In Max Porter’s novella, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, its central character, an unnamed widower and father, speaks about the grief of losing his young wife. He says, ‘I sat alone in the living room wondering what to do. Shuffling around, waiting for the shock to give way, waiting for any kind of structured feeling to emerge from the organizational fakery of my days’.
The reader feels the sense of loneliness, bewilderment, disbelief, shock, and the subversion of order in the character’s life, while he ventures to maintain a semblance of normality for his children – this he dubs as the ‘organizational fakery of my days’. Through the chaos of his bereavement, he seeks the comforting presence of routine, order, or, ‘business as usual’.
But, it’s not always easy to keep the ‘business as usual’ sign on the door, when your world is demolished by the cruel hands of death, especially during this COVID season, which has dogged us for the past two years. At times, we cry out with Paul, ‘oh wretched man (person) that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?’.
However, unlike Paul, we are not speaking about ourselves and our struggle with our decision-making. Instead, for the past two years, we have been battling death as our new unshakeable companion. It has visited our homes; it lingers behind masked faces; it screams through our social media and television screens; it has taken so many of our family, friends and church members. Some have described it as, ‘…being in a war with an invisible enemy’. 
Returning to our church communities, we are met with empty seats that once cradled the lady in the red hat whose smile melted a thousand hearts. Or who steadied the man with the gorgeous bass voice, or who held our family members tenderly as they thumbed through the sacred pages of Scripture. These seats now scream silently at us and mock our misery.
Often, and this is generic, we are culturalized to respond to death and grief and dying with spiritual pragmatism.
God is good all the time!
There will be a better day, after a while!
I want Jesus to come so that all of this will be over!
And, let’s pause here. All these statements are perfectly true. ‘God is good all the time. There will be a better day after a while, and who doesn’t want Jesus to come so that all of the evil in the world will cease? But all of these ‘true’ statements don’t eliminate the immediate pain of bereavement. They serve as needed reminders of God’s ultimate plan of salvation and provide hope for a bright, eternal future. But what do the grieving need now?
Social Isolation and Loneliness
New research has found that during the pandemic, the three most common challenges for the bereaved are restricted funeral arrangements (93%), limited contact with other close relatives and friends (81%), and experiencing social isolation and loneliness (67%). Almost half of the people surveyed (48%) stated that a healthcare or other care professional had not provided them with information about bereavement support services that were relevant to them. 
The grieving, and those who are recently bereaved, need regular contact from family and friends. On receipt of the news of a death, and prior to the funeral or cremation, relatives of the deceased are often inundated with cards, flowers, and messages of condolences. But once the formal ceremony and rite of passage are concluded, the well-wishers disappear, leaving the bereaved isolated and lonely. Their organizational fakery is often so perfected that they may appear as if they are adept at coping with everyday life, devoid of their loved one.
However, we should add a note of caution here. Everyone handles grief differently. So, before you approach someone who has experienced loss, spend time in prayer and ask God to ‘set a watch, O Lord before [your] mouth [and] keep the door of [your] lips. Although many people no longer use ‘snail mail’, it is comforting to receive a ‘Thinking of You’ card with some meaningful words. Furthermore, by writing a card, you may take more time to reflect on your expressed sentiments.
If you are making telephone calls, please ensure that they are short first of all. Some individuals want to talk extensively, whereas others may simply appreciate the fact that you have called, but don’t want to talk for more than a few minutes. Be sensitive. In some cases, it might be more appropriate to send a short text. The main thing is to keep in touch, but don’t be offended if the individual doesn’t respond to you immediately. Grief takes time.
Grief Support in Community Settings
If you are working in a local church grassroots community hub, be aware of the different people groups that often come to use your services. You may want to do some research into how individuals from alternative cultures grieve or how an individual’s background and mental health conditions can affect bereavement. There may be rituals or traditions that they observe which may be unfamiliar to you. Be genuinely interested and understanding; plus, take time to listen to your service users if they want to talk. If they request prayer, be available to offer one on their behalf.
Many people who have lost loved ones have questions about dying, death, and the afterlife. Listen to their questions and answer them honestly. However, if there is something that you don’t know, please refer them to a pastor. If they request counseling, please provide them with details of a relevant counseling service.
Volunteers in your community settings may also have experienced a loss. Please take time to offer a word of comfort to them. If they are able to continue to work in the community setting, allow them to do so, but be aware that they may need time off from meeting with others for a while.
To highlight the challenges of grief, Sharon Platt-McDonald, BUC Community Services Director, talks about the importance of being 'real' with our feelings and struggles during the grieving process, and how honesty and transparency became a turning point for her. Here's what she shared with me:
"With the death of my beloved parents, whom we buried seven months apart, the trauma of the experience was so impactful, that I became stuck in my grief, as I grappled with the 'why' of their deaths. However, my protracted bereavement journey began to change when I admitted to myself and God that I was not feeling comforted and in fact felt bereft. I had doubts about how I would cope and [survive] what was, by far, the darkest chapter in my life. Yet, when I eventually found the comfort that I was seeking from God, through His compassionate care (and professional counseling), He led me to develop a Grief Recovery Program, that not only transformed my grief experience, but is positively impacting the bereavement journey of others.
Using the acronym C.O.M.F.O.R.T as an intervention program for solace, support and strength during times of grief, I launched the BUC Bereavement Care Ministry and trained Bereavement Care Befrienders in the practical support of those experiencing grief. God has used a negative life experience to produce something positive."
With the impact of the pandemic, Sharon has produced a video for churches who are taking time to 'grieve corporately'. You can view the video here: https://youtu.be/f_NgBYJNcIk.
For more information on the BUC Bereavement Care Ministry pack, or the book: ‘C.O.M.F.O.R.T – Solace, Support, and Strength during Times of Grief’, contact the BUC Health Ministries Department at 01923 672251.
All churches and Community Service departments are encouraged to access this ministry pack.
As we close Grief Awareness Week, remember, ‘Jesus wept’. He cried for the loss of a dear friend. His tears demonstrated that he felt the struggle and strain of loss as we do today. In His humanity, He experienced the wreckage of loss, but as God, He was able to provide hope, as ‘The Resurrection and The Life’.
As we experience loss, grieving or bereavement, let us not engage in ‘organizational fakery of grief’, but endeavor to place our trust in the hands of a Father that can comfort and heal. Find hope in the knowledge that ‘tears are a language that God understands’.
For further information on how to deal with grief:
- www.thegoodgrieftrust.org – National Grief Awareness Week
- www.ccscounselling.org.uk - Cornerstone Counseling Service (South England Conference)
DO NOT assume that you know how someone else feels, even if you are mourning yourself.
*Urban Ministries is an initiative of ADRA-UK in partnership with Adventist Community Services to empower all Seventh-day Adventist congregations in the UK to adopt a sustainable outreach project, to motivate them to become involved in social justice projects, and to support them to change society for the better through loving service.