A child has died.
It was expected, and it took a long time, but somehow we are still not ready to say goodbye. He was well cared for and loved, and his surroundings were peaceful in his last days and weeks. But he is no longer the lively child that his parents knew and loved and hoped to see grow into adulthood. His life is over too soon for those who loved him.
Death often seems unfair and unreasonable, even when the person has lived a long life. As long as there remains someone who remembers and misses them, the break in continuity reminds us all of our one certainty, and we want to keep people around when we love them.
When the person who has died is young we imagine how we might feel in similar circumstances - if it were our child - and the thought is unbearable. We project our own fear of loss and love onto the situation, and we identify our own feelings with those of the bereaved parent. Our sadness is not just selfish though - it is also for the child and the family; we say things like, "No parent should have to bury their child", and we experience a sense of injustice.
It is now that people voice their anger, "How could a God of love let such a thing happen", "Where is God?", "How can I believe in a God that lets bad things happen to good people?"
All these are hard questions to address, and actually there is no point in trying, because answers aren't what is needed. Hugs maybe, but not glib answers. I think we all have to work it out for ourselves, and in the early days the shock and pain is so overwhelming that it blocks out everything else.
This is where Christians do have resources - not to make anything better, because we can't. We live in an imperfect world where we have and make choices, and live with consequences and the apparent randomness of life. What we do have is God who walks with us through our pain; God who, despite the trite words of the footprints poem, really does support us, surround us with love, and carry us when we can't manage in our own strength.
But I know, as do many others, that in the depths of depair and misery, even those thoughts seem cliched. They don't help because nothing helps to relieve the awful crushing weight of pain, the numbness, the leaden weight in our heart. Obviously it isn't just death that sends us there; too many other events can cause similar pain in our lives.
I envy people who have never been in that dark place, and I wish them a continued charmed life. But on another level, I know that those who have walked through the desert often have a new appreciation of life, joy and the Divine. We do come through; nothing is ever the same again, but we survive, and some are stronger afterwards - which is an odd thing to say about the walking wounded, but maybe it is about finding our strength. In that journey we can either shout at God, lament, allow others to carry our faith when we struggle, lean on God and eventually find new depths of faith, or what?
The alternative seems often to lead to bitterness and depression and a kind of lifelong sadness that isn't mitigated by hope.
Death is part of my life. Funerals and caring for the bereaved are stock in trade for clergy.
A 'good' funeral provides a starting point for the healing that will eventually come, and it is so important that we are able to care for the family and honour their memories of the deceased. It is also an emotional investment and it takes time to prepare properly; I am drained by each funeral that I take. If it is ever any different then maybe I will need to review my ministry.
Someone else has cared for this family. I have another commitment so someone else will help the family through the funeral, and speak of hopes unfulfilled as well as hope to come. Someone else will say the words of committal. I may never meet his parents, but his dying has touched me all the same.
My prayers are with several grieving families today.
Resources for 26th Ordinary Sunday
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