MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: Power off

A small fisherman’s cottage in the bay of Saldanha became my refuge in April 2019. A month of self-care because you were no longer there for me. You were only looking inside, embracing your depression. Absent from me in your misery. For the first fifteen days on my own, I cried myself empty and wrote unpublishable blogs. I mourned the loss of you until I reached the bottom of my pit of grief.

It is August 2020 and I need to push the button that says: “Power off”. I am back in the same cottage. It is almost three months after your death. The main bedroom with its double bed feels threatening. The bed is too big. Next to the kitchen is a four-steps-long enclosure with a single bed. There are wooden starfish against the wall. The night lamp above my head provides ample light to read. There are curtains behind me to close. I am cocooned off from the world in an intimate space. God is hemming me in on all sides. It is just me and the grief of losing you to death that can fit into that small space. I grieved you so often before you died that I thought it was going to be quick and easy now that you are physically dead. When will the mourning end?

A friend sent me contemplations from Richard Rohr. He said: “We do not handle suffering – suffering handles us.” I sit on the bed. I give myself a hug. I cannot rush grief. I cannot delete the pain. Not the pain of your absence and apathy due to depression while you lived. I can also not delete the pain of the permanence of your death. I need to flow with the pain. Be in the moment. Feel it. Breathe it, in and out. No rush. Just push the button that says: “Power off”.

Psalm 131:2 “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul. Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.” I remember a song my father used to sing with his beautiful tenor voice: “Be still and know that I am God.” Here I am Lord. I will be still with You in my mourning, however long it takes.

Annette de la Porte

MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: Time to man up

The movie starts. Police cars come to a screeching halt. Guns blaze, bullets fly. Silence. A car door opens. A policeman discovers that his partner was shot. He grabs the microphone of the police radio and yells: “Man down, man down!” The street address for the ambulance is provided. A man has met his death.

After your death, my Beloved, I had to man up. There was a week-long course on Zoom that had to be facilitated. I was the only one who could do it. Decisions needed to be made. I was the only one who could do it. The CEO asked me to act in your place until the end of January. I was the only one who could do it. The next week’s course was due. It had to be re-planned due to time and momentum that were lost with your death. Guest lecturers had to be found because you went to heaven with all the lectures still in your beautiful mind. If I take all this time to man up and fill your place, who would be me?

The printer kept having a paper jam. A message would appear on the screen: the printer is operating on a single cartridge. Yes, it was programmed to carry two ink cartridges. Now there is only one. Yesterday, the page only got printed halfway. The ink was finished. I bought a new cartridge the previous day as provision for this moment. After I installed it, the printer automatically printed the alignment page and gave me a message to scan it in. I usually skip that step because my printer is old and does not read the alignment page anymore. I cancelled that instruction and went straight to printing.

There is a cold front visiting the Cape. Pouring rain and snow on the mountains. My hands are so cold that I could not type on the keyboard. A prayer friend blessed me with a Woolworth’s gift card. I went to the shop in search of a pair of gloves. The women’s department had no gloves for sale. “No Ma’am,” the sales lady said, “we only sell gloves for men.” In my desperation I bought a pair of men’s gloves. It was only available in grey and brown. It was warm. I swiped the gift card and immediately put on the gloves.  

I am tired of manning up and being brave in dealing with the unpleasantries of your death. I have a paper jam and my ink has run out. I need new alignment. Am I not committing treason to myself in the process of manning up? We were proud of our work ethics. We lived the motto to do what is needed to get the job done. Time and personal cost were not considered to be factors. We paid the price because we believed that that is what was required. When I look at it now, I can see that this was not good work ethics – this was a passion that turned into an obsession. You had no balance between work and play. The show had to go on. Always, the show had to go on.

I am tired now. I do not want to ‘man up’ anymore. I am finished being brave. I am on the ground, injured and tired. Nobody needs to call the ambulance to say “man down”. I can self-diagnose and see that it is time to step away from the scene of the fight. I am taking time out to be me. I am a wo-man. I don’t need to man up anymore. It is time for new alignment with God in my new season. I am the only ink cartridge in the printer now.

Psalm 37:23 “The steps of a good ‘wo-man’ are ordered by the Lord and He delights in ‘her’ way. Though ‘she’ fall, ‘she’ shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds ‘her’ with His hand.” Lord, I need you to re-align me as a single person now. Teach me the way that I should go. In my weakness Your strength will be manifested. Glove me with Your presence and Your love. I am a widow. I am Your Beloved.

Annette de la Porte.

MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: A difficult door to unlock

It is two and a half months after your death, my Beloved. I went to your office today for the first time. I asked our secretary to take your name plate from the door – I could not stand to see it reading: Dr André de la Porte. HospiVision. Touching lives, giving hope. Now there is an empty black strip on the white of the door like the darkness that has swallowed your soul for so many years.

