Friday, March 3, 2023

And The Grief Goes On...


Some weeks are more challenging than others.  A brief phone call from the local funeral director brought the request for a funeral service in the coming week to attend to the sudden death of a 55 year old woman who left behind two 20-something daughters, an aging mom, two sisters and a beloved grandson.

A visit with the family and a few questions about the suddenness of the death of this all too young woman revealed a death by suicide precipitated by a long treatment for cancer complicated by bi-polarity.   I felt as though I had been delivered a blow to my solar plexus.  The ensuing conversation was subdued.  The family did not wish to share the hard truth and would allow people to believe that the cancer had done its work.

I thought I had managed the visit well but came home to so many questions about how to effectively care for this family.  The weight of it all settled in my body.  After a restless night, waking around 3:30 AM with no further hope of sleep, I indulged in my version of prayer which often consists of simply asking the question “What’s going on here?” and waiting silently for some  inner sensing of a response.   

Bingo!  My own sister died in an automobile accident at 55, leaving behind 3 daughters - all in their 20s - a bereft husband - traumatized sisters and brothers and an aging father who said “Why her and not me?”  The parallels were uncanny and helped me see immediately that 23 year old pockets of unresolved grief still hide out in my body.  It doesn’t take much to see the triggering link. The body doesn’t lie.

A guest preacher, Rev. Bill Turpie, was in the pulpit on Sunday.  He introduced us to the  Greek word splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid-zom-ahee).  It derives from a related word, splanxna, “from the inward parts, especially the nobler entrails - the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.”

Splagchnizomai is gut felt compassion.  It moves the human being into action in expressions of lovingkindness.

There are a lot of benefits to being a “hybrid” spiritually.  Having the truths and metaphors of  Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism readily available sometimes makes it easier to work through issues that challenge my spirit.  Models and metaphors of compassion run throughout all three traditions.


When Moses encountered the Divine Directive in the Burning Bush, he heard “I have marked well the suffering of my people in Egypt…I have heeded their outcry…I am mindful of their sufferings” … the markings of splagchnizomai.

Jesus appeared, post resurrection, to his disciples and witnessed their fear and confusion - - offered them peace and the promise: “Lo, I am with you always.”  Splagchnizomai - - compassionate witnessing - - compassionate Presence.


Avalokiteshvara  or Kuan Yin, the boddhisatva of compassion is conceived as having a thousand hands, a thousand eyes, and with her/his head facing in 4 directions simultaneously, witnessing and hearing and responding to the cries of the world.

The world is drowning in a sea of profound grief.  In no way have we recovered or healed from the loss of millions of human lives to Covid 19.  In no way have we processed the loss of so many thousands of lives in the Turkey/Syria earthquake.  In no way are we keeping abreast of the loss of so many lives to gun violence.  In no way have we even begun to process the grief inherent in the loss of the integrity of this planet to climate change.  And the list goes on and on.  Humankind is engulfed in grief and it only takes one personal experience of loss to plunge any individual into the deep waters.

Splagchnizomai - - compassionate witnessing - - compassionate Presence - - compassonate action; the word sits there like a challenge. The call to compassion reverberates through the great spiritual traditions.  It is a daunting call.  Just for today, I take comfort and courage and direction from the words of Rabbi Rami Shapiro:

We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us 
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us 
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
 even when we are too embittered to hear.
 We are loved by an unending love.
We are supported by hands that uplift us
 even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us 
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,

Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;

Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love. 

Vicky Hanjian

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