By Rev. Canon Chirstopher B. J. Pratt
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?“
(1 Corinthians 15: 55)
For more than a year, few people have experienced life without also experiencing a sense of loss.
The obituary pages each day are filled with stories of individuals who have engaged fully with life and have sought to make the most of the gift of each day. Whether or not they have been infected with the COVID virus, their lives have ended, and the story of their lives are told by those who are living in the deep reality of grief.
We have had much to grieve. The death of family members, friends, and those whose lives have touched ours in one way or another is an ongoing “normal” reality of life. Most people do not like to talk about death. It is a conversation that brings us face to face with our own mortality.
During these “COVID times”, the numbers which are on our television screen each night only seem to grow larger. Each number represents a profound loss in a family, a circle of friends and in the wider community.
For those fortunate enough not to be directly impacted with the death of a human family member, the loss of other elements of life may have their own significant effect and impact. We all try to live with the loss of an opportunity to travel, not being able to be with family members who live in another community (a reality which is devastating for grandparents), the disruption of the freedom to carry out a pattern of life that used to be lived and which is remembered with fondness, all these... and more.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward some are strong at the broken places.” These dire words from Ernest Hemingway’s work “Farewell To Arms“ may make sense to some who are struggling through days filled with emotions of grief and loss. As I write this article on a day given over to engaging Canadians in a conversation about mental health, the concept of brokenness is an inescapable reality for many. The growing darkness, which many people are dealing with, often in solitude, feels like a heavy weight, which is only getting heavier. Solitude becomes, in itself, a burden.
Yet even as many find the reality of solitude, peace and an endless quiet to be a burden, there are those for whom these days are a blessed relief. Others are kept at a distance, forced conventional conversation becomes unnecessary and a new pace of life devoid of rushing around fulfilling the demands of a crowded calendar, dashing from commitment to the next scheduled commitment is welcomed like a long lost, almost forgotten, friend. The challenge of dealing with the emotion of grief may be faced differently from the perspective of solitude.
If, as Kubler-Ross suggested in her 1969 work “Death and Dying”, we go through many stages as we live through the reality of the experience of grieving, then surely we are not in an irretrievable position. She posited a pathway of emotion as we grieve. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance all have their place in her theory of grief. They do not always follow neatly, one after the other, but they do have their place. Each of us has a similar, yet, at the same time, a unique path forward as we deal with death and grief.
Within the context of a funeral service those who are grieving may hear the words of prayer being offered:
We pray for ourselves, who are severely tested by this death, that we do not try to minimize this loss, or seek refuge from it in words alone, and also that we do not brood over it so that it overwhelms us and isolates us from others. (BAS pg. 603)
This year, Sunday, March 28, is Palm Sunday, when we begin our devotional journey through Holy Week and stand as witnesses at the foot of the Cross.
For observers who do not know the story, from all outward appearances…death wins.
Being people of faith, our reality is that perceived outcome is not the case. The sorrow, grief, bewilderment, and pain felt by the followers of Jesus was very real as his body was taken down from the Cross and placed into a tomb. They soon were able to grow into an awareness of the victory of the Resurrection.
A simple reality for people of faith in Jesus, is the belief that we do not journey through life alone. We are given the gift of life to experience with all of its joys, its pain, its beauty and its sorrows. People who touch our life fill our days with love and laughter, as well as distress and sorrow. Living in these uncertain times and having to face each day realizing that there is much that is happening around us over which we have little or no control, we may find it to be a struggle to express the faith that we claim.
While the totality of God can never be caught up within a net of words, sometimes simple words help us to make sense of that which is at the heart of our faith. You may wish to consider these words as a daily devotion as you face the challenges of the moment.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, help me.
Loving God, I place myself in your hands.
Holy God, I believe in you.
I trust you.
I love you.
(BAS page 561)
Stay safe and be well.
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese of Huron.