Anger Can Cost you Everything:

Anger

The events of todays world demonstrate the astounding tragedy that takes place when people make the choice to hold onto their anger. Even when anger is originally justified, often more so, a person that holds onto anger will ultimately lead to resentment, bitterness, and then hatred. As it asserts in a well known Buddhists maxim, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” This is why I am thankful for the lesson Dad patiently taught me (see post: Learning to Control My Anger) and how God would guid me after his murder (see post: The Danger of Holding onto Anger).

Although the Hindu religion is the third largest faith in the world and has common origins with Buddhism, I know little of the teachings of this faith. Yet, it was not a surprise to see that similar to my Christian faith, the Hindu religion asserts the need to control the emotion of anger. In an article in the Hinduism Today Magazine by Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami, anger is referred to as the “Deadliest Emotion”. According to this article:

“Learning to control anger is such an important part of harnessing the instinctive nature that the 2,200-year-old, South Indian scripture on ethics, the Tirukural, devotes an entire chapter to the subject. It is, in fact, the chapter that precedes “Avoidance of Injuring Others “…The Tirukural warns that anger gives rise to teeming troubles. It kills the face’s smile and the heart’s joy. Left uncontrolled, it will annihilate you. It burns even friends and family who try to intervene, and easily leads to injuring others.”

“For those…striving to control anger, there is an important first step. That is to acknowledge that anger is a serious problem that easily leads to violence and is a quality that should be totally absent from those dedicated to making progress in their spiritual life” [1]

As anger is a natural reaction to the tragic loss of a loved one, it is vital for survivors to learn healthy methods to deal with the anger we are likely to feel. Thankfully, we all have the ability to choose how we react to anger and how to deal with it. Understanding and awareness of the danger this strong negative natural emotion of anger represents, particularly the longer we hold on to it, amplifies the need to make choices timely to deal with this emotion before it takes root in our persona. For this reason, in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, Rabbi Kushner suggests:

“What do we do with our anger when we have been hurt? The goal, if we can achieve it, would be to be angry at the situation, rather than at ourselves, or at those who might have prevented it or are close to us trying to help us, or at God who let it happen. Getting angry at ourselves makes us depressed. Being angry at other people scares them away and makes it harder for them to help us. Being angry at God erects a barrier between us and all the sustaining, comforting resources of religion that are there to help us at such times. But being angry at the situation, recognizing it as something rotten, unfair, and totally undeserved, shouting about it, denouncing it, crying over it, permits us to discharge the anger which is part of being hurt, without making it harder for us to be helped.”[2]

While I agree with this assessment by Rabbi Kushner and see the merit in his suggestion that a goal “if we can achieve it” would be to redirect all our anger to the situation as it “permits us to discharge the anger which is a part of being hurt, without making it harder for us to be helped.” Though I respect his perspective, this approach still requires a person to discharge their anger in an healthy way. My concern is that by focusing all their anger on a the situation, all this negative emotion could build up making it more difficult to discharge in a controlled healthy manner, and thus, still represents the trap Jesus was instructing us to avoid.

In his book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, author Mitch Albom cautions us of the danger represents to anyone that suppresses their anger and allows it to build up inside them:

“Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”[3]

Anger is like a poison, a poison Dad had worked hard to protect me from. By holding me to a higher standard, Dad was protecting me by not allowing me to let the poison of anger to take root in me. Dad understood a person could be taught not to respond with anger. This is what my parents, The Dalai Lama, Joel Osteen, Mitch Albom, Rabbi Kushner, the people at C.O.P.S. and Jesus were all trying to help us understand.

Anger-2

It is important to remember that we each have a choice in how we react to negative emotions. It does not matter if your loss is due to cancer, a drunk driver, or a cold blooded murderer. Regardless of the reason for our pain and anger, it is your choice how you deal with it. It this decision that will often determine if we are able to take the path of a survivor or fall into the trap anger represents. An example of what can happen when we fall into the trap of anger is found in the story of Stephen Paceri.

Stephen Paceri was fifty-five years old when he lost control of his anger and made the unfortunate choices to kill both himself and an innocent forty-four year old cardiovascular surgeon named Michael Davidson at one of the nation’s finest medical institutions, Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston on January 20, 2015. Pasceri was an accountant, was active in his church, and was licensed to carry a firearm. Although his friends and neighbors described him as a “nice man”, Pasceri had become angry and frustrated at the American health care system after his 79-year-old father died in 2011 and apparently snapped after his 78-year-old mother died in November 2014. Dr. Davidson had been her doctor and, reportedly, there had been some complication.[4]

I do not know the details as to why Pasceri was so angry and frustrated. Nevertheless, I believe the following quote from the extraordinarily popular “Hunger Games” trilogy written by Suzanne Collins illustrates how imprudent and deluded Pasceri’s actions were:

“Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life.

To murder innocent people?” says Peeta.

