CLOSURE AND RECONCILIATION
When does grieving for a loved one who has died end? or does the grieving ever end?
Recently I have noticed in my reading dealing with grief frequent use of the word closure— meaning the act of closing or the condition of being closed; a finish; a conclusion. I have noticed too that in my thinking of ways to help mourners cope with the continuing pain of death, I was recognizing this need for closure—not closure on memories of the life and love of that person, but closure on the hurt of grief for their loss. With further contemplation and reading, I have added the concept of reconciliation— acceptance of the loss. Closure may never be complete; reconciliation should be.
In earlier times people grew up experiencing birth, life, aging, sickness, and death of generations within the home. Family members knew what to expect when death occurred. They were a part of all that transpired. Hospice and other home-care programs are now bringing some care for the seriously ill back into homes.] My mother told of sitting with her oldest sister as she worked one night making a shroud for a neighbor. Caskets were often made by family members or friends. Bodies were prepared for burial and sometimes funerals conducted in the home with burial on the family property. This exposure to the reality of death was healthy in the grieving process. Family and friends had opportunities to express their grief and sympathy in meaningful ways as the preparation, rituals, and extended period of mourning were observed.
Although many changes in this pattern of life have occurred, some of the old traditions have carried over to today. Friends go to the home to assist the family with personal errands, visitors, and telephone calls, and with serving meals from food brought in by those wanting to ease the bereavement. Though some visitation, personal contacts, and rituals have been moved from family homes, funeral home personnel strive to make the funeral home atmosphere homelike and respectful of the dead and of the living in every way possible. The convenience of the funeral home can serve to give the family time for receiving emotional support by sharing mutual grief with friends and also can leave time for observing private time with close friends and family at home. Funeral home directors and staff members consult with family members to encourage and facilitate arrangements consoling to the bereaved.
Some families find comfort in displaying photographs and other items which reflect their memories. At Waller Funeral Home we provide specially designed boards to simplify this display. Also personal mementos may be placed in the casket—a flower, letter, handkerchief, Bible, picture, turkey call, golf tee, tool, or anything that gives comfort to the family. Being near the open casket during visitation may be a part of the healing process for some. A family member may request time alone with the body. At every point the family makes the decisions. Each sharing of grief seems to diminish it.
The ritual of the funeral is not for the deceased but for the bereaved. Commemorative rituals often mark birth, marriage, graduation, and other milestones in life, and likewise the funeral can help bring meaning to the passage of life. At the funeral the sorrow of one becomes the sorrow of all. Dr. Eric Linderman has said, "The funeral is psychologically necessary in order to give the opportunity for grief work. The bereaved must be given the capacity to work through his grief if he is to come out of that situation emotionally sound."
Rabbi Steven Jacobs writes: "To grieve is to know the sorrow of separation, the inevitable price of days and years of precious love. A funeral provides the setting for this expression."
According to Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado:
"When words are inadequate, people have used ceremony to help heal. But as we continue to reject ritual, we see more and more bereaved people having complications in their mourning." He identifies some of these complications which emerge months and even years after the death as chronic anger, difficulties forming relationships, chronic physical illness, concentration problems, long crying jags.
Just as options are available in arranging visitation and the funeral, choices at entombment adapt to the emotional needs of individuals and families. Relinquishing the body may provide the most significant realization that death and separation have come.
The most common practice in our area is earth burial. Seeing the body lowered into the grave provides a deep feeling of finality of the earthly relationship. The graveside service with words of comfort and the close presence of loving family and friends can help provide closure and reconciliation for the bereaved.
To some people working through their grief, the cemetery can become almost hallowed ground. The placement of a monument designating the place of burial can also provide a measure of finality. Some find comfort in placing flowers on the grave either occasionally or regularly observing seasons, holidays, birthdays, and/or anniversaries.
When cremation is the choice, visitation and funeral/memorial services are nonetheless helpful in closure and reconciliation. Cremation caskets and urns are available and displayed in the selection room at the funeral home.
Those who are able to find relief through the release of emotions often recover sooner than those who place restraints upon themselves. This may be especially true of those who fear negative comments concerning the outward display of emotions. Often expressions of mourning vary in geographic areas of our own country. Cultural differences also enter into ex
pressions of grief. Mourning customs in other countries often seem very strange to us.
A recent article suggests that a feeling of closure must follow death very closely. Could it be mourners are being pushed to bring closure (not reconciliation) sooner than they find personally acceptable? Has mourning gone out of style? Wiser sources suggest that mourning never ends, only as time goes on it erupts less frequently. Although it is draining and resembles an illness, we must feel the pain of grief. "If we do not deal with our grief, it will deal with us. Unresolved grief is listed right behind drug and alcohol abuse as one of the major problems our society deals with today" (Barbara Les Strang).
