Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Grief and Resurrection

I've read books about grieving.
I've helped others grieve.
I'm always full of helpful encouragement for the mourning -- aren't I?
But I have no idea how to do it myself.
I thought I could sit through the funeral today, sing through it, even toyed with the idea of standing up and offering a word when we were invited to say things. uhhhhhhh - right. how naive. i didn't even get through the door without weeping out loud. And there are people up there leading, reading, preaching, singing, serving communion -- I'm not saying I'm reconsidering the pastoral profession, but there is a bit of doubt now about my ability to actually preach a funeral.

Steve taught me to ask the grieving to retell their memories of the departed. My friends have been soliciting these stories from me. We laughed a lot at the funeral... "Hans, always loving, always attentive, always kind, always late..."
We're doing this. Step by step...

but still, I'm completely thrown by the pain that wakes me in the middle of the night. The unscheduled hour of weeping catches me off guard. I watch myself go through this, strategize with consolation plans. Apparently it might last a while.
I notice what works and what doesn't.
I notice how closely I cling to my belief in the resurrection. I don't even know how people can manage without this belief.

Oddly enough, although the Bible is completely central to me, my strongest anchor in the resurrection is non-Biblical. Two stories provide this anchor... both second-hand but from deep and faithful sources.

The first is a singing group out in Vermont somewhere who started singing to the dying. Hospice music... heaven music... godspeed ye music. And Mary Cay told me once of a dying woman, quite on the brink, slipping in and out, who suddenly spoke clearly to the gathered choir of friends and family: "get me a napkin!" They ignored her but she repeated the request until she'd been brought a napkin. She wiped her mouth and said "mmm... this is the most delicious banquet I have ever tasted."
The second, a friend of mine who works part time as a teacher and part-time, unpaid (though one could scarcely imagine the "benefits,") for angels and saints trying to usher departed souls up to heaven. A very small number of "ghost" souls stick around because they won't trust an angel and have to be "sent" by a human... which is where my friend comes in, often reluctantly, at the wake, or the park, or years later in someone's house, and gives the soul ascension instructions. Sometimes it's as easy as saying "go!" and sometimes they need to let go of something or hear a message. I interrogated her fully on this... "do all the souls go to heaven?" and she said "the really serene ones just fly straight up to God. The ones who are disturbed or upset go to Jesus first, and he gets them ready and sends them on." In such a matter-of-fact manner! In her years of doing this work she has never met a condemned soul, or a soul without a destination. Heaven is in all of us -- it is our true home.
and THAT is my systematic theology for the day. Banquets and napkins, and ascending souls getting fixed by Jesus. It may look like a patchwork, but it's what I cling to. And I don't know what I'd do without it.

Here's a picture of Hans which showed up on his memorial site. I don't know who took it but it is so familiar. I trust the same smiling face is shining with joy in heaven.

One more thing: We stood and made a corporate affirmation of faith. The pastor said "saying this doesn't bring him back to us." which is true, but immediately I realized what it DOES do -- it brings us forward, closer to him, closer to heaven, closer to the communion of saints from all the ages.


  1. Good reflections Talitha. I love reading your thoughts, and appreciate the way they touch the questions within me :) STEVE

  2. I remember the first time I realized that becoming a pastor would mean speaking at funerals and it freaked me out a but. I honestly don't know how well I deal with death because I have only ever lost two people in my life. I think I behaved in the way any most people would, but I did not really have a big role in comforting those around me that were grieving.

    It sounds to me that you have a pretty healthy way of dealing with your grief. I think as a pastor you will be well equipped to help others deal with theirs.