Updated: Dec 4, 2020
By J. Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
I’ve done quite a few funerals of late. Not on the scale of Father Regis Ryan at the Archangel Gabriel parish, whose comforting nature and older congregation have made him so in demand for funeral masses that he could likely administer the mass asleep, but more than usual for me.
Truth be told, at Faithbridge, with our younger group of folks, we’ve only had a couple of members pass away in the church’s 15 years of existence, so most of the funerals I’ve done – including the ones of late – are for folks from the community, but not attenders at our church.
It’s an opportunity to be a blessing to folks in pain, provide a small bit of procedural closure, and speak some hope into the situation for those in attendance with the gospel of salvation.
I often feel, however, one of the best things we can do as ministers is to encourage the grieving to truly grieve, and those who care about them to rally around them in their time of pain. Purging the gutting pain of loss is easier when we create an environment where voicing it is accepted and tears are welcomed.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the healthy processing of grief in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.
Her theory hasn’t found many detractors over the years, although the stages she describes vary depending on a mourner’s personality and empathetic depth.
I’ve done funerals for neighbors’ children, shot dead in the prime of life, and for longtime addicts who’ve not been revived from the last of many overdoses.
The shock of an unexpected death colors the grieving, ramping up the denial, then the anger becomes palpable, mostly directed outward and upward.
The long-dreaded expectation of a loved one battling terminal cancer or deeply rooted and dangerous addiction, on the other hand, tempers denial, but the anger stage seems to flash brightly, then fade into bargaining manifesting as a need to tell the story over and again in a search for meaning, which, without an immediate answer, tends to lead to a temporary depression.
All of the steps usually need to be processed in order to move on with life in a healthy manner.
We in Western culture struggle with this.
Middle-Eastern cultures, and many others including Indonesia, Africa, and many Central and South American people, grieve with abandon. They let it out, crying loudly alongside others, some pound their chests and tear at their garments, trying to rid themselves of the angst and emptiness that comes with losing a loved one.
Most Americans tend to grieve more quietly, seeming to focus on propriety and stuffy social behavioral expectations. This likely prolongs our grieving, leaving repressed emotions to come out later in unexpected and sometimes unhealthy ways.
The Bible says we should “weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn,” and it’s true. In doing so, we give permission to the hurting to cry their tears and better process their pain. Whispering and straightening our tie in the wall mirror at the funeral home sends a different cue, that this is a formal setting, a place where emotions should be pushed down as much as possible.
In fact, our stilted grieving is so ingrained that over the years many comedic movies have made fun of people who cry loudly and let their pain wrack their body in funeral scenes, bringing theaters to howls of laughter.
Unprocessed grief can be quite debilitating, you and I can help by doing our best to help our grieving loved one know it’s natural and proper to voice their pain and cry their tears.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.