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Monday, March 15, 2010

"All Choices Have Consequences, No Matter the Decision" Written for the Amelia Center newsletter (Tears To Hope)

“All Choices Have Consequences, No Matter the Decision” Jennifer Baker

In life most things really boil down to choices. Sometimes we have full control over a choice. Sometimes we believe we have no choices. In fact there are some consequences in life that are the result of someone else’s choice, that we had no control over, or any input into those choices. However, we do control the choices we make as a response to that choice. How would our choices change if we applied the phrase “All choices have consequences, no matter the decision” to every situation in our lives? We would begin to see our own influence over our circumstances very clearly. When you choose the consequences you are willing to accept, you are undoubtedly making a decision, and therefore take ownership of the choice. When you own the choice you own the consequences of that choice.

So how does that apply to grief? You have no input into the loss in your life. You really can not affect death or the timing of it. Sometimes, after a death, it feels like there is no way to escape the pain. We wish we could undo the death or somehow make the pain stop. We can not control how much pain we feel. So, if can not choose to make the person return and you can not choose to make the pain stop, where are your choices? In the words of Victor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Everyday you wake up after someone you love has died you are faced with many choices. Participating in life is now a choice. Before the death, you probably never questioned whether you would get out of the bed in the morning. You probably took for granted that you would shower or get in your car and go to work. You just accepted those daily tasks as you went about the business of living. However, after a death, everything about life as you knew it prior to the loss is different. Suddenly you have choices, where before you just had daily life. “Should I lay in my bed today or get up and go to work?” “Should I shower or care for myself?” “Should I have this drink so I won’t have to think about the death for a few hours?” “Should I go to grief counseling?” “Should I live?”

Granted some of these choices may seem extreme, but they are realistic choices for every grieving person. Life is hard work when you are grieving. You have fewer resources, physically and emotionally, than you had before the death, mainly because your energy is spent on the work of grief. However, if a grieving person can choose the consequences instead of looking at ambiguous and cloudy choices, they are able to see more clearly how the choices they make can affect them in a positive or negative way. “If I don’t get up and go to work, I will get fired and therefore will not be able to provide for my family.” “If I drink this bottle of alcohol I know eventually I will be right back at the beginning again, feeling the pain.” “If I choose to make an effort to participate in life, then I will choose not to let the pain take charge of my life.” Another quote from Victor Frankl states, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” Choice then, leads to freedom. When we choose our consequences, we are not paralyzed by them. Therefore, choosing to participate in life in spite of the pain of death brings with it the consequence of healing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just Keep Swimming

This is the inaugural article I wrote for our newsletter at the Amelia Center:

Just Keep Swimming – Jennifer Baker 8-26-09
It has been six weeks since I dove into the world of grief counseling at the Amelia center. In this short time I have learned a great deal, and have been touched by so many people and their personal stories of hope and healing. I have seen people who have just been hit with the hardest news they have ever faced, the death of someone close to them, and I have seen people who are a little further down the path on the road of hope and healing. I think about their grief and their loss, and while they are unique in their stories and circumstance, their pain seems universal. There seems to be one underlying theme in the counseling room, they want to be better, to work their way out of the intense pain and to feel better. One mom stated it something like this, she didn’t want to forget her child, she said, “I just don’t want to cry every time I remember him.” So the key is that grieving people want to be able to hold on and yet, somehow let go of the pain of the loss.

Hearing this mom, and many others parents speak of their grief, I have come to a conclusion about the process of grief. In many ways I see grief as very similar to the ocean. When people are at the beginning they feel like they are alone, floating in a deep dark, ocean, and there is no land around to cling to… nothing stable. They are using every bit of their energy to survive. They weather storms and waves of overwhelming grief. Sometimes it is so hard, they feel like they can not hold themselves up and occasionally they do sink, but they survive. It takes all of their energy, all of their will and focus, but they survive. Eventually, after much struggle, they become really strong swimmers and they find themselves moving closer to the shore. They can’t stand yet, but they have hope that soon they will able to put their feet on solid ground again, because off in the distance they can see the shore. This is where a grieving person has some hint of that new normality that comes in after time has passed and they begin to adjust to life without their loved one. After much time, they look down into the water and it becomes clearer. They can see through it. It isn’t dark anymore. They can see the bottom of the ocean. They are closer to feeling good than they have been before. Occasionally, a storm will come and knock them further out into the ocean again, but they survive and keep swimming toward the shore. The closer to shore you get the better you feel. This is the work of grief. It is a continual process of swimming toward the shore. One father who lost his son a few decades ago said it like this, “I know I am getting better when the tears turn into smiles. I know I’ll never be the same again, but I know I am better.”

Eventually, they make it to the shore. They are able to step out of the water, and feel the stability of the sand beneath their feet. They can turn and look out into the ocean and maybe they even see the beauty of it. They are different than they were when they were dropped in the middle of the water into that ocean of grief. They are strong and have confidence that they will survive. They will not lose hope, and even though the ocean is still there with its deep and treacherous water, they are not consumed by it, they are not drowning… they know they can swim. And so they will continue to swim, and to survive My heart goes out to all of those families in our care who are working so very hard to swim.

Feel free to watch this really well done video on our services here at the Amelia Center...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Restless Heart

I was cleaning out one of my many cluttered bags today and found a pretty painful poem I had written. It was tucked inside one of my church bulletins. There was a quote inside the bulletin that I thought was profoundly simple and an obvious answer to my hearts cry. God is so lovingly subtle and yet so obvious sometimes. All I was doing was cleaning out a bag.

Restless Heart

Oh heart, I hate you.

How you betray me.

Why do you abandon me?

How do you escape me?

I can not control you.

You can not be contained.

Even when I fight

To hold on to innocence,

You corrupt my attempts.

The sin that is buried underneath

Is a shadow that clouds my soul.

When will I be free,

Of this intense hypocrisy?

Oh heart you are restless…

When will I find rest

If there is not rest in me?

“Our hearts are restless, until we find rest in Thee”... Augustine