Grief: Part 1 — Lying to Ourselves

I have led three memorial services in the past couple of months.

One was a young and once vibrant woman who had a near-fatal car accident that left her with a serious brain injury and personality change. She spent her insurance money on “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” eventually killing herself.

The second was a municipal councilor who invested his life in making his community better, advocating for the ordinary, and insisting on budgetary prudence. He was a champion of autism and died far too young with brain cancer.

The third was a woman who was a covenant friend of mine. She was a pastor, a counsellor, a teacher and a loving mother, wife and grandmother and she was funny too. Her middle name could have been integrity or compassion.

They left people behind.

Jesus said an odd thing to those that these people left: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4). How weird is that?

I led my mother’s memorial service years back. It was over a year before I could visualize her or smell her perfume. Sure I cried, in fact I wailed – but I couldn’t connect. She was dead to me.

When Jesus’ best friend Lazarus died, Jesus wailed too. And when we experience loss and are anxious and grieved, we do the same – loud and often in public. But when we say we are “just fine, thanks,” we lie to ourselves and the friends that ask.

Someone said, “Every unshed tear is a prism through which all of life’s hurts are distorted.”

Distorted emotions make us do distorted things. We don’t feel, we don’t think, we don’t talk. That’s distorted. And we ruminate. Our brooding circles our brain, repeating untruths, causing more distortion, aching our stomachs, taking away our energy and delight.

In a strange way, like the person who has died, we stop living. Not feeling, not thinking, and not talking sounds like death to me.

(More when I get to it.)

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Questions for Living

Many of you know that I like questions more than answers. And when I come across a good question, I almost always write it down. Imagine my delight in finding a bunch of questions written by Ellie Harris entitled “Questions for Living.” We learn by asking questions when we have the patience to grow into our answers. So here they are from the beautiful magazine “Bella Grace” (Spring, 2016). (I’ve italicised the ones I love.)

  • What do you want to be and who are you now?
  • What do you unequivocally believe in?
  • What was the last time you were your own best friend?
  • Have you found that something you are looking for? Do you even know what it is?
  • Do you welcome things you don’t understand and give room for clarity to grow?
  • Who or what do you wake up for?
  • What makes you feel like a child?
  • When are you in your past self? When are you in your best self?
  • Can you truly forgive others? Can you forgive yourself?
  • Whose voice brings you peace?
  • Have you decided what to be when you grow up?
  • Do you like what you’ve become?
  • What are you holding onto? Is it time to let it go?
  • What memory do you hold the tightest?
  • When is enough truly enough?
  • Why do you fear what you fear?
  • Why do you believe what you believe?
  • What makes you feel important?
  • What are you sorry for?
  • What is your most secret wish?
  • When is the last time you have a real conversation with God?
  • Do you wish you had a do-over?
  • How can you make this day not ordinary?
  • What you love about yourself?
  • What is the dictionary definition of you?
  • Are you living out of desire or circumstance?
  • Do you wake up thankful?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Who do you love? Do they know?
  • If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would you want to talk to?
  • What is the last time you took yourself out for a date?

Here is something interesting – people with social anxiety can often “solve” it by digging a bit deeper and getting out of the superficiality of superficial conversation. I ask my anxious clients to pick 3 questions to ask a friend or a stranger and watch what happens.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

The Body Song (Guest: Eryn-Faye Frans)

This past week, I had the privilege of introducing my family to Paddy and Carole Ducklow.  Back in the 60’s, when my parents left Texas to move up to Canada, Dad met Paddy in graduate school and they began a life-long friendship. My father wrote his first book in the basement of their home. He logged countless hours sitting out on their deck drinking beer and debating life, the universe and everything. Paddy flew to Texas to attend his funeral.

As a child, I have many memories of the Ducklow’s being a part of our lives. Even when the two men were living in different parts of the Lower Mainland, they always stayed connected. And then, several years before our family returned to Texas, they worked together at Burnaby Christian Fellowship. Dad was senior pastor, and Paddy was on staff as the church psychologist who ran a practice in the church.

One of the programs that they collaborated on during this time was a seminar to teach kids and their parents about the concept of “appropriate touch”. The kids and parents were split into different rooms and taught about issues surrounding personal boundaries, safety and communication. I was one of those kids, and my favourite part of the whole seminar was learning the song, My Body by Peter Alsop (which was thereinafter referred to by us simply as “the body song”).

Fast-forward 20+ years. My family is driving to the Ducklow’s house for the first time and I am explaining to my daughter about the importance of this family in my life. Having a vague memory of the body song, I decided that it would be spectacularly impressive if I could teach it to my daughter to sing for Paddy over dinner. Riley was very much into this idea (life is, after all, a musical for her) and enthusiastically embraced the task. The more we sang it, the more furrowed my husband’s brow became. He finally cleared his throat and said, “Uh, honey? I think you are not remembering that song right. I am pretty sure that’s not how it goes.” I pooh-poohed his concerns and, undaunted, Riley and I sang the song a few more times – to ensure that she really knew it.

When we arrived at Ducklow’s, the conversation inevitably turned to the body song. Actually, Eric brought it up because he was so smug in his assumption that I had the words wrong and thought it would be hilarious to see Paddy’s reaction. I was hesitant because I had an ever-growing suspicion that Eric was, unfortunately, right. Eventually, he coaxed Riley and me into singing it together.  So, in a vain attempt to prove that I was correct (or more that he was wrong) I belted out with great gusto:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You touch your own body,

Let me touch mine.

There was an eerie silence that fell over the room for what was only a moment but felt like eternity.  Then the room erupted!  I thought Paddy was going to fall off the couch laughing. He fell to the side and buried his face in a pillow as he howled in laughter.  It was suddenly inherently obvious to me that I had turned a song on appropriate touch into one on mutual masturbation.

***Epic FAIL***

Later in the evening, Paddy and Riley went to the computer and drudged up the words to this 1980’s song. Thank goodness for Google!

The true version of the body song can be found here and goes like this:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You run your own body,

Let me run mine.

I will admit that the correct one is a much better version for Riley to be singing out in public.  But as I am not one to be easily dismayed, I will brazenly confess that personally prefer my version…even if you’ll never hear me sing it aloud ever again.

So inn the midst of all of this personal humiliation, I figured that I should try to redeem myself by unabashedly sharing the story with everyone and using it as a teaching tool to help parents talk with their children.

Eric, however, is still laughing.

(And so is Paddy!)

My Life Now: An Alliteration of “P”s

Thinking About My Semi-retirement

My name is Paddy. I have been a psychologist, pastor and professor, an alliteration of “P”s. These days I am mostly a fellow pilgrim in the practice of personhood, a new set of “P”s. And I am a Poppa to my 3 grandkids.

To change primary letters for a moment, I would like to learn how to be a friend. This does not come easily to me. I think that I want to be a good friend but I am not naturally wired for it. I am used to influencing more than anything else. It seems to me that women do things together (“Let’s go shopping for shoes”) but men don’t go shopping for a new pair of pants. Men compete with and dismiss each other, often humorously. We men find our social lives through occupations (what occupies us like computers and fishing trips).

Unlike many friendships that seldom appeal, I deeply enjoy and am challenged by the people I visit with in counselling. I think of therapy as confronting, sometimes confusing, frequently funny and always pressing into change. And counselling is also a safe place to tell the truth and to grow. I think it is here that I have the privilege of being most honest and of being me. I think of these people as “client-friends.”

Carole laughs at me when I say I don’t have many friends. But with these good folk I mostly do not practice personhood. I settle for superficial catch-ups and positive gossip. I don’t think that I am so good at being a friend.

 

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