No one has established a time for grief recovery. We may note that intense grief begins to come less frequently and linger for a briefer time. Although there is a definite beginning point, time for ending has never been established. Not soon perhaps, but eventually the griever may note thoughts are directed to the future and dwell less on the past.
We shall never forget that one loved; however, our memories will come to us on the life rather than the death. An old African proverb states, "A person is not dead until he is forgotten."
One never totally "gets over grief." Others may admonish "You must move on," or "Get a hold of yourself." Given your time you will do this. After an inordinate length of time we should not hesitate to seek psychological help if needed. Most physicians can provide direction for finding this help.
At some point along with our desire to deny death we would deny any feeling of anger. It is considered unusual for a measure of anger not to come. This anger may be directed at any number of people, a family member, physician, minister, funeral director, or the deceased. Dealing with this anger in a healthy way is important.
Support groups often answer a need to share feelings with others who now or in the past have experienced and coped with the pain and grief. A trained leader and a group of people with similar concerns can facilitate healing the pain.
I often pray aloud and find it helpful in expressing myself. To verbalize aloud the pain of our hearts may help us to feel and accept what we know in our minds is true.
I was reminded of my thoughts about closure when I attended Homecoming at New Prospect Church recently. As my thoughts went back to the time when my mother’s funeral was held there over 37 years ago, I realized that my closure was not complete. Emotions ran high in this place where I had grown up attending services with my parents, where I was saved, married Don, and attended the funeral of my mother. Arranging flowers in the beautiful new sanctuary before the Homecoming helped me feel connection with the people and the place which had been an important part of my life. At the Homecoming I enjoyed many hugs and, yes, some tears with those of my age whose parents had been contemporaries and friends of my parents. I became sentimental about the place and my past. But this occasion brought comfort and some latter-day closure.
In all our efforts to cope with death we hasten to acknowledge the power of God in our lives. Our spiritual relationship with Him is the most important factor in our healing. He alone can give that "peace which surpasses all understanding."
I continue to follow closely reports on families being served at the funeral home. Daily as I pray, I ask God to lift the dark clouds of sadness of those grieving, to give them courage to face coming clouds until they are less frequent and not so low and not so dark.
Planning The Funeral of Someone You Love
Excerpts from Care Note of the same name—
Working your way through.
There is no ‘right’ way to bury someone you love, no perfect funeral plan. In the long run, the choices you make matter much less than the reasons behind your decisions. And those reasons are deeply personal. A funeral director or religious leader can offer suggestions that other people have found comforting, but only you can decide what will make this funeral truly give you comfort. Only you can decide on a celebration honoring the memory of your loved one and freeing the prayer that groans in your heart.
What might such a funeral look like? Regardless of your decisions, making the decisions will help you do four things: face your loss, tend to your needs, celebrate your memories, and explore your religious tradition.
Tend to your own needs.
If it is hard to realize that someone dear is dead it is even harder to grasp that you can no longer do things to "please" that person. That’s really not as awful as it sounds; in faith we hold that our dead are in far better hands than ours. But loving habits are not easily shaken, and our first impulse is to plan the kind of funeral the deceased would have liked.
My husband likes modern cemetery parks, but I love old graveyards whose tilted stones bear the weight of history. If I survive him, I could choose the resting place he would like. But instead I will lay him among the carved cherubs and tall, flat stones of earlier times—because I have come to believe that funerals are for the living.
You won’t easily set aside your loved one’s wishes you probably will carry them out as best you can. But give yourself permission to serve your own needs first. Choose burial or cremation or donation according to your deepest feelings. Pick a casket with a price tag you approve, and leave it open or closed according to your deep—felt preference. Select hymns that support your prayer and Scripture passages that give you comfort.
Forgive yourself for tending to your own needs. From the perspective of eternity, a small rejection of expressed wishes surely weighs little against the weight of your grief. Your loved one has undoubtedly forgiven you greater offenses!
And set aside a time to receive condolences. Receiving people at the funeral home or observing the ancient custom of shiva may seem like an unnecessary effort. But the awkward words friends speak testify to how much they cared about your loved one and how much they care about you. That affirmation is something you need; it will help carry you through these difficult days.
Your journey toward a happy and full life without the one you have loved will only begin when the funeral is over. In the months ahead you will again and again have to face your loss, admit your needs, and call up your memories for support.
Above all, continue to explore the riches of your religious heritage. For you, too need to find your way to the God who has promised to destroy death forever and wipe every tear from our faces.
— Carol Luebering
Carol Luebering is an editor for St. Anthony Messenger Press and a freelance writer. One of the founders of a ministry to the bereaved in her Cincinnati parish, she is the author of To Comfort All Who Mourn: A Parish Handbook for Ministry to the Grieving.
THIS OLD HOUSE
One day in his eightieth year John Quincy Adams was tottering down a Boston street. He was accosted by a friend who said, "And how is John Quincy Adams today?"
