Posts Tagged With: Grief

The Worst Week: Easter Sunday- Their death doesn’t have to be the death of you…

And so Sunday dawns, hope and new life dawns and the disciples can lift their heads up and look to the future. But I wonder how many of them were still dwelling in Holy Saturday, I wonder how many of us are still choosing to dwell in Saturday. You see the thing is, and this is coming from a very honest place, when we are grieving it’s sometimes too easy to stay living as if it were Holy Saturday. When someone has died we are entirely justified to feel hurt and abandoned for as long as we need to, and there will be a seed of that that will stay with us forever; but we cannot live in Saturday forever. The dark nights of our souls must end and the fresh hope of Sunday has to be allowed to dawn.

Easter Sunday teaches us a couple of things about grief that I want to pick up on today and the first of these is that we must take hold of the hope that this day offers us. Hope is here, the world has continued to turn and there is promise of a future; well in our grief we need to be able to lift our head up, recognise that and choose to take hold of it. Taking hold of hope might mean that we have to let other things go, things we’ve been holding on closely to, things that feel too important to let go of but things nonetheless that may be holding us back from experiencing hope in all its fullness. In John 20: 17 Jesus tells Mary “Do not hold on to me.”. Mary was grief stricken and trying to hold on to what she could of Jesus, but he told her that she couldn’t because they both needed to move on to what was next. You can’t hold on to someone forever, you don’t forget and leave them in the past but reality goes on, their death cannot become the death of you. Although our world without them may feel dark, cold and lonely, love and hope still exist in that world and we need to have the courage to find that love and hope again.

But hope doesn’t fix everything, it still hurts! Despite the resurrection Jesus still had scars , but they were scars and not open wounds. We have scars. We remember the pain and sometimes it is unbearable again, but it lessens with time. In John 20: 19 Jesus came to the gathered disciples and said “Peace be with you.”. He was speaking words of peace to them but he still bore the scars of the crucifixion. Peace and hope don’t erase the pain but they heal the wound. Scars remain as markers that tell us the story of the past but the pain is also in the past.  But without the hope that Sunday offers us we can forget that they are scars and not wounds. When someone is suffering from scurvy one of the symptoms is that their scar tissue will break down and old wounds will open up and bleed again. Just as we need to maintain our levels of vitamin C to avoid scurvy, we also need to maintain our hope so that our scars stay as scars. The pain of losing someone marks us and stays with us but we can heal and learn to live and love again; their death doesn’t have to be the death of us.

So this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the unimaginable power of the resurrection, as we celebrate that death could not hold Jesus and we live in the hope of eternal life yet to come, I wonder how much hope you are really living with. I wonder if you are still stuck living in Saturday, are you lost in the darkness of grief and unable to see that Easter Sunday has dawned and you’re allowed to live once more? Maybe you need to drop certain things that you’ve been holding on to for too long now, not dropping your dear departed all together, but freeing up your hands to take hold of hope again. Perhaps you need to allow yourself to admit that someone’s death has left you with scars, you will never fully forget the pain but the wounds will heal. Holy week teaches us that life is bigger than death, that we live in memory of them, that we can let other people meet our needs and that it’s ok not have the answers; all of these lessons can be expressed not in the old chestnut “Life goes on” but rather in the title of today’s blog, their death doesn’t have to be the death of you. Jesus’ death gave us new life, because of his death we can live in hope; don’t allow someone else’s death to mean that you forget all that Jesus came to show you. It hurts, it will always hurt, but Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted and comfort those who mourn. This Easter Sunday let Jesus do what he came to do.

Lex xx

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The Worst Week: Holy Saturday- There’s a grief that can’t be spoken…

Holy Saturday, probably one of the most forgotten about days in the whole bible. The day that heaven is silent and Jesus is just dead. The reality of Friday has sunk in and the hope of Sunday has not yet dawned. It is the day that embodies and encapsulates the grief of the disciples. It was the Sabbath, so the law dictated that they couldn’t do anything; but social custom  suggested that they wouldn’t do anything but experience their grief. Hardly anything is written about this day in the Bible and it leaves me with the question of whether the disciples were so devastated by grief that they couldn’t put into words what they were feeling. Were the disciples showing us that there is sometimes a grief that can’t be spoken, where silence can be the only appropriate response?

