Carol’s Challenging Question – Bereavement

Who can forget the national outpouring of love, shock, pain, disbelief and deep sorrow felt by many millions of people in the UK and worldwide at the devastating news in September that Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, had died. Only her closest family, friends and officials must have known that her end was near but the Royal Family managed to show such devotion, fortitude and bravery – at least in public – as they carried out their duties, knowing full-well that they were being watched on television by possibly billions of people around the world.

The public too felt grief-ridden at the news, with millions of people watching the television coverage and hundreds of thousands going to Edinburgh or London to see The Queen lying in state and paying their respects.  Although most people had never met Her Majesty, the shock and grief felt was palpable. Wonderful stories emerged of the Queen’s sense of fun, care, duty, strong family bonds and, for many people, it became a celebration of a life very well lived.  

Thanks Kristin Snippe and Paddington Bear unsplash.com

But the Queen’s passing would also have brought back many painful memories of their own loved ones who had died, whether recently or some time ago, for many who attended the public events or witnessed any of the coverage on television. 

Most people have to go through the heartache of bereavement of someone they were close to at some time in their lives.  It’s said that the more you love, the more painful is the grief – and the least little thing can cause people to have flashbacks to remember happy times and the people they’ve lost.

Bereavement is defined as a feeling of emptiness, overwhelming sadness and often lots of mood swings and tears.  It’s the experience of losing someone important to us and is characterised by a range of emotions as people gradually adjust to their loss.  It can be emotionally devastating whether it’s a partner, family member, friend or pet.  Grief can also manifest itself in a whole range of feelings including tiredness, anger and guilt.

Talking to someone about a loss or getting professional counselling is a major step forward in coming to terms with bereavement although, for many people, it can take months or years to accept the situation and move on.  Finding simple pleasures, exercise, walking, taking up a new hobby or participating in a new challenge can really help people to fill some of the gap after the loss of someone close. 

Bereaved friends of mine say that they accept as many invitations as possible to do something such as lunch, a trip out, etc, often because they don’t like being in the house on their own or they just need some company to take them out of themselves. Loneliness and depression can soon set in when one’s world suddenly implodes.

Graham – did Jesus ever say anything about bereavement during his brief time on earth?  What would be the Christian view be of it?

Rev Graham replies:

Thanks, Carol, for your question and those helpful definitions on how bereavement can affect everybody at various times and in different ways. You mentioned about how the world mourned the passing of the late Queen Elizabeth II who is recorded to have said, after the 9/11 disaster in New York, that “Grief is the price we pay for love”. If we don’t love or care about someone or something then we will not grieve or mourn that loss.

As a Christian Minister for over forty years, I have conducted hundreds of funeral services, particularly serving the Greater Manchester area, and have found that there are four principle aspects that may be referred to in any service. 1) Acknowledging and mourning the loss of the individual who has died. 2) Gathering together special words and feelings that reflect the love, appreciation and thanksgiving for that shared life. 3) Seeking to find and experience a comfort in the loss of a loved one both human and divine. 4) In a Christian funeral there will be a sense of hope that, having departed from the earthly body, the committed spirit of the loved one will enter into that promise of a resurrected and eternal life only made possible through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in John 11:25

We only die once physically but it has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway that “Everyman has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name”. When we arrange headstones for the grave, a plaque for the ashes and recall birthdays and other events, they act as an everlasting memorial for the deceased who are briefly brought back to life and we are reminded of times shared together in the midst of a continued loss and sadness with thanksgiving. 

You asked, Carol, if Jesus had said anything about bereavement. There are three specific occasions where Jesus was involved in raising individuals back to life. Such miracles towards the end of his earthly ministry revealed his tender heart of love and compassion for all people and an intention to bring comfort to their loss that reflected God’s power and love for a suffering world.

Mourning with Compassion

1) Jesus, during his travels, met a funeral procession that was leaving the village of Nain and in the coffin was a young man, the only son of a widow. When Jesus saw the procession his heart went out to the woman and he said “Don’t cry”. He touched the coffin and spoke to the dead man: “Young man, I say to you, get up”. The dead man sat up and began to talk. For those who had been mourning, that funeral was turned into awe and praise as the people acknowledged that God had come to help them. (Luke 7: 11-17)

2) On another occasion Jesus became aware of the plight of a man named Jairus, a synagogue ruler, whose daughter had seemed to have died. In his compassion he offered words of comfort to him saying: “Don’t be afraid, just believe”. Then later: “This child is not dead but asleep”. Jesus took the girl by the hand and brought her back to life. This also proved that not all religious leaders were against Jesus (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43). Thanks Dave Lowe for the photo unsplash.com

3) Jesus was close to the family of Lazarus and his two sisters Martha and Mary. Lazarus became ill and Jesus reassured the sisters during his two day stay that it would not end in his death.  Later Jesus became aware that Lazarus had fallen asleep (died) and, after four days, returned to comfort the sisters and bring Lazarus back to life and in the process was ‘Deeply moved in his spirit and was troubled and wept’ (John 11:30- 35).

There are occasions in life when we anticipate loss as exampled when Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem and wept over it because he was aware of its future disaster and its rejection of his love towards them. (Luke 19:41). However, there are other times when loss is totally unexpected and, in both cases during the days of Jesus’s life, he prayed and brought petitions to the Lord with loud cries and tears to the one who can heal, save and sustain us. Jesus learnt what it meant to obey the Lord in the context of his own pain and suffering (Hebrews 5: 7-9).

