I attend a lot of funerals and I am very thankful that I do because I gain so much from funeral ministry. I do most of my learning about life by listening to the relatives of the dead. I am so incredibly thankful to all those who have shared with me their stories.
However, I’m not sure society helps those who are grieving. I worry sometimes, when people die, that we think we can avoid mourning. We try to bypass it, to re-frame it. Of course this may be our coping mechanism and coping mechanisms are sometimes vital.
People say to me,
“I don’t want this to be a funeral, I want this to be a celebration of Aunty Bertie’s life.”
“Mmm, yes of course,” I think to myself, “but when someone we love dearly dies, do we not also need to attend a funeral?”
It isn’t really individuals who appear to avoid grieving that concern me, it is more society. Our postmodern world has made it a public duty to be happy. Our Facebook Pages are required to show us enjoying ourselves skydiving and surfing and partying, if our Page looks like this we are fulfilling the single most important Commandment – “Thou shalt enjoy thyself.”
Where does mourning fit into this?
Moreover, we have replaced the word dead with “passed away”, “passed over”, or “gone”, as if in avoiding saying the word we can deny its existence. I use the words “dead”, “death” and “grief” a lot, but I rather suspect I’m breaking a taboo.
In Victorian times there were strict rules on mourning – for example a widow or widower should mourn for four years and this would be evident by the clothes they wore – obviously, not all of these rules would be appropriate today – but what they did do was to make time for the process of grief to be worked through, and they alerted others to the fact that a person was grieving.
Today we are not always aware of people mourning – even worse, some find it embarrassing and avoid those who they know are grieving because they do not know what to say. Yet some bereaved people tell me that this is one of the worst things that people can do, they express this sentiment, “Say the wrong thing, but please don’t ignore me.”
Jesus said that he came that we might have life in all its fullness. I believe we do this best when we support each other and to stand alongside others who are grieving, without colluding with denial, painful as that process it.