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 – and then a nuclear catastrophe occurred that would 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, new griefs may come their way when certain friends prove more conspicuous by their absence than their reassuring presence. In the case of a spouse dying, people who related to you as a couple often prove decidedly less welcoming now that you are single again, with unexpected awkwardness and even jealousies surfacing, as some people start to regard them now as a potential threat to their own relationships. Needless to say, such things merely serve to increase the sense of no longer belonging.

Most people these days pay at least lip-service to the idea that mourners should be encouraged to express their emotions, but the language so many of us instinctively resort to often reveals that deep down we fear that we are still expected to adhere to a very different set of values. When someone speaks of the bereaved “breaking down” or “weeping uncontrollably,” for example, is there not often an underlying implication 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 and respect the fallout. Since death is the ultimate statistic (one out of one people die!) funerals are a good time to remind those who still have time left to run on their “lease on life” about the One who has the right to call in this “lease” at any point.

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 therefore both to pray divine comfort for those left behind, and to remind those present – who may have but the haziest idea of what a relationship with the Lord Jesus is all about – of the reality of the heavenly Kingdom.

As well as doing our best to ensure that the bereaved person will continue to be surrounded with a network of caring people who will still to be there when the post-funeral sandwiches have been consumed, and any initial flurry of help and support has died down, it is still important to do our best to help everyone to realise that the loss itself is final. To aid our preparations in this respect at what is likely to be a highly stressful time, we have included some links to 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 may well be important for helping them either at the time or later on to accept the fact that the loss is final.

People are often concerned about how they will react at the time, but evidence suggests rather that children who are denied this opportunity may often develop the strangest imaginings about what has really happened. As Catherine Marshall put it,

‘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 later to hold a special memorial service later.3

Bearing in mind the power of music to draw people upwards to God and away from themselves, the musical side of the funeral service is often as important as the prayers prayed and the words that are spoken. 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. 

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

Increasingly used at funerals, but also with regard to many other occasions of loss, 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.