Tag Archives: Grief

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.