The Power of Compounding Interest in the Valley of Suck

This week I felt like I was coming unraveled.  This was way BEFORE the terrorist attacks and the shootings in our country.  It seems this is where people’s use of social media forms can become oppressive at times.  As a clergy, I cannot NOT hear the cries and the pain.  I cannot NOT be impacted and influenced.  I suspect, as a white US American male, I may well have been more so because of the suffering and pain I already experience and what is a very painful time facing my own grief and demons in the valley.

And then I kept coming across words which added ever increasing guilt.  One, in particular, came in the form of a meme of Martin Luther King Jr, that read: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”  Oh.  Uh.  Yes, I get this.  But...

It was like a cinder block added to the weight I already carry.  I know I am not the only one who felt it.  I am dealing with the deep darkness of the valley of suck.  I am facing the guilt and failures of my life as a husband and father; now a widower and a single father.  This past week was my first Sunday back at my church and this Sunday is my first Sunday preaching.  My son turned 18, the first birthday without his mom and on the 12th of July is the one month anniversary of Heather’s death (just a month?!? It feels like a year.)  I cannot carry much more.

Silence is not slighting.  Silence can be the sound of sorrow. Standing beside can be a sign of solidarity.

In a recent article at Modern Widows Club, Joy Kirsch writes:
Widows, according to experts, lose as much as 20 percent of their brain power when they are grieving. As a result, widows experience “widow brain”. (  For this reason, widows are encouraged, if possible, not to make major financial decisions if they can avoid it.  

All well and good, so what am I supposed to do?  I have to go back to work.  I have to help two young adults make decisions about college and career.  I know all too well this “widow brain” reality (probably should say “caregiver brain” too).  Let’s add to that “widow/caregiver soul” as we wrestle with God.  And “widow/caregiver gimp” because we are physically impaired because our bodies are tired and worn.  And how about “widow/caregiver heart” as we live with hearts already broken and drink a cup of bitterness.

Now, to that, we add the guilt and shame of our failures and feelings.  There is the anger and fear of our families and our futures.  The wounds of the past which beat at us deep in the darkness of the night hours when everyone sleeps and we are awake with the one we love.  There we are, by ourselves, listening to the labored gasps, the sporadic twitching, the groans, and the silent grimaces which tell of pain we cannot know.

I realize there is a compounding interest at work in the valley of suck.  Just like with investing our money, as we put more money into an interest bearing account, we draw more interest as the principal grows, it happens emotionally in the valley.  The more emotions erode, mental capacity is strained, physical needs are neglected and spiritual passions are sapped, there is compounding interest on the caregiver and widow/widower and it is not a positive thing.

Silence is not slighting.  Silence can be the sound of sorrow. Standing beside can be a sign of solidarity.  

The terror of this week is too real.  The hate is overwhelming.  My silence maybe the best thing I can offer for I know pain and I know suffering.  Do I know your suffering specifically?  No, but then I couldn’t know that before these events either but I do know pain.  I do know what it is to be not understood in my own way.  I do know what it is to have my actions and words misconstrued.  I do know what it is to be isolated and alone.  

By being silent, I can listen to your suffering and I can hear more clearly the words of sages and prophets in our midst.  I know this because I know people have not been silent for me when I wish they had been.  When I wanted people to hear they happily spoke over me.  

I am the widow.  I am the widower.  I am the caregiver.  I have been in this valley of suck and I have learned the sound of silence.  Here in the valley, I have had all the grief and suffering and emotions I can handle and the compounding interest of the valley has nearly broken me.

I need to say this to my fellow caregivers, widows, and widowers who feel this same guilt, you don’t have to carry it.  You have something to offer of great value. It is this: my silence is not betrayal.  My silence is love. My silence is solidarity.  I can listen to you and I can hear you because I no longer have words to speak.  


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