Jesus died. That’s what we have to accept on Good Friday – he really died – just as we will. And, just like us, he felt the pain and paralysis of death. Jesus wept. His grief too was real.
Whilst we give thanks that the Prime minister is showing signs of recovery, I think we all know that, as a nation, we are still in the grip of this pandemic. The virus is far from being vanquished and infection continues to increase. The death toll is rising daily and, with it, the growing realisation of the extent of suffering and loss so many are facing and will yet have to face.
It’s at times like this that many will look to the church in their community for support. They won’t want easy answers or religious platitudes. Their needs will test our capacity to walk alongside them as sensitive and empathetic companions on life’s journey – just as Jesus did when he walked with those two grieving and confused disciples on the Emmaus road.
Below are words not only of advice but also encouragement. We hope they will help each of us, in our own way, to meet the needs of those who will be facing death within the context of continued isolation. Grief starts at the point of diagnosis, and the basic human instinct when you hear that news is to go to the person, spend time together, be loving, talk, hug and feel close. Just as no one could reach out to comfort Jesus on the cross, so loved ones cannot do the things we all take for granted as we wait and watch and weep with those who are dying in isolation.
The words I’d like to share with you have just been posted on the national CofE website but they are actually from much closer to home….They were written by a faithful member of the church of St Nicholas, Itchenor who has many years’ experience in counselling and supporting people through loss and grief. I think she would recognise that this very special gift was itself the result of her own loss and grief and as such, it witnesses to how God can take that which seems most broken and hurting and bring about a healing which in itself brings new life – the Easter hope and promise.
This advice isn’t for the ‘professionals’ – it is for all of us who seek to live out that same hope and promise.
We realise that you are probably reading this because you have lost someone dear to you at this very difficult moment in our national life. Whether they have died of Coronavirus or another health issue, if they have died as the result of a fatal accident, or if they have tragically taken their own life, you are facing something unprecedented and unknown.
Most of all, we want to reach out to you and say we realise that something unimaginable has happened to you, something that leaves you feeling devastated and powerless. For now, we hope that the few thoughts and ideas below may help you to feel less alone.
It is very likely that, because of current restrictions on movement, you will be unable to be present at the funeral of your loved one. In normal times, this is not something you could ever have imagined. The death may have taken place at home, or elsewhere in the UK, or indeed overseas, but wherever it occurred the fact remains that you cannot be present at this final and most important moment of farewell. Saying goodbye at a loved one’s funeral is such a significant part of our relationship with them. We may dread it of course, but we still want to be present and to get it ‘right’ as a fitting tribute to all that they were to us. A funeral also plays a very important part in our accepting the reality of their death. When we are unable to be present, it seems almost possible to imagine that they have not died at all.
So, what can you do at this significant time and how can you ‘be present’, although you are physically in another place?
In preparation, take the time to think about simple things that would be meaningful both to you and to the person who has died. Try to be creative in small but special ways. Is there something that they really enjoyed that you could include in your private celebration of their life? A piece of music, a treasured photo or memento of happier times, even the scarf from the football team they supported?
Select a place where you will sit and be still and decide on the length of time you will be there. If you are alone, call a family member or a friend and let them know at what time you will be observing the funeral of your loved one. They may be willing to ‘join’ you at the same time either with technology, or in spirit wherever they are situated.
At the designated time, you could light a small candle to mark the beginning of your ‘presence’ at the funeral. You could write down some thoughts or special memories, or simply speak them out gently, alone or with those who live with you.
If there are children in the household, do involve them. Let them prepare drawings or things to say, let them see tears and also laugh at the quirky memories. Answer their questions as truthfully as you can for their age.
When you reach the end of your allotted time of being present in mind and spirit at their funeral, say something in conclusion and blow out the candle. There will not, of course be the usual gathering of friends over a cup of tea or a glass of beer, but you could nonetheless make yourself something nice to eat and drink, and share with anyone who is with you or telephone someone you feel close to and invite them to share a few memories with you.
It is a sad fact that many people around our country, and indeed the world, are facing the death of a loved one at this moment and so perhaps spare a moment to think of or pray for them as well. We are united in grief and in love, even though we may not know each other personally.
Finally, a couple of things to remember. Firstly, the people who choose to go into the work of caring for our dead invariably have a strong sense of vocation and are extremely caring and respectful in all that they do. Secondly, when this terrible time has passed, you will have the opportunity to hold a memorial, however intimate and small, that is less restricted. Perhaps it might be with others whom you would have liked to be with you today. You could begin to think about this memorial even now and in the weeks ahead, knowing that it will be very important and meaningful as your personal way of saying goodbye.
When the funeral is over, what next? So often when a loved one dies we are left with powerful and confusing thoughts. We are full of sadness but also perhaps of guilt or anger. We feel angry that we were not able to support them or save them when they needed us most. We feel guilty about not having been able to visit or spend valuable time them recently. Try to remember that you couldn’t have imagined the happenings of recent times and you should not blame yourself for not managing to travel or visit. Being present at the end of life feels very important to most of us and the pain you are feeling is understandable if this has not been possible. It may leave you feeling isolated, lonely and fearful. These are natural thoughts and feelings which will be shared by many around the country at this difficult time and you are not weak or a failure for experiencing them.
Try to allow yourself to accept all the various feelings that come up, not trying to stifle them or deny them. If you can share them with a trusted person or write them down so they are not bottled up inside you, that could be really helpful. Bad feelings have less power over us once they are out of our head and spoken or written down.
Follow your own instincts about how you grieve. This journey is yours and, although others may have an opinion, give yourself permission to do what is right for you. Finally, remember to take really good care of yourself, even in these restricted times. Your loved one would want you to get through this as well as you possibly can.
Please see AtaLoss.org for further links to support of every kind