Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘believe’

In Bed With Joan Baez

Here is an article about my life long affair with Joan Baez, which first appeared in My Latino Voice.

When I was sixteen year of age, I fell in love with Joan Baez. It wasn’t just her beautiful long black hair, big eyes and luscious lips that attracted my teenage attention; it was primarily her powerful voice and what she said in her songs with her words, and her actions on and off stage. She was one of the first to join in the fight for civil rights in the South and protest the war in Vietnam, long before the majority of U.S. citizens opposed the war. (She has taken similar actions against the illegal invasion of Iraq.) She sang about freedom, peace, faith and love, as if they were the most important things in the world. Some people believe they still are. MORE

Deathbed Conversions?

I wish death happened like it used to in the old movies. You know, those deathbed scenes were everyone gathers around, makes amends, say their good-byes and drift off with visions of God and the angels dancing in their eyes. But it rarely does. Deathbed conversions are few and far between.

When death approaches or has taken place, most people live their faith, their beliefs (or their disbelief) in a God or the hereafter the same as they have the rest of their lives. If they believe in some creative force that is more than what we can see, they continue to do so through sickness and loss. If they believe God has a plan for everything that happens and that Jesus is their savior, they continue to do so until their dying breath. If someone feels that there is no God, supreme being or spiritual meaning for anything on earth, they hold on to that belief even after their loved one’s body is buried deep in the ground.

A friend once told me, as their mother was dying, that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make herself believe the same as her mother had all her life. She desperately wished she could. She wanted to understand and connect with her mother before she passed on in a way she had never been able to. She said that for awhile she pretended to believe as her mother had, but she knew she was pretending. She even went to her mother’s church and read the same readings and scriptures, without any change of heart.

A client I met with for several months repeatedly expressed her frustration that her husband had never believed in God and she couldn’t understand how he had gone to his death without accepting God into his life. For over forty years she had tried to convert him and get him to go to church, always believing that someday he would see the spiritual light.

A member of my family had an understandably difficult time when my uncle killed himself and sincerely worried about his soul, wondering if he was suffering as much after death as he had during life. They prayed that God would forgive my uncle and provide the serenity that had always seemed to be just beyond his reach. The only way they could make sense out of the tragedy was to believe that he was “in a better place”. They had always believed that God provides happiness and peace and used that faith to provide personal comfort, safety and meaning.

Belief in God, a Great Spirit, Nature, Jesus or some other religion or spiritual path, doesn’t mean that people don’t question, argue, bargain or get angry with that in which they believe.

A colleague of mine was enraged when her daughter was killed in a car accident. She felt like her religious tradition had lied to her. “How could a loving God let such a bad thing happen to such an innocent child?! How could He take her at such a young age?!” She still believed in God, but couldn’t make sense out of what had happened. “Somebody was responsible for this!” she said. “There has to be a reason!” She prayed to God for an answer. “But all I could hear was myself talking to the empty air,” she explained. “It took me years of asking ‘why’, begging for an answer, before God gave me the strength and understanding to live with not knowing.”

Another client blamed God for allowing her abusive ex-husband to survive and live with his alcoholism, while her hard-working, kind friend died from liver cancer. She overflowed with unanswerable questions. “Why didn’t that son-of-a-you-know-what get this awful disease instead? Why does my friend have to deal with this? What did she ever do? Why? Why? Why?” Her friend continued to work as long as possible and remained true to her sweet loving self until her death a year and a half later.

As in most sweeping statements of finality there are exceptions. Occasionally someone reacts to death and loss differently than they have lived the rest of their lives.

A woman I interviewed a few years ago said she made a bargain with God and it changed her life. As the car she was driving hit a side rail on the freeway and begin rolling over and over she said, “God, if you let me live to raise my young son I’ll dedicate my life to you.” She had never believed in God and didn’t know where that had come from, but she said she heard a voice answer her that said, “Yes”. She survived the accident, continued raising her son as a single parent and never forgot her promise. Though she had always seen herself as a selfish person, she started thinking of others and became involved in a number of charities. When her son was killed ten years later she never wavered from her promise and used her son’s death to inspire her to do even more of “God’s work”.

Death and grief can crack open our hearts. They can change our perceptions of how we see the world. They can wake us up to the reality of pain and suffering in ways that we never thought possible. Within the midst of such grief and pain we can reach out for comfort, look within for guidance and find compassion and forgiveness from our religion, community or sense of personal responsibility.

Mourning can be a catalyst for clarifying our values and deepening our understanding, but it doesn’t mean we will throw our beliefs out the window or change our spiritual faith. We need not despair over our usual conditioned human response to loss. There’s always an old movie with a good deathbed scene we can find at the video store, take home and imagine ourselves saying our good-byes, making last minute amends and being carried off to the heavens!

Our Children’s Lives and Losses

Adults can be just as scared of death as children and are often unsure what to do or say when they and/or their children are touched by death’s presence.

Children in preschool often want to know the nitty-gritty details about death. Questions such as, “Where did they go? What happens to them under the ground?” or “When will they come back?” are common.

We can answer without needing to give details and if unsure of the answer our selves say so. Replies such as, “They went to heaven,” if that is what you believe or “They went back to the earth.” will work, but be prepared to describe what going to heaven or back to the earth means, because some kids want to know. It is also perfectly reasonable to say, “I don’t know where they went; what do you think?”

