Living (and accepting) with Loss…

Death. It has held me hostage for years. Death. At least once weekly, I recite an affirmation that defies death with the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” And then, someone dies. Someone I love and I’m in a crisis.
Death. This past summer, my grandmother was taken to the hospital for a minor issue that somehow ended up being major, that included a transport to a larger hospital that included her ending up suffering a stroke fifteen minutes before discharge and ultimately me having to place her in hospice care.
I saw her, mangled, eyes crossed as though she could no longer control them, speech destroyed as though she could not hear herself speak. I saw her, suffering under the weight of illness and medication that kept her unaware of all that was going on. She had no control. She didn’t get a say on her body’s malfunction. She and her body were beginning the final dance they’d share together for a lifetime.
From time to time, I’d look out the window of her hospital room, down on the busy life of George Washington students. It was a deeply intense juxtaposition. I looked down on life but in the room from which I glanced, loomed the threat of death.
When we were alone, I leaned down to my grandmother in humble and difficult submission to the process and wept. I thanked her, in her ear, for being the best grandmother I could ever have. I felt like a five year old child whose parent was going away on a long trip and I didn’t know what I’d do. I apologized for not being able to protect her from this mishap. I wept with her with the incessant sound of insensitive beeping and buzzing from machines monitoring her care.
Her body began the process of slowing down from a speedy life filled with joys and sorrows, ups and downs. Out of her 95 years, I walked with her for the last 44 of them. She walked with me. She showed me the world. She took me on trips. She bragged about me. She woke up and went to bed thinking about me. We were inseparable, Grandma and me. Coming home from school, finding on the table a cherry pie that she baked would be the best surprise. Standing behind the door waiting to say boo as she came in sent me laughing hysterically, until one day she did it to me and I cried and cried.
The phone rings at 1:22AM on July 7 with the news “your grandmother just passed away.” My son and I quickly ran to the center. Upon walking in the room, and looking at her laying there so peacefully I fell at her bed side and wept for I don’t know how long. I wept and wept. My son ran down the hall overcome with grief. I could hear him sobbing as he moved further away. Yes, she walked away from earth and fell into the arms of the very One who came up with the idea of making, creating, designing a woman I would know as “Grandma.”
Since that time, I’ve been reflectively living in between the poles of life and death, loss and gain, endings and beginnings. Part of me, died with her. Only a few questions remained. What is real love? Who would love me the way Ma and Grandma did now? Who will make me such a priority as they? It seemingly was my lifeline. I knew that no one would be able to fill the void they left.
What emerged for me was the quest to discern what really, truly, deeply mattered in life. For so long, I’ve lived seemingly exclusively for my title, my positions in the church, my vocational journey. But, now I know, I’m not just those things. I’m not just a pastor, a clergy person on assignment by one to a charge. I’m not just on some upward climb. I’m not just Rev. Smalls. Rev. Smalls is not all or enough to be who I need.

I am Kevin Smalls. I have lived and I have loved. I have embraced and I have lost. I have seen the greatest of sights and yet I have seen some that will negatively shake me for a while to come. I’ve been cared for. I’ve been vulnerable. I’ve known joy and bliss. I’ve known loneliness and depression. I’ve known sorrow and defeat. I have failed so many times. I have disappointed people so many times. I have fallen short so many times. I have lost people a few times.
I know loss. I know what it means to have slip out of your hands something you held so dear and close. I know those things.
I’ve learned to look death in the face and embrace it as a continuous part of life. It is a part of life. Not just the death of people. But the death of dreams, visions, hopes, fears, relationships, friendships and seasons. Losing some of these things suspend us for a while or keep us hostage for years as we refuse to live life without that season, person, dynamic or experience. In these instances we are not available to embrace life. We die as well.
So, I am choosing to live. And when, like the Good Shepherd, I feel the urge to leave the 99 and go back after that one sheep; when I feel the urge to join the widow and look for that one lost coin I pray that God will grant me grace to know when that sheep can’t come back and when that coin will never be found.
Lord, help me to release the ONE that I lost on my watch, the ONE that I failed to save, the ONE that will haunt me for days to come. Help me to become a better person, a living person who accepts that all things die…even that ONE we thought never would or never could.
As a clergy person, when I and thousands of other United Methodist clergy begin services of Death and Resurrection (funerals), we offer words of grace. I think I’ll do the same, but this time, I’ll use these words as a closing. I will use them as words that announce life. I can’t think of any other words that best fits those of us who happen to be in this space and in this season. “May God grant us grace that in pain we may find comfort, in sorrow hope and in death, resurrection.”
I am becoming! Thanks be to God!

This blog was written and inspired off of a scene in the TV Show Grey’s Anatomy when the newly made widow, Meredith Grey consoles the doctor that treated her husband. In it, she said, “He is your One. You will see his face in every patient. You will be better because of him.”

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~ by bkevinsmalls on April 25, 2015.

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