Friday, June 29, 2018

So that’s the funeral, where to from here?

She sat there broken yet dignified as I delivered the eulogy on her behalf. The picture of strength in weakness, everything I observed about her suggested she wished to acknowledge everyone else’s pain while still being real about her own anguish. You know the kind of experience when you want to encourage someone who just seems to epitomise everything that you admire; this widow was that person.
As this wife sat there, allowing me to serve her and the assembled throng just as I was engaged to do, I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit out of my depth; that I was doing such holy work as to be unworthy of it.
Of course, with almost a fortnight’s preparation, and the execution of the service itself, the family are left with picking up the pieces of what remains in those minutes when those last visitors ebb away.
When the funeral is over, and the wake is done, even that night those ones who are proximal to the deceased come face-to-face with the lonely prospect of what now.
The season is thereby entered, and there is no mistaking it. The growth journey is a miasma like poison in a river of love made toxic, making the ground etched in promise appear as if it is death itself.
No wonder this growth journey is found so untrustworthy. No wonder the grieving person makes a deal with denial or bitterness or depression or a vicarious combination of these.
Grief is far too hard for any of us to explain it away.
Even as I write these words I know that without my personal testimony I am unqualified as credible, yet just because I have grieved, and knowing what I know, I realise I am still unqualified to commentate another person’s grief journey.
All I can do is promise to sit there with them, to pray silently for them, to authenticate their experience as beyond my understanding, hailing the mystery of the God of love and loss, promising to continue to glorify this Lord who continues to allow such suffering as to even further deepen our resolve of love.
This widow’s testimony mentioned this exact thing; the realisation that the loss of her husband was but a significant and stark lesson in love, both the hardest and deepest lesson love could teach any of us. Oh, and how we want love to be real! Love has a sting in its tail.
As we go on, those moments when people split away, and we can no longer ignore the gnawing reality, I’m reminded of the very first moment in the maternity hospital where the reality of Nathanael’s death grew exponentially into a giant before my eyes. We had had a visit from the social worker who had not asked whether it was a good time or not to visit. I mentioned to her in uncharacteristic bluntness (I don’t normally treat strangers that way) that she should come back later, because we wanted to sob in peace. She was very nice and understood and promptly left. These were the first moments we had had alone with him without others around; 18 hours after his birth.
It’s the same kind of thing, the day after we have buried or cremated a loved one. We either feel the gravity of emptiness or we are confused as to know how to feel. And then there’s the war within the logical and feeling mind that produces guilt for feeling normal when we feel we don’t deserve to feel normal.
How are we supposed to feel?
Some may think, how am I meant to go on?
Some are still desperate for answers. Others cannot believe how blunt and how final grief actually is. We quickly come to experience just how unfair life is, that it’s capable of poleaxing us. Until we come to this place, we never realised just how painful life could be. It is only later that we realise that the suffering that was real to our experience is a suffering eternally available within the realm of humanity. Until now, we had been ‘saved’ from it.
Of course, there is a sanctifying property about suffering. We learn a compendium of compassion in it. But this article is not really about that. It’s about sitting in those awkwardly futile and unimaginably agonising places, clawing for a way to receive respite. There are times when we find what we are looking for, but this unfortunately is in the minority of our experience. The majority of our experience impels us toward the unfathomable reality of life that has no way of reckoning a compromise to peace.
And that is loss; a grief that steals gone our capacity to manage the pain away, and to stay in this place for months if not years. Do I write these things to discourage you? Do I write these things to depress you? No, I write these things to validate what you, the reader, has come to recognise as normal given the new state of things.
Are we supposed to hold it together?
Are we supposed to be able to bear this most gruesome reality?
No, I am convinced that these realities that are far too big for us are given to us in order to challenge and transform us. They are to unify us within a community of sufferers. They are to break us sufficiently that we realise the folly in relying on our own strength. They are to grow us up.
Grief cauterises both want and capacity
for doing life in our own strength.
These experiences are there to open our eyes; the eyes of our hearts. Only as we recognise the dearth of our capacity can we reach up and take hold of a capacity that is fully of God’s hand and provision.
We have many heroes in this life. But none more courageous than the widow or widower or the parent who suffers loss. Forget about the sports stars who thrill us with their skill. Forget about the artist who inspires us. Forget about the songs we sing that titillate our heart.
The one we ought to applaud the most
is the one who is silently suffering for love.

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