January 12, 2009

A Time To Mourn

Scripture tells us in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything, sing, dance, mourn.... Many heard that scripture quoted for the first time in the movie Footloose. What does a time to mourn look like? 3 of my friends have buried their children over the last several months. One friend is someone who is part of my life in a regular and authentic way. I have no training on how I can be helpful during this time, or even just not be insensitive or a drain. Last year I read Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner, an excellent young and authentic writer. The book was a comparative and contrast of her Jewish years to her years after she accepted Jesus as her Savior. There are so many traditions that Christianity has chosen not to hold on to that have real wisdom and life changing affects. One of which is the tradition and sequence of mourning. I wish I could have just typed the entire chapter on Mourning because it is full of rich thoughts, I have just pulled out a couple of paragraphs. These mourning rituals apply to the loss of a parent, child or sibling and the community that surrounds them. Below this I found a great website with more details and information if you want to investigate this further. I find it helpful and comforting to know how God's people dealt with the death of a loved one. I feel like in our society we are just flying blindly, and poorly.

From the book Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner.

Church funerals, when they tell the truth, not only remember lovingly the lives of the departed, they also preach the gospel-they proclaim that Jesus is risen, and insist that those who died in Him shall be risen too.
What churches often do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. A friend of mine whose husband recently died put it like this: "For about two weeks the church was really the church- really awesomely, wonderfully the church. Everyone came to the house, baked casseroles, carried Kleenex's. But then the two weeks ended, and so did the consolation calls." While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably forgets, and goes back to their normal lives and you are left alone. You are without the church, and without a church vocabulary for what happens to the living after the dead are dead.
Mourning, maybe, is never easy, but it is better done inside a communal grammar of bereavement. Christianity has a hopeful and true vocabulary for death-and-resurrection. It is Judaism that offers the grammar for in between, for the mourning after death and before Easter.

Judaism understands mourning as a discipline, one in which the mourner is not only allowed, but expected, to be engaged. Rather than asking the mourner to paper over his grief, the Jewish community supports him in mourning. (My priest, who is always urging me to pray the despairing Book of Psalms, says that Judaism mourns well in part because Jews understand lament. "Christians," he says, "do not know how to lament.")

One of the staples of Jewish mourning is the reciting of the Kaddish twice a day every day for a year, and it must be in community. The first week during Shiva (takes place the week following the burial) the community comes to the family, they pray this prayer twice a day in the home. After Shiva the family is allowed to leave their home and they attend prayers at the Synagogue to say Kaddish twice a day. There must be a minimum of 10 people who say Kaddish together. This is what Mudhouse Sabbath says about Kaddish:

"Not only is the community present for one's mourning, God is present too. God is ubiquitous in Jewish bereavement because of the Kaddish. Countless commentators have observed that the Kaddish is a curious mourner's prayer, because it says nothing about mourning. It is rather a prayer about God, describing Him as magnified and sanctified and worthy to be praised. It is not a prayer of rent garments and commemoration, but rather simply four verses of praise to God. "Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He, beyond any blessing or song." as one mourner noted, the Kaddish is really " a Gloria." Even in the pit, even in depression and loss and nonsense, still we respond to God with praise. This is not to say that the mourner should not feel what he feels-anger, disbelief, hatred. He can feel those things (and shout them out to God; God can take it). You do not have to feel praise in the intense moments of mourning, but the praise is still true, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises.

Here is an informative website that gives information on the stages of mourning in the Jewish tradition. I also found the words of the Kaddish on Wikipedia.

The Stages of Jewish Mourning

This is a note found on the website above. Very insightful.
"In a Jewish House of Mourning" -- Each culture approaches death and the mourning period in its own unique fashion. As a family, we only request that an effort be made to create an atmosphere that is congruous with our Jewish values. Conversations should focus on the life and legacy of Judy Dan. No effort should be made to portray her in an artificial light, since this would offend her memory. Painful as it may seem, attempts at distracting family members from thinking or speaking about their loss are not considered appropriate at this time.
Thank you, The Dan Family

Can't un-italic here, these are my words.
I am reminded that it is good to keep talking about the loved one who passed away, it is always necessary to praise God even if the words are not heartfelt at the moment, grieving and mourning take a lot of time and everyone is different. May the grace, love and patience, that God has shown me exude grace, love and patience to others as they are winding this long and confusing road.


Anonymous said...

Just yesterday, a friend was asking for prayers as he continues to struggle, 9 months after his father's death. He asked us to forgive his short temper and his seeming lack of attention to important things. I immediately wanted to apologize to HIM for expecting him to just go on after a few weeks of mourning, as though his life would be unchanged. You are so right, we are not very good at helping each other through the mourning process. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and resources, sweet sister in Christ. I appreciate you!


Sharon Winkler

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the suggested book. I'm so glad someone is dealing with this subject, which lots of people seem to want to avoid.

We are too busy to mourn with those who mourn. Sad, isn't it. So, people devastated by loss, needing that mourning period to be cushioned by loving people, are alone.

With church leaders being overly extended, they tell us that the rest of us just need to be there for each other, so get in a group. But lets face it, most everyone is overly extended.

And of course when we are the ones who are mourning, we are aware of that fact, and so we don't want to bother anyone. That leaves mourning people doubly saddened, doubly lonely, doubly abandoned.

It's too much to cope with, so we just try to skip the mourning process. But sooner or later, it catches up with us, and the consequences are not healthy, because our way of dealing with grief is unhealthy.