Abide With Me

I have been thinking about abiding a lot this week. Part of it was this blog.

Christianity speaks a lot about abiding, the disciple's failure to abide with Christ in the garden of Gethsemane - on the night before his crucifixion. It speaks of the disciples abiding together in a room in a house, a week after Christ's death, while they tried to figure out the eternal question after tragedy and change - 'what's next'? Scripture speaks of the the Holy Spirit as a comforter, who will abide with us.

Mr. Spit and I have reached a place in our own grief, where we have the energy to reach out to our friends again. We have come slightly back to life and a few people who have reached out to us in the last weeks. In the light of personal circumstances, and my erroneous post on Grief and Community, I have been thinking of what it means to abide with someone. What does it mean, and why is it so hard?

Someone told me late last week that she didn't tell me she was pregnant until the end of the first trimester "out of sensitivity". And, on the one hand I understood, obviously she thought their news would hurt me. I was, I have to say, saddended and disturbed, that they had such a simplistic view of life - unable to realize that it is possible to be sad for one's self, and happy for another, but I understood that they were thinking, through their eyes, of how to spare us.

But on the other hand: I was left questioning the logic of the statement. If the news was going to hurt me - or at least, if you thought it was - would it not hurt at 2 weeks, at 12 weeks or at 20 weeks? Would it not hurt at birth? Was their any balm other than presence and kindness and mercy that would spare us some pain? And is it the goal of life to have no pain?

Truly, in hiding the news from those of us who would normally be told, they denied us the ability to take joy in their circumstances, and the need to feel sorrow at own circumstances. They denied us the ability to abide with each other, on either side of a divide, happy for what will be, and still sad for what was.

I am reminded of the story of Moses and the burning bush. There's lots of good stuff in the story, but the part that came to me today was God telling Moses to take his shoes off, he was on holy ground. I've always liked how God made that distinction. He told Moses that while the world around him looked exactly the same, it had, imperceptibly, shifted. Moses was now on Holy Ground. It was in this story that I finally got what true abiding was.

The Aboriginal Cultural Helper from a local hospital spoke at our baby loss ceremony today. And she spoke about what she does, and how she does it. But, perhaps more than that - she spoke about how she was privileged, how she was entering into our space, and it she knew it was a space filled with grief and bewilderment and pain and tragedy and hope and remembrance. Before she came into the space that was ours, she stopped to honour that the space existed. Pausing at its boundary, she acknowledged that we were a group of families who looked normal but were wracked with sorrow. She entered our space gently.

Abiding is this: the recognition that grief is sacred. Literally, the word sacred means set apart. This is a time in my life that is set apart. For those of us who believe in some form of the hereafter, some divinity in the world, it is a time of working out our faith again. For some, it is a time of making sense of their world. For all of us, it is a time of finding that new normal, the painful time of sewing the shredded edges of our lives back together, and grieving that the garment of our lives is not the same shape. It is a space marked by deep sorrow and pain and horror, and it is a place where we are naked and vulnerable, and an ill timed word or demand can rip us asunder. It is a place that requires supporters to be humble and gentle.

And it is good to have company in this place. But, only if the company recognises that they are only holy ground, in a sacred space. My grief is mine. Other's may feel grief from Gabriel's death, but that does not mean they understand what it is to be me. That does not mean that they understand how I feel. It does not mean that they must have been in my shoes, felt my grief. Those with the gift of abiding have the gift of simply walking into scary places, of offering companionship. They spend time with me, help me through the every day world, break bread with us, they ask us how we are doing, they clean our houses, they speak blessings over our children. They sit and hold our hands, offering us the gift of touch. They make themselves small, so that our grief can be full sized.

I think there are many who abide with us, and they have some good mapping information to give us. They warn us about pitfalls and hard places, but they can't go through it for us. They understand that we must bear our grief alone, and we must do our grief work alone, and all they can do is be a reference and a cheerleader. They can abide. I held on to another mum today, who's loss is a bit more recent. And I had no words. Nothing to get in the way of hugging and sharing our sorrow.