Pastor Cheryl Matthews Report
FINDING PEACE IN THE JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF
I once attended a workshop for hospice workers, clergy, nurses, and other caregivers who work with those who grieve. Alan, one of the presenters, shared his story of losing his daughter Ashley in a car accident when she was only 18-years-old. His experience reminds us that what we do and do not say when one loses someone to death is so very important. The day Alan heard the crushing news of Ashley’s death, he walked around and around in circles crying out over and over, “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!” He felt lost, confused, and overwhelmed. Life doesn’t prepare us for such a devastating loss. Truly, we don’t know what to do.
Alan’s family went through the motions of preparing for Ashley’s funeral. But because they were in complete shock, they don’t remember much of the worship service – what was said, who was there, the songs that were sung. Alan thought the day of Ashley’s funeral had been the worst day of his life – having to bury his beloved daughter. But the worst day came several months later, when the shock wore off and he realized the world around him was “back to normal” but that his world would never be the same – there would be no “normal” for him again.
The casseroles and cards had long stopped coming. People had stopped visiting. In fact, there were some of his friends who were walking out of his life, not comfortable with his continued grief, expecting him to “buck it up and get over it!” Fortunately, Alan found a brand new set of friends in a support group called “Compassionate Friends.” There are chapters of this group all over the United States. Every member of the group has lost a loved one – often a son or a daughter – to death. Together they share the journey of grief.
Thankfully Alan was no longer alone in his grief. And as so many others had, these new friends didn’t tell him to “get over it.” They didn’t try to “fix it.” They didn’t say “It was her time to go.” (Are you kidding?! She’s only 18 and that cannot be her time!”) “She’s in a better place.” (“I want her here with me – right where she belongs!) “It was God’s will.” “It was in God’s plan.” “God needed another angel in heaven.” (“I don’t want to worship the kind of God who would take away my Ashley when she had so much more to give and to live!”)
These compassionate friends told Alan it was OK to be Ashley’s daddy as long as he lived. He could love her, cherish her and speak of her in the present tense. After all, he believed with all of his heart she is alive and he would see her again. According to Alan, the most caring thing one can do for a person in grief is to simply show up and say “I am here to hurt with you - to listen to your pain if you want me to, or simply sit with you in silence.” And yet, how often do we say after a funeral, “If you need anything, just give me a call. Really, I’m willing to help in any way and I am only a phone call away. Just let me know.” As Alan said, “Very few grieving people will call. They simply don’t have the energy.
Like the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, the true expression of love is to go to the person who feels lost in their grief: to listen quietly to the hurt, not bringing your own agenda, not trying to be wise or to “fix it.”
So, we might ask, how did Alan journey move from his overwhelming grief to a place of hope? He did so primarily through those who listened, especially others who had also lost children and loved ones. One of his compassionate friends asked him one day, “Have you found gratitude in your grief? “Gratitude?!” Alan replied. “Grief and gratitude are polar opposites. I have absolutely nothing to be thankful for in Ashley’s death!” His friend said quietly, “In time, I believe you will.”
A short time later, Alan came to the realization that he had come to a point in his journey of grief when he had to make an important decision; one that would affect the quality of his life for the rest of his days. He had to ask himself” “Am I going to spend the rest of my life memorializing Ashley’s death . . .or will I spend the rest of my life celebrating Ash-ley’s life?”
To memorialize a death is like a lost sheep staying stuck in the thistles and undergrowth, refusing to be embraced and carried by the shepherd’s arms, choosing to focus on death not life. To celebrate life is to bask in the memories of your loved ones and in so-doing keep the loved one alive. It is to speak of them in the present tense, knowing they live on through the resurrection promise of Jesus Christ. It is to be open and expectant of the “whispers of love” that our loved ones may send us from beyond that communicate comfort, that say to us. “I’m alive and well. You be well, too.” To celebrate a life is for the lost sheep to come back into the fold – to share one’s time with other’s who are lost in their grief, and to be generous in telling your story.
As Christians, we never grieve as those who have no hope. But we do grieve. Let us accompany each other in our grief, practicing the presence of God, and trusting in the resurrection promises of Jesus. And let us find joy in the grand reunion that is promised with the loved ones that have gone before us into the eternal realm of God’s love and grace.
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Crosse Area Synod of the ELCA and Evangelical Lutheran Church in
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