I walk in. You are not in your chair behind your desk. The space feels empty without you. I look out of the window and see the mountain. After we lived in Pretoria for twenty-seven years, you were so excited to be able to see Table Mountain from your office at Tygerberg. Your office door was usually halfway ajar, inviting a team member or a volunteer to come knocking for a conversation. When I would come from a ward after an Encouragement session with nursing staff, I used to pop in to tell you how it went. In your public persona, you were always happy to see me and would greet me excitedly. You would get up from behind your desk, kiss me and come to sit opposite me in one of the comfy chairs and ask how my session was. I would tell my story animatedly and you would listen attentively. You are not in your office anymore.

On your desk next to the telephone lies a book on hospice care with the title, ‘Dying well – peace and possibilities at the end of life’. I sit down in your chair behind your desk. At the far end of the desk there are four different stacks of papers and files. One about the advanced clinical course in pastoral care which you started in January. A paper in your handwriting with the names of people attending another course and the occupation of each person as they introduced themselves in a safe circle. Office admin was put together in the next bunch and the last one consisted of different manuals of the courses you wrote over the years. You always joked that you did not have a filing system, you had a piling system. You knew exactly what was in what pile.

I feel sad. I look up and see the framed print of the famous painting of the return of the prodigal son by Rembrandt. Our dear friend and colleague Louis Fourie gave it to you when he emigrated to New Zeeland. I am aware of the compassion of the father as he embraces his son who was lost and has now returned home. For those who lived in brokenness and darkness, there is love and acceptance in this homecoming. How precious is your homecoming, my Beloved. You are celebrated in heaven. You so often felt lost but now you are found. Your spiritual director said of your silent retreat last year: “André learnt to see himself as the beloved of God.” The lyrics of Amazing Grace serenade me as I sit in your chair: “Was Grace that taught my heart to fear and Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far and Grace will lead us home.”

The chair in your office is empty. You are now seated with Christ in heavenly places. I will continue to unlock the difficult doors of grief. My grief is the testimony of how well I loved you. “Grief can’t be shared. Everyone carries it alone; his own burden in his own way.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

 

MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: Locked out of my home

I was tired after facilitating an eight-hour Zoom webinar training. A dear friend brought me dinner. We sat down for some connection time. As she was leaving, she walked in front of me to the door and fiddled with the lock, thinking that it was closed. From behind I said: “No, the door is open.” I walked with her to the gate to say goodbye. When I got back to the front door, I discovered that the yale lock slipped into place and I was locked out of my own house, with my cell phone inside. Looking at my set of car keys, I realised that it did not have a key for the front door, because it is always open to allow the dogs freedom of movement.

My tenant returned home barely half an hour earlier after a long weekend away. I knocked on her door and explained my predicament. She brought her set of spare keys for my house. We found a key that fitted, but the lock refused to turn. For the next two and a half hours she googled numbers of locksmiths, made phone calls and asked a friend to assist in the search. I looked on patiently, sensing in my spirit that this is a very significant event. I was locked out of my only safe place, denied access to the friendship circle on my phone who could come to my rescue. I was cut off from the comforts of my house: a warm shower, an early night of rest in my warm bed. Which doors are locked that need to be unlocked for the new season I find myself in?

My Beloved, your death was like a door that slammed in my face. I advocated for your life. Access to you is now denied. I do not have any key that could unlock that door. Death is permanent and irreversible. My role has changed. I accompanied you as a soul friend for 37 years. That journey has now ended. As a caregiver I bargained for a success story. Your manner of death does not mean that either of us have failed. We are imperfect human beings. By God’s grace we are more than the sum total of our plusses and minuses. I was with you every step of the way. Except when I was not. It was not my job to keep you alive. Only you could choose life for yourself. Our success story is the salvation that Jesus bought with His life on the cross. The fact that no deed of a human can lock the door to heaven when you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour. That door did not slam in your face, my Beloved. I need to accept that we live behind different doors now. You live in your eternal life with God and I cannot access that realm yet.

I need to find the key to unlock my new door into the future that lies ahead of me. I need to give myself permission for a new season without your suffering. I need to accept that I am not your caretaker anymore. I did enough. I am enough for this new season. My daily prophetic word in my inbox the next day said: “God is opening new doors.”

There was a song by Mario Lanza that my father loved. The words say:
“I’ll walk with God, from this day on. His helping hand I’ll lean upon,
This is my prayer my humble plea. May the Lord be ever with me
There is no death though eyes grow dim
There is no fear when I’m near to him
I’ll lean on Him forever and He’ll forsake me never
He will not fail me as long as my faith is strong
Whatever road I may walk alone,
I’ll walk with God.”

Revelation 3:8 “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied My Name.”

My Father in heaven, You are my ultimate safe space even when I am locked out of my house. On the days when I have little power and little faith, I will lean upon Your helping hand. No door that You have open for me will shut in my face. I trust You for the keys to unlock the door to my new season with You.

MAKING SENSE OF MY GRIEF: Expect unexpected emotions

My sister’s boyfriend came to visit her. My older brothers loved pulling pranks on him. They put a potato in the exhaust pipe of his car and could not wait for him to leave to see the results of their prank. He greeted her, got into the car and turned the key. His car did not want to start. He tried again and again. Finally the potato was blasted out of the exhaust with a big cloud of smoke and they ran laughingly out of their hiding places. My sister’s anger was unleashed upon them for making fun of her boyfriend.

