Death may not be the most popular of topics, especially at the first of the year, but it is still all around us. Death does not take a break between semesters. We typically don’t deal well with death in our American culture simply because we don’t like to think about it. Yet, it is a reality we all must face. Whether it is seeing the tragedy of murder on the news, or a more personal touch of experiencing the loss of a loved one, the specter of death haunts us. Death is topic we must confront. As a pastor I do my fair share of funerals. Many families want to just get it all over quickly. More just don’t know what to do, how to act, or even how to feel. The process from death to grave occurs in just a few days. Typically we “enlightened” Westerners give three days for the process of grief. Most employers give only three days of bereavement pay. Most professors at school still want the work in on time. The expectation is that we get this grief thing all over with and move on with our lives as if nothing has happened.
Biblically, grief unfolds over a much longer stretch of time. It takes time to come to grips with what has happened and come to a resolution of the reality of the loss. Emotions need time to come out and be expressed through talking about the deceased, through lots of tears, and through listening to the stories of others about the loved one we no longer have. When, in the Old Testament, Jacob died, an extended time of bereavement occurred where the body was embalmed (a long process in Egyptian culture), a funeral procession ran from Egypt to Israel, and, once at the burial site, a period of thirty days was observed in mourning. Contrasted with our bereavement rituals, it is no wonder that people often exhibit long periods of depression and anger months, sometimes even years after a death of a friend or family member. Sometimes they may drop out of normal routines altogether and are never quite the same.
Our well-meaning words to the bereaved can also add to the suppression of emotions. When words are offered that God works for the good of the death, that we can be joyful despite our loss because of heaven, or that it is time to move on and put the past behind us, we can unwillingly short circuit the needed process of grief, leaving the bereaved feeling guilty for not being able to cope better with the loss. Everyone’s grief is personal, and everyone must have another who will offer a listening ear. Deeds often say much more than words for the bereaved. Bringing meals, helping with the dishes or laundry, or taking the dog for a walk are all examples of mercy and love that speak volumes to those experiencing loss.
So, let’s not avoid death. Let’s embrace it. Let’s feel the full range of pain that is inevitable in such a loss. For, through the process of grief we can better experience the solidarity of identifying with the suffering Savior of our souls, and we can be agents of God’s grace to the hurting. It is through these needs met that a grief observed can bring people to know Jesus and the power of salvation.