By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
To do or not to do.
That is the question.
As I write this, today is Tuesday. It is the first day back from Wisconsin after taking more than a week to attend to my mother’s last few days, clean out her apartment and gather with family to memorialize her and celebrate her life. It has been an emotional roller coaster of grief and loss, relief, and thanksgiving and gratitude.
My time sheet says that I was gone from the office with a combination of sick leave and bereavement leave. Today my time sheet will read that I gave the presbytery a full day’s worth of work.
But it isn’t true. My time sheet is lying.
I arrived home late on Sunday night and knew well enough not to schedule work the next day. I knew that I would need time to shop for groceries, do wash, read through mail and simply settle in once again. I gave myself a full day to recover from my mom’s death and all the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional effort that went in to taking this journey with her and my family. I knew that I would need a full day of recovery before settling back into presbytery work.
As I planned my first day back I filled my calendar with promises to reschedule all the appointments I had postponed when I suddenly flew out on a few hours’ notice. I had a list of things to do that was at least twice as long as my usual, every day list. Which made sense, really. I had been gone for over a week and I wanted to use this first day back as an opportunity to get back up to speed–as if my mom’s death was just an inconvenient interruption to my real life.
But I will be honest. I feel like I am walking through emotional mud. Small tasks feel gargantuan. On my keyboard my fingers are typing out all the right words, but my heart and my soul feel like they never quite made it back from Wisconsin and my mom’s bedside. I am here in Portland, but I am not really here. I have flown my body back, but my soul is still hovering somewhere between my mom’s bedside and the funeral home where we celebrated her life.
I came into the office today prepared to get back to the tasks I had put off. I came in ready to do, but all I really feel capable of today is to be. To be present to the loss of my mother. To honor the heaviness in my heart and soul. To be honest about how much energy it takes just to mourn and to feel. To allow myself to be realistic about how much I am capable of doing so that I can make room for the work of just being.
It is interesting that we call ourselves human beings, yet most of us are hard-wired to be human doings. Our sense of identity and self-worth is often tied up more in what we do than in who we aim to be. In many cultures the first question asked of a stranger is, “Who are your people?” We all know that one of the first questions we Americans ask is, “What do you do?” It would not be okay for me to simply answer that question right now, “I am my mother’s son and I grieve.” No, that is just a temporary interruption to my real identity as a human doing, seems to be my misguided assumption.
I arrived back from Wisconsin intent on picking up where I left off. I had lots to do before I left and even more to do when I returned. I was ready to get caught back up as if my week absence and my mother’s death would have a negligible effect on my life and my schedule.
But the truth is my world is different now. I don’t think I even know what I mean when I say that, but my heart knows it is true. My mother’s absence changes my place in the world. I can’t yet tell how it will change or what this new world will look like, but my body seems to intuitively know that with my mother’s passing a world also passed away. I am in a new world today and I don’t even know what it is called.
I write this today because I want to be honest with you. I am not being paid to grieve. I know that. I am paid to work. When I walk into this office I expect myself to get down to the business of doing. But the truth is, at least for the moment, I am going through the motions of doing while my soul steals precious work time in order to be, just be, truly be.
My time sheet says that my bereavement is officially over. My souls says that it’s only just begun.
Yes, there is lots to do. But right now I am called to just be.