‘We’re in the funeral generation now,’ I said as we walked away from having said goodbye to Elizabeth. A kinder person you couldn’t have wished to have known.
Jane and I have been to more funerals in the last three months than in the past three years (and that’s without one we couldn’t get to). First there was Richard, artist, opera lover, former stage designer and bookshop manager. That’s one of his paintings on the right – one of his Stations of the Cross. Then Elizabeth, whose husband John is equally special – he spoke at our wedding and baptised our children. They nurtured both of us. And then this week, that of my very dear friend Helen’s husband, who died suddenly and unexpectedly. A sword has pierced her soul and I too feel her pain.
Like many who have reached certain ages, going to funerals of friends and acquaintances will no doubt become more frequent. Death is as part of life as life itself.
The loss of someone through bereavement takes us in to harsh and difficult places. We experience the pain of shock and disbelief (and the unreal nature of it), maybe some anger, often depression and, in time, hopefully, a form of acceptance that the loss is very real.
Loss comes in different forms too. I have met many who experienced the loss of employment. Indeed, the most painful part my work was being with someone whose job came to an end and standing with them in their loss.
Many experience loss in relationships and friendships. Others, money and property. For some, it’s losing the ability to live independently (through whatever cause). Loss of health, wellbeing, mobility, cognition. Loss of community. Loss of role or status and a sense of identity. Loss when someone has got something we no longer have. Loss of trust in others.
Some forms of loss are difficult to cope with because the ‘object’ of the loss may still be very present. For example, the colleague who got the job you wanted. An ex whose negative comments find their way to your ears and eyes. The newcomer who ‘changes everything‘. Someone who has betrayed our trust.
Coping with loss cannot be rushed. It isn’t easy to ‘get over it’ as some might tell us to. Yet it is easy to find ourselves getting ‘stuck’ in a particular stage: remaining angry or becoming significantly depressed, for example. ‘Now you’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it,’ as the U2 song goes.
Just like coping with change or rejection, coping with loss is difficult. It takes time. It’s important not to deny the impact it has – and to seek help in coping with it. You may like to think about the losses you have experienced. What helped in such times? How might those help you now or in the future?
I love the way the psalmist writes that God ‘bottles all our tears’ (Psalm 56:8). God understands all the pain and the confusion loss brings – after all, he’s experienced it too.
While not to be taken literally as just being a few hours, we also have a clear promise that ‘Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.’ (Psalm 30:5)
Loss sometimes reveals new things to help fill the space left behind.