There are a couple of points about Holy Saturday that I want to pick up on in today’s blog and the first is silence. I’m not a fan of silence, it unnerves me and isn’t a way that I connect with God; but silence can be a powerful response to and expression of grief. When someone dies there is so many emotions that can suddenly rush over us that it would be impossible for us to articulate all of them, and sometimes any of them. The gospel writers have hardly anything to say about Holy Saturday but in many ways I think that tells us more about what was going on and how they were feeling than if they had attempted to write everything down. Silence tells us so much more about the depth of their grief than words ever could. What do the disciples teach us then in their reaction to Holy Saturday? They reassure us that it’s ok not to have the answers, that it’s ok to not want to put things into words and it’s ok in the pain of our abandonment to remain silent. There is a much darker side to grief than anyone could ever know until they experience it. There are thoughts you wouldn’t think your mind capable of thinking and feelings that you would not think possible until they bubble up out of nowhere. There is a side to grief that cannot be spoken because we simply can’t find the words to communicate to the world how hurt we are. And it is this that I think the disciples are showing us in their reactions to this most painful of Sabbaths.

The second thing that I want to pick up on for today is the fact that the disciples experienced and expressed their grief together. We will never know what the disciples necessarily did on Holy Saturday but we can assume that they were together like they are on the morning of Easter Sunday. This group of friends who have travelled together and shared life for three years are now supporting each other through their darkest moment in the only way they can, by simply being together. In moments of grief it can be so easy to want to push people away and isolate ourselves from a world that we think doesn’t care. But being with people, as hard as it might be, can be a huge source of comfort and hope in an otherwise seemingly hostile world. In his Nooma video “Matthew” Rob Bell discusses this idea of being with people in their grief. He suggests that any reaction to grief, any reaction, is valid and natural. He also speaks about the ancient Jewish custom of sitting Shiva. The practice of being with a bereaved family and experiencing their grief with them, whether they want to talk about things or if they just want to sit in silence. He suggests that when we are mourning, God is sitting Shiva with us. There is a grief that can’t be spoken, but we are reassured with some people we don’t have to find the words. My best friend’s mum who I spoke about yesterday is amazing and can tell when all you need is her presence (and a hug) because you don’t have the words to say what’s going on. She understands that there are elements of my grief that will never be spoken but stands by me nonetheless.

So today, as we find ourselves in the valley between desolation and hope, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday; I encourage you to explore what this day means, maybe for the first time. Perhaps you need to find some silence, maybe you need to be encouraged that silence is completely justified, potentially you need a little permission to express your grief in a silence that speaks louder than words. But maybe today you need to be the source of comfort to a family or some friends who are on a journey of grief. Perhaps you need to be the person who is there and can understand what they’re telling you even when they’re not using words. There is a grief that can’t be spoken, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood. And what we all must take from today is that God is sitting Shiva with us in our grief, drawing close to those who are mourning. Hope may come in the morning, but it is ok, for today, to feel desolate and not be able to put it into words. 

Lex xx

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The Worst Week: Good Friday- It Is Finished…

So this is it, the day that Jesus dies. Jesus has anticipated the arrival of this moment, the disciples have feared it and hoped it would never come, but this is the day that it actually happens. Jesus’ life all too suddenly comes to an end and his disciples are surely left with minds full of questions. Jesus’ followers and friends couldn’t do anything but watch as events unfold, they couldn’t step in, couldn’t save him- but their presence is what they could give, and it was enough. The story of the cross and Jesus’ final day is one that illustrates to us the raw human emotion that exists at the heart of death and grief. Two of which I want to touch on in today’s blog.

