I went to a funeral recently. It wasn’t my first one since my husband died, but it didn’t feel any easier. The first funeral I attended after Mark died was my Grandma’s. It was out of state and thankfully, my mind was partially occupied with the song I was asked to sing. That helped. Plus I was still in my grief fog since it was just a few months after my husband’s funeral. In hindsight, the grief fog was kind of nice, actually. In a strange way it protects you from things you just can’t possibly handle on top of what you’re already enduring. It’s like an analgesic God gives us to carry us through the unbearable.
There have been more funerals since that time. Of course there have, because dying keeps happening. My grief fog has mostly worn off now and I feel compelled to attend when I know the grieving family. My heart understands what that day feels like for them. I get that it’s comforting to see the seats filled at the service. It’s like visual evidence that your loved one’s life mattered to other people too and that is consoling. I know how reflecting back on the funeral and the people who were there to show their love and support can also bring comfort months and months down the road. And so I know I have to go, even when I don’t want to feel all the emotions that are sure to resurface while I’m there.
I suppose a funeral isn’t anyone’s favorite thing, whether you’ve recently lost a loved one or not. But now that I know how important it is to the grieving, it’s more difficult to make excuses for why I can’t go. So I go. I pray I can be truly present for the people in their fresh sorrow. I try not to let my thoughts wander to how I felt the day of my husband’s funeral, but it’s useless. My mind replays that day no matter how much I try to focus on others.
I realize that sounds pretty selfish and I’m not proud of it. But grief is nothing, if not selfish. We’re sad for US, right? Funerals are a weird mix of things. Profound sadness, a show of appreciation for the person’s life on earth, support for those grieving their loved one, and also a gratitude for the One who has defeated death for us. With that gratitude comes anticipation for ourselves…for the day WE get to heaven too. It’s such a strange mix of powerful emotions. Is it any wonder they aren’t our favorite to attend? It’s hard to process all of that at once.
When I saw the grieving family enter the prayer room just off the main sanctuary before the service began, my mind remembered when the kids and I entered that same room nearly two years ago. I think about how we took communion together in that room. I remember how my heart was breaking because just days before the kids had taken their very first communion with their Daddy, who little did we know, was taking his last.
Shake it off, Jodi! Pray for this family! Soak in the words of this song! Read the program – anything! Quit being selfish and think about THEM instead!
As the family walked down the center aisle to take their seats, my mind traveled back again. I remembered that slow, surreal walk. I remembered my arms around the kids as we moved closer to the front of the church. I remembered the pain of seeing my husband’s smiling face from behind the large picture frame on the altar table. I remembered the feeling of everyone’s eyes on us, and how my stoic face was contrary to my thoughts and feelings in those moments.
As I listened to the song during the service, I tried to soak in the words. I heard the lyrics provide promise, hope, love…eternal peace. My thoughts turned to heaven and I was so happy to know that’s where Mark is. And yet, the discrepancy between where he is and where we were was devastating.
I know there’s work to do and that God must have some important things in mind for me before I’m done here, but man! I miss him!
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I tried to snap out of it, praying again for the family. I knew they were drowning in brand-new, terrible and all-consuming grief. I was hurting for them. I was hurting for me. I was hurting for all of us.
It was a Celebration of Life service, and yet it didn’t feel very celebratory. Our lives are absolutely worth celebrating, and it’s beautiful to reflect on all the love that existed during a person’s life on earth, but it sure isn’t as joyful as it sounds. It still cracks me wide open. Every time. I can know with all my heart that through Christ we have victory over death, and yet I’m so SAD! On one hand, I’m happy death has lost its sting and that my sweetheart is with Jesus, free from illness, sadness, pain and sin. But I’m also completely shattered because I’m still here – down here in the earthly muck where the sting is still very much alive and potent.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I just know our broken hearts can be used for a greater purpose. We can take what we’ve learned from our own pain and turn it into something comforting for others walking through it. We don’t have to be amazing at it; we just have to show up and try.
If our minds wander to our own grief during the funeral, then extra grace. We’re trying.
God doesn’t call us to be perfect. He calls us to LOVE.
John 13:34-35 (NIV)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”