Posted By Jeromy Johnson on June 28, 2013
Dear pastors and Christianity.
When someone’s cherished one dies, there are some things they need and don’t need from you.
They don’t need comfort, hope and joy, as weird and non-seminary as that sounds. They don’t need to hear that “joy comes in the morning” and to “celebrate” that their loved one is in a “better place” and that “God wanted them with Him and called them home” or other such platitudes. They don’t need the memorial service of their loved one to serve as yet another avenue for public evangelism. They don’t need to feel rushed through mourning into celebration, in fact, that’s not healthy.
What they need is a space to mourn and grieve and cry where their tears are welcomed, encouraged and accepted–cherished even. They need a space where the darkness of the mourning soul is seen as beautiful and healthy and embraced. They need a space to say goodbye to their loved one in ways that are not always comfortable or predictable or controllable. Public mourning should be welcomed and people should not feel that they need to mourn alone and only “celebrate” publically. They need a space from you where your words are seldom and few, but your acceptance of their grief is frequent and gentle.
They don’t need to be fixed, but need to be held. They don’t need sermons or platitudes, but need space to share and weep and remember. They don’t need their tears wiped away and a smile forced onto their face as if it was clay, but need acceptance. Their raw grief doesn’t need to be feared or stifled or avoided, but nurtured and welcomed. They don’t need to be “saved”, but need to be loved in all their ugliness and smeared mascara.
We can learn something from the Jewish traditions from which we stem from. That have a formal 37-day period of mourning (where 7 days are VERY intense). Parents then continue for another 12 months. The goal is to embrace the loss and mourning and slowly enter back into a normal life. Clothes are torn. Weeping happens. Heads are shaved. And it’s not because they don’t have hope. They do. It’s because someone close to them died and is gone and is missed. And they don’t fear mourning.
So my plea is this: don’t just “let” people mourn, embrace it. Love it. Cherish it. Encourage it. Build it into your traditions and memorials. Resist the “let’s rejoice!” urge and let the darkness in. Because I guarantee, if you do, the light will be all the brighter at the end of their grief.
With love and respect,
A man whose sister just died.