“It costs everything you are.”[5]

In the “Hunger Games” trilogy, Peeta is forced by an oppressive tyrant to murder innocent people for his own survival, and the survival of the girl he is in love with, and then suffers gruesome nightmares as he tries to deal with how he has now lost the gentle peaceful innocence he once had. As I read Peeta’s words, “it cost everything you are”, I believe this is why the Apostle Paul admonished us to “never pay back evil for evil[6]. This is how we are betrayed when we give in and allow the negative emotions of anger and resentment to grow into embitterment and hate, we lose our innocence and become what had caused us so much pain in the first place. Stephen Paceri had lost who he was and then became what he had hated.

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I too have had experienced my own frustrations with our medical system when dealing with my personal health issues, the health issues of my wife, and the health care of my mother who was been diagnosed to have Parkinson’s Disease. I understand firsthand how maddening it can be as you work to overcome the seemingly uncaring bureaucratic health care systems. Yet, I have to remember I am not perfect, remember my Christian faith as I try to let go of my frustrations, let go of my anger, and place my faith in God. If only Stephen Pasceri had been able to maintain control of his anger, both himself and a 44-year-old cardiovascular surgeon known for “saving lives and improving the quality of life for every patient he cared for”[7] would still be alive. Not only do we each have a choice in how we react to negative emotions, we are always responsible for the choices we make and the repercussions of our choices.

Conversely, Nelson Mandela was arrested and imprisoned for 27 years for his involvement in planning a guerilla war to overthrow the raciest apartheid government in South Africa. Despite years of harsh treatment, Mandela did not fall into the trap of anger, hatred, bitterness, and resentment. Instead, he would embrace peace and reconciliation that would save his country from a bloody civil war. Against all odds, Mandela would leave prison and peacefully lead his country to end apartheid by embracing reconciliation. In his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom“, Nelson Mandela states:

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite….Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”[8]

Though my story pales in comparison to what happened to Nelson Mandela, God has demonstrated that even someone like me can have an impact on the people we touch. As God prepared me for the life altering experience of the loss of my dad, God focused me on the lessons taught to me by a loving dad instead of the pain of how he was lost. As a result, it was Dad telling me to hold myself to a higher standard that shape my character, not the evil act of the men that killed him. Holding myself to a this higher standard has helped me make better decisions, and most important, it has helped me avoid situations that could have led me down the wrong path. It was this advice that allowed me to stay out of trouble and put me in position that I could qualify for a Federal law enforcement career after I finished college.

During my career in law enforcement, the ability to keep my emotions in check have come into play on numerous occasions. I often have thought of Dad when I have faced situations that were similar to the type that Dad would have faced during his career. As I think back about the times I have been screamed at, spit at, called names, or given the cold glare of angry contempt; I cannot help but to feel closer to dad somehow. It is amazing the impact a single event can have on your life when God is involved.

Only God could know the importance of Dad teaching me the lessons in regard to controlling my anger and emotions at such a young age. No doubt there have been numerous challenges that I have had to overcome along the way as there will continue to be more challenges that I will need to overcome. Nonetheless, the most important things that happened in my life would have never been possible if Dad had not made this message loud and clear to a competitive hard headed youngster that fateful day when I slammed my bat on home plate in protest.

God bless!

 

[1] Academy, Himalayan. “Anger Management – Magazine Web Edition > July/August/September 2004 – Publications – Hinduism Today Magazine”. Hinduismtoday.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 24 July 2016.

[2] Kushner, Harold S. 2001. When Bad Things Happen To Good People. New York: Schocken Books.

[3] Albom, Mitch. 2003. The Five People You Meet In Heaven. New York: Hyperion.

[4] Diamond, Dan. 2015. ‘Forbes Welcome’. Forbes.Com. http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2015/01/21/when-patients-kill-doctors-the-horrifying-murder-of-michael-davidson/.

[5] Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay.

[6] Romans 12:17, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[7] Diamond, Dan. 2015. ‘Forbes Welcome’. Forbes.Com. http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2015/01/21/when-patients-kill-doctors-the-horrifying-murder-of-michael-davidson/.

[8] Mandela, Nelson. 1994. Long Walk To Freedom. Boston: Little, Brown. Pg 622.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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Avoiding the Darkness:

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When I was nine years old, I did not understand that each of us needs to grieve and to mourn the loss of a loved one (see blog posts: We Each Need to Grieve and  Recognizing the Need to Mourn). More importantly, I did not realize there was a high price to pay if we instead bury our emotions and ignore this basic natural need to grieve and mourn. I believe it was this build up of emotions that suddenly surged to the surface in a way I was totally unprepared for that fateful day during my freshman year. I am somehow certain this convergence of a sudden uncontrolled suppressed emotion in the presence of my peers that was the source of the overwhelming sense of failure I experienced bringing my life to a halt.

I would not know why at the time, yet God recently directed me to reach out and meet with Pastor Brady Boyd[1].  I did not know where God was leading me at the time, nor did I expect the pastor of such a large church to agree to meet with someone that had only attended a couple of his church services and had not been referred to him. Yet, this leader of one of the largest churches in the region agreed to meet with me even though he did not know my story or why I wanted to meet with him.

