’s hard to reconcile the loss of anyone important in our lives, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of someone that really knew you.  She gave me the gift of being known time and time again during those formative years and it’s a gift that kept on giving in the years since.

Danielle knew me, at times better than I knew myself and better than many in my life. She affirmed things about me that at the time most people including myself maybe weren’t sure were even there. But those things began to emerge over time. She either knew me that well or had the gift of being able to speak some of those things into existence through warm encouragement and confident vision. This would be a gift for everyone, but as a deep-thinking, culture-challenging, justice-seeking, truth-teller like myself who has routinely been misunderstood and at times judged for it, it’s a grace that helped guard my heart against darkness and point me towards a vision of what could be.

In the moments I get to see and celebrate any impact I may be making, she saw it first.  You can’t put a price on friends like that.

This summer she gave me one more gift. I was back in Long Beach just for a few days and we were trying to find a way to see each other, but it it was getting complicated with schedules and commitments. But she spontaneously visited on one of our last afternoons before leaving the country. We spent some time catching up on her journey – the struggles, her hopes, and her fears. She graciously shared with me the details she had to re-count no doubt hundreds of times. But mostly, I think we just enjoyed the moment of presence, which was a gift we have not been able to enjoy as much in recent years.

Danielle was relentlessly positive and hopeful, but as I was leaving the country for at least another year I have wondered if she was giving me one last gift.  While I prayed faithfully for her complete healing and restoration, I was still mindful that I might be saying goodbye. And that brief encounter has meant the world to me since.  It’s one of the moments I get to remember her by – where more was said than words spoken and where the fears of the unknown were briefly alleviated through the presence of the familiar.

I told her that day that the world is so, so much better with her in it. And I was right. I rejoice that hers was a life well lived and mourn for the many, especially her family and children, that must find a way to do life without her physical presence.  Please join me in praying for them in their grief.

If you read through this, thank you. It’s a needed part of my own process as I grieve in geographic isolation. I’m grateful for some friends who have kept me updated on the events of the past couple weeks and have passed on some old pictures. The majority of my days spent with Danielle were before cell phones and digital cameras so the majority of my photos and memories are in a storage unit in California.

I’m thankful to have had such a person in my life and to have had so many memories and moments that resulted in life change and impact. I am thankful her suffering is at an end and she has received the object of her faith. Her example of faith, love, and vulnerability all the way to the very end inspires me to keep aspiring to the picture of graciousness and care that so many experienced from her.

 

Pre-School Theology: Grief

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Pre-School Theology

A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled “The Gift Our Fish Gave Us” as a reflection on how navigating the death of their fish after two years was developmental and formational for our kids.  Well, we got another fish….and it died this week.  It too gave us the gift of grieving.  But it was quite the day with my 5 year old son Colin – the subject of many of these “pre-school theology” posts.

It all started with a little fumigation.  Daddy thought he had safely contained the fish to avoid the gas chamber experience.  But Daddy was wrong.  Dorothy the fish was belly up and good ole Dad was public enemy #1 for awhile.

It was amazing that during the course of a whole day I watched my son go through like all 5 stages of the grief process.

First – he was angry with me.  He blamed me. Direct quote, “You did it on purpose!” He attributed evil intentions to the mistake that caused him to experience loss.  He even came close to trying to hit me, but he held back at the last minute. But the pain of his loss was funneled toward anger and blaming.

Second – I took him on some errands to reconnect and work through the tension.  At one point he began to try to convince me that Dorothy really was in fact not dead, but sleeping. She was just really tired from holding her breath during all the gas.  He had a strong rationalization for how his loss was all a mistake. Denial at work.

Third – After realizing that the fish was dead and his rationalization broke down and wasn’t doing the job, he looked for other ways to deal with his loss.  He came up to me and said, “Dad, I have an idea! We can pretend to be happy!”  I see this as a combo of rationalization, denial, and bargaining.  I couldn’t believe he said it.  “We don’t have to feel sad if we just pretend we’re happy!”  (Lot of people living their lives with this philosophy! Amazing how early that thought can set in)

My son’s creative solution “to pretend” is a diabolical lie and there’s not much greater of a disservice I can do as a parent than reinforce such a lie that “pretending” is a valid life approach to facing loss and pain.  It’s our job as parents to help our kids embrace a vision of life that is so much bigger and so much deeper and powerful than….pretending. But it’s so tempting to pretend!

Fourth – We had our funeral as a family.  Everyone had done artwork as in the case of Fish #1.  Everyone shared what they drew (Including 2 year old Kaelyn who was experiencing grieving for the first time in this way).  Then they shared what they appreciated about the fish. It is so amazing to hear what little kids share about what was meaningful to them – even as it relates to a fish.   But the funeral had much sadness, much crying, even some wailing.  We prayed and then flushed Dorothy to Great Beyond.  My favorite memory was Kaelyn blowing kisses into the fishbowl as Dorothy was circling, saying, “Bye Bye Dorothy!”

