Missing John: A Post by Jim

It is only right that an early post in a blog entitled “Grief Helps” should be about my own grief.

John Schneider

John Schneider

My extremely good friend and soulmate, John Schneider, died fifteen months ago. We shared a huge amount, personally and professionally—our separate kinds of knowledge, our complementary interests, our commitment to human caring, our belief in how the Divine can stir in human lives. We shared countless joys, abundant laughter, and not a few rotten jokes. Increasingly, we shared a dream.

We planned to do even more professional and personal collaboration as we approached the later stages of our lives. We would pool our common goals and our individual gifts to create resources for grieving people unlike anything that had yet been created.

This blog would have been one such collaboration. It is now coming into being without our working on it side by side. John would have added ever so much to this endeavor. Only I, perhaps, know how much better this resource would have been were he still alive. Writing this post, I grieve our lost dream. I grieve anew that irreplaceable relationship. I grieve the untimeliness of John’s death.

I spoke at John’s funeral that chilly April day. John’s wife and my good friend Sharon gave me a DVD of that service shortly afterward. Over a year later I still had not watched it. It seemed too painful to view that day’s events, to hear John’s favorite songs all over again, to listen to my own words composed for his hundreds of friends who filled that Traverse City sanctuary.

A few days ago I played that recording for the first time. I was right— it was hard to watch and to listen, as I stood alone in my office, tears streaming down my face. Yet now I also realize, once again, firsthand, how healing such tears can be, how positive even dashed hopes can turn out, and how a person’s spirit can transcend both space and time.

John could not be here in the flesh today as I make this entry in a blog he would have loved. But I have no doubt that John is still here. And I have no doubt that his voice and his influence and his teaching will lie behind all the words and ideas and images and sounds that will appear here in the coming months and years, should I be granted such time on earth.

This is for you, John.

You Can Do This: A Post by Jim

Bleeding Heart photo by Jim MillerI just finished an enjoyable reading of The Language of Flowers, a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. No one dies in the story. And yet grief seeps through many pages of the book. There are, as you know, many sources of grief.

The reason I refer to this story relates not to any expression of grief but to an incident that took place when the central character, a young woman named Victoria, is in labor during the birth of her first child. She has chosen to have a midwife deliver the baby. The labor pains are very hard for Victoria to bear and at one point she says to Mother Ruby, the midwife, “Please. Please. Whatever you have to do. Just get it out.” And Mother Ruby replies, “You’re doing it. You’re the only one that can get this baby out.”

In an interview in the back of the book, the author relates that’s exactly what once happened to her—during the birth of her first child, a midwife said, “You’re the only one who can do this.”

I thought about grieving people that I have known through the years, especially those who wanted me to get them through their grief as quickly as possible, those who wanted me to do something, anything, so they wouldn’t hurt as much as they did. I remember finding various ways to tell them, kindly, respectfully, “You’re the only one who can do this.”

Yes, others can support you as you grieve. They can be there for you in many ways. But they cannot do your grieving for you. Others can share with you what helped them during their own times of loss. But they cannot transplant their past experience into your present life. Professionals can tell you about research findings and offer their gathered knowledge. But they cannot apply their insights to your day-to-day life. Only you can.

Ultimately, only you can do your grief work for you. Still, with supportive care and reflective wisdom and a measure of love from others, you will be able to do this work. Why? Because you’re the only one who can. Because that’s the magic of how grief works. And because once you have done your work, you’ll know it was worth it.