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.
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