We made a scene at church today.  It was such a festive, light-hearted day.  Both kids were in the Christmas pageant.  A friend played trumpet, making our wonderful music even more inspirational.  We sang beloved Advent/Christmas carols.  There was a dessert social prior to the service.  Days like today aren’t when I expect or predict “a scene.”

Two-thirds of the way through the service we have “The Passing of the Peace.”  In our congregation this means about half of those in attendance are appropriately liturgical and turn to those sitting nearby saying, “The peace of Christ be with you” then wait for their neighbor to respond, “And also with you.”  The other half of the congregation scurries around and offers fist-bumps asking, “How’s it going?”  Despite the diversity of how each person “passes the peace,” it’s a part of the service I enjoy.

Today, mom and I stood up to pass the peace to our neighbors.  I hadn’t gone far from her, but I was turned facing the opposite direction, greeting folks I hadn’t seen in a while.  Then I turned back toward mom to notice she was bawling.  She wasn’t merely tearful, she was falling apart.  “Mom, what happened?  What’s wrong?!”  Gasping for air through her sobs, she muttered, “I just wish your dad were here to see this, to see you and all this.”  By “all this” I think she meant the grandchildren, the Christmas pageant, the church, the community we are a part of.

Realizing that she wasn’t crying due to a hallucination or false idea but rather because she genuinely, powerfully was grieving my father’s absence and wishing he were with us, tears began to fill my eyes too.  Mom leaned over into the open embrace of a kind gentleman who put his arms around her and accepted her just as she was.  I tried to gather myself, but realized that the more mom cried, the more I was going to cry.  So as the congregation returned to their seats, she and I made our way out the back doors of the sanctuary.

My dad died young, he was only 44 years old and his death rocked our family and our community.  But that was 26 and a half years ago.  Do I miss him?  Yes!  Do I think about him and how he shaped who I am?  Yes!  But I confess at this point (more than half my life), I rarely shed a tear when I remember Dad.

It breaks my heart that of all the things that could fill mom’s thoughts, dad’s death is the thing she dwells upon.  Perhaps trauma marks the brain in a way that beautiful surprises don’t, and thus the traumatic memories remain even when the happy recollections begin to fade.  Part of me wants to dwell on the downside of things right here as I reflect on today’s meltdown.  I want to curse the way our brains work.  I want to change how mom thinks and what she focuses upon.  I want to erase the pain… hers and mine… and never re-live it again.

But I don’t have dementia yet.  I’m not stuck where my brain takes me.  I can look at more than one side of a situation.  I can step back and reflect.  I can seek peace and meaning beyond the obvious.  And so while I still can, I must.

Here goes:  Mom’s breakdown today could also be seen as a gift.  She recognized that we were in the midst of something (a powerful worship experience) surrounded by a strong and supportive community (where it’s safe to be yourself and to let your full emotions flow.)  She wasn’t just missing dad because she was missing dad… she was missing dad because she was present with people and in a place/experience that moved her.  It was the kind of thing she wanted to have shared with him.  Do we dwell on his absence or on the richness of a moment so special that it called to mind the person she loved most?  I will dwell on my gratitude that mom experienced a very special Sunday worship service.  My heart is filled with thanksgiving for the people, for the Spirit, for the Divine and human community we enjoy.

Mom and I slipped out of the service and didn’t go back into the sanctuary.  We found a box of tissues, found the leftover desserts and punch from the morning reception, found members volunteering in several capacities who stopped and spoke with us.  A few treats and “hellos” and before you know it, the tears were all gone.  We were back to enjoying the special Advent season and the special people we call our church.

I know her tears didn’t feel like “a gift” to mom this morning.  Fortunately, no doubt, she has long forgotten the tears since she has forgotten what day it is and where we were and what happened while we were there.  But I can stand back, I can feel the pain, but I can also be thankful.  I’m thankful that I was born to a father so amazing that his absence still stirs tears, stories, smiles, and laughter.  I’m thankful that although mom has forgotten many, many things, she hasn’t forgotten the love of her life.  I’m thankful that I have found a community so loving and accepting that mom and I can spill our tears in the midst of a celebration and still be embraced and accepted.  I am thankful…

I hope it’s a long time before we make a scene at church again.  But, at least in this moment, I’m grateful… Grateful for a safe place to be ourselves, for such a place is one where we can truly find hope for this challenging journey we are on.


6 thoughts on “We made a scene at church today…

  1. I was right there in that “scene” today. No wonder your mom was missing your dad. It was a beautiful service, and I think you are exactly right – being there in such safe community and support made his absence even more poignant. Hugs to you both.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kendra, I saw you two walk up the aisle in tears. It was a lovely morning in church, and your kids were right there making it so. Thanks for writing to share with us.

    What a Christmas gift that she can still experience a momentary full understanding of the significance of your two children and her husband’s missing place in her life with them, and with you. A woman with so much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kendra, these thoughts from below are gems. Thank you. I think the experience you describe was a thin place kind of thing. Whatever barrier there is between here and heaven gets thin and porous (sp?) and when they happen for me the joy is so much greater than the pain, though for the outside I usually am a total mess, just like your mother. I saw in your story a beautiful and transcendent encounter with something sacred .

    Liked by 1 person

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