I received a message to notify me of a parcel awaiting me at a church office. The lady at reception told me to wait while she fetched the keys for the safe. What a precious gift, I thought, that she would put it in the safe. I got home, opened the parcel and took a photo for the children. It was the most exquisite blanket, crocheted with André’s name on it. Threaded in a sunny yellow, symbolising André’s “search for sunshine”. The workmanship was breath-taking. I stood next to my bed, looking at it in silence. Suddenly a fierce anger gripped me. How can I cover myself with a blanket bearing your name when you offered me no covering of emotional safety?  What good is it to have your name in spelled-out letters, protected in a safe, when you were no longer a safe space for me? How horrid the constant threat I had to live with for so many years of not knowing if you will keep your promise to stay alive until I got home again. The betrayal of trust. I am fuming with fury at you.

At the most inappropriate time a memory or emotion can be ‘unleashed’ upon you. There is no warning sign like a flare shot off in the darkness of night to light the sky and notify you that an intense emotion is on its way. You need to expect unexpected emotions to show up at any time when you are in grief. I have a choice to put a potato in the exhaust pipe of my emotions and block my anger, or I can give it permission to be released in a puff of smoke. I decided to consider anger to be my visitor and have a conversation with it.

Anger, I see you. What do you want to tell me?

I want to tell you that an injustice has been done to you.

You are right. I feel righteous anger like Jesus did when he found the money changers doing business in the temple and he made a whip of cords and chased them out. I want to say to my Beloved: “You sold me out. You broke your promise to me. What happened to your integrity?”

Anger, I feel the energy that is released into my heart and my mind and my body. For years I prayed, fought, strategised, encouraged and partnered to prevent exactly this injustice from happening. Then my anger was geared at preventing this loss from happening. I know from my Emotional Logic training that anger and guilt is all about control. I have lost all influence over preventing your death, my Beloved.

Anger, I want to thank you for your visit. Thank you for telling me about this injustice and giving me permission to feel my anger. I do not need to block you out. I will feel all of my feelings, even the ones like anger that is uncomfortable. I know we are still in the midst of  Covid-19, but may I give you a hug?

Anger, I have seen you, I have acknowledged you, I have felt you, I have had a conversation with you and I have even given you a hug. I accept that you are part of my journey in making sense of my grief. For today, you have fulfilled your function and I now choose to let you go. Thank you for being a messenger and helping me to understand the injustice done to me.

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – but the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.” Hillary Stanton Zunin.

Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”

Thank you Jesus that I may have room for righteous anger and that it is part of my healing process. I will hold onto You even when I am angry at an injustice. 

Annette de la Porte.

FROM MY BOOK ‘HOLD ONTO HIM’: The death of the chick

They were totally adorable in pink, green and blue.  An unexpected turn of events at the school fair.  Two begging girls each received two colour dye chicks  to take home.  We kept them in the canary cage.  It was fun to let them out on the grass for a short while each day.  I was at work when the call came two weeks later.  A slightly hysterical Granny was scarcely audible above the cries of the girls in the background.  I needed to come home urgently.  One chick had been injured and was on the brink of death and Granny did not know what to do.

I found them crying under the tree.  They had ‘constructed’ a boundary wall with bricks on the grass for the chicks to play in, to stop them from running away.  One of the bricks had fallen on top of one of the chicks, which was now half dead and definitely beyond rescue.  What do I do now?  I needed to put an end to this trauma and help the chick out of its suffering.  “Stay here!” I instructed.  I grabbed the chick and marched around the house out of sight of the children.  “O Lord, I have never killed anything before!”  Perhaps a mosquito and a few red ants, but those don’t count.  My Dad had always held his hand over my eyes until the sheep’s throat was cut, so that I would not see it dying.

I knew there was another brick next to the rubbish bin at the kitchen door.  In tears myself, I picked up the brick and smashed the chick out of its pain and misery.  I threw the evidence in the rubbish bin with the brick (murder weapon removed from the scene).  I went back to the girls, who tearfully demanded to know what I had done.  I sat down on the grass and took them both in my arms.  “The chick was suffering terribly, and I had to kill it to stop its suffering.  I am very sorry.  What happened to the chick was an accident.  Accidents happen in life,” I said.  It was then that I knew there would be other ‘accidents’ in their lives in the future, and I would not be there to ‘carry the accident away’ and deal with it on their behalf.  I would not be around to hold them in my arms, dry their tears and explain what had happened in carefully chosen words.  I could not protect them against the hurts that awaited them in life.

Reflection:  What accidents in your life are you mourning?

Psalm 147:3  “He heals the wounds of every shattered heart”.

My God, how I desire to save my daughters the pain of this accident of their beloved Daddy’s death.  No explanation in carefully chosen words can make it better.  I pray that You would heal the wounds of their shattered hearts.  We can only hold onto You.