At the time of our meeting I ever had never had the slightest inclination to write down my story. Yet it would be this meeting that would lead to another meeting which led to his support when I suddenly felt led me to write down my story. Remarkably, it was only after I started writing that I would come across the article “The Spiritual Path of Grief and Growth[2] written by Pastor Brady Boyd. In this article, Pastor Boyd made the following comments regarding the importance of taking the time to grieve and mourn:

“Scores of people I know have suffered great loss in life and are emotionally shut down as a result. They never learned to properly mourn and grieve, and so the pain gets stuffed further down. The day finally dawns when they can’t engage in any aspect of life, because their enthusiasm and passion are gone. They can’t engage with their spouse. They can’t engage with their kids. They can’t engage with their role at work. The emotional toll they’ve been carrying prohibits them from engaging in any aspect of life. And as a result, they are unavailable to God and others.”

I understand what it is like to emotionally shut down and to no longer be able to engage with the people around you. I believe God wanted me to include this part of my story so people can see that this can happen to anyone. Although it feels anything but normal, it can be natural to feel this way when you become overwhelmed with grief and come to face the darkness of despair. Fortunately, God provides a path for all of us away from this darkness, as in the darkness leads to the evil trap of clinical depression that can cause you to lose sight of everything that is good in this world. To step into this darkness is to step away from His light, stepping away from the hope Jesus gives all of us.

In the movie “The Horse Whisperer”, there is a character named Grace, a young girl that has been involved in a horrific tragic accident that killed her best friend. When Grace opens up for the first time about what happened she has the following conversation with Robert Redford’s lead character, Tom Booker:

Grace: “Judith…Oh God, Judith. I’m sorry…”

Tom Booker: “I won’t tell you it’ll stop feeling this bad… But I can tell you, you didn’t do anything wrong. The same thing would have happened to me or Frank or Joe. And there’s no sense in looking for a reason why things happen. I used to try and always came up short. I don’t think the why so’s important as what we do with what we get. I remember this boy I’d see up on the Blackfeet Reservation. He was sixteen. Great kid. Strong. He’d gone swimming and dived headfirst into a rock. Snapped his neck, paralyzed him. After the accident, I’d look in on him from time to time and he wasn’t there anymore. His mind, his spirit, whatever you want to call it, it just disappeared. And what was left was nothing but anger. It’s like the boy I knew just went away somewhere.”

Grace: “I know where he goes.” 

Tom Booker: “I know you do. Don’t you disappear. You do whatever you have to, to hold on…[3]

This may be a fictional conversation from a movie, but the situation described is one that is all too real to anyone that has come face to face with the darkness of despair or depression. This is what it was like when I faced the darkness, as I too know where this fictional character went, he went into the darkness, a place I knew I could not go. Unfortunately, to many young people like this character are fooled by evil into believing that all hope has been lost, that they cannot face their fears, and the only choice they have left is to hide and step into the darkness of despair and depression when they come face to face with this same decision.

As I came face to face with this same darkness due to the embarrassment of how I had failed to handle things better, there was something that kept me from stepping into hopelessness of this darkness. Something held me back from giving into darkness of depression, it was the loving memory of my dad that God had given me. Even in the darkest times of my life, I am always reminded of Dad, what he stood for, that he raised me to be a survivor, not a victim. This is where I found my inner strength to “hold on”.

Just as the Apostle Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16-20, Jesus will “empower” us “with inner strength through his Spirit”:

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”[4]

I have come to learn strong emotions become impossible to control and will eventually derail your life, leading you away from God’s light and into the darkness, and you will come face to face with depression if these emotions are not disarmed. We all need to recognize the that strong emotions such as grief are part of the natural response to the loss of a loved one. Understanding emotions that are part of the natural grieving process allows us to disarm these emotions by learning how to express them in healthier ways.

It is astounding to me that it was not until I asked Mom to review a rough draft of this story that she would disclose to me that she had a similar experience when she was pregnant with my sister. Mom explained that just after she learned that her oldest brother had been killed in a plane crash, she began to cry when a lady from her church told her she must not to cry because it might cause her to lose her baby. The lady meant well, but this warning terrified Mom causing her to will herself to stop crying. It was 1966, Mom was naive, and she had no way of knowing how unwarranted the warning was. Just as I had, Mom stopped crying.

Tragically, two months later my dad’s father was killed when he fell in a construction accident. As before, Mom continued to suppress her grief and as she still did not cry. Unfortunately, even after the healthy birth of my sister two months later Mom continued to suppress her grief finding she was now unable to cry and, as a result, she went into a deep clinical depression. My grandfather, a conservative minister of thirty years, had the insight to see Mom needed help and offered to pay if Mom would see a psychiatrist.

It took several months of medication and therapy before Mom was finally able to break through her self imposed barrier that had been preventing her from crying. As she began to cry, she finally was able to grieve the loss of her older brother. When she asked the doctor why it hurt so much, he simply replied “because you loved him so much” and that began her healing process. This is when she would learn that grief is the price we pay when we love too much.

Pastor Rick Warren[5], who lost his son to clinical depression, recognized the danger of not dealing with the strong emotions that come with grief when he had written this in one of his devotionals:

“Tragedy always produces strong emotions – anger, fear, depression, worry, and sometimes guilt. These feelings are scary to us, and we don’t know what to do with them. When we have experienced a major loss, these enormous feelings bubble up within us. If you don’t deal with them now, it will take you far longer to recover.

Some of you have never dealt with grief in your life. You’re stuffers. You push it down. You pretend it’s not there. You play like it doesn’t exist. That’s why you’re still struggling with emotional stress in your life from losses that occurred 20 or 30 years ago”.[6]

Not only is it difficult to envision a person still struggling with the emotions form a loss that took place 20-30 years ago, it is nearly inconceivable to comprehend anyone could resolve this struggle and finally deal with their grief in a positive manner after more than 50 years. Yet, that is precisely what Jim Deckert was able to do with the assistance of C.O.P.S. in 2012. In 1957, Jim Deckert was only 13 years old when his dad died in the Line-of-Duty. According to Deckert, “It was my brother and I and my mom. And we didn’t talk about my father. That was my mother’s way of coping.” His dad had been an officer for 30 years with the Police Department in Teaneck, New Jersey.

In 2011, he first heard of C.O.P.S. when the name of his father, Teaneck Police Department Officer Eugene James Deckert, was added the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington D.C. Even though he did not believe it would be beneficial, Jim Deckert kept an open mind and attended a retreat for adult children survivors in 2012. Despite being in his early 70’s, by sharing his story with other survivors at the retreat Jim Deckert was finally able to complete his grieving process and begin to heal. Amazingly, after he started talking about his dad at the retreat, Jim Deckert started recalling and talking about wonderful memories of his dad for the first time since the death of his dad. Even though it has been over 50 years since his death, Jim Deckert feels like his dad is now part both of his life, and the lives of his family. According to Deckert:

“I’ve just come away with this feeling of family…I can contact these people any time and they understand. It helped me just by relating my story, which has been under the surface for all these years.”[7]

Although I did not understand how to deal with the staggering pain that had built up over time, I would always remember what Dad stood for and I could never live with dishonoring his memory. I knew I had a choice, and I that choice could not be stepping into the darkness of depression that I faced when I was fifteen. There had to be another way. Yet, at that time I could not see what the other choices were so I simply came to a halt. I stopped my life as I tried to understand what other choices I had so I could overcome my mistakes and turn away from this darkest fear I had ever seen.

Most important of all, I never completely lost my faith in God. Although I was hurt and did not understand how God could allow these things to happen to Dad, my family, and myself, I always knew he was there. As I continue my studies of the Bible, I am humbled to see that the same promise Jesus made to his disciples after the “Last Super” is the same promise He fulfilled for a fifteen-year-old boy that had withdrawn and come face to face with the darkness of pain that I could not begin to understand:

“Jesus said to his disciples: If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you. I won’t leave you like orphans. I will come back to you.”[8]

The Holy Spirit is something I still do not fully understand. Nonetheless, I do know that somehow Jesus reached out to me and reminded me that I still had a choice, I could still change course. This is something I hope everyone will remember as it makes all the difference. There is no time limit on when we can reach out to Jesus, He will remain there for you no matter how long it takes any of us to realize He is patiently waiting by for us to ask for His help.

I had made things more difficult with the decisions I had made, but Jesus never left me. There were lessons I had to learn, but Jesus made sure their were people who loved me around to help me pick up the pieces when my choices caught up with me. In doing so, Jesus would put this experience to good use and use it to strengthen and shape my character for the path He had meant for me to take.

 

[1] Brady Boyd is the senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, and he is the author of Fear No Evil, Sons & Daughters, Let Her Lead, and Addicted to Busy.

[2] Boyd, Brady. 2015. ‘The Spiritual Path Of Grief And Growth’. The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brady-boyd/remembering-columbine_b_851991.html.

[3] IMDb,. 2015. ‘The Horse Whisperer (1998)’. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119314/quotes.

[4] New Living Translation (NLT).

[5] Rick Warren is an American evangelical Christian pastor of Saddleback Church and author of many books, including the New York Times best selling “The Purpose Driven Life” which has sold more than 30 million copies.

[6] Warren, Rick. 2015. ‘Jesus Turns Your ‘Hopeless End’ Into ‘Endless Hope’’. Rickwarren.Org. http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/jesus-turns-your-hopeless-end-into-endless-hope.

[7] “Concerns Of Police Survivors Healing Hearts”. 2016. Policemag.Com. http://www.policemag.com/channel/careers-training/articles/2014/10/concerns-of-police-survivors-healing-hearts.aspx.

[8] John 14:15-18 Contemporary English Version (CEV).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Recognizing the Need to Mourn:

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Although I have absolutely no idea what had happened that fall, I suddenly found myself unable to continue with school. I was devastated and overwhelmed with the crushing failure and could not bring myself to face my friends and fellow classmates. I was devastated and embarrassed, yet I could not explain to anyone why. Unable to reconcile this dichotomy of not knowing how I failed, yet somehow knowing my blunder was more than I could face, I simply could not bring myself to continue to attend school (see blog post: We Each Need to Grieve).

After Dad had been killed, Mom returned to college where she received a baccalaureate in Social Studies and Counseling. With Mom’s background along with her love and support, she would patiently work with me to make sure I did not drop out of school. Without her love and support, I have no doubt that I would not have been able to take the time to find myself again and instead could have easily made choices that could have dramatically changed the course of my life. In addition to Mom, the assistance of a compassionate school counselor would help me take correspondence courses allowing me to pass on to be a sophomore in high school. As a result, I developed a deep appreciation of the following assertion by the influential psychologist and behaviorist B.F Skinner:

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

It seems so out of character for me not to look back on what happen and try to understand and learn from what happened, what I have no memory of. This is what I have done with most everything in my entire life. Yet, I still do not feel even a mild curiosity as to what happened or why it was so painful that I could not face it. While it has been extremely important to me to understand how I recovered from that day, even as I write my story I feel no compulsion to try to pry this memory out of my mind. I can not articulate why, I just seem to understand that God will reveal the memories that have been hidden when and if I need to know. Until then, I am content to leave this portion of the story unknown.

The unconscious repression of memories along with the conscious suppression of memories has long been associated with how people, particularly children, deal with traumatic memories. Although repression and suppression of memories have been associated with dissociative amnesia and in severe cases with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), recent studies indicate this is due to a natural biological reaction in the brain and can be a healthy method of coping with traumatic events. Specifically, in 2008, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Oregon[1] were able to identify the biological mechanism in the human brain that is able to block unwanted memories as reported in the Stanford Report:

The experiment showed that people are capable of repeatedly blocking thoughts of experiences they don’t want to remember until they can no longer retrieve the memory, even if they want to, Gabrieli explained.

“It’s amazing to think that we’ve broken new ground on this…that there is a clear neurobiological basis for motivated forgetting,” Anderson said. “Repression has been a vague and controversial construct for over a century, in part because it has been unclear how such a mechanism could be implemented in the brain. The study provides a clear model for how this occurs by grounding it firmly in an essential human ability — the ability to control behavior.”[2]

Subsequent research published in 2014 by MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the University of Cambridge’s Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI) [3] revealed the ability of our brain to subconsciously suppress memories from traumatic events as a method to help us cope. According to an article in Science Daily:

“The study…challenges the idea that suppressed memories remain fully preserved in the brain’s unconscious, allowing them to be inadvertently expressed in someone’s behaviour. The results of the study suggest instead that the act of suppressing intrusive memories helps to disrupt traces of the memories in the parts of the brain responsible for sensory processing.” [4]

It is amazing to see how God designed us to deal with the world we live in. Each time I learn something new about how God has designed each of us, I am astounded how God prepared us in advance to deal with unthinkable tragic events we all will undoubtedly face during our lives. Having lived through my experiences, I am continuously astonished to personally witness how God gave us these incredible natural ways to subconsciously and/or consciously address unthinkable traumas.

My wife too witnessed an example of the minds ability to cope by repressing a memory. When my wife was 15 years old, her mom was advised that her brother had died of a massive heart attack. When my wife asked her mom if she was going to the funeral her mom told my wife in a combative tone that her brother had not died, he had just had a heart attack. My wife was so confused and she looked to her father, who was a physician, and he told my wife not to worry that this is normal. Sure enough, a few hours later her mother was able to talk about the fact that her brother had died earlier that day.

In the Bible, God warns us that each of us would experience test or trials throughout our lives. Knowing in advance that there could be times each of us could be overwhelmed by the emotional experiences of the trials we would face. God designed our brains with the ability to turnoff our memories allowing us to avoid becoming devastated by our emotions until we could be prepared to deal with them. This is one example of what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”[5]

In my life, I can now look back and see that God was giving me a chance to deal with my grief so I could get back on the path to becoming a survivor. According to the most widely accepted model of how people deal with grief, the Kübler-Ross Grief model identifies five emotional stages that most people will experience during grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As Dr. Christiana Hibbert points out, this five stage model should be used only as a guide:

“The 5 Stages of Grief are not intended to be worked through and ‘checked off,’ like a list. Rather, they are guideposts, helping us identify and understand what we may be feeling. Not everyone will experience every stage, and many people will go through the stages in a different order…”[6]

The explanation Dr. Hibbert gives regarding the “Stage of Depression” in this model is refreshing and significant. Dr. Hibbert not only notes that it is during the “Stage of Depression” in which people grieve, Dr. Hibbert clarifies the meaning of the word “depression” as it applies to this state. Dr. Hibbert distinguishes that in this context depression is descriptive of the sorrowful and melancholy emotions that are a natural part of grief and should not be confused with the disabling mental illness of clinical depression (also known as Major depressive disorder-MDD):

“…it’s important to know that this isn’t a mental illness – it’s a natural response to loss. It’s not a clinical depression we’re experiencing, but rather bereavement and mourning, and the emotions of depression must be experienced in order to heal. We have to let ourselves feel the pain, loss, grief, and sadness, hard as it may seem.” [7]

As a young man, I did not understand this distinction anymore than most people in our world today truly understand it. Unfortunately, even today I believe most people, or at least most men, associate the word “depression” with some form of mental illness instead of the feelings of sorrow. In our world of labels, this one difference in interpretation of the word “depression” can keep us from being open about what we are experiencing. Right or wrong, there is still a world of difference to most men from saying you are experiencing sorrow, which is viewed by most as a natural emotion, opposed to saying you are experiencing depression, which too many men still associate with the mental illness.

