How do you feel about your own death or that of a loved one, either a young person or an elderly one who may have had their length of days, plus some?
Dying, death and bereavement have been on my mind, in my heart and prayers during this month of November. Someone said at my Bereavement Day last Sunday, we shouldn’t only think about this topic during this month, but at any time.
Many parishes commemorated All Souls at the beginning of the month, focusing mainly on those who have died. Apart from names on pious lists left on the altar for prayer during Mass this month, life tends to move on. One of my suggestions to families has been to make our own pious list, or a little family altar at home, with some mementoes of the beloved deceased. That helps us to bring to mind and share some memories, hopefully good and happy as well as more difficult ones too that all help us through the process of grieving and adjustment.
In the Archdiocese of Johannesburg there are quite a few GRIEF SHARE programmes running. This 13 week programme does help many a grieving person cope. If the grieving carries on too long it may be necessary to seek professional help from a psychologist, social worker or a trained person. Every process of terminal illness, dying and death is unique and different. Some widows have told me, especially after a long illness, that they have already done much of the grieving and saying goodbye. Is that the end? Maybe some are ready to take a deep breath and even feel some relief, while others may still carry some guilt, some sadness, some need for forgiveness and healing.
Bereavement is a spiritual journey as well as a practical one. The practical aspects often overtake us and we can get awfully busy doing stuff, maybe even choosing to be busy, to take the pain away. Different cultures of course have different traditions and rituals that help too.
But a thought has struck me recently on the aspect of dying, living in a retirement village with many elderly people. I know there are those who have reached a stage where they feel tired, in pain, “ready to meet their Maker” as we say. But do we allow people to have such thoughts, or is it only in the case of severe pain in a terminal illness that other options are considered, even the option of assisted dying, which nevertheless is against church teaching. And when someone elderly has died we send condolences still expressing sadness at their loss. They are very likely not sad. They are happy – if we have prepared them and allow them the freedom to go. Pope Francis writes in Amoris Laetitia, “if we accept death we can prepare ourselves for it. The way is to grow in our love for those who walk at our side. We will prepare ourselves to meet once more our loved ones who have died. The better we live on this earth the greater the happiness we will be able to share. The more we are able to mature and develop in this world, the more gifts will we be able to bring to the heavenly banquet. AL 258
Ministry to the ill, the terminally ill, the dying and the bereaved is multifaceted. In this ministry we should be very conscious of the person who faces the prospect of death as well as of those who will be left.
An unusual but enlightening incident happened in my circle of contacts. A greatly respected old man in his 90s, but still amazingly alive, had a fall, not something simple at his age. It appears that he is recovering but his son, quite genuinely considering that Dad might be on his final journey, on his cellphone, started planning what to say in a message reporting the death. Imagine his shock and horror when that message, by mistake, was sent out to their many family and friends. There was no way of cancelling or retrieving the message. The responses, before the error was noted, expressing condolences, some sadness and some words of gratitude for his life, were interesting and enlightening to me about people’s attitude towards death. My own thought, maybe a little irreverently or even insensitively was a sense of joy at the presumed passing of this wonderful old man. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” say I. “Go when you are ready.” We know, “the souls of the righteous are with God. Wisdom 2:23 TR FAMILY WEEKLY 20 NOVEMBER