Since you have come to this page on our website it is likely that you are presently marking, or anticipating, the death of a loved one, friend, or colleague.
First let me extend to you, on behalf of the congregation of St. Mark's, our sincere condolences.
Whenever we find ourselves in the presence of death, regardless of the circumstance or the relationship, we easily become overwhelmed by all the details that need to be attended to and all the emotions that bombard us.
The turmoil strikes at the very centre of our lives, and always in a way no one else can fully understand.
Below are some reflections, prayers, and resources which we offer to you for your comfort, support, and healing.
ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS
It is common for grief to run us through the whole range of emotions, from anger to blame to guilt, from a sense of sadness to a sense of relief.
Sometimes we swing from one emotion to another so quickly we begin feeling confused! You have probably noticed this in yourself and in members of your family.
Commonly these feelings rise and fall or come and go for some time, usually when we least expect them, or are prepared for them!
Most people soon feel totally exhausted. Sometimes the experience leaves us numb. These feelings are quite normal.
The Christian funeral practices have evolved (and continue to evolve!) in response to the flood of emotional and spiritual roller coasters death sends us on. The traditional “three days” between a death and the funeral in our tradition allows time to both attend to the “business” that needs to be attended to and to contact and receive family and friends. Setting time aside either at the funeral home or at some other venue to receive people allows us to be reminded that we are not alone and allows our friends to extend their care and express their sorrows.
The time is also important to us because it allows us to name who the person who has died has been, what he or she has meant to us, and what has been good and satisfying in his or her life. In a sense, this “naming” confirms and solidifies the memories and reminds us that this moment of death does not have the last word on life.
St. Mark’s, through its Sanctuary and staff, offers funeral rites which further confirm the faith fact that death does not have the last word on life. The service includes readings of scripture, which describe our ancestor’s realization that in life, in death, and in life after death we are not alone. And it proclaims that in Jesus, the Risen One, we have seen most clearly that the love of God, which is life, has no limits in time or in space. With this foundation of our faith reaffirmed, the worshippers move to gather up the remembrances of the life that has been lived and offer prayers of thanksgiving for the privilege of having shared this life with our loved one or friend.
While in 21st century city life funeral services are most often held at funeral homes, it is still appropriate to hold them in the church Sanctuary. If you wish, our minister will assist you in planning a service that reflects both the tradition of Christian faith and your contemporary experiences and expressions of faith.
While death separates us physically, we still hold all the feelings we shared with each other. It takes time to sort through these feelings and to learn new ways to live with them. This is what grief is all about! Be patient with yourself (and with each other in your family!) and give yourselves time to think and talk. There are no quick, easy ways, no short cuts through grief. When we take detours or try to avoid the emotions and the sorrows of loss, grief will pop up elsewhere in various disguises – irritableness, depression, physical illness. Relationships with spouses and children often take it on the nose.
Talk about your feelings. Sit with them and feel them. Reminisce. Bring a sense of “ritual” to the tasks of attending to clothes and personal affairs. Make a special point of caring for yourself – eat well, exercise, sleep – even if you don’t feel like doing so.
It is valuable to seek out a trusted friend or a professional – your minister, a counselor – and ask him or her to meet with you every other week or so to intentionally talk about your feelings of separation and loss. Our church office can offer referrals to group programmes, too.
Two books you may find helpful are Granger Westberg Good Grief and Alan Wolfelt’s Understanding Grief, Helping Yourself Heal. Both are available at local bookstores.
The Twenty-third Psalm is perhaps the most poignant and moving of the psalms. The writer expresses steadfast confidence and trust in the presence of God. Even when he or she cannot see where the next footstep shall fall, cannot know what is before him or her, what tomorrow holds, there is a firm sense that the Will, the Power, the Spirit of God remains present, holding, comforting, and guiding one through this valley of shadows into a new day where life will, once again, be whole.The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:he leadeth me beside the still waters.He restoreth my soul:he leadeth me in the paths of righteousnessfor his name's sake.Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil:for thou art with me;thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:thou anointest my head with oil;my cup runneth over.Surely goodness and mercy shall follow meall the days of my life;and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.Amen.
A PRAYERHere is a prayer that our minister often uses at funerals. Find a quiet space where you can be still and centre yourself. As you read the prayer, pause with each part and consciously hold yourself and the ones for whom you are praying. Eternal God, you have set us in this vast universe,and within the mystery of time whose currents bear us more swiftly than we knowto that which we call death.When we try to grasp your purpose in it all,we must confess how little we really do know,even as we marvel in wonder.
CHILDREN AND GRIEF
Children grieve. No matter how young, they sense the loss even as infants. It is important to include children in your conversations and your decisions. Let them see your emotion and encourage them to express theirs. Let them ask questions – lots of them. And answer them honestly. If you don’t know the answer to a question tell them so. What you don’t tell them, or what they think you are hiding from them, they will make up. They’ll fill in the gaps. Commonly their imaginations will be worse than the reality.
Ministers and funeral homes usually have books on death written for children that you can borrow. Often they help us adults just as much!
Be sure to alert your child’s teacher or principal when there has been a death in your circle of family or friends. Children will commonly act out in unusual ways (become aggressive, or passive, begin to do poorly in school work, etc). If the teacher knows about the recent loss, he or she can help your child talk about it.
HELPING SOMEONE WHO IS GRIEVING
One of the blessings of grieving is the care and support family and friends offer us. It can also be one of the curses!
If you are caring for someone who is grieving please remember that there are no easy answers or solutions. And please be conscious about not offering simple platitudes. To say, “You’ll get over this.” or “God must have needed a good person up there.” really do not help. For starters, one never “gets over” the loss – one learns to live new ways; and God never wills harm or hurt upon us – God doesn’t “take” us away. You can’t fix what has happened, you can’t explain it away, and you can’t fully understand what your friend is experiencing.
The best way to be of help is to simply “be”. Be available. Listen (don’t talk!). Encourage your friend to talk by gently reflecting, in a few words, what you have heard them say. Rather than say, “Call me if there is anything I can do.” notice things that need to be done and say, “I’ll do ... “ If invitations are constantly rejected, don’t give up. And if your friend expresses anger with you, don’t take it personally. Your friend needs you now whether he or she knows it!