Although this was not something that I recall giving much thought about at the time, I do see that this distinction is important, particularly for boys and men. The importance is to avoid any negative connotations as negative connotations can prove to be an impediment to dealing with these emotions in a healthy manner. There is a need to understand this is natural and it is extremely normal to experience these feeling when we grieve after an unthinkable traumatic event impacts our life. In fact, it is so necessary and important for us to navigate through these stages of grief that Jesus discussed our need to grieve, our need to mourn, during his ministry.

In what is considered his most impactful sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, the very second insight Jesus taught his disciples in the Beatitudes was “Blessed are those who mourn, for they should be comforted[8]. Christ understood that with love comes the pain of loss when a loved one dies. As love was the key to the message he was teaching, I believe Jesus wanted us to all understand that with that love comes the need to mourn, the need to grieve, the need to be comforted, and that He would always be there to comfort us.

In the Gospel of John, we are given and example of what it means to mourn as we learn that even Jesus needed to mourn. When a friend of Jesus named Lazarus had died, in John 11:33-35 we learn:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. [9]

As men we are to often led to believe that it is a sign of weakness to show our emotions by crying, weeping, mourning. An example of “Godly men” mourning the death is found in Acts 8:2 where it declares that after the new disciple Stephen was stoned to death “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.”[10] I believe this is intentional to demonstrate to men that even Jesus wept and men of God mourned. By proclaiming that all men, even his son Jesus, have a need to weep and to mourn the tragic loss of someone we loved God is affirming this release of emotions is a natural part of living.

The reason we need to mourn is exemplified in Jeremiah 31:13, when the Lord declared to the Profit Jeremiah:

“For I will turn their mourning into joy

And will comfort them

and give them joy for their sorrow.”[11]

This is made clear again in John 16:22, when as Jesus prepared the Apostles for His death, Jesus expressed:

“now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy”.[12]

When I was young, I did not appreciate the significance of these verses found in this ancient text. I thought the purpose of Bible stories was limited an illustrations of our creation, discovery of God by the people of Israel, and the story of Jesus. As I read verses again with the insight found from years of real life experience I continue to be astounded to find within the ancient verses of the Bible are clear relevant messages to every day life in this modern world. I am again especially amazed to see this clear message that weeping is a natural part of mourning, and that exhibiting a public display of this emotional response to death is an essential extension of love. As with the other illustrations found in this great ancient book, these depictions are emphasized so we can recognize this is something we all must do, men most of all, if we wish to remain healthy and recover from tragic losses to be a survivor.

 

 

[1] Anderson, Michael C., et al. “Neural systems underlying the suppression of unwanted memories.” Science 303.5655 (2004): 232-235.

[2] Trei, Lisa. 2004. “Psychologists Offer Proof Of Brain’S Ability To Suppress Memories”. News.Stanford.Edu. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2004/january14/memory-114.html.

[3] Gagnepain, Pierre, Richard N. Henson, and Michael C. Anderson. “Suppressing unwanted memories reduces their unconscious influence via targeted cortical inhibition.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111.13 (2014): E1310-E1319.

[4] ScienceDaily,. 2014. “Suppressing Unwanted Memories Reduces Their Unconscious Influence On Behavior”. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140318093910.htm.

[5] The Message (MSG).

[6] Hibbert, Dr. Christiana. 2015. ‘5 Stages Of Grief’. Dr. Christina Hibbert. http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/dealing-with-grief/5-stages-of-grief/.

[7] Hibbert, Dr. Christiana. 2015. ‘5 Stages Of Grief’. Dr. Christina Hibbert. http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/dealing-with-grief/5-stages-of-grief/.

[8] Matthew 5:4, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[9] New International Version (NIV).

[10] New International Version (NIV).

[11] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[12] New International Version (NIV).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

We Each Need to Grieve:

 

Me-1

On the day my dad was abducted and then murdered for stopping to help the wrong two men, I made the ominous decision to stop crying after I was told “I was the man of the house now“. At nine years old, I simply did not understand the ramifications when I made the choice to stop feeling the pain I was experiencing from the loss of Dad. All I understood was how desperately I wanted Mom to stop hurting, for everyone to stop crying, for everyone to be okay again. I know now this is not how it works, yet at the time I earnestly believed by doing this I was helping Mom! (see blog post: The Unthinkable Happens).

I may not have understood what was meant when I was told “I was the man of the house now” and I needed “to be strong for my mother”, but that did not stop me from doing my absolute very best to try to do just that. For the next five plus years I was able to bury the pain of the cold blooded execution styled murder of my dad so well that I never cried or grieved for him. I was determined to prove to my family, Mom most of all, that I was mature and strong enough to handle and excel at everything. It was vital to me that Mom knew she could count on me. I did everything I could to be what I thought was the perfect son so my mom would not only know she did not have to worry about me, she would know she could always count on me to help her out. At least that is how I saw what I was doing.

