Monday, March 10, 2008

Dealing With Bereavement

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4:13)

My dear Demetrios has pointed out to me that there is a right way to deal with sorrow, and there are some wrong ways.

Wrong way: try to forget it. Distract yourself. Keep busy. Put the deceased out of your mind and hope that eventually you won’t think about the person any more. Of course, this doesn’t work, and would be brutally inhuman if it did.

Another wrong way: Try to console and content yourself with happy memories. But Christ did not die so that we might have memories. It’s the person we want! Not memories. (This point also has important implications for the Mystical Supper; it’s Christ Himself we want, the Person, not merely memories!)

Another wrong way: Be a stoic. Numb yourself to it. Nature does this for us at first; that’s why, for a time, we say, “It hasn’t hit me yet,” or, “It doesn’t seem real.” We are unable, immediately, to respond with appropriate emotions. But the numbness, the sense of unreality, is supposed to wear off shortly. Eventually, as we gain the inner strength, we need to face the issue head-on and let ourselves have those emotions. Otherwise, we harm ourselves.

The right way, for a Christian, is to understand that we still do have the loved one, even in that person’s repose. It’s as if he were in another room, with the door closed, but he is still there. Love is stronger than death. We still love him and he still loves us. And as the Holy Spirit indwells us here on earth, how much more does He fill those of us in heaven, through Whom we all have sweet communion. We not only still have our loved one, but also have him more securely than before, because now he is sealed. He will be the Lord’s forever, with no more possibility of falling away; and he will be ours forever, with no more possibility of our becoming estranged or drifting apart. Now, on his side, at least, there is no more barrier to perfect communication.

The Christian way to deal with death, whether one’s own or that of one we love, is to remember that Christ has conquered death on behalf of everyone.

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at the last day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." (Job 19:25-16)

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." (John 11:26)

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (I Corinthians 15 :3-8)



William Weedon said...

Running with your husband's wisdom, these thoughts from Von Schenk:

The Presence

When we are bereft of dear ones, it is a tremendous shock. For a time we are stunned. Not everyone can feel at once their continuing companionship. We should not for that reason despair. An adjustment must take place in our lives, reaching deep into our habits, emotions and thoughts. Some souls may make this adjustment quickly. For most of us it comes slowly and hard; many an hour is filled with loneliness and agonizing doubt.

By ourselves we can never make this adjustment. We must come to a sense of the continuing presence of our loved ones, and we can do this if we realize the presence of our living Lord. As we seek and find our Risen Lord, we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the Altar. At the Communion we are linked with heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. That place must be the place of closest meeting with our dead who are in His keeping; The Altar is the trysting place where we meet our beloved Lord. It must, therefore, also be the trysting place where we meet our loved ones, for they are with the Lord.

How pathetic it is to see men and women going out to the cemetery, kneeling at the mound, placing little sprays' of flowers and wiping their tears from their eyes, and knowing nothing else. How hopeless they look! Oh, that we could take them by the hand, away from the grave, out through the cemetery gate, in through the door of the church, and up the nave to the very Altar itself; and there put them in touch, not with the dead body of their loved one, but with the living soul who is with Christ at the Altar!

Our human nature needs more than the assurance that some day and in some way we shall again meet our loved ones "in heaven." That is all gloriously true. But how does that help, us now? When we, then, view death in the light of the Communion of Saints and Holy Communion, there is no helpless bereavement. My loved one has just left me and has gone on a long journey. But I am in touch with her. I know that there is a place where we can meet. It is at the Altar. How it thrills me when I hear the words of the liturgy, "Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven," for I know that she is there with that company of heaven, the Communion of Saints, with the Lord. The nearer I come to my Lord in Holy Communion, the nearer I come to the saints. to my own loved ones. I am a member of the Body of Christ, I am a living cell in that spiritual organism, partaking of the life of the other cells, and sharing in the Body of Christ Himself.

There is nothing fanciful or unreal about this: Indeed, it is the most real thing in my life. Of course, I miss my loved one. I should miss her if she took a long holiday trip. But now. since she-is what some people call “dead,” she is closer to me than ever. Of course, I miss her physical presence bitterly. I miss her voice and the sound of approaching footsteps. But I have not lost her. And when my sense of loss becomes too great, I can always go to our meeting place at the Altar where I receive the Body and Blood of my Lord that preserves my body and soul just as it has preserved her unto everlasting life.

Do learn to love the Altar as the meeting place with your beloved who have passed within the veil. Here again the Sacrament is the heart of our religion. The Blessed Sacrament links us not merely to Bethlehem and Calvary, but to the whole world beyond the grave as well. For at the Altar the infinite is enshrined in the finite, heaven stoops down to earth, and the seen and the unseen meet.

Oh, God the King of Saints, we praise and magnify Thy holy Name for all Thy servants, who have finished their course in Thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, for all Thy other righteous servants; and we beseech Thee that, encouraged by their example and strengthened by their fellowship, we may attain to everlasting life, through the merits of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Berthold Von Schenk (1895 - 1974)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thank you, William. Lovely words.

Why do Lutherans, at least seemingly, want to limit that communion with the departed to "the altar"? I haven't been to the altar yet since this happened, but the awareness of Barbara's ongoing presence is palpable.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William Weedon said...

Smile. I thought about that as I posted it. It's not that the saints are not with us (or we with them) at all times, but rather that at the Altar that awareness is nourished and strengthened and realized in a stronger way than at any place else. The Altar is the "window" through which the heavenly light streams into this age, but the light fills our lives if we let it. Much love, dear, and I wish I could give you a hug. Prayers continue to rise for the repose of Barbara's soul and for the comfort of the Gospel for her family.

A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss said...

As a widow of four years, I can attest that yes, those are the wrong ways, but sometimes it is impossible not to go into numbness and busy-ness, just to get through the day. We all deal with grief in the best way we can, in our own time, and hopefully with help and support from others, friends or professionals.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Elaine, thanks for the words of wisdom, which I shall bear in mind when those days come.