Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of self-care. I take to heart the airplane analogy to put the oxygen mask on myself first before I try to care for another. Maybe it comes more easily to me precisely because I had been alone for so long. Then again, maybe I was alone as long as I was because I cared more about myself than anyone else.
I don’t know which it is.
I just know that I’m having a tough time of it. It’s like I’ve lost the ability to administer self-care. Death and senseless violence are coming from every angle and I can’t take it anymore. I want to reverse it, but I can’t. The pipe bombs, the synagogue shooting, then the Thousand Oaks shooting. Those are just the most recent big ones.
My oldest son couldn’t believe that some people survived the Las Vegas shooting last year only to become victims again, both dead and alive, of the one in Thousand Oaks. He was looking to me to confirm how insanely coincidental it all was. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised at all. I explained it was a matter of when, not if, we’d know a shooting victim. The only question would be how close it would touch our inner circle. I told him to be prepared because it was coming.
I wish I had been wrong about that.
After a joyous Sunday celebrating our church’s feast day with liturgy followed by a banquet with our bishop, we started a new week of work and school this Monday. I came home after my 6am CrossFit class to find my husband on the phone.
It was immediately clear that something was really wrong, and my heart sank with first thoughts of my elderly mother-in-law but it turns out she is fine. As Ryun wrapped up the phone call, I discovered he had actually been talking to our priest, which was highly unusual. Then again, Ryun is just a couple months into his tenure as our new church president so he’s bound to get phone calls at strange hours from here out. Given that our priest was on the other end, my thoughts drifted to our bishop, and I feared that he got in a bad car accident on his return trip home.
What Ryun told me next was beyond comprehension: one of our deacons and his wife were murdered – shot to death – in their own bed, just hours after we had dinner with them Saturday night. As of Monday morning, we didn’t know exactly what happened or who did it.
The air was sucked out of my lungs while we both sobbed over the news. It was totally incomprehensible. Who would do such a thing to such kind, upbeat, unassuming people? It was absolutely frightening to think they were targeted. How could that possibly be? Another senseless shooting? How could they be with us one day and gone the next? How?
Saturday night, a group of us gathered for vespers since our bishop was in town, and we all went to dinner with him afterwards: our two deacons, our choir director, the board of trustees, and all spouses. 18 of us in all. Our reservation was messed up and we had to wait an extra 45 minutes to be seated so some of us grabbed a cocktail and chatted at the bar. Then when it came time to sit, the restaurant prepared a table for only 16 of us, so they had to scramble to find another table to tack onto the end.
There is something poetic about initially there only being a table for 16 but we made special accommodations for all 18 of us.
Ryun was really flustered and embarrassed. He felt it was a reflection on him, how disorganized it all ended up being, especially since this was personally our first time to meet the bishop. Ryun was equally concerned about the optics and finances of hosting such a big dinner when we’re struggling to balance our church budget. We don’t have enough revenue to cover a growing body of expenses, so this dinner felt especially frivolous and completely counter to the financial objectives Ryun communicated to the parish. Our priest insisted that we host the bishop in this manner especially since he himself could not attend due to a prior commitment. Ryun went forth as instructed, uneasy as he was, and didn’t want to make a big stink of it that night as it would be crass to do so in front of that whole group.
We ended up having a wonderful time with lots of lively conversation and laughter. You could feel a really lovely, positive energy among us, so much so that I suggested to Ryun that we get a photo of us to commemorate the night. So we did.
In retrospect, I’m so very grateful. It all makes a little better sense to me now why that large group of us ended up together that evening, and what a blessing it was to share a meal, to be in communion, together with each other one final time.
Our entire church community is reeling in shock and disbelief. As of this writing, their son has been charged with their murder. We can’t imagine the pain and suffering that led him to take their lives. We grieve for the kind people we’ve lost and the family they leave behind, including several relatives within our church community. We grieve for the fallen world we live in. We grieve for each other.
We are numb. I am drifting aimlessly through the week. I can’t begin to fathom how we’ll overcome this as a church community. I want the horror to stop but it keeps coming. I don’t know how to administer self-care or group-care. I don’t know anymore.
Why is our world falling apart? I feel every last bit of it, every day, with every incident.
I will miss Dennis. He was my choir buddy, and always complimented my singing and writing, both on Facebook and this blog. It was so comforting to know I got a big thumbs up from a deacon who supported my feisty, liberal, open-hearted beliefs. He loved Ryun’s music and enjoyed a rapport with him, musician to musician. We were both so tickled that they came out to hear him perform. I will miss Helen and wish I knew her better. I remember walking away from our conversation Saturday evening impressed by her youthful curiosity, particularly admirable from someone who was 72 yet looked and acted nothing of the sort.
Memory eternal, Protodeacon Dennis and Matushka Helen. You are loved and missed so dearly by your entire church community. Vechnya pamyat. And God willing, I will see you again and greet you with great joy even as much as I wish you were still here with us right now.