November 2010

Miracle Musings

Do you believe in miracles? Have you seen one lately? And if you do, or if you have, what makes a "miracle" a miracle?

Been thinking a good bit about miracles lately. The word "miracle" can be found all over in hospitals--in hallways, intensive care units, waiting rooms, cafeterias, conference rooms, parking lots and chapels. Families and patients (if they are able) pray for a miracle, and I'm sure they are often joined by doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff. Miracles are things for which we hope, wish, plead, beg and sometimes even expect or demand. Miracles are also things which some of us do not see in our past, present or future even when they populate the vocabularies and perspectives of others. We are not of one mind when it comes to miracles.

Definition is part of the challenge when it comes to miracles. What exactly is a miracle? For some it is an occasion of divine intervention where the natural laws are broken, or at least bent, to allow for something to happen which really shouldn't be able to happen. It can involve the cells of the body, a storm system, a crashing car or warring parties. Whatever the case, we think we know how the world works and what to expect but then the unexpected happens. We are left without explanation and a miracle is declared.

This perspective of miracles reminds me of a concept presented in a college religion class years ago. It was an idea called "God of the gaps" and it explained how some people think of the activity of God in the world. It went like this: When things happen that we can't explain by reason and our scientific understanding of how the world works, we fill in the gap with the explanation of divine intervention (i.e., a miracle has occurred). As we have grown in our understanding of how the world works, the gaps in our knowledge have become smaller and thus the opportunity for and presence of divine intervention (i.e., miracles) has decreased. In this way of thinking, miracles will become increasingly rare as our knowledge continues to grow. But this is not the only way we think of miracles.

We also look at miracles as those things which, whether or not we have an explanation, amaze us. We talk of the miracle of birth, for instance, despite our understanding of where babies come from and our increasing understanding of how we grow from microscopic cells to needing to lose 10 pounds to fit into last year's clothes. Some things feel miraculous because we have not lost our capacity for awe and wonder as we see autumn leaves put on a show of color, birds fly south like they know where they're going (and they do) and limbs which look dead bud and bloom in spring. Events can feel like miracles even if we can look up how they happen. Googling them up on the Internet, which continues to be miraculous for many of us.

Connected to this idea of miracles as events which amaze is the notion that miracles are things which are possible in our rational minds but definitely not likely. We see this in sports when the underdog beats the defending champion, the last second shot from beyond half court rips the net, or if the Cubs ever win the World Series (now we're talking miracles). Here miracles are not truly impossible events but are unexpected and positively surprising.

For those with a loved one facing possible death and depending on aggressive life-sustaining treatments, the nature of a miracle may be of real and practical concern. Our limited medical and human expertise may paint a gloomy picture with a "miracle" being the only escape from death. In these situations, what is our relationship with the possibility of a miracle? Do we continue the life-sustaining treatments at any cost to allow sufficient time for a miracle to occur? Do we allow the body of our loved one to do what it is trying to do (die) more peacefully with the belief that a true miracle could still occur as it needs not our technology and intervention? Or could it be that life-sustaining efforts have already helped provide the miracle of extended life with which we are left to make our peace?

We know this much: despite the presence or absence of miracles in our lives, death comes to us all. Many of us see miracles at birth and throughout life. Could there also be miracles in our dying? Is there room for a miracle at life's ending?

For those of us who have seen, felt or tasted the death of another, we hope to experience life that goes on and can somehow eventually be found to be good. When this happens, and it can and does happen, it can certainly feel like a miracle. And whether or not we understand it, we can be thankful for that.

Greg Adams
Center for Good Mourning

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Lots of events coming up: National Survivors of Suicide Day, free webinars on teen suicide prevention, PBS program on "Facing Death" in our ICUs, Association of Death Education and Counseling webinars, and the annual Hospice Foundation of America Educational Program on Spirituality and End-of-Life Care. Also in central Arkansas, the Alliance for Grief and Loss continues to meet monthly and dates are set for Spring Good Mourning Grief Support Groups.

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In light of the appropriately heightened concern for youth suicides, schools are looking for resources to better understand suicide and prevent future suicides. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has two films that can help with both understanding and prevention efforts.

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For children: Especially fitting for autumn, a tender book with a granddaughter searching for and finding a connection to her grandfather who has died.

For adults: Used in a loss and grief graduate class, this book is accessible, broadly relevant and wise.

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Are couples who have a child die more likely to divorce?

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After a death, our memories get repeatedly triggered, reminding us of who and what we have lost and how the one who died continues to be part of our lives. As a bereaved father, Mitch Carmody knows quite a bit about this and expresses it well.

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Some things bear repeating. In the first year of The Mourning News, Darcie Sims' poem about the grief and gratitude at Thanksgiving was included in the November 2004 edition. Most of you were not subscribers back then and the rest of us will hopefully appreciate the reminder of the challenges with giving thanks while grieving.

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Rabbi Joy Levitt shares a sensitive and life-affirming story of being with a couple at the end of life. She concludes that instead of being in the room with death, she was in the room with love.

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Arkansas Children's Hospital - Center for Good Mourning
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The Center for Good Mourning is supported by the generous support of the Arkansas Children's Hospital Auxiliary.