Mike and I attended a symposium recently at Claremont School of Theology. It was co-sponsored by Forest Lawn and the topic was “Traumatic Death and Suicide”. Over 100 people attended: nurses, parole officers, clergy – pastors and chaplains, and people who are surviving the grief wrought by these types of death.
First of all, let’s be clear that all death is traumatic for those of us left to deal with its aftermath. When death comes in a traumatic and unexpected way, there are additional layers of consequence. Traumatic death and suicide leave survivors with additional questions and complications.
Secondly, it occurred to me that the people at First Christian Church of Pomona have become a community that has a deepening understanding of how to accompany people in grief. I know that this is in part due to the grief many of us experience personally. I also believe it is because you live from a place, from a heart of compassion.
There is little to no support in American culture for people to grieve. We are supposed to “get over it” quickly. Most people are lucky to get one day off of work for bereavement. As anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one (family or friend), bereavement is anything but a neat and tidy process. It is further complicated by what has become an accepted grieving process called the stages of grief. There is no scientific evidence to support the stages of grief as a linear process people work through. And yet, the medical industry continues to operate out of this model.
Grief is not a process we work through; grief is an experience we live through and with. This is what I believe you know and live out as compassionate followers of Jesus. We can’t fix someone’s sorrow but we can listen to the stories of the people they miss. We can’t eradicate the ache someone feels but we can allow that person to express what is in his or her heart without judgment, without trying to fix them or say, “you need to…”.
I learned long ago that grief comes in waves. Sometimes those waves are minutes apart and sometimes even years apart. A sound, a sight, even a smell can trigger the deeply held emotions we have for the person we love. Grief is part of our living, because we never forget those we love, nor would we want to.
The way of Jesus is the way of compassion: feeling with and for another person. I thank God that we continue to open our hearts to the way of Jesus and offer compassion to our community and world and even to each other.