Richard Niebuhr uses the metaphor of a shipwreck to describe those life experiences where what we thought would hold comes apart. A marriage ends, a career collapses, an illness shatters plans, a loved one dies. Pastors and congregations can be a lifeline.
Our culture, however, is mourning avoidant—and too often, faith communities reflect the broader culture's misconceptions surrounding grief.
When we talk about grief, we often speak of it in terms of letting go, moving on, and getting over it. People want to know when they will be back to normal. But the loss of a loved one is not a bump in the road that we go over and then the pavement is smooth again. Grief fundamentally changes who we are.
When my mother died early on a spring evening in 1993, the ladies of the garden club and the bridge club gathered around my family to stand sentinel over the old-fashioned ritual of paying calls on the bereaved.
One of the prevailing myths in North America’s mourning-avoidant culture is that within a relatively brief time after a loved one dies, we will want and receive closure. Living in liminal space and profound pain, we yearn to end such grief, to lose the sense that we’re on the bridge to nowhere. After our 25-year-old daughter Krista died while volunteering in Bolivia, as parents we heard the term often.
Moses Pulei, who is from Kenya, met Krista in college. He flew from southern California to Spokane, Washington, to attend her memorial service. At the reception, he approached my husband and me. “In the Masai tradition, when someone dies, our gift is to go to their home and share a story,” he said. “May I come over?”