Vale of Tears

Ceremonies that Facilitate Grief



Ceremonies that Facilitate Grief

Communities and nations erect monuments to mark particularly important moments in their history – and we too may find it helpful to celebrate our own landmarks – for the most difficult moments as well as for happy special occasions. For example, there came a time when Rosalind felt that there was “one missing” from our family quiver. The Lord confirmed this, but tactfully made no mention of the emotional roller-coaster that we would soon find ourselves embarked upon.

Before our youngest son was born we endured no fewer than five miscarriages. We have no explanation for these losses. On each occasion, we had felt convinced that all was going well, and were taken completely by surprise when the loss occurred.

The fifth miscarriage differed from the others in that when Rosalind passed the foetus, we were able to hold him, weep together, and hold a simple burial service. This made grief resolution easier than the more jagged experiences of the earlier losses.

Finally, we could bear the roller-coaster no longer, and set a “cut-off date.” Just one month before this point of no return, Ros conceived again. But she was so wary by now that she conducted no fewer than seven pregnancy tests to make sure that everything was still alright!

Our grief over these miscarriages was “clean,” in the sense that we had nothing to reproach ourselves with. Many losses, of course, are far more emotionally ambivalent. In the case of an abortion, for example, it may well prove helpful to devise some suitable dedication to hand not only the foetus but also all the attendant guilt back to the Lord.

Similarly, when people feel they have no alternative but to walk away from relationships they had once assumed would be “forever.” Rather than staging one of those wildly euphoric “divorce parties” that are all the rage in some quarters, why not hand your original vows back to the Lord? This is surely as good a way as any to mark the end of one phase of your life and to pave the way for the next.

Because symbolic ceremonies can be profoundly liberating, let’s be open to sensing when such a ceremony might be relevant. In the case of a dissolved marriage, for instance, it might be appropriate to remove your wedding ring and to declare before the Lord,

‘I have done my best to be faithful to You Lord, but things have not worked out, and I/we together come before You to be released from my/our wedding vows.’

If matters have been less straightforward, we must be still more honest and direct, and pray along some such lines as this:

‘Lord, I confess that I have not been faithful to my vows.
As I come to You in repentance, I ask You to do whatever it takes to cleanse the depths of my heart, and to heal all who have been hurt by my lack of faithfulness. In the name of the only One who can heal and restore.’

If relationships are strong enough to support such a thing, breaking bread together cam likewise be another means to affirm our determination to follow Him whatever else may have gone awry. As the old prayer book has it:

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent . . .
and intend to live a new life . . .
and are heartily sorry for these misdoings . . .
draw near with faith.

He is ever the God of the new beginnings – but it is good to do what we can to sign off and seal up whatever may have happened.

Reflect and Pray

Lord, I come to You in need of closure about . . .
I repent before you – and others –
wherever my actions words and attitudes
have caused hurt and disarray.
Forgive and cleanse me from the sense of guilt and shame that I am carrying.
From this moment on, I pray, let fresh light shine
and new beginnings get under way.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Adapted from a prayer by Elisabeth Harding