Thursday, December 5, 2013

Grieving--The Long Goodbye

"Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift."

  --Mary Oliver, from Thirst

(Last week I was asked to speak at the annual Memorial service at our Funeral Home in Clemson as we remembered all those that had died in the last year. Over 160 people had left us. And so that night I looked out on a slice of humanity. All kinds of folk. The very sophisticated and those who had little of the world's goods. There were people on walkers and all ages who gathered to remember their loved one. Our griefs became an equalizer. It did not matter who we were. We were grievers, one and all, trying to deal with the hurt and heartbreak of our loss. This is what I said to those in that crowded chapel room.)

We Come to Remember

 We remember wives and husbands and children and grandparents and uncles and cousins. And besides these, there are some good friends who have come to stand with you this night. Yes, we have come to remember.

You were brave to come tonight. Because what you have done is rip open the old wound and know, once again, the grieving is not over. The tears may not be over. And this evening is a painful reminder of this hard, hard time in your life.

We come to Touch our Grief Once More

I am glad you came for a lot of reasons. In this remembering time you need to touch your grief once more. Some people don’t realize that it takes a long, long time to say goodbye. And some of you think this hard place in your heart will never move. So I first say that you are not finished grieving. Mark Twain lost 3 children. A 16-month-old son. And two daughters: Jean and Susy. But talking about the loss of his children he said, “Losing one’s loved one is like the burning down of your house—it will take years and years to reckon with all you have lost.” And this is true. For a long, long time you’ll look and remember something
you thought you had forgotten and the grief comes roaring back. Not as bad as the last time...but it comes. One man wrote: “The shine went out of everything.” Facing your grief—which is what you all are doing tonight is hard but it is healthy. For if we don’t face it—it will eat us alive. And our loved ones we lost would not want to happen. 

We have all looked at the pictures of your loved ones on the screen. Alive and vital and funny and mean and human and stubborn and kind and loving and hard to live with. Some of their peculiar habits that drove you crazy—you’d give anything to have them back. So tonight brings it all back. But look around you—this is another reason I’m glad you came. Because you are surrounded by a whole lot of other grievers. When we lose somebody our focus gets very narrow and we think that we are the only one that feel the way we do. Nobody else we think, has gone through what we go through. So looking around you-- you know there are whole lot of others who are in the same hard place you are. There’s a comfort in that. And you mutter: “Well, maybe I’m not crazy after all.”

This Goodbye is very Long

One woman tells of going to the cemetery after the funeral. She lost her husband and she was crying. A relative, driving the car turned and said, “Stop that. You’ll just have to get over it.” We talk a lot about closure and moving on. But these words should not apply to our grief. We do get over it but it takes a long, long time. And we don’t think we will ever get over it.  But you will. One day you will get out of bed and look through the window and guess what? That old yellow thing in the sky will be shining once more and somewhere in the distance you’ll hear a bird sing. And you are back. You never thought it would happen. But it will or it has for some of you,. Life will go on. It’s like an amputation. Different, always different—but life will go on. My buddy lost his wife of 47 years the other day and I knew both of them well. And when I called him, one week after the funeral I said, “Do you know what Marilyn would say? Bob—this is going to be very hard—but you going to get through it.” And she was right. And this is true of everybody here.

Grief can evolve into Thanksgiving

The third thing I would say is that we have just come through a period of Thanksgiving. And maybe you feel like you don’t have anything to thank God for. Well—remember. Remember your loved one. Remember their face and how they looked and acted. Their little quirks that made them who they were. Whisper a thanks—You did not have them long enough—but for the time they were here--they added grace to your life. Give a thanks for that.

But that’s not all. Think of all the people that stood in that long line to hug you and stand with you. Think of those people that said they would  pray for you. Think of all that food—more than you could ever eat. But it came with a heart full of love. Think of the service and those that left their jobs and some their own grief to come and stand with you. And the cards—they didn’t have to send them or the flowers. As you remember I hope you thank God again and again.

You are not Alone

 Whether you go to church or not—we all need to remember that Jesus wept when his good friend Lazarus died. And God aches for you in your pain. The quote I keep hanging on to these days says: “I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge—someone is hidden in this dark with me.” You are not alone. God will send you his angels in one form or another. Angel means messenger. God’s love might come through a
grandchild...a friend...a Pastor...someone you hardly  know. Sometimes—believe it or not—that old dog that follows you around and thinks you are the greatest thing in the world could be one of those angels. These messengers however they come...tell us we’re gonna make it. That life is not over. Grief might not be over yet—but life is not over either. The prayers that have gone up for you and your family will be heard. God will send his Spirit in one form or another. Let not your heart be troubled—neither be afraid. Somehow you will make it.

And if old grief won’t leave you alone—talk to someone. A Pastor. Your Doctor. A counselor. They can help. But I love that old verse in the Bible that says: “Weeping may last for a night—but joy comes in the morning.” And this is my prayer for each one of you. After the tears do not come as will discover that joy will come to you. And you will live again. That’s my prayer for everybody in this room. 

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