Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 16th August 2020.
Daily we see on the news the number of deaths from the coronavirus. A very much larger number of people will, of course, be grieving those deaths. I have been thinking this week about how we deal with grieving.
The first thing we do is to support those who have lost one of their nearest and dearest. I have conducted two funerals since the lockdown started in March. Both took place at the Crematorium and they were quite different.
For the first funeral, the deceased was so well-known and well-loved by his family, friends and former work colleagues that I think we could have filled the Crematorium twice over. But the Government restrictions which applied at the time only allowed us to have a congregation of 10. (In fact we got away with 10½ – one of the ladies present had a 3 year old child in her arms!) The unusual circumstances and the low number of people there perhaps only added to the grief of those present and those who would have liked to have been there to support the family.
At the second funeral, when, due to an easing of the restrictions, we were allowed to have 30 in the congregation, we had (I think) only 9. The deceased had been single and had only a few distant relatives. There was only one family member present. The other members of the congregation were personal and professional friends. It was good that the friends were there to support the one representative of the family.
Some people cope with grief better than others. Some express their emotions through tears. Some try hard to hide their emotions. But they all have one thing in common – they have suffered a loss and have emotions and they need support at a difficult time. The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “The true way to mourn the dead is to take care of the living who belong to them.”
Caring for those who mourn is not difficult. We don’t need a qualification in counselling to do it. What is important is simply ‘being there’, listening, comforting, supporting.
It is not always easy to find the right words to help someone suffering from grief. In a book I have, entitled ‘Complete Quotes and Anecdotes’, there is a story about someone searching for the right words of comfort:
‘A missionary translator, labouring amongst a tribe in the mountains of Mexico, found it hard to get the right word for ‘comfort’. One day his helper asked for a week’s leave, and explained that his uncle had died and he wanted some days off to visit his bereaved aunt, “to help her heart around the corner”. That was just the expression the missionary needed.’
In the same book there is another lovely little story about helping someone to grieve:
‘A little girl came home from a neighbour’s house where her little friend had died. “Why did you go?” questioned her father. “To comfort her mother”, replied the child. “What could you do to comfort her?”, the father continued. “I just climbed on to her lap and cried with her”, answered the child.’
For those who grieve, grief can take a long time to get over. As I said in my reflection for 17 May, “a mental trauma is like a physical injury. If you break a leg, it doesn’t heal instantly. It takes weeks to heal. Likewise, if we suffer a mental trauma – bereavement, depression, or other mental condition – we can’t expect it to switch off instantly … It just takes time for nature to heal.”
Faith can be a great help in times of grief. Losing a loved one can make us anxious for our loved one and anxious for ourselves. But Jesus offers us words of comfort as we mourn the loss of those who have been nearest and dearest to us. I am sure you have all heard many times at funerals a reading from Chapter 14 of St. John’s Gospel, in which Jesus says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” It can be a comfort to know that our departed loved ones are at peace and safe in the hands of a loving and caring God.
Whether people have a faith that consoles them or not, I think the bereaved always need help, whether they acknowledge it or not. There is a Turkish proverb which says: ‘He that conceals his grief finds no remedy for it.’ We need to offer to help people pour out their grief, rather than keep it bottled up. Sharing one’s feelings can reduce the burden of grief.
So whenever we know of someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one, they may say that they are all right and can cope and don’t need any help, but I am sure it will always be beneficial if we can sensitively do what we can “to help her heart around the corner”.
For all those mourning at this time, may God grant them comfort, healing and peace.