I was a headstrong, hard headed, stubborn boy that was driven to be the best at everything I did and never be a problem for anyone, most of all my mom. I had always done well at school and was able to continue to excel, nearly always getting an “A” or “A+” in all of my classes. I even was able to skip sixth grade math after finishing second in the mathematics competition for the entire school district. Although I was not very athletic, I loved sports so I continued to work hard and was able to continue to be competitive in football and baseball, the sports I played before Dad had been killed. I was even able to surprise everyone when I finished second in cross country race to the fastest kid in the school and was undefeated in wrestling in my only year of competition. I even tried to continue to play the trumpet and learn to play the piano until it was clear to Mom and everyone else that I was not musically gifted.

At home I not only did all my chores, I did my best to make sure my sister and brother did what they were expected to do as well. I saw this as helping Mom out, while my siblings no doubt saw me as an overbearing big brother that was ingratiating himself to Mom and the other adults. Unfortunately, from their point of view they were right and this proved to prevent us from having the normal sibling relationship as I tried far to often to be more like a parent, which I was not, than the brother that I was. I was simply to busy trying to be something that I could never be and no one, including most of all my mom, ever expected me to be. Tragically, even if I had known the cost I do not think anyone could have convinced me to have tried to be any different as this is what I imprudently thought was what my mom needed me to do to be at the time, the man I thought my dad would have wanted me to be.

It would not be until I was serving on the National Board of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.)[1] that I would learn this is a classic mistake made in these of situations by well meaning people. Young boys like me want nothing more than to help their mom and be like their dad. Unfortunately, like me they have no idea how to do this, nor do they understand the problems that are caused when you stop the grieving process in your effort to cap your emotions as you strive to “be strong for your mom” and to be “the man of the house”. Susan Pease Gadoua L.C.S.W. explains this is in her post When Parents Make Children Their Friend or Spouse:

“Asking a child to play the role of an adult…is a heavy burden for most children…who don’t have the coping skills or life experience to know how to deal with them…Some children see what is needed (or at least what they think is needed) and offer to fill the spot. For every story I hear about a parent leaning too heavily on a child, I hear about a child who wants to be seen as ‘the man of the house now’ or ‘dad’s caretaker’.”

Interestingly, Gadoua identified traits that commonly impact the child when they are placed in this position as a young child that I certainly went on to demonstrated as an adult, an “over inflated need to please” that I “unconsciously” turned into becoming a “workaholic”.[2] Although I was fortunate not to develop the other issues raised by Gadoua, my adaptation would prevented me from dealing with the pain of the death of my dad and grieving as God designed us to do for this extend period of time.

Unfortunately, the choice I had made to not deal with the pain of grieving for Dad would only make things worse the longer I repressed it. Over time, this led me to a very dark place in my life that would place me at risk of becoming isolated from the world. In her book “Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving” author Molly Fumia[3] wrote:

“The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied.”[4]

To this day, I find this part of my journey the most difficult to open up and discuss. Unfortunately, I was still a young boy when Dad was murdered. Dad had done a great job teaching me how to control my anger to the point I could nearly always prevent myself from outwardly showing any emotion. This served me well as everyone believed I had dealt with the tragedy and was well adjusted. Little did they know that I still had not learned how to deal with the crushing emotion that can grow from severe pain that remains as I failed to mourn, failed to allow God to comfort me and guide me through this most painful part of my life.

For me, the price for delaying the grieving process came to a head several years later when I was a freshman in Junior High School. As I had done since before Dad was killed, I was playing football and a starter on the offensive line. Something happened that fall that caused me to suddenly emotionally shut down and withdraw from all my friends and family. Years later, a friend would apologize for a hazing incident by my football teammates following football practice that included a cap gun and a siren. Even though he told me the story, to this day I only have an extremely faint recollection of what he was talking about. There are only a few frames of disconnected images that I am unable to reconcile or connect to any other memories. I strangely have an imperceptible impression that something happened in the locker room, yet have absolutely no memory of what it was that happened. I just remember abruptly withdrawing from football while I simultaneously found myself unable of face anyone from school and thus was unable to deal with school.

This change in my personality was as dramatic as it was sudden. I was obsessed with football, had always been starter, and was good friends with a many of my teammates. Not only did I know the name and number of every player on my favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, I had read about every Scholastic book on football and tried to watch every single game that was on television. Like most kids would watch cartoons, I would wake up early Sunday morning so I could watch Notre Dame football games that were edited and replayed on a local television channel. One of my greatest moments was meeting legendary Dallas Cowboy head coach Tom Landry one on one at his limousine after watching the Dallas Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins 31-10 on December 13, 1975. I was in awe as Coach Landry talked to me about how sorry he was about the death of my dad. I still have the Dallas Cowboy pennant he autographed for me after that game.

