January 3, 2024

From the Rector…

It’s funny how grief can strike at the oddest times. In two days, my father will have been dead for three years. I think of him almost everyday and miss him but the pain of his death has subsided for the most part. It is just every now and then that I feel his absence well up inside me, squeezing my heart, and emptying all the breath from my lungs. I can’t eat and I choke back tears. I’m not angry with God or frustrated by his loss—I came to terms with those things a long time ago. I just miss him.

Though my father’s health had been slowly, yet steadily, deteriorating for the last five years of his life, it was not until the last several months of his life that things turned bleak culminating in a stroke on the operating table that he would never recover from. In those last days we tried to make him comfortable, but I still feel a little guilty as I continued to push him to recover when he had so clearly decided to let go. I got to see him at Christmas but by the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, I was positive for Covid and quarantined. I didn’t get to say good-bye or do last rites. My mother waited two weeks to hold the graveside funeral so that I could attend. Everything about that time felt wrong, especially his death.

I’ve wrestled with his death and how it affected me and my family. The years leading to it had been such a roller coaster. They were some of the best times of our family’s life together and some of the worst. He was in and out of hospitals from Selma to Montgomery to Tuscaloosa and Birmingham even as far away as Memphis. It was exhausting for my mother, but she hung in there and cared for him even while running a business and keeping her social calendar. My sister wasn’t able to go to the hospital like she wanted to due to her job, her children, and the distance from where she lives. It was hard on her to be so far removed. She called our mother daily and was a good support to her. I went to the hospital, sat in rooms, ran errands, cracked jokes even when it wasn’t appropriate, and tried to be as positive as I could. We held each other up in those years, clinging to one another in the chaos that surrounded us.

After my father’s death, things changed. Things always do in those circumstances. It wasn’t simply the business of getting on with life, it was holding the tension of our loss and sorrow with our need to move forward. Our relationship shifted—not in a negative way, it just became different. One morning, out of the blue, my mother called and said she couldn’t walk. She couldn’t even stand up. I raced to Selma to find her half lying/half sitting on her couch downstairs. I got her to the doctor who gave her a shot for pain and a referral to a back specialist in Montgomery—thus started an almost year-long health crisis culminating in surgery and therapy. And then last year, her house was destroyed by the Selma tornadoes. Instead of giving up, she took back her life and found a new strength and vigor—which has changed our relationship again.

I am proud of my mother for her newfound zest for life. I am delighted she is beginning to rediscover who she is and what she wants out of her life. But I am also sad at times—nostalgic for the ways things once were and unsure of who my mother is becoming. My grief is not simply for the loss of my father, it is also for the loss of the mother I once knew. Don’t get me wrong, I want her to live a happy and fulfilled life—I support her choices and am encouraged by her strength and adventurous nature. But things are different, and I sometimes miss the way things used to be—that is where my grief resides now.

Resiliency and renewal are in our DNA because God created us that way. We don’t stop living because our life changes. The most consistent thing about the world we live in is change. I might be branded a heretic, but I think the changelessness of God is that God is constantly changing. If we are created in his image and we experience constant change both within ourselves and within our environment—then that seems to be the natural conclusion. And if the very nature of God is change, then the one constant we can expect in life is change. We don’t have to like it. God even bestows the gift of grief upon us as a way of remembering what we once had. Even as we grieve, we can look forward into the new thing that God is inviting us too.

I pray that in the year of our Lord, 2024, you might embrace the newness of life God is calling you to.

Light and Life,