Today I officiated my 30th funeral.
It’s really a milestone I never considered as I started in my first solo pastor position ten years ago. As a 27-year-old mother of almost two at the time, birth was on my mind ever so much more than death. Regardless, I narrowly missed preaching my first funeral less than 2 weeks after my first Sunday in my new church. Thankfully the family had already planned for a former minister to come for the service.
I’ve had years of no funerals, and a 12 month period in which I performed 10. There is no predicting how many times I will serve in this way, nor whose family I will sit with next as we attempt to honor a 60, 70, 80 year life in a span of 30 minutes of memories, eulogies, scriptures and songs. It can be heart breaking.
It can also be uplifting as I listen to family members laugh at their loved one’s quirks, smiling at their bossiness, forgetfulness, tardiness, or other trait that in life annoyed them. Now those family members cherish even the most irksome habits.
In a society that goes out of its way to ignore death, put it off, and pretend it only happens to other people, I need to tell you that everybody grieves. Sooner or later there will be a day when you grieve the loss of a loved one. I have grieved more than I could ever have thought possible in these past 10 years. I need to tell you that it’s ok to mourn.
There is no time limit on grief, no amount of days or months in which you are required to be over the loss you suffered. You will find that life continues to go on. Without your permission the clock still ticks. The sun sets only to rise again on days when you feel darkness would be a better accompaniment to your pain. But no one asks you if it is ok for light to come seeping in at the corners.
The waves of sudden sadness crash in at the most unexpected times, when you see someone who reminds you of the one you lost. A memory, a smell, a song might send you rushing from the room to dry your tears. Don’t listen to the voices in your head or from others who will say you are being ridiculous. Tears are a sign of love.
Pain from loss is a signal that you are missing something precious. You would not grieve if you did not cherish what was lost. If you felt no pain, would you be claiming they had no value?
Or perhaps the person died leaving pain of a different kind in their wake. They caused real harm, and never made amends. The hurt of that loss can persist even longer.
If you grieve today, know that you are not alone. Grief is as much a part of life as the celebration of birth. It is inseparable from our human existence. Look at the people around you, either they have experienced grief or they will. And you can be guaranteed that it will not be on their preferred time-table.
So cry your tears, laugh at the memories, share your pain with people who love you.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will receive comfort.” – Jesus
Acknowledging our common experience.