Tag Archives: Grief

The Pain of Funerals during the Pandemic

If you had told me a year ago that our world would be affected by a great pandemic and we would be confined to our homes except for the most essential work, and then asked me what I might struggle with most, I would have guessed a few things:

  • Fear for my children (I am secretly an insanely protective mother, but I try to hide it!);
  • The pain of not seeing my grandchild (who I absolutely adore);
  • Cabin fever and not being able to do the things that stop me feeling stressed;
  • Not being able to see those I love at church face to face;
  • Not being able to worship with others, pray together, share the peace, sing together;
  • Not having Communion, a very sacred and important act for me,

I would have been wrong. There is one thing, and one thing only that has cut me to the core in terms of pain, and that is conducting funerals under the current circumstances. In particular, seeing people sitting on chairs at the crematorium, two meters away from the next person, crying with no-one to put an arm around them and console them. My heart breaks. I am forbidden, like everyone else, from offering a hug, and that is a dreadful cruelty that had never occurred to me before. It is torture to see someone in pain and not be able to offer acts of comfort. Here is a poem written by Stella about the pain of such a funeral.

My understanding is that most bereaved people have opted for something called ‘direct cremation’, a term I hadn’t heard of before, where their loved one is cremated with no ceremony preceding it. The hope is that after the lockdown is over, we will be able to have memorial services and express all that we want to and need to. I don’t know how that feels; I suspect it is like being in limbo.

I look forward to the day when we can have these memorial services, where people can cry and be comforted with hugs and words spoken softly and squeezes of the hand, where friends and relatives can be present and comfort each other in their grief.

Lesley

Note: Church of England churches are available to all people for memorial services – those who attend regular services and those who have never attended.

Funeral 2020

A poem about funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no black and yellow tape 
So they searched the office drawers
And found brown  
Which would seal parcels 
But not stick to carpet 
Scuffed, edged with dust, lines 
To keep us safe, far apart 
As we control our tears  
On chairs ranged coldly  
Ten of them 
For ten stiff soldiers 
Alert to the war 
Around us 
A war to save lives 
Tearing us apart in the face of grief and death 

Stella Wiseman

Additional grief in lockdown

There is an interesting article about the additional problems of dealing with grief in lockdown on the BBC News website, and tonight (Tuesday, May 10), Rio Ferdinand talks about how he and his children have coped with the grief of losing his wife, their mother, from cancer. You can see Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad at 11.45pm on BBC1.

The increased effects of grief at this time is something that Wendy Edwards, Licensed Lay Minister in the parish, has been considering and she shares her thoughts below:

What I think may be happening for some people, maybe quite a few people, who are grieving the death of a loved one, is that extended periods spent in your own home, often with reminders of your loved one all around you and an inability to have the normal tactile comfort of cuddling or kissing your other family members due to lockdown, are increasing your sense of loss and sadness.

This makes perfect sense in psychological terms but is difficult to experience. You may like to know about this if you wonder why you are struggling more with grief, if you are  – and you may not be, we are all different.

Grief is felt not just when a loved one dies. It is also felt in all sorts of other circumstances. These are all causes for grieving in older adults just now: –

  • Loss of mobility or worsening senses of hearing, eyesight, taste etc or worsening health generally – you grieve for your mobile self or your healthy, hearing, seeing self;
  • Pain- you have lost your pain-free self and you grieve for pain-free days which you did not realise you needed to appreciate as pain -free!
  • Loss of a job or role in life, homemaker, breadwinner, carer of your loved one all cause grief, if you do not have these roles any more;
  • Separation from family members for other reasons, maybe due to distance or disputes or arguments – you have lost the happy close connection you once had with them and there is real grief to work through;
  • Ageing – none of us can stop the passage of time and we can all grieve for our seemingly lost younger selves (I think we contain all the ages we have ever been);
  • Inability in lockdown to see your friends and family, to hold or kiss them;
  • Inability to escape the confinement of your home or the confinement of your grief.

The list could go on, but I hope you see my point. If you are getting on with things and keeping busy, as many of you are, that’s great. Your grief may be held at bay for a while, but it will likely surface at unexpected moments.

Grief can be held down but, like a jack-in-the-box whose lid has been held down, it can spring up when you least expect it. It takes energy to hold grief down and when it is released (hopefully in tears but not all of us can cry) there is healing in tears.  We may feel anger or frustration, remorse, or guilt in grief too, or any human feeling really.

At these times, if you are suffering, please do not despair. We all have increased grief in the lockdown and those who have lost a loved one will be feeling it worse. It will pass in time. It can take three to five years to heal from the worst of grief over the death of a close family member and sometimes longer. Some losses are more painful for different reasons. It is no cause for shame or concern if your grief is taking longer or feels worse now.

