a friend of ours died yesterday.  a man who had been part of our church for about 9 months but who’s family somehow became quite close, quite quickly to us.  i know sickness and death can do that but it can still take you aback sometimes.

in the past four months i’ve sat next to two dying people who look only remotely like their healthy selves.  and each time the thing that pushes to the front of my mind as i look at them is the fact that i don’t want their family to forget that i remember them – the one dying and the family remaining.  and that i remember how crappy death is and how it turns your life over on itself.  but i think people don’t know how to bring it up.  i’m not sure most people even know how to handle mourning in the moments and days following a death.  if i’m honest, i only want to know more about this topic in a detached sense from books and articles and stories others tell me.  but when death starts touching my family i hope i’ll have some frame of mind to tap into what i remember hearing and reading from those who deal with death well and honestly and openly.

while driving back from our friends’ house the other night i thought of lauren winner’s comments on how our churches mourn (or don’t) in Mudhouse Sabbath: an Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline.

What churches often do less well is grieve.  We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss.  A friend of mine put it like this:  “For about two weeks that church was really the church – really awesomely, wonderfully the church.  Everyone came to the house, baked casseroles, carried Kleenex.  But then the two weeks ended, and so did the consolation calls.”  While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and you find, after all those crowds of people, that you are left alone.  You are without the church, and without a church vocabulary for what happens to the living after the dead are dead.
pp 27-28

the rest of the chapter talks about mourning in community and how winner witnessed this in judaism (i highly recommend the book).  i’m thankful we don’t have a set of strict rules to follow in regards to death and mourning but perhaps we’d do well with some guidance and openness and traditions when it comes to a death in the church community.

also, and somewhat oddly, molly wizenberg’s chapters on her father’s death and what she ate and cooked in a homemade life kept springing to mind.  i think it is because i feel a strong urge to bake when i know someone is dying.  maybe because i think scones or cake will smooth over any awkward or inappropriate words that might fly out of my too-talkative mouth.

and lastly, but most importantly and wonderfully and comforting, etc.  psalm 16.  there are those familiar bible passages that spring to mind when sickness and death are present.  and then there are the passages that someone points you to and you wonder where it’s been all your life.  like this one.  this one that omar and i read to our friends.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  Psalm 16:9-11


8 thoughts on “grieve

  1. Oh boy. I’m really sorry, Kate. Winner’s point is really important, and I’m guilty of it too. I think it’s true for both death and birth, though — people put in their time and then move on while you’re left to figure things out. You and Omar are my heroes in the way you live the gospel. It’s inspiring. 🙂

  2. timely post for me, Katie. thinking just today about the remaining grief in my own family from my cousin’s death nearly nine years ago….and how I remember her often, but how i am at a loss for communicating that to her parents.
    hugs from me.

  3. So sorry about your friend, Kate. This topic is something I (obviously) think about a lot, both within and outside of the church. I struggle with the mourning as well…I often think of many of the patients I’ve lost over the years and the ways they’ve touched my life, but often feel there is not a good way for families to know this after the immediate event and condolences given. Tough topic.

  4. So sorry to hear of your friend’s death. I agree; the church doesn’t do a great job of mourning with those who mourn. We just kind of all want to “move on”, it seems, instead of sitting with the mourner.
    This is also true in the case of the miscarriage; how do we comfort parents in their loss? How do we as a church body acknowledge the young life that hardly got started before it ended, and support the parents? Oftentimes there isn’t even a memorial service (because it just seems weird? And yet a life ended.) Tough topic indeed. Thanks for this post.

  5. Molly Piper has a wonderful series on her blog on learning to grieve with others. Her experience is heart-wrenchingly real and her ability to communicate it is beautiful. I agree with the previous comment- there is so much we just don’t talk about and yet there are so many hurting people. Grace to you as you continue to love this family in the coming years.

  6. When my friend was diagnosed with cancer, she told me at one point in her six year struggle how important it was to her that church be relevant to her and the graveness of her situation. If the questions the church asked or the answers it provided couldn’t apply to her and the reality she was living, she felt so alone and didn’t want to stay. I often think of her words when I’m in church…would she be fed here? Would her grieving parents find hope here?

  7. lindsay – you are right about it being true of both birth and death. people are too scared to intrude, i think.

    kelly – i spoke with a man at church the other night who lost his wife a few months ago. i felt so horrible that it felt awkward to go up to him and tell him how i miss his wife and think of her often. perhaps i just need to do it more and the awkwardness will fade.

    kristen – i have thought about you often throughout all of this with our friend. i’ve wondered how you’ve handled the grief from losing so many patients and just wondered what it’s like in general being on the doctor’s side of things.

    absolutelyspeechless – you are spot on in regards to miscarriage. i think we want to “move on” because it can be so stinking awkward to just sit and listen and talk or just plain sit.

    brite – i love molly piper’s series on grieving. it’s helped me so much as someone who seems to get to be around a lot of grieving in this season of my life.

    alina – you bring up an interesting point about being relevant to a person (or people) in a church who is dying. how do we properly love and teach and feed those who are going to die soon? how do we not just look ahead to think of how we’ll treat the loved ones who are left grieving but actively keep the sick person a part of the community? any thoughts? 😉

  8. I’m not exactly sure. I think what you said to “absolutely speechless” above is a good place to start for members of the church–being willing to sit, ask questions, and listen. I don’t remember what my friend said was encouraging to her as she was dying, but I imagine that hearing the gospel preached in such a way that is relevant to the whole range of human experiences, from the “small” issues all the way to death and grief…

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