The first thing that Good Friday teaches us about grief and in fact something that Jesus himself shows us is that it’s ok, and indeed natural, to feel completely abandoned in the moment when someone dies. In Matthew 27: 46 Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, in this moment where he is close to death and his grief peaks, he feels abandoned and isn’t afraid to admit it. As Jesus dies feeling entirely alone, I’m sure his followers were feeling the same starkness of abandonment; not knowing why this was happening, how they should feel and what to do next.

When grief enters our lives, our worlds turn upside down and suddenly become places of turmoil. At the moment that Jesus dies the world goes dark, there is an earthquake and the curtain in the temple rips in two. All three of these things were very physical marks that the world as the disciples knew it was turning upside down and falling apart. When someone we love dies the world stops being a place that we recognise and instead becomes a place where something is very, very wrong. Unlike the events of Good Friday though, for us nature doesn’t respond to our feelings and let the rest of the world know what’s happened. We are simply left with a feeling of abandonment in a world that is carrying on like normal. People are going on with their lives, people are happy and the world is still spinning, seemingly unaware of the fact that someone we love is no longer in it. It’s wrong and it’s completely ok to feel utterly abandoned in that moment. Jesus felt it, the disciples felt it and we are allowed to as well.

The second thing I want to pick up on from the “Good Friday grief” is that we are allowed to let other people fulfill our needs. In John’s gospel Jesus has an exchange with his mother and the disciple he is closest to, he says “He is your son…she is your mother” (John 19:25-27). He ensures that once he is gone that those he loves most are going to be ok and look after each other. This wasn’t done so that he would be replaced in their lives, but so that some of the roles he plays in people’s lives can be filled by others. The person who has died is never going to get replaced, but that doesn’t mean that all of the roles they played in your life should just die with them. When we are on a journey of grief we have to admit, to ourselves and to others, that the death of someone special has left certain needs in our lives; and we are allowed to let other people meet some of those needs. Before my mum died my best friend’s mum promised that she would always look after me like I was one of her girls, and so for the past seven years and I’m sure for many years to come that’s what she’s done. Obviously she’s never going to replace my mum, but she meets some of the needs that were left by my mum. Admitting that you need help from other people when you’re travelling on a road of grief is at the very heart of surviving and finding hope again.

So today as you travel through Good Friday think about the raw humanity that is on display for us in the gospel accounts. Watch Jesus entrusting his mother and closest friend to each other and reflect on the needs that exist in your life. Perhaps they’ve been left by someone who has died, maybe they’re just there, but we are allowed to find other people to play certain parts in our lives; it’s not disrespecting the memory of our dear departed, it’s ensuring that their death is not the death of us. And finally this Good Friday, watch as Jesus cries out in  the pain of abandonment, as the disciples stand and watch in horror, and remember that it is alright to feel abandoned and like the world is turning upside down. But remember that while it is Friday and it is finished, it’s only Friday and it’s not the end of the story.

 Lex xx

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The Worst Week: Maundy Thursday- Do This In Memory Of Me…

I often wonder when reading the stories of Maundy Thursday and the last supper, whether despite what Jesus was saying to them the disciples actually understood what was going on. In Matthew’s account of things Jesus tells the 12 that his “Hour has come”. But in spite of that, Jesus spelling it out for them, did Jesus’ closest friends really believe that this was going to be the last time they ate together before he died.

I don’t think they did, I think that although Jesus was telling them that this was the end they still thought there was hope, that Jesus wasn’t going to have to die. You see the thing is that death is always a shock, it might come at the end of a long illness, it might be expected; but no one can tell the exact time or day when someone is going to die, and so there is always going to be an element of shock. Like I said in my Palm Sunday blog, someone is alive until they are not, and because nobody can tell the moment at which that switch will take place, we hope until the very end and when the end does come, we are shocked.

So what does the story of Maundy Thursday have to say to us about the journey of grief that Jesus and his disciples are yet to go on and the journeys of grief that we find ourselves on? Well, quite simply and as the title of today’s blog suggests I think it teaches about the importance of memories.

