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jesus wept

Jesus is the life and resurrection for us all

In the month of the Holy Souls, Fr Michael Conroy reflects on how Our Lord shares our journey of grief.

Grief has its own language. Sometimes, it is with words, sometimes it is wordless. At times we need company to talk about grief, on occasions we need solitude. All in all, grief speaks to the bereaved in their own ‘world’ of emotions and memories.

Over the years I have recalled grieving people talk about that ‘world.’ Some comments may have resonance and meaningfulness for other people at this time of the year, November, the month of the Holy Souls.

Some people used comments tantamount to the ‘mortuary-like silence’ of grief. It is as if the manner of death, the circumstances of death and the situation of death are hard to believe despite the pain. It is like being locked in a ‘world’ where everything is clinical and sanitised but the feelings are screaming inside you to get out.

 

Voicelessness

For those watching the quietness of pain from the bereaved, it is hard to understand let alone translate and interpret the grief. As a bystander, you are, hopefully, trying to attune to someone else’s deafening voicelessness.

On another level, some people talk about the relentlessness of grief, as if it does not lessen in pain or ease from memory. The emotion is wrapped up in words such as: ‘Grief is like picking up shattered pieces of glass from the floor and weeks later seeing a glitter from afar.’

There is a sense that you are feeling better and then something is said or happens—a passing word, a felt gesture, a piece of shared music—and the pain increases slowly into pangs of loneliness. Once again, you have to pick up the pain-pieces and carry on. For watching friends, grief can feel like listening to a foreign language: the words, behaviour and mannerisms of the grief-stricken are real but we cannot translate them. We, in turn, can feel useless.

 

Concealment

It sometimes happens that grief will be masked or concealed from family members because the bereaved are leading a ‘double-life’ until they themselves see the tangible reality in all its depth and dimensions. That might be caught in a phrase like ‘catching in a shop mirror the reflection of a gaunt, skeletal person whom I scarcely recognised.’ Was that really me? Grief can change and sometimes distort us, as if we become unknown even to ourselves.

We are not alone as Christian believers and bereaved. Jesus had His own language of grief. In the letter to the Hebrews (5:7), it is written that “During His life on earth, He offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and with tears, to the One who had the power to save Him from death.” These moments of grief, separation and loss are recorded in the Gospels.

In Matthew’s Gospel (14:13) on hearing of the news of the death of John the Baptist, His cousin and mentor, it states: “Now when Jesus heard this, He withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by Himself.” Jesus was aware of the pain of His own ‘mortuary-like’ grief, and needed silence.

 

Lazarus

On the death of Lazarus of Bethany, it is written in the Gospel of John (11:33): “Jesus was greatly distressed and with a profound sigh, He said, ‘Where have you put him?’” He was physically affected by the loss of Lazarus in whose house, alongside his sisters Martha and Mary, He had received companionship and generosity. It was as if Jesus was ‘picking up the pieces’ of pain left by the sisters and jigsaw-ing it all together in the resurrection of Lazarus.

In the story of the widow of Nain whose son was being taken out for burial in Luke (7:13) it is recorded of Jesus: “When the Lord saw, He had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

Christian spirituality, at times, has to use imagination, meditation and prayer, like Lectio Divina, to reflect on the Gospels, the Word of God. Turning the corner of life and seeing a dead young man with his mother, is it beyond words to reflect: “Was Jesus seeing, a ‘double take,’ the future-in-the-present, the effect of His death on His mother, Mary; the visible, audible, tangible pain of grief?”

 

Prayers for the dead

In the month of November, in our Church, we pray for our dead. Our language is personal and private (in silence, in reverence, in solitude), and/or in public hearing (attending November masses, the hearing of annual, anniversary, monthly reading of the names of our loved ones).

In November, the Eucharist is communion with Jesus Christ who lived life with others, and experienced the death of others. In the Gospels, and in our Church, Jesus is the Life and Resurrection for us all.

Fr Michael Conroy is a priest of the Archdiocese of Glasgow. He retired in 2017 as priest of Corpus Christi, Scotstounhill, after 45 years in the priesthood. He is also a chartered psychologist specialising in psycho-therapy.

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