In the Old Testament there are incidences where prophets raised people from the dead. Elijah prayed that a young boy be raised back to life (1 Kings 17: 17-24). Elisha prayed for the woman of Shunem to be as brought back to life (2 Kings 4: 32-37) and even from Elisha’s tomb a man was raised from the dead. (2 Kings13: 20-21).

In the early church we read about Tabitha, a believer (Greek name Dorcas) of Joppa, who had died and the believers were filled with sadness. Her body was laid in an upper room and the Apostle Peter was asked to attend and he prayed alone in the presence of Dorcas and asked her to get up. She opened her eyes and, seeing Peter, sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. All the people were overjoyed and the news spread quickly throughout the city and, as a result of this miraculous act, many believed in the Lord (Acts 9: 36-43).

In Acts 20: 7-12, a young man called Eutychus was listening to the Apostle Paul preaching well into the night and he was sat near a window but unfortunately fell from it which was three storeys high and died. Paul immediately threw himself on the man and put his arms around him and the man came back to life. When the meeting ended the young man returned home and all the people were comforted with what they had witnessed.

In these brief accounts we find that, whenever grief and bereavement occurs, there will always be an offer of compassion and healing from the Lord to our situations as we exercise personal faith which is a witness to those without faith. 

Mourning with Thanksgiving

As we enter into everyday living here on earth we will encounter the loss of close family members as well as friends, neighbours and work colleagues. Jesus would have had similar experiences, losing Joseph his father who may have died when he was young yet very thankful for the continued love and support from his mother Mary and others close by right up to his death on the cross.

Jesus would have grieved for the loss of John the Baptist, a close family member, who had been beheaded by Herod at the request of his wife Herodias (Matthew 14: 1-12). Jesus in all his travels and interactions with people was aware of those who were ill, in need of healing and had lost loved ones. He always sought to offer them love and compassion with a sense of thanksgiving for each individual.

Thanks Pro Church Media unsplash.com

Many leaders and prophets knew about loss such as Nehemiah, who grieved about the destruction of Jerusalem but was thankful for the favour of the King and God (Nehemiah 2) The Israelites mourned the journey of exile into Babylon yet found comfort from many psalms such as Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” and in verse 11, “You turn my wailing into dancing, you remove my sackcloth and clothe me with joy”.

Mourning with Comfort

Any form of a funeral service represents a rite of passage from this earth to the next. For the Christian such a service represents a promotion into the everlasting presence and glory of God. We can never bring back to life those we have lost but in celebrating, mourning, sharing thanksgiving and finding a comfort, we may be able to acknowledge the passing of a loved one’s life and enter into the experience of Placement as touched on in one of my earlier blogs ‘Loss Adjuster’.

When I am asked to take a funeral service, I will arrange to see the family as soon as possible. One of my first questions is to ask if the loved one had been poorly for a while or have they suddenly died? We then confirm details around the service and exchange words that will be contained in the eulogy/life story. There is a growing realisation that such loss will get worse before it gets better leading up to the service and then well into that sense of Placement. It is a growing acknowledgement of what is being experienced is their time to die, having had time to live and so we begin to come to terms with their loss long term.   

Resurrection

In the Christian tradition, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in world history. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was permanent and he didn’t die a second time but ascended into heaven (Mark 16). In life we are born, live and die and experience many changes that will bring us great joy and deep sadness.

So “Grief is the price we pay for love” and it involves strong and emotive feelings that may result in actions that can cause severe paralysis and an array of emotions that can easily get out of hand. The disciples of Jesus will have mourned his death and were confused about his resurrection and ascension. They encountered death and persecution for their faith in the gospel of Christ alongside the early church fathers and members of local congregations.

Jesus is the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor 15: 20) and Jesus’ resurrection ensures our eternal life: “Because I live, you also will live” (John14: 19). In all the days we walk this earth we will in one form or another experience bereavement but we can be assured that, as Jesus wept for those he loved, he weeps for us today in all our joys and sadnesses.

Graham

PS – Just after publishing this post my best friend John Noble, for over sixty years, died after a long illness. He was an influential Broadcaster, Evangelist, Humourist and Poet. He leaves behind Sandra, Sarah and Emily. May he truly rest peacefully in the arms of Jesus.

(Bring your thoughts and prayers to God for those who you have lost and give thanks for those still with you as you listen to this moving song Bring Him Home by Coln Wilkinson from Les Miserables)

SIGNPOST ORGANISATIONS

Premier Lifeline – National Christian Helpline Tel 0300 111 0101

CRUSE Bereavement Care – Tel: 0808 8081677.

MIND – Tel: 0300 123 3393 email info@mind.org.uk

Carers UK Helpline – Tel: 0808 808 7777

Bereavement Help and Supportwww.gov.uk

At A Loss – ataloss.org

BEAD – Bereaved Through Alcohol and Drugs – beadproject.org.uk

The Compassionate Friends – Tel: 0345 123 2304 tcf.org.uk

Dying Matters – dyingmatters.org

The Good Grief Trust – thegoodgrieftrust.org

Samaritans – Tel: 116123 or jo@samaritans.org

SANDS (Child bereavement) Tel: 0808 164 3332 sands.org.uk

Child Bereavement UK – Tel: 0800 0288840.

Childline – Tel: 08001111.

NSPCC – Tel: 0808 800 5000.

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