As chair of the board of deaconesses, Virginia and the deaconesses are well-versed in grief and mourning as they rally around families with sweet comfort and assurance of the church family's care and love.
Feathers lay strewn across the bark chips in white, black, brown, grey and speckled array sticking there ruffling in the light breeze. A tiny yellow beak and one remaining claw sink into the fluff where minutes earlier the hawk sat ripping and tearing at the flesh of the little bird. This scant pile is all that remains of the hawk’s hasty meal. I am at fault for placing the birdseed enabling the wily carnivore to snag the unsuspecting bird, so I retrieve the feeder willing the hawk to fly away from rooftop perch and not have my yard open season for hunting.
His eye is on the sparrow, and sometimes sparrows fall. A giant member of the avian species would not swoop down to consume a smaller, weaker member in the early days of creation. Blood spilled and animals eating each other are the sad result of our original sin. Nature after the fall is attack, split and devour. It seems in violent disarray, yet creation in its fallen futility remains part of the divine order. As do our losses, grief and mourning for an end to separation, a longing to make things whole and right.
Our loss, our grief echoes within ourselves, our families and community. We join creation’s groaning when a loved one dies. Loss rakes as it takes the faithful believer. Bitten by death and gnawed by grief, the sharp sting is felt even as we celebrate the passing into heaven of our loved ones. We need comfort, and there are times when the sad outnumbers the glad in cards sent to say we love and care about you, as in the past two months at College Church where many have entered their eternal home, and we miss them.
Grandpa’s death shattered my father. The family could hear Dad crying and playing recordings of Grandpa’s preaching behind the closed door of his study. My father could be tender, but he had never cried in such loud lament as heard through that door and it terrified us. We sat in a huddled mass with ears pressed to his door, weeping along. My brother announced, “Dad is crying like there’s no tomorrow,” bringing another wave of tears along with Mother scolding us for listening at closed doors. When I asked Mom why Dad was crying so much she sighed, “Your daddy never quite got enough of his daddy. All those years he spent in boarding school when Grandpa was off preaching, then Daddy went into the army and next came the mission field. He really misses his daddy is all.” At nine years old I was awed that a grown man could feel so much love and loss for his father and I cried even more.
When my father died we were all so relieved and that didn’t feel right either. Dad had struggled and wasted away on kidney dialysis for 20 years. It was painful to behold his suffering. Death was a terrible blessing. Home after the funeral, I was watching my young daughters twirling and giggling so vibrantly alive in contrast to the dead garden stalks of winter. They were carefree and carrying on as if death had no hold on us. I cried knowing that loss would touch them someday as it touches us all.
Mourning, yearning, emptiness and quiet. The hollow pain that lingers when a loved one leaves us behind. We may at times be rolled over and snowed under by grief. Tears aren’t enough. Words don’t cover. We are blinded by our tears and maybe angry at the circumstances. How dare the world go on? The sun will rise too brightly and set too beautifully for our grief. Sound is too loud. Metal spoons crash and clang on pans. The chewing of insects is deafening. Snowflakes fall with a harsh tick on the window pane.
Through it all we need comfort and assurance that we are loved, and the community prays, and practical kindness appears in the form of cookies and delicious food on trays at a funeral reception. Special effort in planning, arranging, setting it all out with willing hearts and steady hands. A cup of cool, refreshing water or aromatic, hot coffee. Something sweet to cover the sour feeling. Something savory to balance the sweet. In some small way emptiness may be filled and cold replaced by warmth. Here is a kind word or tender morsel to lighten your step as you trudge through your heaviness. We walk together hand in hand. We cry rivers until we run dry, and here enters grace with a balm of kind words, Scriptures, memories, smiles, tears, prayers and favorite hymns.
There are birds who sing flight songs to draw attention as they fly upward in a straight line. At a memorial service we gather to share our sorrows and affirm belief in our Savior. We do not walk alone through the valley of the shadow, watching death be swallowed up in victory. Our mourning turns to dancing as we join in a flight song that begins together now and resounds into eternity as Jesus taught us:
Our, our, our.
Father, Father, Father.
You are, you are, you are.
Holy is your name.