Grief is never what you expect it to be. Each death is different and gives rise to its own unique feelings and expressions. Each person who grieves does so from their own experiences and circumstances. There are tragic deaths, unexpected deaths, shocking deaths and good deaths. People die young, in the womb, in their prime and some live long enough to long for death to take them. People die from disease, accident, murder, terrorism, suicide and old age. Some are still caring for a young family, some are children, some are parents, some are isolated and alone. Some are alienated from kith and kin. Some die quickly, some die slowly but all die unexpectedly because we are never really ready to say that final goodbye.
My mother died last week. Mum had been fading away before our eyes for some time. Alzheimer’s had progressively erased us from her life. At 96 years of age, living in her own world, in frail health, it’s easy to say that it was not unexpected but it wasn’t expected last week nor did we expect that the transition from “Mum is failing” to “Mum died this morning” would be so quick.
Despite all the differing circumstances of death and all the different relationships we have with the person who died there are conventions and expectations about grief that often leave us feeling that somehow, we are not doing it right. Am I sad? Am I sad enough? Should I be sadder? Should I be crying more? Should I be crying less? Should I be happy for her? Should I go to work? Should I wear a suit and tie to the funeral? Should I be “over it” by now?
The danger is that we either role play what we think we should be doing and feeling or feel guilty that we are not normal and not doing grief right. The truth is there is no right way. There is only what I feel. I have the right to feel what I feel. Even if it is to feel numb.
Mum’s life spanned nearly a century of change and undreamt-of invention. The photo tribute and Eulogies at the funeral reminded us of simpler times, of hardship and struggle, of places and people now gone, but also of a culturally and spiritually rich world that believed it was building a better future for generations to come. May we live with such optimism and hope.
“Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible. As a child, it was a verse we kept in reserve if a Sunday School teacher asked us for a memory verse. Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.
Regardless of what we believe about the afterlife and God, death is awful and our loss of relationship, love, intimacy and friendship should never be minimised or dismissed. Yes, she is in a better place. Yes, she is not suffering anymore but still we grieve, in our own way and in our own time.
Alzheimer’s may have progressively erased us from mum’s life. She will not be erased from ours. Hopefully she is remembering. Hopefully she knows and is known.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13: 12-13)
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister