Vale of Tears

Part Six: Fallout from Grief

In the Immediate Aftermath

 

Fallout from Grief – In the Immediate Aftermath

ONE MOMENT IT WAS AN ORDINARY DAY in the south of Russia, the next a nuclear disaster was under way that would ultimately impact regions thousands of miles away. Even now, many years after the event, lives are still being affected by the meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor. As we shall be seeing in this section, the fallout from grief sometimes feel almost “nuclear.”

Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
Genesis 23:2

At the very time when grieving people find themselves obliged to shoulder many additional responsibilities, a new grief may come their way when certain friends appear conspicuous by their absence. In the case of a spouse dying, people who related to them as a couple often prove less welcoming now that they are single again. Unexpected awkwardness and even jealousies surface, with some people regarding them now as a potential threat to their own relation-ships. Needless to say, this merely increases their sense of no longer belonging.

Almost everybody these days pays lip-service to the idea that mourners should be encouraged to express their emotions, but the language they use to describe how they are “coping” often reveals that deep down they still admire a very different set of values. When they speak of the bereaved “breaking down” and “weeping uncontrollably,” it may seem to imply that the person concerned would have done better to have held themselves together.

Let’s not forget that something tremendously important has happened. A human life has reached its conclusion, and it is right that we should mark the occasion. Since death is the ultimate statistic (one out of one people die), funerals are a good time to remind those of us who still have time to run on our “lease on life” about the One who has the right to call in this “lease.”

It is customary nowadays, either at the funeral or at a memorial service, to celebrate the life and achievements of the departed. The aim is to create an occasion which will be uplifting at the time and memorable in retrospect. This means having the courage to go beyond the sentimental to proclaim the eternal Gospel of Jesus in the face of death. Our concern is to pray divine comfort for those left behind, as well as to call all present – who may have but the haziest idea of what a relationship with the Lord Jesus is all about.

As well as surrounding the bereaved with a network of caring people who will continue to be there when the post-funeral sandwiches have been consumed, the aim is also to help everyone concerned to realise that the loss itself is final. To aid you in your preparations at what is likely to be a highly stressful time, we have included some links to provide suitable material for such events.1

A question that is likely to be uppermost in everybody’s mind is “what about the children?” Since children are likely to exhibit feelings of unreality long after a parent or grandparent has died, attending the funeral service usually helps them to accept the fact that the loss is final. If denied this opportunity, children may develop the strangest imaginings about what has really happened.

Some children may be too young to cope with the intensity of the occasion, but most will benefit more from saying goodbye in this way to a loved one than to attend some alternative (usually some artificially arranged activity) while the funeral is taking place. Catherine Marshall would agree with this wholeheartedly:

Are we not handling the grossest insult imaginable to the young when we assume that they have not the spiritual or character resources to handle this test courageously and victoriously?2

An increasing number of people are choosing to have an initial service in a crematorium, attended by close friends and family, and then to hold a special memorial service later.3

Paying attention to the musical side of the funeral service can be as important as the prayers prayed and the words spoken, for, as we saw in the section “The Power of Music.” Music is its own language, and God uses it to touch parts of our being that words alone cannot reach. Rosalind and I would certainly want our passing to glory to be marked in such a way.

Reflect and Pray

Both at funerals and on other occasions, many have found this poem inspirational.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived

You can close your eyes
and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes
and see all that she has left

Your heart can be empty
because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love
that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow
and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow
because of yesterday

You can remember her
and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory
and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind,
and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want:
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
David Harkins

References

1 Tony Cooke provides a concise overview on what to say, and what to refrain from saying at funerals. See http://www.tonycooke.org/free_resources/funeral/index.html
and http://www.tonycooke.org/free_resources/funeral/dos_donts.html for details.
Also Planning a Christian Funeral
2 Marshall, C. (2002) To Live Again. Chosen Books.
3 This gets round the problem some people occasionally experience who attend fellowships that do not meet in a regular church when they are unable to persuade the local vicar to include items that sufficiently reflect their own heart and leading.