Memories, whether small or large, mundane or extraordinary, become things of such comfort when we start a journey of grief. “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure” as an unknown author puts it. Memories can be a shared thing and keep us connected to other people as we journey the road of grief together, defying geography and time. And memories protect us from a world where our departed relatives and friends are completely absent. Memories are essential to us first expressing our grief and then finding the strength to hope and live again.

In sharing Passover with his disciples, in having this last meal and telling his friends to remember him in a specific way, Jesus gives them a memory point to share together and connect their grief to. I would love to know what the Passover meal was like the year after Jesus died, were they together? Did they remember? Did discussion turn to their dear departed friend? I like to think that wherever the 12 were, they all remembered and were connected in their grief somehow.

Now obviously Jesus gave his friends a very particular way to remember him by, a way that we still share in today, but doing something in memory of someone who has died doesn’t necessarily need to be a particularly poignant thing. It could be a seemingly insignificant and small thing like a smile that looks like the person who has died, or a shared favourite song or a particular family event; it could be the simplest thing in the world but the point is that any of these things (and a whole host of others) could be things that we do in memory of someone. Before my mum died there weren’t any poignant conversations where we discussed what life would be like without her, and so there isn’t strictly something that I do “in memory” of her. But there are so many memories every day that act a points to connect us, that in essence I live every day in memory of her. Memories are incredibly powerful things.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry first learns how to conjure a Patronus. In this scene, having met both a dementor and a boggart previously in the film, Harry is having extra lessons from Professor Lupin to help him fight both. In this scene the boggart (a shape shifter that takes on that which you fear most) has assumed the guise of a dementor (a creature that feeds off happiness leaving their victim with a sense of hopelessness and, if able to perform the dreaded kiss, no soul) and time after time Harry is attempting to fight off this monster by using the only spell that will work, a patronus (a spell made up of powerful happy feelings which takes the form of an animal). This is a scene that basically teaches us the lesson that memories, and specifically happy memories, are incredibly powerful and can be used to all sorts of ends. In the magical world Harry is taught that to beat fear and hopelessness he must focus on his happy memories and use them to his benefit. When he does this those happy memories fill him and become something that is strong enough to protect him and others.

So this Maundy Thursday as we remember Jesus, possibly by sharing in bread and wine and doing so in memory of him, this could be an opportunity for you to think about communion in a new way. Yes it is something we do to remember Jesus sacrifice on the cross, but we are also connecting ourselves to the grief that Jesus’ friends first felt. But today I also encourage you to think of what you could do in memory of someone you miss. It may be painful to remember these things at first, but if we allow them to fill us up they could become something that protects us and helps us smile again.

Lex xxImage

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The Worst Week: Palm Sunday- I’m alive, I’m here, I matter…

When I was younger I used to get so confused about how Palm Sunday came just five days before Good Friday. I was never able to understand how in five days the shouts of “Hosanna!” could have changed to screams of “Crucify!”. In many ways I still don’t fully understand how the Jewish people could have turned on Jesus so spectacularly in such a short time; but now, having looked at the story of Holy Week within the context of a journey of grief I understand the importance and relevance of Palm Sunday in a different way.

            One thing that Palm Sunday shows us is that Jesus was alive, really alive, so full of life that people just had to take notice of him. And although Jesus himself was fully aware of the fact that he was travelling towards his death, and therefore for all intents and purposes “dying”, it didn’t alter the fact that Jesus was alive, he was here, he mattered.

            We use the word “dying” to describe the state that someone is in but it doesn’t actually have any bearing on their state of being, until someone is actually dead they are alive. And let’s be honest, there is no real grading system of “aliveness”, someone is alive until they are not. Something that people all too often forget is that a dying person is still capable of living and experiencing life until the very end. They’re still alive, still here, still matter.

