The Grieving Need You Most After the Funeral

My father died suddenly while on vacation three years ago. The event rattled the bedrock of my life in ways that are difficult to describe, and taught me lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way.

One of the truths I discovered, is that when you lose someone you love—people show up.

Almost immediately they surround you with social media condolences and texts and visits and meals and flowers. They come with good hearts, with genuine compassion, and they truly want to support you in those moments. The problem, is that you’re neither prepared nor particularly helped by the volume then.

The early days of grief are a hazy, dizzying, moment by moment response to a trauma that your mind simply can’t wrap itself around. You are, what I like to call a Grief Zombie; outwardly moving but barely there. You aren’t really functioning normally by any reasonable measurement, and so that huge crush of people is like diverting thousands of cars into a one lane back road—it all overwhelms the system. You can’t absorb it all. Often it actually hurts.

This usually happens until the day of the funeral, when almost immediately the flood of support begins to subside. Over the coming days the calls and visits gradually become less frequent as people begin to return to their normal lives already in progress—right about the time the bottom drops out for you.

Just as the shock begins to wear off and the haze is lifted and you start to feel the full gravity of the loss; just as you get a clear look at the massive crater in your heart—you find yourself alone.

People don’t leave you because they’re callous or unconcerned, they’re just unaware. Most people understand grief as an event, not as the permanent alteration to life that it is, and so they stay up until the funeral and imagine that when the service ends, that somehow you too can move ahead; that there is some finishing to your mourning.

That’s the thing about grief that you learn as you grieve: that it has no shelf life; that you will grieve as long as you breathe, which is far after the memorial service and long after most people are prepared to stay. Again, they still love you dearly, they just have their own roads to walk.

Sometimes people leave because they suddenly feel estranged by the death. They may have been used to knowing you as part of a couple or as a family, and they aren’t able to navigate the new dynamic the loss has created. They simply don’t know how to relate to you the way they once did, and so they withdraw.

Or sometimes people see you from a distance and mistake your visible stability for the absence of need, as if the fact that you’re functioning in public doesn’t mean you don’t fall apart all the time when you’re alone—and you do. We all carry the grief as bravely and competently as we can in public, but none of us are strong enough to shoulder it alone. People often say of a grieving person, “They’re so strong”, but they’re not. They’re doing what they have to in order to survive. They need you to come alongside them.  

Other times people avoid you because they believe that they will say the wrong thing; that somehow they will remind you of your loved one and cause you unnecessary pain. Trust me, the grieving don’t lack for reminders. They are intimately aware of the absence in their lives, and you acknowledging it actually makes them feel better. It gives them consent to live with the grief, and to know that they can be both wounded and normal.

Friends, what I’m saying is that it’s wonderful to be present for people when tragedy occurs. It’s a beautiful thing to express your love and support for those you love in any way you feel is right in those first few days. It does matter. No compassion is ever wasted.

But if there’s anything I would tell you, as someone who’s walked through the Grief Valley, is that the time your presence is most needed and most powerful, is in those days and weeks and months and years after the funeral; when most people have withdrawn and the road is most isolating. It is in the countless ordinary moments that follow, when grief sucker punches you and you again feel it all fully.

It’s three years since I lost my father, and on many days the pain is as present and profound as that first day.

Remind yourself to reach out to people long after the services and memorials have concluded. 

Death is a date in the calendar, but grief is the calendar.









Conservative White Christians Need Jesus

Conservative white Christians need Jesus.

But not the one they’re always selling, not the one they love to preach so loudly about, not the one they trumpet from the stage and the platform and on social media.

They don’t need the walk the aisle, say a prayer, and get out of Hell kind of Jesus. That Jesus is too easy. That Jesus requires no further work. That Jesus is convenient and accommodating to their lifestyle. That Jesus allows them to leave no differently than when he arrived. That Jesus serves them salvation on a silver platter and asks nothing in return.

The Jesus these Christians need, is the Jesus of the Gospels; the one who gets all up in your personal business, the one who turns over tables in the sacred temples of your greed and hypocrisy, the one who demands that you give half a damn about the poor and the hungry around you—enough to give all that you have for their care.

They need the homeless, poor, dark-skinned, foreigner Jesus who shunned opulence and denounced power and defended the marginalized, so that they remember where they came from and where they’re supposed to be walking toward in this life.

They need the Jesus who said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Mt 6:24
The one who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Mt 5:38-39
The one who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Mt. 5:9
The one who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Mt 5:43-44

They need the Jesus who healed on the Sabbath—to remind them that hurting people matter more than showy religious pageantry.
They need the Jesus who dined with the street rabble—to remind them that privilege and position don’t denote moral worth.
They need the Jesus who washed filthy feet—to remind them of the holy ground of humble service.

