A couple of weeks into our internship, Pam and I were asked by residents at the Manor to start a grief support group. When I realized what was being asked of us I was simultaneously humbled and a little apprehensive. We had of course covered grief and death in our pastoral classes but this would be the first time that we would be leading a group.
Leading is what we ended up not doing. We facilitated the group and walked along side the members of the group as companions as we met each Friday afternoon for six weeks. We had the back up of our supervisor, Fr. Jacobsen, and also a wonderful resource that he had put us onto “Companioning the Bereaved – A Soulful Guide for Caregivers” by Alan D. Wolfelt. The book title is shared here with a very strong recommendation.
Our group of five plus Pam and I met and I would say that we all got different things from the group, everyone was at a different stage of grieving. What was common though was that no-one had really talked about their journey of grief in a deeply meaningful way. The act of sharing, of being accepted and of listening to others proved to be important fuel for the journey.
On another occasion I had the opportunity to talk about death with one of the residents at the Villa. He had certain wishes, things he wanted to say and after we talked he realized that the conversation that we just had was a conversation that he also needed to have with his family.
Our culture does not encourage us to talk about death, before death occurs. Also when we have experienced death of someone else our culture patterns the norm of what grief should look like. But grief has no norm, has no set path. I did an experiment on Saturday evening after I got home from an afternoon at the Villa and tried to talk to my husband about death. He didn’t want to talk about it – clearly I have work still to do.
As a candidate for Holy Orders I find myself in situations where I can talk about death in the context of faith. Faith transforms our view of death, from a final act to the passing into a new season. But anyone of faith has the same Good News. The pain and horror of Christ’s death on the cross is followed by the joy, hope and reality of the resurrection. We must never be scared or ashamed to talk about death in the context of our faith. Doing so, means that we can openly talk about death and the practical earthly realities that we need to talk about with loved ones and caregivers. Then in grief at the death of others, we realize that we are never alone for in faith Jesus holds open a 24/7 grief group – we just have to rest on our faith to enter in.
I am doing one of my field placements at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Rancho Penasquitos. Today after the service was the monthly Philosophy for Kids & by Kids. Each month Dr. Maria chooses a story and tells it to the kids (and their parents who always seem to enjoy the story as much as the kids). After the story Maria leads a discussion with the kids about what the story meant, how its meaning can be applied to their lives etc… Often a comment from one of the kids triggers many more comments from the parents.
This morning, we read Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch. There was some concern before the session about how suitable a discussion on death would be for the kids. As it turned out the kids were fine, but the adults were deep in thought and discussion.
Sometimes we shy away from hard questions and hard subjects and by doing so we do ourselves a major disservice.
When was the last time we talked to our loved ones about death? what are we afraid off? where do we stand with God and our thoughts on death?
Sometimes the thoughts of those much younger than us can teach us so much.