sitting bear

May 4, 2019

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Sitting shiva. During a text correspondence this morning, my aunt and I agreed that this is the what the current season is for our family. In a very real and tangible way, in that we are sitting with my grandmother during her season of immediate grief over my grandfather’s death. But there is another level to this “sitting” that makes it feel somehow even more unfair (dare I use such a boldly self-centered declaration, considering that death is quite possibly the most universal of sufferings?). In this situation, my grandmother has come down with a miserable cough that has stolen her usual “busy Bea” tendency, confining her much of the day to a living room chair. It feels harsh, and wrong, for her to have both lost her partner of 70 years and to be feeling so miserable she complains frequently that she just doesn’t feel like living. There. I said it. Harsh. Wrong.
Father, forgive me.
This morning a situation occurred that made me feel as if someone was trying to take advantage of my hurting grandmother. I was alone at the time—the designated “shiva-sitter” for several days now—and so I called my husband to relay the events to him. My emotional response was to feel like a bit of an ass: at times I’m no good at being a good Southerner; and when it comes to putting on a smiling face of hospitality, I simply have no poker face. If I’m hurt, my face blanches visibly. If I’m angry, I glare. If I’m excited, my smile gets bigger than my face (at least that’s what my father-in-law has said, ever since we first “met” over Skype). And if, as happens today, I don’t trust someone, I show it. My mother bear came out in full force as I verbally rushed in to, as best I could in an immediate, reactive manner, protect my “cub,” in this scenario.
Sometimes I have an unhealthy response to trauma that basically entails shoving it deep within me and silently brooding. Of course, humanity being frail as it is, this leads to a very bad bubbling, troubling inner self. So today I was grateful for the impulse to call my calming Rock of a husband. Not only did he ease my anxiety by his virtual presence; he also affirmed my reaction to the situation, added his own take, and led me to realize that I was not overreacting; I had, in fact, “done well.”
Father, help us.
Let us survive this season, as a family that works together. The work is currently a great and overwhelming mountain of logistics and labor. And we are weary. But I believe that the same God who designed family as the greatest of human goods is with us here, and now, on the path winding upward to the peak. We will get there.
Ann Lamott writes that there are three essential human prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow.
Father, wow us.

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