They need the Jesus who prepared a meal for the multitudes—to remind them that we feed people not because we believe they deserve it, but because they’re hungry.

The cosmic vending machine Jesus who saves us from damnation isn’t enough for these Christians. This Jesus isn’t transforming their hearts or their neighborhoods or the world around them, because this Jesus makes this planet largely irrelevant:

Caring for the environment is of little concern to them because it’s all a fallen world they’re eventually looking to escape anyway.
The threat of nuclear war doesn’t terrify them because it simply hastens them meeting their Maker. 
The suffering of people here and now doesn’t fully move them because they see these people as only damned souls to be saved after they die.

There is a cold, detached callousness marking so much of the far Right’s religion in America. It’s a faith system that conveniently justifies personal gluttony and greed, while questioning the morality of those who may be suffering or in want. It’s a cause-and-effect, reward-based, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps Christianity that bears almost no resemblance to Christ at all.

And that is why they so desperately need Jesus; for the holy here and now they are missing and the flesh and blood humanity made in God’s image who they no longer seem at all concerned with this side of the Afterlife.   

Conservative white Christians so desperately need the compassionate, sacrificing, suffering servant Jesus to transplant the stony hearts that allow them to live with contempt for those on the margins; for the sick and the invisible, for those with hijabs and brown skin, for those whose roads may have been far more difficult than their own.

When he walked the planet, Jesus did far more than simply give an altar call and stamp sinners for Heaven. If he hadn’t, the Gospels would be far shorter and simpler. Instead, they give us an expansive, complex, explicitly beautiful picture of the way we are to live this life:

We are called to live oriented toward others:

We are called to live passionately in pursuit of love and justice and equality.

We are called to live not to avoid Hell or to escape this world, but to bring Heaven down to it.

White Conservative Christians need to recover and incarnate this Jesus so that others can see it, so that they can be touched by hands that heal and serve and restore in his likeness. They need this Jesus to step into their politics and their preaching and their churches. They need this Jesus to renovate them into something resembling him so that the word Christian can again be a source of restoration and not damage.

And please don’t get me wrong, I know that I fully and desperately need this Jesus too. 

But knowing is a good place to begin.


Surviving America’s Great Depression

A similar thing happens to me on many mornings lately.

My eyes open and I suddenly become aware that I’m awake. My mind quickly begins assembling the first few seconds of my day (making plans, organizing my checklist), when a terrible interruption breaks in and I remember:

Yes, that madman is actually going to be our President. That really happened.

The realization again turns my stomach, and I find myself contemplating going back to sleep but know that I can’t. I begin replaying everything in my head and struggle once more to make any sense of it all.

And just like that it’s November 9th all over again—and a fresh grief returns.  

Or the sickening reminder may abruptly intrude later in the day, while I’m having dinner with friends or driving through the countryside or playing in the yard with my children or laughing at a movie I love; tempering the joy, dimming the light.

And I know that I’m not alone. I know that every single day some variation of these moments is being played out millions of times inside the heads of people all over this country; people like me who have found the reservoirs of hope dangerously low since November, and who can’t seem to shake the profound sense of dread hovering always in the periphery of their daily life.

Yes, this is our Great Depression.

And it isn’t just the reality of the man who we’ve allowed to ascend to the Presidency, though that would be reason enough for despair. It’s the ugliness we’ve seen as he’s made his way there. It’s the sickness that the America we love has shown itself afflicted with. It’s the weight of every horrible reality about our nation; all our bigotry and discord and hatred set upon our chests, hampering our breath.

But it’s much closer than that, too.

It’s the words we’ve heard from family members, the stuff we learned about our neighbors, the social media posts from church friends, the incendiary sermons from our pastors, the arguments we’ve had with co-workers. Every square inch of life seems polluted now. Nothing feels untouched.

And the question becomes: How do we transform this near paralyzing sense of sadness into something redemptive?

As with all grief, eventually there must be movement. When there is profound loss of any kind, the only real path is forward; to craft something beautiful and meaningful and life-affirming in response to what has been taken away. You learn to walk again, even if it is with a limp. You begin the painful, laborious act of living in direct opposition to your grief.

It is the same in these days for those of us who feel cheated out of a kinder, more diverse, more decent America than the one we now have. Individually and collectively we will have to be the daily, bold, defiant pushback against all that feels wrong here.

