Friday, February 06, 2009

The Post I Haven't Known How to Write

I'd hate to draw attention to it, in case you hadn't noticed...but, it's been, oh, a little over a month since my last post (which was a picture), and then a bit longer since my last real writing...

A few people have commented...one was my husband, of course...but one was also a very nice stranger who I never knew before who found my blog through the wonders of Google.

And I confess that there is a reason I haven't blogged, and the reason is that before I do any other writing there is a piece that needs to be written. Before I address any of the minutiae of life, or comment on some random bit of trivia, or even post a picture of the boy, there is something I need to write about and I haven't known how.

And so I'll try tonight. And it won't be polished, and it won't be perfect. But it is an entry I need to write, and perhaps you will understand.



Phil and Louise Baldwin Rieman were killed in a car accident on December 26, 2008.

There was ice on the road. Their old jalopy of a VW Rabbit, painted a festive yellow, collided with a truck and in an instant two lives were snuffed out.

I am still processing this news. I am still wondering how to respond to this news. It is more than five weeks later and I still find myself in tears in the car as I think of them.

Phil and Louise Baldwin Rieman were parents of a sort; and then they weren't my parents when I divorced their son. My grief is miniscule in the larger picture. It is tiny compared to the pain of their children, and siblings, and mother, and those who knew them for so many years. In some ways, I feel I have no right to grieve. There is a name for this. Disenfranchised grief.

And so I hold in one hand the very real pain of their loss. And I hold in the other hand the truth that this grief is a grief of which I should not speak. How dare I? The woman who divorced their beloved son. The woman who crept out of their lives softly, so as not to be noticed. How dare I?

And how dare I not? When the love they gave me was so pure, and the grace they bestowed was so, well, graceful? And the forgiveness they extended was so undeserved? How dare I not tell the stories of two of the most profound influences on my life.

I hold in my mind's eye so many images. The first time I met them, even before I met their children, at Manchester College's student orientation where Phil showed me his handmade "pacifist switchblade," and where Louie encouraged my work in Amnesty International and praised my efforts in becoming socially active in the conservative wasteland of Fort Wayne. Perhaps I fell in love with Ken's parents before I even fell in love with him...

More images. Phil refusing to wear a tuxedo at the wedding, and instead walking Ken down the aisle wearing a blue suit and his signature leather tie. Louie serving the most sublime chocolate pie to the masses at our rehearsal dinner. Phil wrestling on the floor with Ken, Tina and Cheri, burying them in affection. Louie measuring me for a dress with tender hands and that simple silver wedding ring which she preferred after losing her formal bands. Phil lying prone on the floor with a bowl of popcorn within arms-reach as he wrote a sermon, John Michael Talbott playing on the stereo. Louie cursing, "Blast!" when she remembered that she'd left the clothes in the dryer too long.

And more. Phil and Louie, calling me to ministry. Encouraging me to seminary. Praising my first sermons. Buying me books on spirituality that they wanted me to know. Murmuring sympathetically at my frustration with the institutional church. Standing with their arms around me as we sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness," in the Manchester Church. Laying hands on me when I was ordained. Believing that the Spirit called me to ministry, even if I couldn't hear the voice of God. Being the voice of God, and the hands of God, and manifesting the love of God when I struggled with who that God was.

And then more. Standing in the kitchen with Louie as she packed some of Ken's belongings the day he moved out of the home we shared on Sycamore Street with tears streaming down her face and her moving toward me to embrace me, and cry with me, even though what I was doing was hurting one she loved. And Phil resting those bear paws of hands on my shoulder as he turned one last time to walk out the creaky back door with the last load of Ken's things in a box and giving me an empathetic smile.

And finally. The week before Robert and I married, seeing Phil and Louie at a wedding of mutual friends and avoiding them, ashamed. But Phil, chasing Robert and I out the door of the hotel, running quickly down the stairs to catch up before we got in the car and shaking Robert's hand and hugging me closely and saying, "Hey, congratulations. We want the best for you." And Louie, three years later, sitting with me at a women in ministry conference on tiny folding chairs in a dorm room, cupping hot styrofoam tea cups in our hands as I apologized to her for my inability to say goodbye, for my hurting her family, and having her say, "All I ever wanted was for you to follow your heart. All I need to know is that you're happy."

Grace upon grace. Love of which I did not deserve. Love I still cannot fully fathom. Love I cannot quite articulate.

I weep for them. But more, I weep for the world that doesn't have them now. I weep for orphaned children who want their Mama and Daddy in the flesh. I weep for the mother who said, "Their work here wasn't done."

This is the blog entry I've needed to write, and this is the grief which accompanies some of my days. And these were the people who showed me the face of God. And I will never be the same.


4 comments:

exilicchaplain said...

Just wanting to honour the beauty not just of your writing but of your knowing what those relationships gifted you. Hearing your grief and the difficulties of it and wishing you peace and all good.

Contemplative Chaplain said...

Thank you, thank you.

Peace,
Christen

Anonymous said...

Oh, my dear Christen. I wondered why you hadn't been posting but didn't ask. I recall enough from CPE of your story to know that Ken and his family were an important part of your life. And you deserve to grieve with all your heart for such obviously wonderful, loving, and caring people. It sounds as though their spirits will live on in your and your ongoing ministry.

Love always,
Kathy Thompson

mid-life rookie said...

I'm sorry to hear of this loss for you, for their children, for the world. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of such special people. Prayers ascending for you.