We’re in a spiritual crisis, and the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection. That connection—the spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world—is not something that can be broken; however, our belief in the connection is constantly tested and repeatedly severed. –Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness
So much has happened in the last year and a half. So much has happened to us all. It’s all different, yet much the same. We’ve all lost much, from small things like what’s available in the grocery, places we can go, to jobs and food and housing security, to loved ones we haven’t been able to be with, church as normal, social gatherings, and deaths. Some people realize the extent to which the lack of human connection has impacted them, perhaps especially the children. Others take a stiff upper lip approach to try to numb the pain, deny how hard it really is (I’m very good at that one!) And just as things were improving, seeming more normal, we were slammed with the Delta variant. AND now we have Ida! Not had, but have Ida, because we are living in the aftermath. Now we are separated yet again!
How are you, REALLY? There is a lot of grieving going on, whether you realize it or not. I’m aware because I have a personal grief many of you know. My dear Ed (Fr. Ed) died March 16th this year.
Grief, grieving, bereavement…what does that mean? How does a person “do” it? How can a person get over a loss? (We don’t, we only get through; grief is a process.)
Those of you who know me, know that my Ed, husband of 54 years, died March 16, 2021. I’m often asked these days, “how are you doing?” [Perhaps you are often asked also.] It’s an interesting question because each person is actually asking something different. Some are wanting to know “how are you holding up?” as in how am I emotionally. Others are asking, “HOW are you doing?” How, as in how are you able to cope and continue your life when there is an enormous hole inside of you?
If you know me, you probably see me as a strong person. Well, my personality type has that aspect to it. But really, HOW AM I able to cope?
Unlike a lot of people, I have almost no biological family and my 2 closest, very best longtime friends died. One at 49 and the other over 10 years ago. I have my daughter Ashley and my 8-year-old granddaughter Thalia. They are so very important to me and supportive in certain ways and to a certain degree. But, that is by no means sufficient for me to survive my loss, much less look toward thriving again.
So HOW am I getting through this grieving, bereavement process? (Remember, one never gets over, just through.) Some may think that as a clergy wife, I have more faith than most. I don’t. My faith is of great importance to me; indeed, I could not survive without it. But a one-on-one relationship with God is not enough. I can’t see, touch God that way. The Church is the Body of Christ -- God in the world, the community of faith. THAT is how I am surviving. St Paul’s is my family in Christ that has provided and continues to provide support for me that is sufficient to cope, survive, and hopefully begin to thrive.
What does that look like?
It’s funny in a way, because I don’t have what most call “close friends,” at St Paul’s or elsewhere. You know those people you talk to and get together with on a regular basis. People you share your hopes and dreams and secrets with. (Those were the two friends who died.) It is my introverted personality to develop just a few very close friends.
So how is it possible that those I feel closest to are here at St Paul’s, and yet none really fall into that “close friend” category? Can it be that community isn’t about closeness of friendship as such, but about Love?
What has, does, the community of faith that is St Paul’s provided for me? How do I feel Loved, God’s Love? I know you are here for me. Certainly cards and gifts of food, (especially soup) show love. But keeping in contact, checking in on me, remembering me. Inviting me for a meal, and even when I was not yet ready, to accept that, and accept me where I am. Asking what I need.
Knowing you have my back! Year before last our buttons at the time of backpack blessings was an orange rectangle with “God’s got my back.” The night Ed died in the ER, I called Fr. Rob who came immediately. He was there for me. When it was time to leave, he was concerned about my going home alone and said Catt had offered to come to the house for the night. But I realized I just needed him to have my back. I needed him to follow me home; I needed to see him in my rearview mirror, then walk me to my door. I just needed him to get me emotionally from the hospital to my house. And since that time, on an occasion or two, I’ve needed to text him asking if he has my back. It’s a connection, a reassurance when the pain is overwhelming, a simple reply reconnects me and I don’t feel adrift, lost anymore. I still hurt, but not alone.
The St Paul’s community is my family. I have learned that I can accept your help. I can reach out to you and you will be there. You are a great cloud of witness to the presence of Christ in this place and that makes it home and home means a safe place to hurt, cry, grieve and be helped physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This is from whence my strength comes -- The Body of Christ. The Incarnation of Christ, incarnate in each of you, us, meeting each other in his name. For with God nothing is impossible. I believe I will get through this painful time by continuing to experience over and over, the Love of God emanating from this community.
AND I believe the connection is stronger the more I work as St. Paul’s Director of the Center for Counseling and Education. You see, as you come to me with your problems, you’re hoping to find a safe place to hurt, cry, grieve and be helped emotionally, and spiritually. Because it is a church setting, I am able to Love you. It’s a different relationship than the secular practices I have always had where it was necessary to keep a greater distance professionally. But if you come to me, you know who I am. You know I am part of St. Paul’s and it is part of me. You’ve come to realize that whatever you come to me about isn’t a problem. It’s about you as a person who happens to have a problem. It is you who is central and we work on the problem together.
Even though we are all separated from our buildings, we are still the St. Paul’s community, that part of the Body of Christ. And I’m still working as the Director of Counseling and Education. I know so many of you are hurting, reeling from all that has happened and gone on for so long. Some of you are overwhelmed and can’t see how to cope with your ongoing struggles. Others have specific things that simply need to be talked about. You need to feel heard. Some pretend to be “just fine.”
So I want you to know my door is still open, (metaphorically.) I can see you on Zoom, talk with you by phone, or find an outdoor space that is both private and Covid safe. Being able to continue to see individuals and couples in the St. Paul’s Church and School community helps keep us all a little more connected during this time of disconnection.
I can be contacted by text or called at 504-330-2549 or .
I genuinely hope to hear from you.
Jeanne Robertson, PhD, LPC, LMFT
Director, Center for Counseling & Education
St. Paul's Episcopal Church