Honest Christianity – a memorial service sermon for those who have lost a child

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Many people would say what has happened to you is one of the worst, if not the worst thing that can happen in life.  For some of you today, it has happened more than once.  It is important for you to realise that those around you never cease to be amazed at your resilience. The things you have come though, the things you now do. Many of you have surprised even yourself.

How do you do it?
Supported each other…
Asked God to help…
Sometimes you have stumbled, but you have got up and got on with living as best you can.
Let’s think about for a moment how you have travelled with your grief. Some understand coping with bereavement as a journey of stages.  We mourn, we might have been in denial, wept, in despair, do not know what to do with ourselves, get angry at and with those around us, get depressed. Then hopefully, we start to come to terms with our loss, make adjustments, try and get on with our lives without them, and find a new way of living, a new normal if you like.  The potential trouble with this way is that is says our grief is this big, but as you move on your grief and loss becomes smaller. And some of you tell us that the debilitating pain does ease, and you have found a way of getting on with your lives.  This can be a very helpful way of dealing with grief. But perhaps there is slightly different way you may have noticed but not known what to call it.  I wonder if this is what you have done perhaps not realising it. Your loss has not decreased; your capacity to cope with it has increased.

A bereaved parent once said,  “In some ways the pain of grief stayed the same… but as time went on, my World expanded so it felt less suffocating” (cited in Nugus p140). [I took this idea and the concept in the book and expanded upon it].

How many of us feel guilty when we go shopping, not because of all the chocolate, cake or biscuits we put in which are obviously gifts for others!  As an aside, another thing, when I go shopping with my wife and I am at one end and she is at the other end of the conveyor belt, and then assistant asks do I need help with my packing, what is she saying about me?  No, I mean when you get to the check out and they assistant says would you like some bags and if you say yes you get the look that says do you know what you are doing to this planet, you irresponsible excuse for a unethical human being?  No, oh that must just be how it makes me feel!  And you see you can buy these bags that you can reuse.  What do some shops call these? Bags for life. Sadly this works on so many levels for you.

It’s like you can carry around your grief in a give-away plastic bag and it keeps spitting, so you go get another bag. That splits, so you realise, the grief is just too big, I am carrying around all this grief in these bags and they keep breaking, what I can do?  My choices are make the weight of my loss lighter or get a better bag. Bags that you can carry around for the whole of your life. This is what we have seen many of you do, not just a make the grief smaller over time, you found a bigger better stronger bag to carry it in. How do we know this, because you say things like, I don’t know how I will get up in the morning, and you do, I don’t know how I will go back to work, and you do.  You don’t seem to be able to do anything positive, and then you go and fundraise, supporting others, some of you have become children’s nurses, you have gone back to work, looked after your family and yourself.

How have some of you got stronger bags for life? Well let’s see if our Bible reading can help shed some light on this.  Blessed does not just mean happy, fortunate, lucky.  It also means that, all the resources of Heaven on earth are available to us.  It means when horrible and tragic things happen, the opposite can happen.  Many of you have found this strength to go on, comfort in your sadness, hope in your hopelessness.  For the bereaved, God wants you to be comforted, to know your life will not permanently fall apart.   There is a promise of ultimate well being in the future. This is what the Bible reading promises. To be blessed means to have all the support of Heaven is available to us, to the poor, to the meek, to the oppressed and most particularly today to those who mourn.

This is not to say your loss was a good thing.    Would you all say, thanks but no thanks, most definitely.  When others experience what has happened to you and ask “can I go on, can I find the strength, resilience, to go on, will I ever find a way of coping with this?” Your lives say a resounding yes. You are now a witness and an encouragement to those who will sadly experience something similar.  Some will see you carrying your bag, and say, so, perhaps if they can carry it, so can I.

And for you today, have you got to carry this bag for life on your own? The good news is no.
Ask God, your friends and support organisation to help you find a new bag and even sometimes to help you carry it.  You can know unconditional love from God and others.  You are not alone, that is some of the comfort others who have been in previous year have taken from this service. The footprints poem is to carry you and your luggage.

So don’t feel by moving on with your life you are betraying the memory of your child. You have your loss bag for life, you can also get a bag for life to help you carry it with personal resilience and dignity and honour to those you have lost.

Preached on 12th May 2013 at  St Chad’s Cathedral BCH Memorial Service by Revd Paul Nash Senior Chaplain Birmingham Children’s Hospital.  Bible reading Matthew 5.1-12 The Beatitudes.

This may have resonances in other loss contexts too and I have posted it under honest Christianity as I have to do so much of my theology at the bedside of a dying child or with bereaved families and I continue on my journey of finding God in it.

Reference:

Danny Nugus 2011 ‘Seeing beyond the sadness:  hope, resilience, and sustainable practice in childhood bereavement’ in Irene Renzenbrink (ed) Caregiver Stress and Staff Support in Illness, Dying, and Bereavement.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

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