This pushback will come in the small things; in the art we create and the conversations we have and the quiet gestures of compassion that are barely visible.

It will come in the way we fully celebrate daily life; having dinner with friends, driving through the countryside, playing in the yard with our children, laughing at a movie we love.

It will come as we loudly and unapologetically speak truth where truth is not welcome.

It will come as we connect with one another on social media and in faith communities and in our neighborhoods, and as we work together to demand accountability from our elected officials.

It will come as we use the shared resources of our experience and our talents and our numbers to ensure that our children inherit a world worth being here for.

It will come as we transform our grief into goodness.

Yes friend, there is a great deal to grieve over in these days and there will be more to ahead—but there is even more worth fighting for.

So yes grieve, but then move.

Be fueled by your sadness, strengthened by your anger.

And find a way to keep moving forward, even if it is with a limp.

Together we will survive this Great Depression—by resisting it.

Trump Voters are Losers

Every day, I inevitably receive some variation of the same message from someone who voted for Donald Trump:

“You lost dude, deal with it!”—something like that.

It’s a snarky, middle finger, attempted mic drop designed to put me and people like me in my place.

And whenever I encounter these sentiments in my conversations with people, I know that they aren’t paying close attention to reality. Maybe they’re still clinging to the thinnest thread of hope or trying desperately to save face, or maybe they simply refuse to acknowledge what their eyes are seeing because of how terrifying it all is.

But the truth is, whether they can’t or won’t admit as much right now—they’ve lost too.

This is the thick irony at work in this election; that beyond the superficial idea of their guy winning, the vast majority of Trump’s supporters profit nothing from their vote, because outside of himself, Vladimir Putin, and all but the tiniest percentage of the whitest and wealthiest American males—Donald Trump doesn’t give a damn about them. He is bereft of the slightest concern for their well-being, their safety, or their prosperity, and so they too are losers along with Hillary Clinton, those who voted for her, and the country we all love and call home.

We are all in this terrible defeat together, without caveat or exception.

The misconception about those of us who voted for Hillary, is that we did so in part out of hatred for Trump supporters, but quite the opposite is true. We care for them and their children too much to have willfully placed their lives in the hands of someone so incompetent and with such disregard for them. With our vote, we were advocating for them as well. The bigger table we were seeking was for everyone, including them—but now we’re all losing our seats and our voices.

Donald Trump’s Russian alliances endanger every one of our lives.
His attacks on the Press are a threat to the pursuit of Truth that we all find security in.
His recklessness on social media places us all equally in harm’s way.
His promises to dismantle Medicare, Medicaid, and The Affordable Care Act present a massive personal hazard to each of us.
His ignorance of and disrespect for the Constitution undermine our shared personal freedoms.

What Donald Trump is doing right now isn’t only thumbing his nose at his detractors and giving an attaboy to his supporters, it’s undermining the very bedrock of the equality and personal liberties all Americans treasure. His only loyalty and love are for the mirror.

This is the impasse we are going to have to navigate in the coming weeks and months if we’re going to avoid greater catastrophe: convincing strident, boasting, overconfident supporters of Donald Trump that none of us have won; that we are all less secure, less protected, and less free now despite the cheap emotional lift the election results may have given them.

Donald Trump likes to essentially label all sorts of people losers: prisoners of war, Gold Star families, grieving black mothers, reporters who oppose him, his alleged sexual assault victims, small business he crushed in Atlantic City, political opponents he slandered to defeat—essentially anyone who crosses, challenges, or presents him with the actual truth. That’s the thing about unhinged, immoral men who have power they don’t deserve and aren’t mature enough to handle: no one is safe from them because they see all people as expendable resources.

The reality of this past year’s election is that no one who believes they won, actually won:

Blue collar workers in the Rust Belt didn’t win.
Earnest pro-life Christians in the Bible Belt didn’t.
Small businesses didn’t.
College kids didn’t.
Sick people didn’t.
Elderly people didn’t.
Most Americans didn’t.

That’s perhaps Trump’s sick gift: convincing people to vote against their own self-interest and to ignore that truth whenever it was presented to them. And because of that, those same folks are now celebratory and gloating even in their own defeat. They’re in the same sinking ship and believing the water isn’t rising around them too. 

Donald Trump won (the Electoral College), but that’s about the only real victory for the lion’s share of the people of this country, whether they voted red, blue, or green.

This is the very bad news, and in some twisted way it’s also the good news.

Trump voters, you are losers too.

We’re all in this steamy, stinking mess together—and we’re going to have to clean it up together.