A couple weeks ago, after a discussion with Marc about supporting one another in times of grief on a parish level, as we’ve had quite a few parishioners who have lost loved ones recently, whether they be parents, spouses, siblings, dear friends, or children, I went online just to see if there was a parish grief support model that we might be able to implement in our parish. I didn’t find one but I did find a letter on grief posted on a parish website. It was written by someone who’d lost their spouse, but the author said that much of what was written could apply to losing any loved one. Most of what I read was nothing new and some things just didn’t apply to us, but the author did say that of all the challenges that grieving people face, one of the most common is ‘renegotiating their relationship with God’.
That didn’t surprise me as I’ve heard many stories of people who renegotiated their relationship with God after a tragedy. One very common experience was the quick and simple: I’m done with you, God. Good-bye. Though I highly doubt it’s ever really that cut and dry. Others really struggle, some for years, others for the rest of their lives. It’s no secret that it has been my experience too. Bernadette’s death was like a tsunami that crashed against the shores of my little card house of who God was and washed it all out to sea – and me along with it. It didn’t happen when she got sick because I still clung to the hope that God might swoop down and grant us a miracle. When He didn’t, everything fell apart.
When I watch Zoe have a total meltdown or temper tantrum because she doesn’t get her own way, I look at her with love (and sometimes frustration) and just shake my head. She has no idea what she’s melting down over. She’s even taken to saying, “You’re doing this because you don’t love me.” She has no real idea what she’s saying and I know in her heart she knows darn well that we still love her because a minute later when she’s calmed down I can say, “I….love……” she quickly responds with her standard: “Me.” I confess, as I watch her three-year-old logic, desires, and manipulation at work, I often see a parallel with the way I respond to God our Father – especially in the last three years. In the eyes of God, I’m no bigger than a three-year-old having a total meltdown and accusing God of not loving me any more. Thankfully He’s no doubt looking at me with love and infinite patience and saying, “I…….love…………………………you!”
A few weeks ago, I found a video by Fr. Mike Schmitz entitled “The Real Purpose of Funerals.” He said most people think that a funeral is to say good bye to a loved one, for closure, and to celebrate the loved one’s life. Those things in and of themselves are good, but they’re not the real reason we have a Catholic funeral.
To my surprise I discovered that the real reason for a Catholic funeral is a call to reaffirm our relationship with God! Here our first inclination can be to renegotiate it, but the Church’s first response is an invitation to reaffirm it! And the four reasons he gave for a funeral were:
- To worship Jesus.
- To thank God for His mercy. He at least fills us with hope for the future of the person who had died.
- To renew our own faith!!!! It is one of the lowest moments in our lives because we’ve lost this person we love terribly. And it’s in that moment that the Church asks us to renew our faith in the Resurrection. It’s in that moment of sorrow, that moment of grief that the Church says, ‘but remember you can renew your own faith in Jesus Christ’s triumph over death’. That you can, like Paul, we can say, “Oh death, where is your sting? Where is your victory?”
- We’re there to pray for the person. We’re there to intercede for the one who has died.
I take great solace in the knowledge that if we take even just one small step towards God, He’ll come the rest of the way to us. I was there but I don’t think at Bernadette’s funeral I was worshiping Jesus. Yes, I trusted in His mercy and was full of hope for Bernadette’s future. Like Fr. George said, “Without a doubt small children go straight to heaven.” And the two dozen purple roses delivered at the funeral were proof of that for me. The forth reason I’d always known. It’s the third reason that blew me away: Renewing our own faith at the lowest moment in our lives. I’ve been thinking about that ever since I saw the video. Hum….
It’s been just over three years since our lives were forever changed and I’d have to say that the ‘renegotiation’ process is not over yet, but I take comfort in the fact that I’m in good company and that God is on common ground. The Apostles followed Jesus for three years and still, according to the Gospels, they didn’t totally get who Jesus was and what He came to accomplish. They spent a lot of time with Him, walked with Him, talked with Him, ate with Him, watched Him perform miracles, listen to Him, and still they had to go through a period of ‘renegotiation’ when Jesus died on the cross – hiding in the upper room! Even after His resurrection, Peter went fishing again, some scholars suggesting he felt lost. And yet Jesus never gave up on them, He won’t give up on all the grieving people renegotiating their relationship with Him, and He won’t give up on me.