I recall a girl who was seven years old when her mother died suddenly. Her father tried to comfort her by saying, “God took Mommy to heaven to be with Him and Grandpa.” The girl became terrified that her father would be taken too and said, “If God can take Mom, what about you? Who will take care of me when God takes you?” Her father tried to assure her that it wasn’t “his time” and that he would “always be there,” but only time and her father’s consistent presence began to provide any assurance.

There was a friend of my teenage son whose father died after a long illness. I heard him telling my son that some of his relatives told him, “It’s for the best. Your father was so sick.” He said his grandfather told him he had to, “Be strong for your mother.” My son’s friend didn’t understand how losing his father could “be for the best”, and he didn’t feel “strong”, he felt helpless, overwhelmed and alone. He needed his mother and other adults to be strong for him, not the other way around.

Euphemisms and cliches about death provide little comfort and can create confusion, frustration and feelings of not being heard or taken seriously.

As a parent, relative, teacher or friend of a child who’s facing death, here’s what you can do to help.

Provide honest, pertinent information appropriate to your child’s developmental age.

Though there are exceptions, children under five generally do not comprehend that death is permanent. They can, however, feel the emotional atmosphere in there surroundings and respond to the reactions of significant others. Children from age five to nine have more comprehension about the finality of death. They may see death as “real”, but not something which applies to them. Young adults, ten and older, can usually recognize the finality of death, including the probability of their own. The understanding can affect their sense of safety and security.

When asked what death means or where someone who died has gone, be true to yourself and your beliefs, but pay attention to the words you use and how they may be construed. Instead of saying “Grandpa went to sleep or is on a long trip.” I’ve heard parents say, “Grandpa died. He will not be coming back. We’ll always remember him and he’ll always love you.”

Reassure your child that their feelings are normal and provide outlets for them through physical activity, art, music, writing, daily check-ins, remembrance projects (baking, gardening, making a collage or memory book).

Find support and comfort for yourself in healthy ways – talk to someone you trust, join a grief group, get enough sleep, stay physically active, write in a journal.

Let children know you are willing to share what you know and be honest about what you don’t.

LISTEN to grieving children without trying to make it better or offering advice. They, like adults, don’t always need to be “fixed” or “rescued”. What they often want most and seldom receive, is someone who will be present to whatever they are experiencing without telling them what to do or how to be.

Notify the school and teacher of a death in the family and inform them of any concerns or changes that are or will be taking place in your child’s life as a result of the loss.

What are often referred to as “secondary losses” even though they can be just as primary as having someone die, also need to be acknowledged and addressed. Some of these can include a change in caregivers, school or living environment and having to adjust to life in a different location, living with an unknown relative and/or making new friends and leaving others.

If you feel your child is exhibiting unusual behavior for an exceptionally long period of time and/or aren’t sure what is considered “unusual”, seek help from a qualified professional, such as a therapist, counselor or hospice grief/bereavement program.

There is no magic formula for grieving and healing from loss. Do the best you can. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself and those around you. Everyone grieves in their own way and their own time . . . including the children we love.

The Infamous Boomerang.

She’s off fighting for the causes she believes in and putting her body and heart where her mouth is. She graduated from college, demonstrated in Seattle, worked for Americorps VISTA in Albuquerque New Mexico, completed medical school and is now a practicing physician.

No, I’m not speaking about an extremist expecting the world to follow their belief system, I’m speaking about my once cantankerous daughter Darcy. She’s mellowed during her years as an intern and having a baby last year has given her a new perspective on pretty much everything, but she still teaches me a lot about standing up for your self and others.

Before, during and after a Thanksgiving holiday several years ago, Darcy had several heated debates with various family members, including myself, about politics, business, world trade and health care.

Watching her adamantly and forcefully presenting her case; gave me pause and a fit of quiet bemusement. I thought about the infamous boomerang. Everything I’d thrown out in my younger days was being regurgitated back in my direction. It was like looking in a mirror at myself thirty years ago, when I too felt the world was falling apart and only radical and instant change could save it.

I agreed with a lot of Darcy’s ideas and beliefs, but not always with how to achieve them. She wanted to rid the world of fire breathing dragons and she wanted it yesterday! She believed so strongly in her views that there was little room for disagreement or looking at things from any other perspective.

At one point in the conversations held during that holiday, she said, “Maybe when I’m older and have kids I’ll feel differently.” She was right. I don’t think she feels differently, but how she presents what she feels is much easier to digest.

Is it simply age and responsibilities that change a person or could it also, hopefully, be a combination of increased understanding and deeper insight into life’s realities and accepting the limits of what we can and can not do to make the world a better place to live? Or, could it be that I’m not willing to risk as much as I did in the past and have become complacent? Have I become too conservative and set in my ways or did she need to grow up and look at things differently?

I’ve worked hard to be able to work at a job that matches my convictions and beliefs and am living a life that is congruent with my perception of what is needed environmentally and socially. My actions, for the most part, match my rhetoric. I pick my battles instead of trying to fight them all in one fell swoop. But, is that enough? I believe so, but maybe it took her young eyes of determination, questioning and insistence upon change to keep me looking in the mirror to see if mine were still open?

Tag Cloud