Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Joy of Mourning

I’m reading Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears by Margaret Feinberg. This is a story about breast cancer, and how Feinberg decided from the diagnosis forward that she would fight it – with joy. This particular chapter, “When You’re Tearing Your Hair Out,” is the one when the physical impact of chemotherapy becomes noticeable to any and all – Feinberg loses her hair. 

And in the process she discovers mourning. She understands why she reacts the way she does, going back to a traumatic incident from childhood. She can’t seem to do anything without noticing that she’s losing her hair. She even sheds on the dog. And she knows her hair will eventually grow back, but this is hard.  

She teaches herself to mourn. She reads the gospels. And she studies Jewish rites of mourning. She learns what it means to “tear your clothes,” and she does a bit of tearing of her own.  

And she learns something else, perhaps the most important lesson of mourning. Mourning allows you to make space for the joy. 

I read this chapter on my lunch break, sitting by myself at a table by a window in the company cafeteria that manages to catch the sun. And what I understand while I’m reading about a woman learning the joy of mourning in the midst of breast cancer is that I am going through a mourning of my own, and I didn’t even realize it.  

I retire from the day job on May 1. I informed management of my intention to retire last June. I made the decision to retire; I didn’t have retirement “done to me.”  

Nothing was announced at the time; only gradually did my decision become known (surprisingly, for a place where news like this moves at the speed of light, it didn’t become broadly known for about six months).  

Retirement is now less than two months away. What Feinberg taught me in this chapter of her book is that I am not mourning the loss of a job (the plan is to stay plenty busy after May 1). But what I am mourning is the closure of what has been a significant part of my work for a long time.  

It’s odd that I should be mourning at all. I worked – for six years – as a speechwriter for a CEO dubbed by Fortune Magazine as one of America’s seven toughest bosses. (Fortune was right.) I have done corporate social media in spite of the company thinking it’s without value and critics of the company spewing hate, threats of violence and profanity every chance they get. Convincing even many of my colleagues in communications that social media matters has been a constant battle and daily frustration.  

Most people would be thrilled to be bailing out. 

I won’t miss any that; that’s not the loss I’m mourning. And I’m not mourning what might have been; I’ve never regretted any of the career choices I’ve made over the years. Nor am I mourning what I still had to offer, which was more, far more, than management knew.  

I’m mourning the loss of my familiar structure of work; I’m mourning the loss of working with the good, competent, skilled people I work with on a daily basis; I’m mourning not seeing the woman at the company credit union I’ve talked to almost every day for the last decade and Char the custodian. 

My transition to retirement has actually been helped by the two colleagues I was closest to leaving the company in recent months. One went to another company; the other simply decided it was time to leave. They happened to be the two people I talked with, commiserated with, plotted with, and most enjoyed working with. Not seeing them and talking with them every day has left a gap.  

My transition is also being helped by the teams I work with online at The High Calling and Tweetspeak Poetry. 

What Feinberg says about mourning is, I believe, critically important: mourning makes space for the joy to come. 

And joy is coming. 

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing Fight Back with Joy. To see what others have to say on this chapter, please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact. 

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


kchripczuk said...

I was mourning, but didn't even realize it . . . That really resonates for me. As a culture, and sometimes also especially in the evangelical churches, we've lost patience for and awareness of the process of mourning, instead we bury the feelings and jump straight into the next thing.
Hmm . . . now I'm thinking I need to order this book, Glynn. :)

Glynn said...

Kelly, I wasn't sure I was ready for a book about breast cancer. But it's turning out to be about something else. What Feinberg does with this is something rather wonderful.

Doug Spurling said...

tearing cleanses the soul like bleeding cleanses a wound

Sandra Heska King said...

I love this quote...

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." ~Anatole France

But then I found this one I'd saved...

"Often our grief allows us to choreograph our dance while our dance creates the space for our grief." ~Henri Nouwen

I need to read this book.

Dea Moore said...

I read this book and I believe, like you, that Margaret was able to teach so much through her devastating diagnosis of breast cancer. My dad has battled and will continue to battle multiple myeloma for the rest of his life.As I read, it was hard for me to let my grief---grief that might be considered lesser than cancer---be mourned. But I think mourning is a path to joy, the way to turn the page to the new. I am hoping that many will read Margaret's book and consider how to embrace both grief and joy, both of which seem to sit next to each other, in my mind, on a blue couch.

Jody Lee Collins said...

Oh, Glynn, the last phrase, "mourning makes room for the joy to come" brought tears to my eyes.

May it be so and may Jesus continue to surround you with good people during this time.

Well done!

diana said...

I can't tell you how strangely lovely it is to read these words from you, Glynn. I can count on you for honesty and I'm so grateful for that. Yes, mourning is necessary - first, to recognize it (as Margaret has helped you to do), and then to let it happen in us. I firmly believe it is a space-creator - and if we don't do the work, take the walk, sit with the feelings, then there isn't enough room inside for the joy to bubble up and through it all. Kudos for seeing it, naming it, sitting with it and allowing it to do the good work it is now and will continue to do in you and through you.

Connie said...

Glynn, I believe you. I have felt this myself. I realized in hindsight how difficult the act of leaving and moving on can be. People like you don't do that lightly but with much thought and, as often accompanies real change, a heavy and uncertain heart. But lighter days are yet to come! Thank you for this, Glynn.

Margaret Feinberg said...

Glynn, congratulations on your upcoming retirement! Praying for you as you make this transition and praying for your mourning period and process.