Love and Loss


angelOver two days this week I have been involved in four funerals. When I say “involved” I mean that I have provided the music for one, delivered the eulogy and address at one, supported a friend who was delivering his first eulogy at another, and at one to mourn the passing and celebrate the life of a friend. It might seem that to go to four funerals in two days is a bit much, but to be honest, I found those two days a journey of personal and spiritual growth, and I have learned more about myself and the relationships I have with people around me after reflecting on the lives of the four people I said farewell to.

For the first funeral (Wednesday), my role was to play the music during the funeral of Daniel*. He was an elderly gentleman whose family had chosen to have a church service and burial, and his funeral was attended by lots of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. He was a big Blue (a big Manchester City fan in case you didn’t know) and he was brought into church to the beautiful singing of Mel Torme and “Blue Moon”. In the congregation was Fred Eyre who used to play for City and who now provides match commentary on Radio Manchester. The tributes were read by Daniel’s friend, and by an 11 year old little girl, who lived next door to him. It was very moving to hear an 11 year old child speak about the gentle giant that Daniel was, and she brought me to tears with her emotional speech.

On Thursday morning I attended three services at the crematorium, one in each of the three chapels there. I had the privilege of giving my very first funeral address. It was for William*, who had died in October and whose family were unable to organise the funeral for him. I did manage to speak to a couple of people who knew William and I learned a little of his life and the manner of his death, and I drew on that information and the gospel message to be able to write an address for him. I didn’t expect many family members to be present, but as it turned out there were about 50 people there to hear the funeral service and to mourn William’s passing.

Straight after William’s funeral was the service for George*. My role was two-fold, first to be a support for my friend Nick, who was also delivering his first funeral address, and also to be a mourner for George who had only two distant family members there for him.

After George’s service was the funeral of one of my own friends, Bryce. He was a cornet player and involved in many brass bands over the years so the chapel was full to the brim, with standing room only at the back and down the sides. I estimated over 200 people were there for him today, and the tributes were rich and emotional, moving and joyful. The band played “Nimrod” as a piece of reflection music, which again was very moving, and there were lots of tears shed at the very end when Bryce’s own cornet playing was relayed to the gathering in a recording he made about 18 months ago of “Ave Maria”.

So, four very different funerals. Four very different people, and four different views of death and saying goodbye to them. When I look at them as a group of four, I see the differences that life throws up to us. One man drew a couple of hundred mourners, another drew just two; one man’s family had split down the middle and didn’t really know about each other – not because of any argument but by a simple drifting apart and not speaking to each other; one man had no family to even fall out with and was truly alone in the world.

The differences go on and on, but it’s the similarities that strike me.

All four men at some point in their lives had met with hardship and struggle. With health, with learning difficulties, with failed marriages, with family splits. They had all loved and lost in one form or another, and yet they still managed to survive into later years, to about 70-80 years old each.

Another similarity is that they were all loved. Love is love, and to me it doesn’t matter whether there are just a couple of family members and “staff” from the local church to mourn you, or whether there are 200 people and a big brass band gathered to send you off, the fact is that these men were all loved and were mourned.

But it’s not just love that we understand in human terms that these men experienced, they are loved by God our father who loves us all, no matter how lost or broken we may feel, or how messy and chaotic our lives may be, or how we view ourselves as failures and so on. The love that sustained these four men sustains us all too, and we all have the promise of resurrection in glory at the end of days.

Death is a great leveller, and I realised on Thursday that no matter what our life’s achievements are or what may try to accumulate in material wealth, we all end our days on earth here the same way.

 

*Names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the individuals concerned.

Recovering From Grief


Our regular study group at church last night was a little bit different, and we had a discussion around death instead of our usual Bible study and worship. We looked at death in today’s society and our experiences of it with a view to how it will help us in our ministry to those who are grieving or who are having difficulty moving through the stages of grief and bereavement. It might sound a little bit morbid, but to be honest, I found it a really uplifting and enriching experience and it wasn’t the least bit fearful or distasteful as it might first sound.

We looked at our own experiences of loss and grief, and then we looked at various aspects of death and, using discussion prompt cards, had a chat in small groups about a couple of them.

One question that really stood out for me was “Do we ever recover from grief?”.

My initial response was “yes, of course we do”. But then we got into discussion about it and after hearing a couple of other people give their experiences of grief, I realised that I was not really in a position to answer that question quite that easily, because I hadn’t lost someone very close to me such as a spouse or a child. I have lost close family members and I have grieved for the loss of them, but I am fortunate in that I still have both my parents, my husband and my two children alive and well alongside me. That means that my viewpoint of the question is slightly different from my friend H who lost her husband within the last two years, whose answer was “no, you don’t”. She explained that she has learned to cope with her loss but she doesn’t feel secure in the knowledge that she has “recovered” as such. I was moved by her explanation and it has given me a lot of food for thought today.

I talked about this question with my husband Kevin earlier, and we talked a little bit about how grief has affected us individually and how that the idea of “recovering” from grief very much depends on the person who has died and the nature of the relationship we had with them before they died.

After a bit more thinking and talking, we came up with this analogy:

crumpled-paperIf you take a piece of paper – clean, white, unspoiled paper – and crumple it into a tight ball, then open it up and smooth it down again, you could say that the piece of paper having gone through the grief process of being crumpled up then straightened out again is still the same piece of paper as it was before, only it has been changed by it. It isn’t quite the same; it bears marks and scuffs that show it has been through some sort of trauma, and while it can still function as a piece of paper, it has been changed by it.

smoothed-out-paper

Thinking about it further, I came up with another one that might explain what it might be like to lose someone close:

eggTake an egg, and plunge it into boiling water. When you take out that egg, it is still an egg and is still fully serviceable as an egg, but because of the boiling water experience, you can’t even begin to put it back to the state it was in before. The intensity of the boiling water did something to its internal structure and it cannot physically or emotionally be the same as it was before, yet it is still an egg.

And so it is with us. For some of us, recovering from grief may be a little bit like the piece of paper analogy. Yes, we go through some pain of being crumpled up, and for some of us the process of smoothing out again can be a further source of pain but eventually we get there. Not quite the same as we were before, but we are more or less as we were before we experienced loss. However, for some of us, recovering from the loss of a loved one is more like the egg. We go through the intensity of boiling water for any length of time and yet our outer shell might look the same as it was before, our innards have irrevocably changed and we cannot be the same people as we once were. We still have a function, and we still look and taste the same, but to say that we have “recovered” would be wrong.