Christ weeps at the grave of his dead friend Lazarus- what a powerful witness! He does not say, “Well, now he is in heaven, everything is well; he is separated from this difficult and tormented life” Christ does not say all those things we do in our pathetic and uncomforting attempts to console. In fact he says nothing- he weeps. And them according to the Gospels; he raises his friend. Alexander Schmemann
Grief is dear, it’s a way we express love for the person who has died. When someone near to us dies, the first thing we feel may be disbelief. We wish it weren’t true and feel that there was some terrible mistake. When people are grieving, sometimes they feel sad about a lot of things. Sometimes people get angry and wonder why their loved one died. They might even be angry at God and wonder why He didn’t intervene. Other people might feel guilty because they think they could have prevented the death even though they really know they had nothing to do with it. People who are grieving sometimes want to run away from the pain in their heart, so they stay very busy with other things. Other people think about their loss so much that sometimes they hurt so intensely they can’t even get out of bed. Often, people who are grieving withdraw from their friends and don’t enjoy doing things they used to do. They wonder how other people can be so happy when they feel so sad. They miss the person who died and sometimes that missing feels like their heart is forever broken. Many people who are grieving experience all of these emotions at different times, sometimes all in one day. The Orthodox Funeral Service expresses this beautifully:
I mourn and weep when I ponder death and see our beauty made in the image of God laid in the grave, disfigured, dishonored, and lacking form. O wonder! What is this mystery that comes to pass for us? Why should we be given over to corruption? And why should we be wedded to death? Truly, as it is written, it is by the command of God Who gives the departed rest. Stichera of St. John of Damascus, Orthodox Funeral Service
If someone is grieving, we don’t have to find the perfect words to say. We wish we could make it better for them, but trying to find an explanation for why it happened or explain how it’s all going to come right in the end can hurt the grieving person more.
Saint Basil the Great tells a grieving father that suffering makes a person so sensitive that he becomes like an eye which cannot bear even the touch of a feather…..Only tears, sharing the question, silence and inner prayer are able to relieve the suffering, illuminate the darkness or give rise to a glimmer of hope. Metropolitan Nikolaos
We can’t and aren’t expected to explain the tragedy or heal the wounds of a grieving person; only God can do that in His time, with their willingness and in the unique way that will most help them. What we can do is to show love for them. Some ways to express love for the person who has reposed and comfort the ones closest to them are to find something kind to do in their memory, or to donate money or time to a church or a charity. Sending a sympathy card, making food for the family of the bereaved, or simply giving them a hug are ways to bring comfort. Mourning quietly with them when they are sad and laughing with them when they can laugh are ways we show love and acceptance, meeting them where they are.
When we came home from purchasing Mary Evelyn’s grave site the day after she died, friends were there sweeping our floors and stocking our pantry with groceries. A friend of a friend made a pound cake for us and I surprised myself by having a piece and enjoying it. We were blessed to be surrounded by family and friends who drew near to us in our time of need. In the months that followed, many people poured out love for us in creative ways. One of her teachers decorated a Christmas tree with dove ornaments and photos of Mary Evelyn. Other friends helped me make ornaments that said “Hope” on them and we decorated a tree with them at a fundraiser for memorial benches at her elementary school. A girl we’ve never met painted a picture in our daughter’s memory. Some friends had wristbands made with Mary Evelyn’s name on them. My husband and I read the sympathy cards together and were touched by the love people showed us through them. Going to funeral and memorial services, sending cards, being present and showing we care in small thoughtful ways are loving actions we can take, while our prayers will help grieving people have the faith and hope that God alone provides.
Like the myrrhbearing women, we quietly approach the bereaved with small gifts and hearts full of love, trusting in God’s provision of divine consolation and life eternal.
Nikolaos, Metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki. Investing in the Kingdom of God. Montreal, Quebec: Alexander Press, 2009.
Alexander Schmemann. O Death, Where is Thy Sting? Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003.
Orthodox Funeral Service