Dare to Journey Through the Painful Places
We sat around the drop-in sharing stories and laughter, remembering the life of a young man who had brought smiles to the faces of his friends countless times. At the same time there was a weight in the room, a sorrow that is unavoidable when a life comes to a close at such a young age. For some reason though, it felt like no one wanted to acknowledge it. There were tears, but it was like grief and sorrow were being ignored; pretending that we were shutting the door to them, when they were already in the room. “He would hate us being sad,” someone shared... and perhaps... in that simple statement... we can find the tragic clues to a life that has ended far too early.
A young man, 22 years old, was found dead on Saturday morning in a Meadowvale area park. Without knowing all the details, he was at a party and it appears that his death was alcohol related. Friends and family are rightly devastated at the death of their 22 year old son, brother and friend.
We had the privilege on Monday evening to host friends and family as they gathered to remember. Many things were not said during that time as we sat together. There are many possible reasons for that. It may not have been the time to suggest that this could have been avoided. It may be that friends and family, drained and tired from so many tears and so much grief, needed a time and a space to remember fondly and to laugh. That can be very important, and we did share a good time together. It occurred to me though, at the same time that we might be paralleling this tragedy all too closely by covering up our sadness with laughter.
As memories were shared and laughter at times filled the space, a couple of things became evident about this young man. He loved to make his friends laugh. He was spontaneous and brought a lot of joy to those who knew him. He wanted to keep smiles on peoples faces and have good times... he loved a party.
Don’t get me wrong, laughter is GREAT! It is amazing to be with friends and have a good time and smile and laugh until your stomach hurts. However, when laughter is used to suppress the pain or sorrow that might be happening under the surface, it can be a damaging thing. The party can be a cover-up, a distraction from deep unhappiness. It is then that the party has the most opportunity to rage out of control.
A tragedy has occurred, and is occurring, all around us, in homes on our street and in people we pass daily. We are afraid of feeling and expressing the emotions of painful memories or experiences or realities. We don’t want to cry. We don’t want people around us to cry. We want to laugh. We want to have fun. We want life to be filled with good people and good times all the time. For most of us, this started in childhood, when we didn’t have the mechanisms we needed yet to process painful or hurtful events. We learned coping strategies that often suppressed the emotions and helped us continue to function. As we get older, however, these coping strategies begin to break down and we will need to choose; Do I now learn to go through the healing process and experience the hurt, pain, brokenness, fear, sorrow etc. that I have for so long learned to avoid, or do I find more complex methods of avoiding this pain?
This choice is not always so deliberate. Many times there are memories from childhood that we have entirely forgotten or pushed down that we don’t even realize we still need to process. The avoidance methods also have variety. Without even realizing it we can sabotage relationships that get too serious because we have an underlying fear of being hurt by those closest to us. We can cut ourselves off from our emotions, which has the consequence of limiting our ability to really connect with someone else. For others the use of drugs and alcohol and then the increasing use of drugs and alcohol serve as an escape from the thoughts we have when we are alone or the feelings we continue to stuff down that just won’t stay there.
This is so common and there are examples of it happening from things as small as a bad fall when learning to ride a bike. In adulthood someone might still harbour a fear of trying new things because that was the coping mechanism they used to protect themselves from pain in the future.
A friend of mine recently linked Layton’s recently famous quote from his farewell letter to a verse from the most common Bible passage read at weddings. The passage goes, “These three remain; faith, hope and love.” Jack’s quote focuses on love, hope and optimism. The question was asked, “Is optimism the faith of our culture?” If so, I fear for our culture, because while faith, I believe, will help you face the darkest of times and circumstances, optimism may demand that you simply ignore them.
While I agree with Jack Layton that optimism is better than despair, I think there is another option in our lives rather than simply ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘get swallowed up by depression’. It is possible to face the sorrow and grief of our lives and work through it and get to a place of healing and strength. Survivors of abuse, those who have lost dearest friends and family, people all over the world who have suffered the brutality and insanity of war; all have examples of people who dared to face their memories and scars and have faith that there would be a place of healing and wholeness on the other side.
It is not always the right time to be an optimist. There are moments when it is not the time to laugh or party. There are times when our lives demand a moment of sorrow or a journey through pain or loss. Don’t avoid those moments, don’t run from that journey. It is often in the valleys of our lives that we experience the most growth and the most healing.
While our departed friend may hate to see us sad, for his sake, let’s go to those places anyway. Let’s talk about the things that make you want to escape into a party and a bottle. Let’s cry though the things that you want to avoid with a joke or a laugh. Let’s allow ourselves to grieve when it’s time to grieve. The best way to honour his memory won’t, in the end, be to grab a 40 and drink to the good times; it will be to not allow this tragedy to repeat itself in your life. Talk to someone, cry with someone. A friend is someone with whom you share your life, not just your laughter.