I was recently invited by a family to help them share the life celebration of a wife and mother with friends and family gathered for a memorial service. I was well acquainted with one of her children, but had almost no dealings with the rest of the family. In fact, I only had one fully lucid conversation with the deceased in a hospital room for just a few minutes.
It’s hard to “preach” a memorial when you don’t really know the deceased. Yes, there are numerous generic outlines one can follow, general guides for bring hope and initiating healing and sharing the hope and healing found in the Truth of the Gospel. But that is not the same as engaging with the family memories and leading them to the joy of relationship and the living connection that extends well beyond the separation brought about by death.
I lost my mom a little over 13 years ago and I have not written much about that grief. In fact, up to this point, I believe I have only written about it in contrast to the grief of losing dad. It’s not that I’ve been in denial and I’m not languishing in depression and despair. I also haven’t forgotten her and the deep meaning she holds in so many of my relationships even to this moment. It was just different from dad’s passing and at a different stage of my own life.
Speaking with this family caused me to reengage with these memories, emotions, joys and pains. And, in the context of discussing their family memories, I found a profound intersection with my memories of mom. The two words that surfaced time and time again were Family and Love. And so, the net result was 13 years later, while eulogizing someone else, I also had a chance to eulogize my mom.
I’ve never heard Prov 31 or 1 Cor 13 used in a memorial service, but they are the passages that demanded inclusions in any discussion of these two women. Though socially, economically and circumstantially these women shared virtually nothing in common, they shared one of the most important things – a life well lived as described by Proverbs 31:10-31 and a love as expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:3-7,12-13.
Though it would be inappropriate to post the eulogy here as it really was about another woman, I will include the follow up letter I sent to the family below. It was good for me to read these words as I wrote them – even though I am doing fine after 13 years.
In the days and weeks ahead, there will be good days and not so good days. That’s natural. It will surprise you what will remind you of her. It will also surprise you what doesn’t seem to bother you. That’s natural, too. There is no one right way to grieve. We all experience grief differently. We don’t even experience grief the same way every time. This is also natural. You are allowed to be sad, angry, happy, silly, lonely, scared, distracted, determined, joyful, numb, etc. Whatever you feel is what you feel. Pretty much everything is normal.
But it won’t always be this way.
The firsts are the hardest. Obviously the first birthdays and anniversaries without her will be tough. Holidays are hard, too. Special life moments will also remind you of your loss. Two that surprised me are when my youngest son was born (he is the only grandchild my mother never held) and my ordination (I know she would have been so proud). It will be hard when you look for her in the celebrations and she isn’t there.
But it won’t always be this way.
Healing comes. New memories are made. Other relationships continue to grow. We continue on with meaning and purpose. We create. We work. We play. We love. We laugh. We live.
All in good time.
I’ve read that “normal” grieving time is 18 months to 7 years. That’s a pretty big range. You’ve got time. It’s not that it hurts this much for the whole time or the emptiness is unfilled, but during this process it will back up on you from time to time. You’ll have some bad days after you thought you were through to the other side. It doesn’t mean that you will never make it through. It just means you aren’t there yet.
Take all the time you need.
We don’t mourn today as those who have no hope, but we do mourn. Encourage each other with these words.
God’s got you.
You can find other post I have written related to grief here: Posts on grief.