The former president of the United States replied graciously, "Thank you, John Quincy Adams is well, sir, quite well, I thank you. But the house in which he lives at present is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering upon its foundations. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it. Its roof is pretty well worn out, its walls are much shattered, and it trembles with every wind. The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out of it soon; but he himself is quite well, sir, quite well." And with this the venerable statesman, leaning heavily upon his cane, moved slowly down the street.
John Quincy Adams had the same assurance which we all have. He knew that "if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1).
If we fear or question the future, we have not come to a true realization of Jesus’ counsel, "Let not your heart be troubled I go to prepare a place for you ... that where I am, there ye maybe also" (John 14:1-2).
— Source Unknown
There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One of these days is Yesterday, with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control.
All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed. We cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday is also beyond our immediate control.
Tomorrow's sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds— but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.
This leaves only one day—Today. Any man can fight the battles of just one day; it is only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities— Yesterday and Tomorrow, that we break down.
It is not the experience of Today that drives men mad; it is remorse or bitterness for something which happened Yesterday and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.
from You Are Never Alone
by Charles L. Allen
A Guideposts Selection
We dedicate this issue of Seasons to those who died and whose families we served from January 6, 1998, through May 5, 1998.
Mr. Elie E. "Bud" Bishop 1/6/98
Mr. James Buel Hanks 1/8/98
Mercades Lynn Camp 1/10/98
Mrs. Nola Brummett Davis 1/11/98
Mrs. Violet Marshall Douglas 1/11/98
Mrs. Emma Frances Hardaway Fitchett 1/13/98
Mrs. Helen Livingston Nail 1/18/98
Mrs. Vyola Galloway Elmore 1/23/98
Mrs. Mattie Davis James 1/29/98
Mr. Nicholas C. "Nick" Calfee, Jr. 1/31/98
Miss Ethel Mae Bunch 2/3/98
Mrs. Bessie Pernell Roy 2/4/98
Mrs. Clara Moore Moody 2/5/98
Mr. Robert Joseph McGee 2/9/98
Mr. Larry Thomas Spears 2/10/98
Mr. Rodney Buford McLarty 2/10/98
Mrs. Dartha Lou James Campbell 2/11/98
Mr. Kenneth Lake Shorter 2/13/98
Mr. Lawrence Edward "Larry" Davis 2/14/98
Mrs. Ruth Hartsfield Wilkerson 2/18/98
Mrs. Susan Emptage Burkett 2/20/98
Mrs. LeEarle Street Hooker 2/21/98
Mrs. Thelma Barron Lyles 2/24/98
Mrs. Juanita Langston Belk 2/28/98
Mrs. Kathleen H. "Kathy" Livingston 2/28/98
Mrs. Mary Smith Mills 3/2/98
Mrs. Alma L. Lovelady 3/5/98
Mr. J.B. Nelson 3/5/98
Mr. Delma Lamar Hale 3/9/98
Mrs. Mary Harrison Franklin 3/10/98
Miss Gertrude Eggleston 3/16/98
Mr. Tyson Littlejohn 3/20/98
Mr. Joe Van Goode 3/21/98
Mr. Ernest Garlon Oliver, Sr. 3/22/98
Mrs. Gladys Pruitt Clements 3/26/98
Mrs. Katherine Wenrich Mounts 3/27/98
Mr. Victor Warren "Vic" Estock 3/31/98
Mr. Marvin Smith 4/5/98
Mrs. Ola Mae Walker Groner 4/5/98
Mr. Loren Rodney Hunter 4/7/98
Mr. Jose Luis de la Vega 4/11/98
Mrs. Lucille Groner Goodwin 4/15/98
Mrs. Annie Mae Johnson Lindsey 4/15/98
Mrs. Annie Garner Hitt 4/18/98
Mr. Paul Andrew Bryant 4/23/98
Dr. Coy Webster Waller 4/24/98
Mrs. Ector Collins Windham 4/25/98
Mr. Jerry Lynn Naramore 4/25/98
Mr. Robert "Reb" Bailey 4/26/98
Mrs. Billie McNeal Ayles 4/27/98
Mr. Carl Earl Buddy "Jenkins 5/1/98
Mrs. Vashti Waller "Tye" Owens 5/1/98
Mrs. Gladys Mitchell Gay 5/4/98
Mr. Boyd Hilihouse 5/4/98
Mr. John Joseph Fahey 5/5/98
Baptist Memorial Home Care Hospice continues to conduct Grief Support meetings on the third Tuesday of every month, 6:30 - 7:30 p.m., at the Baptist Memorial Hospital North Mississippi in the Magnolia Auditorium. More information can be obtained by contacting Susan Eftink (234-8553).
Grieving is as natural as crying when you hurt, sleeping when you are tired, eating when you are hungry, or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.
— Doug Manning Don’t Take My Grief Away