Likewise, for the most part school had come extremely easy for me. I had done well in math competitions, was a teacher’s aid, and generally would get an “A” in any class I applied myself in. Socially, I had friends in the “popular” group as well as most of the other cliques. I was gregarious, spending time with my friends nearly every weekend. Yet, in what felt like an instant, I went from a place where I felt I had everything in complete control to feeling I had fallen through a trap door and suddenly found myself at center stage totally exposed as though I did not have any clothing on. Whatever had happened resulted in an inexplicable complete change overnight in who I was and how I interacted in the world around me.

Although I do not recall what happened, I do understand that I was exceedingly embarrassed. I know that I was embarrassed that I was somehow not strong enough to face my fears. Despite not having any recollection what happened, I seemed to believe that everyone had either seen me fail or knew I had failed. I was convinced I had proven to everyone that I, unlike what my dad had taught me, had failed to stand up and face whatever had taken place. This type of failure and this level of failure is extremely difficult for anyone, but it was particularly devastating to a boy at my age. It was humiliating to me. For someone that had always been the classic “over achiever” who strived to be so strong so my mom could always rely on me, this was crushing. I simply had no concept on how to face failure at this level.

These were the perception of a shocked fifteen-year-old boy that abruptly felt he had without warning reached the end of the road and could see no viable directions to go. As a fifteen-year-old boy, I did not realize other boys, men too, had dealt with and experienced similar problems. I could not comprehend that nearly any failure can be overcome. It felt like I was the only one that had ever screwed up my life, that I was the only one that had failed to face his fears at this level. I felt I had let down my entire family, most of all my mom. For me, the worst part may have been that I had let down my dad, the man that had entrusted into me all he had taught me so I could take care of his family now that he was gone.

 

[1] C.O.P.S. was organized in 1984. With a membership is over 30,000 families; include spouses, children, parents, siblings, significant others, and affected co-workers of officers killed in the line of duty; C.O.P.S. provides programs for survivors include the National Police Survivors’ Conference held each May during National Police Week (www.nationalcops.org).

[2] Gadoua L.C.S.W., Susan Pease. 2015. ‘When Parents Make Children Their Friend Or Spouse’. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/contemplating-divorce/201107/when-parents-make-children-their-friend-or-spouse.

[3] Molly Fumia holds a master’s degree in theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. The author of Honor Thy Children, Safe Passage, and A Piece of My Heart, books on the transformative nature of grief, she lives with her husband and seven children in Los Gatos, California.

[4] Fumia, Molly. 1992. Safe Passage. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Declaration of Independence – July 4, 1776:

July4th

Memories of Dad

Independence Day was one of Dad’s favorite holidays. My dad loved fireworks, homemade ice cream, and watermelon. I have many wonderful memories of tasting the salt water as it leaked out as Dad cranked to make the ice cream. Like most kids, I would drive Dad crazy asking him over and over if the ice cream was done. There is nothing quite as good as homemade ice cream. Something I miss in today’s modern world.

Dad was like an irresponsible adolescent when it came to fireworks, which was a point of contention with Mom. One of the funnest things I can remember was Dad and his patrol buddies using various items to aim bottle rockets as they shot them off at the end of the street. They would even hold onto the bottle rockets and black cats before they threw them in the air just after lighting the fuse. Safety was not their first thought, yet fortunately I do not recall anyone getting hurt. Of course, this is something I would never let my children do today.

 

Meaning of the Day

Each Independence Day, I am reminded how grateful I am to live in this great country. It was two hundred and forty years ago that fifty-six men of high ideals would sign the “Declaration of Independence”. These men risked everything, including their lives, with the belief that men of all walks of life had been given the right from the creator to govern themselves. After thirteen bloody hard fought years, twenty-three of the thirty-nine men that signed the “United States Constitution” were veterans that had fought and survived the Revolutionary War to guaranteed Americans these historic freedoms.

I am astounded of the bold impassioned words first drafted by Thomas Jefferson with the aid of both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. In one sentence, these men were able to captured the core character that would shape democracy of both our country and the world:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is impossible to appreciate in today’s world how radical the concept that it was “self-evident, that all men are created equal”. The foresight and determination of these men to see that these words would survive all the debates and remain listed so prominently in this document is astonishing considering the obvious contradictions of the society of that time. Although the atrocious practice of slavery would remain in practice for nearly another century, the genesis of the abolition of slavery would be the belief in these very words.

This radical concept would guide James Madison as he drafted the beginning of the constitution with the prominent words “We the People”. With these three words, Madison established the basis of democracy. It would be these three words that would inspire Abraham Lincoln to say in his iconic Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” It is this revolutionary idea that guides not only our country; these words are the basis of every democracy in the world today. 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

After years of research, I am honored and blessed to know that I am the direct descendant of at least nine dads that fought and served as privates in the front lines of the American Revolutionary War. It is due to their scarifies that today I enjoy the freedom of speech and freedom of religion which allows me to type this blog. Because of men and women like them, and the many patriotic men and women that have followed their example to fight to preserve this radical experiment, democracy lives on “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” God bless America!

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.