I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had conflicted emotions at some point while mourning, me included. Being a pastor doesn’t protect me from emotions conflicting with faith, rationality, and other emotions. It is part of the grieving experience, and an important one in my estimation. It took me a long time to realize the importance of the conflicting emotions in my individual grieving process.
When dad died, I was at the local Steak and Shake. I’d told dad before I left to grab lunch that it was ok, he could do what he needed to do. I’d take care of things that needed finished up when I got back. This was very normal type of conversation we’d have had on the farm. The conversation was so much more than what it seemed. As a hospital chaplain, I’d been assigned to hospice or been called to hospice settings numerous times. Sometimes, patients needed permission. That’s what I gave dad. As a hospital chaplain who seemed to spend a goodly amount of time in hospice, I had also learned that sometimes patients either needed someone to be present or to not be present for them to finish their journey. Dad needed me to not be there.
My father and I had a relationship which was unique to us. It was not unique in that it was a father-son relationship. The dynamics of that relationship were. We became each other’s teachers. Dad taught me about farming, carpentry, and leadership. I taught dad about reading Scripture, thinking theologically, and seeing outside the box. Don’t misunderstand me, my foundation for reading Scripture and thinking theologically came from my father. I was able to invite him to think more deeply about it and to read Scripture in a more careful light. I gave him permission to think outside the box, as it were. Over the years, I showed my skills with a hammer and he his skills with a text. We learned to appreciate each other for the individuals we were.
When that day in September came, dad needed to know he could rest. His work was done and done well. There was no more corn to plant, hay to bale, cows to milk, houses to build, or wood to work. The Word he needed I knew he carried in his heart; he’s the one who implanted it in mine. What needed doing, I could handle now. I was ready. My dad knew my training as a chaplain and with the fire department. I know CPR. I know what could be done; he didn’t want that. He wanted to “go home.” So, with my permission and without fear that anyone would stop him, he was able to go.
I’ve not told this part of my grieving story to anyone, even my sister. I share it here as example of the importance of conflicted emotions, and how hard and powerful they can be. Knowing my dad needed permission, and giving it to him, and then knowing he needed me to not be present; that was hard. Yet, it was important to step out that door of my folk’s little apartment that day. At the time, I thought it was about dignity. Dad didn’t want to die in front of me; his last protection of me. That wasn’t it at all. Dad didn’t want me to stop him from going. He was ready. He had permission. It was time; he wanted and needed to go. Perhaps, it was both and more.
Where I find those conflicts, I find places where I need to sort through the memories, and the meanings I am assigning them. I need to reflect on not just what I am feeling, but to ask the further probing, “why am I feeling this?” The importance and power of those places of conflict during my grieving have been to show me where I have both spiritual and or emotional self-care to do. In exploring the places of conflicted emotions, I have discovered places where spiritual and or emotional healing needs to occur, work which is more than self-care.
In my grieving, the places of emotional conflict have been the richest grounds for exploration and healing. They have proven to be fertile ground for spiritual and emotional growth. The interior conflicts which come with my grieving have been helped through self-care and through seeking the assistance of trained professionals, too. It has been a journey of revelation.