John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise LXIII: Suffer Together and Gladly

(Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash)

John Michael’s latest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, sharing about the recent passing of his mother, and communal healing. 


I ran into a friend tonight I hadn’t seen in a while, and she asked me how my mom was doing. Caught me off guard, just a tiny bit. I felt an easy sadness cover my heart and a tear or two well up in my eyes.

I cried after Mom’s death, of course, but it wasn’t the torrent of tears and wailing and gnashing I usually do when I lose someone dear. I knew I was holding back but I wasn’t sure why. Several weeks ago, I was driving home from somewhere, thinking about her, and I said to myself, I can’t cry yet, for some reason.

I knew I needed rest when the seasons turned to Fall, mostly because I kept having the thought, rest. But I kept pushing on, enjoying life as best as I could. Well, I came down with a bad cold which forced the rest.

I’m a big fan of Mother Mary, “Mother of God,” as her lovely prayer goes. Another of her ardent supporters, Mother Teresa, has been an inspiration for me in this chapter of my life. I was tired of being sick, so I laid down in bed with some rosary beads that belonged to my mom and started repeating the Hail Mary. At some point in the process, some deep, cathartic tears for the loss of my mother welled up and spilled over. I felt the weight of it lifting off my heart and clearing out some of the cold congestion in my chest.


… some deep, cathartic tears for the loss of my mother welled up and spilled over. I felt the weight of it lifting off my heart and clearing out some of the cold congestion in my chest.


I think I held the tears in for so long because I was holding myself a little responsible for her dying alone in a nursing home. They had a “no visitor” policy at the time and all of our conversations were through a window. She made the best of it while in there, but would have been preferred being home.

I told her that she was welcome to come home despite needing a great deal of physical care. She could never pull the trigger, however, and I have inherited her indecisiveness. I guess I felt I should have insisted more.

As I was crying, I was also able to forgive myself for not speaking up. I also forgave myself for the abundance of self-loathing I was feeling over that. I imagine you are familiar with that way-to-hard-on-yourself feeling. Believe it or not, it is not a good thing; it is, in fact, a very terrible thing we do to ourselves. “Judge not,” should always start at home.

When I was a kid, many families had too much alcohol as part of the equation. We all pretended to be normal and pretend we all weren’t desperately ashamed of ourselves. I have made progress in healing that internal shame and am becoming a love-based person.

Last summer, I was hiking out in the canyon and had the thought that I should write about “compassion.” But two weeks later, I was in an extemporaneous fistfight behind the Alibi bar and lounge. So, I thought I might hold off on lecturing people about “being kind.”

That easy sadness I mentioned before is not an unpleasant feeling at all and is maybe what compassion feels like.


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I was at a community feed tonight and met a young man who was new in town and lonely. I could feel his sadness and let his mix with mine and we had a nice conversation.

There is a verse in the Bible that says Christ bore our illnesses and gladly, or something close to that. To suffer with others is maybe at the heart of certain Buddhist sects as well. The more I allow my heart to grieve and permit my sadness to mix with the sadness of others, the more expanded my heart feels and the sadness brings some sweetness, and that makes you want to extend genuine kindness to everyone you meet.

There are far too many elder care facilities in America, in my mind. We are desperately lonely people and have become maybe a little mean during these changing times. We distract ourselves from our shames and our loneliness with our over-work and our over-entertainment.

I suggest slowing down a little and getting to know some people around you, be it family, coworkers, or friends, beyond a superficial level. You will feel safer, better connected, less ashamed, and less alone—more loved, in other words. After a while, you’ll be sharing some easy laughter and some easy tears with some people you really know and really care about, including yourself.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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