Saturday, August 10, 2013

Juggling Priceless China: A Season of Personal Grief

In 2011, a high school classmate of mine lost one of his close friends to cancer.  I really felt for him.  His pain was obvious.  I wondered at the time what it would be like to lose a peer. I was 49 years old and had never lost a friend that was my age.  Little did I know I was about to find out…A season of grief was on the horizon.

In April of 2012, my childhood friend Ray passed away after battling cancer with tremendous faith and dignity.  In June of the same year, another childhood friend died in a nursing home after dealing with a brain tumor for several years. Thirty days later my longtime mentor and professor Charles Siburt also died of cancer. And then in March of 2013, I traveled back to Lubbock to attend the funeral of Bill Groux.  Bill kept me out of jail when I was an impulsive college student looking for trouble. He was my employer, but more importantly he treated me like a son.

In June of this year, I responded to the first line of duty death of a law enforcement officer from one of my own agencies. During 23 years as a law enforcement chaplain I have assisted a number of other agencies during such circumstances, but it has never been one of my officers.  In June of this year, Sgt. Lance McLean was killed in the line of duty as he protected a family from a ruthless murderer. I am not ready yet to express what it feels like. I know helpful insights will come someday.

It is tempting to withdraw.  It is equally tempting to be angry and bitter. Fear has made an appearance more than once over the past 14 months. Tears have been frequent, but private.  Grieving over the loss of 5 people simultaneously feels like juggling priceless china.  It can be tricky at times.

I have learned a few things since the inception of this “season of grief” began in April of 2012.

  • God is faithful.  Oh that sounds like a cliché to end all clichés. But it is true. God has put the people in my life that I have needed when I needed them. I have not dropped any pieces of china yet…

  • Loyalty Carries the Day.  I will never be able to write about all of the expressions of loyalty I have observed in the past 14 months during this season of grief. Watching those I care about be on the receiving end of generosity and compassion has been a constant source of inspiration. Loyalty truly carries the day.

  • Life is too short to be petty.  I have been exposed to the routine expressions of pettiness during this season of grief.  I feel sorry for people that have yet to figure out how precious relationships are.  Life is too short to act like a fool. 

  •  I know who my friends are now. It has been a rough 14 months. In addition to the deaths of friends, I have served tornado victims and officiated at several very difficult funerals. We have had more than our share of suicides in our community as well.  Some of my friends have come out of the woodwork to serve and encourage me.  And they have done it well.  Others seem to be oblivious.  Uncaring? I doubt it.  But for whatever reason they chose not to express their concern. They are busy with their own commitments. But I know who I can count on now. 

  • I will never be the same.  It is quite possible that I could be called in to assist another law enforcement agency with a line of duty death. My approach won’t be the same, if that happens.  I will be more empathetic. I will be kinder.  I am determined to pay much closer attention to members of my extended family and my close friends as they experience the journey of grief. I want to be counted among those that cared.

The season of grief is no longer on the horizon. It is here.  It is here to stay for an undetermined amount of time.  I will choose to embrace it.  I will choose to love deeper and with greater sensitivity to the needs of others living in the same season. After all loyalty carries the day. And I will express gratitude to a faithful God that never leaves us.  And I think I may need to speak with my classmate who lost a close friend in 2011.  I view his journey much differently today. 

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