Fifth – We did reach a point of acceptance.  Dad got forgiven. Order was restored. Yet sadness still lingered as kids shared throughout the week random feelings of sadness.  Even Kaelyn would randomly just walk around saying every once in a while, “Sad…Dorothy…Jesus.”

These moments are always wild, but so thankful for the fruit produced when we go through it together and don’t settle for the alternatives to grieving: denial, pretending, blaming.

This weekend we had some of our kids cousins’ in from out of town and they all had a great weekend together.  They left for the airport this afternoon and said goodbye. Afterward Kaelyn was eating dinner and she shared on her own, “Mama I sad.”  We both shared back, “Us too Kaelyn, we’re sad too.”   Later after we began packing up pictures and wall decorations for our move she also said, “Mama I sad. Pictures Gone.”

I love that my two year old sees sadness as normal, as something that can be articulated and shared. My kids still fight loss just like the rest of us, but we’re glad they are learning to talk about it!

There’s no shortage of human dysfunction that flows from the unwillingness or inability to grieve loss and pain and limitation.  I speak from experience. I fight it in all the ways my son tried to fight feeling the loss of his fish. I look for ways around it.

We’re all in process.  But I find myself resonating and even using the very words of my toddler in moments where I’m feeling very non-toddler types of loss…..”I sad.”

It’s amazing how simple a phrase can trigger such a sense of freedom, honesty, and intimacy in relationship.  Reminds me of a similar phrase in Scripture, “Jesus wept.” Such simple language that penetrates all of the complexities surrounding those moments when we’re most aware that we’re fallen people living in a fallen world.

 

 

Stemming the Tide of Scapegoating Pt. 2

Since the Superbowl is almost here, I wanted to do one more post related to Scapegoating following the AFC and NFC Championship games two weeks ago.  My last post centered around the 49ers loss and the young player who made two crucial mistakes that contributed significantly to the loss.  I thought it was a great picture of how individuals, and even young ones, can help redirect anxiety into productive and respectful action.

The other game that day had a couple of players who have taken their share of criticism and there’s been scapegoating there as well – but not as much.  I can’t help but think part of why is how the team handled itself and in particular how team leader Ray Lewis led his team in the aftermath. This well publicized speech I believe spoke not just to the team, but to the fan base as well. The team’s following I believe was helped to move on even while still feeling the pain.

Here’s the video which runs about 70 seconds:

Here’s the Transcript via The Tucson Citizen:

God has never made a mistake, it ain’t about one play.This year, we did what we were supposed to do, we fought as a team… There will be one Super Bowl champ crowned at the end of this year, that’s it. So the way we feel, somebody gonna feel like that tomorrow, and somebody gonna feel like that in a week. That’s a fact. And the fact is, we gotta come back and go to work to make sure we finish it next time. That’s all we gotta do.

Joe, you played your (butt) off. You hear me, man? I’m telling you, man, don’t ever — don’t ever — drop your head when it comes to a loss, dog, because there’s too much pain outside of this that people are really going through. This right here makes us stronger. Let’s understand who we are as a team, let’s understand who we are as men, and let’s make somebody smile when we walk out of here. We got the opportunity to keep going, men. Let’s be stronger as a team, men. Let’s be who we are.

See a larger article on this here from the huffington post.

There’s great lessons here! For sure it’s charismatic and inspirational – but it’s effective.  And similar to the lessons from the last post, scapegoating can be stopped in its tracked by leadership helping create space to grieve the loss maturely, take responsibility like adults, and yes – even think of others while still hurting from the loss!  That’s a big part of how leaders can help guard against the destructive nature of scapegoating. (Though I’m not a fan of the God never makes mistakes line)

That one day of football has provided several great examples of how to transform pain into meaningful community experiences and moments as opposed to letting them become destructive and toxic events that damage individuals and community in significant ways.

What do you take away from Ray Lewis’ speech and leadership in this moment?

 

 

Daughters and Post-It Grieving

My daughter as many of you know is in first grade and learning the basics of reading and spelling and all that good stuff.  But it’s opened up a whole new arena to our relationship.

I was working in the garage one day and came home to find the note below….

I love that she can express this!

And we all handled our “displacement” differently, but clearly there was some grieving that needed to be done with the demolition of our kitchen floor and cabinets.  She left this for Grandpa in the midst of all of our drama.

Post-it Journaling

Us melancholy writers need to stay together!

But what a gift to have such honest expressions for connection no matter what might be going on!