A friend and I enjoyed lunch together at Sweetish Hill.
It’s a bakery and restaurant that was located originally in East Austin where Swedish immigrants established residence many years ago. Now it’s on West 6th Street. We talked about all sorts of things just to get to know each other. Among the topics she brought up are the traumatic moments in most of our lives:
Birth (where am I? what’s going on here?); puberty; choosing a mate; mid-life crisis; and aging/dying.
In my culture, social and faith communities recognize some of these through ritual and community support.
There are baby namings and christenings for newborns and adoptees. There are coming of age ceremonies like bar and bat mitzvahs, confirmation, quinceañera, Eagle Scout honors for Boy Scouts, and Gold Awards for Girl Scouts. High school graduation marks the end of publicly supported education—the least expectation we have for basic employment, but not necessarily enough for graduates to support themselves. For that they need on-the-job training or years of college and even graduate school. Weddings celebrate true love and express the hope that couples will live happily ever after. In the U.S. we then slow down with adult celebrations other than occasional birthday galas among friends. Retirement parties include friends and colleagues.
But life is more than a series of celebrations.
Failure to get that degree? Unemployment? The loss of a child? Mental illness? Imprisonment? Medical crisis? Bankruptcy? Mid-life crisis? Aging? Not so much. Only rarely have I as a pastor been asked to create a ritual of loss other than a memorial service. Some churches I have served have offered support groups for specific groups of people. The secular world offers support groups, especially in big cities. Nowadays, technology allows people to connect across any number of miles if they have access to the Internet.
Social media has become one way people expose difficult situations that worry them or even generate a level of shame. There follows at least the electronic version of hugs and support.
These crises frequently become private matters. No one knows but the closest of friends and family. They try collectively to find online and/or local support groups and look for other resources that are hard to come by. A life crisis calls for a practical solutions and a spiritual response.
How shall we let go of dreams and find a new way forward? How can we build a new way?
We can acknowledge losses with ritual. Possibilities:
- Throw stones into a river or shells into the sea.
- Write down your lost dreams on flash paper and watch them go up in flame.
- Place flowers in a place that is meaningful for you.
- Give symbolic gifts to those who have shared the pain with you.
- Have participants drape you with beautiful scarves and tell you what you mean to them.
- Turn over your loss to the highest power you can name, from the Universe to God.
- Pray for healing and wholeness.
Beyond the ritual, exercise good self care: solitude, companionship, a rugged workout or a healing walk. Eat well. Sleep. Find a therapist if you have trouble coping (and try more than one until you find someone who seems right to you).
Know this: You are not alone. So many of us have stumbled through life. If you share your loss you will find that someone else truly does have a similar story. Let their creativity and resourcefulness help you through.
Believe in yourself.