Many years ago my housemate* badly broke her ankle. This was in the days before social media, so while folks might have had cell phones or email, there was no easy way to set up a central location to asynchronously share information on demand.
On the day she went into surgery, my husband was the contact point at the hospital. He called me at home with updates so her family and friends could then call me to see how she was doing. It was a stressful and worrisome time.
I spend the day down in my workroom, with the landline phone close to hand, and ended up spending 8-10 hours sewing between phone calls. A few days later, with my housemate safely home and recovering from surgery, I realized that the furious energy I put into sewing on that day was an outlet for the stress and worry.
It was a powerful realization that I could take the fizzing, negative energy of worry, stress, and anxiety and turn it into something positive and useful (pants, in my case).
Throughout the years I have embraced this tendency and tried to harness such nervous, scattered energy to power positive actions that make my life better. Every time I’ve been able to consciously propel myself to do something rather than sit around and dwell on all of the things that could go wrong, I have had a more fruitful experience. Instead of fretting about things outside of my control, I take some of that energy and put it into a creative pursuit. In my case it’s been activities like baking, sewing, beading, knitting, gardening, and most recently, metal work.
There are limits to this strategy. It only works for me if the thing I am doing is a physical activity that requires concentration and focus and is hands-on. Other projects that I like to do like writing, reading, and research don’t absorb the negative, jittery, energy that comes from my stress and worry. Exercise alone also doesn’t work; it leaves my brain too free to obsess about whatever is generating the stress and worry which only amplifies the problem.
This past year I have learned that this is also how I process grief. When my mom entered the final stage of her illness, I put all of my fear, grief, and loss into helping her and Dad. I was very lucky that they both let me stay and help once it became clear that Mom would likely die in the next month to six weeks. They gave me the gift of being able to serve, of being able to act instead of being 200 miles away worrying about them. I hope that my being there gave my brothers some peace of mind also.
Everyone reacts to fear and worry and stress and, most powerfully, grief, differently.
As we move further into Lent and see how the story of, not only Jesus, but all of his disciples play out, we see how they react to the call of Jesus, and ultimately to his death and resurrection. We see how Peter denies his relationship to Jesus in his grief and fear, we see how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary witness the crucifixion and, in their grief, try to ensure that Jesus has a proper burial. We see all of these witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection go through the process of loss, fear, and grief that is common to everyone.
We all lose ones we love. We all experience the shock and loss of the death of people we know or people we never knew who died in horrific acts of violence. Sometimes death comes suddenly, with no warning; sometimes it comes slowly. There is no way for us to know how death will take us; just as there is no way to know how we will experience grief.
There is no wrong way to grieve.
Like the disciples we are forever changed by the experience of having, and then losing, the loved ones in our lives.
Like the disciples we can take that love out into the world and let it shine.
* context: my housemate has lived with my husband and I for over 30 years, starting in college, through buying a house, helping to raise our daughter, and is much more a family member than just a housemate. Our daughter calls her Auntie.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
© 2019 Kristin Fontaine