            I don’t know if you’ve seen the film “My Sister’s Keeper”, but there is a scene that links with the “Palm Sunday stage of grief”, it happens just over an hour into the film and is quite pivotal to the story. It takes place on a beach and it shows us that Kate, the main character, although terminally ill, is still alive, still here and still matters. The family don’t forget that Kate is ill, they can’t because it has become a reality for their family now; but that day joy becomes bigger than the illness. Kate’s life is bigger than her impending death.

            If the story of Easter teaches us anything it is that life is bigger than death. If Jesus was just another guy that died in a horrific way, we wouldn’t still be talking about him. It was Jesus’ life that picked him out as different and caused people to take notice, Jesus’ life is bigger than his death (a life so big in fact that death could not hold him!). Now I don’t know about you, but I want to be remembered for my life and not my death, I want my life to be so much bigger than my death. I’m alive, I’m here, I matter.

            The starting point to any grief journey is the simple fact that someone was alive and now they are not; grief starts with life. And so the beginning of any expression or experience of grief is the recognition that a person was alive, was here and mattered to us.

Life is so often all too short though, and sometimes it can be so hard to focus on someone’s life rather than their death, especially if their life was very short or their death expected. But the fact still remains, death does not subtract from life; a life of just one day is still a life. They were alive, they were here, they mattered. I have a tattoo on my wrist that for me sums up this idea. I have a rule that when I look at my tattoo I remember my mum’s life and not her death, my tattoo sums up the mark she left on me and my life; a mark of her life that is not forgotten, rubbed out or faded by the fact that her life is now over. She was alive, she was here, she mattered and her life was bigger than her death.

So today, as we journey through Palm Sunday and we remember Jesus’ life rather than his death. I challenge you to remember the fact that life is bigger than death. Think about your special people who have died, but I encourage you to focus on their life and not their death. They were alive, they were here, they mattered. I also challenge you to think about yourself. You’re alive, you’re here, you matter; today make yours a life that is bigger than death.

Lex xx

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The Worst Week: A Series On Grief…

This time last year (where the time has gone I’ll never know, mental!) I was about four weeks away from finishing and having in my dissertation (no I haven’t finished banging on about it yet!). As many of you might know my dissertation was about childhood and adolescent bereavement, and focused mainly on the introduction of a new resource I had written for youth workers to use with bereaved children and young people. Some of you will have heard me talk about this resource in depth at one of the presentation evenings I’ve done, but I know there are people who didn’t manage to get along to them and are interested in the topic. I’ve wanted to share some of my dissertation work in a public way for a while, and this coming week offers the perfect opportunity for doing just that, and I’ll tell you why.

The second part of my resource is a collection of session guides entitled “The Worst Week”. There are five session guides in total which move chronologically through Holy Week; starting at Palm Sunday and culminating in Easter Sunday. The reasons why the session guides are hinged on Holy Week are twofold. First, in the stories of Holy Week we see an overview of a grieving process, both from the perspective of those left behind and the person who is dying. But second, and probably more importantly, the stories of Holy Week show us quite simply that grieving is a Biblical principle. The shortest verse in the Bible (John 11:35) is “Jesus wept.” through the simple act of sharing in the emotion of a friend’s death, Jesus gave us the perfect example that grief is ok. We need to remember that Jesus taught “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4), God not only allows but expects us to grieve when we experience loss and we are taught that he is ready to comfort and support us when we do. This then is why I chose a group of stories that encapsulate God’s understanding of our grief as a foundation for approaching the subject in my resource.

So over the next week I will be sharing five blogs; Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday; each looking at different elements of grief that run through the stories of Holy Week. Obviously the posts will be predominantly about grief, but I hope there will be something that everybody can take from each day. There might be some video clips to watch (how exciting) and some original stories (even more exciting), that tie in with the aspect of grief for the day, so it won’t be a whole week of me waffing on. This is the first “blog series” I’ve attempted, so we’ll learn how it goes together. Good luck everybody, see you on the other diode.

 

Lex xx

 

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