Some years ago when one parish was surveying needs for family support, death in the family was the most common experienced area of need. That makes a lot of sense as every family over time will experience a number of deaths, an elderly member due to the ravages of age, or a younger member from illness, or a tragic accident or one or other form of violence. The cause of death and its circumstances will determine how members are able to deal with the associated trauma, phases of grief and coming to terms with the reality. Loss of a spouse can be most traumatic because of the close bond. Loss of a young or older parent can leave a big gap and a murder or suicide results in the greatest mixture of feelings. A long protracted illness or sudden death can create very different feelings.
Just a few days ago on 11th day of the 11th month of the year at 11am (11 November) in parts of the world a very significant event was commemorated, the signing of the Armistice agreement between Germany and a number of allied forces including Britain and France 100 years ago. Up to the last minute shooting and killing continued from both sides and it is reported that more than 2000 soldiers died in those final moments of “the war to end all wars.” All in all from different armed forces and civilians some 18 million people are said to have died, the majority being young men hardly in the prime of life. Much has been written in poetry, novels and history and movies have given viewers a more visual insight. Many went to war with a glorifying attitude of “for God and country,” and some saw it as a great adventure, at least at first. Behind the scenes mothers, wives and sisters and fathers too grieved those losses.
It appeared that that particular event was not widely remembered in South Africa. Too long ago and too remote maybe. However every war still brings similar or other strong feelings. How war is fought has changed dramatically too in the last century as is clearly seen on our TV screens daily. We see internal conflict, civil war, freedom struggles, bombing and maiming of bodies of soldiers, men and women, and civilians including children. We see small wars when friends, neighbours and families turn on each other. The deceased are even at times celebrated in a spirit of revenge, or for a justified cause, or honoured for having been some kind of celebrity.
While death should not necessarily be a tragedy not every death by far is celebrated. Although death is inevitable, and to be expected at any time, (we pray for a happy death) in bereavement ministry the widowed and the bereaved of any age share their stories of their loss. Whatever the circumstances they speak of the pain, anger and desolation that would have been experienced by the dying but also by themselves, the bereaved. “Is this necessary,“ they ask. “Where was God?” is a natural question.
Some are afraid to voice relief that suffering has ended. That is also OK. Feelings are neutral, neither right nor wrong. It is action that may result from feelings that needs to be judged.
Those who have died are in our prayers, still loved, needing to experience forgiveness as do we who are left behind. In November the Church does pray for the repose of their souls and that they may be released from their sins.
Bereavement ministry focuses on those left behind, especially family members. Joining our journey towards reconciliation, healing and gradual new life can be done while meditating on Jesus’ last journey, his Way of the Cross. The Stations lend themselves to comparisons. Did I feel betrayed as he did, was I forced to carry this cross, to help another, or did I come forward out of the crowd and wipe the face of the suffering one? But ultimately the Resurrection is our final meditation. With Pope Francis we reflect “ Although the certainty of death saddens us we are consoled by the promise of future immortality. For the life of those who believe in you Lord, is not ended but changed. We will prepare ourselves to meet once more our loved ones who have died. AL 256-8.
If sufficiently nearby you are invited to MARFAM’S DAY OF REFLECTION FOR WIDOWED AND BEREAVED on Sunday 18 November at the Salesian Centre in Booysens, Johannesburg. See poster for more info.