Reach out as much as you feel comfortable to trusted friends or family and your support network. Or indeed reach out to your GP also, if you feel you need to. They are available for consultation regarding emotional, mental, or physical health matters, over the telephone or online. Or contact Alan or Lesley Crawley, join rectors of the parish, on 01252 820537 or revd.alan@badshotleaandhale.org or
revd.lesley@badshotleaandhale.org

With all good wishes, Wendy Edwards LLM

The impact of loss, self knowledge and the cross

reelworship_cross_2Losing my mum two and a half years ago has changed my understanding of so many things. The most obvious change is that I now understand grief in a different way. Grief is an emotion that I meet on a nearly weekly basis thanks to funeral ministry, and obviously everyone’s grief is different so it is wrong to generalise. However, my change in understanding is that grief isn’t a phase, a period of time, an emotion to work through…. Grief is an emotional reaction to the reality of loss, and the loss is forever. Grief may be a process, but it is the process of accepting the loss, and the impacts of the loss are with us for the rest of our lives. That loss can be bad, or good, or perhaps most likely, the impact of loss can be both good and bad.

The weirdest thing that happened to me after mum died was that I instantaneously understood her differently and I understood myself and the whole of my life up to that point in a new way. It was the separation from the one who had been everything to me at one time in my life. I suddenly realised that spending my earliest years in countries where no one spoke my language, other than my mum, had created an incredibly intense relationship between us, one that had been complicated by both of us suffering from anxiety.

Within days of her death I wished that she had been alive so that I could behave differently, speak to her properly, readjust our relationship given my new knowledge of both her and me. It was ironic that it was her death that might have meant that we could have had a better relationship. At times it felt like a bitter irony.

I felt a great loss, like the loss of a limb, but it was a loss inside me, a hole that had appeared and which felt like it couldn’t be filled. And it hasn’t, so far. The hole is still there – still the same shape and size – it feels like a mother-shaped hole. But I don’t regret her death any more. I feel better for the understanding it has given me. I feel both liberated and empowered.

As I contemplate the question of “Why did Jesus die” once again in this Holy Week, I find myself wondering whether some of this experience was the same for the disciples. They were shocked to discover themselves in a new way after Jesus’ death – for many of them cowardice ruled the day without their leader. Perhaps the loss made them realise where Jesus ended and where they began, what Jesus meant to them and how he had affected them. When Jesus rose from the dead he met different men and women than the ones that he had left – ones that could never be the same because in their loss they met themselves and knew themselves more deeply. And Jesus wasn’t restored to them in the same way – his resurrection body was different to his former one – it had the marks of the nails but he was hard to recognise.

In Christ’s death and resurrection one of the things that changed was that the baton passed – making disciples was no longer primarily Jesus’s job, it was now the job of the disciples, our job. Or was it? Because we can’t do it – only God can – but God gives us the Holy Spirit so that we might be the hands and hearts through which God’s grace and love flows.

I hate that Jesus died, I find Holy Week terrible. Every year. But I don’t regret that Jesus died, for in doing so Jesus blessed the world with God’s immense love and grace through flawed people, even people like me.

All Soul’s Day Sermon

Grief
Grief (Photo credit: tombellart)

Alan encouraged me to preach at the All Soul’s services this year as one who has been bereaved in the last year. It has been a year when I lost my mum. It has certainly taught me more about grief than I learned when I was training for ordination.

I guess the word that sums up grief for me is “loss”. Initially, I was so shocked that I literally kept losing things. I couldn’t remember where they were. And there was the loss of control of my emotions. I descended into tears at the library when I returned mum’s book, at the dump when I took the contents of my dad’s shed there, at the charity shop where I give them both my mum’s and my gran’s clothes. Hundreds of things that I would see no more. But the objects were only symbolic of the people I would see no more.

We lose part of who we are when someone dies – one of our identities dies with them. In the case of my mum she was a touchstone, a voice who reprimanded and praised, a running commentary on my life really.

I did gain things when she died though. I don’t really mean the furniture or the extra glasses in the cupboard; I mean new insights into who she was and who I am. In reflecting on her life and writing her eulogy I recognised similarities between us that I had never spotted before. In ringing up her friends I noticed who she cared about and why. And her friends cried at the other end of the phone line, expressing their sorrow and telling me stories of her kindness that I never knew before. Of course, it would be nice to share these things with her, but it is too late.

Not that my mum was perfect. Amongst her quirks was a life-long struggle with anorexia. As her daughter, on the one hand she panicked dreadfully if I didn’t eat, and on the other hand she perpetually told me I needed to be thinner. This I hated, but now she is gone it seems odd to have no one carping at me about my weight!

Clearing my parent’s house was something sacred. Hundreds of pieces of paper, folded, treasured. The summation of a life, the sorrows and the joys. I felt like I was intruding – I would never presume to go through my parents things ordinarily. But it was my task; the one ordained to me as their child, no other could do it.

I have been surprised how much I have missed my mum. She was the one who I called for from the day of my birth. And there is something rather beautiful about the grief. For it tells me how precious we all are to each other. It gives me hope that my mediocre efforts do affect others for good and when I die I too will be remembered and missed. Each one of us is interconnected and each one of us loves and is loved, probably far more than we know. The corollary of all this interconnectedness and love is grief when a soul dies.

So remembering is good for those who have gone, for it is fitting and comforting to know we will be remembered. But it is also good for those of us who remain, not to idealise or sentimentalise the dead, but to remember truthfully. For we see ourselves more clearly in the light of those who have gone before us. This knowledge of our own mortality is humbling, but reminds us to leave the world a better place than we found it. And most of all to follow the example of those who we miss most in their loving, giving and caring.