Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dear Burden Bearer, (Epistolary Wednesday) July 23

It's Wednesday, and I'm writing letters.
Dear Burden Bearer,

Perhaps you didn't realize this was you when you shed the silent (or not-so-silent) tear, when you curled your fingers into fists when you heard the news, got the call, read the email. It was you when you lit the candle, took a meal, baked bread, sent a card, updated your Facebook status with news that wasn't about you. It's someone else's tragedy, but oh it feels like yours. Oh, it feels like it belongs to the whole community somehow. The suffering and loss in our midst last week was taken up by so many--untold numbers, strangers to the family asking me if I knew how they could take meals, if I had an address, if I had service details. My Facebook page blew up with shares and links and prayers.

We want to make things right when tragedy strikes, and there's a ferocity that accompanies such desire for many of us. I see it in my father's wife who will bake a blueberry pie when she hears that one of the grandkids has a fever and sore throat. We can blame this ferocity for all the meal train frenzies and phone calls when there's been a Situation. We must do something. We have to do something with these burdens, don't we? We passionately tell ourselves in the hours and days of tragedy's aftermath: We can, sure as hell, lose some sleep, keep vigil, light a candle, cook a meal, send a card, network, make phone calls, send texts. We can, sure as hell, pray. And we're telling ourselves the truth. And we're drawn toward different remedies, you and I, all helpful in their own ways. My way, last week, was to humbly gather a group of women around the bed of a precious little girl, a mother's baby, a girl who at times felt like all-of-us-mothers' baby, who had only a few more hours left on life support.

This work of burden bearing is manageable when we do it together. We can, together, try to assuage a family's grief with meals, cards, prayers, thoughts, hugs. But alone? Alone it is almost unbearable, this burden of tragedy. With four women and two distraught parents, we could stand beside the bed of one so small and cry and pray and sing with them in such a way that heaven seemed very close to us, touching us on the ear. We could bend our necks and lean in, straining for its sound. It's the same with the meals and the cards and the simple Showing Up, each instance a physical reminder that Heaven Sees and Heaven Weeps.

There are times I'm so saturated with news of tragedy that I become numb to it. Small losses far away aren't always registered fully in our psyches. But those tragedies on a larger scale (the Newtown shooting, 9/11, the 300 Nigerian daughters kidnapped and auctioned off as sex slaves under the guise of "marriage")--it's like we can't help but pick them up, you and I. And when the family on the other side of town loses a child, when the first-grader in the next school district over loses a mother, when we've prayed alongside family and community for hours while we wait for a brain or heart to liven again and it doesn't, we can't help but bear witness to these losses because, now, we own them.

I'm so glad to have you. I'm glad the Miller family has you. Carrying a burden alone is the work of the courageous and lonely. Bearing them together is the work of the comforters and balm to the comforted.

And here's what I'm thinking for us, our community of Burden Bearers: Let's get even better at going the distance over the months and years for those in the wake of tragedy. That have-to-do-something ferocity wanes sometimes after the ground, once all strewn with debris, is cleaned up after the storm. Let's continue to demonstrate that We Remember on birthdays and anniversaries and would-have-been high school graduations. I'm not so good at that myself, and sometimes I'm just too plain scared at the possibility of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, creating more pain. But I suspect it's as simple as mentioning a memory or an inside joke or even just the loved-one's name. Maybe it looks like giving space for the memories and questions of the grieving to be voiced and responded to. Maybe it looks like--twelve months from now, two years from now--offering an ear in the grocery store aisle or in a shades-drawn living room or in the middle of a dark night.

At any rate, let's keep finding out.

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