“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…and…a time to mourn.”-The Teacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 NAS)
After the first day, we posted a hand-printed sign on the front door, requesting a few hours of privacy overnight; but as word spread, they just kept coming. The doorbell rang non-stop for a solid week. Kicking the snow off their boots, they wrestled themselves out of their coats, all the while balancing bouquets and balloons and boxes of cookies. The scent of lilies and the aroma of baked ham pervaded the tiny house, reminiscent of Easter were it not for winter’s gloom. Family from Michigan and Florida and Texas mingled with neighbors and friends from church, greeting and mixing with an ease that comes only from sharing a common disaster. Our daughter Catherine had died in an accident, and our little corner of the cosmos rushed in to hold our hearts lest they bleed out silently were we to suffer alone.
We were so fortunate these people swallowed their terror and rushed to our aid. That, folks, is how it is done.
Unfortunately, helping the grieving is not a life skill taught in school. It is passed down by generations as children watch their parents participate in the life of their community. I suggest that, due to advances in our mobile (and now plugged-in) society, we are losing the knowledge of how to comfort the bereaved, because we are no longer part of the process. We are no longer part of community. We run from the hurt because it scares us to death and say, “it’s not our concern.” When an accidental encounter launches an awkward monologue, we blurt out our condolences even as we furtively look for an exit. When Catherine died, Kevin and I became accustomed to the “quick switch”- acquaintances ducking behind the bananas at City Market lest we strike up a conversation. We understood, and eventually forgave. Adrenaline provokes the flight response faster than compassion stirs the brain. People who haven’t been there avoid “a time to mourn” out of fear. Folks who have been there can’t stay away- not because it’s so much fun, but because we remember the comfort given to us.
So what did the author of Ecclesiastes know of a time to mourn? Far more than we do, I suspect. Society may have progressed in its attitudes, values, and quality of life, but I submit that his culture enjoyed a peace that surpasses our own when Death comes to call. Hebrews of the time observed strict practices for outward expressions of grief, burial, and mourning. The brokenhearted were recognized, understood, and respected. These customs brought comfort to the bereaved and honor to their dead. The also united the community, making each person a participant in the process. One might call this morbid. I call it healthy; we are called to community in all the events of life. God invites us to participate in the sacred process of mourning as well as the celebrations of marriage and birth.
Mourning is sacred because God is there. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV) God bends down to earth and wipes the tears from our eyes using the hands and hearts of the people around us. In the beginning, I wondered where God was when Catherine died. Ten years later, I know. He was in the meadow, holding her hand and leading her home. He was in the ER, manifested in the various shapes and sizes of the saints who were crying with us and praying. He shoveled our snow and took in our relatives and cleaned our house and brought flowers and food and filled our cars with gas. The Lord flung wide the door and lived out His love through the actions and prayers of His people. Together, they formed an almost magical bubble of protection in the sacred experience of grief. Together we mourned, and together we healed.
So who are we to be when sorrow pays a visit? It’s been said, “People are at their best when things are at their worst.” * I say God’s people should be at their best when their neighbors are at their worst. “A time to mourn” eventually comes to every home. Rather than ignoring the pain of the family down the street, (after all, we may not know them) we can take a plate of cookies and a card; not to leave them on the front step but knock and be recognized. We can say, “I am so sorry for your loss. I am your neighbor. Is there anything I can do for you?” We will not melt if their tears fall on our shoulders. On the contrary- the tears of God fall like rain every time we look away.
Ten years later, I look with confidence towards the faraway land where I will someday see Catherine again. Though God has given me the peace to live between now and then, I would not have survived the early days had He not given me the gift of Himself through His people. As for our neighbors: lilies and ham are gifts we can bring, but our presence is our present. We are not alone as we enter the sacred place called Mourning.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”– Jesus Christ (Luke 10:27 NIV)
©Rachel Ophoff 2010, Coconut Mountain Communications LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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